Category Archives: RECORD REVIEWS

Record Review: The Late Greats’ “Kids You Knew”


Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Jesus And Mary Chain fame is often noted with the phrase, “A band is only as good as it’s drummer.” Though I have some agreeances with this statement, I must offer a different opinion: A band is only as good as its songwriting. Philadelphia’s the Late Greats just released their debut EP, Kids You Knew, a tight and concise batch of crafted garage-rock earworms. While their sound breaks down no new barriers, the band offers interesting perspectives on the genre of garage rock. As they write in the liner notes, “It’s the sound of 1976 filtered through the summer of ’96.” In a time where most consider rock ‘n’ roll falling apart, the Late Greats pick up the pieces to construct their own interpretation of the genre.

From the “Vertigo”-esque chug and harmonized dual Thin Lizzy guitar lines of opener “M.I.A.” to the post-punk influences on “Nowhere To Find Me,” the band channels powerful musical chops through tightly composed songwriting. Luke Bauerlein’s slightly reverbed vocals flow over the thoughtfully composed music, which consists of attentive use of background vocals and strong Guided By Voices-type licks (provided by guitarists Matt Hayes and Andrew Baranek) in order to fill the gaps from the rest of the band.

“Walk Away” is reminiscent of Pinkerton-era Weezer (which was not coincidentally released at the end of “the summer of ’96”), with its fall-apart-at-the-seams instrumentation and acoustic fingerpicking interludes. Songs like “Walk Away” and “Knock Me Down” are based on sturdy rhythmic time changes, provided and improved by bassist John Velez, keyboardist Adam Wassel, and the drumming of Brad Eash (also proving a band is only as good as its drummer).

Thematically, the band tends to focus on the past, in not just in the music but lyrics as well. Failed relationships, nights gone wrong, and searching for answers as years go by are consistent themes throughout the record. Kids You Knew serves as not only the title of the record, but also seems to be a way the band sees themselves. Bauerlein knows he can act childish sometimes (as any of us can), and as he sings on “Nowhere To Find Me”: “Exploit my fear of solitude and self-control I’m known to lack.”

For a band that uses a Wilco song as a reference point for its name, they stray away from Jeff Tweedy’s roots-rock in favor of a Replacements-style barrage, but the storytelling remains similar. As said earlier, the band does not explore a lot of new ground sonically on the record. “Lost Highway” and “Knock Me Down” come off as mid to late-2000s blog-rock (a la Bloc Party or Cage The Elephant) in their presentation, and there is little to no experimentation in the musical tones used. But the Late Greats were never trying to set any trends with their music, and this is not music for those looking for the sound of 2015. This is music for those who long for the sound of 1976 filtered through the summer of ’96. And as they prove with their intricate and dense songwriting, being innovative can show itself in more ways than one.

—Tyler Asay

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Record Review: Erroll Garner “The Complete Concert By The Sea”


Sixty years ago today, explosively melodic jazz pianist Erroll Garner lit a fire in a Carmel By The Sea, Calif., concert hall that still burns brightly today. The highlights of that memorable evening were released at the time by Columbia Records, and sporting a cover photo of a young woman on a rocky cliff as Monterey Bay’s waves crashed all around her, Garner’s Concert By The Sea became one of the best-selling jazz LPs of all time.

Backed that evening by bassist Denzil DeCosta Best and Eddie Calhoun on drums, Garner ripped through a set composed of great American songbook classics (“I’ll Remember April,” “April In Paris,” “Where Or When”) and a few pop hits of the time that have now joined that illustrious company (“Teach Me Tonight,” “It’s All Right With Me”). It was addictive music that would reach out to a young boy. My old man brought home that longplayer, and little did he know that, years later, his oldest son would wear that vinyl out as background for occasional teenage poker parties.

Now for the exciting part. Sony Legacy has unearthed a tape containing the rest of Garner’s concert that evening—an amazing 11 previously unheard tracks—that have been re-sequenced with the former album to create The Complete Concert By The Sea, exactly as it was performed that night.

Garner, hailing from Pittsburgh and standing only five-foot-two, had to place a book on the piano bench to feel comfortable at the keyboard. Once there, he became a musical titan. The heroic moments flash by as Garner’s dancing right hand and the explosive chords punched out by his left re-invent everything he touches. Completely self-taught, Garner has the keyboard mastery of any classical pianist you’ve ever heard.

“Spring Is Here” rolls over you like a gentle breeze. “I’ll Remember April” is the first number in the patented, rollicking delivery style he’s best known for. The complex, squirming melodies dance around the simpler chordal song, sometimes colliding head-on in pure glee. “The Nearness Of You” never sounded so lovely, caressed by the Garner magic that fills the room.

Then there is “Where Or When,” a song no one could ever play any better. I’ve wallowed in its up-tempo madness a thousand times, and it sounds as thrilling and fresh today as it ever did. Taken at a breakneck pace and caressed by Garner’s delighted grunts, the darting improvisations inspired by the familiar, rising melody ignites from the launch pad, and there’s no stopping it until it explodes, once more, in the last two choruses—daring you not to play it again.

—Jud Cost

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Essential New Music: Thee Oh Sees’ “Mutilator Defeated At Last”


I have no doubt that John Dwyer and the occasionally rotating crew of musicians he calls Thee Oh Sees are nice people. I feel the need to point this out because Thee Oh Sees are a mean, mean band. It’s not that these guys are stingy; in fact, Dwyer is staggeringly prolific both within and without Thee Oh Sees. The menace comes from the monstrous brew of psychedelia that arrives reliably each year in the form of a new Oh Sees album.

The ninth full-length released under this particular epithet is just as much of a bruiser as its title suggests. In just more than 30 minutes, Dwyer leads his compatriots in an unrelenting barrage of sonic creativity and rhythmic overload. From hulking opener “Web” to disarmingly delicate late-album instrumental “Holy Smoke,” Mutilator continues Thee Oh Sees’ unprecedented, mind-melting hot streak.

—Eric Schuman

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Essential New Music: Ryan Adams’ “Live At Carnegie Hall”


According to William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom … you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” Ever-prolific singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has flirted with excess for more than two decades and still may not know when enough is enough.

For diehard fans who haven’t already been supersaturated, this limited-edition six-LP/iTunes/42-track Live At Carnegie Hall should satisfy. With little overlap between his back-to-back acoustic solo performances recorded last November, we’re provided a sterling overview of Adams’ impressive catalogue. As indulgent as it may seem, Adams’ naked exploration of his output provides plenty of highlights that should sway all but the most cynical unbelievers. The guy sure can sing and write, and his melodic genius nearly matches his drive. For those still hedging their bets, there’s a 10-track version, which should be considered a gateway drug to the full experience.

—Mitch Myers

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Essential New Music: Kinski’s “7 (Or 8)”


Continuing their film-buff aesthetic (band moniker plus the director their side project Herzog is named for—look it up if necessary) with a cover that features John Cassavetes and his best-known muse, Gena Rowlands, this Seattle (mostly) instrumental quartet is also continuing a hot sort-of-comeback streak with 7 (Or 8), the relatively raging follow-up to 2013’s Cosy Moments.

Always distinct from the Mogwai/Mono/Explosions In The Sky pack for real rock dynamics via riffs and sonic drive, and far preferable to psych/improv/jam-out Six Organs-type hipster/hippie fare because it stays on point and combines these two elements with true heaviness, Kinski has probably never rocked this hard, not even on previous 2005 touchstone Alpine Static. Some of the rocking, like pre-release focus track “Flight Risk” and “Operation Negligee,” features vocals to round out the deal—something Kinski leaned toward with its last record, and something that the band pulls off with a deft hand when such a thing for a group like this could mean face-planting failure.

—Andrew Earles

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Essential New Music: Jim O’Rourke’s “Simple Songs”


It’s not as if Jim O’Rourke made easily digestible vocal records when he was part of the indie-avant pop milieu before 2005. Like his most spare, intimate and beautifully innate instrumental albums (e.g., 2001’s deceptively titled I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4), O’Rourke’s lyric-filled moments—such as 1999’s Eureka and 2001’s Insignificance—pulled you toward them in confidence, no matter how bitterly misanthropic they may have been. Then there was his tiny, windy voice; in comparison to the plush instrumentation, it too welcomed you onto its bed of (thorny) roses. Leaving the convention of Sonic Youth and indie-everything, oddly enough, hasn’t changed his vocal moods, his lyrical love of the sardonic, unreliable narrator (a favorite literary motif of his and They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell) or his sonic range/palette.

Like Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy played by Martin Denny’s orchestra (remember, O’Rourke did record a tribute to Burt Bacharach for the Japanese-only market) at its quietest—then quieter—Simple Songs is that, and then hardly that. So, gently finicky, flighty songs such as “Friends With Benefits” and “Half Life Crisis” sarcastically veer from their titles (he has no friends) with just enough breath to get through the humbly (hummable) memorable verses. “Hotel Blue” is like dark-chocolate ice cream—soft, bittersweet, cold. Every instrument on Simple Songs (all him, as with The Visitor, his gorgeously wordless free-ballad album) sounds as if its player taped cotton balls on his fingertips, and the whole thing is ghoulishly gorgeous in the most comfortably comfortable way. That’s so O’Rourke.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Essential New Music: Mates Of State’s “You’re Going To Make It”


The pleasantly cacophonous joy of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel is the unpredictable blessing and occasional curse of Mates Of State. They are wife and husband, keys and drums, singer and singer, indie pop puzzle-piece soulmates—even when their vining harmonies might lead them into semi-contradictory notes and ideas.

So, we’ve learned to love them as much when they’re on the same page as when they’re not. You’re Going To Make It, just five songs long, is awesome, a never-sappy snapshot of two people who drive each other wild. They straight-up say so on the “Staring Contest,” which pumps with the heart of the Go-Go’s and the lungs of ABBA. “Beautiful Kids,” meanwhile, is a moody, nearly new-wave thinkpiece about “staring into cracked screens” in the post-book, post-magazine (um … ), post-intimacy era. Gives me that old catchy/paranoid/Postal Service heartsickness. And, holy shit, “I Want To Run” is synthy, radio-ready, pop perfection like only the Mates could make. What’s not to love?

—Patrick Rapa

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Essential New Music: Evan Caminiti’s “Meridian”


Evan Caminiti’s main gig is Barn Owl, a duo in which he helps concoct desert-scorched drones that are pierced by twangy guitar flourishes. His last two solo records (Dreamless Sleep and Night Dust, both released in 2012) were minimalist endeavors, but they still managed to explore the outer edges of what a guitar could sound like. On Meridian, guitars don’t figure much into the equation. This time around, he’s gone full-on electronic, crafting synthscapes that are a lot less earthbound than his previous work.

What elevates Meridian above the throngs of similar abstract, mod-synth ambient records are the same sensibilities that carried albums like Dreamless Sleep, even if the tools are different this time around. Tracks that, for the most part, sound formless—never careless. And those electronic washes are performed—not just programmed—so while the sound is cleaner than usual, it’s also loose and limber.

—Matt Sullivan

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Essential New Music: Major Lazer’s “Peace Is The Mission”


With the promise of several new Major Lazer albums immediately following this, Peace Is The Mission is an opening salvo of sorts: DJ/producer Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire’s seductive, weird soul take on multicultural trap muzik circa 2015. Or, it could all just be a commercial for the Major’s FX Network cartoon series with Aziz Ansari. It’s hard to tell.

Either way, Diplo makes it so that his crew fits comfortably within the framework of a delectable Bollywood wind that glides as easily as a trombone (“Lean On”), a jittery house-music ballad with Mariah Carey manqué Ariana Grande (“All My Love”) and Caribbean spiced-nut hip hop with added salt (“Night Riders” with 2 Chainz, Pusha T and Mad Cobra). The best cuts here (“Too Original” and “Light It Up”) happen to be those hewing closer to Major Lazer’s wake-and-bake dancehall origins. Then again, whatever stays as it once was on Diplo’s dance floor?

—A.D. Amorosi

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Essential New Music: Joanna Gruesome’s “Peanut Butter”


The Welsh quintet’s second release goes down as easy as a mixtape on a ’90s spring day. Clocking in at just more than 20 minutes, there’s no crap on tap. Opening track “Last Year” (which appears to be about either an occult tragedy in a water park or just an affair gone wrong) goes from Huggy Bear to Velocity Girl in just minutes, thanks to the versatile vocals of Alanna McArdle, buoyed by frequent singing partner and guitarist Owen Williams.

The two are either layering their vocals over each other dream-pop-style while uttering kiss-offs (“There Is No Function Stacy”) or trading off tense call-and-responses (“Honestly Do Yr Worst”). “Jamie (Luvver)” is a ramshackle come-on à la the Vaselines. Williams and co-guitarist George Nicholls give great noise on “I Can’t Relax” and pure bliss on closer “Hey! I Wanna Be Your Best Friend!”

—Sara Sherr

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