Hammock – Everything and Nothing

 

hammock-600-3

I stumbled upon the meaning of adult life 9 years ago.

Not that I actually figured out much about what it all means. But my daughter, the one who’s unloading the dishwasher while I write this, was born and I was struck with the sudden epiphany of accountability.

hammock-600-4No excuses.

Lots of regrets.

Relentless pacing and emotional inventory.

Fierce belonging.

Explosive kindness.

Surprising mercy.

Hammock has spent the last 11 years soundtracking those kind of moments for thousands of completely unrelated stories from completely divergent individuals. J Edward Keyes writes “one of the most remarkable things about the Nashville duo Hammock has been their ability to almost uncannily translate the pulse and fiber of human emotion into actual chords and melodies.”

I couldn’t ever hope to improve on that sentence. http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4067613091/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

I don’t want to go into the details… The music tells the story. Throughout our body of work, we’ve lived with ghosts, not disembodied spirits, but the ghost-like memories of those who disappeared.  We’ve composed and sung songs to the dearly departed, passed over into oblivion with hymns of finite longing.  All the while inhabiting our own impermanence… in endless distraction from the whole catastrophe… Until it all became too much.  It was time to face life on life’s terms. – Marc Byrd

 

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Best Albums of 2015 | The Top 10


The collection of my favorite 10 albums for the past year is now complete.  What came as a surprise was that half of it consists of debut albums from what I would consider to be some of the most important bands of the next several years.  In a year that female-fronted rock bands, hushed vocals, and Kendrick Lamar dominated best-of lists of 2015, I made my personal insertion of the importance of punkrock.  Beginning the exodus from my mid-30s into my late 30s I have found that my taste for music has not changed, but it has rather evolved taking with it my interests of my youth and adding new additions to provide variety and growth.   If I have missed something that you feel should have made it’s way onto my list then, please, let me know as I am always looking to discover new music.

My Honorary Mentions and Runner Up Top 10 Best of 2015 publications are also available to check out.

 

10-Brutal Youth – spill your guts

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I’m not going to sugarcoat anything at this point and I’ll just admit upfront that this pick was most definitely nostalgia based.  At a time when punk bands such as Good Riddance are becoming boring with recent releases it is rather refreshing to hear the kids beat the vets at their own game.  Spill Your Guts is not going to blow you away as an introspective 22-minute 18-track punk record, but what it will do is give you the best throaty-vocal punk album since For God And Country.  It’s the most fun a group of friends has had playing angst-ridden punk love/hate songs in under a minute in quite awhile.  If you modernize The Descendents’ sound and add the edge and presence of early Good Riddance, then you are left with Brutal Youth.  As a longtime fan of the melodic hardcore genre I am glad to see that it can still be done well.  This is an all around great album.

essential tracks: Four Letter Words | We Need To Talk | Square Dancing: What Is It? & What Can It Do For You?

 

9-Worriers – imaginary life

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Worriers’ Imaginary Life is their debut LP, and gives us the introduction to front-woman Lauren Deritzio’s unimpaired ability to express herself without any collaboration.  She has been part of several music groups before Worriers only to find her presence hidden within the confines of combining creativity with other musicians.  Coincidently, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! stumbled upon Deritzio and the Worriers and agreed to produce Imaginary Life while graciously including them as the opening act on tour.  The peer recognition found within that and the touring success to follow had come at such a fast pace that it is no wonder as to why the positive critic reviews have followed.  All that remains is the mainstream success, but it is as yet to be determined if that is what is desired.  Deritzio, along with Laura Jane Grace, also questions the limits of gender binarism so it is to no surprise that these two have found an opportunity to help eachother give a voice to that misunderstood community.  Impassioned lyrics and a straightforward indie-punk sound provide for one of the best rock albums of the year in just under 30 minutes.  In a year that saw huge success for female-fronted rock bands, it’s nice to see that they were also dominating the underground as well.

essential tracks: They/Them/Theirs | Plans | Advance Notice

 

8-Screaming Females – Rose Mountain

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The Screaming Females are the hip, cool alternative to Alabama Shakes.  They are the Sleater-Kinney that you haven’t yet heard of.  Despite the fact that they’ve been a band for 10 years and have released 6 albums they have still managed to be overlooked by many music critics; until now.  If the music industry were to make any sense then the “screamales” would be the one at the top of the modern-rock charts.  Rose Mountain puts the untouchable vocal and guitar talents of Marissa Paternoster front and center of The Screaming Females.  It feels very retro and almost classic-rock, while still fresh and fast as the choruses on the album build up to be among the more enjoyable audible explosions from music offered this year.  Catchy songs, classic guitar riffs, powerful vocals, and hard-hitting melodies all make up what was one of my favorite straight up rock albums of the year.  Sometimes lyrics don’t matter too much in a record, and this is one of those instances where the music sweeps you away rather than what is being said behind it.

essential tracks: Hopeless | Wishing Well | Ripe

 

7-Not Scientists – Destroy To Rebuild

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A pop punk band from France has cracked my top 10.  When the occasional discovery of a band such as Not Scientists finds you, the feeling of being a kid resonates inside of you again.  Who says that I have to be consistent in my listening habits so that they match my age demographic?  Who says that as I get closer to my late 30s I should be listening to bluegrass, folk or Phil Collins?  My response to the stereotyped questioning of my music listening behavior is “leave it alone, because I know what I like”.  Rest assured, I will be that grandfather in his rocker listening to 90s punk rock as my grandchildren laugh at me and my “oldies” playing out of the speakers in my living room.  Destroy To Rebuild is a fantastic album to lose yourself in.  It has catchy choruses, epic guitar riffs, sincere and sometimes cheesy lyrics, everything meant to expect from something out of this genre.  While songs such as “I’m Brainwashing You” and “Tomorrow’s Another Day” provide what is expected, “These Heads Have No Faces” and “Disconnect the Dots” prove that they can also play outside of the expectations of that specific punk brand.

essential tracks: We’re Given Options | These Heads Have No Faces | Over and Out

 

6-Beach Slang-The Things We Do To Find People Like Us

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Knowing that Beach Slang is the fourth of five debut albums on my top 10 makes for a strong case that the future of music, despite staggering record sales and the predictably boring mainstream, is on the upswing.  The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is an album played for the pumping fists in the front row but sung for outcasts on the sidelines.  It’s hard to believe that singer James Alex is in his 40s without any amount of recognition to his music until now.  With this album you find a perfectly flawless throwback to what would happen if The Lawrence Arms sang a Jawbreaker song written by Paul Westerberg.  Do I have your interest now?  If you managed to overlook this band in the same way that I missed them coming to Strummer’s in Fresno earlier this year, then stop here and treat yourself to 26 minutes of the ultimate listening experience of what good rock music is supposed to sound like.  Beach Slang has become a new addition to the growing list of my favorite bands.

essential tracks: Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas | Young & Alive | Ride The Wild Haze

 

5-Butch Walker – Afraid Of Ghosts

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Butch Walker is quite the interesting case study in modern pop music.  He goes from fronting the 90s pop-hair metal band Marvelous 3 to producing numerous musicians of the last couple decades.  His résumé includes production work for Weezer, Anberlin, Pete Yorn, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban just to name a few.  For Afraid of Ghosts Walker chose to, for the first time on his own records, have someone else produce it.  Ryan Adams became that person and gave Walker the best advise anyone could ever have given him.  Walker explains by recalling the following conversation:

“One of the first things Ryan said to me, in his brash, honest, brutal delivery, was, ‘You know, sometimes I think your day job rubs off into your own music, which I don’t think you should do. And at first, I was like, ‘F–k you, man! That’s not true.’ But it is true. It’s hard to work at Starbucks and not go home smelling like coffee. So we had to wash the coffee off on this record.”

The atmosphere that Adams helped create for this album was a perfect pairing for what Walker was preparing to create.  Afraid of Ghosts is an album meant for the heartbroken during a time of incredible loss.  The closing lines of “Father’s Day” completely captures what I think was his state of mind during the writing process as he sings “You don’t become a man until you lose your dad, you see.”  Absolutely heart-wrenching.  He is at his most vulnerable here as he sings about losing his own father who he had just begun to have a rebounding relationship with, and other similar struggles as someone becoming older in a world increasingly less fair.

essential tracks: Father’s Day | Chrissie Hynde | How Are Things, Love?

 

4-mewithoutYou – Pale Horses

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One of the more strangely unique modern-rock musicians of our time is the singer for mewithoutYou, Aaron Weiss.  He has an ability to poetically construct the lyrics of a 4 minute song ending with you less sure of it’s meaning than you were at the beginning.  Pale Horses is an enjoyable, but dark album pulling concepts from an apocalyptic world to the death of his own father.  Having the opportunity to see them perform in July this last year at Strummers of Fresno was a definite highlight of the year, and is one of my favorite live shows that I’ve gone to.  Weiss needs a stage and an album to get out of him the creations that are so evident within his mind.  The self-doubt and religious journey that he speaks to is so honest here that it feels tragic, and at the same time beautiful.  Pale Horses is the perfect farewell album if it is indeed one, but I’d rather hear more from the introverted intellectual Weiss if I had any say in the matter.  Still, it has been said by him that he can not imagine the desire to write another song, let alone another album, after having put this one together.  Time will tell.

essential tracks: Lilac Queen | D-Minor | Mexican War Streets

 

 

3-Success – Radio Recovery

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This was absolutely my favorite punk record of the year as well as my favorite debut album of the year.  Radio Recovery combines punk with rockabilly and adds a couple of the most kick-ass guitar solos I’ve heard in years.  Success are the only West Coast representation on my top 10 list beating out fellow west coast punkers NoFX and Joey Cape for a higher rank.  Sometimes fresh is more fun, and that is precisely what these 5 guys from Seattle have done.  Punk is fresh again, folks.  There’s a bit of sarcasm, a little sap, a couple songs about rebellion, and even some hope and a call for revolution.  It is visibly apparent that these guys are having a lot of fun and enjoying every moment to the start of their inevitably long adventure in music.  Radio Recovery is full of ridiculously catchy choruses and hooks so contagious that you’ll catch yourself pumping a fist while driving that could be mistaken for road rage by the poor Audi in front of you.  From the opening line of the album to the last song before the record ends everything about it will convince you to put it on repeat, again, then again, and then again.

essential tracks: Lives That We Deserve | Believe In | Resignation

 

2-Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m going down…

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Ok. This is when I start showing my age.  My second favorite album of the year comes from the man who is everything that Ben Kweller wished he was.  I’m a bit late to the Kurt Vile hype-train, but I am just glad I didn’t miss the train entirely.  He kind of looks like if Pee-Wee Herman grew his hair out and took up writing music on an acoustic guitar while smoking a Benson & Hedges cigarette under a lamppost.  Nonetheless, this guy knows how to craft a perfect song.  He is that singer-songwriter that you were looking for but never poked your nose around long enough to find.  Every song on this album is a mellow remedy for a slow-moving afternoon in the office.  As I am not very familiar with his recordings before b’lieve I’m going down… I imagine I will often come back to this one during my journey backwards being that it was my entry point into his collection of work.  If slacker rock is making a comeback then I think we have found the one that is suitable for taking the reigns.

essential tracks: Pretty Pimpin | Lost My Head There | That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)

 

1-Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

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My favorite album of the year came at a bit of a surprise.  It was no secret that I loved to hate Sufjan, and it was mainly because I refused to use a soft-J while pronouncing his name.  I never quite gave him the chance that he deserved, because for whatever reason he came across pretentious and unlikable to me.  When Carrie & Lowell was released I listened to it out of curiosity after hearing good reviews and recommendations.  After my first listen I was absolutely stunned at how much Sufjan was willing to tell us through his music.  Every song is a desperate plea for forgiveness from his self and from his late mother as the theme of the album discuss elements of guilt, anger, death, feelings of loneliness and separation, as well as questions of faith.  Carrie & Lowell will more than likely remain to be the only Sufjan album I listen to willingly, unless of course this signifies a change of style within his records.  I cannot imagine the tone to be repeated in a later album as this one seems unique to anyone’s catalogue.  Sufjan was quoted to say that “this record is not art, it is my life”, so I do not foresee this degree of vulnerability doubled-down on when we hear from him again.  This is a beautiful album and I will listen to it when I want to feel better about who I am and who I have after having heard the lyrics and music of a man that wants to bring peace through tragedy.

essential tracks: Should Have Known Better | The Only Thing | No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross

The Holy Broke – Do It Yourself

“These tinted windows keep police at bay,” Kent Ueland opens The Holy Broke’s stunning debut LP Do It Yourself with an ode to the cocktail of competing emotions that accompanies touring in a van and proceeds to dive headlong into a confessional narrative that mostly concerns itself with the darker machinations of human nature. These songs are a product of Ueland’s last year, a time which saw him lose a long-term relationship and a longer-term band (Terrible Buttons). As a result, Do It Yourself  presents a bruised, harrowing trek into the blackest void and then kinda sorta back again.

 

Firmly rooted in the vagabond folk tradition, the analog recording is spare, raw and direct in all the right places and when the occasional production flourish turns up, the studio serves to elevate the songwriting.  The doubled Axel Rose-esque vocals on the introspective blues of “I Ain’t Proud” add an extra sucker punch to lyrics like “I just wanna hurt somebody anyway” while the extra acoustic guitar reverb brings an otherwordly pleading reverence to the line “I need to hear your song fill my empty house” in “Yellowed.”

No matter how much Ueland tries to make you dislike, or even despise him, what comes through loud and clear on Do It Yourself, is that these songs are the story of someone authentically pissed off, filled with irreconcilable antipathy and yet, who still seems capable of healing and moving improbably forward. This is the type of record that can only be made by someone with a resolute sense of survival and the adventurous courage to plow ahead, kayaking into the tsunami.

“Suicide is for pussies,” Ueland sings, you may not agree with him, but you have to respect his conviction.

Do It Yourself comes out January 24th.

Best Albums of 2014 – Version Rossi.0

In direct opposition to my 2013 list, 2014 was a year of highly anticipated albums that for the most part, I thought, delivered on their anticipation.

Anticipating upcoming albums is a funny thing. If it’s a band you have followed for some time, you are generally looking forward to something similar to their old stuff. Something welcoming and familiar. Many times, however, that’s not quite what you get. If it’s a new band, there are multiple ways you might have come to your place of anticipation – word of mouth, good early publicity, etc. Or maybe it’s a band you’ve known about, dabbled in but could never quite get into, but have reason to believe this new offering will be different. Three of the albums in my top 10, in particular, were highly anticipated, at least by me.

However, some came out of nowhere. There were albums that hooked me from the first listen, while still others that grew with time. I started putting a tentative list together about a month ago, and the way it has shifted since that initial list is testament, I believe, more to my wide range in tastes than anything else.

So, without further ado, below is my top 10 albums of 2014. Please, tell what I missed, why I’m wrong, and what you also loved this year!

1. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream

From a personal standpoint, the most highly anticipated album of 2014. And man, did it ever deliver. I was a bit late to the War on Drugs game, only having really started to appreciate the work of Adam Granduciel with their 2011 release, Slave Ambient. But that album was enough to get me excited for what came next. Lost in a Dream feels is deep. It’s the only way I know how to describe it. With every listen – which is likely now going on 100 for me – I hear/feel/experience something different. But I think the greatest compliment I can pay to this album is that EVERY time I listen in, it feels as if Granduciel is right next to me, playing the song for the first time. It’s that real.

2. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is back, and in a big way. It’s evident not just in how this album is everything that every Ryan Adams fan had hoped for in his return from “retirement,” but it how he’s come back into the spotlight the only way he knows how – unapologetically. From covering whatever the hell he feels like (see here, here, and here) to chastising a fan for a camera flash that set off his Ménière’s disease. Ryan Adams toured hard this fall (and I was there), including the late night talk show circuit with Jenny Lewis. And why not – this album deserves to be heard far and wide.

3. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, has been on my radar for about three years – after his debut LP Learning but before encore Put Your Back N 2 It. His first two albums were personal, dark and haunting. You felt as if you were watching him play each song behind a one-way mirror, with him unaware that anyone was listening or watching – a personal window into his soul. Too Bright, on the other hand, is Hadreas’ coming out party. Subdued opener I Decline lures you into the belief that you are in for the same ol’ same ol’. But that’s quickly rejected as in-your-face single Queen breaks out singing “No family is safe, when I sashay,” followed by grunts coupled with a catchy electronic hook. Hadreas’ previous albums saw him coupling the topics of sexuality and depression, as if there were intrinsically linked. But Too Bright has Hadreas breaking out from behind the glass, comfortable with who he is and exclaiming he is here to stay, in a big way.

4. Future Islands – Singles

The biggest missed live-performance regret of my year come by way of Baltimore-based Future Islands. For the first half of 2014, the band was playing domestic and international shows at known but not large or iconic venues. But that all changes in the second half of the year, as Singles gained in popularity, and word of their electric live shows spread across the indie music scene. That meteoric rise in popularity culminated in a much-talked-about performance on Letterman. My fear is that small, intimate venues won’t be on the tour circuit for Future Islands for the foreseeable future. Good for them.

5. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

One of the strongest albums of the year burst onto the scene in its first month. Speaking of highly anticipated albums, the first album from Against Me! since lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in a Rolling Stone article in 2012 fits snugly into that category. Admittedly, the album title that leaked some six months prior to release led to much of that anticipation, but this album delivered in a big way. From the first track to the last, Grace’s vocals and lyrics come across as raw, personal, tortured, unapologetic, and in-your-face. Remember when punk rock was overtly political? This is a throw back to the heyday.

6. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

I love the Gaslight Anthem. They have become entrenched into a list of a dozen or so bands that carry loftier status for me. Get Hurt is what it is, and it’s not what it’s not. Brilliant, right? What it is is an attempt by Brian Fallon and company to be taken more seriously as a band, to come out of the shadows of cult-status and announce themselves to a wider audience as a “serious rock band!” This is apparent, not only in the album itself, but also in the marketing campaign that surrounded its release. Hell, Fallon himself declared Pearl Jam to be the album’s biggest inspiration. What Get Hurt is not is the same ‘ol heart-on-sleeve, teenage-angst-filled combo of dance-alongs and ballads thats permeated their previous albums. This new way works, too.

7. G-Eazy – These Things Happen

Every year, one rap album is able to crack my top 10. This year’s entrant – G-Eazy – comes from the same lyric school as 2012’s representative, Kendrick Lamar (unofficially, at least). Though G-Eazy hails from almost 400 miles north on I-5, the beat style and themes covered are very similar. They include dealing with newfound success, sacrifice, and staying true to self. But the theme throughout this album that resonated the most with me is Gerald Earl Gillum’s apparent internal struggle between living in the now and an obsession with dying young. This is something everyone has dealt with at some point, but G-Eazy verbalizes it better than most.

8. Copeland – Ixora

Copeland is back doing what it does best, writing songs that combine relatively simple piano or guitar chords with deep lyrics and the haunting voice of Aaron Marsh. I was skeptical Copeland’s music could still resonate with me, but that skepticism was misguided. This is a strong album from front to back that gets better with every listen.

9. Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence

Another highly anticipated album, following up on 2012’s strong LP Born to Die and mini-album Paradise, Ultraviolence beat back Del Ray’s haters by featuring moody songs that stuck with you long after they ended. Del Ray’s unlikely (or, maybe more accurately, “self-constructed”) path to fame is well-pronounced, but for all the hate, you have to give her credit for the staying power.

10. The Antlers – Familiars

This album doesn’t ebb and flow, doesn’t have climaxes or songs that are better than others, or even many catchy beats. What it is is steady, strong from the beginning to the end. This might not be an album I listen to much in a year, or even remember in 5 years. But I enjoyed it this year as a background soundtrack of sorts, able to be played while reading, writing, or working.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. How To Dress Well – What is this Heart?
  2. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  3. Matthew Ryan – Boxers
  4. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
  5. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
  6. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
  7. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Grab-bag: The Both, Tune-yards, & Wye Oak

Keeping up with weekly new music releases burned me out. I have a pretty healthy appetite for new music, but I also have a full-time job, two kids, and a basketball addiction to manage. There’s only so much new music I can listen to. Over the past few weeks, though, songs from three recent releases have pushed themselves in to my awareness, and in the process, transformed my reticence into a motivation to share.

The Both by The Both

I’ve been told to listen to Ted Leo and Pharmacists for years now. I’ve given them a few spins, but nothing really stuck. Same with Aimee Mann, aside from her stellar appearance on Portlandia. Now, they’ve teamed up to record as The Both, inspired to work as a duo after a post-show walk in Milwaukee pondering the Fonz. The result is assured, swaggering power-pop. The guitar work and harmonies are a lot of fun.

Nikki Nack by Tune-Yards

Merrill Garbus is back with more strange and endearing sounds with Tune-Yards’ third album. Imagine Nina Simone in a blender. A metaphorical blender, of course. She’s added what sounds like African influences to her endless, cascading vocal harmonies, and the beats, if possible, are as relentless as before. As soon as she utters the first “woo-HA” on Water Fountain, I’m hooked.

Shriek by Wye Oak

Wye Oak is a new band to me, so I can’t compare the new record with previous stuff. All I know is this is the most I’ve ever liked a keyboard. I don’t know if there’s a guitar sound on the entire album, and for once, I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Really good use of texture and tone on this thing.

New release grab-bag: Adult Toys, Beck, Schoolboy Q, St. Vincent

Sorry for being one day late with this; I wasn’t able to listen to much music yesterday.

Faceless by Adult Toys (B)
adult toys

Aside from Starflyer 59, I don’t hold much esteem for music emanating from my “hometown” of Riverside, California.  Adult Toys has a chance to change that.  The band plays straightforward desert-influenced psychedelic rock, bursting with energy and reverb.  Their second five-song EP was released last week, and it’s an invigorating listen.  Stronger production and increased seasoning could lead to big things down the road.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1586135885/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=de270f/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Morning Phase by Beck (B+)

beck

Beck’s new album, his first in six years, is a mournful beauty.  Beck has never sounded this achingly sad. He delivers lines like “I’m so tired of being alone” with his trademark mumble-mouth delivery awash in vocal effects that ebb and flow.  The entire album feels like a cold, windy day at the beach; it makes you want to put your headphones on and take a walk in the rain.  Morning Phase is glistening melancholy, woven into a work of sublime restraint.

Oxymoron by Schoolboy Q (C+)

schoolboy

I’m not really a hip-hop expert, but I know what I like:  slick, imaginative beats and an MC with consumate skill and creative flow.  Oxymoron is an intriguing listen, and clearly the man is talented.  Ultimately, however, the album is fleeting because of its subject matter.  I think I’ve heard the words “gangsta” and “pimp” enough to last me two lifetimes.  The track Collard Greens is a lot of (NSFW) fun, though.

St. Vincent (s/t) (A)

stv

Annie Clark, doing work as St. Vincent now since 2007, just keeps getting better.  Her guitar prowess and vocal chops blend together on her new album with a dizzying array of musical embellishments that make the head spin.  Clearly influenced by her time with David Byrne, there is a rhythmic nuance to her music that only adds to the impact.  Her talent and experience would all be for naught if she didn’t find a way to weave them into interesting, creative, endlessly inventive songs.  She runs from a rattlesnake, laughs on the floor with Pinnochio, takes out the garbage, and comments on the vapidity of social media, all while blasting the listener with technically brilliant guitar licks, cascading horn sections, operatic vocal gymnastics, and a sensibility that effortlessly straddles the line between art and pop.

New Release Grab-bag: Guided by Voices, Takuya Kuroda, Phantogram, and The Tontons

Motivational Jumpsuit by Guided by Voices (C+)
gbv

Guided by Voices, Ohio veterans of underground noisy indie-rock, are a reliable source of two things: one or two catchy songs per album, and plenty of dissatisfied distortion. Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, and friends have been churning out records since 1983 (!), albeit with years-long breaks between albums. To these ears, the group’s new release is more of the same monotony and meandering noise, interrupted intermittently with truly memorable hooks. “The Littlest League Possible,””Writer’s Bloc (Psycho All the Time),” and “Planet Score” on the new album are worth a listen. I commend those of you who choose to dive further.

Rising Son by Takuya Kuroda (C-)
takuya

Every now and then, a new jazz artist emerges that gets me all worked up. I thought Takuya might be the newest in that string, but his anticipated Blue Note debut disappoints. His previous effort, 2011’s “Edge,” was actually stronger. What Rising Son has going for it – great sound engineering, especially on the rhythm section – is what actually sinks the album, as the focus seems to be to squarely on producing good beats rather than on expanding and stretching Takuya’s trumpet parts. He’s not a bad player, and the record sounds good, but the songs are just there, no impact, no staccato, no movement. Maybe next time.

Voices by Phantogram (B)
voices

Man, I wanted to love this album. After the first few songs, I thought I did. The bass-synth lines, the turntable magic, the jangly guitars, and of course Sarah Barthel’s breathy, airy, yet resonant vocals, floating over everything—they all conspire to suck you in. But after those first three songs, the album starts to drag. What a drag. Things pick up again in the latter third, but by then the momentum is lost. Still, “Nothing But Trouble” and “Fall in Love” are two of my favorite songs of the year so far. If these old friends from Saratoga Springs ever figure out the whole “full-length album” thing, watch out.

Make Out King and Other Stories of Love by The Tontons (D)
tontons

Houston newcomers The Tontons have gotten some pretty good buzz around these parts, so I was intrigued to hear their debut. Too bad I fell asleep. Seriously boring stuff here. Things pick up near the back-half of the album, with the previously released singles “Bones 1 & 2,” but by then you’ll probably be drooling. The soaring, overly-emotive vocals drown everything out – I can’t even comment on the rhythm section, as the bass and drums are perilously low in the mix. Snore.