Certain artists transcend time, rhyme, and reason. Whether releasing material consistently or vanishing off a musical landscape that can span years, it sometimes doesn’t matter. It’s been over 20 years since her debut, and a decade since she’s last released a full-length album but it makes no difference because Rosie Thomas’ voice is timeless. Last year she announced her Lullabies For Parents, Vol. 1, and the first single, the piano-driven “I’ll Be Alright” released last November. She followed that up with “All Is Full Of Love,” the Bjork cover which features Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, The Shins, Denison Witmer, and many others. It’s a beautiful kaleidoscope of harmonies, driven by sweet haunting melodies. At just over five minutes, the song builds with emotion until there’s nothing left, leaving no stone is left unturned as the intimacy is felt throughout. Thomas is back and we should all rejoice. But it’s “Always Be My Baby,” a Mariah Carey cover, that’s gained her notoriety this time around. Lullabies is a release for adults, not kids. We should enjoy Thomas for the artist that she is.
We find comfort in familiarity sometimes, and this is what Texas’ Good Looks evokes with just about every listen to the quartet’s new Bummer Year (Keeled Scales). There’s nothing that can be directly pinpointed on the group’s debut long-player, but the self-professed “a blue-collar political indie-rock band,” delivers mindful lyricism for the layman that’s direct and to the point while musically offering up classic rock-ism with strengthened song structures and deliveries.
Good Looks lives in a space where there’s no in-between; either you like them, or you don’t but there’s absolutely no way to dislike the band. From the moment the band unearths its “Almost Automatic,” the dual guitars of Tyler Jordan and Jake Ames, meticulously blend their efforts as Tyler’s rich southern drawl makes listeners want to pay attention. But it’s when drummer Phillip Dunne and Anastasia Wright’s bass roll in together, oh, this is the glorious moment we’ve all been waiting for. The band is larger than life and is completely unapologetic for it. As it should be. The band follows it with a rocking “21,” a bar stomper filled with emotion and cooing vocal deliveries. The rhythm section’s low-end theory is pivotal to the song’s core, allowing guitars the freedom to roam across notes and melodies.
The title track itself is a fiery dirge, and Jordan’s lyrics tell the story of what many have gone through the past couple of years, defining friendships based on more than what’s in common. Telling these stories alongside the softly edged backdrop, possibly makes it even more poignant than its original intent. We see the differences in others based on boisterousness and hate, navigating around it. “Vision Boards” takes a different approach here as guitars work through garage riffery, enveloping a melody around it but not necessarily adhering to the garage fuckery. The band melds it into its own identity, allowing familiarity but also giving us something new and brash.
Good Looks isn’t easily classifiable as just another indie rock band, hitting hard with both garage and classic rock influences but never adhering to allow its sound to be one thing. Bummer Year rocks hard, is emotional, and gives off an air of originality. Fight me if you want to prove me wrong but you may get elbowed in the face! That’s my word.
There are some artists that come with a cavalcade of references, with a resumé that stretches as far as the eye can see. At times, an artist’s own work might be overshadowed by the work put in on someone else’s release. It happens all the time, but Gainesville, Florida’s John Vanderslice, he’s been able to maneuver through the musical landscape as a producer and artist. Producing a wide array of artists from Death Cab For Cutie to Deerhoof, The Magnetic Fields, and Mountain Goats, to recording albums solo albums, and as a member of MK Ultra. A few, like myself, viewed Vanderslice as an acquired taste, while others – like my own circle – all enjoyed his music immensely.
Vanderslice returns with a new band in tow, ORANGEPURPLEBEACH, as well as a full-length release dEATh~bUg (Tiny Telephone) and the results are, well, intriguing. The album combines both electronic elements as well as organic acoustic guitars and treads along spaces that don’t allow it to be pigeonholed as one particular musical creature. ORANGPURRPLEBEACH gallops through pastures feeding off the land while flying over canyons reaching for the highest peak.
Throughout the album, you’ll find a wide variety of quirkiness, but it’s usually fitted with a smattering of melody and harmonies. The delightful “Exposure” strums along with acoustic guitars, with accents of electronic percussion, and Vanderslice’s chorus “Conjuring demons/waiting in the shadows” and quips like “Lowest I’ll play for is $225/that’s the minimum to keep the dream alive.” He also wallows lazily through “Admin Reveal – Take Cover,” splattering lyrics, and when he sings “I’m working it out” around keyboard notes and odd percussion, it’s notably infectious, reveling in the kaleidoscope of sound. But it’s the sorrowful upbeat “Dimly Lit Fuse” that’s reminiscent of scattershot Steely Dan, but they wouldn’t toss caution to the wind like Vanderslice who leaves any and all inhibitions at the door, coasting on keyboard washes, sweetly drifting along. The closing “Idol Attack” has Vanderslice offering a somber delivery over piano. It’s sparse and direct and doesn’t need much to feel its tragic effect.
ORANGEPURPLEBEACH is a loose & heady affair, that doesn’t put much pressure on the listener or Vanderslice for that matter. Vanderslice, once touted as one of the best producers, comes into his own here with an effortless release in dEATh~bUg.