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2013 Rolling Round-Up of Recent Releases

Mini-reviews of 2013 (and late 2012) releases as they come across my path. Newest reviews at the top.

2013MINIBANNER
Sqürl: Ep #1 —  Jim Jarmusch has been improving Jozef Van Wissem‘s records of late by providing background feedback for the lute virtuoso. In fact, one of the 4 tracks is exactly that—minus the lute. The rest is pretty much what you’d expect from the ghost-white pompadour wearing film director. Droney noise-rock with a slight Memphis vibe. Not quite fully-formed, but a portent for great things to come from this combo.
4 Droning art-rockers out of Velvet Elvis Undergrounds 
2013DIVIDER
Black Joe Lewis: Electric Slave — Starts off like Sly Stone run through Jimi‘s octave pedal, slinks into Jon Spencer-ish garage rock, funks it up James Brown-style at times like he did with The Honeybears, and ends up bashing out a pretty violent set of socially conscious, fuzz-soaked, party tunes. It’s sort of everything Lenny Kravitz might have been if his back up band had been made up of members of  Mudhoney and The Thing. Which, in my book, is pretty rad.
4 Fuzz-funk ’68s out of Booty-shaking psych-rockers
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Bardo Pond: Peace On Venus — This one sounds, to my ears, if my memory serves, exactly like their last album. Which wasn’t too different from a lot of their other albums. Perhaps more flute this time. Anyway, if you’re uninitiated to the Pond‘s full-on psychedelic fuzz-gaze k-hole brain-melting waters, that makes Peace On Venus as good a place to dip a toe in as any. For those who’ve dipped a toe, or waded in up to their knees, it might be too mych of the same old, same old. Still essential listening for fully-baptized devotees, of course.
4 Droning fuzz-rockers out of K-hole extremists
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Disappears: Era — No Steve Shelley this time. And they’ve gone goth. Kinda. Or post-punk at least. They definitely sound a bit like Bauhaus. Which is okay with me, but anyone looking for more of that krauty/desert slightly The Fall-ish psychedelic fuzz of their first three albums might end up scratching their heads. Well, that’s too bad for them. Bauhaus is awesome. And Era is a pretty good.
Ex art-rock krautsters out of 5 Bat loving modernists
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Wooden Shjips: Back To Land — For the last few years my perennial review of Wooden Shjips/Moon Duo releases is a lament the dude keeps making the same (brilliant) fuzz-rock record over and over, but with the contradictory desire that he doesn’t abandon his trademark sound altogether if he does branch out next time. That next times is Back To Land and it’s where the Shjips finally move towards finding that balance. There’s a more songwritery—the title track has almost a pop-hook!—feel to a few of the songs which strengthens my suspicion that Wooden Shjips, Psychic Ills, Woods,The Men and possibly Crystal Stilts are all slowly converging on the same point. That point is somewhere in the desert, possibly Burning Man, playing as a Grateful Dead tribute band. But that time is a ways off in the future yet, and maybe none of them will be around that long. Back To Land is the Shjips first record in a while that isn’t entirely superfluous next to the rest of their catalogue. Still, taken in that context, it’s a smidgen boring. When I recently saw them live in Toronto, my impression was any single number was fantastic—but the set as a whole was pretty boring to sit through. I had to so some real zen in-the-moment work to keep myself engaged. The band seemed to be having the same problem. Anyway, the record suffers a bit from this as well. There might be a bit more variety in the tempos and rhythms and directions and subtle melodies than their previous records, but not enough to hold my interest in a vice-like grip like their older, sloppier, more impassioned discs. Still, any one track taken on its own is fantastic. Hopefully it’s a first step towards a truly brilliant record, it’s just too bad they couldn’t skip a step.
Garage-fuzz kraut-droners out of 5 Desert drifting astronauts
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Daniel Bachman: Jesus I’m A Sinner — Improving on his previous outing, Daniel Bachman adds a few more ingredients to his mastery of American primitive, finger-picking virtuaosity. The John Fahey influence (i.e., wholesale mimicry) is tempered by the likes of Robbie Basho, Sandy Bull and, relative newcomer, James Blackshaw. Bachman has really become an astoundingly good player whose only shortcoming is he hasn’t yet found his own voice. Jesus I’m A Sinner suggests he’s travelling the right road to do so. Ultimately, the lack of a unique “voice” or “sound” doesn’t detract at all from the enjoyment of listening to the record—only that it might possibly be superfluous depending on how many Jack Rose, Leo Kottke Fahey, Basho, etc, records you already own, and how deep a fan of solo folk-guitar instrumentals you are.
3.95 Masters of folk guitar out of American primitives 
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Sean Proper: Design Engine — Telling a similar story as (one time Dying For Bad Music label-mate) Daniel Bachman, acoustic finger-picker Sean Proper uses slightly rougher language on Design Engine. It might be unfair to compare the two, but it seems inevitable. While Proper lacks some of Bachman’s chops, he makes up for it with an earthy passion which makes his record a touch more engaging. Again, the ghosts of his influences loom over the proceedings, but by the album closer (“Foundation“), he manages to inject a little more of himself. Design Engine is similarly flawed as Bachman’s record, but in different ways. Conversely, it’s similarly brilliant, but in different ways. The roughness in the production gives it a slight edge for me (could be the reverse for you, depending on your sensibilities).
Masters of folk guitar out of American primitives
2013DIVIDER
La Luz: It’s Alive — Modern retro surf-pop. Meaning La Luz go back to the ’90s, when the ’90s was going back to the ’60s, and adding a hint of that more contemporary Best Coast/Dum Dum Girls sound. In fact, it’s so much like a mash-up of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet and Cub, it makes you wonder if that isn’t exactly what they intended (Incidentally, you could swap-in The Ventures and The Shangri-Las in that comparison and it’d still be as accurate). I should point out, that’s not a criticism. Whatever route they took, La Luz come a lot closer to the magic of something like the B-52‘s or Pixies than bands directly influenced by those bands. It helps their songs are a stronger than those of most of their surf-influenced indie cohorts. It feels like in the past few years a lot of bands have been dressing up sub-standard material in these sounds and getting away with it, fooling critics and audiences with a style-over-substance slight of hand. Not to say La Luz is going to expose them as emperors wearing no clothes, but if you’ve been feeling the fatigue of lackluster indie-pop of late, you may find It’s Alive to be a refreshing beach breeze.
4 Beach party bonfires out of 5 Queens of surf guitar
2013DIVIDER
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 be 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
2013DIVIDER
The Stargazer Lilies: We Are The Dreamers — If you were, say, a shoegaze stormtrooper, The Stargazer Lilies 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
2013DIVIDER
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, but it’s not entirely necessary to have earworm hooks in EBM—just that jackhammer 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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Crystal Stilts: Nature NoirThe Crystal Stilts serve up some more Velvets by way of Doors by way of Modern Lovers down-tempo psych-garage. This is the 2013 model and it runs about as smoothly as their previous outings—if you liked the trip before, you’ll enjoy this ride too. Perhaps a little more as a tune like “Sticks and Stones” is accessible, catchy and bordering on radio-friendly (though maybe only in 1968 or 1992). As expected, Nature Noir is a soupy stew of cavernous reverb, indecipherable prelude-to-Quaaludes vocals, warbly tremolo guitars and sloopy-doopy drums. Drop in and tune out, baby. One does feel however that Woods, The Men, Psychic Ills and Crystal Stilts are converging on the same point and eventually there’ll be a pop implosion somewhere between Brooklyn and North Hampton that’ll take out the entire Eastern Seaboard in a mushroom cloud of paisleys, bongs and love beads. Not a bad apocalypse.
4.5 Indie psych hippy shakers out of 5 Boho hobos from SoHo
2013DIVIDER
Icona Pop: This Is… — Where iTunes/Gracenote oddly files Haim under indie, Icona Pop gets filed under electronica. I guess pop is a dirty word. This Is… is a balls-out pop record. Like Carly Rae Jepsen or Kylie or Robyn or, perhaps more accurately, T.a.t.u. Heck, “Pop” is even in the duo’s name. Anyway, every time I hear something by Katy Perry or Gaga or Kei$ha or Twerky Tongue this is what I wish I was hearing instead. Modern, clubby, EDM-informed, hands in the air, ecstatic pop music with solid, infectious hooks and almost devoid of the buzz-kill rockism that subversively plagues so much modern dance pop. Perhaps, like the aforementioned T.a.t.u., a little overly “shouty” in the vocals at times, but not as screechy. Which is a good thing.
4.5 Nights of neon lights out of 5 Iconic disco laser shows
2013DIVIDER
Lorde: Pure Heroine — I recently had an argument discussion at a party with a guy about the pop music industry. I said something about (I don’t remember exactly, there’d been a fair bit of drinking) how Adele was successful because she was the safer, softer version of Amy Winehouse (who was the young, thin white version of Sharon Jones). Every time there’s a break-out artist/sound, the carbon copies start coming out of the woodwork. It’ll work for the first carbon copy out of the gate, but not the next 30,000. I was implying that without the tabloid media juggernaut that was Winehouse, Adele wouldn’t have gotten the PR push she did. The industry saw a new niche to start populating and it was either going to be Duffy or Adele. Adele won the lottery and Duffy ended up in the carbon copy recycling bin.  Much like Adele is the Amy Winehouse even grandmas can get behind, Lorde is the safer, softer Lana Del Rey. Not necessarily a bad thing, like Winehouse before her, Del Rey can be a bit much, taking her tragically damaged shtick a step too far on occasion. Lorde goes down like vanilla ice cream. If they’re there, I didn’t catch any lyrics referencing genitalia tasting like soda pop. I did, however, notice “Teams” contains a hook so Del Rey some lawyers in some office somewhere must be salivating over volumes of copyright law. The following track “Glory and Gore” could be a nice one-two punch in that case. Anyway, Lorde gets a pass. The next copycat won’t be so lucky.
4 Wintertime sadnesses out of 5 Born to live instead of dyings
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Emiliana Torrini: Tookah — Ever since Swedish miserablist Stina Nordenstam stopped making records, I’ve been supping the Emiliana Torrini methadone. Torrini is hardly a carbon-copy of Nordenstam, but the Icelandic fragility of her voice is close enough to keep the withdrawal shakes at bay. She’s, emotionally, a much safer alternative as well. Nordenstam plumbed the depths of human misery with rare acuity that would invariably leave you devastated (if you dared read along with the lyrics sheet). Torrini has always made melancholy music from a much more aloof and accessible standpoint. She merely hints at sadness as she weaves a pretty aural tapestry with acoustic guitar, electronic beats and her own elfin voice, yet never as willfully dramatic and artsy as fellow countrywoman Björk (except for perhaps the abstract art-rock of  the closer “When Fever Breaks“). Overall, Tookah is perhaps her most coffee-shop friendly and “adult-alternative” release to date. There’s a smoothness to much of it reminiscent of Goldfrapp‘s more acoustic releases, yet Torrini’s album is still emotionally engaging where the former’s tend to sound contrived and tailored for mass-market consumption in a laboratory instead of a studio. There’s a nice variety of styles and sounds here too.  “Speed of Dark” returns a little to the electronic-pop territory of 1999’s Love In Time of Science, with some mid-period New Order textures. Other songs hearken back to her indie-folk masterpiece from 2005, Fisherman’s Woman, though none of the songs are as strong as that set, or are simply much more subtle in their strengths (“Caterpillar” comes pretty darn close). Lillith fare for the now.
4 Mature art-pop having a night ins out of 5 Self-assured Scandinavian chanteuses 
2013DIVIDER
Haim: Days Are Gone — This album, and Haim themselves, represent for me just how weird a time it is for pop music. For starters, the bizarrely shitty photography on the cover and inside the booklet. It’s clearly meant to mimic snaps posted on a hipster blog. Fair enough. Hipsterism is as mainstream as it ever was. After all, post-punk poppers like The Cure, new wavers like Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Madonna when she burst on the scene were all basically hipsters of their day. It’s just weird to see a glossy pop band making their album look intentionally crappy. For what? Some kinda street (blog) cred? Don’t be fooled, this Sony/Columbia release is in no way “indie”. At least it’s not “independent” because it’s very much “indie” in the same way Gin Blossoms and Stone Temple Pilots were “alternative.” Alternative to what? Alternative to not selling a ton of records, I guess. Similarly Haim are independent of not being “poised to dominate” as the sticker on the cover says.  Incidentally, the sticker also says, “The new sound of young America.” By which they must mean the 30-year-old sound of young America because it sounds a lot like the kind of sound young America was into when Cyndi Lauper and Grandma Madge debuted. That kind of Prince meets Michael Jackson at Wham‘s house to rework some Bananarama songs sound. I mean, the sticker is completely correct in calling it “an infectious sound”—I’m just amused by how much it sounds EXACTLY LIKE (there, I predictably said it) dance-pop records I hated in 1985 (through 1990) and how much I love the shit out of it. But also they don’t actually “write ‘em like they used to” do they? They aren’t songwriters of the caliber as, say, Hall and Oates or The Cars—Again, predictably, I said it. EDIT: I was listening to this on the subway ride home yesterday and it occurred to me only “Falling” and “Forever” are any good at all. And her voice is pretty unspectacular and indistinguishable. Score adjusted accordingly.
3 Indie blogs killed the irony star out of 5 Video Hits: The Next Generation superstars
2013DIVIDER
Hookworms: Pearl Mystic — I picked this up with trepidation having only heard the 30-second samples available on Amazon or Allmusic or somewhere. The trepidation came from none of the songs getting going well past the 30-second mark. Yet I was confident the album would be a droning, swirling fuzz/wah haze of driving krautrock psychedelia—and it is. It sits somewhere in the delta between White Noise Sound, Psychic Ills and Follakzoid where Spacemen 3 and Hawkwind references are bountiful and astral journeys are the air your breathe. Not entirely a stoner throwback, there’s just enough of a contemporary modern rock feel to add freshness (but no so much you’d ever think it’s Coldplay with a wah-wah pedal).
4.375 Astral journeys into the land of Martian go-go dancers out of 5 Space rock hypnagogic states
2013DIVIDER
Gushing Cloud: Beat Wings In Vain — The artwork, name of the band and title of the album would lead you to believe Beat Wings In Vain is a wholly psychedelic rock affair. Perhaps something in the krauty vein of Eternal Tapestry or Barn Owl‘s more acoustic material. Perhaps even a Comets of Fire or Assembled Head In Sunburst Sound fuzz rock band. And it isn’t not those things, exactly. But it’s a lot more post-rock in the realm of latter-period Tortoise or some of the jazzier stuff on Constellation. At times it even sounds pretty close to being a smart ’90s electronica record, a sample-heavy one that veers towards ’70s spliffy jazz-funk and exotica. So it is quite psychedelic, but in the way Bitches Brew era Miles Davis and everyone on the Ninja Tune label were psychedelic. It’s got a very urban feel, even in its folkiest moments, which is counter to everything the name, title and art suggests—i.e., shamanistic desert rock or at the very least that kind of Burning Man/Coachella electro thing the kids have been making lately. All that said, it’s really very good. The liner notes imply it was cobbled together over the past six years by Cory Bengtsen (and friends) and that shows in the quality, while nothing feels over-worked. It’s a groovy, drifting, exotically textured cinematic journey.
4 Post-rock journeys into sound out of 5 Sampledelic live studio creations
2013DIVIDER
Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister — The band Joanna Gruesome are the latest in a slew of ’90s revivalists on the Slumberland label. Even more so than Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Veronica Falls before them, they nail the sound like a hammer. So much so they sound EXACTLY LIKE Velocity Girl. I’ve made similar statements about Wax Idols or Savages sounding “exactly like” The Banshees, but in this case I’m really dead on. There’s no way in a blind test I could tell the bands apart. And I listened the hell out of Velocity Girl‘s Simpatico back in the day. So, zero points for originality. But top-marks for writing 10 flawless, perfectly sweet, punky, boy-girl indie-pop songs. Velocity Girl never managed to produce and album without a certain amount of filler so, in a way, this improves upon the template as a good revival band should.
4.875 It’s 1993 and I’m in my parents basements out of 5 I’ve heard this before but I don’t care because I can listen to this on repeat forevers
2013DIVIDER
Venom P. Stinger: 1986-1991 — It’s sort of a truth that every time I listen to some vicious Aussie swamp rock by Birthday Party, Scientists or, indeed, Venom P. Stinger (thanks to this new double disc compilation) sure makes followers like Slug Guts and Bird Blobs sound a bit silly and anemic. Not that those bands are terrible or even bad. 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.
4.875 Dirty delinquent degenerate noir punks out of 5 Scientific birthday parties
2013DIVIDER
Mazzy Star: Seasons of Your Day — Usually reunion/comeback albums are nine times out of ten a dodgy idea. My Bloody Valentine surprisingly defied the most guarded expectations with MBV, and if Bauhaus‘s Go Away White and Medicine‘s To The Happy Few were only slight stumbles, the recent Pixies EP held true to the popular wisdom about such releases—at best a legacy smearing cash grab. So between MBV and Pixies, rumours of hiatus-breaking releases by Jesus and Mary Chain, Stone Roses and Mazzy Star have my wishes erring on the side of overly-cautious, but not entirely skeptical. Of these three remaining veterans, acoustic-gaze / dream-country ’90s bliss-inducers Mazzy Star are first out the gate. Pixies making more cautious than MBV made me hopeful, I didn’t pre-order this release like I planned. Instead, I listened to the full-album stream on Line of Best Fit. I have say Mazzy Star managed to recreate the mood and tone of their classic srecords pretty accurately with all the sleepy i’s dotted and psych-country t’s crossed. There’s truly not an embarrassing note on the whole disc. But Hope Sandoval and David Roback seem to have also entirely forgotten to write actual songs. Their three ’90s albums, though they might be gauzy to the point of non-existence and obscured by a dense, smokey haze, are packed with solid tunes. There’s not a single hook or memorable refrain on Seasons of Your Day. In fact, I’m not sure it isn’t the same nondescript ditty repeated over and over again with (very) slight variations in tempo and instrumentation. It’s by no means legacy destroying, but neither is it essential listening or a required purchase for any but the most devoted fans. It would actually make perfectly nice, ignorable, background music for a coffee shop.
2.5 Quaalude cowpokes out of 5 Our best days are behind us
2013DIVIDER
Destruction Unit: Deep Trip — It might be awfully callous to say music got a lot better after Jay Reatard died in 2010, but in the case of  Destruction Trip‘s music, it’s very specifically true. Beginning with their 2011 album, Sonoran, the unit went from boring “psych” punk to wild desert punk-psych (with no qualifying quote marks). The aptly titled Deep Trip finds them suitably at home on Sacred Bones alongside the likes of Human Eye, Pop. 1280 and Religious Knives. Droney, grungy, fuzzy, swirly and spacey like Hawkwind during their wildest, most Motorheadish early live bootlegs or if The Stooges were a krautrock band… that kinda thing.
4.25 Sacrificial desert fuzz rituals out of 5 Deep cosmic trips (with slam dancing)
2013DIVIDER
King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath The Moon — I first ran across Archy Marshall when he was still going by Zoo Kid. It was just a photo I ran across on Flickr that reminded me of Baby Boom from the film Absolute Beginners. Anyway, I was all like “Fuck, yeah! Who’s this? Zoo Kid? He’s got a video? Let’s hit this up!” That’s what I was like. When I heard his jazzy Mark E. Smith meets art-damaged Billy Bragg meets punk-thug Morrissey, well, I was hooked. Kid could do no wrong in my book. Except I couldn’t find any Zoo Kid product and his Bandcamp songs were only streaming. Hey, kid, I just wanna give you my money. Anyway, I pre-ordered his first EP as King Krule which was, admittedly, a bit of letdown. But I wasn’t remotely deterred. So I’m probably not really a reliable witness when I say: 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is everything I hoped it would be and is the hands-down album of the year. For whatever reason this stuff is just on a suicide dive-bomb trajectory zeroing-in on my heart and soul. Marshall is an original,  the real deal, a true post-modern wizard of song.
5 Mealy-mouthed troubadours out of 5 Balladeers in a smoke-filled diner
2013DIVIDER
Braids: Flourish//Perish — Only one track in as of yet, but the Björk influence that was an ingredient on Braids debut is in full effect, taking over the recipe. Not just in the fragile, lisy-whispy vocals, but in the skittery ambient electronics of the backing tracks.  By track four (“Hossak“) the Björkiness isn’t lessening. Not sure it’s getting more prevalent, but an innate Braidsiness isn’t coming to the fore either. So, taken as a Björk album, how does it fare? Very well. It falls somewhere post-Post and pre-Medúlla. That is to say, it’s pretty much exactly Vespertine. That’s not exact;y true, there are moments which are very Thom Yorke circa The Eraser (especially the merping synth bass and clacking drum stick rhythms on “Juniper“). But anyway, now that I’m at the end, I feel confident saying Flourish//Perish should please Björk fans (like myself) who’ve been waiting for another Vespertine. But I’m still waiting for Braids follow up to Native Speaker.
4 Elfin chanteuses out of 5 Vespertines
2013DIVIDER
Crocodiles: Crimes of Passion — Since their second album, Sleep Forever (2010), Crocodiles have consistently been at the head of the reverb-heavy retro-psych/noise-pop pack. Their hooks are more genuinely Brian Wilson / Phil Spector solid than their contemporaries (Drums, Crystal Stilts, Raveonettes, etc) and they’ve known exactly how much noise to spread over the mix to keep their records from being as cloyingly saccharine as the songs they’ve written but not obscure the melodies. Something like if Jesus and Mary Chain only did covers of songs like “Build Me Up Buttercup” and Jackson 5‘s  “I Want You Back“. Crimes of Passion is no exception, though is perhaps veering towards too much embellishment and polish (next record will tell). It would have been the summer surf/power-pop hit if it hadn’t been released just weeks short of September. I guess it’s the back to school jam for people too old to be going back to school.
4.5 Spector and Wilson Chains our of 5 My Bloody Ronettes
2013DIVIDER
Drowner: You’re Beautiful, I Forgive You — You know how I’ve been hard on indie-pop bands lately for recycling the sounds of my youth in old and unoriginal ways? How I’ve been lamenting, despite nailing the sound, how there’s the dearth of great songwriting (specially lack of real melodies paired with vague, yet cool-seeming, but ultimately meaningless lyrics)? All that goes for Drowner as much as Part Time or Wild Nothing, but when it’s a shoegaze/dreampop revival band, I find myself giving the record a pass despite it’s failings. My only real criticism of You’re Beautiful, I Forgive You (aside from the trendy pseudo-profundity-via-banality of the title) is there’s a squick of a “rockist” feel beneath the classic 4AD haze. At first blush it sounds like the chemical wedding of Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, but deeper listening suggests not so much MBV as later, post-shoegaze, americana-influenced Ride records or even Suede. I guess that kinda means it sounds like Lush. Yeah, it’s pretty much a Lush record without the hooks. Thing is, unlike indie-pop, hooks aren’t as important to shoegaze as mood and atmosphere—which Drowner deliver. EDIT:Shallow” actually has a proper hook and an unexpected Jane Siberry feel (a texture I now hear running through the whole album) that adds an interesting depth to the usual stew of sheogaze influences.
4 Spooky Galas out of 5 Loveless garlands
2013DIVIDER
Julianna Barwick: Nepenthe — Have you heard a Jullianna Barwick album before? Then you’ve heard Nepenthe. Maybe this time out it’s a little more fully realized, a little lusher, a little more perfect. But basically the same. If you haven’t heard one of her albums, they’re like Enya without the ’80s pop aspect. Perhaps not as candle-shop new age cheesy, a more genuinely euphoric take on medieval choral music à la Hildegard Von Bingen. Edging towards some of Lisa Gerrard‘s soundtrack work. It’s produced by Alex Somers in Iceland so there’s a bit of that Sigur Rôs flavour this time out too. If I sound down on the album, it’s only because Barwick delivers exactly what we ordered. And very well. No surprises, perfectly executed. But no surprises. So it’s hard to get truly excited per se… But I am dying to put some candles on, run a bath and bliss out to this some evening.
4.5 Glimpses of heaven our of 5 Walking towards the lights
2013DIVIDER
Medicine: To The Happy Few — By happenstance I reviewed The Buried Life (1993) the week this came out. I think if I hadn’t been listening to that album pretty carefully so recently, I’d have found more to love in To The Happy Few. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still one of Medicine‘s top four albums, but it’s not quite their best as some reviews have suggested. I’d place it somewhere between the sheer brilliance of Buried Life and the faltering Her Highness (1995). The sound is closer to the metal machine tones of Buried Life, but the songwriting is much more Lennon/McCartney and Brian Wilson than classic Brad Laner. Those writers, or the like, have always been an obvious influence on Medicine but this time it almost sounds like classic psyche-pop covers with a little extra distortion overlayed in the mix. Not every song is an homage or a ’60s throwback though, and it’s a satisfying, if unexpected, return. Ultimately, I’d count myself in with the happy few, but I can tell that when I feel I need a dose of Medicine I’m going to reach for one of the first two albums instead.
3.875 Psychedelic pop classics out of 5 fuzzy-wuzzy shoegazing psychedelic comebacks
2013DIVIDER
Kim Lenz and The Jaguars: Follow Me — Clearly fans and traditionalists, Kim Lenz’s backing band, The Jaguars, create some pretty convincing rockabilly revival. Or, perhaps, rockabilly revival revival as they look on average about 50 in their pictures and that places them roughly in the age-bracket to be The Stray Cats and The Blasters fans more than Gene Vincent and Johnny Burnette. And (ignoring the Wanda Jackson comparisons always leveled at Lenz, supposedly because that’s the only rockabilly chanteuse anyone can think of—the two really aren’t much alike) Follow Me is closest to Brian Setzer‘s revisionist take on rockabilly than anyone’s with it’s horn-fulled jump blues and distilled sense of rock’n’roll mythology. Yet isn’t as sanitized and schmaltzy as Setzer’s latter-day work. Still, Follow Me could use (along with a title that isn’t so staggeringly boring) a little more fire and fury. But not so much as was found on late collaborator Nick Curran‘s final album which too authentically replicated the lo-fi distortion of a ferocious Jerry Lee Lewis live bootleg. Something just a little in between would be perfect.
3.75 Stray kitten struts out 5 Juke joint Jezebels
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Pop. 1280: Imps of Perversion — Vicious, trash-can rock sounding not unlike the Aussie Scientists/Birthday Party/Venom P. Stinger school of thought. “Nailhouse” is an especially delicious bludgeoning. Not a homogeneous homage to swampy no-wave aggression, the album also veers towards art-house industrial and straight(er) ahead American noise-punk of the David Yow variety. In short every damn thing I like about rock’n’roll wrapped-up like half-gnawed body parts in one messy little package.
4.75 Perverted imps out of 5 Giant rock’n’roll perversions
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Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone — I’d have been impressed if Valerie June had been good at any of the half-dozen styles she attempts on Pushin’ Against A Stone, but the facts she’s a master of bluegrass, trad-folk, indie-folk, soul, and blues is just kind of sickening. God damn. And one-upping albums by the likes of Gillian Welch or Sharon Jones—great as they are, tend to be a tad samey-samey—the album plays like a really well curated mix-tape from someone with a record collect consisting only of deep cuts. I took issue with Dan Auerbach‘s production on Hanni El Khatib‘s latest album but he knocks it out of the park here. Or, I suspect, June does the heavy hitting and he just pressed “record” and let her work her magic. And it’s not polished, sanitized, Nashville magic either. There’s a gritty, outsider feel to the proceedings. Something like the underlying hint of danger in Tom Waits’ music before be went the full Beefheart. The only flaw with the album is the songs themselves are all only really good. There’s nothing to rival a classics it might bring to mind like “Jolene“, “Fever” or “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay“. But since there isn’t really anyone writing songs of that caliber anymore, she’s ahead of the pack.
4.5 Versatile down home divas  out 5 Complete histories of popular American song
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Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes: Baby Caught The Bus — Another Aussie (scroll down to Gin Wigmore review some ways below) rockabilly/blues diva doing a sort of grittier, more authentically in-the-red, juke-joint version of Amy Winehouse‘s Back To Black album. Or a modern revival of classic rock’n’soul ravers like Sugar Pie DeSanto. Or a meeting of minds somewhere between Stray Cats first coupla platters and Peggy Lee doing “Fever“. Anyway, I can listen to this kind of thing from sundown Friday to sunup Monday.
4.25 Stray kitten struts out 5 Back-beaten saxophone growls
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Gauntlet Hair: Stills — This could be the CD that stops me buying new indie rock in 2013. Not that it’s very bad, it’s not. Like a lot of current bands, Gauntlet Hair are very good at creating a sound, or combination of sounds, I really dig. There’s been an abnormal amount great sounding records to come out in the past few years. But most eventually leave me with this curmudgeonly feeling of “They just don’t write ’em like they used to, eh?” Which makes me feel old. And who wants to feel old? Of course, the ratio of cool-sounding also-rans to truly great song-writers in the new wave, grunge, shoegaze, post-punk, what have you, eras was about the same. I’m just too old for this digging for gold shit. Anyway, apparently Guantlet Hair packed it in this week as well.
Probably 3 or 3.5 Noise pops of today out of 5 Noise pops of yesteryear, sonny
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Part Time: PDA — These bands that have been borrowing elements of the ’80s new romantic movement have got me back me listening to my ABC, Haircut 100 and Spandau Ballet discs lately. Listening to those old albums has me wondering if I need to be listening to these new ones. PDA by Part Time is a pretty good set of indie-pop songs. But only pretty good. Each song has only about half a hook. I find myself half-bobbing my head and half-tapping a foot and half forgetting the record is even playing. The guitar does have a nice touch of Johnny Marr about it, but the vocals are ineffectual and disinterested sounding. Sounding like there’s zero fucks being given can be a valid artistic stance so long as you can kind of tell there were a lot of fucks even behind the aloof performance. I’m hearing no fucks at all. It sort of comes off like half-finished Psychedelic Furs demos sung by your friend’s roommate. PDA is really the kind of album that needed a big shot producer to come in and pull it all together; to push Part Time out of their comfort zone and really bring out the hits floating beneath the surface of these songs. But of course with the way the music business is now, young bands don’t get to (or don’t think they need to) use record producers any more.
2.75 New romantic indie rockers out of 5 Nothing really bad about its but also nothing really great about its 
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David Lynch: The Big Dream — More consistent than 2011’s Crazy Clown Time, but the highs aren’t as high. Naturally, the lows are also as low. This time  David Lynch steers clear of his previous album’s dodgy techno experiments that weren’t just suited to him as a performer. Since not too many people have ever been able to pull off this type of nightmarish post-Beefheart blues convincingly, it’s understandable if you’re inclined to give The Big Dream more of a pass than it might deserve. In some ways it’s not tunes like “Cold Wind Blowin‘” where the inevitable Twin Peaks comparison is most apt, but that the album is bizarre, surreal, creepy, clearly brilliant and… maybe just a little bit crappy? Like with his films, it’s hard to judge the objective quality and just have to go with your gut.
3.5 Nightmares at the diner out of 5 Noir blues masterpieces
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Mood Rings: VPI Harmony — What I have little doubt will prove to be the best shoegaze/dream-pop record of the year, has doubtlessly the worst title of any album of the year. But by any other name, the rose would smell as sweet and all that. Like a good sized handful of nü-gaze bands, Mood Rings use Slowdive‘s smooth and fuzzy as velour formula  for a template (but mixed with some new romantic textures). Unlike many of those bands, they write songs nearly as good as Slowdive. On repeat.
4 Lucid dream states out of 5 Sweet harmonies
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Jerusalem In My Heart:  Mo7it Al-Mo7it — Like Dead Can Dance in the prime of their Arabic phase without sounding like something you’d hear in a new age bath shop. All the droning spiritual ecstasy, now with 100% more grit. Radwan Ghazi Moumneh‘s acoustic buzuk and zurna improvisations also rival anything you’d hear coming out of Sir Richard Bishop‘s guitar or Jozef Van Wissem‘s lute. Alternative world fusion that’s more than just “stuff white people like.”
4 East of Eden dronescapes out of 5 Minaret heaters
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Date Palms: The Dusted Sessions — After you hear a number of ambient/psych/drone/improv records over several years (or decades) you start to think there’s just nothing left to be done with the format. Then you hear a record that might not spin the genre on it’s head, but reminds you that people with talent can always find somewhere new to take it. This latest Date Palms offering is just such a release. Swirling, ethno-psych soundscapes that bridge neo-classical, spaghetti westerns and astral travelling in some kind of dessert ritual surrounding the annual solar eclipse (during which it was recorded in 2012!).
4.5 Post-psychedelics out of 5 Pre-historic shamans
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Ensemble Pearl: s/t — This is the Sunn o))) side-project you’re looking for. Throughout his many projects and collaborations, Stephen O’Malley has never shied away from his devotion to Dylan Carson and his seminal doom-drone project, Earth. Sunn o)))’s early sessions emulated and improved upon the heavy simplicity of  Earth’s early records and then their later, more textured material mirrored Earth’s own journey away from playing one long, low, fuzzed-out note. But where I felt there’s always been something a little stilted and slightly half-assed about Carson’s records, O’Malley’s are meticulous and liquid. Undeniably, Carson remains the genius who invented a whole sub-genre based on sub-basement deep sub-tones, and there’d be no Sunn o))) without Earth, but O’Malley is the one who perfected the formula. Now that Carson seems content to tread the same water post-rock bands like Labradford and Godspeed, O’Malley is the one continuing to move the genre forward. Not to say Ensemble Pearl is the first outfit to produce and ecstatic blend of minimal improvisations over deeply harmonic drones, but for something that should sound so played out, this record sounds surprisingly magical and fresh. Undoubtedly credit can be given to the interpreters of O’Malley’s material: Atsuo of Boris,  Michio Kurihara of Ghost and Citizens’ UtilitiesWilliam Herzog who add psych, dub, avant-chamber music and space-rock textures to all the right surfaces. It might seem contradictory to say rehashing some obvious Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream influences with subtle avant garde and Neubauten-esque textures is somehow more relevant than Carson doing the same with ’90s post-rock sounds, but the approach definitely works far better than Earth’s last few offerings. Perhaps it’s also disingenuous and pointless to make the comparison. You get the sense O’Malley is finally going his own way with this record and I’d be pleased if he kept making Ensemble Pearl albums even at the expense of new Sunn o))) material.
4 Post-drones out of 5 Post-rocks
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Club 8: Above The City — I hadn’t paid much attention to Club 8 in the past as I’d slotted them into a wanna-be Belle and Sebastian/wanna-be Cardigans project. Which they were. Not that there’s anything wrong with that goal—just not interested. But then I heard their catchy as sin indie-disco track “I’m Not Gonna Grow Old” from Above The City and decided to given them a chance. Turns out I wasn’t far wrong in my original assessment only that the be’s they wanna have changed. Mostly it’s indie-electronic Beach Housey type bands now (especially on “Less Than Love” and “Straight As An Arrow” with their whoa-oh-oh hooks). And, oddly, Visage by way of Ladytron on “Stop Taking My Time” and “Into Air“. “Hot Sun” and “A Small Piece of Heaven” aren’t entirely un-Vampire Weekend-like with their yachts moored off the Ivory Coast feel. Most bizarre though is the album is riddled with strange atmospheric interludes which seems to be a bid for artistic respectability but just pointlessly stall the flow. Actually, now that I think about it, “I’m Not Gonna Grow Old” steals the bassline (and kind of the hook) from Kylie‘s “Wow” but only manages to be worth about about half its weight in song.
2 Wanna-be’s out of 5 Misleading disco potentials
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Hawkwind: Warrior On The Edge Of Time (2CD/DVD reissue) — The best thing to do with a sprawling, pretentious prog-rock concept album is make it bigger and more sprawling. Provide multiple mixes and masters to sort through like Charles Dexter Ward studying every line in a library of arcane tomes seeking the secrets to the universe. Warrior On The Edge Of Time is, in some ways, the reason people hate prog-rock and, on others, the reason prog-rock fans are so devoted to the genre. It’s certainly the reason I only got into Hawkwind in the last couple of years. The title alone tells you what you’re in for. Long space jams and with analog synth faery flutes and ridiculous, pretentious spoken word segments à la the intro to Spinal Tap‘s “Stone Henge“. It’s their last good record and the shark jumping-off point in their discography. Travel no further than this album and switch over to Lemmy‘s subsequent Motorhead records. Speaking of Lemmy, Hawkwind’s saving grace is they couldn’t really play very well. Not like ELP, Jethro Tull or Yes could play. Progressive rock bands are generally criticized for being so focused on the ornate pseudo-classic passages which made them “progressive” that they forgot the “rock” part. So while Hawkwind does meander and noodle and get spacey and medieval, they always rocked. At least until they fired Lemmy, just after this album. I can’t deny there are some laughably silly aspects to Warriors (mainly the spoken word bits), but they’re not as cringe-inducing as I remembered. You don’t get the impression Hawkwind, like their contemporaries, had their head up their asses so much as were just having a lark. These elements also seem charmingly “of their time” and somehow forgivable. Or maybe I’m simply losing my mind. It helps that when space wizards aren’t orating about eternity, the rest of the album is top quality acid rock. Especially the  bonus tracks on Disc 2. “Dawn“, “Circles“, “I Am the Eye” and the  12 minute “Watchfield Festival Jam” are for me what makes this reissue a worth while purchase. The fidelity certainly isn’t in the same league as Steven Wilson‘s very fine “new stereo mixes” of the main album, but they highlight Hawkwind’s punk-rock intensity and acid-head experimentation. Most of the Disc 1 bonus tracks fall into the “historically interesting alternative takes and demos” category rather than being true value added material. The booklet, though, doesn’t do a great job detailing the history of these bonus these tracks so you do have to play Charles Dexter Ward and sift through the rambling to put them in context. Lemmy’s “Motorhead” b-side is the exception, of course. Though it’s been included on previous CD editions of the album for years, it’s a highlight (and really makes me wish Motorhead records had more sax on them). The DVD contains a 5.1 mix I’ll probably never be able to enjoy as well as a flat transfer of the original master tapes. So that you can do you own remaster? I don’t get why people’d want these other than to do spectrographic analysis of the different mixes and write really nerd blog posts about them. Which is fitting for a band like Hawkwind—the quintessential outsider music nerds.
4.75 Remastered quests beyond the bounds of eternity out of 5 Seminal space rock classics
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Soko: I Thought I Was An Alien — I think all singer-songwriters should listen to I Thought I Was An Alien and take notes. Not on the lo-fi production, or the more outsider song forms, but just to pay attention to the inappropriately flayed bare confessional tone of Soko‘s songs. This is why we, as a species, tell stories. So that others can play voyeur and peek through the windows of our lives to glimpse a little truth to help makes sense about their own. Soko probably won’t maintain many friendships as a result of this album, but that’s what makes it art. It reminds me of the work of Stina Nordenstam, not because of the similarly icily fragile vocals, but in the similarly honest presentation of deeply personal topics. This isn’t a happy album, though it is achingly beautiful. At times it’s youthfully naive (perhaps in the way that, as you grow older, you learn to keep these things private) but at others it’s wise beyond anybody’s years. Joni Mitchell didn’t record Blue so that Jewel and Sheryl Crow could use acoustic guitars for as props in music videos, she must have been hoping she’d inspire more albums like this one.
5 Songs of Love and Hate out of 5 Memories of a Color 
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Classixx: Hanging Gardens — Smooth, future-retro disco/house. Classixx are a little less organic than Breakbot though similarly tread the same path as Daft Punk and, again, do it better than our robot overlords did on Random Access Memories. The vocal collaborations are a bit more modern indie-rock flavoured than Daft Punk’s guests, but they all work better than that Panda Bear cameo. Anyway, enough whinging about RAM. Everyone’s already forgotten about that album so Hanging Gardens might actually get some well-deserved attention. A party record that’s not too aggressive or built around contrived, ringtone-ready earworms, but also a sweet headphones record that sports some decent hooks (“I’ll Get You” cashes the cheque written by “Get Lucky“). It’s Goldilocks-zone pop perfect for commuting on transit, reading or cutting a rug.
4 Retro robot DJs out of 5 Futuristic Eurodisco paradises
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Aidan Baker: Already Drowning — Light as gauze and dense as concrete, Aidan Baker‘s post-post-rock collaborations with a series of female vocalists plays like a Wim Wenders film. And not just because the songs sound like they’d be right at home on the soundtrack to Until The End Of The World or Wings of Desire, but Already Drowning tells sprawling, interconnected, almost dreamlike pseudo-narrative that evokes spiritual euphoria against the background of existential angst. It’s not too far removed from being a seductively soothing version of Scott Walker‘s Bish Bosh—that is to say it’s a dramatic chamber cabaret that’s actually pleasant to listen to. Which I personally think is a huge plus. Masterpiece or not, I need to want to put an album on in order to consider it a successful piece of artistry. I have no qualms about putting the engagingly creepy, darkly beautiful, serenely paranoid, comfortingly challenging,  Already Drowning on repeat any time (though might not be great running or workout music).
5 (x 8) Sirens’ songs out of 5 Cinematic soundscapes 
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Pia Fraus: Silmi Siland 1998 – 2008 — Criminally under-appreciated second generation shoegazers Pia Fraus have provided, for your convenience, probably the best and possibly only second generation shoegaze album you’ll ever need. Rather than simply rehashing the usual grab-bag of first generation shoegaze classics, Pia Fraus’ records feel more like an extension—recording the albums you wished Slowdive, Ride and, obviously, MBV would have carried on into the second half of the ’90s. This compilation gathers some of the brightest moments from their criminally difficult to locate back-catalogue. Difficult to locate physical copies that is; their Bandcamp provides easy access to digital copies of their entire discography which, if you have even a passing interest in shoegaze, is pretty much all essential listening. Or you could just pick up this compilation.
5 Souvlaki nowheres out of Loveless whirlpools
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Naam: Vow — I recently read Jim Jarmusch‘s 5 Golden Rules for Filmmakers. Rule #5 is: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination … Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it … always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.” The article is great advice for any artist working in any medium and I encourage you to read it.  But  I don’t think Naam could learn much from it since they’re already on the right track. In regards to that Goddard quote especially. They’re a psychedelic rock band that knows their psychedelic history as well as some of my other current favourites (Kadavar, OrchidGraveyardPurson, etc), but they’re taking it somewhere new. It’s traditional progressive psych in the truest sense—it’s actually progressing somewhere. That isn’t to say they’re wholly original, they’re thieves celebrating their theft (I’m pretty sure the album intro “Silent Call” outright plagiarizes The Terminator theme of all things), but wherever they’ve taken things from it’s where they take them to that’s interesting.
4.375 Tangerine lizard kings out of Pink hawkwind dreams
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Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch: Mystery of Heaven — Speaking of Jim Jarmusch, I’ve been meaning to write about this late-2012 release which I didn’t pick up in time to make my year-end list. The film-maker’s second collaboration with lute-player Jozef Van Wissem is pretty much similar to their first, which came out earlier in the year. Basically, Jarmusch drones feedback while Van Wissem plucks delicate psychedelic passages over top. The dark undertones provided by Jarmusch are the missing element in most of Van Wissems records that, while very pretty, tend to be overly repetitive and meander without arriving at a satisfying destination. Jarmusch is the anchor he needs and the antidote to the slight saccharine quality his music sometimes has. Conversely, a record of Jarmusch’s minimalist solo drones might be a bit thin as well. Or, at the very least, nothing we haven’t heard from avant guitarists a million times in the last couple of decades—Van Wissem’s luteadds a unique, captivating flavour to what would otherwise be a pretty standard set of noise drones. This is evidenced by the tracks Van Wissem plays 12-string electric guitar on which, while being some the album’s high points, are some of the least distinctive and original moments. Overall, this is a collaboration in the truest sense. Bonus feature: spoken word segment by Tilda Swinton!
3.75 Renaissance drones out of 5 Noise faires
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Sigur Rós: Kveikur — Last year’s Valtari was probably the first bona fide disappointment in the Sigur Rós discography. It sounded awfully lush and pretty but just sort of drifted along listlessly like the ghost ship on the cover. Just from the standpoint of engaging performance, Kveikur is a definite improvement. Where Valtari almost dared you to ignore its pillowy softness, Kreikur demands your attention with its harsh textures and bombastic arrangements. The only problem is that the soft textures weren’t what was wrong with Valtari, it was a lack of strong material; a classic “treading water” album by a band with several genre-defining titles under the belts of their life jackets. Kreikur doesn’t improve much on this basic fault. The ideas, melodies, swells and emotions—strong as they sometimes are—are the same as those found on their previous albums. It’s hard to find specific fault in the album, yet nothing quite has that spark of excitement and forward momentum found on Ágætis Byrjun through Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (and Jonsi‘s solo album, Go). The only song that really reaches the same heights is “Ísjaki” and it has a distinct “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this before” quality to it. Perhaps because in the last decade so many other bands have started using Sigur Rós’ patented tricks. But all whinging aside, most bands’ 7th album is quite a bit more dire than this one. Like Valtari, it would have been a jaw-dropping debut. Sigur Rós have simply become victims of their own unavoidable legacy.
3.5 Candlewicks out of 5 Good Beginnings
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Splashh: Comfort —  It’s pretty safe to say that these guys really like the ’90s (and the late-80s). Splashh‘s debut, Comfort, starts off with “Headspins“, which we’ll generously call an “homage” to The Pixies, and then takes you on a less specific tour of vintage shoegaze, dream-pop and UK indie sounds. Things tend to lean a little more towards the Creation Records side of things than the 4AD.  The record sounds pretty darn authentic, though they probably wouldn’t have stood out from the pack in 1990. They sound a bit like bandwagon jumpers would couldn’t figure out if Ride, Chapterhouse or Slowdive were the band they should be aping. But really, the worst thing about the pretty good disc is the extra “h” on the end of the band’s name which unfortunately reminds me of hHead (who I assume were unknown in the UK). Anyway, since there won’t be anymore pre-Blood Music Chapterhouse records in existence, this one fills a void nicely.
4 Chapterdives out of 5 Pixie rider fanclubs
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Rip, Rig & Panic: God/I am Cold/Attitude (2013 remastered expanded editions) — If you only knew Neneh Cherry from “Buffalo Stance” you might have been surprised by her collaboration with avant jazz combo The Thing last year. But if you were familiar with ’80s her bizarro post-punk/jazz/funk band Rip, Rig & Panic (with Gareth Sanger and Bruce Smith of Pop Group), you’d have simply welcomed it as a return to form. Around 1981 there were plenty of acts blending African funk grooves with a punk attitude, but none did it with quite the same visceral abandon and seeming contempt commercial success as RR+P. For every song that seems like it had pop potential (“You’re My Kind Of Climate“) there’s at least one proper avant garde free-jazz freak-out to baffle the average pop music fan. And their commercial material is hardly that commercial. Though you could place it in the same general new wave, pop-funk/R&B family as bands like Haircut 100 or Culture Club, they’re the dastardly evil twin. Even Gang of Four, with their punky approach to funk rhythms, seem like tame, radio-friendly teenyboppers compared to RR+P’s woozy, punchy weirdness. Imagine Section 25 turned up to 11 or the first couple Public Image Ltd. records played by serious jazzbos and fronted by Alice Coltrane if she’d been an amphetamine fueled punk rocker. Though some of the edges had been sanded off by their third long-player, Attitude (the most “jazz” and the least “post-punk”), all three albums are some of the most artistically successful jazz/rock fusions ever pressed—simply because the “rock” element isn’t a bid for commercial viability but exactly the opposite (and vice versa). At very least, I can’t recommend the debut God enough as it’s as bewildering and fresh sounding as any unit currently working in similar avant-pop modes. As far as these much-needed reissues go, the remasters sound great and contain quality bonus tracks (b-sides, 12″ mixes) in copious amounts.
5 Jazz-punk fusions out of 5 Avant garde pop implosions
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Orchid: The Mouths of Madness — Another pretty fine proto-metal/classic metal revivalism record. If you like Sabbath and Zeppelin, you’d probably enjoy it. If you’re a fan of  like-minded revivalists Witchcraft and Kadavar, you’d definitely like it. Pretty stoner without being too desert, pretty classic but not too doom. Not that there’d be anything at all wrong with it being more desert and doom, but it’s not. Just telling you what it is. Orchid has a little more or a “new wave of British heavy metal” feel than someone like Kadavar might have and, at times, they almost sound like Metallica might have in 1970. Or Venom if they could actually play? Anyway, it’s all that and done well with some pretty good tunes and some serious chops.
4 Judas Zeppelins out of 5 Fuzzy Led Maidens
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Kadavar: Abra Kadavar — I might have to take the “album title of the year award” back from Valleys and give it to Kadavar. Also any award I would have given Purson for proto-metal revivalism. That Purson record is still great, but Kadavar not only have both the nuances of the on lock, but they rock the shit out of it. Yet, despite being able to spot influences from early Zeppelin, Sabbath and Priest to Deep Purple and The Who, they’re not entirely without an original flavour—no easy trick when you summon the magic of yesteryear to raise the desiccated corpse of rock’n’roll.
4 Led Sabbaths out of 5 Black Zeppelins
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Willy Moon: Here’s Willy Moon — Probably the most ridiculous album I’ve heard in a long while. In a good way. Post-modern rock’n’roll in the true, bigger-than-life, spirit of the ’80s. This isn’t any kind of arty, too-cool-for-school, post-punk revivalism. This is another kind of monster altogether. There’s not a grain of subtlety or artifice anywhere near this record. Not to say is a mature, personal, singer-songwriter album where Willy Moon lays his soul bare… No, no, this is pure superficial teenage rock’n’roll mayhem—but it’s shockingly sincere pure superficial teenage rock’n’roll mayhem. In a way that makes you realize how everything you’ve been listening to is complete poser bullshit. Part ’60s garage-rock, part ’80s pychobilly, part ’90s sampledelic and all filtered through a contemporary pop strainer, probably the most surprising thing about Willy Moon’s debut is how abrasive and raw everything sounds. Judged on the material (and Willy’s sleek visage) alone, you’d expect a slick radio-friendly approach like Rick Astley meets Jive Bunny. But instead it sounds like it was recorded in some kind of computerized juke-joint on the outskirts of a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Yet it’s a really fun juke-joint where you’re ecstatically dancing while the city burns, oblivious—or in spite of—the desolation outside. Like I said, the true spirit of the ’80s.
5 Rick Astley from Hells out of 5 Sigue Sigue Screamin’ Jay Transvision Sputniks
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Beacon: The Ways We Separate — Is 2013 the year we can coin the term thomyorkecore? That’s a bit ponderous so how about erasercore? Because I can’t help feeling this record wouldn’t exist without Kid A or The Eraser. That’s not a criticism. How many classic records wouldn’t exist without Sgt. Peppers? Still, the skittery rhythms and bloopy basslines of the Nigel Godrich/Thom Yorke production team are all over these tracks like white on rice. You can’t exactly ignore it. Not that those guys have a monopoly on IDM textures, but the way in which Beacon combines them with a warm, emotional, humanistic approach is classic Yorke (though without the dirty menace and crushing bleakness). The Ways We Separate is sort of like a boy-Grimes, or a more intimate Hot Chip, or even a more abstract, less pop-oriented Ruby Suns. As far as atmospherics go, Beacon knocks it out of the park. But none of the tracks leave you with much to hang on to. It’s a bit of a directionless journey into a strange, nondescript, marshmallow world. Very soft, cozy and sweet, but not very filling. I feel like it might be a grower though. EDIT: A grower indeed, repeat listens reward. I’d mistook subtle for vague. Love this one a little more with each spin. Boosting the rating up to an even 4.
4 Fluffy clouds out of 5 Something or others, sorry, it’s all a bit vague inside this pillow
2013DIVIDER
PacificUV: After The Dream You Are Awake — The title of PacificUV‘s latest album, After The Dream You Are Awake, is a perfect example of the rhetorical device Daniel Dennett calls “deepities” — a proposition that seems both important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial.  He said, “Yeah, dude, like, after the dream you are awake,” then she said, “Whoa, that’s deep, man.” Anyway, the music itself is a bit of a deepity too. At first blush After The Dream seems like a pretty strong, confident indie-pop record with some decently original melodies. But then it slowly reveals itself as mostly being a retro repackaging (à la Naked Eyes) of songs by The XX. Specifically “I Wanna Be You” which I think might potentially be the basis for a lawsuit.  Also, “I Think It’s Coming” wholesale cops the melody and chord progression from Komputer‘s “Like a Bird“. While they don’t directly cut’n’paste all of Komputer’s embellishments, they do manage to add all of The XX’s trademark ambient/minimalist surf textures. Meanwhile, lyrically, instead of the original song’s incisive, existential ennui, PacificUV choose to wax ambiguous on the transient nature of love instead (deepities abound). Then there’s the somewhat half-assed, yet oddly faithful cover of Billy Idol‘s “Eyes Without A Face“. Whatever you think about Idol’s music, Rebel Yell was a meticulous work of New Wave studio mastery. So this cover is a bit like doing “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a cassette 4-track. A lot of what makes the song is the recording, so recording it with less attention to detail (at the very least they should have tried to recreate those giant hand claps!) is simply baffling.  But, and this is a big bolded, underlined, all-caps BUT, there’s a solid EP’s worth of good material on After The Dream. “American Lovers” is a top-shelf maudlin synth-pop tune and “Russians” is better chilly, mechanical retro-futurist rock than Ladytron have done in a while.  Ultimately, it’s your standard pop record with all the pluses and minuses that come with the territory (it’s just that the minuses are almost deal-breakers).
2.75 Sad-sack synth-pop duos out of 5 New orders for naked eyes from the yazoo pet shop
2013DIVIDER
Purson: The Circle and the Blue Door — More old ideas given some new life. Psychedelic proto-metal/progressive rock in this case. Obvious touch-points are Deep Purple, King Crimson, The Doors’ trippier, less Top 40-oriented cuts and Jefferson Airplane at those times when they teased us with getting seriously heavy. Heck, toss in The Pretty Things and a sideways glance at Zeppelin and Floyd too. All-in-all The Circle and the Blue Door is a pretty solidly authentic-as-fuck sounding record. This is reverent revivalism done right. Purson has stuck to the adventurous spirit of the music they’re meticulously replicating and, while not actually doing a single thing that hasn’t been done before, are somehow making it sound not at all like a pale reflection of past masters or just plain boring. Good revival bands in any genre have the benefit of 40 years of hindsight and learning from their heroes’ mistakes. I feel like Purson asked the question, “Why aren’t all the songs on Crown of Creation like the title track?” and came up with the obvious answer, “They could! Let’s do it!” Not to say their aren’t mellower moments like Crown of Creation‘s “Lather” mixed in, but like that song, they’re all in keeping with the dark, heavy spirit of the rockers. Plus while intricate prog-rock riffage abounds, it’s reigned in so things don’t get bogged down like they tended to on Crimson’s platters. Here’s it’s just a hint of a Mellotron flute solo, not an engine-stalling four minutes of pixie-dust atmosphere or guitar wankery. Heads in 1968 would have been lucky to get a chance to walk through the blue door.
4 Bummed out, paranoid hippies out of 5 Faux-acid rock prog classics
2013DIVIDER
Wild Nothing: Empty Estate EP — I read an interview in The Quietus with Stephen Pastel (of The Pastels) yesterday in which he said, “Probably the bands I am most impressed with now are quite retro in a way… But, in terms of something genuinely new, I see a lot of eclecticism and people taking different elements from different things but I don’t feel a sense of newness.” Which I think is essentially what I’ve been feeling about a lot of indie-rock lately. This Wild Nothing EP included. It’s sort of a game of spot the influences. A little Squeeze here, a little Japan there, A Flock of Seagulls fly by while “A Dancing Shell” seems to contain most of Daft Punk‘s influences—but whether Wild Nothing got them second hand or from the original sources is up for debate. None of this critique is meant as criticism though. Empty Estate is as consistently catchy as set of alternative new wave toe-tappers as you could realistically hope to find back in 1982.
3.75 Polaroids taken by gentlemen out of 5 Telecommunications.
2013DIVIDER
Savages: Silence Yourself — If you scroll down to my Wax Idols review, you’ll see I suggest that they sound exactly like Siouxsie and The Banshees. Which they do, but Savages perhaps more so. Only they’d be a beefier Banshees who are less afraid to sound a teeny bit like Black Sabbath. Where Siouxsie’s post-punk outfit leaned towards proto-new wave influences like Roxy Music and Magazine, Savages are definitely more interested in muscular punk and Motor City rock’n’roll. So, in a sense, they improve upon the original (and copycats). On the other hand, the reason The Banshees were able to convince leery records companies to put out their records is they wrote some genuine earworms. Like Wax Idols, Savages have the look and sound nailed tight like a coffin, but there’s just that little tiny bit of something spectacular missing. That doesn’t mean I don’t somewhat love this record and this band (same goes for Wax Idols, by the by), just that my love isn’t blind.
4  Siouxsies out of 5 Banshees.
2013DIVIDER
Human Eye: 4 Into Unknown — I’m not exactly sure what the term “art damaged” means exactly, but I think it refers to records like this one. Similar in some respects to the off-kilter madness of Arrington de Dionyso (see below), Human Eye trade in familiar rock’n’roll motifs but wrung through some sort of bohemian drug haze ringer. It’s like a party scene in a movie where the innocent kid from Indiana ends up at a loft party in the Big Apple, gets unwittingly dosed to the gills on LSD and suddenly the VU, MC5Doors and Stooges records all taste like they’re playing at variable speeds and peoples’ faces sound like a melted Dali paintings. Spacemen 3 have a record called Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, this is Making Music So You Don’t Need To Take Drugs Ever Again. Woozy, high-octane psych abstractions.
4 Bad trips out of 5 Forced to watch pigs get slaughtered while on mushrooms
2013DIVIDER

Shannon Wright: In Film Sound — A proper retro riot grrrl/grunge record containing a healthy dose of early PJ Harvey, some L7 and maybe that first Hole album in a blender. It’s a bit more complex (and original) than those reference points suggest though. From a purely textural standpoint, In Film Sound is close to being a grinding, abrasive rock masterpiece. The first four tracks are relentless no wave dirges that keep smacking you in the face with a series of closed fist punches. Later on, things get a bit more restrained and mathier in a Slint-by-way-of-Fugazi way, but it still delivers a seething bitterness that is actually a bit scary to listen to. All that’s missing are a few proper hooks and this really would rival the best ’90s work of someone like like PJ Harvey—maybe even best it, actually, being rawer and with a little more fire in the engine. It’s not all gold though. Shannon Wright is somewhat known for her Tori Amos/Cat Power-esque piano ballads (at least, that’s what I’ve always associated her with) and there’s one situated right in the middle of the proceedings which causes the album to lurch to a sudden, undignified halt. It’s not just that “Bleed” is meandering and tuneless (which it is), but it’s packed with such trite, cliched imagery of ’90s angst (I’m so useless, I can’t sleep/This bleeding heart/So I wait, I wait for you), that it feels almost like a Flight of the Conchords parody of a mopey, grunge-era ballad. Other than that, In Film Sound is a solid half-hour of delightfully grimy no wave or grunge or post-hardcore (or whatever we’re calling this kind of thing these days) guitar raunch. At the very least “Noise Parade” is well worth having on hand in case you’re called upon to drive a muscle car off a cliff in order to stop the apocalypse.
4 Electric guitars tossed into a wood chipper out of 5 Pitch perfect grunge era homages
2013DIVIDER

Akron/Family: Sub Verses — Since Love Is Simple (2007), their final album as a four-piece, the boys Akron/Family have seemed to be bogged down with too many ideas. Most of those ideas involve a combination of high-energy, staccato African funk riffs and a lot of cerebral, epic prog but not many actual “songs” within all the mesmerizing bombast. Sub Verses sounds like a resurfacing of sorts. In what seems like the first time in years, they approach pop melodies with “When I Was Young“,  a decent doo-wop ballad in the tradition of John Lennon‘s “Jealous Guy“, but somehow it sounds exactly like Devendra Banhart (or perhaps that’s a plus in your opinion). “Until The Morning” sounds exactly like the kind of currently über-popular post-Coldplay indie-pop tunes that end up on car commercials. Even if they still haven’t quite returned to writing a suite of great songs, their sonic experiments are a lot more successful. There’s a better balance between busy world-fusion tracks like “Whole World Is Watching“, “Sand Talk” and “Sand Time” (a trio which sound exactly like an amalgam of their previous two albums) and the psychedelic drones and chants on tracks like “Sometime I” and “Holy Boredom“. Ultimately, where the album falls down is there’s a flatness to the proceedings; a bored-sounding lack of passion where there should be completely unhinged abandon. And there’s the rub. Sub Verses is an album which seems designed to be an abstract whirlwind of ecstatic celebration but feels like a cold, contrived product of too much over-thinking in the studio (or in Pro Tools after the recording was completed). It’s frustrating because it feels so, so, so close to being a truly magical work of forward-thinking transcendental rock.
3.25 Almost complete return to forms out of 5 Near misses
2013DIVIDER
Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat Dan Singa: Open The Crown — I missed Old Time Relijun the first time around thinking, for some reason, that they were a relatively tame bluegrass revival act. I didn’t realize they were hillbillies of a different ilk, playing a sort of weird, off-kilter rockabilly blues more a kin to Blues Explosion than Be-Good Tanyas. Lately I’ve been exploring singer Arrington de Dionyso‘s exponentially weirder and more off-kilter solo records. His schtick is basically a magical melange of Captain Beefheart and Damo Suzuki era Can played in a sloppy Birthday Partyish post-punk/art-rock style very much in the K Records aesthetic (but with more passion and less twee smugness). What separates Dionyso’s music from merely being a sum of his influences is a bonus grab-bag of raw, ethic music influences—dancehall, dub, gamelan, various Asian vocal textures, etc. The result sounds like vintage, unearthed recordings of some crazed Thai Elvis impersonator having an on-stage breakdown while entertaining American G.I.’s on leave circa 1972. A spectacular, visceral mess. This is art school rock’n’roll of the highest caliber.
5 Velvet Elvis undergrounds out of 5 Captain eat your Beefheart outs
2013DIVIDER
Love and Rockets: 5 Albums — There weren’t too many post-punk/new wave bands making truly psychedelic pop in the ’80s. Bands who got labelled “psychedelic” usually only added no more than a tinge of flanger over their otherwise straight-up jangle-pop (and maybe wore a bowl-cut and some lovebeads). Love and Rockets really took the genre to heart and built on the early work of bands like Pink Floyd and T.Rex but in a completely stylish,  contemporary way. To me, the music off their first four albums (represented here) is beyond critique—Its perfect psych-pop from one of my all-time favourite camps. So, instead let’s talk about the packaging of new “budget” box set since that’s probably what’s of interest to curious L&R fans. If this set is any indication, Beggars Banquet‘s new “5 Albums” packagesare going to fall, aesthetically, between their own deluxe Omnibus Editions and the cheapy Original Albums Series/Classics type pseudo box-sets currently on the market. On the plus side, the box is a nicely designed clam-shell (as opposed to a sleeve based on a hideous template) and actually contains a small booklet, unlike the “Original Albums” sets which offer you nada. On the negative side, like the Original Albums sets, cheap cardboard sleeves house the discs, not sturdy LP sleeve replicas like the ones in the Omnibus Editions. As well, the booklet is very scant on actual information. If you’re a Love and Rockets fan, this won’t replace your remastered copies of their first four landmark albums which are choc-a-bloc with liner notes and photos (unless those aren’t important to you). Where this “budget” set makes a case for legitimacy is the albums are still the remastered versions (including b-sides) and the fifth disc is a new compilation titled Assorted!, made up of bonus rarities. True, most of these tracks have been available on the previous reissues. For instance, the unreleased-for-a-reason Swing! EP showed up on the expanded version of their eponymous 1989 album. Besides a handful of extra b-sides, there’s a few “treasures” (quote marks pointedly used) for fans which haven’t been issued on CD before. One previously unreleased (not-bad/not-great) tune called “Sorted” makes its debut and the rare The Bubblemen EP finally gets a proper CD release (previously available as audio tracks on their Sorted! DVD). While The Bubblemen is the main reason I purchased the set, it is… well, let’s face it… it’s kind of terrible. “The Bubblemen Rap” is one of the most fremdscham-inducing “raps” ever recorded by white people. It borders on racist parody. The entire EP was always one of their more tragically goofball experiments though you do have to appreciate a b-side called “b-side” which is just several minutes of the sound of bees buzzing. Still, I had to have it. And if you’re a casual fan looking to fill out your L&R collection, this is a pretty economical way to do it.
MUSIC: 4 Landmark albums +1 bonus disc out of 5 Alternative rock classics
PACKAGE: 3.5 Decently pretty boxes out of 5 Deserves a proper career retrospective box sets
2013DIVIDER
Still Corners: Strange Pleasures — At some point in the future the movie Drive is going to be acknowledged as one of the biggest musical influences of this decade. Not even its soundtrack necessarily, but just the sleek style of the film and the mood it conjures.  On Strange Pleasures we hear Still Corners sanding off the rougher corners of their dark, woozy 2011 debut, Creatures of an Hour. That album was a bit like a dream-pop edition of Stereolab‘s space-age bachelor pad music, but set in a drugged-out, dystopian space-age. Strange Pleasures is the shimmery ’80s counterpart to that vision—less oil-projectors and LSD, more lasers and cocaine. Also a lot more neon. I can’t help picturing montages of various James Spader films playing on a wall of cathode ray TVs while I listen to it. From the shimmery guitars, reminiscent of The Cure, on “The Trip” to the slippery Spandau Ballet-esque shuffle of “All I Know” and the Tron-like arpeggiated synths through out, it’s a uniformly maudlin mash-up of bleak ’80s nostalgia with a shiny coat of paint. Not unlike Drive. Ultimately, it’s a bit like a less bombastic, less obvious, and generally easier to swallow, M83 album. Which is a good thing. EDIT: Now that I’ve had some more time with the album, I’ve decided being “a less bombastic, less obvious, and generally easier to swallow, M83” isn’t actually a good thing. I find M83’s contrived drama a bit overwhelming, but at least they generally remember to write some actual songs while creating their splashy ’80s soundtracks. Once the seductive shimmer dies away, Strange Pleasures reveals itself as a bit of a tuneless snooze. Dialing the rating down to 1.25 points.
2.5 Midnight drives out of 5 Low-key miserablist classics circa 1982-85
2013DIVIDER
Daughter: If You Leave — I’m a damn sucker for the elfin Björk-inflected vocals of Swedish and Icelandic bands. So it’s no surprise to find Daughter at the top of my stack of new releases. Of course, once my ear sussed out that Elena Tonra is actually British, and the waifish lisp is something of an affectation, then it became a tad annoying. At this point the whole thing has begun to sound a lot more like The XX than Pascal Pinion or Stina Nordenstam (which was my original impression). Perhaps too much so. I’m trying to listen to the album with unbiased ears, but it’s hard not to hear the myriad of  influences from Stars and Arcade Fire to Sigur Rós and Coldplay then back to The XX and  Björk again. On a purely objective level, the album is beguiling in the extreme. The melodies aren’t half-bad, the production is solid and not entirely unadventurous.  It’s been well engineered to seduce the listener. But, again, perhaps too much so. The vulnerable vocals and swelling lifts are making me feel emotionally manipulated instead of genuinely moved. Like the band is batting its eyelashes at me and I’m feeling powerless in their sway—I’m going to feel sorry for them and pay their rent this month knowing deep down that I’ll never be invited over and they won’t return my calls.
2.5 Magical pixie dream femme fatales out of 5 Genuinely beguiling ingenues
2013DIVIDER
Julia Kent: Character — Solo cellists (or any solo instrumentalists) not working in a strict classical framework often go in one of two ways—severe extended technique sound and fury or serene lyrical beauty. Usually the former. Character falls firmly in the latter, however, with a focus on languid mood-pieces rather than showcase Julia Kent‘s chops. It’s Julia Kent the composer’s record, not Julia Kent the cellist’s. Something like Joan Jeanrenaud‘s more melodic solo work, minus the displays of technical prowess. Which is frankly a blessing and a curse. While Character seems devoid of the distracting egoism of a shredding virtuoso, there’s also not much to keep your interest focused during lulling chord progressions swaying like fields of grain. The result is something that could pass for a Jocelyn Pook score for an ambiguous, artsy thriller starring an assortment of unfamiliar European actors and one big American star like Brad Pitt. At times, a piece like “Kingdom” (which actually calls to my mind Lars Von Trier’s 1994 TV series, The Kingdom) seems decidedly stuck in the ’90s. Since I’m somewhat stuck in the ’90s myself, this is not entirely a bad thing for my ears (even if several of the compositions practically beg for a Lisa Gerrard vocal to complete them). Though it could use some of the grit and passion from her earlier albums, in terms of quality in the recorded sound, and in the music itself, Character is a step forward for Kent. Despite this, the album is a tad antiseptic and predictable for active listening, more suited as workout music for depressed yogis.
2.75 Now available for soundtrack licencing offers out of 5 Dark introspections
2013DIVIDER
John Coltrane: Sun Ship, The Complete Session — I’m not going to pretend that, despite it being one of my favourite Coltrane albums, that I’m familiar enough with Sun Ship to make any kind of pronouncements about the relative merit of the various takes on The Complete Session. I can say that every time I thought to myself,  This is effin’ smokin’! and checked the notations, it turned out to be a take used on the final album. That isn’t to say there’s anything here that’s really not “smokin'” at all, but all the most essential bits were edited into original album and you’ve heard them before. What’s great about this double disc set is there’s enough variety in the extra hour of alternate takes and inserts that it never gets boring. A total of 30 minutes of “Ascent” might seem like overkill, but if you edited all these takes together seamlessly  it wouldn’t sound repetitive—just like a really great half-hour long version of the track. Speaking of seamless edits, every once in a while we should give the producers and engineers of these pre-digital age records props for how well they stitched different takes into final compositions all on analogue tape. It now seems pretty incredible what they were able to achieve without the aid of computers. True studio craftsmanship. And speaking of studios, often archival fly-on-the-studio-wall recordings of chatter between takes is distracting or tedious but in this package it’s actually entertaining and illuminating. The relaxed, warm exchanges between the band and producer Bob Thiele are really quite endearing. Ultimately, the casual Coltrane day-tripper won’t need this long a ride on the Sun Ship, but seasoned travelers will appreciate the expanded vistas.
5 Complete pictures out of 5 Timeless astral journeys
2013DIVIDER
Valleys: Are You Gonna Stand There And Talk Weird All Night? — Well, Valleys win the “Best Album Title of the Year” award in my books. Otherwise this is your (above/below/perfectly) average vaguely retro moody, breathy, dreamy, synth-gaze/indie-rock album. Very pleasant, if not a tad gloomy. Sort of like a really bummed-out M83. Nothing is ever quite bold enough to be terrible which means there’s nothing particularly memorable on here either—though it’s growing on me hard. The strength of the album is in the mood and atmosphere (David Lynch meets 90210?) which they do quite well. Think of this as soundtrack music for an imaginary Ryan Gosling movie.
4Teenage dreams out of 5 Neon-lit ’80s nightmares
2013DIVIDER
Daft Punk: Random Access Memories — This is the only album on this page I haven’t purchased. I’m only reviewing it now because I was pressured online to listen to the pre-release iTunes stream by a Facebook friend. After listening to it, I haven’t shaken that impression. “Give Life Back To Music” is sort of okay dance music but there’s not much oomph here. The kick drum should be crunching more. The melodies are begging me to find them alluring but they seem a bit shallow for all their glitter. Also, is vocoder going to be used on every damn song? For the most part, the answer is yes and it’s being used to disguise how the songs are actually pretty tuneless. Except for “Get Lucky“—the lead-off single that prompted me to think they’d become pale shadow of their former selves and not bother listening to the stream—is probably the closest thing so far to an actual choon on the album. That doesn’t mean it’s not just a rehash of all the good bits from Discovery. I also feel like the mediocrity of everything leading up to this song is made it sound better than it actually is. It sort of highlights how undanceable most of the album is. And I’ll admit it’s irrationally annoyed me how it’s completely overshadowed Breakbot‘s album (see below) which aims to achieve pretty much the same goals and flat-out nails them. Read my full “angry loser” review HERE.
2.5 Robot discos out of 5 Admittedly impressive and apparently successful marketing campaigns.
2013DIVIDER
Hanni El Khatib: Head In The Dirt — Overall little less rough’n’tumble affair than the promising Will The Guns Come Out. A plus is that all the songs boast a full band where a few tracks on the previous album (that should have been balls-out rockers) El Khatib frustratingly performed solo. Unfortunately this full band is headed by Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) who’s sort of become the punk blues version of Pat Boone. Every thing is a little too polished and too in-the-pocket without any real danger and ramshackle excitement. The addition of English Beat-esque ska and reggae textures is a refreshing surprise though does make things sound a little bit like new wave revival pop-punk at times (or let’s say Elvis Costello if I wanted to be more generous). If, like me, you wished Souljacker by The Eels was full of fuzzy three-chord ravers like the title track, Head In The Dirt might be your perfect album. If, like me, you wished Pussy Galore had been El Khatib’s backing band on Will The Guns Come Out, this might not be your album.
3.375 TV soundtrack-ready pop-rock safety nets out of 5 Potentially devastating Blues Explosions
2013DIVIDER
Colin Stetson: New History of Warefare Vol. 3: To See More Light — Well, this is either the end or the beginning for Stetson. Can he take his Philip Glassy cascading solo saxophone arpeggios anywhere beyond what he’s done with these three volumes? Probably—he’s clearly an amazing fellow—but this set feels pretty refined and perfected. Epic, deep, expansive, apocalyptic, emotive… perfection. Time to move on. Perhaps the clue is in the surprisingly fruitful collaborations with Justin Vernon (save perhaps “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?“). With the right small ensemble, Stetson could wreak some pretty awesome havoc. In the mean time, this is a gorgeous and harrowing post-every-genre release.
4.875 Saxophones of the Apocalypse out of 5 Epic trilogies
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Fear of Men: Early Fragments — Another decent dream-pop/post-punk release in what’s been a half-decade long string of decent dream-pop/post-punk releases. Good stuff. Some pretty strong hooks delivered with some pretty believable passion/disenchantment. Maybe the hooks aren’t quite as big and the passion (and disenchantment) isn’t as deep as you’ll find on records by first-generation UK bands doing this kind of thing  (The Sundays, The Smiths, Pale Saints, etc) that have stood the test of time but… well, at this point I’m just a broken record on the subject . (Derivative=awesome) – (derivative≠authentic) + (authentic≠awesome) x Everything was better when I was 20 = ??? Simply put,  I like this kind of thing a lot (on a not very objective level) and feel pretty comfortable saying if you like this kind of thing just for the sake of it continuing to exist, you probably will like it too. Sigh… I just don’t know anymore.
4.375 (-/+ .25) Young joyless idols out of 5 Rainbow prisms bleeding wax
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Life Coach: Alphawaves — I was never able to quite enjoy Phil Manley‘s ’90s supposedly “post-rock” band Trans Am. I put post-rock in quotes because they were not post rock or post anything else. They either sounded like Kraftwerk or Gang of Four or a Frankenstein of the two plus a kitchen sink. Always very “pre” and still very “rock”. I liked their more Krautrock moments but those were never as prevalent as I hoped and the band was just… kind of shitty in my opinion. Like they only got some attention because no one else was doing the retro electronic/new-wave and punk-funk thing quite yet (the indie sound of 2002-04). Anyway, Life Coach is kind of like a good version Trans Am. More properly Krautrock and, ergo, more post-rock too. There’s still something a little too tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing in the same way the Logan’s Sanctuary fake OST album was—that oh so ’90s meticulous but ironically retro instead of reverently retro approach. So Life Coach falls between a not-as-good Neu and a not-as-good Follakzoid. Not really bad, just maybe not as good as I’d like.
3.25 Hey look it’s retro, that’s funny rights? out of 5 Real deals
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No Joy: Wait To Pleasure — In my 2012 list I said about their Negaverse EP: One of the better so-called “nu-gaze” bands returns with another one of the better dream-pop/shoegaze EPs of last the decade or so. Other than the fact it rivals the best work of Slowdive and Black Tambourine, there’s absolutely zero to say about Negaverse. I could pretty much repeat those words for their second full-length. Perhaps replace Black Tambourine with Cocteau Twins as a reference point as things are bit more shimmery and breezy in spots this time—though plenty harsh distortion still shines through as well. Also, despite a knee-jerk desire to do so, I can’t criticize them for aping the sounds of shoegazers past since if they weren’t doing it so well I wouldn’t like them nearly as much as I do. I will say, however, that the high-pitched vocal hook in “Lunar Phobia” feels like it crosses the line from aping to outright plagiarism. Though I can’t place from what song or who it’s by (it’s an effin’ great song, regardless!). Ultimately, as with even the best  shoegaze revival albums, such as this one, it’s only great in the sense that you haven’t played it to death like you have your Slowdive, Ride and MBV records and it adds a little variety to your shoegaze day. But if I lost my copy tomorrow I wouldn’t exactly feel the loss.
4.25 Shoes out of 5 Gazers
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X-TG: Desertshore/The Final Report — Confession time. I never cared for Throbbing Gristle. As a reasonably hardcore Coil fan, I always wanted to. I certainly tried. But I could only ever get as far as appreciating their contribution to pop music history. I think it’s because Genesis P-Orridge always put me off. The only P-Orridge act I ever tolerated was the vaguely acid house related Jack The Tab. Anyway, X-TG is the P-Orridgeless Gristle I was always looking for. In fact, Desertshore/The Final Report is almost closer to a continuation of Coil than anything released under the TG banner. It’s almost as if Chris and Cosey were filling in for the deceased Jhon Balance to help Sleazy make one final Coil album. By the end, of course, they were filling in for him as well since he died before the sessions were completed. This adds a little extra myth and romance to the two discs, but even so they would have been an achievement. The full-album cover of Nico‘s Desertshore is breathtaking. It’s a reinterpretation that is true to the original yet reveals the beauty hidden in Nico’s challenging classic while being as insidiously menacing a recording as anything Sleazy ever produced. He always specialized in producing meditative music for endarkenment. The Final Report is a darker, more challenging affair in line with Coil’s darker moments and the better ones in TG’s catalogue. A fitting tribute to a dark wizard.
4.75 Black suns out of 5 Black swan songs
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Breakbot: By Your Side — Let’s be honest. This is far better than everything you hope the new Daft Punk record is going to be (and perhaps better than anything they’ve done in the past).
4.375 Stardust encrusted AM radios out of 5 Thumping discotheques
2013DIVIDER
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away (deluxe version) / Animal X — Probably the best thing about Grinderman was it got all the claustrophobic bombast out of the way. Abattoir Blues left you feeling all the air had been sucked out of the room and with Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! it felt like for the first time Nick Cave has no idea what he wanted to do. Clearly he wanted to strip things back and play rock’n’roll for a few years. So it seems Grinderman was an effective reset button for The Bad Seeds. Sheer beauty aside, Push The Sky Away is the first perfectly focused artistic statement from Cave since No More Shall We Part. And probably the most restrained album of his career. He’s done “gentle” many times, but never with this sense of comfortable ease. Even his quietest ballads always had a histrionic theatricality to them but on Push there’s a genuine tenderness and subtlety to the almost spoken-word delivery. The organic, restrained performances of The Bad Seeds create the perfect, complementary backdrop for his poetry instead of fighting against it as they have in the past (could be because there’s about 5 fewer Seeds on hand this time around). The tracks from the bonus DVD, “Needle Boy” and “Lightning Bolt“, and the Record Store Day single, “Animal X” are slightly different beasts. Purely spoken word performances of Cave’s stream of consciousness poem/stories with minimal but intense and gristly backdrops by The Seeds. They really don’t fit the mood of the album, but they sure whet the appetite for a full-length of this material. Though, in truth, it might get a little exhausting after thirty minutes or so. Combined, these recordings make up the albumeveryone tried to convince themselves that Scott Walker‘s Bish Bosh actually was (or that Leonard Cohen would make again).
5 Poet laureates of rock out of 5 Master songwriters
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Barn Owl: V — Another killer album from the [insert genre name here] duo Barn Owl. It’s their 5th supposedly, though I own more than five CDs by them. Maybe the “V” refers to the 80’s sci-fi television show. They’re definitely heading even further from the folky forests of Earth and into the dark, frigid depths of space on this one. The dreamy, percussionless V is somewhat reminiscent of Tangerine Dream before they completely abandoned their guitars. Ambient without being “new age”, true space-rock without being “rock” and cinematic without being clunky “movie soundtrack” music. Sickeningly good.
4.5 Time-displaced astronauts out of 5 Giant cosmic fetuses 
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Arborea: Fortress of the SunBuck and Shanti Curran seem to be taking as serious a stab at mass-market popularity as freak-folkers possible could hope to with this one. The brilliance of Arborea had always been their balance between mainstream folk and the creepy, acid-folk and experimental textures of the underground scene. Fortress of the Sun only retains a modicum of the freakiness that made them captivating and instead focuses primarily on Shanti’s coy, breathy vocals. True, these vocals (along with Buck’s deft hand on the strings) also helped make them a captivating duo but now Arborea is only painting half the picture they once did. And no matter how expertly rendered, it feels much more like a picture that many others have painted before them. That said, this is still a far more atmospheric, enchanting and interesting folk record than most will be this year—potentially one that could win them the size of audience I always felt they deserved.
3.5 Freaks out of 5 Mainstream folks
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Anika: Anika EP — More (and couple of the same) harsh, dystopian, bleak, dark reimaginings of popular songs found on her 2010 (also self-titled) debut album (also produced by Geoff Barrow). Other than the two dub mixes of cuts from the album, things sound slightly less dubby this time around and little more like a post-punk band playing in an abandoned, cement-walled factory in Berlin circa 1981. Actually, “No One’s There” is exactly what those pictures of Nico on stage with Bauhaus sound like in my head. Which is a good thing. Hopefully another long player is on the way.
4.375 No-wave dubs out of 5 Moldy-oldies
2013DIVIDER
The Black Angels: Indigo Meadow — Their previous albums never quite clicked with me. I wanted them to, but they didn’t. Just a little too much Merseybeat peanutbutter or their Spacemen 3 chocolate? Or something? Anyway, something happened (I think they lost a member) and they’re tearing it up in a new, actually psychier, heavier, meatier, acid-rock direction. Not unlike The Doors fuzzed-out on the darkside but with a dude that sounds like Grace Slick (!) singing. Black gold.
4.5  White rabbits out of 5 Doorways to the other side
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Transvision Vamp: Velveteen (Expanded reissue) — The truth of the matter is Velveteen (and Transvision Vamp themselves) can only ever be a guilty pleasure. A sort of dirty, deeply nostalgic, embarrassing secret you hide under the mattress of your soul. Which is why it’s a brilliant pop music tour-de-force. Released in 1989, The Vamps managed to pack the entire decade’s worth of decadence into 10 pop songs and one bizarre ten-minute long David Lynch-esque micro-opera. Glitter, gutter, overblown, simple, sleazy, vacuous, profound, bubblegum, pretentious, tongue-in-cheek. The album that is everything and nothing. Sort like Blondie, The Primitives, The Divinyls and The Go-Gos (or any other sexy/punky female-lead new wave band) slightly re-imagined through the shiny, mechanized pop filter of Roxette‘s Look Sharp (or Billy Idol‘s version of “Mony Mony“). There’s very few examples of such a terrible band and album being so freakin’ perfect. Everything that’s shallow, too obvious and corny about it only makes it better. And now there’s a whole second disc of ornate rock’n’roll shallowness. Another 63 minutes of Wendy James‘ sex-kitten cooing, three-chord riffs and synth horns! The entire history of the ’80s at your fingertips! Caveat emptor: If you missed it the first time out, and didn’t wear the cassette out when you were 16, Velveteen might simply be the very worst thing you’ve ever heard.
5 Punk divas out of 5 Absolute 20th-century pop disasters
2013DIVIDER
Gin Wigmore: Gravel & Wine — The short story is this is the kind of white-hot, red-line rock version of Amy Winehouse that Adele was hinting at with “Rolling In The Deep“. Or sort of a better, less contrived, more assured version of Lykke Li‘s “Get Some“. But repeated nine times with three ballads covered in the dirt they unfortunately scraped off Adele’s 21 before they released it. If you ever dreamed of a dream collaboration between Portishead, Boss Hog and The Bad Seeds, this isn’t that far off. Nancy Sinatra packing a sawed-off shotgun on amphetamines washed down with enough gin (pun intended) to bring out her inner Shirley Bassey. Okay, enough name-dropping. Noir swamprock with a pop edge. EDIT: Removed 0.5 from the score since repeated (and I mean repeated) listenings on the iPhone has revealed an slight underlying shallowness and inauthenticity. Still as good an album in this genre as I ever expect to hear, and a pop masterpiece in its way, but not a true, timeless capital-M masterpiece, if you get my meaning.
4.25 Pistol packin’ rock’n’roll mamas out of 5 R&B revival femme fatales
2013DIVIDER
Miles Davis Quintet: Live In Europe – Bootleg Series Vol. 2 — Though the “Lost Quintet” never recorded in a studio together, they are probably one of the the most heavily documented line-ups Miles Davis played with. I own recordings of at least six cities from their 1969 European tour. It seems like every year another recording surfaces and gets issued, so they’re hardly lost at this point. Since I refuse to go through the trouble of playing them all back to back to determine which has the best performance-to-fidelity ratio, I’ll just state this set is all the 1969 European tour of the “Lost Quintet” you’ll ever need to find. Disc 2 and 3 offer slightly better ROI with some great solos from Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette and the general tearing-shit-uppedness of all involved. I haven’t watched the DVD of the Berlin date yet (I’ve heard the audio on a different CD release, I remember it being good), but I have watched the Copenhagen DVD from the Bitches Brew 40th anniversary set which suggests it’s well worth watching (I’ll get to it someday). The band was indeed, as Miles famously said, “really a bad motherfucker.” Though perhaps not, in my opinion, really any more bad than the Wayne Shorter-less 1970 quintet which has a slew of better quality recordings available and delves a little deeper into the psych-rock fusion people associate with this period of Davis’ career. The Quintet is still jazz on these dates. Very experimental, electric jazz, but pure jazz compared to the stratospheric fusion Davis would soon explore beyond Bitches Brew.
4  Decently high fidelities out of 5 Real bad motherfuckers.
2013DIVIDER
Wax Idols: Discipline + Desire — I think I’ve arrived at an age where if someone did do something new and exciting in rock, I wouldn’t like it. This is probably why chillwave and shitgaze and whatever it was Animal Collective were supposed to be didn’t impress  me at all. So instead I’ll just listen to records by bands that SOUND EXACTLY like Siouxsie and the Banshees. Not that Wax Idols sound exactly like Siouxsie and the Banshees every single second. Sometimes they sound a lot like Siouxisie Sioux singing on a blend of early PiL and The Cure tracks. Which is great because she didn’t sing with those bands and now I get to hear the results of some fanboy dream collaborations. Plus, I just really like this kind of reverential post-punk throwback. Naked on the Vague do it pretty well too, though perhaps with a little more originality. Anyway, Discipline + Desire fits nicely into my curmudgeon comfortzone. It’s good to see these ghosts perennially resurrected. What I don’t like to see resurrected is the stupid “mystery song” tacked onto the end of the last track of the album after a few seconds of silence. That should have died a fiery death in the late-90’s and I thought it did. Do people not realize how annoying that is when you put the album on your phone? Do they not realize that’s where people listen to CDs now? Good god, people, if you feel the need to tack an out-take on the end, make it its own track and just don’t list it on the art work. (The song in question is actually a pretty great halloweeny garage rocker).
3.75 Siouxsies out of 5 Banshees.
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Alex Calder: Time — A sort of weirdly lo-fi dream-pop album. Listening to it gave me the nagging sensation I’d heard it before. But like it was in another dimension or a dream. That was kind of invigorating until I decided it sounds exactly like Polvo playing Danielson Family songs. Then it became a lot less interesting. Not saying it’s bad mind you, just not the right record for me.
2.5 Oddballs out of 5 Songwriters
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Inspiral Carpets: Life (extended edition) — Not often recognized as such, Life is probably the best album of the Madchester and Brit-pop eras. It’s just that little more rock’n’roll than Primal Scream, Stone Roses, Oasis and, of course, Happy Mondays (who weren’t very rock’n’roll at all). The songs are a bit better and the psychedelic flourishes come off a little less contrived than those of their counterparts. Brilliant and ecstatic. This reissue is a little bit of a baffling creature though. Included as bonus materials are the Planecrash and Trainsurfing EPs and their first Peel Session. Bloody fantastic! But left out is material from the Joe and Island Head EPs which means “Commercial Reign“, the song most associated with the album on this side of the pond, is missing along with “Joe” (one of their bigger early hits). “Besides Me” from the original UK release is reinstated but a few other tracks included on the original North American release are AWOL. Anyway, all this material could have fit nicely on the second disc except the second disc is naturally the now obligatory live DVD meant to draw in old fans like me. Which is great, I guess, except I might never get around to watching it and would rather have the complete picture of the band’s music up to this period in one nice shelfspace-saving package. A near miss.
Life: 5 Monkeys out of 5 Backs / Reissue: 3.75 Real Things out of 5 Happy Returns.
2013DIVIDER
Depeche Mode: Delta Machine — I’ve read reviews stating this to be the best album of DM’s career. I’d go as far as to say it’s their best since Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993). But it’s also not as good as that album or their preceding three classics. I don’t know if it’s that their lyrics are just a little more trite now or if they were just delivered better by men 20 years younger, but Dave Gahan isn’t selling me on the old cliches like he used to. The seemingly conscious aping of the sexy swagger of “I Feel You” and “Personal Jesus” on a few tracks comes off  like a dad’s mid-life crisis (maybe his second). The worst offender is the catchiest tune on the album, “Soothe My Soul“, which is basically a rape culture anthem. I suppose it would have been topical if the lyrics were meant to be ironic, but it doesn’t come off that way. Maybe it’s Gahan’s delivery but it I can’t buy Martin Gore wasn’t suggesting men should literally break down a woman’s door just because they don’t want to be patient. Again, is this an age thing? Are they overcompensating, trying to come off like young studs? Or are they just stuck in the ’80s when this kind of “Girl, I’m gonna getcha an’ ya can’t escape” lyric was a mainstay (though usually in hair-metal and DM seemed to be the antithesis of all that)? The songs that seem to be aiming for the sublime euphoria of classics like “Enjoy The Silence” also fall short of the mark. But, honestly, how could they not? You only get to write one “Enjoy The Silence” in your life. As far as “give the fans what they want” comeback albums go, Delta Machine is fairly successful from a production standpoint. All the right faux-Memphis guitar and analogue synth notes from Black Celebration through Songs of Faith are hit, but that’s the problem… they hit those notes 20-25 years ago a bit better. The otherworldy genius is missing.
2.5 Redux out of 5 Remakes
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Follakzoid: II — A first glance there’s something of a gimmick about a South American band playing krautrock, but then it’s really no different than all the North American bands doing it. Or Beak> who are from the UK which is also not Germany (little geography lesson for you there). Anyway, Follakzoid‘s second release sounds not unlike like Neu with a bit of a Kraftwerk meets Hawkwind edge. Which is a good thing. Especially when, unlike a lot of modern “kraut” records, there’s almost no discernible influence later than 1974 on II.  If you’re going to meticulously adhere to a specific genre aesthetic instead of creating your own art, at least do it right.
4.5 Motorik Beats out of 5 Cosmic Jams
2013DIVIDER
Pascal Pinion: Twosomeness — Icelandic sisters Jófrídur and Ásohildur Ákadöttir update the darling, naive, teenage, twee, acoustic-pop of “I Wrote A Song” to the 1st year collage, twee, lo-fi, bedroom-pop of “Perney (One Thing)” on their sophomore album. It’s a bit like Jónsi or Silje Nes doing a more sincere, less witchy, CocoRosie. Or some combination of vice versa with a smattering Björk and Stina Nordenstam mixed in for good measure. All that name-dropping suggests Pascal Pinion don’t have an original flavour. Which they do. But if they’re a pair of cupcakes with a unique recipe, they’ve been so heavily iced in the Alex Somers’ production here (Alex being Jónsi’s husband and their house being where the album was recorded), you can’t tell them apart from the rest of the treats in the bakery. But if you want delicious, soft, fluffy and sweet Icelandic indie-pop, you probably won’t find anything better. This crack team of pop confectioners has nailed the recipe and the Ákadöttir sisters are top quality ingredients.
4 Icicles out of 5 Cupcakes.
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Chelsea Light Moving: s/t — I was told Thurston Moore‘s 2007 solo album Trees Outside The Academy was the proper follow-up to his 1995 solo offering Psychic Hearts. I feel like this album is much closer in tone, texture and theme to Psychic Hearts. For Sonic Youth fans (as opposed to Thurston Moore avant-noise fans) it’s probably his best solo “pop/rock” album. But of course it’s not really a solo album, it’s supposedly a true band effort and Moore works best in the company of collaborators. Where Psychic Hearts was a little too much the Thurston show, Chelsea Light Moving feels like an ensemble cast. Though Keith Wood and Samara Lubelski don’t add their sonic stamp the way Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon did, and one suspects were perhaps hired for their ability to mimic Moore’s old cohorts, all the musicians seem to be playing off each other instead of just following Moore’s lead. Ultimately, it sounds like the Goo found in the bottom of Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine left behind by their Dirty T-shirts. Edit: I hate to say it, but I have to knock this one down to a middle score (from 4.25). After listening to it for a few months it just sounds tame and tired. The songs sound less like reinventions of Thurston’s classic SY songwriting style and more like contrived self-plagiarism. Also, the band sounds constricted, like they’re holding back too much. Not really that much fire here. Perhaps it’s that I’ve lately been hearing it on shuffle up against tracks with a little more oomph by artists like Savages and Shannon Wright. Or (though I like to think I’m more objective a listener than this but) as Kim has blamed their break-up on Thurston’s “mid-life crisis” since the album’s release, it now sounds a lot like a red corvette and a new toupee instead of the spirited return-to-form I first took it as. Whatever the case, the lack of the other 3/4’s of SY is too noticeable and the songs themselves making me want to listen to something off Goo or Daydream Nation instead.
2.5 Old Dogs out of 5 Old Tricks.
2013DIVIDER
The Men: New Moon — I’ve only listened to this album once but it really sounds a lot like Travelling Wilburys to me. Only more lo-fi and with Lou Reed and Neil Young taking Jeff Lynne‘s and Bob Dylan‘s places. Which makes me think I’d kinda like to hear a supergroup with Reed, Young, Jonanthan Richman, Jeff Tweedy and, I dunno, Tobin Sprout for the oddball choice . They could be called The Unraveling Pillsburys and New Moon might be their record. I think it’s… good? The second half definitely sounds less like the Wilburys and more like The Men‘s old rockin’ selves (The 8 minute closer “Supermoon” is what they call “a scorcher”). EDIT: I’ve listened to the album a few more times and I hear some Pavement and Guided By Voices influences a little stronger than the Wilburys now. Can’t decide if that’s a good or bad thing in itself. I guess, really, The Men have never been artistically distinctive, though I’ve always felt are quite good at whatever they do. I’ve also had a chance to listen to the bonus Campfire Songs CD where they do quite a good job of sounding like Woods from various points in that band’s career. Or a bit like Lou Barlow or Robert Pollard acoustic bedroom recordings but without those artists’ distinctive voices. The sprawling psych-out “Turn Your Color” is fantastic should have been included on the main album though.
3.75 Super Moon Rocks out of 5 Dad Rocks.
2013DIVIDER
House of Love: House of Love (3-disc reissue)House of Love fall into an odd little niche of their own devising; not quite shoegaze, not quite post-punk. Yet they were legitimately a seminal band in both genres. In hindsight, they tend to sound a little derivative of more household names. Their Creation Records stint (covered in the previous compilation 1986-88: The Creation Recordings) really does sound pretty much like combining Echo and The Bunnymen with My Bloody Valentine‘s Isn’t Anything. Which makes sense since those two references bookend this period, but it’s unfortunate that it’s hard to look past the similarities since HoL were clearly just doing their own thing and were actually quite unique and original. This deluxe edition of HoL’s first self-titled album effectively replaces the aforementioned single disc compilationwhich combined all the songs from their debut and “The German Album”, as does this set plus extra demos and live cuts (including a surprisingly incendiary “I Want To Be Your Dog“). Dabblers should go for the Creation comp, but if you want the original artwork, the essay in the booklet and the unusually listenable and interesting demo versions (an actual value-add to a “deluxe” edition for once), this is a nice little package.
Under-appreciated classics out of 5 Would be Lovelesses
2013DIVIDER
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite: Get On! — If ten years ago (or even just one year ago) you’d told me I’d have a frickin’ Ben Harper album on repeat, I’d have laughed until I ruptured something and then thanked you for the sweet, sweet pain while I bled out internally. Well, I wasn’t counting on Harper turning into an authentic deep-fried, dirty bluesman. Get On! is like how you wish those electric Muddy Waters records would sound or what it’d be like if R.L. Burnside had been more focused on music than whiskey or even Jon Spencer if he were actually black. Damn.
4.75 Mississippis out of 5 Chicagos
2013DIVIDER
Beach Fossils: Clash The Truth — A healthy dose of well constructed indie-pop glazed with dream-pop influences. Previous releases by Beach Fossils didn’t grab me because they were too lo-fi, a frequent problem I have with this particular sub-genre. Not that this is particularly hi-fi (ELO it is not) but it isn’t hampered by that grating tinniness which obscures so many otherwise great indie-pop records these days (and those days back in the ’90s for that matter). Still, these aren’t really great tunes; just pretty good tunes—unchallenging head-bobbers for listening to while reading something on an iPad while you commute on the subway to your unpaid intern job at some hip media outlet.
3.5 lo-fi surf-pops out of 5 hi-fi dream-pops.
2013DIVIDER
Yo La Tengo: Fade — Probably their most aptly titled album since 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, the latest by Yo La Tengo pretty much just fades into the background. One of their most stylistically cohesive albums, each track blends into the next leaving no other impression than, “Oh, that was rather nice, wasn’t it?” The most memorable moments are those that hint at maybe half a refrain from one of their earlier songs. That’s when you start to take notice but then it’s like Obi Wan waves his hand and says, “These are not the tunes you’re looking for.” Entirely inoffensive.
3 ambiguous clouds out of 5 dappled leaves
2013DIVIDER
Bleeding Rainbow: Yeah Right — Fans of Yo La Tengo‘s early ’90s heyday (or similar-minded ’90s indie) might actually be pleased to acquire this offering from Bleeding Rainbow. The opening track, “Go Ahead” is a pretty spot-on homage to the Tengos. Other ’90s influences will pop up for you (Velocity Girl, Breeders, Throwing Muses, Jale, Eric’s Trip) at various points depending on who you were listening to.  It has that blend of not quite garage rock, not quite shoegaze, not quite punk, not quite noise-pop that was the best of the original crop’s secret weapon. Better than some recent records dabbling in the genre’s  revival, there’s a greater variety of textures and tempos which keeps things interesting. It’s not just a wash of dreamy fuzz and if they are consciously aping their favourite songs, at least they’ve picked eleven bands to ape and not just the usual one or two. I always throw the word “authenticity” around when reviewing discs like this and Yeah Right does a better job than most of sounding like an actual lost album from 1993. To me that’s a good thing.
4 Divine Hammers out of 5 Tom Courtneys
2013DIVIDER
Nightlands: Oak Island — It’s not really yacht rock, or even yacht disco, but the electronic vocal harmonies all over Oak Island certainly conjure images of drifting along in white pants, a Hawaiian shirt and an admirals’ cap. Only not drifting along on the ocean, but a sea of stars. And not on the deck of a boat, but some sort of starcruiser. It’s smooth and dreamy electro-pop embellished with even smoother guitars and just the occasional discordant texture to remind you that you’re in danger of being eliminated by your chrome plated robot butler who’s decided you’re a biological impurity. If Laurie Anderson had teamed-up with Yello to cover Loggins and Messina or Christopher Cross, it might’ve sounded like this. Weird, but good, pop.
3.75 O Supermans out of 5 Summer Breezes.
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The Babies: Our House On The Hill — “Mess Me Around” is this year’s “Stay Useless“.  There’s a few more great rockers on Our House On The Hill as well, but “Mess” is the flat-out anthem. The whole album is actually a pretty accurate—and better than average—ode to ’90s indie. Even the cover art looks like something that would have been issued by Merge or Matador in 1994. Some of the tunes are Pixiesesque, some have a Sadiesish country twang, some feature that Slumberland Records jangle, and overall a lot of it reminds me of The Lemonheads (maybe it’s the boy-girl vocals?). Not a lot of points for originality (for that matter not many bands in the mid-to-late ’90s were terribly original either) but at least this sounds purely authentic (at least as authentic as Kevin Morby‘s other band, Woods, does ’60s folk-rock).
4 Evan Dandos out of 5  Juliana Hatfields.
2013DIVIDER
Ex Cops: True Hallucinations  Post-modern indie-rockers sometimes have a tendency to create hodge-podge albums that scream “We love everything and can’t decide on our own identity “. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. True Hallucinations manages to pull itself over the chain-link fence into the “works” side of the rock’n’roll junkyard. Or that’s not quite right. “Junkyard” connotates a jumble of unwanted, disparate sounds that have been abandoned, but nothing on Ex Cops debut has been abandoned. It’s all the same shoegaze, post-punk, noise-pop, surf/garage rock, and even classic rock’n’roll sounds that indie bands have been salvaging and crafting into their own jalopies for years now. A better metaphor might be a vintage boutique where someone’s taken the time to scour the thrift stores for all the best, mint-condition togs, fixed them up and put them on the rack at greatly inflated prices. Maybe Ex Cops aren’t the most authentic pop-music thrifters out there, but their product is better than most. It fits comfortably and doesn’t smell like mildew and cat pee. The one major major flaw (for the graphic designer in me) is the cover art. It’s textbook chilly post-punk like something Bloc Party or Editors would have used a decade ago, but there’s very little chilly about the album—it’s actually a lot more Don and Phil Everly than Jim and William Reid. Some might argue record cover design doesn’t matter in the digital age, but I believe it still does. Someone browsing on iTunes might not click on this album just because it looks too post-punk, almost goth, and someone looking for something in those genres might feel lead astray if they do click on the cover and take a listen. Even if they’d otherwise like the music in a blind taste test, it’s basically a form of false advertising and that gets people’s backs up. So much of the enjoyment of music is purely psychological, you don’t want your audience to feel uncomfortable or confused when they first hear your music. Given the album’s title, and the blatant Spacemen 3 homages sprinkled throughout, they’d have been far better off going with a design in the garage-psych vein. Anyway, I digress. So do Ex Cops have an original voice? Not at all (If you put this on at a party I’d go, “Oh, oh , oh! I know this! Who is it?”). Do they have better than average tunes for this kind of school-of-hipster rock? Yes. 
3.5 Values out of 5 Villages.
2013DIVIDER
Rangda: Formerly Extinct — I didn’t notice it on psych-improv supergroup Rangda‘s debut but their second disc has me wondering, “Where’s the effin’ bass?” Perhaps it’s because the grooves on Formerly Extinct are a little more straight ahead (there weren’t really any “grooves” on the first record—just incendiary freak-outs), but a bass nailing things down is conspicuously missing. Rarely (as in never) do I think a record needs more of Ray Manzarek‘s left hand  filling in the low-end, but the thought did cross my mind. It’s a shame since Chasny, Bishop and Corsano are tearing it the fuck up and what should have been a brilliant record just feels unfinished.
3 Mammoths out of 5 Dodos.
2013DIVIDER
Ruby Suns: Christopher — This album is anything but the “Desert of Pop” spoken of in the lead-off track, it’s rich valley of lush synth-pop hooks and infectious dance-floor beats. Reminiscent of the iciest sides from ’80s disco kings like Jimmy Somerville, Erasure and Pet Shop Boys, track after track is a toe-tapping, head-bobbing earworm. Until you get to “Boy” which is just a travesty.
4 Rubies out of 5 Suns.
2013DIVIDER
El Perro Del Mar: Pale Fire — When Sarah Assbring decided to title her 4th album Pale Fire, one has to wonder if she’s wryly acknowledging how it’s a mere glimmer of the previous three. Everything on it is nice to listen to but only “I Was A Boy” stands out from the album’s warm bath of pleasant electro sameyness. Edit: Okay, it’s a week or so later and I’ve had that “I was a soldier” (still the only memorable song) refrain stuck in my head for over 24 hours so… added 0.75 points to the original score. Edit 2: Fuck it. One good song out of ten isn’t acceptable. Because of that, mathematically this album should get a score of 0.5 out of 5. But I’ll give it a 1.5 since her voice is still really nice to listen to and the album sounds good at least. Easy to ignore.
1.5 Dogs out of 5 Seas.
2013DIVIDER
Merchandise: Children of Desire — I find this to be a confusing album. Firstly, is the band Merchandise or Children of Desire (I had the same problem with Friends and Manifest! last year)? Note to bands issuing debut albums: we don’t know who you are, make the band name large and the title small on your cover art. And, for gadsakes, don’t obscure your name with an obtuse handwritten scrawl. I was next befuddled by the array of post-punk influences that meander around the six tracks like crashers at a cocktail party snagging drinks and snacks. “Roser Parks” sounds like Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance singing on an early Cocteau Twins track. Looks good on paper, but is it? What confuses me is I still can’t tell if I like it. Or if I should. Or shouldn’t. I think I do. The Brendan Perry baritone croon isn’t as obvious in the other tracks but a sort of weird Scottish Morrisseyness does. Meanwhile Big Country‘s E-Bow shows up all over top of what sounds a bit like Joy Division playing shoegaze (or MBV playing JD?). It all reminded me of supposedly shoegaze/dream-pop bands that had suckered me before. Big Pink, Weekend, Film SchoolAmusement Parks on Fire all had me blissing out until I’d suddenly realize, “Hey! This is emo arena rock, not shoegaze or even post-punk at all!” Once bitten, thrice (or more) shy, I guess. Anyway, Merchandise (this is the band name) seems legit, though they’re a little too enamored of epically long arrangements (over 10 minutes!) on songs that should be four or five minutes long, tops. C’mon guys, even Sigur Ros knows when to reign it in. EDIT: Downgraded from 3.5 to 2.5 after deciding the album errs on the side of not being very good. 
2.5 Posts our of 5 Punks.
2013DIVIDER
Dog Bite: Velvet Changes — Sort of an early-period The Cure version of Beach Fossils. Or maybe the other way around. Anyway, in the sea of surfy reverb drenched lo-fi indie-pop, Dog Bite are little more dreamy post-punk. Nothing is uniquely identifiable, or particularly stands out, but but it’s all very stylish and a pleasant listening experience. Which is sometimes all you need. Edit: A few months on I’ve decided there’s nothing here. It turns out I do, in fact, need more than well-executed stylish indie-hipster textures. For a record this genre to really click, there needs to be infectious pop melodies. Or at least some subtle hooks that sneak up on you. But there’s nothing here. Nada. Knocking the rating down 0.75 points.
2.5 dream-pops out of 5 surf-pops.
2013DIVIDER
Atoms For Peace: Amok — One is tempted to blame Flea‘s involvement for Thom Yorke choosing the worst possible song title from The Eraser for a band name. It’s not quite as bad as Porno For Pyros, but it’s too close for comfort. Of course, that’s here nor there as far as the music goes. I was actually let down by Flea’s involvement in a way I wasn’t expecting. You’d expect him to bring some deep, groovy bass to the table but most of the time his input is nearly indiscernible if not almost inaudible. Thank god there’s no slapping and popping (does he even do that on RHCP records anymore?), but I know he’s capable of more than what’s presented here. It’s a kin to hiring John Bonham for a session and giving him paper plates to play on. Really, it might as well just be Yorke and Nigel Godrich again as the album sounds pretty much exactly like The Eraser redux. That said, from a songwriting standpoint there’s quite a bit more to grab onto here than on either Radiohead‘s King of Limbs or Godrich’s recent Ultraísta album project, though nothing nearly as strong as The Eraser‘s “Black Swan“, “Analyse”  or “Harrowdown Hill” (all better band names, ahem).
3.5 Pyros out of 5 Pornos.
2013DIVIDER
Psychic Ills: One Track Mind — The latest album from Psychic Ills is perhaps their most aptly titled as the same basic groove carries through all nine of its tracks.  The first time through I discerned almost zero variance in tempo, dynamics or emotion between songs. It’s almost literally a “one track” album. It took a few listens before I could differentiate between the two-chord vamps and nonchalantly mumbled refrains but, if you’re able to put in the time,  the album will reward your perseverance as the obscured image comes into focus. It will certainly help if you’re already a fan of Spacemen 3 and Brian Jonestown Massacre as those are the two obvious touchstones. Though Spacemen 3 were never this tight and BJM never sounded so unenthused to be recording a record. The first track to emerge from the bemused haze was “FBI” which sounds exactly like how I always wanted B.M.R.C. to sound but they never quite did. Or maybe it’s what the Moon Duo/Wooden Shjips camp would sound like if they were trying to write songs with actual hooks instead of merely alluding to them. The point is One Track Mind doesn’t sound much at all like the once-unique and original mind-benders Psychic Ills anymore, though it’s actually top-notch hypnotic, mellow stoner rock that’s been superbly engineered for spending an afternoon on the couch with (or without) a bong.
4.25 riders out of 5 storms.
2013DIVIDER
Christopher Owens: Lysandre — Apparently Christoper Owens broke-up Girls in order to record this solo album of personal material. Sounds like bullshit to me since none the songs are really any different than something Girls would have recorded. A little more Jimmy Buffet and less Lou Reed in a few places, but it’s basically the same damn thing. Unless, of course, the titular heart-breaker Lysandre is a pseudonym for Girls band-mate Chet White—because that might be an awkward recording session. Sort of like how it’s rumoured Garfunkle was in love with Simon and that’s why they broke up. Anyway, Lysandre is a tight little song cycle (not quite long enough to be concept album) in the tradition of Joni Mitchell‘s Blue by way of Conor Oberst‘s gentlest, most winsome work as Bright Eyes. EDIT: Owens has made an acoustic version of the album available as a free DOWNLOAD  that is, not surprisingly, far better than the original. This album really called for a simpler, more intimate approach.
Official album: 3.25 Simons out of 5 Garfunkles. Acoustic version: 4 Sounds out of 5 Silences
2013DIVIDER
My Bloody Valentine: mbv — 50% better than and 50% lesser than one of the most revered albums in the history of modern rock (their own Loveless). This comparison to a quarter-century old masterpiece is somewhat pointless—an apple made of gold is nice, so is a diamond encrusted orange. What’s most intriguing about the mbv is how much it actually sounds like My Bloody Valentine and not some band simply textbook post-Loveless shoegaze redux. It’s not a caricature of their glory days as reunion/comeback albums often are, it’s an actual legitimate heir to their somewhat abandoned throne. That said, overall mbv lacks the spark and magic of Isn’t Anything and isn’t the beginning-to-end cohesive artistic statement of Loveless. Unlike anything they did during their Creation Records period, there are definitely skip-worthy tracks on this disc.
3.75 tremolos out of 5 fuzz boxes. Full review HERE.
2013DIVIDER

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  1. […] More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE. […]



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