Monday, February 29, 2016

Trees Touch Skies

The Icicles “Trees Touch Skies” EP (Microindie)

After releasing an unusually dark, yet spectacular, album with 2012’s Renegade Parade (my #7 pick for best of 2012 – see here), the Icicles return with an EP that we were all hoping would be an LP.  Luckily, the wait for new music from them was worth it, as these new songs are all outstanding!  They’ve managed to capture the more nuanced and melancholy feel of Renegade, but with more of their previous pop song appeal.

The opening song, “Phrases,” has a guitar melody that sounds straight out of Will Sargeant’s cannon (Echo and the Bunnymen) best creations, and then we are welcomed by band leader Gretchen DeVault’s friendly voice and some fantastic backing vocal harmonies.  Then we go right into this collection’s title and highlight song, “Trees Touch Skies.”  I hate to pull out more comparisons, but this song sounds like a lost single from the Pale Saints’ amazing In Ribbons album. Another brilliant guitar lead from Rebecca Rodriguez, and beautiful keyboard washes make this uplifting song so memorable and stunning.  “Think About” arrives with a smooth shuffle beat, some creepy sounding keyboards and someone spurned and not yet ready to let go of the anger – reminding of the underrated Heart Throbs, until the unexpected trumpet solo near the song’s end.  The EP sort of concludes with the aggressive “Outside In,” which I would imagine could be a great show stopper in a live setting.

There is an additional demo included (“Steal the Covers”), as well as 
a radio broadcast with a brief band interview and the new songs played acoustically, which are very nice, but it’s the core four songs that have my hopes up for more new music on the horizon and forces me to recommend that you give this EP a listen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Let Our Hoax Eclipse

Drakes Hotel “Let Our Hoax Eclipse” (DH Music)

From the opening tape hiss, programmed drums, and deep throbbing bassline, this new Drakes Hotel album feels classic – like a lost classic post-punk album from the likes of For Against or Comsat Angels, but no, it’s pretty recent.  The fifth Drakes Hotel album was released in November of last year – two years after their amazing Love’s Not Lazy EP – but I am just getting around to writing about it now, because of losing three months of music enjoyment due to health issues.  What a welcome collection of music this is top return to!  This collection is tight, urgent and inspired and their best work since 2007’s Tell Me Everything.

Have you ever left a concert – all energized and amped – to an unknown album being played as exit music on the big speakers with too much bass and wondered to yourself if it may be the best thing you’ve ever heard?  This could be that album.  The first four songs are sheer brilliance lyrically and musically, but it’s not until the album’s middle point, where things slow down a little and we are treated to “Scuffed Hips” and its chorus beginning with a soaring “In that space between us” that the narcotic appeal truly sinks its teeth.  Amelia Drake’s spectacular and otherworldly vocals are as haunting as the dark lyrics, while Chris Y’s guitars are as complex, layered and strikingly catchy as ever.  This is a cohesive and timeless collection high-lighted by the Kitchens of Distinction reminiscent “Nothing of Comfort,” which is utterly beautiful.

I am so thankful that under heard artists such as this Midwestern couple continue to make such inspiring and exciting music.  Now let’s reward them for their efforts with a much larger audience.

Drakes Hotel "Nothing of Comfort"

Friday, February 12, 2016

Top Music Picks From 2015 (January – October)

I never liked Halloween very much.  As a kid, I was never interested in dressing up in costumes and I remember feeling upset about the entire trick or treating process.  As an adult, I’ve been beaten up by a gang of Russians on a Halloween.  I once learned that a girl I had a crush on was giving me so much attention only because she liked a friend of mine on a Halloween.  And now, this most recent Halloween, I had a stroke. 

This stroke, followed by a second one a week or so later, all stemmed from the genetic disorder that I’ve grown up with (VHL).  Last January I learned that I had a new hemangioblastoma (cyst) growing in my cerebellum.  At the time, it was decided that we would wait a year and check on it again.  These cysts grow at a predictable rate.  Unfortunately, this one decided to burst, sending blood all over the inside of my brain.  I have spent the last three plus months trying to recover.  There have been numerous stays in the hospital and a two week stay at an inpatient rehab facility. 

Normally, at the end of each year, like it or not, I share my favorite music from that year.  I missed the opportunity this year, since I spent the New Year holiday in a hospital bed.  Plus I missed the last two months of the year in music, so here is my tardy list from 2015’s first 10 months.

1.   Pretty Sad “Pretty Sad”  EP (Shelflife)
Late in 2014, the amazing Shelflife Records released the debut digital only EP from this unknown and mysterious collective.  I didn’t run across this until springtime last year, but am still listening to these three brief songs over and over again.  The band seems to be no longer in existence, as there is no info anywhere about them.  They have tapped into the seductive sounds of such early Shelflife luminaries as The Arrogants and Brittle Stars with swift sparkling guitar lines and dreamy washes of keyboards all propelled by aggressive drums.  These songs are all aggressively depressing – filled with identifiable self-doubt and dislike all tied in around heartbreak.  Sad that this may be all that we ever hear from this talented group.

2.   Thrushes “Exposing Seas” (New Granada)
The long-awaited third offering from Baltimore’s very own Thrushes is finally here!  It’s been over five years since they’ve graced us with their beautiful noise.  While the first two LPs are like warm blankets of swirling feedback perfect to keep one warm on a cold rainy afternoon, this new offering brings a fuller expanded sound.  Anna Conner’s longing voice and lyrics still bring a lump to my throat with every listen, as on the reflective “Katydid” and the string adorned “Joan of Arc.”  Those are just the first two songs!  The remainder of the album includes more highlights, such as the urgent “Night,” the Slowdive-esque “Snowblind,” and the closing epic “Slow Road.”  This is a band that demands more recognition!

3.   Evans the Death “Expect Delays” (Slumberland)
I absolutely adored the wild and tumultuous debut album from UK band Evans the Death.  This new one took some time to warm up to.  Gone are the straight forward catchy tunes, however, over a handful of listens, the album blossoms and we find a mature collection of songs that are definitely memorable.  The wild abandon is not gone either, as each song bristles with intensity and subtle hooks inside.  I have a feeling that this is the album I will be listening to more often in the years to come.

4.   Decoration “Put Me Back on My Bike” (13 B Sides)
Full disclosure, a friend and I helped release a US version of Decoration’s amazing debut album Don’t Disappoint Me Now in 2008 (  There’s a reason why we did this.  It’s because this band is amazing and seems to fly under the radar more than almost any band I’ve encountered – especially one that was once championed by John Peel and that draws big name producers (this time around David M. Allen  who produced The Cure for years).  At any rate, I’m thankful they’ve stuck it out for album number four.  Nothing has been lost, they still have the same every day heartbreak songs crammed with addictive guitar hooks, fervent urgency, and Stuart Murray’s emotive vocals (which are unique in the same way that the Wedding Present’s David Gedge’s are).  Here though, they’ve expanded their sound a bit, with more keyboards and a couple of epic numbers – most notably the super identifiable (see crush reference above) “Paul is Dead Nice,” where the girl chooses the wrong guy.  Please check out this criminally overlooked band.  Keep it up guys! 

5.    BNLX “Good Light” (Susstones)
I’m so thankful for this band.  They are super prolific, but they fill so many of my musical tastes.  They can be a punk rock band one song, a pop rock band the next, and yet they can stretch things out and achieve psychedelic atmospheric bliss the next song.  They remind me of the mid-80s college rock scene when so many underground bands straddled so many of the rock genres that they were just considered cool and their audience at shows would draw punks, new wavers, fried out hippies, nerds, scary mountain people, skaters, regular folks etc. all looking to bum clove cigarettes from the goths.  They have released two full length albums and nine EPs since 2012, and yet they still had the creativity and energy to write and record the catchiest song of the year in “Penny Drops,” which has a guitar chorus to die for.  Try to keep up.