Music Blues: Things Haven’t Gone Well

Misery, so the saying goes, loves company, but on the evidence of the first solo record from Harvey Milk bassist Stephen Tanner it’s safe to say it thrives pretty well on its own too. The title of Tanner’s debut as Music BluesThings Haven’t Gone Well, written and recorded at band-mate Creston Spiers’ house in Georgia whilst mourning the passing of a close friend (drummer Jerry Fuchs) and the end of a long-term relationship – may be slightly tongue-in-cheek (?) but it couldn’t be any more apt given the doom and gloom contained within its grooves; twelve slabs of monolithic instrumental sludge that make much of Harvey Milk’s heavy-as-hell discography seem positively upbeat in comparison. If the musical touchstones remain the same (Earth and the Melvins, Morricone’s dust-choked elegance, slow-motion takes on ZZ Top’s blues boogie and the flamboyant classic metal of Kiss and Judas Priest), here – stripped of Spiers’ soulful, injured grizzly bear bellow – Tanner’s cavernous, glacially-paced riffs become infinite cliffhanger moments, a giant steamroller perpetually bearing down on the listener as they struggle frantically to pull their feet out of the wet blacktop; lumbering bass grooves reverberate like aftershocks of an earthquake in a nearby town, and what drums there are sound like gongs heralding the arrival of the Grim Reaper himself rather than an instrument for keeping time or rhythm. Not that we’re left in much doubt as to our hero’s eventual fate: with each song named after an event or period in Tanner’s own personal history, from his birth (“9/17/71” and “Premature Caesarean Removal Delivery”) to teenage feelings of “Hopelessness and Worthlessness” and “Great Depression” and the later realization that “It’s Not Going To Get Better”, we have to assume the chances of a fairytale ending are slim, but when the results are this powerful it’s hard not to derive some joy from his suffering.

Things Haven’t Gone Well is out now via Thrill Jockey; check out “9/17/71” below.
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The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers

By any kind of reasonable logic, pop music as we know it should be dead by now. With everything that has come since – from punk to disco to hip hop to house to EDM – the three minute verse-chorus-verse pop song should really have been made redundant long ago and continue to exist only as some kind of time-capsule curio, like ragtime or delta blues; but somehow, like a cockroach in the wake of a nuclear war, it endures. King amongst insects (a compliment, assuredly) is Carl “AC” Newman, the Canadian singer-songwriter whose work over the last fifteen years as both a solo artist and leader of “indie supergroup” The New Pornographers has been a gentle but constant reminder of the peculiar, perennial power of the perfect pop song, and on Brill Bruisers, the sixth studio album from the multi-vocalist collective that also includes Neko Case, Kathryn Calder and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, his efforts feel more purposeful than ever. Whereas in the past Newman has sometimes appeared – like McCartney or Brian Wilson before him – to stumble on clever, catchy tunes almost by accident, these are unabashed attempts at producing “hits”, a modern alt-rock take on the production line approach taken by the song-writing teams (see Goffin & King, Mann & Weill, Bacharach & David) who worked out of New York’s famous Brill Building in the ’60s; and without exception these songs are just the kind of knockouts the album title would suggest, the singer and bassist/ co-producer John Collins utilising a newly discovered arsenal of synths and sequencers to create “faster, sparklier” numbers that hark back to a time when bands like ELO, ABBA and Blondie dominated the singles charts and made innovative, critically acclaimed long-players too. Of course, whilst Newman masterminded much of Bruisers, his leading ladies never let the listener forget it’s a group effort, peppering the title track with fanfares of multi-tracked “doo-wah-doo”s and coating the wall-of-sound productions throughout with thick layers of sugary harmonies, as well as taking turns handling lead vocal duties: Case (still smouldering following last year’s career-best The Worse Things Get LP) oozes glassy Shangri-Las sass on “Champions Of Red Wine” and comes out swinging like a woman scorned on “Marching Orders”, whilst Calder coos sweetly on “Drug Deal Of The Heart” and her duet with Bejar “Born With A Sound”, showing she’s more than capable of holding her own alongside her more high-profile bandmates. Speaking of Bejar, it’s the Destroyer main man who – somewhat predictably – steals the show with said duet and a further pair of absolute aces, “War On The East Coast” and “Spyder”; the first a headlong motorik rush that proves the basic ingredients for a great pop song – a catchy hook and a few rhymes repeated over and over – remain the same whether the subject matter is “boy meets girl” or cities falling into the ocean, the other a short, shimmering slow-burner that culminates in a glitter cannon shower of euphoric, harmonica-drenched noise. Typically, Bejar’s contributions – brilliant as they are – feel like he decided to spend the majority of the sessions outside the studio, smoking and drinking by himself, laying down his takes only when forced to come to come in to grab another bottle of wine, but despite his apparent reluctance to attend you just know that grouchy ol’ cousin Dan would never actually miss one of these grand get-togethers. Because the Pornographers have always been more of a (dysfunctional) family unit than a conventional band, leading their own separate lives and convening once every few years to catch up on all the news and gossip, and whilst there have been some tough times (Newman and Case both lost loved ones) during the period since 2010’s Together there have also been babies, milestone birthdays and the kind of critical acclaim (for The Worse Things Get…, Newman’s Shut Down The Streets and, most notably, Destroyer’s masterful Kaputt) that many artists can only dream of; cause indeed for celebration, and Bruisers‘ brilliant, buoyant pop songs make for the perfect soundtrack.

Brill Bruisers is out now through Matador Records; listen to “War On The East Coast” below.
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Shit And Shine: Powder Horn


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From the press release:
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“On this new album, his first full-length since 2012’s Jream Baby Jream, Craig Clouse voyages still deeper down his own sonic wormhole. Its raucous slabs of deviant funk, wiry disco and burnt-out acid are sculpted to soundtrack strung-out dancefloors and their seedy early-hours aftermath, yet they still bear crucial traces of Shit & Shine‘s history in noise rock. Drums bound, crash and detonate to drive the music forward in fits and starts, their sound veering from the chest-busting thud of a techno kick to the hollowed-out clatter of a live punk band. Writhing acid lines do battle with taut, spidery guitar motifs, wrenching the momentum abruptly sideways. “Hiss” is bare-chested post-punk, strutting across the stage, caked with sweat and fizzing with static interference; deeper into the night, “Acid Minor” wrenches up the gear to explode into full-bore acid techno, with Clouse repeatedly hammering the brakes and triggering space itself to distort around you.”
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Powder Horn is out now via Diagonal Records; listen to “Pearl Drop” below:
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Pallbearer: Foundations Of Burden


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You don’t have to be a genius to know what a band named Pallbearer are all about. In fact, coming as it does after a debut titled Sorrow & Extinction, and with its bad trip sci-fi/ horror sleeve illustration, those not generally inclined towards the deep end of the heavy metal pool could probably hazard a guess as to what their new record Foundations Of Burden sounds like without even listening to it. Yes, the Little Rock, Arkansas quartet are a “doom” metal outfit, as obsessed by the bleak, morbid imagery that fills their lyrics – blood and ashes, the excruciating passage of time, death, darkness, despair – as they are with the Black Sabbath blueprint of down-tuned guitars and grinding, glacial rhythms; and yes, Foundations is – at its core – a lumbering beast of an album seemingly custom-made for beardy stoners and Dungeons & Dragons geeks. But anyone dismissing Pallbearer simply because they think this particular strain of heavy rock isn’t going to be their bag would be denying themselves one of this year’s most enjoyably intense musical experiences. Far from being the somber, suffocating listen one might reasonably expect, Foundations is packed with killer hooks and melodic upswings, albeit played out at an unhurried pace more suited to exaggerated head-banging and air guitar theatrics than to bouncing around a moshpit; majestic, multi-tracked guitars roar and soar and spiral back down into passages of uneasy calm, the group deftly shifting up and down through the gears, propelling songs past the ten minute mark into territories more commonly associated with prog-rock dinosaurs of old, but if there is a definite whiff of “fantasy epic” about the album, at least it has the decency to shun gentle, Tolkeinesque meandering in favour of more R-rated Game Of Thrones-style fare. Without taking anything away from its still-amazing predecessor, Foundations feels like a huge leap forward, and whilst some of that is surely down to the presence behind the boards of veteran metal producer Billy Anderson, it certainly helps that Pallbearer are a noticeably better band than they were two years ago. When Sorrow & Extinction dropped, part of the appeal was that it felt like the unique and perfectly realised vision of a band that had arrived fully formed and at the height of their powers; the improvements on show here – the refinement of Brett Campbell’s once pitchy vocals into a proper BBQ-glazed-gravel metaller’s croon, his twin lead interplay with fellow guitarist Devin Holt, the three-part harmonies with bassist Joseph D. Rowland, newbie Mark Lierly’s loose-limbed drumming – reveal that wasn’t the case, and if this growth spurt isn’t thrilling enough in its own right the possibility that they may well continue to evolve makes for a pretty exciting prospect. It’s a cliche, I know, but Foundations really does feel like a landmark metal album, a classic in the making that pays faithful homage to the genre’s past whilst helping to shape its future in its own image. At this point it seems beyond doubt that it will be this year’s “big metal release for people that don’t normally like metal”, and that stands to reason given that you can hear echoes of Led Zep and Pink Floyd, Rainbow and Boston, even Foo Fighters and Radiohead over the course of its 55 minutes; it also means that a certain type of metal fan will automatically decide it’s a terrible record, even though it clearly owes as much of a debt to heavy-as-hell groups like Sleep, the Melvins, High On Fire and Yob. But, hey: you can’t please all the people all of the time, even when you’ve just made an album that stands a better chance than many of doing just that. One of the best records of the year, in any genre.
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Foundations Of Burden is out August 19 via Profound Lore Records; listen to “The Ghost I Used To Be” below.
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August album roundup

We’re barely a week in and already August is proving to be the hottest month of the year for new music. So far we’ve had brilliant long-players from Spoon and Adult Jazz that at this point seem sure to finish in the upper reaches of the Foam Hands year-end list, and there are more to come this month that are likely to join them there. A couple of these – Pallbearer and The New Pornographers – will be covered in more detail over the coming weeks, but below are 15 more records (among them real AOTY contenders from FKA Twigs and Merchandise) that deserve a mention – and your attention.
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FKA Twigs LP1

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Literature Chorus

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Naomi Punk Television Man

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Electric Wurms Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk

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The Bug Angels & Devils

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Connections Into Sixes

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Grumbling Fur Preternaturals

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YOU. Sunchaser

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Castanets Decimation Blues

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Moire Shelter

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Bitchin’ Bajas Bitchin’ Bajas

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Jenny Hval & Susanna Meshes Of Voices

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Rustie Green Language

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Merchandise After The End

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Battle Trance Palace Of Wind

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Adult Jazz: Gist Is

It may be because as a nation we tend to take ourselves a bit too seriously, but we Brits seem to have trouble making intelligent, arty music that doesn’t bury itself under the weight of its own importance. In recent years, various American bands and artists – Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Joanna Newsom, Vampire Weekend – have successfully fused rock, pop, jazz, folk and neo-classical elements with a warmth and lightness of touch that has made “intellectual” music approachable and entrancing, a concept that their peers on this side of the pond have largely failed to grasp, favouring instead the tried and tested post-punk combination of angles and attitude. Redressing the balance in subtly spectacular fashion are Leeds-based Adult Jazz, a brainy bunch – teachers and the like – whose debut album Gist Is (out this week on their own Spare Thought imprint) locates the common ground between the head and the heart and proceeds to romp around in it like a hippy in a hay field. Utilising a mix of acoustic and electric instruments and digitally processed sounds, the quartet create epic, shapeshifting soundscapes that start out as auto-tuned Gregorian chants and clattering tribal drum circles and invariably blossom into wide-eyed hymns to the wonder of human existence, songs whose sprawling ebb-and-flow anti-structures belie their prog-like complexity; on the one hand it’s all very OK Computer, strings of zeroes and ones and nerdy precision, whilst on the other it’s a bit Astral Weeks, a lazy, winding narrow-boat ride downriver on a muggy summer day. It’s a poetic, pretty record but like those aforementioned touchstones (and others like Wish You Were Here or Grace) it doesn’t subscribe to the notion that pretty and poetic should equate to “fragile” or “maudlin”. Yes, it’s deep and meaningful stuff, but it couldn’t be further from the “heartbroken beardy loner holed up in a cabin in the woods” stereotype; rather, this is spirited, celebratory, communal music, frontman Harry Burgess cooing his “idiot mantras” like a molly’d up Buckley one minute and whooping and scatting like Bjork the next, vocally mirroring the knotty, Ribot-esque guitar lines as the rest of the band casually unspool a riveting tangle of awkwardly funky pastoral psychedelia around him. Perhaps it’s the result of being written from a teacher’s – as opposed to a student’s – perspective but Gist Is makes supposed art-rockers like Alt-J and Wild Beasts sound like the class dummies by comparison; Adult Jazz seem to understand that intelligent, emotional music shouldn’t be precious or pretentious and as such they have produced a beautifully clever debut album – with the emphasis very much on “beautiful”. Check out a bunch of tracks below.
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