Posts Tagged ‘allmusic’

Pinkshinyultrablast at All Music

Working the revivalist angle can be a dicey proposition at best. It’s easy to fall into the realm of being a mere copycat with nothing new or interesting to add to the pre-existing template, and many artists do exactly that, with results that pale in comparison to the originals. Some try to update or modernize the sound and end up with the worst of both worlds. Best perhaps to just ingest your influences, buy the right gear, and play the hell out of your chosen style. That’s what the Russian shoegaze revivalistsPinkshinyultrablast do on their debut album, Everything Else Matters. They add a couple electronic bits here and there, but mostly they corral the effects pedals into an overloaded cloud of noise shot through with jagged bolts of melodic color and topped with magically ethereal vocals. It’s the albumSlowdive was too laid-back to make, Chapterhouse was too polite to make, and the Cocteau Twinswere too heavenly to make. It blends the best aspects of those bands (and a few others like MBV andRide, and especially the criminally underrated Nightblooms, at times) together into a wonderfully retro album that succeeds because it doesn’t approach shoegaze like some school project that has to be just so. They play and sing with a surplus of barely restrained energy that bursts into displays of thrilling noise, filling the speakers with sound and hearts with real, and not merely nostalgic, emotions.Everything Else Matters comes to life thanks to their sure-handed use of quiet-loud dynamics and their innate sense of when to take a song into the clouds in epic fashion and when to rein it in and make it inward-looking and sad. That almost any one of the songs could be lifted off the album, dropped into a 1991 mix, and sound perfectly at home speaks to both the power of the album, and the band’s take on what it means to be a shoegaze-inspired band two-decades-plus after the sound came to be. There are a lot of bands working this angle in the early 2010s; Pinkshinyultrablast is one of the best, and their debut album shows exactly why.

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Black Watch at All Music

Named after an obscure John Lennon quip on an outtake of A Day in the Life, Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy is the 18th record by prolific L.A. indie stalwarts the Black Watch. At this point in their 26-year career, the band is (and generally has been) essentially singer/songwriter John Andrew Fredrick, who plays every instrument aside from drums on this strong, fuzzed-out collection of strident, thoughtful indie pop. Echoes of mid-’90s underground indie rock, blissful shoegaze, and wistful guitar pop are threaded throughout the album’s 11 tracks, most of which break the four- and five-minute mark with alternately lush and stinging guitar drones and experimental textures. Even clothed as such,Fredrick still hits his mark as a songwriter with standouts like the melodic “Dear Dead Love” and the stately “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night.” The unusual pacing of the album is like a backward fuse, with all of the noise and electricity in the front half eventually fading into a trio of lovely acoustic numbers which, at times, harken back to the heyday of early-’70s British folk. Remarkably, it works and the subtlety of the gently faded “A Major Favor” and the gentle “Dear Anne” create a sort of warm, late album afterglow. It’s a testament to Fredrick‘s creative choices and exploratory nature. With 18 albums under his belt, he could easily phone it in, but Sugarplum only serves to build on the Black Watch‘s reputation with another high-quality release.

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The Primitives at AllMusic

A good general rule for a band attempting to make an album after re-forming would be to do no harm. Don’t sully the past by making an uninspired update of your classic sound, don’t try to be modern and come off sounding desperate…don’t suck, basically. The Primitives already passed this test with flying colors thanks to their album of ’60s covers, Echoes and Rhymes, which they released in 2012. While it was impressive that the band, and especially vocalist Tracy Tracy, sounded like they hadn’t aged a single year, the true worth of their reunion could only be measured with an album of original songs. 2014’s Spin-O-Rama is that album and let’s just say that if Echoes and Rhymes was a nice welcome back, this is the album they should have made in the early ’90s as a follow-up to Pure. Working with longtime collaborator Paul Sampson, the group rushes through 11 songs in 29 minutes in a colorful flash of noisy indie pop that’s carefully crafted and full of excitement. Tracy is still drinking regularly from the fountain of youth, Paul Court‘s guitar work is impressive as it ranges from overdriven noise to chiming neo-psych haziness, and the overall sound of the album is punchy and bright, maybe even more so than their best work from their original run. While there may not be a giant hit like “Stop Killing Me” or “Sick of It” here, the songs are consistently hooky and fun, and a few of them would easily fit on an updated hits collection: the title track, with its super perky melody and insistent go-go beat, the hard-rocking “Petals,” and the almost shoegaze-heavy “Dandelion Seed” are three early picks, though that tends to change with every listen. Another cool thing for bands to do when they come back is to add some new colors to their paintbox and The Primitives do that a couple times, like on the dreamy “Follow the Sun Down,” which has a nice garage pop sound, or the Paul Court-sung psych-folk jangler “Working Isn’t Working.” Court actually takes more vocal leads than one might expect and his monotone balances well with Tracy‘s sweet croon. When they sing together, like on “Lose the Reason,” they sound so good you wish they did it more often. Making more albums is something else the group should do more often. They’ve done the rare trick of coming back even stronger than they finished, making music on Spin-O-Rama that sounds like classic Primitives, but also making music good enough to be mentioned in a conversation about the best guitar pop happening in 2014.

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Fishboy at Allmusic

Fishboy‘s leader Eric Michener has a thing for concept albums. After one (Albatross: How We Failed to Save the Lone Star State with the Power of Rock and Roll) about trying to save Texas with the help of Buddy Holly‘s ghost and one (Classic Creeps) about a group of interconnected fake people, the band delves into the story of Thomas Edison and Topsy the Elephant. Taking place after Edisonkilled Topsy during an experiment designed to show the dangers of alternating current, An Elephant is a rip-roaring tale of ghost pachyderms, revenge fantasies, sadness, and letting go that’s delivered with a level of energy and commitment that would make Pete Townshend proud. He’d definitely admire the clarity with which Michener tells the story; he’d also admire the crunch of the guitars and the power of the bass and drums. He’d also think it was good that while the songs fit together like the storyboarded puzzle they are, any of them can be extracted to stand alone as top-notch indie pop/rock. Michenerhas a knack for writing melodies that sound pocket-sized and epic at the same time, and this project is full of gems like “Elephant in the Room” and “Bury My Body” that showcase his skills. He wrote a few, like the beautifully rendered “Floating Away” that soundtracks Topsy’s farewell to Earth, that transcend the story he’s telling and strike some deep chords of universal feeling. The album may sound like a cutesy concept on the surface, but the way Michener writes from the heart, the inherent sadness of the story, and the ferocity with which the group plays turn An Elephant into something much more than that. Whether one is a fan of concept albums or just hard-hitting, hook-filled indie pop, it’s an album worth seeking out.

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Luxembourg Signal at AllMusic

Following in the footsteps of Aberdeen, the band most of their members used to be in during the late ’90s and early 2000s, the Luxembourg Signal‘s debut album is solid indie pop built around strong melodies and lots of guitars. Unlike Aberdeen, there is a heavy dream pop-bordering-on-shoegaze influence and a much fuller, much more realized sound this time around, but the core strengths of the band — their emotionally rich songwriting and Beth Arzy‘s pure and sweet vocals — remain fully intact. Where Aberdeen sometimes sounded like a stiff wind could topple them, the Luxembourg Signal‘s sound has some real weight to it, with the guitars both electric and acoustic layered perfectly around shimmering keyboards and a steady rhythm section. Songs like the noisily grinding “Dying Star” or the lost-in-reverb “Drowning” show the benefits of this heavier approach. The songs that sound like they could have come from the Aberdeen years, like the perky “She Loves to Feel the Sun” or the twangy “We Go On,” have more impact thanks to the almost over-powerfully good sound. The songs themselves have a hazy, near nostalgic feeling that sometimes comes with the passing of time and growing older, “We Go On” definitely has this feel with its references to Smiths‘ songs, as does the very adult-skewing “Heaven” and the bummer ballad “Let It Go.” There’s a real sense that the members of the band are all too aware of the tough changes that come with growing older that comes through in the words, the tender vocals, and the overall sound of the record. This isn’t pop for kids, it’s made by and for grown-up indie kids who have been through some real life but still see the need for sleepy, melancholy, jangling guitars, honest voices, and the glorious result that comes from mixing melody and noise. The Luxembourg Signal isn’t ever going to be the flavor of the month, they’re more like comfort food, and that’s just fine.

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Hobbes Fanclub at AllMusic

With the dramatic way that the shoegaze movement crashed and burned in the early ’90s, with the main players doing weird things like going country (Moose), turning into a terrible rawk band (Chapterhouse), or basically vanishing (My Bloody Valentine), one would have been hard-pressed to believe that 25 years later bands would still be gazing as hard as they do. Case in point, the Hobbes Fanclub. Their debut album, Up at Lagrange, is a 36-minute trip back to a simpler time of pedals, all-encompassing reverb, and sleepy melodies punctuated with blasts of noise. Basically it’s as if Ridenever went Dad Rock, and stuck to writing songs that sound plucked out of dreams and delivered on a cloud. The English trio make no concessions for the actual year their album was released, instead choosing to play it arrow-straight and electronic-free, with guitars and more guitars leading the way, with the heavily-doused-in-murky-sound vocals swimming just below the surface. Thanks to their knack for a sharp guitar hook here, a sticky-sweet melody there, and an overall grasp of dynamics and feel that really helps the sound pop in all the right places, what could have been a bloodless nostalgic exercise is instead a pretty damn good nostalgic exercise. It’s filled with a few energy-blasted tracks that sound ready to jump the tracks, some more introspective songs that are perfect for daydreaming, and a solid bunch that hover around midtempo while they weave pretty patterns of noisy sound. There may not be anything new going on, but the band so lovingly re-creates the shoegaze era that it’s impossible not to be impressed. Up at Lagrange‘s songs, performances, and overall sound are so good, it’s not hard to jump the Hobbes Fanclub to the front of the modern shoegaze pack right up around the spot that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart recently vacated.

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Eureka California at Allmusic

With their sophomore album Crunch, Athens, Georgia-based fuzz pop duo Eureka California whip through 11 blasts of punk-spirited and pop-minded minimal rock, delivered with equal parts deeply considered construction and tossed-off nonchalance. The band, made up of shouty singer/guitarist Jake Ward and metronomic yet spare drummer Marie A. Uhler, plays its songs with the same careless smirking approach as slacker legends like Pavement or the Replacements, delivering tunes with an aloof detachment that almost distracts the listener from how solidly composed these particular pop songs happen to be. The disintegrating guitar tone and tin-can cymbal crashes that grace more than one of these songs add to the lo-fi veneer of Crunch, but never really obscure the band’s songwriting strengths. Happily, the slacker vibe leans more toward comedic impulses than smug disaffection, with hilarious moments coming in lines from tunes like “This Ain’t No A-Side” or all 70 seconds of “I Bet That You Like Julian Cope,” a song where the title makes up most of the lyrics, and the listener can decide exactly what they infer. The album speeds by almost instantly. Longest song “Art Is Hard” struggles without success to make it to the four-minute mark and sounds completely epic in relation to the minute-plus blasts of garage pop that surround it. Crunch gets by on attitude, delivery, and a specific sense of warmhearted oblivion that recalls the best moments of ’90s slacker pop as it plays out like a summery daydream happening in a blurred imagination somewhere that heavy thoughts and harsh realities are only laughed at.

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Muuy Biien at Allmusic

On some levels, Atlanta-based group Muuy Biien could be construed as by-the-numbers punk rock. Short tunes made up of snotty shouts, bumbling basslines, and grating guitar lines made up the majority of their 2012 debut LP, This Is What Your Mind Imagines. However, breaking up these blasts of fury every so often were longer passages of subdued textural ambience. The juxtaposition was an unexpected one, and on second album D.Y.I. (Do Yourself In), the dark ambient clouds sometimes seep into the corners of the band’s vitriolic punk numbers. The album begins with one of a trio of ambient pieces, “Cyclothymia I.” Named after a chronic mood disorder, the trilogy of guitar-based soundscapes is appropriately brooding and ominous, with its ugly wash of guitar sonics spilling into the first few seconds of following track “Human Error,” a gnarled robo-punk tune that lands somewhere between early Devo and the Wipers. The jagged guitar lines eventually recede back into a moment of shadowy ambience, adding a sense of disorienting confusion to the already jarring track. This theme flows through the album, giving it a never quite settled feeling. Tunes like “What Isn’t” and “Dust” recall the funk backbone and off-kilter songwriting sensibilities of uncategorizable but pigeonholed as punk bands like the Minutemen and the Big Boys, while elsewhere songs are wrapped in echoes of early-’90s Dischord Records dissonance and smarts. Muuy Biien‘s marriage of experimentalism and nihilistic punk ends up reading far more bleak than open-minded, somehow. Repeated themes of death and hopelessness pop up with slack-jawed apathy, the title track even going so far as to warp the “D.I.Y.” or “Do It Yourself” ethos of punk into the far uglier “Do Yourself In,” the lyrics of the song only semi-sarcastically encouraging suicide. When these bleak sentiments butt up against gentle strains of droning, processed guitar, the result is strangely off-putting and void of resolution. This unsettling approach, in many ways, is more in line with the spirit of punk rock than just simply playing punk songs.Muuy Biien challenge the expectations of their audience and offer no easy answers or silver linings withD.Y.I. The strange stylistic combinations make its ugly moods loom even heavier, and ultimately make far deeper an impression than either element would have presented on its own.

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