Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Record Roundup: Rock'n'Pop Adjacent

There are number of releases at least adjacent to rock and pop that have been energizing me throughout 2021. Get into these albums (and one playlist) and get all the feels, from raucous to reflective.   

The Muckers - Endeavor Thanks to kick-ass releases by Jane Church and Frankie and the Witch Fingers, I always keep an eye out to see what Greenway Records is putting out, which is how this caught my ear. Led by Emir Mohseni, their sleekly propulsive psych-rock generates excitement at any volume. Between Mohseni and rhythm guitarist Chris Cawley, there's a supple funkiness to much of the riffage, while the bass and drums of Anthony Azarmgin and John Zimmerman keep things moving in tireless and unfussy fashion. I can imagine The Muckers being a complete thrill in a club setting and will find out for myself when the time is right.

Acid Dad - Take It From The Dead I've been keeping a close eye on this band since at least 2016 when  I noted the "riff-tastic garage rock" on their Let's Plan A Robbery EP in my Best Of 2016: Rock, Folk, Etc.. However, I did feel then, and on their 2019 debut album, that they could push their sound more. And they have! Since they're also affiliated with Greenway I'd like to think that some of Jane Church's expressive melodicism and FATWF's hypnotic power has rubbed off on them, but it's more likely just the sound of a good band getting better. Either way, this is their best album yet, with Vaughn Hunt and Sean Fahey's signature spiraling guitars and drummer and groove-oriented rhythms sounding more confident and involving than ever. This especially comes to fruition on knockout tracks BBQ, RC Driver and album-closing epic Djembe. That last one starts out quietly, with a questing bass line supporting a stately rhythm, and just keeps building in a controlled fashion, inexorably becoming your whole world. Keep'em coming, boys!

Bachelor - Doomin' Sun I loved Jay Som's last album, Anak Ko, but had a little trepidation when I saw her next release was a collaboration with an artist I was only slightly familiar with, Ellen Kempner, who records as Palehound. File the results under: Stop worrying so much. Doomin' Sun turns out to have many of the pleasures Jay Som (Melina Duterte) delivers on her own, namely well-developed melodies, songs constructed with old-school craft, and smart, relatable lyrics. So what does Palehound bring to the mix? Considering Jay Som's last two albums were made completely on her own, there is a jolt of energy and dynamics triggered by their devoted friendship, which seems to involve a lot of laughter. Palehound also brings more guitars, helping some songs build to washes of shoegazey deliciousness, and her higher voice blends beautifully with Duterte's more mezzo tones. The two make a remarkable production team, too - just listen to the sonic details on Anything At All. A side benefit of this terrific album is that digging into Palehound's back catalog made me realize I should have kept a closer eye on her. And whatever Jay Som wants to do next, or with whom, I'm on board. 

Lael Neale - Acquainted With Night Have Omnichord sales increased since this dusky jewel of an album came out in February? I wouldn't be surprised as the combination of Neale's crystalline voice with the plastic sparkle of her Omnichord is pure captivation. Her songs have the sturdy quality of folk music coupled with a haunted quality from the darker side of the girl group sound. There's a sense of privacy here, like a half-finished Nick Drake bedroom recording, that feels almost mythic. But Neale and her Omnichord are very real and no less precious for that.

UV-TV - Always Something I've been a fan since 2017 and it seemed to promise great things for the year in live music when I finally got to see them in February, 2020. Well, I was wrong about that but my ongoing fascination with the sonic vision of Rose Vastola (bass, vocal) and Ian Bernacette (guitar, vocals) has paid mighty dividends on their third album. Continuing the trend from 2019's Happy, the production has improved yet further adding sheen and heft to their taut post-punk and letting Vastola's voice soar over it all. As I secretly wished, she sings on all tracks, letting Bernacette concentrate on what he does best, namely playing guitar, drawing on familiar vocabulary (Johnny Marr, Bernard Sumner) but putting his own spin on it, whether using colorful arpeggios or layering crunchy chords. New drummer Ian Rose fits in perfectly, whether thrashing away or providing a motorik backbeat. If you have yet to tune into UV-TV, now is the time.

Palberta - Palberta5000 Unlike some of the bands included here, I'm a latecomer to the trio of Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser, catching the caboose here on their fifth album. So I've missed their whole trajectory from exceedingly lo-fi, ramshackle avant-rock to where we are now: a heat-seeking missile of mathy minimalism with sugary vocals shining brightly over the churn und drang of the music. Some of this story may be informed by the development of Konigsberg as a songwriter, which you can trace on the excellent compilation The Best Of Lily Konigsberg Right Now, which also came out earlier this year. As that title suggests, humor is a part of the Palberta charm, very occasionally becoming self-indulgent. But most of the album is wondrously catchy art-pop. More impressive, many songs barely hit 90 seconds yet still feel absolutely complete, making my head spin at all they pack into those tiny vignettes. Fun, smart stuff - and I definitely won't miss the next one.

Ganser - Look At The Sun This Chicago band's second album, 2020's Just Look At That Sky, gained them much attention and accolades. I listened, too - a couple of times - and admired it while not being totally grabbed. This EP, which finds songs from the album being remixed by everyone from current indie sensation Bartees Strange to shoegaze maestro Andy Bell of Ride (in his electronic guise as GLOK). In the case of the former, Strange strips Emergency Equipment And Exits down to its essence, chopping off a guitar part or two and losing two minutes in the process. The result is a tidy machine of a song, highlighting Alicia Gaines' powerful voice, which takes on an unearthly tone over the chugging rhythm. And so it goes throughout, with each collaborator, including Sadie Dupuis, Algiers, and Girl Band, putting their own stamp on their track while somehow maintaining Ganser's personality. It will likely turn me back to the album and to a new appreciation of their sound and songs. 

Lucy Dacus - Home Video I've been more of an admirer from a distance than a fan of Dacus, a fine singer and songwriter who regularly lands on year-end lists and certainly doesn't need my help to get attention. But I can feel my own attention shifting with this, her third album. The songwriting seems more focused, her voice more expressive, the settings a little more pop oriented, and the production is warm and highly detailed when it needs to be but is never fussy. But those are just words I'm using to try to explain this: Home Video touches me in ways her previous albums didn't. Many of the songs revolve around her coming of age, coming to terms with her sexuality, being confronted with the pain the world can dish out, and learning that you can survive and grow through all of that. In short, most anyone can relate, even if their upbringing and circumstances were different. Home Video represents another coming of age for Dacus, this time as an artist who can tap into almost primal emotions ("I would kill him/If you let me/I would kill him/Quick and easy," she sings in Thumbs, wishing the demise of a friend's deadbeat dad) with a lethal elegance. I saw her open for Jonathan Wilson a few years ago, and she did not quite command the stage. Listening to Home Video, I can't imagine that ever happening again.

LABEL FOCUS: Eye Knee Records This is a new venture founded by expert singer-songwriters Holly Miranda, Amb. Parsley, and Chris Maxwell, self-described as "a homemade label, periodical, co-op and kitchen." Most importantly, it's a way for them to remain completely independent, without any outside influences affecting what they release or when and how they release it. They're also promising to tithe all proceeds from one in every ten releases "back to the community." Now, Holly Miranda is one of the most important artists in MY 21st century, so I'll follow her wherever - and I'm excited by the idea of her having total control over her art. I've also enjoyed Parsley's work over the years, especially in concert, and she is easily as skilled in the studio as Miranda, and Maxwell is a sharp songwriter and explosively talented guitar player. The three of them make a fantastic team, able to put together songs in nearly any style or sound, and the fruits of their labors have been impressive so far.

No albums yet, but the 11 songs Eye Knee has put out range from Let A Wolf, a dark-tinged slow-burner with smoky guitar from Maxwell and coy vocals from Parsley, to Exiled In Alicante, a hushed acoustic song that has Miranda singing with moving restraint, as if holding back a flood of emotion. Then there's Kindness Of Strangers, perhaps the finest song co-writers Maxwell and Parsley have been involved in, and one of the best of the last few years. It's a song that should be sung around campfires unto eternity, deeply human and perfectly constructed. The production by Miranda is equally perfect. She sings backing vocals and plays guitar, drums, and xylophone alongside her regular collaborators Maria Eisen on baritone sax and Josh Werner on bass. Then there's Miranda's devastating take on Bonnie Raitt's Nick Of Time, with nothing but her guitar and Parsley's backing vocals. No one but Holly can take a song that has essentially become background noise and find a way to rip your heart all over again. 

New Setlist No. 2

I got to hear her do that to Van Morrison's Sweet Thing in the open air, at a concert the three of them recently put on at Westwind Orchards in the Catskills, and it was just extraordinary. The whole show put their partnership on full display, with each supporting the others in their own songs. We got to hear  Nothingland, a new song from Maxwell, as well as his cover of Nick Lowe's When I Write The Book and a few from New Store No. 2, his marvelous 2020 album,. Parsley gave us Strangers, Wolf, and a number called Heavy Metal Stacy, which let Maxwell unleash his inner Eddie Van Halen, with the moves to match. And Miranda did some of the new songs but dug deep with classics from her catalog like Until Now, Desert Call, and Waves. There is nothing to replace the sensation of Holly Miranda standing right there, singing for all she's worth and letting it rip with one of humanity's golden voices. I'm on the edge of pretension trying to paint the picture for you, but hopefully that will compel you to get out there if she shows up and a club or an orchard near you.

All of the artists above could learn from this trio's passion, work ethic, and level of craft. I urge them - and you - to buy all the Eye Knee songs, now numbering 11, and put them in a playlist - it's as satisfying a listen as any of this year's best albums. Email me at AnEarful@icloud.com and I will gift you with what I think is the perfect sequence, which I have dubbed The Eye Knee Experience. Since neither Maxwell, Miranda, or Parsley is afraid of a bad pun, I leave you with this: I need more Eye Knee!

Eye Knee Trio Live: Amb. Parsley, Holly Miranda, and Chris Maxwell

You may also enjoy:
Record Roundup: Songs And Singers
Record Roundup: Rock Formations
Holly Miranda's Exquisite Mutual Horse

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