We're approximately 40% of the way through 2015, and nary an album review to be found on this sadly neglected, mildewed, has-been of a blog. At the time of this writing, we're finally in the thick of summer; a summer which will be characterized by oodles upon oodles of adult beverages, live music, travel, and nuptials. Oh, right, and stamps. Don't forget the stamps. I can't stress this enough people, NEVER FORGET THE GODDAMN STAMPS.
As of this moment, I've seen approximately 37 shows during the calendar year 2015, and I've heard about 36 albums / EPs, give or take. Naturally, I haven't spent enough time with all of those albums to have formulated a coherent, snarky opinion on each of them, but what say we talk about the ones that I have, hmmmmmm?
THE BEST (AND WORST) ALBUMS OF 2015, pt. I
Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh-- this solo outing courtesy of one of the dudes from Fuck Buttons (not the guy who did the 8-bit thing earlier in the year) has a sound not dissimilar to his main gig. The maximalism and noisiness remains, but much of the epic melodicism is replaced here seemingly by a pervasive vibe of general uneasiness. I like it. Grade: B
Bop English - Constant Bop -- White Denim's main man James Petralli steps out on his first "solo" release, leaning heavily on many of WD's influences - namely blue-eyed soul, yacht rock, folk, dad rock, and other genres that don't really, y'know, "rock." What results sounds an awful lot like a kinda watered-down, less punchy version of what a normal White Denim record sounds like. Grade: B-
Built to Spill - Untethered Moon-- Initially, it was Doug Martsch's goal to record each successive BtS album with an entirely different lineup. Maybe it took trading his longtime rhythm section (as happened during the Untethered Moon sessions) for a pair of young bucks to rejuvenate the band's sound during the lengthy layoff following 2009's solid-if-at-times-lugubrious There Is No Enemy. Untethered Moon is the peppiest, liveliest, and downright funnest album of Martsch's career. Grade: A-
Crocodiles -Boys -- When I first saw Crocodiles live in a tiny room in 2009, the "band" somehow managed to make two dudes playing along to a backing CD seem bratty, punky, and ballsy. Now, five full-lengths into their career, Crocodiles seem to have settled into a rut of cranking out inessential (if pleasant) power pop recordes every year or so, entirely lacking the vitality of their earliest releases. Grade: C
Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer --If anything, Dan Deacon is known less for his songwriting and more for whipping crowds of sweaty hipster kids into a frenzy with his irresistable DIY electronic goofiness. Gliss Riffer bears the most legitimately catchy moments of his career, "Build Voice" notwithstanding. Grade: B-
Delicate Steve - Live in Las Vegas -- As I witnessed personally when seeing Delicate Steve open up for Tame Impala last November, this is a band that is best appreciated live. At their best, they manage to approximate the enthusiasm and chops of the mighty Fang Island while reminiscing about a distant time when guitar heroes like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Gary Hoey could get their songs played on pop radio. #rememberthenineties Grade: B+
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress -- Continuing Godspeed's post-hiatus resurgence, here's another undeniably massive slab of fire and brimstone, veering glacially from terrifying to gorgeous. Grade: A-
Inventions - Maze of Woods -- Is what's created by this Explosions in the Sky side project technically, "music?" Don't care, doesn't matter, shaddup. What it is is the single most immersive, relaxing album I've heard since Earth's outstanding The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. Grade: B+
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Freedom Tower -- These guys' ironic sneer has, at long last, collapsed under its own weight, which leaves JSBX with this, a limp, overly goofy ode to "old" NYC. Haven't really loved anything they've have done in some time now. Grade: C-
King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum -- Crimson is arguably the poster child for sacrificing genuine feeling for technique. Of course, this is absolute hogwash, perpetuated by critics who brand mastery of one's instrument beyond a Shaggs-ian level to be wankery. (In particular, the Wetton and Lake eras of Crim excelled onstage, as revealed in such live documents as the Epitaph and Great Deceiver box sets, as well as the Nightwatch and USA live albums.) However, I found this newest, three-drummer (!!!) iteration of the band to be dull and mechanical when I saw them last year, and Live at the Orpheum does little to sway that opinion. Grade: D
Plenty more albums to go - maybe I'll get to them soon, maybe I won't. TTFN.
Haunted Hearts toured Japan last year, but stateside shows have been scant. On this night, billed as NY's "only opportunity to hear Initiation played in full," Haunted Hearts managed to succeed while bringing few surprises to the table. The five piece band played Initiation front to back, tracks one thru eight in order, while sounding as confident and tight as though they're the tour-tested road warriors that they aren't.
While Uncle Bob's recent suggestion that he may once again be growng tired of Guided by Voices as a projectis incredibly disappointing to fans of great rock music, things will be much less painful if he can continue putting out solo records like this one. This is *easily* Pollard's best solo release since 2005's From a Compound Eye, and in every way: gone are the unimaginative production and plinky guitars of the last umpteen Pollard joints, but fortunately staying put are the rejuvenated songwriting chops that made each of the four (!!) GbV albums over the last two years such a joy.
Crocodiles - Crimes of Passion
It's fitting that Raveonettes mastermind Sune Rose Wagner has taken on production duties for Crocodiles. First off, Wagner already produces Dum Dum Girls, who are fronted by Crocodiles main man Brandon Welchez' wife, Dee Dee. Second, Wagner is probably the world's foremost authority on how to make jangly, poppy, JAMC-indebted tunes sound great. Although Crimes of Passion lacks the ecstatic highs of previous Crocodiles releases, it's their most consistent record yet.
Strangelight - 9 Days
When a band names itself after a Fugazi song, you better believe that's a mission statement. Strangelight's music is indebted not only to the denizens of Dischord (and the ambassadors of Am Rep), but to the more current post-hardcore and noise bands that were inspired by those bands, some of which actually share members with Strangelight. Just as with these other bands' material, I generally tend to prefer the harder-edged stuff over the midtempo shit. This release tends to veer a little too far towards the latter for my tastes.
Torche - "Harmonslaught" b/w "Rock and Roll Mantasy"
This release should mollify the critics who felt Torche went too melodic on their most recent album, Harmonicraft (#6 on my '12 Best Albums list) - this slow, menacing jam wouldn't've sounded out of place as an album track on '08's also fantastic (but crunchier) Meanderthal.
Kim Deal - "Walking With a Killer" b/w "Dirty Hessians"
She's releasing a series of 7"es this year; this is the first of 'em. The A-side possesses that sneaky, awkward melodicism that infected most of the best Pixies, but the song itself sounds kinda unfinished / half-baked. And the B-side is no help - a fairly useless instrumental bass groove thingy with some added bleepybloops.
You had to know that Crocodiles' Brandon Welchez and Dum Dum Girls' Dee Dee would eventually formally begin a project together - not only are they a married couple, but their respective bands sort of mine similar territory in the bubblegum / shoegazy / fuzzy / hypermelodic categories. They had previously collaborated on the "Merry Christmas Baby Please Don't Die" track a couple years back, and Haunted Hearts continues very much in that same vein. Not for nothin', it's catchy as hell, but it's also pretty predictable -- it sounds EXACTLY as I would expect a song by Brandon n' Dee Dee to sound.
Seeing this relatively stripped-down Crocodiles duo show brought me back to the first time I saw Crocodiles live, in June '09 at Union Pool, when the "band" consisted of just frontman Brandon Welchez, guitarist Charles Rowell, and (I assume) a CD of beats and backing tracks which they performed to. Since then I've seen the band many times, and Crocodiles' touring outfit has expanded to include a full band, but it was the bratty audacity of that first Union Pool performance (along with the irresistable catchiness of their Summer of Hate album) which first made me a fan.
The set included highlights from Crocodiles' three albums, opening up with relative rarity "Neon Jesus" (see below for video) and continuing with several tracks from their mildly underwhelming most recent album (title track "Endless Flowers," "Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)" and "No Black Clouds for Dee Dee" among them), as well as "Mirrors" (again, see below for video) and "All My Hate and My Hexes Are for You," before closing with all-time super mega classic "I Wanna Kill" (video above).
This set was fun as hell, and it's always fun to see a band tweak with their usual formula a bit. Crocodiles are a band whose output is particularly suited for this type of experimentation: many of their songs are based on chord progressions so brilliantly simple and infectiously melodic that it seems they'd sound good in practically any style / arrangement.
As far as the openers, I caught the last few songs of SISU's set (they're fronted by Dum Dum Girls' drummer), and though they weren't bad, I see nothing that really sets their music apart from plenty of other fizzy-fuzzy indie pop acts other than the fact that they're insanely attractive. And the best thing I can say about Cassie Ramone's dreary, joyless set of solo acoustic numbers is
So, my goal was to post reviews for every '12 album I heard (about 80 or so) before posting year-end lists, but that ain't gonna happen, so here you have the first part of the "Jaleppies," aka my year-end best-of lists. Part 2 will probably be published Wednesday morning and will consist of the year's best albums, and Part 3 will be random stuff. Enjoy! (Or don't! I don't care! I'll be in Puerto Rico beetches!)
[Note that in a few of the entries below, two songs have been combined into one single entry. You can probably figure out why, but just in case you can't, it's because the songs run together on the album and as such they sound dumb when played apart from one another. Thank you for your patience and understanding.]
1.) Fang Island - "Asunder" (edit)
2.) Lower Dens - "Lamb"
3.) Melvins - "We Are Doomed"
4.) Lower Dens - "Brains" > "Stem"
[Note - I shot this video]
5.) Dan Friel - "Valedictorian"
6.) Tame Impala - "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"
7.) Torche - "Kicking"
8.) Guided by Voices - "Keep It in Motion" > "Tyson's High School"
9.) The Men - "Oscillation"
10.) Dum Dum Girls - "Mine Tonight"
11.) Beach House - "Myth"
12.) Raveonettes - "Young and Cold"
13.) The Men - "Turn it Around"
14.) Melvins - "The War on Wisdom"
15.) Baroness - "Green Theme"
16.) Two Gallants - "Willie"
17.) Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid"
18.) Mount Carmel - "Swaggs"
19.) Pelican - "Ataraxia" > "Lathe Biosas"
20.) Fang Island - "Chompers"
21.) Tame Impala - "Music to Walk Home By"
22.) Guided by Voices - "Hangover Child"
23.) Van Halen - "She's the Woman"
24.) Six Organs of Admittance - "Even if You Knew"
Melvins - Freak Puke -- Not a good album, but fear not, they put out a damn fine EP earlier in the year, so all is still well in MelvinsWorld. Freak Puke may be largely hookless, although what you're hearing is the sound of a band eagerly exploring a new setup, with Dale playing a tiny vintage Gretsch jazz kit, Trevor Dunn fuckin' shit up on stand-up bass (!) and Buzz doin' his usual thang. Melvins have always expressed their love for balls-out experimentation, so hopefully they got whatever they needed to out of their system with Freak Puke, and ideally their next release is more in the vein of Houdini or Bullhead or Nude with Boots than Colossus of Destiny or Prick or Chicken Switch, if y'catch my drift.
Best songs: "A Growing Disgust," "Freak Puke," "Let Me Roll It."
Crocodiles - Endless Flowers -- Three albums into the Crocs' career, we know they do two things particularly well: writing hard-driving raveups with huge hooks ("I Wanna Kill," "Mirrors" and "Hearts of Love"), and writing slower, bubblegummy JAMC-indebted stuff, also with huge hooks ("Sleeping With the Lord," "Girl in Black," etc.). This album largely abandons those styles in favor of mediocre, mid tempo indie pop, and awkward-sounding Morrissey-biting vocal phrasing.
Best songs: "Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)" kinda rules.
Japandroids - Celebration Rock -- A sloshing bucketful of over the top youthful exuberance. The forced anthemicness of nearly every damn fool song on this album makes it somehow seem overstuffed despite being only 35 minutes long. But say what you want, these guys are a million times better than No Age.
Best songs: "The House That Heaven Built," "Evil's Sway."