Ganglians : Still Living

For a band whose music sounds so inately laid-back, Sacramento’s psychedelic folk wizards Ganglians are certainly hard grafters; Still Living, just released on Souterrain Transmissions in Europe and Lefse in the States, is their third album (and an hour-long double-LP at that) in the space of two years, hinting at a work ethic that would put most mixtape rappers to shame. But even more impressive than their prolificacy is their consistency, and tracks here like “Jungle” and “Drop The Act” maintain the quality control standards established on 2009’s self-titled debut (technically an E.P., albeit an album-length one) and Monster Head Room. There’s a new edge to the group’s sound too, thanks to producer Robby Moncrief who adds the same art-pop sheen as he did to the Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca; whereas previously the band’s jangling guitars and skyscraping harmonies earned them comparisons to Grizzly Bear and the Beach Boys, the thick synths and reverb-drenched vocals here recall Animal Collective at their most accessible, whilst there’s an whiff of C86 indie-pop about the suger-rush melodies and occasionally racy rhythms.

Listen: “Drop The Act”  http://soundcloud.com/souterraintransmissions/01-ganglians-still-living-call

Still Living is out now on Souterrain Transmissions/ Lefse

Total Control : Henge Beat

Total Control are the latest band from the blooming Australian garage rock scene to start making waves on an international level. Labels like Goner and In The Red have been hooking us up for a while now with releases from the likes of U.V. Race and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, but Total Control’s debut LP Henge Beat – out now on Iron Lung Records – is the best transmission from the Down Under-ground (no, I’m not sure that’ll catch on either) so far. Featuring members of both aforementioned bands (including ECSR guitarist Mikey Young, who appears to be something of a Jack White figure, guesting on and producing many of the scene’s key releases), Henge Beat favours synths and post-punk over rock & roll, referencing Suicide, Devo and even – at its poppiest – the likes of OMD and New Order. Sure, “Retiree” races by amid a blur of thrashing Buzzcocks guitars and there are hooks littered throughout that will linger for days, but it’s the propulsive Krautrock rhythms and primitive electronics that give the album its distinctly dark character. There is a kinship with peers such as Liars and Sonic Youth evident in tracks like the menacing, skeletal “Meds II”, but Henge Beat is far from foreboding; in fact, while closer “Love Performance” shares a chilling intensity with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, it is also as fist-pumpingly, life-affirmingly triumphant. The band will be playing at All Tomorrow’s Parties in December as guests of Les Savy Fav; catch them if you can, and grab Henge Beat from the Iron Lung store (www.ironlungrecords.bigcartel.com )while stocks last.

Listen: “The Hammer”  http://soundcloud.com/total-control/the-hammer

More from Iron Lung:  http://lifeironlungdeath.blogspot.com/

Wilco : The Whole Love

Wilco - The Whole Love

Most fans will agree that there are basically three kinds of Wilco song. Firstly, there’s the gentle Americana of Jeff Tweedy’s earliest post- Uncle Tupelo output, influenced by country crooners and protest singers like Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie; then there are their pop songs, bright and brassy, leaning on Motown, the Beatles, punk and new wave. Lastly come the expeditions into avant-rock, drone and noise that characterized the Jim O’Rourke-helmed, early Noughties period that spawned their finest albums, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. Finding the right balance hasn’t always been easy, however; their last two releases – Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) – saw the group relaxing into a kind of musical middle-age, resulting in a run of pleasant but uninspired AOR songs that many saw as the end of Wilco’s glory days. It comes as no small surprise then, to find that The Whole Love, the band’s eighth album (and first for their own dBpm label), is what critics will no doubt refer to as “a return to form”, and one that showcases the different sides of their sound in relatively equal measure. The record is bookended by two lengthy experimental numbers: “Art Of Almost” kicks thing off with stuttering drum machine beats and progresses into something akin to OK Computer-era Radiohead tackling AGIB highlight “At Least That’s What You Said” before exploding into a Sonic Youth-esque Krautrock-meets-hair-metal finale. At the other end, “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” repeats a minimal, raga-like acoustic guitar motif for twelve hypnotic minutes, eddying like a swollen river that never quite bursts its banks. In between there are dusty, fragile folk ballads (“Black Moon”, “Rising Red Lung”) and jaunty pop gems (“I Might”, “Dawned On Me”, “Born Alone”), as well as ragged Replacements rock (“Standing O”) and even ragtime (“Capitol City”). If recent releases have been plagued by complacency, The Whole Love sees the return of Wilco’s willingness to push the boundaries of their comfort zone, and there’s no arguing with the fact they are at their best at their most adventurous. As Tweedy himself puts it in the swooning country waltz “Open Mind”, “I can only dream of dreams we’d share if you were so inclined/ I would love to be the one to open up your mind.”

Listen: “I Might”  http://soundcloud.com/listenbeforeyoubuy/wilco-i-might

The Whole Love is out September 27th on dBpm

Devon Williams : Euphoria

You may not be all that familiar with the name Devon Williams just yet, but if there’s any justice in the world you should be seeing it quite a lot when the end-of-year lists start rolling out. On August 30th, the excellent Slumberland label will release the follow-up to L.A. wunderkind Williams’ 2008 debut Carefree: Euphoria, an appropriately named slice of pop perfection that leans on flower-powered folk, jangling ’80s power pop and the same soft rock stylings that also inspired Destroyer’s awesome Kaputt. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dan Bejar is already a fan, having previously hand-picked Williams as a touring buddy and hooked him up with long-term studio collaborator David Carswell who – along with Violens’ Jorge Elbrecht – produces here. But the Destroyer frontman might want to start looking over his shoulder; Euphoria is, at this point, the only serious challenge to Kaputt‘s “album of the year” title. From the dizzying rush of “Revelations” through to the lost John Hughes movie theme “La La La La” via a couple of lush, orchestral Pet Sounds homages (“Tired Of Mulling”, “Slight Pain”), Williams’ romantic, intelligent songwriting covers all bases, from brooding (“How Is There Always Room?”) to, well, euphoric (“Favor Tree”, “Right Direction”). Euphoria may look to the past – doo-wop, psychedelia, new wave, C86 – but it’s the work of a prodigious talent, and one with a very bright future.

Listen: “Your Sympathy”  http://soundcloud.com/slumberland-records/devon-williams-your-sympathy

Euphoria is out August 30th on Slumberland

Danny Brown XXX

dannybrownxxx

With rappers well-known for their obsession with making money, the current trend for giving away mixtapes for free seems almost unfathomable. Not that we’re complaining: over the last twelve months, some of hip-hops brightest new stars – Currensy, Freddie Gibbs, Das Racist and Main Attraktionz to name but a few – have released game-changing collections online absolutely gratis. The latest addition that list is Detroit MC Danny Brown, whose XXX has just dropped via Fools Gold. Brown’s back-story is your typical rap biog – prison time served for selling drugs etc – but his flamboyant persona makes him a far more interesting subject than your average ghetto superstar. For example, Brown was recently on the verge of signing with the G-Unit family, until 50 Cent decided he didn’t like his skinny jeans. Brown’s frank response: f**k ’em, I dress for b*****s anyway, not n****s. Whilst the album’s title actually refers to the fact he has just turned 30 (X=10 in Roman numerals, dig it?), XXX could also serve as a content warning; Brown curses and rhymes about drugs and alcohol more than Kanye talks about himself. Then there’s the smut: bars and bars of the kind of filthy (and frequently hilarious) sex talk that ensures I won’t be bumping this the next time I take my wife out in the car. With a love-it-or-hate-it borderline-horrorcore vocal style , and sparse, gritty production from the likes of Squadda B, Paul White and Skywlkr, XXX is hardly commercial fodder, but with a captivating flow that recalls Andre 3000’s literate wordplay as much as the late ODB’s potty-mouthed surrealism, Brown’s seat at the front of rap music’s Class Of 2011 is assured.

 Watch: “Monopoly”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzhtHZmPvxg

 Download: XXX  http://www.foolsgoldrecs.com/xxx/

Thundercat The Golden Age Of Apocalypse

If, like me, a stupid band name or suspect artwork can put you off listening to an album, you may find yourself neglecting The Golden Age Of Apocalypse, the debut long-player from Stephen Bruner, AKA Thundercat, which – on the basis of its cover and annoyingly kitsch intro sample – could be mistaken for a tribute to the 80s cartoon that inspired Bruner’s artistic alias. Thankfully that’s as far as the connection goes, and this is one record you really don’t want to ignore. After a decade spent as bass player for California thrash-punks Suicidal Tendencies, Bruner decided to explore his funkier side, hooking up in the process with Flying Lotus and guesting on last year’s lauded Cosmogramma, a favour the space cadet beatsmith returned by producing this dazzling set and releasing it on his own Brainfeeder imprint. There’s no doubt that Golden Age is a truly collaborative effort, sharing as it does FlyLo’s fondness for sculpting madcap electronica and up-tempo hip hop rhythms into a kind of far-out future jazz, but Bruner’s virtuosic bass-playing and a host of guest contributors (including Erykah Badu, members of Sa-Ra Creative Partners and older brother Ronald Bruner Jr. on drums) make this a more organic and far warmer affair. Like a thoroughly modern update of the classic 70s fusion album, Golden Age recalls the likes of Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock and George Duke (whose “For Love I Come” is covered here), whilst tipping its hat to contemporary peers like Squarepusher and Dam Funk; if Stevie Wonder ever decides to make another album, he should give these guys a call.

 Listen: “Daylight”  http://soundcloud.com/brainfeeder/thundercat-daylight

The Golden Age Of Apocalypse is out August 30th through Brainfeeder

Active Child You Are All I See

It’s somewhat surprising, given Joanna Newsom’s almost overnight rise to alternative superstardom a few years back, that harps aren’t all over pop and rock music in 2011. Luckily, mastering Newsom’s instrument of choice is something of a specialist skill, meaning appearances are still rare enough to get excited about. You Are All I See, the debut full-length from L.A. resident Pat Grossi, AKA Active Child, showcases the harp in a more subtle, textural manner than Newsom’s virtuosic playing, lighting up the spaces between monochromatic synth beds and stuttering drum-machine beats with big, sweeping waves of chiming strings that shimmer like stars scattered across a rain-streaked night sky. Taking his cues from the darker, more intense side of modern R&B music, Grossi’s angelic, operatic vocals add an eerie, dream-like quality to songs that recall The-Dream, James Blake and How To Dress Well (whose Tom Krell guests here on “Playing House”) in terms of soulful intensity. The album is out through Vagrant on August 23rd, but in the meantime you can stream it in its entirety at Hype Machine, or download “Hanging On” – a track that was premiered as part of Adult Swim’s 2011 Singles Series – here: http://www.adultswim.com/promos/201106_kiasingles/audio/Hanging%20On.mp3.

Stream: Active Child You Are All I See  http://hypem.com/#!/search/Active+Child

Whatever Brains

It isn’t everyday you hear the phrase “Petrochemical oligarch” used in the context of a three-minute rock song. Or anywhere else for that matter. But then Whatever Brains’ self-titled debut is far from an everyday occurence. With lyrics like those, and others about paedophile priests, heart attacks at 35, gay sons and husbands joining the Taliban, it may come as little surprise that the surrealist rants of the Fall figure heavily among the Raleigh N.C. combo’s influences, along with Les Savy Fav’s angular new wave punk, Polvo’s twisting avant-rock and Unwound’s calculated brutality. Released on vinyl on the regional Sorry State imprint, the record stands at odds with much of the label’s other, more hardcore-orientated output (Double Negative, Shards etc) but don’t confuse the group’s skewed pop sensibility with anything approaching accessibility; sure, there are riffs and hooks aplenty here, but they’re less likely to stick in your head than they are to coolly and methodically bludgeon it in. Those starting to grow impatient waiting for a new Future Of The Left album will find plenty here to scratch that particular itch, and whilst Whatever Brains’ manic, violent racket is as unhinged as anything you’ll hear this year, it’s also devillishly good fun. 

Listen: Various tracks  http://whateverbrains.bandcamp.com/

Buy the album from Sorry State Records: http://www.sorrystaterecords.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=2531

Icarus Line Wildlife

It goes without saying that it takes more than dedication to the cause to make a great band, but nobody’s going to argue with the fact it counts for a lot. Wildlife, the fourth album from L.A.’s Icarus Line, oozes so much authentic rock & roll spirit you can practically smell the leather and cigarette smoke wafting from your stereo. It’s the kind of vibe you only get from bands and artists that actually walk the walk, the ones that make music not at the behest of some fat-cat record company executives but because they feel compelled to do so, and Joe Cardamone is cleary one such believer. Having doggedly stuck to his singular vision through fifteen years of disembarking band members and baffling critical indifference, Cardamone financed and produced Wildlife himself and his unhinged, all-or-nothing performance here gives the record a “Kamikaze mission” feel whilst recalling the magnetic frontmen – Jagger, Morrison, Iggy, Nick Cave – that he unashamedly idolises. It’s hard to see how Icarus Line’s new-wave garage band take on sleazy, sexy, primal punk-blues failed so spectacularly to make an impact whilst like-minded peers (the Strokes, Kings Of Leon) went on to become superstars, but take my advice and embrace it while you can; with so much of his heart and soul poured into Wildlife, one can’t help but feel if Cardamone’s labour of love hits yet another brick wall it might just tip him over the edge.

Listen: “King Baby”  http://soundcloud.com/engine-face/the-icarus-line-king-baby

Wildlife is out August 29th through Cobraside and the band’s own Roar Scratch label