Howdy there! To keep up with the world of indie rock, I decided to make this quick impressions thread wherein I’ve chewed on new indie/alternative/punk/maybe post-rock record at least once and spit out a Christgausian (length, not style!) impression or thought that struck me like a thunderbolt after I listened. This week, I am summing up the last three weeks of April, because there’s been an explosion of releases the past month. I’ll have a link at the end that feeds into the new releases thread at /r/indieheads (seriously, if you ever want to know what the hell was released lately, that thread is godsend for you). At the end of every album I have a review column. Y means Yes, M means Maybe and N means No. This isn’t a “yes, I’ve reviewed this record,” but more a “yes, I want to review this record!” Confusing I know, but I’d rather you know which records at least have my interest and probably survived more than two spins. With that said, expect a lot of rock, and every once in a while, a funk/R&B/electropop record.
April 27th, 2018
Hawthorne Heights – Bad Frequencies
Producer: Hawthorne Heights, Nick Ingram
Label: Pure Noise Records
Genre: Alternative Rock, Scream-o
Quick Impressions: Alright, cut the crap, JT, you’re not metal so don’t try to be. And what’s with all this Stephan Jenkins-circa-1998 emotionality shit? I feel like they all just listened to a weird mixture of Thirty Seconds to Mars, Brand New and Third Eye Blind to get them in the mood for this album. Should I sigh though? It worked pretty damn well.
Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse
Producer: Emily Lazar
Genre: Indie Rock
Quick Impressions: So Speedy Ortiz is good right? Well, they operate on a Violent Femmes meets Pixies meets Yeah Yeah Yeahs, throw on the by-now well-established brains and of Sadie Dupuis (think petite Gwen Stefani with more bite) over gnawful riffs and scratched-in synthpop flairs. A tight formula, stylistically, but none the tighter than when Speedy Ortiz kicks the door in mid-song on “Buck Me Off.” Guitar gain is incensed and raised to run riot to the brick wall-end of the cut. It takes its time to rest, but damn if it doesn’t earn them.
Dr. Dog – Critical Equation
Producer: Gus Seyffert
Label: We Buy Gold, Thirty Tigers
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Indie Rock
Quick Impressions: It will be my lifelong complaint about neo-psychedelia’s preponderance for flaccid musicality. Every member genre composed of new riders of ancient, purple sage falls prey to this phenomenon; sometimes it’s hard to get it on and jam it out when you’re too busy buggin’ out, wide-eyed and watchin’ at all those starry synthesizers in sky. Dr. Dog avoids that, and frankly, while they don’t take you on 10-minute esplanades into the great blue beyond, the riffs still rollick and the keyboards still shimmer. It’s a record of small victories for me, then, and the small victories add up as this record goes.
Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain
Producer: Shawn Everett
Genre: Indie Pop, Indie Rock
Quick Impressions: Well, if Grizzly Bear set the tone for low-volume, lo-fi independent, it seems only natural that Okkervil River and a good part of the independent rockers follow the trend in the aftermath of Painted Ruins with records that buck prior sounds and contains all the synthpop trappings it needs to keep the record afloat. And no, this isn’t a slight at Will Sheff’s creativity—ever artist eventually goes the popular route. Why? Well, in the words of a Gorilla: “It’s good to have something that’s a genuine pop moment on every album,” and Okkervil River’s In The Rainbow Rain is just trying to make up for those lost moments.
Forth Wanderers – Forth Wanderers
Producer: Cameron Konner
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Indie Rock, Midwest Emo
Quick Impressions: So Speedy Ortiz is not the only alt-rock band with a pretty face to release an album in the same week and keep the Sub Pop quota for neo-grunge at the brim. At this rate, I’m convinced if Sub Pop dies, so too would grunge’s commercial ability, because Forth Wanderers’ record is as commercial as it gets. It’s MOR-grunge with less soul, a Cranberries does Pixies but without Steve Albini to tell them it’s shit. Not that it is necessarily shit, but if people are going to give John Mayer crap for his latest MOR-tendencies, then I’m going to give crap to Forth Wanderers for doing the same, because at the end of the day people are still going to enjoy this record and John Mayers—that’s the point of easy-listening. Even if it’s not revolutionary or good, what-the-hell it’s still 32-minutes of solid Sunday music for the dreg who rarely get a chance to soothe their aching hearts.
Blossoms – Cool Like You
Producer: James Skelly
Label: Virgin EMI
Genre: Indie Pop, Indie Rock
Quick Impressions: The Brits really are flexing their indie rock muscles, what with The 1975, Chvrches, Bastille, The Wombats all coming and going in the past two years, and I can’t help but feel like a child lost in the candy store, where everything that glitters is glucose. Blossoms are no different with Cool Like You, in that regard. They’re just the newest sweet in the shop but if we look closer at the ingredients we’ll read: “ We want to write like Oasis.” Ick. I might not be able to eat/listen to Blossoms anymore.
Ulrika Spacek – Suggestive Listening EP
Producer: Syd Kemp
Label: Tough Love
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Indie Rock
Quick Impressions: There’s a curve to these guys funkiness and I’m not just talking about the fact that their band name sounds like a Dr. Who companion. EP’s are a marginalized format, but given some love they produce the best, of the back catalogue, the treats for listening deeply. By now Ulrika Spacek sits quite firmly in the Grizzly Bear indie rock tradition: filtered guitars interspersed with acoustic licks, garage drums and a vocalist who can’t help but mumble every line he’s given. It’s just the bloody aesthetic, but if the other three parts are done well enough (which is indeed the case), then I might just ignore the vocalist. I imagine that’s the only way you could make it grizzly bearable, if not quietly enjoyable.
DMA’s – For Now
Producer: Kim Moyes
Genre: Indie Pop
Quick Impressions: At most I hear Slowdive, At least, all I’m really hearing are Marian Gold tribute vocals. To his credit, instead of holl’rin, Thomas O’Dell sustains a humming, pretty cadence that edges close to fuckboy, but not as close as Matty Healy (now that’d just be out-and-out copyright!). I’m not gonna say the music is terrible—it’s Hot Cherry flavoured Chromatics and I already like cherried Chromatics. Every again I’ll twinge though, still not wanting to believe Oasis have become the Beatles of commonwealth indie. Why couldn’t it be the Smiths or My Bloody Valentine or even Blur damnit?
We Are Scientists – Megaplex
Producers: Max Hart
Genre: Alternative Dance, Indie Rock
Quick Impressions: This record had the opportunity to not fall into a trap. Alternative dance meets indie rock? That could’ve be fun. Nope. This isn’t alternative dance it’s alternative crap, only impressive if We Are Scientists had percolated from a Third Eye Blind-tribute band in Matt & Kim trappings and wanted to make an album for electropop fans. The secret to how Keith Murray and Chris Cann waver between these genres lies deep down in that uncanny valley, but the trail to get there sounds boring on the level of high school gossip that I don’t want to even try and hike it.
Peach Kelli Pop – Which Witch (EP)
Producer: Allie Hanlon
Genre: Garage Rock, Pop Punk
Quick Impressions: What a darling, a pop-punk darling, a West coast Karen O with surfpunk sensibilities type-darling, that is, this Allie Hanlon. She’s a power-popper, a swanky spoon of Shangri-La sugar tossed into some mixed-alternative guitars (one-part Sonic Youth, one-part Violent Femmes). But her latest release? It’s a six song EP that just misses seven minutes. And I’m sorry, that’s not worth your money. I don’t care how good ingredients may be, that’s too little a yield.
VARSITY – Parallel Person
Producer: Dave Vettraino
Label: Babe City
Genre: Indie Pop
Quick Impressions: On the flip side, here we have Varsity, who has just attained sophomore status with a smart, efficient sophomoric effort of pop-punk. Like a Speedy Ortiz or Chastity Belt but with more summer sunshine guitaz and pretty keyboards. “Muzak,” as Lester Bangs would call it—the end of revolution and the beginning of devolution; pandering. And yet, all I can think to myself, is yes! This is the pure, sustained power of Kinky power chords plus a synthesizer, it’s innocent and infectious even. If a Wes Anderson School of Cinema is ever opened, I hope an alum uses this record to illustrate the pure boredom of suburban summers in an early-21st century drama-by-the-beach. Like “Lords of Dogtown” but, y’know, better.
Godsmack – When Legends Rise
Producer: : Erik Ron, Sully Erna
Genre: Hard Rock
Quick Impressions: Guitars! Angsty musings! Guitars! Social dysfunction! More guitars! RRReeeVVVEEErrrBBB! Godsmack might just wish it were the Linkin Park of metal. Unfortunately, Linkin Park will hold that position for as long as millennials exist. Bad luck, Godsmack, but just know my inner fourteen-year-old’s heart still beats for you from the start to the finish of your new record.
April 20th, 2018
Drinks (Cate Le Bon & Tim Presley) – Hippo Lite
Producer: Stephen Black
Label: Drag City
Genre: Experimental Rock
Quick Impressions: You ever wanted to hear a record that sounds like your 3-year-old made it in the kitchen? Yeah, this is it. Maybe there’s a moment where they make a musical connection, a nice sound—but it’s swamped up in the din of pots and pans gong-struck.
Review: Fuck no
A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant
Producer: Dave Sardy, Billy Howerdel, Maynard James Keenan
Genre: Alternative Rock
Quick Impressions: Keenes once described A Perfect Circle’s musicality as “feminine” because of a mechanical yet intuitive and emotional sensibilities. This is all fine and good, but with record numbah four, I find myself wondering if I’m listening to a more sensitive Skillet or a more overblown Tool. Palatable either way, but I’m still not really enjoying these tear-stained peas and carrots of metal gothic. Too much salt, I think.
Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician
Genre: Alternative Rock
Quick Impressions: Here we have the Melvins, great granddaddies of the alt rock explosion of the nineties (along with the dearly beloved Meat Puppets) continue their push towards alt-rock institutions, even if they don’t want to be. It’s not that this record was ever in danger of being thoroughly bad, but at this point, what do these punks have to prove? Nothing, so sit back and enjoy that Beatles cover, “Don’t Forget to Breathe,” and for the love of God, “Stop Moving to Florida.”
Post Animal – When I Think of You In a Castle
Producer: Post Animal
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Quick Impressions: Forget about Tame Impala just listening to Black Sabbath—because that’s only if Black Sabbath listened to the Beach Boys more times than they did. And forget Tame Impala, because Post Animal is perhaps the closest all-American sonic the United States can muster to the Australian King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (who sound a damn sight more like a clusterfuck of Black Sabbath, Tame Impala and late-stage Jethro Tull, sorry boys), Still it’s not all too bad for Post Animal, whose debut leaves me with all the right feelings (read: Black Sabbath, Genesis and Lizard Wizard, oh boy now that’s tasty) that they could be America’s answer to the Australasian psych invasion—they’ll just need some more records to match the salt of those very ambitious Lizard Wizards—but all things in due time, let’s just see how tight they are live, shall we?
Zoé – Aztlán
Label: Universal Latino
Quick Impressions: Nowadays, psych-rockers either want to win like the Beatles with even less soul or die like Jimi Hendrix with even less critical nods. Really now? Ever heard of a guitarist named Carlos Santana? Man, could he rip it and man, I wish more people ripped it like him. Well, wished, because Zoé finds the perfect spot triangulated between Santana, Grizzly Bear and post-Congratulations MGMT. Even crazier, they’ve been doing this for longer than Hendrix ever did, even crazier? If this were a Beatles album, it would be my second favourite. But it’s not: it’s just Zoé riffing hard on ayahuascan waves.
Mark Peters (Engineers) – Innerland
Producer: Mark Peters
Label: Sonic Cathedral
Genre: Ambient, Instrumental Rock
Quick Impressions: Here’s the thing: ambient rock is an overwhelmingly flaccid genre—it’s the mojo of rock n’ roll that can’t get it up most of the time—not because of some Jack and Coke mixture, but because it has too much psychedelic fun. As in: it’s the psychedelic rocker that’s sitting in the corner watching time collapse upon itself within the mirror reflection that eats at his face only to shatter!… or something like that. In brief: sometimes ambient’s too busy diddling with itself to care about what the audience thinks, which isn’t bad if you’re trying to push the boundaries of music (unless you’re Hippo Lite and you fall off the deep end, just to excuse your pot and pan racket for more than half an album). But the best ambient, post-rock shit (Sigur Rós, Mogwai) I’ve ever heard understood that ambience is meant for one thing and one thing only: coming to a head. Those moments where all the textures coalesced begin to swirl and twirl and whirl together, twist your head off like a cap and explode with the fury of a cyclone. That is when ambient gets interesting and goddamn that’s why ambient should be interesting. It’s climax music and Peters gets that right and… wait did you think I was talking about something else?
TesseracT – Sonder
Producer: Aiden O’Brien, TesseracT
Genre: Progressive Metal, Djent
Quick Impressions: TesseracT’s follow-up to their mega-successful LP Polaris, this record is more of the same. Good news if you enjoyed the progressive metal sound with Scandinavian black metal flares and extended instrumental breaks. Bad news if you dislike bands that err to close to overblown Skillet-isms and death screams. It’s all just news to me, however.
Pennywise – Never Gonna Die
Producer: Cameron Webb
Quick Impressions: A righteous, furious example of militant music combined with surfer punk melodies, complete with cooing backup vocals, Pennywise set out to test study the “ancient biases” passed down through the generations. The results are in: despite ham-fisting the experiment (would you expect anything less from a punk in a labcoat?), the music is a molloping mosh of goodness that doesn’t let you off the hook for the prejudices that may lurk beside yourself.
Cancer Bats – The Spark That Moves
Producer: Cancer Bats
Label: Bat Skull, New Damage
Genre: Hardcore Punk
Quick Impressions: Fuck scream-punk. If screaming is going to happen, mayhap let it be an accentual device, but basing your entire vocal performance around screaming? No, thanks, I just want to listen to the music, but alas Cancer Bats can’t decide if they want to wear their Slipknot or Rage Against the Machine shoulder patch, y’know, just so they can let you know what type of anger it’s feeling for this song. Sure, I can appreciate the brutality, but I’ll pass on this one.
Review: Fuck no
Die Nerven – Fake
Producer: Die Nerven
Quick Impressions: I think it should be clear that I enjoy the more melodic punk subgenres, which is why, of all three punk records released today, I’d rather be caught dead with Fake by Die Nerven. A staggering combination of krautrock, post-rock and late-eighties garage. It has all the brutality you need, but doesn’t over do it, instead balancing the pain in the rhythms and the mirth in the melodies.
April 13th, 2017
King Tuff – The Other
Producer: King Tuff
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Power Pop, Garage Rock
Quick Impressions: Solid indie rock, in the vein of Ty Seagall and dashes of Kurt Vile. Gets low and slow but also knows how to inject some blues riffing and waxing.
Josh Rouse – Love in the Modern Age
Producer: Daniel Tashian, Josh Rouse
Label: Yep Roc
Genre: Pop Rock, Singer/Songwriter
Quick Impressions: This is as middle of the road as it gets, gleefully skipping along the yellow dash lines like a summer child in a Glen Frey album. Only it’s softer than Rupert Holmes and takes cues from John Mayer’s R&B boogieing to an obnoxious degree. Still, the Velvet Underground-esque (Reed: Lou on “Waiting for the Man”) touches on the chorus of “I’m Your Man” should highlight that Josh Rouse and Daniel Tashian know what they’re doing, even if they telegraph every move.
Animal Flag – Void Ripper
Producer: Animal Flag
Label: Triple Crown
Genre: Alternative Rock
Quick Impressions: Punk with goth and metal flares—sounds like a Green Day that wears lace and chains and is ready to make listeners cry blood and blood-let some sweat.
The New Mastersounds – Renewable Energy
Producer: The New Mastersounds
Label: One Note
Genre: Funk, Jam Band
Quick Impressions: Chicago-style blues and funk, doesn’t blow the mold like P-Funk or make you shiver like Prince but it has its moments. It’s shopping centre music at its worst, and a funk jamboree at its best.
Tinashe – Joyride
Producer: Tinashe (also alb. and exec.), Trevor Jerideau (alb.), Mike Nazzaro (alb. and exec.), Ali Nazzaro (alb.), Floyd “A1” Bentley, Allen Ritter, BLWYRMND, Brilliance, Dre Moon, Felix Snow, Hitmaka. Mario Luciano, J. White, Joel Compass, Reckless, Ritz Reynolds, Soundz, Stargate, T-Minus, Wavy
Genre: Alternative R&B
Quick Impression: An album that jives very well with anything by Blood Orange and I imagine anything Blood Orange does would jive just as well with Tinashe.
Bazzi – COSMIC
Label: Self Released
Genre: Alternative R&B
Quick Impression: Infectious, soft-sung, filled with Toronto-style production. Someone call Drake, though, we found his #1 fan because Bazzi wanna sing just like him.