Friday, June 22, 2018

Record Roundup: Rock 100’s

Even if they don't end up on the charts, ruled these days by hip hop and pop from the Swedish-industrial complex, there's still a lot of great albums drawing on the rock tradition. So many, in fact, that I’m going to resort to the Bill Kopp 100-word (or less!) review method to cover as many as possible right here, right now.

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel The great Aussie hope continues her heat-seeking trajectory with even more assurance and dynamic range than earlier works. Barnett's influences are here to return the favor in the form of Kim and Kelly Deal from The Breeders, but they don't overshadow Barnett's core players: Bones Sloane, Dave Mudie and Dan Luscombe (bass, drums, keys etc., successively), who play as one. While the songs are still deeply personal, there's a sense of the world beyond her garden, making Barnett the rare artist using her success to expand her perspective rather than narrow it. Can't wait to see her in Prospect Park!

Father John Misty - God’s Favorite Customer There's always more to write about the Father, but cruel abundance has me including him here. Suffice it to say, this is the album Josh Tillman needed to make after the searing and sardonic essays in song of Pure Comedy. GFC is sparer in construction and the production has both more edge and more transparency than past works. While not as radically reductive as Plastic Ono Band, Lennon is definitely a touchstone. With producer Jonathan Wilson more of a sideman here, much credit to Jonathan Rado of bedroom pop classicists Foxygen for helping to realize FJM’s vision.

Jane Church - Calimocho Molotov! The project of Jackson Church, who used to be in psych-rockers SpiresJane Church delivers supremely catchy rock songs with tight arrangements, superbly swinging drumming and lyrical smarts. They gig in NYC all the time and are growing fast. Go see them and grab this concise debut on cassette so you can say you knew them when. 

Andy Jenkins - Sweet Bunch According to Matthew E.White, who produced this debut with his killer Spacebomb crew, Jenkins was such a good songwriter in high school that White stopped writing songs for ten years. I believe it: after a couple of listens, I was singing along with his soulful Americana like I’d known these songs forever. Jenkins deploys his warm if modest voice with wise restraint and the musical surroundings go beyond sympathetic to symbiotic. This is kind of album that ever so kindly slips its hooks into you with no intention of letting go - and you won’t want it to. 

Melody Fields - Melody Fields Shamanistic sax, serrated fuzz guitar and 12-string jangle define the sound of these Swedish psychonauts who seem to travel through space and time with equal ease. If that makes them seem like throwbacks, the lack of self-consciousness to their approach and sheer excellence of their songs makes them thoroughly contemporary. And in Rain Man they’ve written a song worthy of their heroes from the original exploratory epoch that inspired them. 

Roaming Herds Of Buffalo - The Bugbears This Seattle band has been at it for the better part of a decade and their latest finds them at a new level of expertise, weaving guitars and keyboards into harsh and hypnotic patterns. If the vocals seem slightly like an afterthought, you won’t care at all when the herd is at full-speed stampede. 

Snail Mail - Lush Lindsey Jordan has the gift of composing songs that breathe in and out and move with the dynamics of life. Her unmannered singing is refreshing even when it slices right to the emotional bone. Besides her guitar playing (she started when she was five), which can go from a strummy jangle to a rowdy squall, the drumming of Ray Brown is the other star here - whether tight or splashy, he always knows when to fill space or create it. Jordan is just 19 and listening to her grow up in public should be a fascinating and illuminating ride. 

Starcrawler - Starcrawler
A lot of so-called garage rock sounds like a put on to me - not these guys. Pure filth, sloppy, grinding, filth, but tuneful. I'm not surprised that they're from L.A., but I am surprised that Ryan Adams produced something with this much personality. With ten songs in 27 minutes, no idea overstays its welcome, even when you want it to, as on the blistering Love’s Gone Again. I don’t think too hard about this addictive stuff, but when my lizard brain tells me to hit “repeat” I do so. 

Wand - Perfume
Also from L.A., Wand seems perpetually on the edge of a breakthrough, both artistically and commercially. Perfume is their most ambitious album yet, and while not all their attempts at expanding their psych-rock sound are 100 percent successful (Pure Romance, for example, is a little dull), when they hit it, they hit it hard. The title track is a case in point, marrying an epic construction and breakneck tempo to guitars that aim for the moon and go soaring past. 

Wooden Shjips - V. After 2011’s titanic Vol. 2, these California psych-rockers took a turn towards slickness, with, like, songs and upfront vocals. What were they thinking? While V. still has less scuzz than Vol. 2, its loose, hypnotic jams and hazy singing represent a return to form. There’s also a new pastoralism to some of the songs and, as the guitar spirals melodically skyward, you could almost be listening to the early Allman Brothers. 

What's been rocking your world?

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