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End of 2014 Albums List: The good, the bad and the others

December 9, 2014

It seems I didn’t buy as many “new releases” in 2014 as previous years. So instead of picking my top ten or so 2014 discs, I’m pretty much going to talk about everything I picked up (that I can remember) except for the “super-deluxe edition” reissues and all the cassette or vinyl-only releases I bought this year—most of which are still sitting in stacks waiting to be listened to properly.

2014

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence. Over a beer my friend James asked me what I was listening to lately. That’s what we do when we grab a beer. Gossip about records. Anyway, I said, “The new Lana Del Rey.” He looked at me with a look. I said, “Fuck the haters.” I stand by that statement but I also feel it’s a little telling (about the state of pop music and myself) that I think Ultravoilence is probably the best all-round album released in 2014, from the standpoint of songwriting, production, performance and sheer theatricality. Haters gonna hate? Fuck ’em.

Cheatahs – Cheatahs. Probably my favourite shoegaze/90’s alt-revival album of the last few years. They’ve recreated the sound down to the finest detail and, more importantly, didn’t forget to write some pretty catchy hooks. It really sounds like it could’ve been released in 1993—mostly because the songs are genuinely that much better than most revival bands tend to write these days.

Nothing – Guilty Of Everything. Much hyped shoegazers. Wouldn’t necessarily say “don’t believe the hype” but take it with a grain of salt. The songs aren’t as good as Cheatahs‘ and they don’t play with as much subtlety as, say, Whirr.

Whirr – Sway. Much hyped shoegazers. Wouldn’t necessarily say “don’t believe the hype” but take it with a grain of salt. The songs aren’t as good as Cheatahs‘ and they don’t play with as much unbridled, brutalist passion as, say, Nothing.

Tennis System – Technicolour Blind. Much under-rated shoegazers, situated stylistically somewhere between Nothing and Whirr with songs approaching the quality of Cheatahs.

We Need Secrets – Melancholy & The Archive. Canadian shoegaze.

Hobbes Fanclub – Up at Lagrange. Not so much shoegaze as, maybe, Spacemen 3-gaze.

Alvvays – Alvvays. I hate their name with a (misplaced) passion, but they won me over when they appeared on Q and mocked a pre-scandal Jian by telling him their moms were all excited they were appearing on the show. It helps they sound like an authentic bona fide Halifax pop explosion band from 1993 as well.

Bleeding Rainbow – Instinct. I liked their previous album a lot. In the same way I like Alvvays and Cheatahs. This one’s more of the same. But less. Didn’t stay on my phone a super long time.

Fear of Men – Loom. Sometimes a song will come on my phone and I’ll think, “Oh, this is good. Is this Alvvays?” But it always turns out to be Fear of Men.

Ashrae Fax – Never Really Been Into It. Very Cocteausian dream-pop. I never really got into it.

A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent. They’ve started getting some contemporary pop peanut butter on their retro Cocteausian dream-pop chocolate. I hate Reese’s peanut butter cups. Take from that what you will.

Snowbird – Moon. Literal Coctaeusian dream-pop from the Cocteau Twins bass player. Perhaps closer in tone and approach to that band’s Harold Budd collaboration, The Moon and the Melodies. Arguably better executed and more engaging than Robin Guthrie‘s recent solo albums, but also not a lot to hold on to. Even when the album comes with two versions of the whole thing. I thought the second, remixed, disc played a little better. File under too easy listening.

Cherry Neneh – Blank Project. I wanted to like this more than I did. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t stomp on her Rip, Rig + Panic legacy, but there’s a few cloying, irritating bits and a few cringingly cheesy lines that make it less satisfying than her album with The Thing.

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love. Paolo’s previous disc, Sunny Side Up was a fantastic piece of song-writing, soulful vocal performance and earthy, organic production. The cover was abysmal though—a pencil crayon sketch that made the album look like a collection of reggae versions of children’s songs. Terrible. Anyway, the hit Caustic Love somewhat reverses that quality of cover art vs. quality of music formula.

FKA Twigs – LP1. First few spins I thought it was pretty fantastic. Like record of the year fantastic. It hit me like a weirder, more interesting Lorde or forward-thinking R’n’B that’s compelling in the way Banks is really, really boring. LP1 didn’t have a lot of staying power for me though as repeated listens started draining the shallows instead of exposing hidden depths and the beautiful ambient vocal songs began to sound a lot more like schmaltzy Enya Christmas music than otherworldly This Mortal Coil hymns.

Lykke Li – I Never Learn. The title nicely sums up how I’m beginning to feel about buying Lykke Li records.

Coil/NIN – Recoiled. Really only interesting as a lost Coil record that’s unfortunately an album of Downward Spiral remixes. Nice to hear Jhonn and Sleazy messing with NIN tracks posthumously, but too much of Trent Reznor‘s voice is still audible to be truly enjoyable from a Coil fan standpoint.

Cocksure – TVMALSV. The proper follow-up to Revolting CocksBeers, Steers + Queers. All it took was twenty-four years and not letting Al Jourgensen be involved in any way.

Holly Johnson – Europa. Like all Holly Johnson albums (including the seminal Welcome To The Pleasuredome), Europa is 50% over-the-top brilliant disco and 50% limp-ass crap.

Kylie Minogue – Kiss Me Once. It’s a Kylie album, much like the last few Kylie albums that aren’t quite as good as Fever. All you need to do is ask yourself, “Do I like Kylie albums?”

Lost in the Trees – Past Life. Not quite the powerhouse suite of songs their previous album was, but it’s full of creepy, dreamy atmosphere. Like a Lynchian Sufjan Stevens or something.

COOL – Paint/Best New Music/I Can Handle That 12″. The post-punk funk revivalist band Cool (previously Apollo Ghosts) just kept releasing winners all year. First an album came seemingly out of nowhere followed by an EP and a 12″ of pitch-perfect “A Certain Pig Gang of Tom Tom Bag” thumpers, it seems like a project that couldn’t be sustainable. Even if Adrian and Amanda pack this one in too, at least we’re left with some of the best Canadian pop music ever made.

Jon Porras – Light Divide. The not-Evan Caminiti half of Barn Owl. Like his bandmate’s solo albums, Porras‘ latest is a little more ambient and droney than his main band’s ambient and droney records. It’s good. I mean, this kind of thing isn’t exactly rocket science and for these guys it’s like hitting a dart board with a bazooka. I guess I’m saying I’m not hearing a lot of growth or anything like a sense of exploration on Light Divide. In some ways, it’s just yet another remake of Fripp & Eno‘s 1975 album Evening Star. If you’re going to reinvent a wheel, it’s a good wheel to reinvent. I love that wheel. But let’s be honest about what’s going on in the drone scene these days (decades?)—very pleasant, cozy stagnancy.

Woods – With Light & With Love. Last year I was worried the inevitable polishing of their sound would ruin Woods. Wasn’t the case. They continue to, if not push their songwriting to new heights, at least maintain their hooky, young-Neil Young, status quo.

Magic Touch – Palermo House Gang. House music.

Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems. Best album since Ten New Songs. How’s that for damning with faint praise? He got away with the cheap and cheesy synth production on Various Positions and I’m Your Man because every song (or at least 8 out of 10) was a classic. His 2000’s albums haven’t had that advantage and, let’s just say it, are all kind of terrible schmaltz. I’ve suggested to friends you could probably scrape together a solid single album from Ten New Songs, Dear Heather, Old Ideas and this one (which does contain a little of the dirt and bile found on The Future), but I haven’t created the playlist to confirm nor deny this assertion.

Tanya Tagaq – Animism. Tagaq‘s vocal performances are truly fantastic and definitely worthy of all the praise that’s been heaped on Animism since before the album won the Polaris Prize. But I gotta say, the production is just terrible. The drum sound especially comes off like Trans Siberian Orchestra or something from a mid-90’s Broadway cast-recording. Actually, the whole band sounds like over-schooled hired guns who’ve added a little too much sanitized funk-fusion in a misguided attempt to “spice things up.” Every time Tagaq a builds a magical mood, it’s utterly destroyed by the hamfisted “rock” production.

Raveonettes – Pe’Ahi. I can’t tell you a thing about this album. That’s not quite true. It’s on my phone. The cover is sort of a aqua-teal colour. Songs pop up on shuffle now and then. They must not be terrible because if they were I’d remember them better. I feel like the production or songwriting style is oddly “contemporary pop” for them.

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation. Another album by a favourite band I can’t tell you anything about. I remember it sounding cool. And the songs aren’t bad, really. Just not as good as other songs in the BJM catalogue and not as memorable. No revelations.

La Hell Gang – Thru Me Again. Really understated stoner rock. Kind of like more recent Psychic Ills, maybe a bit heavier. Really good, completely ignorable mood music. Fantastic for listening to on the subway when you’re reading and don’t want to be distracted.

Verma – Sunrunner. Pretty good stoner space rock. Kind of a like a more motivated-sounding Bardo Pond. Not essential, but solid.

Eraas – Initiation. That first Eraas album was some pretty great Thom Yorke-core that creeped into you with it’s enchanting ambient funk and ritualistic falsetto vocals. They’ve taken a turn away from the Eno and towards the emo here. A little more rock and a lot more boredom.

The Acid – Liminal. Pretty good Yorke-core. Mopey and abstract, vaguely good songs.

The Notwist – Close To The Glass. I don’t know if you can you call The Notwist Yorke-core since they might actually pre-date Radiohead. Mid-nineties contemporaries, at the very least. Also, they do have their own very Notwisty style. If you’re familiar with their fragmented, maudlin indie-pop, Close is more of the same. Maybe not nearly up to their usual standard of infectious earworms (though “Casino” is very much up to snuff), but as nice an album as you’d want from them.

Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Speaking of Yorke-core, Thom has a new album out. You’ve probably heard about it since he released it through BitTorrent and that meant everyone paid attention to it at a time when maybe people are starting to really not care about Radiohead anymore. Anyway, to my ears, it’s better than Atoms For Peace and King of Limbs, but it’s still not quite as sublime as The Eraser.

Jungle – Jungle. House music.

The Drums – Encyclopedia. Nearly plagiarist in their homages to UK ’80s indie from OMD to Pet Shop Boys to The Smiths, The Drums actually succeed in creating an Encyclopedia of miserablism. I feel like they pretty much recorded this record specifically for me. Thanks guys, you did me a solid.

Dream Police – Hypnotized. I gave up on The Men last year, previously one of my favourite Sacred Bones bands, finally admitting they’d become purveyors of kind of shitty dad rock. Their side-project Dream Police is also dad rock, but dads of a different nature. Sort of cooler, more stoned, slacker dads. Definitely rawer and less polished than the The Men‘s sanitized and utterly tuneless Tomorrow’s Hits, Hypnotized unfortunately comes off not so much as “unpolished gems” but “unfinished demos”. The “kinda shitty” pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

OOIOO – Gamel. Very listenable Afro-gamelan-fusion. There’s lots of records from the ’70s that sound pretty similar and are just as good or better, but of course this is a lot easier to get your hands on.

Medicine – Home Everywhere. Thankfully fewer Beatles/Beach Boys references than the previous album and maybe a little more of the old noise has been brought back. A good example of a ’90s band retaining their original style/sound but moving it forward in a way that sounds natural. Still, I can’t imagine this being super compelling if you’re not already a fan.

The Budos Band – Burnt Offering. Not as bad-ass as the stoned wizard on the cover suggests. It’s bad-ass, like all Budos albums, just not stoned wizard bad-ass. Which is a pretty high bad-ass bar to set for yourself. Needs more fuzz and wah-wah.

Einsturzende Neubauten – Lament. It pains me to say it, but Neubauten kind of put the “lame” in Lament here. Found myself cringing during about half the album (probably not a coincidence it’s the English language half). It reminded me of Pet Shop Boys’ multi-media tribute to Alan Turing from earlier this year. The soundtrack is somewhat unlistenable without the benefit of being able to witness what’s going on upon the stage. I suspect Lament was similarly a lot more compelling live and the cheesy-as-limburger spoken word narrations about WWI worked better in a visual performance setting. Also, WTF is with the needless and grating autotune on “The Willy-Nicky Telegrams“? Why in the actual fuck did they think that was necessary?

Rhyton – Kykeon. The only Eastern-tinged psychedelic jam band album you’ll ever need. It’s pretty right on, man.

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Mysterons Invade the Jackin’ Zone: Chicago Acid and Experimental House 1986-93

April 10, 2014

acidwashed

The most ponderously titled acid house compilation I own has to be Soul Jazz Records presents ACID: Mysterons Invade the Jackin’ Zone: Chicago Acid and Experimental House 1986-93. No less than two subtitles denote the sounds you will find inside where “Chicago Acid and Experimental House Vol. 2” would have sufficed (“Vol 1” was the equally ponderously titled, Soul Jazz Records presents ACID: Can You Jack?: Chicago Acid and Experimental House 1985-95). Well, top-marks for creativity.

JackinZone

And creative the 2-disc cardboard clam-shell box certainly is. Not only is the set accompanied by three “collectible” postcards, it includes a somewhat impenetrable graphic novel depicting what appears to be a sci-fi reimagining of the history of Chicago house and the eventual worldwide acid house phenomenon. Unfortunately,  the limp narrative is oddly confusing and a straight, factual history of house would have been more enjoyable than the ambiguous goals of the alien sound lords. I’m not sure if they’re meant to be villains or saviors, but it seems like house music something to be… feared?

Ultimately, what all the ephemera adds up to is polishing a turd. Spread across the two CDs are nearly enough solid tracks to populate a decent single-disc compilation. Points could be given to the compilers for including some obscure, deep cuts but many of these are substandard even by the low bar set for acid house compilations.

As happens with any pop-culture fad, between 1988 and 1990 there were a myriad of acid house comps rushed to market hoping to cash-in on the craze. For the most part, you can excuse the filler on those as they are at least artifacts of the time and possess an inherent charm. They somehow drip with nostalgia and any holes in the track listings can be put down to the fact some of the genre’s top jams hadn’t even been released yet. Having the benefit of historic perspective, recent acid house compilations tend to do a better job cherry-picking tracks. True, some err on the side of “hits”, but they generally lack filler.

Seeing as some obvious care and passion went into the presentation of this package—the love for the music is truly palpable—it’s surprising how many lackluster tracks make up the compilation. More surprising is how Disc One is top-loaded with these sub-par sonics. Again, kudos to the compilers for breaking with tradition and making Disc Two the stronger program. An argument could be made for the inclusion of Acid Wash‘s annoyingly skittery “Hallucinate” as it highlights the trademark squelchy acid bass in the extreme—and demonstrates how not all house has a straight four-on-the-floor beat—but it’s a baffling choice for an opening salvo. Furthermore, there is no excuse for including “I Believe” by A Blackman, A Blackman and Another Blackman (track 4) as it’s perhaps, hands down, the genre low-water mark. I’ve logged three attempts over two days and I have yet to listen to the track all the way through. It’s cringe-worthy to the point of causing me mild anxiety and slight nausea.

Once you get over those humps, the ride is smooth enough. Almost too smooth. The majority of the tracks pleasantly wash over you without leaving so much as a soapy film behind. There’s a reason most of these tracks haven’t ended up on collections with words like Classics or Essential in the titles. These are deep cuts for serious fan who has the essential trophies and seeks to fill their bag with some more elusive quarry.

And by that yardstick, it’s perfectly acceptable.

  • Year released: 2013
  • General Music Rating: ***
  • Hits Rating: *
  • Deep Cuts Rating: *****
  • Packaging/Artwork: **** (based on the graphic novel/postcards, not the boxy mess of the cover layout)
  • Liner notes: *

 

 

 

 

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ROLLING BONE’S 2013 BEST-OF LIST

December 11, 2013

This year I did something I’m totally not doing next year. I wrote about every damn new release (compact disc) I purchased. You can read all the reviews in full here or (in a less edited spew) here. Since these are CD reviews (plus a vinyl or two), there’s a trove of truly excellent releases missing from the following lists. Mostly stuff released on cassette, often by Canadians. In the new year I’m launching a new series called Kassetten which will eventually cover some of these 2013 tape releases. Otherwise, between Weird Canada and Tabs Out, they’ve been covered already and you should be hitting those sites up anyway. I know I also missed most of the vinyl releases I picked up. When did those Fresh Snow and Young Mother LPs come out?  Anyway, great records I never got around to reviewing. Also Salted, Zacht Automaat… the list could go on. Plus there’s a few albums I haven’t gotten around to checking out in any format yet (White Poppy, Booka Shade) which I expect to enjoy. Well, you’re familiar with the limitations of year-end lists. Anyhooo…

THE GOD DAMN RECORD OF THE YEAR

YOUTH CODE RECORD ART

Youth Code: Youth Code 

I originally gave this EBM pummeller a 4.875 (out of 5) rating, but I’m bumping it up to  a solid 5. “…jackhammer, chest compressing, beat and that mechanical bass sound peppered with guttural screams and old movie samples….” is how I described it, suggesting they were only missing the hooks their forefathers Front 242, Nitzer Ebb and Skinny Puppy boasted (I know, bands you totally associate with hummable ditties). Well, fuck that. The hooks are there, buried just beneath the surface, waiting to reward grave robbers who listen to this record on their iPhone everyday while they give their fellow subway patrons the evil eye.

Perhaps my love for Youth Code is a barely disguised form of mid-life crisis. A return to those halcyon days of listening to my Too Dark Park cassette on a Sony Walkman, hating everyone in the hallway of my high school and feeling strangely good about it. It’s the kind of record that makes you feel completely vindicated being a misanthropic loner. I feel like music these days isn’t anti-social enough. It’s all about community building and, ew, togetherness. As if other people can be trusted. The state of the world is proof they can’t. You really want to build a community with those assholes?

Anyway, there aren’t enough records like this. Sweet, sweet social oblivion. 

Just in time for Christmas, Dias Records has just released another run of the vinyl.

13 ULTRA-BESTIES OF 2013

Most of these I gave less than a 5/5 rating at the time, but they’re all 5/5 (or damn close) in my eyes now.

Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone

I might simply live under some kind of counter-culture rock, unaware what the “mainstream” is listening to other than MumfordMiley and Drake, but it’s unfathomable to me how Valerie June‘s record isn’t more widely known. Obviously not in a Yeezus way (it’s not a record for thirteen year-olds and hipsters suffering from willful infantilism), but at least in a Neko Case kind of way. It’s exactly the kind of record you’d expect to see on the Rolling Stone year-end list. It’s a warm, smart, genre-bending, deeply emotional record, epic in scope but full of those intimate moments the mainstream MOR public is supposed to fawn over. Of course, Pushin’ Against a Stone does appear on that list but buried somewhere around 46, where a decade or two ago I feel like it’d have been in the top 5.

If people thought Paul Simon co-opting South African music was ground-breaking, what June does combining Afro-beat and bluegrass should have them completely losing their shit. But that was then and this is now, and for whatever reason (theories abound) no one cares about anything anymore. Information fatigue has caused the culture machine to stall, but no one’s really noticed because we’re still coasting downhill.

Anyway, on the bright side, people like Valerie June are still producing artful folk/rock/country/soul records with (what should be) a wide-appeal.

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King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath The Moon

I gave Archy Marshall‘s debut full-lenth a 5/5 rating originally which was probably a tad generous in hindsight. But there aren’t too many artists coming out today who are this unique, who have his weird sort of charismatic, otherworldly presence—as if he’s less a real live boy and more of a character in a film. Which is, ultimately, what we want from our pop stars. More David Bowie, less David Robert Jones. I described him on 6 Feet Beneath The Moon as a “jazzy Mark E. Smith meets art-damaged Billy Bragg meets punk-thug Morrissey” and time will tell if he and his career lives up to those references. But for now this record does. Though how much I see him as an “exotic other” through a slight anglophile lens is hard to tell. Maybe to the Brits he’s just your average, unremarkable bloke? Probably.

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The Stooges: Fun House (2CD expanded edition)

December 2, 2013

the_stooges_-_fun_house_-_front

Roll: 6-3-11
Album: The Stooges, Fun House (2CD expanded edition)

A lot of people cite The Stooges‘ self-titled, proto-punk/garage rock debut as their best. For others it’s the glam-rock third album, Raw Power, a platter I have never been able to understand the appeal of. I’ve always fallen into the equally vocal third camp—those who understand Fun House (1970) is probably not only their best offering, but is possibly the best album from an era chock-a-block with seminal titles.

Placed against it’s contemporaries, Fun House sounds conspicuously timeless. Great as they might be, albums such as Led Zeppelin III, CCR‘s Cosmo’s Factory, Velvet Underground‘s Loaded, and Curtis by Mr. Mayfield all sound cemented to the knees in their own era. Not only do both albums issued by Sabbath that year sound positively dated in comparison, Fun House makes MC5‘s Back In The USA sound like The Bay City Rollers

Let me say that again. This album makes the god-damned MC5 sound like The Bay City Rollers.

But that’s not the only sacred ground this juggernaut tramples over. The free-jazz freak-out that closes the album, “L.A. Blues“, utterly destroys the idea Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders were fearless cosmic travelers and reveals the borders they stepped back from. It’s simultaneously a sneering condemnation of jazz expressionism being placed on a pedestal and supposed “rock’n’roll” music being made palatable for suburban living room stereos. It’s like The Stooges understood that The Who were best while destroying their instruments for shock value and all they needed was a saxophonist having a seizure to make it art. They also clued-in that Coltrane just needed a blown-out Marshall stack to make Ascension punk rock.

Not that Fun House doesn’t have it’s share of late-60’s psychedelic trappings—wah-wah abounds in a way that, until recently, would have been seen as a trifle old fashioned. Perhaps that’s what makes the album feel so fresh. When today’s young psychedelic rockers look to the past, they’re not looking to Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Floyd (and certainly not Hendrix or The Doors), they’re looking to tunes like “T.V. Eye” and VU’s “Sister Ray“—equally as psychedelic as “Dazed and Confused” but with a stripped-down, stream-lined, modern approach that time rolls off of like water on the proverbial duck’s back.

If these tunes sound dated at all, it’s how they sound like Mudhoney or early Nirvana could have recorded them twenty years later. Or Human Eye and Destruction Unit a full 43 years later.

The second disc of this expanded re-issue  doesn’t offer up any surprises, or previously unheard compositions, but it does toss in some nice treats such as a nearly 12-minute version of the title track in among a plethora of alternative takes of every song except, unfortunately, “L.A. Blues”. These alternates range from trashy to messy, but are all of surprisingly decent quality, even when they shudder to a halt. Like many reissues, the essentiality of the second disc comes down to weather or not if you always felt the original album was far too short at 36 minutes and change in length. An unquestionable high-water mark for punk, psychedelia and just plain rock’n’roll in general, you can decide if you require another 70 minutes of material after you listen below…

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Recent Releases Rounded-up: Black Hearted Brother, The Stargazer Lilies, Youth Code, Wooden Shjips, Sean Proper, more

November 21, 2013

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More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

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Black Hearted Brother: Stars Are Our Home

As if knowing the debut album by alumni of Slowdive (!) and Seefeel (!) could hardly live up to expectations, Black Hearted Brother decided to far surpass them. Quite simply, this might be the best shoegaze album I’ve heard all year. It very well might even be the best indie/rock album I’ve heard in the last ten, but that would risk committing some pretty bold hyperbole. So let’s leave it at the best 2013 has to offer.

Drawing from krautrock, shoegaze, space-rock and 60 years of pop music traditions, soaring melodies glide over expansive sonic landscapes that somehow manage to be evocative of the past without being derivative (though “If I Was Here To Change Your Mind” definitely takes a page from the Spiritualized songbook). Ironically, this might be the only shoegaze record in the last few years that doesn’t bear almost too-strong a Slowdive influence. At times the album toes the stadium rock line (Verve and Suede are hinted at), but the mood is kept intimate and sincere.

Bands like Arcade FireColdplay or Muse could take a lesson here on how to paint with broad, epic strokes without coming off as brash poseurs and do gentle without seeming like ineffectual drips—but I doubt they’d have much interest in doing so. Anyway, Stars are our Home is a ball hit way out of the park.

5 Space pop masterpieces out of 5 Master shoegazers back at work

The Stargazer Lilies: We Are The Dreamers

If you were, say, a shoegaze stormtrooper, We Are The Dreamers is the shoegaze you’re looking for. Don’t let any strange old dream-pop Jedi hermits tell you otherwise. Do these ex-Soundpool members lay it on thick as honey? Sure, they do. They may as well have named the band The Shoegazer Lilies. But thank god. Melodies! Washes of filtered reverb! Sweet as nectar vocals! It’s everything great about nu-gaze front-runners Soundpool (and Slowdive and Cocteau Twins, naturally), but refined and distilled into a tonic to rival the best releases on 4AD and Creation in their heyday. If not for Black Hearted Brother, this would be the shoegaze record of the year.

4.85 Languid psychedelic waterbeds out of 5 Dream ships aloft on solar winds

Youth Code: Youth Code

This could very well be my new favourite record of the year. The year in question being 1987. Though in that case it has some stiff competition with Front 242‘s Official Version and Nitzer Ebb‘s That Total Age. Not to mention Skinny Puppy‘s Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate. These are all artists referenced by the brilliant EBM revivalists Youth Code who take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the genre. Gloriously regressive and devolutionary. True, there’s nothing quite as immediately catchy as “Headhunter” or “Violent Playground” on the LP (though “Let The Sky Burn” is pretty damn close), but it’s not entirely necessary to have earworm hooks in EBM—just that jackhammer, chest compressing, beat and that mechanical bass sound peppered with guttural screams and old movie samples. Plus, it gives the duo somewhere to grow on the next album which I’m already salivating for.

4.875 Cyberpunk jackhammers out of 5 Howling emaciated Belgian canines

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Jesus and Mary Chain: Darklands (1987)

October 11, 2013

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Roll: 3-9-16
Album: Jesus and Mary Chain, Darklands — 2011 2CD/1DVD reissue

Until Stoned and Dethroned (1994) came out, Darklands (1987) was always my least favourite Jesus and Mary Chain record. It didn’t deliver what I wanted from JAMC. Sure, “Happy When It Rains“, boasts the mechanical post-modern rock’n’roll sound I loved on Automatic (1989), but not to the same extent; like it was a demo for that later album’s whole sound. But more importantly, and more detrimentally, Darkands famously abandons the “savage noise-pop” of Psychocandy (1985). To me Darklands was always a sort of nebulous, half-formed, netherworld of an album. So, in a way, one of their most aptly titled collections.

Over the years I’ve remained eternally hopeful and every time I listen to Darklands I expect to hear something in it I’d previously missed. Some hint of the magic and brilliance that’s been ascribed to it by music journalists, fans and bloggers in the years since it’s release. And though I’ll admit it never sounds as bad as I remember, I’ve never been able to hear it as other than a lethargic, boring mid-tempo folk-rock record marred by some pretty glaringly cheesy ’80s production.

I’ve never been sure if it’s just the song arrangements that never worked for me, but the John Hughes-style drum machines really don’t help matters. And I normally love me some grandiose ’80s drum machines, yet somehow I’ve always felt they sound entirely out of place on Darklands. To my ears, the album begs for an organic Sam Phillips/Sun Studio-style production. The songs are essentially a post-punk take on The Everly Brothers and deserve a more human touch.

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Recent Releases Round-up: Lorde, Haim, Emiliana Torrini, Hookworms, Joanna Gruesome, Mazzy Star

October 9, 2013

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More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

Joanna Gruesome Hookworms

Venom P. Stinger: 1986-1991

It’s sort of a truth that every time I listen to some vicious Aussie swamp rock by the likes of Birthday Party, Scientists or, thanks to this new double disc compilation, Venom P. Stinger, it sure makes followers like Slug Guts and Bird Blobs sound a bit silly and anemic. Not that those bands are terrible. Or silly or anemic in the least. They’re relatively amazing as far as contemporary rock’n’roll goes. But, damn, Venom P. Stinger really tore it the fuck up in the years between 1986 and 1991 — enough so that there’s nothing left for the new generation to improve upon. Which is no fault of the new generation.

And that said, for all my bitchin’ about new generation bands (across all genres) not being able to “write ’em like they used to,” the guys in Venom P. Stinger honestly didn’t produce much better. Much less a tune you can whistle, there isn’t even an attention-getter like “Release The Bats” on here (The Birthday Party’s flagship song isn’t exactly a whistleable tune in itself) . So, then, where’s my beef? Why do I keep going back to bands like The Fall, Scratch Acid or even Venom P. over the new breed?

I think there’s an “authenticity” to these songs I don’t hear on a Slug Guts’ [substitute young indie buzz band of choice’s] record. Invariably these days young bands feel a bit like indie fashionistas trying to ride some long-discarded coattails, where Birthday Party and The Fall still feel like they were trying to be as unfashionable as possible and burn all the coattails to ash.

Which, of course, is a bit of rock’n’roll mythology as manufactured to a set of blueprints as the songs on a Savages or Wild Nothing record.

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