two sentence reviews of reasonably new albums i listened to in september & october

saxapahaw oktoberfest: gasoline stove

And by “in September” I mean “in the last four days of September because I was behind, epically, on podcasts, all month”, but October was A++ of new listening. Also: full length reviews of Ha Ha Tonka’s Lessons, Two Cow Garage’s The Death of The Self-Preservation Society, and The Julie Ruin’s Run Fast here, and The Head and the Heart’s Let’s Be Still on Speakers.

San Fermin — San Fermin: already documented as one of my favorite sets of Hopscotch, the self-titled debut from Ells Leone-Lewis’s collective is as startling and lovely as their live show was. Complex melodically, musically, and rhythmically, the duelling male / female vocals, the chorus of horns behind them, the shimmering and sad songwriting — it’s all fantastic. This is one of my favorite albums of the year, with the emotional impact of the National and the visceral wail of all my favorite female-fronted punk bands, and I can’t get over how great it is.

Adam Marsland — The Owl & The Full Moon: I can’t be the only music writer who adds things to iTunes and then forgets where she got them from, so you guys will understand that the provenance of this Adam Marsland record is lost to the bowels of my GMail account. What I can tell you, though, is that it’s a well thought modern pop R&B / soul record, with clever lyrics that I might have better expected to be backed by a single acoustic guitar; instead, it’s a chorus of harmonies overlaid by Marsland’s own strong-yet-delicate melody lines, and a wall of piano haze and chimes and touches of guitar that might have come out of Muscle Shoals in the ’70s. Mostly it’s a pop soul record, and it’s lovely for that; when it has its moments of surprise, like at the beginning of “No One’s Ever Gonna Hear This Song”, it’s a wonder.

Jesse Woods — Get Your Burdens Lifted: ghostly, echoing, pedal steel shivered, cowboy country songs. Fascinatingly hook-filled, hand-clappy and foot-stompy, because there’s something deeply, deeply, delicious creepy about this record, too. This record is kind of like that guy that you know is probably going to be really bad for you, but you love him like a crazy person anyway, and he makes you really happy when he’s not doing something totally disturbing. Ache and shiver, hook and holler, the best kind.

Okta Logue — Tales of Transit City: sort of proggy, sort of post-rocky, echoed vocals, piano melody lines, songs about the nature of existence; this is a pretty compelling release that I can’t quite put words to. Defies description, I guess. It’s dream-like and warm and sad, mostly.

The Worthless Son-In-Laws — No. 8 Wire: smart rock and roll with twanged out vocals and the kind of steady drumming and guitar lines that don’t overshadow the lyrics — clever and eagle-eyed with regards to the human condition — but do invoke the current modern age of big Southern rock guitarists, like Jason Isbell.

Belle Adair — The Brave & The Blue: if it comes from Alabama, it gets labeled “Southern indie rock”, but this album, from Muscle Shoals quintet Belle Adair, is so much more complex than that; it’s blinding like the glare on a country road when the asphalt gets too hot and the sun is too bright and you’re driving barefoot with the breeze on your face, and it’s quiet like the North Carolina country nighttime sky. It’s echoes of guitar distortion and acoustic melodies and sharp harmonies. It’s a rumble of a thunderstorm and that golden light that happens only in the South when the sun breaks dark clouds. It’s pretty fucking stellar, and unlike anything else you’ll hear this year, and that’s why we shouldn’t call all music from one state by any kind of genre, other than “music made by a band that happens to, at this time, reside in Alabama”. Because The Brave & the Blue is way, way more than that.

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two sentence reviews of reasonably new albums i listened to in august

goathouse cat refuge

Dash Hammerstein — Bito Cabrito: sort of slinky ’50s garage pop, lots of keyboards and drawling vocals and weird orchestration. Charming as hell. Great songwriting, loads of earworms, A+ recommendation from Fuel/Friends.

Have Gun, Will Travel — Fiction, Fact, or Folktale?: this is the fourth LP from Florida’s Have Gun Will Travel, and it’s just as lo-fi, lush, traditional, and unique as their first three have been; it’s got hand claps and multi-part harmonies and upright basses and banjos, but it also pushes the boundaries in great ways, like the shiver of growling electric guitar at the end of first single “Standing At The End Of The World” and the minor key distorted vocals of “Trouble”. A delicious new record from one of my favorite should-be-famous bands, this is what “Americana” should be, if you’re going to bother calling things Americana. I call this good music made by smart songwriters with loads of stringed instruments, an ear for the weird that could only come from Florida, and the brains behind the only good bathroom promo photo ever taken.

Barrence Whitfield & the Savages — Dig Thy Savage Soul: did you know there was such a thing as garage soul? I don’t know if there really is, but I made it up to describe this record from the latest addition to Bloodshot Records’ lineup: this is down and dirty fuzzed out feedbacky soul music, grimy and wild and absolutely made for dancing a little too close to the wrong person.

Doc Feldman & the LD50 — Sundowning at the Station: this record is haunted and haunting, and it sort of made me want to do a lot of drugs. It’s serious hopeful-melancholy-burnouts-on-the-porch Americana, waving away the bugs and smoking Parliment lights and drinking Pig’s Eye beer.

Cat Be Damned — The Top Of The Mountain Looks Just Like The Bottom: if you can make indie brat punk with an acoustic guitar and a banjo, that’s what Erik Phillips is doing as Cat Be Damned, and it’s kind of totally delicious — all feedback and whining plaintive vocals and plucked out acoustic guitar lines from the next great Americana record. This record feels all over the place, but the sneering, hopeful attitude at the heart of Phillips’ songwriting is what makes it stand out; it’s part protest and all love song, and I dig on it hard.

Heyward Howkins — Be Frank, Furness: this record from Philadelphia songwriter Howkins is a bit of a departure from his previous record, The Hale & the Hearty, which was fairly hazy dream-pop; his follow-up still showcases his unique voice and his songwriting talents, but it’s got a beat to it, a sunny sound in the guitars and the drumming. It’s an impressive follow-up to an impressive debut, especially with the change in tone and mood, both because it’s simply impressive songwriting and performing, and because sometimes a shift in tone makes an album feel alien, but here, both records feel typical of Howkins despite their differences. It’s really a delicious little summer record that I’m going to enjoy well into the fall.

two sentences reviews of reasonably new albums i listened to in july

the dune dogs @ berkeley cafe

Two Cow Garage — The Death of the Self-Preservation Society: not out until September, and obviously given my history there will be a big fat wordy full review later, but basically, if you’ve never heard of Two Cow Garage, this record is about to find you your newest favorite band, and there’s not a band out there that deserves huge fat success for a genius record — their sixth full length, but never mind, it’s okay you’ve been wasting your time all these years, you’re here now — more than Two Cow.

Will Schwartz — New Haircut: if Lousiana novelist Walker Percy made a stripped down acoustic album that’s just vocals and steel and melancholy fingerpicked guitar, it would be this record by Will Schwartz — it’s a deceptively simple and stripped down EP that packs an enormous punch, like Percy’s novels. Simply language and simple sounds that are absolutely rip-your-heart-from-your-chest when you listen closely. This is one of my best totally random discoveries this year thus far. Get it.

Tedo Stone — Good Go Bad: sultry, swampy eletronica-soul; a little psychadelic and a lot all over the place, but in a great way. A record that has depths and that it took me a long time to really grasp; it’s smart and the orchestration and writing are complex and unique. I’m really smitten by this record, actually — something about the piano and the organ and the guitars and the distorted vocals just sings to my soul. Get it from This Is American Music here.

The O’s — Thunderdog: deeply earnest — but not uncharmingly earnest — banjo heavy roots rock. There’s a bit of early Old 97s to the rhythms of the songs, and a bit of the Band, and a bit of my beloved Jones Street Station on their first record. There’s a lot of influences and styles going on, and some work better than others, but none fail; all of the tracks on this record have at least one thing, and most have more, to recommend them. The songwriting is strong, and I think could get stronger. I’d like to see them live, see how some of these songs go over in front of an audience.

Kent Goolsby — Trophies of Youth: good old-fashioned honky tonk, and spectacular, hook-filled songwriting, from the ex-Only Songs frontman. This skips and sings with steel and slide and twang, and is truly one of those records from this year that’s going to be missed by loads of people who would love it, but don’t know about it. So now you know about it.

two sentence reviews of albums i listened to in june

the dune dogs @ berkeley cafe

Boxed Wine — Cheap, Fun: cheerful, complex synth pop with choruses full of hooks and funky ’70s garage rock and hand claps. These guys hooked me when Katie from Speakers in Code found their EP, and their full-length isn’t a letdown. Fuzzy and shiny and distorted summer dance party music. Also, it has a song about a cannibal on it. Get it here.

Camera Obscura — Desire Lines: it’s a Camera Obscura record; at this point, we know the kind of dreamy twee pop that they make, and either you like it or you don’t. I like it, and I think this is a lovely and cool LP with some fascinating droning finger-picked electric guitar work that resonates louder than the lyrics or the driving humming synths and drumming. A couple of really stand out tracks, too, like the heartbreaking “New Year’s Resolution”, which just destroys me.

Teen Getaway — Hits And Missives: this is a very loud, very delicious record made by my buddy Jim and some of the folks from the Delicate Cutters, and put out by my buddies at This Is American Music, and they use the term “bubblegum skronk” to describe it, and I have no idea what that means, but I really love typing it and saying it and thinking about it and I love this record, so that’s a lot of love, y’all. I also listened to it directly after the Camera Obscura record and it was a huge shock to my system.

The Reflections — Limerence: driving guitar rock with pop piano lines and haunting vocals used as sonic texture, this is pretty well along the lines of what Passion Pit is doing these days; indie rock dance music with hooky choruses. Excellent guitar work on this record, though — fascinating, enormous washes of sound all layered over each other.

Bonnie Whitmore — There I Go Again: as this NPR article notes, this is definitely the year of the woman in country music, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Bonnie Whitmore’s new record, out on This Is American Music, is a very solid contribution to that collection; Whitmore is better when she’s bluesy than when she’s shooting for country radio (the only disappointing track on the record is “Colored Kisses”, a song that just seems too saccharine for Whitmore’s tough girl persona on the rest of the songs) and “Cryin’ Out For Me” and “You’re Gonna Love Me” should be hits as big as “Follow Your Arrow” has been for Kacey Musgraves.

Pretty & Nice — Golden Rules for Golden People: smart and catchy garage pop, I guess, with some real surf-y aspects to the instrumentation; kind of like if super twee indie pop was made in a room full of garbage cans, and I mean that in a totally good way. The vocals twang and snap, a little contrived and a lot ear-wormy, and every song sounds different, run through electronic distorters and relying on harmonies and stylization to stand out, which they do. A really weird, fun record that will probably not get noticed, and it should. Triangle, they’re at Motorco on Saturday — July 6 — with So Many Dynamos. $8.

Invisible Hand — Squirrel Jail: epic echoing delicious garage rock from Charlottesville’s best, Invisible Hand. It’s not quite fulls of hooks and not quite arhythmic, it’s just fuzzy and loud and full of huge guitar riffs, and also it is called Squirrel Jail, how is this not your favorite record of 2013? BECAUSE IT SHOULD BE, IT IS ONE OF MINE. (Mostly because it’s really, truly genius feedback-y heavy-duty rock and roll. More heavy duty rock and roll, please and thank you.)

two sentence reviews of albums i listened to in may

hollis brown @ local 506

Basically I listened to the new National record all month, so I’m behind. Again.

Futurebirds — Baba Yaga: more delicious Southern pedal steel flavoured freak out psych-folk from Athens rockers Futurebirds; I occasionally forget how much I enjoy their music, and how soothing and inspiring and visually compelling I find it. Visually compelling seems like a weird thing to say about music, but Futurebirds just always paint me incredibly vivid pictures with their sound. This record also pushes their sound in a few directions they haven’t tried before, including some grungier, twangier, more guitar driven traditional Americana-sounding roots rock. It’s pretty stellar.

The Thermals — Desperate Ground: yes, I will take some more excellent brat pop that sounds like if John Darnielle made garage pop with loads of extra guitars.

The Shouting Matches — Grownass Man: see, the thing is, it’s not that I dislike Bon Iver, or Justin Vernon, or anything; it’s just that his records as Bon Iver have never really done it for me. That’s it, plain and simple: it’s not bad, it just doesn’t push the buttons I want my music to push. So trust it to be the funky, groovetastic Muscle Shoals influenced white soul blues record that he makes with Phil Cook (to be fair, one of my favorite humans and musicians) that I finally love a project from him. Justin Vernon is a genius; Phil Cook is a genius; this is a brilliant record.

Radiation City — Animals In The Median: shuffling, sunny, girl group harmonized indie pop, crashy and full of surf rock guitar lines. It’s got a song about zombies. It sounds kind of like ’50s Buddy Holly pop made under water. It’s full of ear worms and vaguely creepy, delicious love songs. It’s like riding a merry-go-round stoned, but with more synthesizers and off-beat drumming. That’s more than two sentences, but this album deserves all of my weirdest, most descriptive praise.

The Front Bottoms — Talon of the Hawk: summery brat pop with a distinctly ’90s alt rock flavor, this record reminds me a whole lot of my beloved Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy by the Refreshments; it’s got a great sense of humor in the songwriting, bouncing guitar lines, and shouted choruses. There’s no song over 4 minutes. It’s pretty much my new favorite summer driving record.

two sentence reviews of albums i listened to in march and april

phuzz phest: cheap time

I didn’t listen to much new in March; my vacation threw me off my podcast schedule, and I felt like I spent a month just getting that up to speed. But I did listen to a few in March, and way more new music in April. BANG.

The Speechless Radio — Care EP: horn-laden, vaguely twee indie pop, with a feel to me like the Lucksmiths; emo boy songwriting, but clever and funny emo boy songwriting that lodges in your head. Some interesting and variable guitar work, and a thickness and sadness to the orchestration that I really appreciate.

Pickwick — Can’t Talk Medicine: this is moody, bluesy, aching indie rock, and I’ve had recommendations for these guys from every quarter, but particularly from Adam. Every recommendation I’ve gotten is spot on; Pickwick’s record is soulful, parts Stax and Atlantic, part modern, chiming, post-prog indie rock, with wailed vocals and atmospheric guitars. It’s innovative, it sounds unlike anything else out there, and, yeah, I’m going to rave about this record, too.

The Deadstring Brothers — Cannery Row: it’s not like Bloodshot Records has ever put out a crappy release, but this is a wonder of steel guitar and traditional feeling chorused vocals, melded with Memphis piano and a shiver-shake of drums. Really staggered me, as my first serious introduction to the band (beyond tracks on Bloodshot comps), what I’ve been missing all these years: Texas-great songwriting and orchestration that’s unusual and well-used, and a real sound that makes me miss the Band.

Waxahatchee — Cerulean Sea: louder than last year’s debut, this is still full of fuzzy guitar, love/hate/love songs, Katie Crutchfield’s sulky, snarly little girl vocals, and awesome. I love that it moves easily from surly fuzz-punk (“Dixie Cups And Jars”) to charming jangle pop (“Lips and Limbs”) and everything in between without thought for flow or pacing — except that it works, the softer songs soothing after the growl, the noisier songs amping the album’s energy back up. God, I love this project of Crutchfield’s.

Luke Winslow-King — The Coming Tide: a delicious slow shuffle of a record from the newest member of the Bloodshot family, Luke Winslow-King’s new album is a gorgeous fusion of traditional country and gospel, Dixieland, the drawl of New Orleans, a little bit of Memphis in the horns and a lot of long lazy afternoons on a porch with a drink and a fan in the feeling it gives me.

I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House — Mayberry: the last SOB album was, well, a little angry; in contrast, Mayberry may open with a lament to the days of Andy Griffith and childhood having passed, but it’s a communal chorused sort of rancor. I mean, honestly, either you’re an SOB fan and you gave to the Kickstarter and have already listened to this, or you’re not and nothing I say will convince you. It’s a crash and rumble of guitars, and good songwriting, and some genuinely sincerely excellent harmonica playing.

Kacey Musgraves — Same Trailer Different Park: the debut record from the woman everyone is calling “the best new voice in country music”? Yep, it’s every single bit as good as everyone’s saying.

The Duke Of Norfolk — Le Monde Tourne Toujours: high-tempo, high-energy trad-folk; catchy and well played finger-picked guitar; riffs that stuck in my head.

The Glorious Veins — Savage Beat: smart, twitchy electronic garage-pop. I think I confused these guys with Bad Veins when I got the record, but I really dig on this — kind of New Order-y with more guitars and feedback? It’s good.

Rachel Kiel — Television Waltz: smart, rootsy indie pop from a Chapel Hill songwriter; Rachel has a fantastically world-weary voice that plays really well over the Neil Young guitar riffs and lush instrumental breaks in her orchestration. This record has a lovely mix of heavier psychedelia and lighter, rootsier indie pop, and it’s all well-balanced with harmonies and Rachael’s voice alone.

two sentence reviews of albums i listened to in february

tame impala @ cat's cradle

Two from my buddies at This Is American Music this month, with one (Great Peacock) not quite out yet; I didn’t listen to nearly as much as I wanted to this month, and wrote about even less of what I did hear. I promise March will be improved! I have a lot to catch up on. Anyway, six EPs or LPs for your perusal.

Bad Bad Hats — It Hurts EP: California-sunshine garage pop, with ooh-ooh choruses and affectingly affected little girl vocals; there are kazoo solos and it’s all a little She & Him twee, without being at all self-conscious like Zooey Deschanel can be with that group. It’s just kicky, good-times garage pop.

Woodpigeon — Thumbtacks and Glue: a lot more electric guitars in this offering from Woodpigeon, but it’s still the same smart, orchestral, theatrical pop with heartache vocals and shivery harmonies; clever, literary, complex pop music. Lots of dueling male/female voices, underscored by the thick string quartets and driving guitar melodies. RIYL Lost in the Trees.

Golden Boots — DBX ‘N’ SPF: synthy indie pop with distorted vocals, this reminded me a lot of the really great Modest Mouse era of The Moon & Anarctica, all fuzz and chimed-out guitar melodies that don’t match the vocal lines, and plinking synths and strings behind it all. Gorgeous desperate songwriting, and an ineffable ache to the songs that made my heart hurt without knowing why.

Great Peacock — GP EP: I am inclined to trust records that open with simple percussion and vocal harmonies, and that’s how this record from Great Peacock starts, male and female voices raised up in praise and then a shuddering, shattering flood of keyboards and guitars and joy, all underpinned by that rhythm and fascinating drumming. It’s a soothing, hypnotic EP, the kind of roots music that Mumford & Sons wish they were making, authentic and rough voiced and lovely.

Broken Radio — It’s Only Fool’s Gold: a German band making rootsy rock, this record is somewhere between Neil Young and Nick Cave; it’s got Crazy Horse guitars and Young harmonica and the shivery bass vocals and I-might-kill-you-in-your-sleep-but-I-swear-I-love-you inflection of Nick Cave. It drags a little for me in the middle, but there’s some really interesting guitars and steel work going on here, and I’m curious about how they move forward.

Dana Swimmer — Veloce: skuzzy, skanked-out, reverb-heavy retro pop punk, which is too many buzzwords in a single sentence, but it’s all true. Effects-heavy vocals, twang, that skittery drumming that I feel like marks really good cowpunk bands like Two Cow Garage and I Can Lick Every Sonofabitch In The House. Way out there for the This Is American Music family, I am really, really wild about this record.