Former LVL UP member Nick Corbo has another band, and while this isn’t the first time we’ve all heard of Spirit Was, Heaven’s Just A Cloud (Danger Collective Records) is the first full-length release. The album’s tone may be gives nods to gloom n’ doom, it’s a bit more than that so let’s take a moment to understand it. During the opening “I Saw The Wheel,” Corbo, playing drums, bass, and guitar, is intentional in his playing coming across as an epic singer/songwriter comfortable with acoustic and electric instrumentation. The song builds in intensity as it passes the 3-minute mark with abrasiveness, shouts & howls, upending the track into a beast of a song. The track itself gives an idea of what Spirit Was is; a project fully comfortable working quietly or loud, completely comfortable in both, and often meshing those two worlds. Yes, we can all wander through the world of Heaven’s Just A Cloud and find solace among the stars.
After releasing its 2020 self-titled punk-inspired, dark timbre – and scantily clad – debut, cumgirl8 eagerly shares its follow-up, RIPcumgirl8 which finds the band of Lida Fox, Chase, Veronika Vilim, and Avishag Rodrigues finding solace where post-punk meets discerning electronic sounds. “Pluck Me” revolves around deep bass grooves and heavy riffed guitars. The monotone vocal delivery is effective, with an English charm for the noisy New York outfit but the band doesn’t work with a one-track mindset. They shift and turn at just about every angle here. The band knuckles up on the groove-oriented “Go Away,” but this track may have benefited from exploring its base structure a bit more. The song, while catchy, suffers from becoming much too repetitious. Even with breaks in between, they could only be worked so far. “Bugs” turns the tide a bit back into post-punk territories, delivering a much more dance-oriented track filled with sonically obliterating noise as the rhythm section steadily maneuvers across the track. Honestly, RIPcumgirl8 is a mixed bag for me. I rather enjoyed their first album though, let’s hope they move back towards what made the group enticing, to begin with.
For years now, guitarist Shana Cleveland, bassist Lena Simon, and keyboardist Alice Sanahl have been releasing songs as La Luz. The trio has filled its songs with harmonizing vocals and sweet & colorful backdrops. As the years progressed, everything has seemingly tightened up, although always remaining loose with full cohesion. This time around, the band has been… altered a bit. On the band’s new self-titled album, the group has enlisted the talented Adrian Younge (The Midnight Hour, Luke Cage) to not only produce but perform on the release.
One thing the discerning music aficionado will note is the hiss of the tape reel across each track. It’s an analog quality but listeners shouldn’t be concerned because it doesn’t affect the music. While the band has always perfectly utilized its skillful vocal ability, there’s a rich thickness in the group’s sound here. It’s a richness, and dare I say soulful delivery track to track, that allows this release to differ from the band’s previous releases. The band is alluring, easily capable of standing alongside 50s & 60s female-led groups made famous for their ability to generate soul-searing tracks of transcendent compositions to withstand the test of time. There’s no mimicry but equality.
There are obvious standouts throughout the album but in actuality, every song hits with its own fervor. We can’t get away from “Watching Cartoons,” with its dense bassline as it opens the track with drums in tow. You might think the song is heading in one direction but then splits off in a 180-degree turn. It’s alluring as members coo in unison but it’s “Lazy Eyes and Dune” that’s unequivocally haunting. Drawn-out guitar notes linger around soft vocals as organs hum in the background along with the marimba’s mallets tap away ever so slightly. The beauty surrounding the song is captivating and it seems this is what we’ve been waiting for all along. Everyone will agree – or at least should – “I Won’t Hesitate” enchants from beginning to end as its deep bass is wrapped around the plinking of keyboard/xylophone notes before the band journeys into deeper waters with rich melodies & harmonies.
La Luz has created an attractive album in its self-titled release. The album conveys every emotion well from track to track; songs are sometimes haunting, beautifully atmospheric, and at all times quite captivating. With this album, La Luz has reached lunar heights, its very pinnacle. That in of itself isn’t an easy task.
Last year, Deerhoof proved itself a reckoning force of nature. While 2020 may have been challenging for most, Deerhoof released a total of what, five albums? Certainly, there were difficulties, but the band showed its fortitude giving fans a steady stream of music. This year though, the band has shown restraint, allowing for one proper full-length release, Our Philosophy Is Fiction (Joyful Noise Recordings). Instilled within the album are 9 challenging tracks that may go beyond even the most cynical of listeners.
While there are bands that share some of the same noisy aspects in music, the San Francisco quartet continues to experiment within the pop music realm as only it can, blending clever songwriting around selective disjointed & straightforward rhythms and inventively utilizing its array of instruments. There are maybe a handful of artists that come close to doing what the band is capable of but the only one that may come close to it is Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, and that’s only in aesthetic. But I digress. Our Philosophy Is Fiction sonically obliterates everything in its path when it chooses to do so. Take the opening “Be Unbarred, O Ye Gates of Hell” for instance, Satomi Matsuzaki’s unique vocal cadence finds its place around Ed Rodriguez & John Dieterich’s guitar interplay as dual guitars duel across one another and at the 2:13 minute mark offers a wall of guitars. Even if it is brief, nothing could survive in its wake. Here, Greg Saunier’s steady rhythms shouldn’t be ignored because his handwork here simply amazes.
Of course, one song that can’t be ignored on the album is “Scarcity Is Manufactured,” which Ed Rodriguez has clearly stated is an ode to Ritchie Valens’ rendition of “La Bamba.” The spirit of the song is there but remains easily differentiated from Valens. It is after all, a Deerhoof track. It cleverly embodies his Mexican culture as the band builds around it, with Matsuzaki’s bass standing out alongside it. Deerhoof captures the soul of pop music to meet the band’s own needs. Song after song, the band dissects everything we know about catchy pop songs, imbuing each with its identity. “Ancient Mysteries, Described” flirts with catchy rhythms in between frenzied beats while the title track plays along with a slower bass-driven number as rhythm guitars are built around. But it’s “Divine Comedy” as the band seemingly shifts time signatures we get the message clear and simple that Deerhoof can’t be boxed in as one thing.
Deerhoof’s delivery within Our Philosophy Is Fiction is a testament to the band’s longevity as it continues to reinvent itself album after album but always, and I mean always, remaining the group we’ve always loved.
The year 2019 was a good year for music obviously, since it predates Covid and the shitshow that was 2020. I’m certain we can all pretty much agree with that but we could live in 2018 over and over again. Well, at least some of us could because Jaguwar delivered an astonishing album with Ringthing. The release didn’t attempt at replicating music from an all but forgotten genre, instead, the trio focused on expounding on a cultural phenom. The band delivered thundering & frenzied rhythms, atmospheric washes of guitar & bass, far exceeding its noisy & brash pop songs while playing in a shoegaze sandbox. Jaguwar delivers the new GOLD (Tapete Records) which seems to eschew its feedback and maniacal rhythms for something more controlled with glimmering hints of nostalgia throughout. Don’t be misled though, the new album continues Jaguwar’s relentless musical bloodletting, giving listeners much more with its pop sensibilities than ever before.
“Battles” briefly plays with dynamics in the opening seconds of the track before explosive rhythms are captured and released. The song maneuvers like a song off of a John Hughes soundtrack, only to be rejected because it’s much to sonically diverse than anything you’d find on a John Hughes soundtrack. This is the duality of Jaguwar, filled with harmonies, beautifully synced instruments that give us everything we need in just over 2 and a half minutes. The band’s direct pop approach in “Monuments” is unmistakable with dueling vocals and a thick distorted bottom end. The confusing but welcomed “St. Lucia Island” seems to mesh in sweet electronic-tinged vocals, flirting with R&B, without Jaguwar losing its identity. The band’s epic and inspirational title track shifts in and out of quick-paced rhythms allowing for shifts in dynamics. It’s masterful. But it’s the 8 minute plus of “Ghosts” that will certainly enthrall listeners. Still present are dynamic shifts, gorgeous melodies, and honestly, could go on for twice as long.
GOLD doesn’t have one song that stands out from the rest because individually and collectively, they’re magnificent in every way and form. We can only hope that the rest of the world catches up with Jaguwar.
Some groups never play by the rules so let’s not make any assumptions about Guided By Voices because it probably goes without saying, Robert Pollard and company are better than most. While the band may seemingly rotate its lineup every so often, it’s been going steady for the past few albums. But I don’t know who we’re trying to kid here, and at some point, we have to be honest with one another. Guided By Voices has been releasing material for decades now and I don’t believe at any point has any album been lambasted for any reason, aside from possibly being prolific and releasing an abundance of material. Guided By Voices just released its 2nd album this year, It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be them. It Is Them! (GBV Inc.) and 34th in total. Not even the Rolling Stones have that many proper albums, not that there’s any real comparison between the two, it’s just a factual point.
This is where honesty comes into play because It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be them. It Is Them! isn’t just another Guided By Voices album, it’s another stellar GBV release. The band’s punchy fervor hasn’t slowed down throughout the years, it’s only been honed tighter, if such a thing is in fact possible for GBV. Still ever-present are songs filled with melodic walls of guitar washes accentuated by Pollard’s definitive faux English vocal delivery. At this point everyone is so used to it, it’s expected and welcomed. It isn’t forced and hey, anyone listening knows it’s sometimes part of the GBV experience. And with GBV we should always expect the unexpected, but sometimes expect certain things. “Hight In The Rain” closes with additional horns blended in and it works to the band’s benefit. The band occasionally eschews its direct guitar approach for something a bit more evocative, much like on “Maintenance Man Of The Haunted House,” which is enraptured within its eerie timbre, only touching it with tense guitars. It seems this is the duality of Guided By Voices, allowing listeners to hear another side of the band just a bit more. “Black And White Eyes In A Prison” is a favorite of the album, with the intermittent strings arrangements and shifting dynamics. Lovely to say the least.
So we’re clear, Guided By Voices’ It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It is Them! Strikes more than one literal chord, as the band continues its inventiveness with another magnificent album. But really, should anyone expect anything less?
What could possibly be the fascination with L.A. by way of New York’s Black Marble, the electronic moniker of Chris Stewart? Steward began his auspicious career with Weight Against The Door back in 2012 and since then has established himself as a sonically captivating songsmith, wrapping his compositions around synthesizers & keyboards. In almost 10 years Black Marble has solidified itself as a powerhouse, captivating listeners time and time again. With the new Fast Idol (Sacred Bones Records), he upped the ante with more than a nostalgic feel & flow, creating songs that seem to surpass any of Black Marble’s previous works.
Washes of keyboards open “Somewhere,” a time-warp hopper that’s delectable, filled with vibrance, and just a minute and a half in, shapeshifts into something much more danceable & throbbing in nature. It’s as if being fortunate to walk into TechNoir and buy Sarah Connor a drink before asking her to dance. The bouncy rhythm is charming, with Stewart’s lonely vocals find solace amongst the plinking melodies. Then there’s “Preoccupation,” filled with a varying amount of electronically induced percussion, with faux-congas mixed in, as Stewart builds around it although it’s his voice that seems to be the final ingredient that truly shapes the song. The entrancing bass groove is surrounded by catchy melodies but it’s his voice that we’re all drawn to. If that’s not convincing, try on “Say It First” and see how the song just fits perfectly. Its catchy bassline throbs with conviction as guitars seemingly build around it and again it’s Stewart’s voice that’s in need of attention as he casually delivers sultry harmonies over it all. Creating dual melodies over one another, is clever, to say the least, and works to the Black Marble advantage.
It’s easy to say that Black Marble Fast Idol has jumped leaps & bounds over its previous full-length Bigger Than Life and I’m firmly footed on the Black Marble bandwagon. It seems here that the future is in the past, but it’s revitalized and reignited. I’m ok with that. No, really, I’m really ok with that.