Friday, July 25, 2014

Rolling Stones Friday: Sway

Mick Taylor, in approx. 1971
We're going back to 1971 and Sticky Fingers to pull up an underrated favorite of mine, "Sway".

While the song is credited to Jagger-Richards like all Stones originals, Keith was MIA for this one and didn't play on it. Mick Taylor has long contended he wrote the music and Jagger the lyrics.  Taylor's slide guitar in the middle and then his solo at the finish define the song, just super tasty.

The Stones did not perform the song live with Taylor until just last year in 2013:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beach Pigs - Grom Warfare

Dahnu Graham, Daniel Kerr, Billy Robertson and Suren Unka are pigs!  Specifically, they are the Beach Pigs, from Auckland, New Zealand.  In early June they released Grom Warfare, which they say portrays two years in the life of the members of the band.  I don't know that they've been up to anything all that different from any group of young men.  But unlike most guys with whom I passed the time in my 20s, the Beach Pigs make really good guitar pop.  The guitars shimmer and jangle with a hint of garage grit, and the vocals deliver power pop harmonies.  The melodies are good, with a lot of variety, but equally impressive are the rich textures in some of the tracks, such as "Big Peach".

The Beach Pigs don't have a label, and have self-released Grom Warfare on Bandcamp.  Sure, it will cost you some money, but it is just New Zealand dollars anyway.  And think of the value of being the first guy in your group to have the original Beach Pigs album.  Priceless, yes, priceless.  I've included a few tracks and a video below, and you can stream the entire album at the Bandcamp link.


Alvvays - Alvvays

It seems inevitable that I would fall in love with this album.  It had a few obstacles to overcome, including the fact that I hadn't previously heard of this Toronto-based band, and I am not fond of misspelled names (weird, rude and nonsensical names are just fine, of course).  But I was mollified on one of those points when I learned that a "w" was changed to two "v"s to avoid a conflict with another band named Always, and they wanted the visual similarity and insist on pronouncing Alvvays as always.  Moreover, I'd read some very positive statements about the band from sources I trust, so I gave it a chance.

And my firm conclusion is that all guitar pop fans should give this self-titled release a chance, because it is everything a good guitar pop album should be.  The hooks are infectious and plentiful.  Frontwoman Molly Rankin's vocals have the tone and emotional weight of Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura), and the power of Wendy Morgan (The Popguns).  And the arrangements are robust, fully realized, and determinedly sunny -- it is like Glasgow guitar pop on happy pills, or perhaps on a summer holiday to the coast.  You know, the themes can be melancholy and a bit sad, but that doesn't mean the music has to bring you down. There is a hint of nostalgia in some of the '60s era melodies and surfy touches, but it all has a natural and cohesive feel.

So, jangling guitars, sturdy basslines, well crafted songs with some wry humor, great melodies, and standout vocals.  It sounds like summer to me, and it sounds like a highly recommended summer album for you.

Alvvays consists of Molly Rankin, Kerri MacLellen, Alec O'Hanley, Brian Murphy and Philip MacIsaac.  Alvvays is out now via Polyvinyl.

Canadian and European fans can see Alvvays live on tour now.  The remaining dates are:
Jul 25 Guelph, ON @ Hillside Music Fest
Jul 26 Guelph, ON @ Hillside Music Fest
Aug 9 Kingston, ON @ Wolfe Island Festival
Aug 16 Montreal, QC @ La Vitrola
Oct 20 Cambridge, UK @ Junction
Oct 21 Liverpool, UK @ Kazimier
Oct 22 Dublin, Ireland @ O2 Academy
Oct 24 Birmingham, UK @ The Institute
Oct 25 Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
Oct 26 Newcastle, UK @ Riverside
Oct 28 Brighton, UK @ Komedia
Oct 29 London, UK @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Aug 5 London, UK @ Birthdays Presented by DIY Mag
Aug 6 London, UK  @ Rough Trade East

Polyvinyl Records

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Working - More Weight EP

Nineties-style noise pop (think Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine) has a permanent place in my heart, and my music collection.  So I'm always on the lookout for bands that can satisfy my appetite.  Happily, this week brings Working, a quartet from Rhode Island who has graced us with a three-track EP titled More Weight.  The EP is released in digital-only format by Shelflife Record, an outfit that repeatedly impresses us with its ear for quality indie pop.

On the More Weight EP Working demonstrates a great feel for the critical elements of the noise pop -- good melodies, sweet vocals and a wall of feedback.  Couple that with some affecting songs and you have a band to treasure.  We understand that an LP is planned for next year, but for the present this little nugget will do very nicely indeed.

The members of the band are Catherine Kolodij (vocals/gutar), John Kolodiz (drums), Mary-Kim Arnold (bass), and Matthew Derby (guitar/vocals).

Shelflife Records page for EP

REVIEW: Astronauts - Hollow Ponds

As Astronauts, former Dark Captain Dan Carney takes you on an unlikely space journey.  Rather than launch the listeners beyond the atmosphere, the new LP dares you to venture inward.  To face the dark corners, the regrets, the insecurities, as well as the hopes, strengths and dreams.  So for this one, turn down the lights, settle into a chair, put on your earphones and become immersed in the brooding, atmospheric electro-folk/pop of Hollow Ponds.  Just in time, it is raining here.

Perhaps perversely, given my introduction, the album commences with a soaring ray of light in the form of "Skydive".  Already released as a single, I think it is one of the highlight songs of the year so far.  Such moments of brightness aren't typical here, to be fair, but the emotional weight of the songs is adeptly balanced by the thoughtful acoustic instrumentation, hushed vocals, ambient electronics, intriguing rhythms and, quite notably, the judicious use of space.

The brooding begins in earnest with the contemplative "Everything's A System, Everything's A Sign".  The song is emerging as one of my favorites on the album for several reasons, but one is the delightful rhythm track.

Driven by ominous instrumentation, electro-pop track "Vampires" is one of the more up-tempo songs on Hollow Ponds.  Then the pace drops to dream state for the standout track "Flame Exchange".  Hushed vocals float on gently picked acoustic guitar and a barely-there synths to create a sadly beautiful song.

"Spanish Archer" gets the blood going again, bouncing along as perhaps the most mainstream pop song on the album.  But Carney's more melancholy purposes pull us back on the following title track.  In fact, the first third of "Hollow Ponds" is so sparsely adorned that the listener might be tempted to adjust the volume.  Patience is rewarded, however, as the beat rises and vocals drop in, resulting in a very rewarding seven minute exploration of inner emotional landscapes.  "In My Direction" continues the hushed vocals over yet another delightful rhythmic foundation.

"Try To Put It Out Of Your Mind" is the electro-pop version of a relaxing babbling brook, while "Openside" crosses the line into indie rock territory, and is the most expansive track on the record after the opening "Skydive".  The album closes with the acoustic plucking and nearly whispered musings of "Slow Days".

Hollow Ponds is an interesting and rewarding journey.  And at the end, we may all be able to call ourselves Astronauts.  The album is out now via Lo Recordings.

Lo Recordings

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Molten Gold" from The Chills

The Chills are among the stalwarts that made Dunedin, New Zealand a frequently name-checked source of great guitar pop in the '80s and '90s.  Founder, frontman and sole constant member Martin Phillipps has assembled the latest edition of the band to tour and record.  Last year they released new song "Molten Gold" only in digital format, as well as Somewhere Beautiful, an album of a live performance at a private party in 20ll (review here).  Now the glittering guitar pop of "Molten Gold" is getting a well-deserved vinyl release.   It will be paired with an re-working of the band's famed 1982 song "Pink Frost".  You can stream both tracks below.

"Molten Gold" will be released on July 29 via Fire Records on vinyl with an accompanying digital download.  Pre-orders are available now.

The Chills are Martin Phillipps (guitar/vocals), James Dickson (bass/backing vocals), Todd Knudson (drums/backing vocals), Erica Stichbury (violin/backing vocals), Oli Wilson (keys/backing vocals).

Fire Records
Fire Records pre-order page for "Molten Gold"

REVIEW: Melted Toys - Melted Toys

The usual path of musical discovery to to become familiar with a band, and then experience the side projects of its various members.  I've done things a bit backward here, as I first became aware of, and enamored with Brian Wakefield's recording project Emotional, which I covered several times in the recent past (herehere, and here).  Through Brian's project I became familiar with Melted Toys, a west coast band consisting of founders Daniel Rosado and Steven Harkins, with Brian Wakefield and Ole Haarstad.  Melted Toys' sweet spot is a hazy, lo-fi psychedelic pop that they first displayed on their 2009 Washed & Dried EP and have perfected for the new self-titled LP.  Overall, the twelve tracks on the album reveal an impressive ability to create interesting dream pop songs infused with vitality and a welcome upbeat vibe.  The sounds are a bit woozy and warped, with gentle but bright guitars and tastefully restrained synths.  The vocals blend in with, rather than ride over the top of, the instruments, which enhances the relaxed atmosphere.

If you are looking for an album to make you dance or pump your fist in the air, Melted Toys isn't the answer.  But I've been hoping for a full length from these guys for some time, and I'm very pleased with what they have wrought.  Every time I listen to it a feel peaceful and happy, and who couldn't use a big dose of that in their lives?  And looking beyond that, songs this carefully constructed suggest that we can expect more good things in the future from Melted Toys.

Melted Toys is out now via label Underwater Peoples.

Here is the video for "Observations" --

Underwater Peoples

Friday, July 18, 2014

REVIEW: Honeyblood - Honeyblood

FatCat Records is based in England, but over the years it has shown a keen eye for talent north of Hadrian's Wall.  It's catalog shows releases for The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Frightened Rabbit, and PAWS.  And now they've scored the right to release the self-titled debut album from Glasgow duo Honeyblood.  What Shona McVicar and Stina Tweeddale offer on the album doesn't break new ground.  Female-voiced gauzy, sometimes grungy guitar pop also is available from September Girls, La Sera, Frankie Rose, Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast and others.  But I think there are several attributes that suggest that Honeyblood deserves a harder look and a chance to be in your music collection.  One is that Tweeddale's lead vocals, and the harmony provided by McVicar's contributions, are compelling.  Another is that the songwriting is very good, with plenty of punch and plenty of hooks on top of the punch.  And then there is that bit of edge to the lyrics and the delivery, that touch of Glasgow hard guy that you could get with, for example, The Shop Assistants, but not from Best Coast.  For my taste, a bit of riot girrrl in my current music is a welcome touch.

Those familiar with the band's earlier work will find the sound a bit different.  The energy and attitude remain, but the increased production budget has brought a cleaner sound.  I have no complaint about that development.  I serves to better showcase the vocals, Stina's guitar, Shona's drums, and the economical arrangements.  Moreover, the clean production doesn't blunt the attitude.  Based on the evidence of these songs, the women of Honeyblood are rambunctious and ready to give at least as good as they get.  There is a lot of velvet in their voices, but a velvet wrapped hammer is still a hammer.

Honeyblood is out now via FatCat Records.  The band is playing several shows in the eastern United States in late July, so US fans should check the band's website at the link below.

FatCat Records

Rolling Stones Friday; 2120 South Michigan Ave.

We're going way back this week, to 1964 and The Stones' 2nd US release 5 x 5. 

"2120 South Michigan Avenue" is a short instrumental jam, inspired by Chicago blues and R&B, the title being the Chicago address of the business offices and recording studio for Chess Records, home to Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and so many others. The Stones recorded the song there at the Chess studios during their first US tour.

For me, the best part is Brian Jones' harmonica playing, simply fantastic. That's Ian Stewart on keyboards, and Keith Richards playing the tremolo guitar riff.

Every band has its influences and the Stones wore theirs right there on their sleeves.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Skygreen Leopards - Family Crimes

Imagine if years ago members of New Zealand's The Bats secretly joined forces with The Byrds in a sunny California hideaway, and spent several days writing and recording.  Inspired by their surroundings, the collective produced 14 sunny guitar pop tracks in all of their ragged 'one-take' glory, and then boxed up the results and hid them away to be released in 2014.  Of course, that didn't really happen (at least, I don't know that it happened).  But Family Crimes from Skygreen Leopards could make you think that it happened.  Sun kissed, hazy and lo-fi, it gives me that pleasant blissed-out feeling that I get when I go to a picnic on a sunny summer day and drink a bit too much wine a bit too fast.  Suddenly I'm happy and affectionate, albeit not particularly focused.  So grab a bottle of chilled pinot gris, a copy of Family Crimes, a blanket or two and some friends.  There you have it -- a summer afternoon all sorted out.

This jangling nugget of good summer vibes is out now via Woodsist


RIP Johnny Winter

Blue guitarist great Johnny Winter died  yesterday in a hotel room in Zurich.  I would take every opportunity to see Johnny.  The thought in the front of my brain was, "This is probably the last time I will ever see him play."  Johnny beat the reaper for decades.  Years of alcohol and heroin abuse,  from 1980 through 2005,made Johnny a perennial top draft pick in "death pools."  Winter resumed his career 2006 after kicking multiple habits.   I saw him a couple of years ago at the 35th Reunion for Vegetable Buddies - an iconic midwest music club.  Gaunt and frail but still capable letting loose with monster licks.

 In 1968,  Winter signed a contract with a bonus of $600,000 after being "discovered" by Columbia Records executives sitting in with Mike Bloomfield ad Al Kooper at the Fillmore East.  The following Spotify playlist is Winter's 1969 major album release.


Johnny left his own indelible mark when playing other artist's originals.  Everyone has their favorite Bob Dylan cover.  My favorite is Johnny's cover of "Highway 61 Revisited' - a version so rousing that i once found myself unintentionally driving over 100mph while lost in his guitar playing.

My favorite Johnny memory is from 1981 ChicagoFest on Navy Pier.  Muddy Waters was playing the blues stage.  I had scored tix on the SS Milwaukee, an old Lake Michigan ferry, 29 feet behind and 20 feet above the stage.  It was a humid 90 degree night with the audience packed cheek to jowl.  The fist half was classic Muddy and then Johnny walked on stage.  Fire up the Enola Gay.  It went nuclear.  I recently found this recording of the concert.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"We Go On" from The Luxembourg Signal

We featured the excellent two-track Distant Drive single from London/Los Angeles project The Luxembourg Signal in late April (link here).  Today, we have for you another song, "We Go On", and a reminder that the group will release and album later this year.  Save your pennies -- we think it will be good.

Shelflife Records