Monday, May 23, 2016

Return of the Wild Style Fashionists

True Love Always
Return of the Wild Style Fashionists

With so many artists from the past reuniting nowadays, I should not be surprised that True Love Always are back.  However, they were such a well-kept secret during the span of their original recording career (1997-2003), I wonder what the impetus was to give it another go.  Don’t get me wrong, because this is a very welcome return.  TLA somehow managed to combine the sounds of Postcard Records-era Orange Juice with the blue-eyed soul of New Romantics Spandau Ballet, along with Teen-Beat Records label-mates Unrest.  The sound throughout their four albums and many singles is wound-tight, dry, and flawless and nothing has changed, except this new EP may be their best work yet (I’d better go and listen to the old CDs as a refresher course).

Vocalist/guitarist John Lindaman’s friendly voice reminds me a lot of John Conley (Desario, Holiday Flyer, California Oranges), which makes these five songs of love lamenting incredibly accessible.  The perfectly pitched chorus of “Summer Trains and Tears” is a great example of their addictive sound complete with perfect bouncing bass lines from Tony Zanella.  The opening “In the Dark” is the true highlight here though as Lindaman sings words of hope to the hopeless (“Hopelessly drowning / Walk through the fountain / Your heart beats faster / Filled with disaster / If you can get outside / Then it will be alright”).  “Concentric” is the closest they get to straight forward rock here, with wonderfully dynamic drumming from Matt Datesman, while “5:32” displays their ability to capture sing-along moments from out of the air with such ease – though the song fades out too quickly.  The set closes with the oddly timed, but fun “Junkyard,” whose chorus call and response vocals remind me of the theme from 70s sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter,” and I dare you to remove it from your head after the first listen.

Maybe this reunion will shine a light on this deserving band.  Welcome back guys!

True Love Always "In the Dark"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blind Spot

Blind Spot EP

Lush are back!  I honestly thought that this would never happen after the suicide of good guy original drummer Chris Acland nearly twenty years ago.  Yet here they are and sounding as amazing as ever.  I long ago gave up having any kind of suspicions regarding bands that reform for nostalgia tours or even new material.  Calls of “sellout” and “poser” have long since left my vocabulary.  Firstly, because if it is simply a cash grab, then good for them.  Most of these artists did not get the exposure they deserved when they first started, so why not get the due?  Secondly, having seen some of these reformed bands perform again, it’s heartening to see them get adulation for their amazing work.  It’s fun to see them having fun in front of big enthusiastic crowds instead of grinding through night 45 of some epic tour across the U.S. in some shitty club with shitty sound opening for some horribly mismatched band in front of 22 people.  If these bands actually do release new material, it’s difficult to have expectations.  Sometimes it disappoints, like the Pixies new album a couple of years ago, yet when they do pick up right where they left off, nothing can be sweeter.  Lush are back!

I have been debating for weeks about whether or not to write about this record.  I have this debate to some extent always, because as I am always on the fence about the effectiveness of sharing my opinions on music and the quality of my writing abilities.  Yet in this case, I am so happy that Lush are back that I want to shout it out to the world!  Plus, they begin again with an EP!  This is how we were initially introduced to them, so it’s exciting to see a 4AD-style sleeve jacketing the nearly lost art form of the four song EP, which helped introduce me to a million great bands back in the late 80s and early 90s.

Hearing the incredibly distinctive guitar work and vocals of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson launch this EP on the love plea “Out of Control” is like a breath of fresh air.  It’s a striking reminder that this band was wholly unique when they came along and they still are today.  “Lost Boy” follows with pure heartbreak and loss and an abrupt ending making one wonder if this is about Acland.  Meanwhile, “Burnham Beeches” is a breezy and summery song seeking solace in isolation with an interesting trumpet solo.  Lastly, the quietly orchestrated “Rosebud” sounds like a creepy night time lullaby (aren’t they all creepy?).

Lush are back!  Blind Spot has the most in common with their early EPs, but with the to-the-point clarity of their final two albums, the flawless Split and the straight ahead pop of Lovelife.  Lush are back, so please spend the money for their record and to see them perform.  Adore them while they are with us.

Lush "Out of Control"

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

As We Make Our Way (Unknown Harbours)

As We Make Our Way (Unknown Harbours)
(The Flower Shop Recordings)

There is something special about each Sophia album.  Each album is immaculately recorded.  Every instrument shines with clarity and depth. Each album is sleeved with tastefully simple but effective artwork and packaging.  And, of course, it always takes some effort to track down.  I first encountered Sophia twenty years ago when I purchased a double 7” single that included two songs each from long-time favorite Swervedriver, and Sophia.  Both Sophia songs assured that I would be hooked on this new band.  Unfortunately, that would be the last time I ever saw one of their records or CDs in an actual record store, so it’s always been about tracking down each release via mail order. 

Robin Proper-Sheppard is essentially Sophia.  He has led various incarnations of his band now over six fantastic and incredibly consistent albums spanning the last twenty years.  As We Make Our Way is no exception.  Though it’s been seven long years since the last tour de force There Are No Goodbyes, it’s clear that Sheppard has not lost his way, at least musically.  He has always been a voice of clarity for the downtrodden.  His lyrics have always represented those of us who have a hard time accepting our lot in life and feel regretful over pretty much every decision we’ve ever made.  He accepts the blame for all of our wrong-doings and finally comes right out and says so in “Blame” halfway through this collection (“it’s okay, I’ll take the blame / for the both of us), atop his ever present acoustic strum and piano phrase that mirrors the short instrumental opener “Unknown Harbours.”

Things really take off with the powerfully pounding drums of the epic “Resisting.”  The simple repeated lyrics ask why we’re always resisting (Temptation?  Leadership?  Status Quo? Happiness?), while the music swells to dramatic highs that hint at the huge orchestrated songs from Swans’ 1991 album White Light from the Mouth of Infinity.  It’s a song that has the patience to allow the musical tension to build and build, making the conclusion that much more satisfying.  The next two songs, “The Drifter” and “Don’t Ask,” recall Sophia’s long history of dusty downbeat trudging gliders that tell some kind of intriguing yet sad story.  Proper-Sheppard is so adept at these that they always sound fresh, even if he has already covered this ground.

Where this new album steps away from previous Sophia albums is at the start of side two.  “California” offers up a big bright sounding tune that actually feels hopeful.  Then comes along the grinding bass groove of the foot stomping “St. Tropez/The Hustle” and Robin’s falsetto in “You Say It’s Alright” over a repeated keyboard line.  The latter two tracks definitely show off some experimentation and, dare I say it, a more danceable approach. 

The final two tracks close out this collection in classic Sophia fashion.  “Baby, Hold On” is a slow builder that details his tendency to be a no show for important times in a relationship, but he offers a slight glimmer of hope that change may be coming, as he readily admits his mistakes.  Meanwhile, the closing song “It’s Easy to be Lonely” is an outstandingly effective indictment for everyone who feels sad and lonely, by pointing out that we’ve taken the easy way out.  In other words, we’ve made the decision to be this way (“Another chance to change is avoided”).  This is a beautiful and potent song and one that can be difficult to get through, as he finally points the finger at us (the lonely), instead of accepting the consequences himself, as usual.

It’s a shame that Sophia is not more widely known, especially in the U.S.  I would love the opportunity to see them perform live and hear this majestic music in person and at high volume.  However, I am thankful that they have stuck it out for so long and offered us so many great songs.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Out of the Garden

Out of the Garden

Holy 1994!!  This is all I could think of when I first heard “Control Me” from Out of the Garden, Tancred’s third album.  This was my introduction to Tancred, Jess Abbott’s apparent side project.  Who is Jess Abbott?  Well, all I know is that she plays (or played?) guitar for Now, Now, whose 2012 album Threads was my #10 pick of that year (see here).  However, this does not sound like a side project.  Instead it sounds like a well-rehearsed and seasoned rock trio who were raised on a heavy dose of “alternative rock” radio.  The best music is able to transport one’s mind to another place or time or emotion and this album transports me directly to the early to mid-90s – the time after Nirvana’s big breakthrough and major record labels (remember those?) were signing any band who employed loud guitars and pop hooks to huge contracts.  This is not a slight, as Tancred have captured the best of those times with genuine energy, direct coming of age lyrics, and fantastically abrasive guitars.

Tancred utilize the loud/quiet/loud approach that Nirvana used so well, but then if you throw in the buzzing and bright melodies of bands such as Veruca Salt, The Breeders, Julianna Hatfield, and the under-appreciated That Dog (whose Anna Waronker co-produced this album) it all comes alive and sounds as vibrant and exciting as ever.  Abbott is an amazing and versatile guitarist and this trio sound like they are having fun with these songs, which is contagious. 

The three-minute pop numbers like the opening trio of “Bed Case,” the drum overloaded in-the-red bursts of “Joey,” and “Control Me” all sound FM radio ready and are as endlessly catchy as anything of its kind and fun as hell.  But it’s the more complex and darker tunes like “Not Likely” and the guitar only “Hang Me” that give this album some balance and variety.  There is an abundance of sexual euphemisms, disgust, work angst, and a newly discovered confidence all over Abbott’s lyrics and this is all best encapsulated in the explosive “Pens”, whose off-kilter verses careen into the oddball chorus of “I’m incredibly healthy in my head / It’s crazy how stable I am.” 

The album fully blossoms for me on the second side.  The quietly angry and confused “Hang Me” melds seamlessly into the album’s fastest and catchiest song “Sell My Head.”  Then comes the dark humor of “Poise,” with a chorus to die for, or kill for, in this case.  The closing “Pretty Girls” is both a deep album ender and a teaser that leaves us wanting more.  What else can one ask for? 

Tancred "Bed Case"

Sunday, May 15, 2016



Where to begin?  As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, Jawbreaker was a huge band for me during my twenties. I have tried to track down releases from all three band members over the years since their disappearance, and drummer Adam Pfahler has always impressed, especially with the 2006 Whysall Lane album (still waiting impatiently for album #2), and I think I have an old 7” by a band named The Moons.  I was also a big fan of Green Day, especially the Lookout! Records-era records, as well as the similarly fun and energetic Billie Joe Armstrong side project Pinhead Gunpowder, also featuring guitarist Jason White. Learning that these two were part of this new project, the Google-proof California was a clincher for me to purchase without a previous sound introduction.  This trio, rounded out by bassist Dustin Clark (of The Insides and Soophie Nun Squad – unknown to me), seemed to promise a revival of the exciting East Bay punk scene from the late-80s and early 90s, where one could buy like five albums, ten 45s and a couple of T-shirts for like $30 dollars via Blacklist Mailorder.  Ah, the good ole days of getting exhausted and frustrated from reading the endless dogma in the pages of Maximum Rock-N-Roll, but all the while voraciously ordering records advertised in the very pages that constantly railed against commercialism.

The album opens with the upbeat “Hate the Pilot” that recalls those Green Day/Pinhead Gunpodwer olden days, with lyrics that call out those who dislike everything for the sake of disliking, while “Same Boat” brings to mind Unfun-era Jawbreaker with Pfahler’s ever-inventive drumming, Clark’s gliding low end and White’s chiming post-punk guitar line.  The next couple of songs also hint at the sounds that I had kind of expected, except not as reliant on power chords and volume, and resoundingly more adult.  Then the record transitions into something much different.  The songs stretch out and side one closes with “Winners” - a positive outlook on how just getting through the daily grind and surviving can be something to celebrate.  Meanwhile, side two opens with the acoustic-led duet with Rachel Haden from the also much missed That Dog.  It’s a song filled with a real life melancholy as it describes the final moments of a relationship that has run its course.  There is no last second drama, just a simple bummer ending (“There was only a last knowing glance / A smile and a wave / Goodbye and I flew way”).  Then comes along the Hammond organ adorned standout “See Your Friends” – a downtempo reminder to keep our friends close and not let the drag of depression isolate oneself.  By this point, we start to realize that this album is really a simple, but incredibly performed and tastefully recorded timeless rock-n-roll album – not a pop punk record. 

Now that I’m old and have heard what seems like everything, I find that new music often takes several listens before it starts to show its strengths or weaknesses.  I can honestly say that California gets better with each listen.