Monday, June 23, 2014

Beauty & Ruin

Bob Mould
Beauty & Ruin

What can I say about Bob Mould that hasn’t been said all kinds of times before?  Hell, he even has a tell-all style autobiography that you can go and read.  He has ten solo albums filled with deeply personal and often painfully angst-ridden lyrics – not to mention at least half of the songs from the six ground-breaking Hüsker Dü during the 80s and the three album side road for three albums as Sugar in the early 90s.  These tell the story alone.  If you are aware of his music from the last 35 years, you already know how you feel about him.  If not, then all I can do is recommend his powerful songs and hope you discover this legendary talent for yourself.

It’s difficult for me to truly judge where I’d place this new album amongst his amazing legacy.  The first listen felt like a mild let down after the spectacular tour de force of 2012’s Silver Age (#1 pick of 2012 seen here), which was so focused and so incisive and absolutely as fresh as he’s ever sounded.  But it’s not as if he was on a cold streak before Silver Age.  2009’s Life and Times was excellent, as well as District Line and Body of Song and on back we go.  And if I were to choose where this new album stands, I think I may like it better than any of those, so how could it possibly be a let down?  It’s not.  The album grows with each listen.  Mould continues to sound as revitalized as ever – due in large part to his solid – no stellar – touring and recording band for these last two albums.  With ex-Verbow bandleader Jason Narducy (please, I beg of you to check out their two great albums from the late 90s Chronicles and White Out) on bass and Superchunk (I’m sure you already know how great they are!) drummer Jon Wurster – this trio has gathered a lot of momentum and are tight as can be.  Mould is at a place in his life where he seems willing to enjoy his full musical legacy (the band ripped through several old Hüsker Dü numbers and played Sugar’s unbelievably great Copper Blue in its entirety!!) and soak up the appreciation that his too small following offers him.

Beauty & Ruin may not have the huge upfront impact of Silver Age, but it has a much wider variety and like his previous two solo albums we find Mould increasingly ruminating over his history and confronting past demons.  The album opens up with a Workbook or Black Sheets of Rain heaviness with “Low Season,” a cold look filled with mixed emotions due to his father’s passing.  Then Mould comes out with the rage on the speedy burner “Little Glass Pill.”  Actually, there are more truly fast songs mixed in this album than maybe any since his 80s punk days, with the self-deprecating “Kid with Crooked Face,” and the curmudgeonly “Hey Mr. Grey.”  He hasn’t lost his touch with catchy singles either.  The third song, which is always the album’s lead single, “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” is as addictive as any single he’s ever released - actually, so is the brief, but explosive Tomorrow Morning,” and the straight-ahead buzz saw of “The War,” and the amazing “Fire in the City,” or the easy going strum and delicate keyboard melody of “Forgiveness.”  It’s all so excellent!  The album closes with two positive tracks to end the proceedings on an uplifting note as well, which is a little strange after listening to so much bleakness and witnessing one of the angriest and loudest concerts I’ve ever witnessed in support of Black Sheets of Rain in 1990.

Beauty & Ruin is another winning collection from one of the greatest songwriters of our time.  That’s really all that needs to be said.

Bob Mould "I Don't Know You Anymore"


Sunday, June 22, 2014


Haunted Hearts
(Zoo Music)

The other morning, just before I had to wake up for another day of work, I had a vivid dream.  The dream had me at a concert.  I was watching a band next to a few pretty women.  At a quiet lull, I leaned over to shout “I’m hoping to meet the Dum Dum Girls tonight!” into the ear of the attractive brunette next to me.  She smiled and yelled “If you play your cards right, maybe one day you will” into my presented right ear.  She and the three women with her then abruptly turned and walked away as the band on stage concluded their set.  As you’ve probably already have guessed, if you didn’t immediately stop reading upon seeing “I had a vivid dream,” the woman next to me was Dee Dee Penny from Dum Dum Girls.  Such is the crush that I have on this talented rock star and this is how happy I am that she has two albums out this year already!  Not only did DDG’s release an excellent long player back in February (see Too True), but now along comes the debut album from a side project - Haunted Hearts - with her husband Brandon Welchez fresh from his band Crocodiles (I know, right?  How am I supposed to propose to her now?). 

Their 2013 debut 7” was an intriguing glimpse into what these two might come up with together (#30 pick seen here).  It is somehow a perfect blend of what their two respective bands have done so far, despite not sounding a whole lot like either one.  Both songs from that 7” are included here in different forms.  The masochistic love song, “Something That Feels Bad is Something That Feels Good,” has softened edges now with added keyboard flourishes making it something more akin to mid-80s Psychedelic Furs than the Jesus and Mary Chain grind of the single.  Similarly, that b-side “House of Lords” (the superior song, if you ask me), is given an additional buzzing opening instrumental melody to augment the simple propelling bass of the original. 

If you liked that single you will likely enjoy much of the album.  The opening “Initiate Me” builds from a quiet bass-driven interlude into a bouncy handclapping three minute pop song – still infused with a layer of sleaze fuzz to give the air a general deviant, underground atmosphere.  Another catchy number comes in as the penultimate track, “Strange Intentions,” where Welchez takes over the main vocal duties, but it’s the bridge chorus and bridge that are the highlight of this one.  Two of the songs that have been featured with videos include “Johnny Jupiter” and “Up is Up (But so is Down).”   “Johnny Jupiter” is an echo-laden melancholic story presented by Dee Dee that has a growing charm with repeated listens.  Meanwhile “Up is Up (But so is Down,” is kind of messy like the title.  The song carries a woozy stumbling psychedelic feel – barely held in place by the insistent bass crawl – and lethargic vocals from both Welchez and Penny.  This song nearly turned me off from buying the LP when I first saw the video.  It surely achieves the vibe they were going for, but I’m not feeling this one.  Luckily, the second side of the record is much stronger than the first.  “Love Incognito” is their best song so far.  Dee Dee takes the lead over a haunting keyboard, a stumbling beat and a wandering bass-line, but again it’s the majestic chorus that makes this song so special.  Finally, the album closes with another strong song – the quiet “Darklands” – era JAMC “Bring Me Down.”  The rainy day reflection of this song makes for a perfect closer for this collection.

This album is not as good as the Dum Dum Girls and Crocodiles output so far, but it’s an entertaining album for the right kind of mood.  I certainly won’t complain when this talented pair decides to take some time and record songs together outside of their respective projects and occasionally share them with us. 

Haunted Hearts "Johnny Jupiter"


Thursday, June 19, 2014



It seems strange to me that an album so filled with such rancor, regret, confusion and loss has come along and filled me with such a rush of life-affirming adrenaline, but this is exactly the case.  This second long-player from US indie pop band Gold-Bears is an absolute jolt to the system.  The album jumps right in with eleven fantastic blasts of sheer immediacy – all of which merge abruptly into one another – giving this collection the feel of a hot live show from a well rehearsed endlessly energetic band.  This transports me back to being a 15 year old again, smashed against the stage of a sweaty club gasping for breath as the band flies through these upbeat fiery moments of sheer raw emotion and excitement.  This album, my introduction to Gold-Bears, is an instant addiction. 

Where does Slumberland Records find so many great bands?  Where was I when Gold- Bears released their first LP in 2011?  This is the third year in a row that Slumberland has introduced me to absolutely thrilling acts, like last year’s Joanna Gruesome premiere, and the 2012 debut from Evans the Death.  This kind of hot streak rivals, if not surpasses their landmark earliest days – even Black Tambourine’s Pam Berry guests on backing vocals.  This album falls right into the corner for those of us who loved Boyracer’s debut compilation LP (More Songs About Frustration and Self-Hate) on Slumberland from 20 years ago.  They share a similar frenetic, high energy, messy passion and portrayal of all kinds of matters of the heart and it is invigorating.

I don’t know, but I’m guessing some kind of major break up or divorce may be the impetus for many of these songs.  My clue comes from the wonderfully catchy early Superchunk-esque burner “For You,” which contains the bitter lyric: “I heard you’re upset because I sold your ring / it was just a reminder that you never did anything for me.”  It’s this palpable recent hurt that drives this breathtaking collection.  The fresh stabbing pain of betrayal comes out in spades with the album’s downbeat closer, “Fathers and Daughters,” where band leader Jeremy Underwood lists a multitude of things wrong with his ex – each with the prelude “who am I to tell you?”  But it’s the first three songs of this album that truly set the stage.  The opening two and a half minute blast of “Yeah, Tonight,” a duet with former Standard Fare singer Emma Kupa (here listed as ‘Cooper’), details the mixed emotions during the initial parting of ways (“my histrionics only began to exist on the day I decided to leave”).  Again, the album is mixed so almost all of the songs bump directly into one another.  This is especially exciting between “Yeah, Tonight” and the second sharp incisive song “Chest,” which rivals anything from the early Wedding Present albums, both musically and lyrically.  “Chest” captures the mixed emotions of the early stages of a split by combining both angry lines (“everyone thinks the worst / they think that you’re worthless / yeah, they do!”) and those strong feelings of connection that are oh so difficult to let go (“and I will love you like the way that you could never love yourself”).  Then we’re immediately jolted into the ripping and careening “Death with Drums” that adds an urgent organ hum up front into the intense sounds already created by all the guitars and the driving drums and don’t miss the killer opening line: “’Til death do us part,’ we let it die,” as Underwood’s earnest vocal desperately reaches out for understanding (sounding like Mac McCaughan, or one of the guys from Defiance, Ohio).  It’s not until the fourth song, “I Hope They’re Right,” where we are allowed a moment to breathe.  The song is quiet in comparison to the opening attack, but those buzzing remnants provide a constant ringing of feedback humming and loud bass booms try to overcome the quiet acoustic picking and whispered words of reflection and pining hopes of leaving a positive and/or stinging tinge of regret for the one left behind (“if it’s true what everybody says / then she will never feel this way again / I hope they’re right”). 

There are so many great songs here that have me pretty damn fired up.  The quick shout along “Memo” is an amazing minute and a half of brilliance, while the one “long” song (five minutes) “Hey, Sophie” finds the regretful Underwood singing to his lost love and from far away and letting go of some of the anger (“I’m sorry it had to be this way”) and remembering better times – all atop a bedding of a Seamonsters-era Wedding Present relentless pounding beat before an extended dreamy instrumental closing.  Elsewhere, another former Slumberland alum gets a nod, as “From Tallahassee to Gainesville” draws from a similar on the cheap Phil Spector style “wall of sound” early 60s doo-wop that Henry’s Dress once performed so beautifully and briefly.

I almost feel guilty deriving so much enjoyment and enthusiasm from such hurt, but it is the sheer force of will that gives this collection such an inspiring and life-affirming drive.  For that, I will listen and absorb all of the power it provides and be the better for it.  Do not miss this album.

 Gold-Bears "Yeah, Tonight"

Monday, June 9, 2014


Birds EP
(Emerald and Doreen)

It’s amazing sometimes things just don’t connect in my head.  Back in 1999, I purchased the first Skywave CD (Echodrone) from Parasol Records mail order based purely on their description of the music.  I loved it!  It was a lot of dark noise that hinted at early Jesus and Mary Chain, but was somehow even more jagged without losing their strong sense of song structure and melody.  My love of pure noise was waning a touch by this age (there was a time in my late teens and twenties when feedback and dissonance were a massive part of my lexicon), but I still appreciated their music.  When another collection showed up via Parasol a few years later, I zapped that CD up as well (2004’s Synthstatic).  To be honest, it’s been quite some time since I’ve listened to either offering.  Several years later, when my pal Ox and I were running our own music mail order website (Entangled Records – see here), we discovered the noise band A Place to Bury Strangers, which reminded both of us of Skywave and then via various labels and distributors found ourselves listening to and stocking records and CDs by Alcian Blue, Screen Vinyl Image and Ceremony, among others mining this kind of sound.  I like all of them (especially the split 12” I have of Ceremony and Screen Vinyl Image and, of course, all three of the APTBS albums), but for some reason never really sought out all of these bands with the same fervor that I often do when encountering new music I love.  Maybe it’s simply because of my age and the dwindling number of hours in a day when I enjoy LOUD and harsh sounding music.  But what I find so mysterious is that I never realized or fully put together that the old band Skywave, who have become mythic In certain  circles, went on to become A Place to Bury Strangers (Oliver Ackermann) and Ceremony (John Fedowitz and at some point Paul Baker).  How did I not realize this?  At any rate, I know it now, and must pay more attention, because Ceremony’s latest digital EP, Birds, is excellent!

This new collection from Fedowitz (hot on the heels of 2013’s Distance), who seems to create all of this racket on his own, begins with the title track “Birds,” which is a basic pop song wrapped in his trademark on the verge of madness guitar noise.  The beat and flow of the song mildly hint at Ride’s excellent 1992 “Twisterella,” but the low fidelity swirling guitar feedback instead sounds like sparks and broken glass.  When done with this kind of skill and deft touch, this kind of music is hard to beat.  The song satisfies all needs for volume, excitement and a hummable melody.  I hate to pull at another Ride reference, but the astounding “Until Forever” has the same kind of overdriven, breathtaking energy, and opening as their early “Like A Daydream” single.  Fedowitz’s melancholy vocals give the onrushing wall of guitars an added tension.  Definitely one of the songs of the year!  Another standout is the blistering “Let Me In,” which threatens to break apart after he quietly intones the repeated chorus (“just let me in”), but check out that tuneful mid range bass-line roaming underneath all of the feedback that reminds a little of Will Sargeant’s (Echo and the Bunnymen) guitar lick for “Lips Like Sugar.”  The remaining two songs, the echo laden and defeated sounding “It’s Not You,” and the scratchy closing “Deep Breath,” are also excellent songs not to be missed.

It could be that the EP format is the perfect setting for this kind of music.  A full album might be too much for an old guy like me.  Whatever the case, I need to pull out and listen to that split 12” LP, those old Skywave CDs, and track down all three Ceremony albums, because I’ve been missing out.  This is the shit.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Days of Abandon

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Days of Abandon

I have not read any reviews of the latest Pains of Being Pure at Heart album, Days of Abandon, but I have a feeling that I won’t find much new to say about it.  With this, their third album, they’ve progressed again.  They began with a classic 80s/90s cute indie pop sound, added a bunch of fuzzy guitars and density with their second album, Belong, and now, they’ve stripped away that feedback and have glossed everything over.  Instead of indulging in the so-called “shoegaze” sound, or the C86 sounds, they now seem to have more in common sonically with mid-80s ABC.  This may sound like a slight, but if you know me, you know that I love those old ABC records.  It was my chance to be in on their grand scheme and still thrill at the glossy sounds of perfectly performed and recorded shiny melodies that I have generally eschewed.  Having said that, it still took me a handful of listens to take in the changes and fully accept them.

Word has it that this is almost a solo album (with guest musicians) for songwriter Kip Berman.  The credits seem to indicate the same core group (Kurt Feldman, Alex Naidus), but keyboardist and background vocalist Peggy Wang is sadly missing.  Her vocal duties are now being fulfilled and then some by A Sunny Day In Glasgow singer Jen Goma (great voice!  I think I need to give that group more of a listen).  In fact so much so, that she takes lead vocals on two songs – her plaintive plea for a chance of coupling with “Kelly,” and the similar “Life After Life,” where she sings again to a lost soul who she desperately wants to save.  Goma provides very pronounced and strong vocal harmonies throughout.  So much so, that when her voice chimes in on most songs, often paired with an emphasizing keyboard splash, during each chorus, the songs take a much bolder turn.  Each chorus here is big – almost too much so – yet there’s no denying Berman’s knack for really addictive songwriting.  Check out the first single “Simple and Sure” for evidence with its massive yet simple message of devotion.  The second pop single “Until the Sun Explodes” also professes enduring devotion as Berman emotes to his loved one from the side of a hospital bed with a two and a half minute sugar coated nugget of pure catchiness (“but you don’t look right in the hospital light / breathing soft and slow / but I’ll say to you I’ll stay with you / until the sun explodes”).  Then there’s the tragically sad song “Eurydice” (try to remember your Greek mythology), where his loved one has passed on and he struggles with acceptance.  This song’s chiming and building chorus (“I never stop losing you”) is so over the top that it teeters on silliness.  Yet, this song has been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks now – in a really way - especially the climactic part where Goma frantically cries out “In the summer rain / alone I cried / I couldn’t stand to think heaven was a lie” before the song goes fully off the hinges with musical dramatics.  It really is pretty spectacular.  The album is filled with love songs for those lost through various circumstances.  “Art Smock,” the acoustic opening ode to a school crush on the misunderstood punk girl is priceless, as are the fantastic song arrangements and musical touches throughout (check out the tasteful horns on the final two songs). 

Yes, it did take me a few tries before the album’s new direction started to sink in, but now that they have, I have fully immersed myself.  Berman is a great songwriter with a knack for great pop songs with any kind of adornments and an endless supply of exuberance.  Check it out, if you haven’t already.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart "Until the Sun Explodes"


Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Drop Beneath

Eternal Summers
The Drop Beneath

Sundays have always been an important music day for me.  Once my obsession truly formed in my early teens, it seems as though Sunday was the day that I generally chose to isolate myself and listen and listen closely to the music I was beginning to collect.  Sure, I listened to music as much as possible, but it was those Sundays, when the headphones would come out and I would immerse myself completely and spend most of the day listening to record after record.  It didn’t hurt that it was Sunday night during the late 80s when MTV’s 120 Minutes would come on at midnight (okay, officially Monday morning).  Being from a small town, and well before there was such easy access to music from all over the world, MTV was then, actually an important sort of national radio station (they played videos!!) and 120 Minutes was the rare opportunity to be exposed to the then coined “college rock,” or later “post modern” music of the day.  In other words, the music that wasn’t getting a lot of radio exposure at the time.  Sure they played and highlighted the soon to be giants such as R.E.M., The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and New Order, but it was generally towards the end of the show when an unannounced video would pop up mixed between a couple of UK up and comers, from the likes of Guadalcanal Diary, Minutemen, the Limespiders or the Didjits.  These were the moments where I really felt like I was getting in on some kind of secret and would go to school the next day buzzing with news of some cool “new” band.  This is what recently hearing the latest Eternal Summers album felt like to me.

I’m a little late to the game.  This album, Eternal Summers’ third (I’m trying to ignore the impossibility of the concept of multiple eternal summers), was released back in March.  My introduction came via their May tour with long time favorite Maxïmo Park (see here), during their recent visit to Portland.  In a fit of unusually rare sensibility, I actually checked into the opening band to hear what I might be in for.  This is a practice that I mysteriously avoid, and so have found myself stricken with regret by showing up too early and witnessing multiple terrible bands bore me into exhaustion and extinguishing the fire that had been burning for the headliner, or annoyed that I missed some amazing spectacle - catching the last half of a song of some band who have just wowed an unsuspecting audience – as I try to find a good place to be inside the venue.  For whatever reason, I did check in on Eternal Summers and liked what I heard.  I even went out and bought The Drop Beneath CD that very afternoon and made sure to show up on time.

The music Eternal Summers create is unlike much of the contemporary music out there today.  This is a power trio who have tapped into the much missed well of the great “college rock” of the old days.  They don’t sound specifically like anyone, but they evoke a time long lost.  It’s fitting that this album is immaculately produced by Doug Gillard, who was a huge part of the hardworking Midwestern indie scene back in the 80s and 90s (and still today) with bands like Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, Guided by Voices and recently, Nada Surf.  This trio can rock with the best of them, but aren’t afraid to actually write dramatic and catchy songs.  They play with the meticulousness of the Feelies, or the underrated Saturnine, crossed with the wild emotional abandon of early Buffalo Tom.  Singer/Guitarist Nicole Yun is a revelation.  She is not afraid to pull off some intriguing leads and solos throughout, all while offering up a nicely varied set of vocals befitting the mix of songs, and having witnessed them perform live, they are a tight unit, as drummer Daniel Cundiff and bassist Jonathan Woods lock into each song with vigor.  This band clearly loves what they’re doing and have put in a lot of practice.

The Drop Beneath is packed full of highlights, but it’s with “Gouge” that they really strike an immediate chord.  The song kicks swiftly like something from the Cure’s Head on the Door, as played by an American band, however, Yun’s vocals are slow and dreamy creating an interesting juxtaposition that draws out the maximum emotion from the self-disparaging love message inside.  Definitely one of the great singles of the year so far.  Similarly, the momentum gathering “Never Enough” grabs onto a rock solid groove and does not let go.  Meanwhile, the excellent, “Make It New” finds Yun pulling screeching, yet tasteful, notes out of her guitar along the lines of J Mascis from SST-era Dinosaur Jr. to amazing effect.  Elsewhere, there are jangling breaks in the action with the Cundiff led “Not For This One,” and the late night contemplation of “Capture.” Not to be ignored is the buoyant, bouncing, and uplifting “A Burial” (its inhibitions and past mistakes that are being buried here), or the stuttering and dream-like beauty of the mildly Lush-evoking “Deep End.”  Finally, the two closing songs really show the range and power this band wields.  “Until the Day I Have Won” is a stunning ballad of perseverance, where Yun sings with a touching abandon.  Lastly, the huge sounding epic closing title track is a perfect finale.  This song reminds me of a lot of things I cannot quite put my finger on, but it truly feels like a song that has always been a part of my life.  Woods’, 1-2-3 deep end bass-line lays a massive foundation for Yun to display her guitar prowess for this beautiful and desperate song (“I wish that I could take your good advice / to be happy / to be quenched with the drop beneath the ice / if you want to / you could be the one to take my life / and make it right”).  Absolutely stunning and heartbreaking.

Now, I suppose, it’s time for me to seek out their earlier work, but in the meantime, I highly recommend this fun listen to start.


Eternal Summers "Gouge"