Reading up on how Light Heat came to be, I discovered that Quentin Stoltzfus somehow scored the Walkmen as his backing band. Unbelievable that Philly’s bearded psych-pop shaman could support his twisted pop creations with one the most consistently great rock bands during the last decade. And while the presence felt by the Walkmen is inescapable, Stoltzfus’ songwriting is absolutely peaking.
Think, a more disciplined Velvet Underground gazing through a color coated portal and the layered psych pop reverie not unlike the Love Language or the Secret Cities. In fact, Light Heat is one of those records you already know. You’ve heard that seductive/vulnerable voice, those beautiful chord progressions, and the intimacy curled up on your shoulder. But, Stoltzfus and the Walkmen, together, form a surprisingly lucid bond as they explore their 90’s alt rock roots by unraveling one whimsical thread after another.
Daniel Lee, principal songwriter and singer, howls at the moon like a lonely wolf on “Bye Bye Land.” He sounds like he’s been deserted at the altar of love, riving in pain. Jagged notes pierce a tumultuous backdrop, but letting go isn’t an option at this point. Gravez, Hooded Fang’s second full-length album circles back and forth between the angsty, kinetic, and unapologetic surf punk that they built their name on with songs on their new album that are darker and more mosaic in structure.
Take for instance, Lane Halley’s guitar signatures on “Wasteland” that bend like waves drifting out to sea and then suddenly return to shore crashing over rocks and debris. It is with the same intensity and raw brilliance that “Trasher’s” faint punk harmonies and hypnotic drums can channel The Intelligence, the Drums, and the Monks all at once.
Gravez is an insanely great sophomore album. With so many influences merging and colliding, it is truly a testament to their flawless execution that there isn’t a note wasted or a harmony left unfulfilled.
The drums sound like they were recorded covered in oil or sludge. The vocals sound haunted and metallic. Dead Gaze really lives up to its name! But in a good way. If you’re anything like me, and need that syrupy blend of gutter punk garage and 60’s inspired pop melody, then Dead Gaze (aka R. Cole Furlow) might fill that blissful void.
Less speed-driven than the Thee Oh Sees, emphasising more kinship with White Fence, “There’s a Time to Be Stupid” churns out one of the most satisfying 3 minutes on the album. And, “Glory Days for Sure” and “I Found the Ending” sound like B-sides to the Cure’s Disintegration; heavy on synths with guitars steeped in an echoey morass.
The bubbly hooks aren’t exactly front and center. However, Furlow’s twisted songcraft enjoys ample room to explore beyond a greyish color palette without severing any of his natural knack for lo-fi melodies. Something of a greatest hits in their brief career thus far, their self-titled full-length album is a great reminder that pop music takes all kinds of forms.
Deerhunter, the madcap gentleman from Georgia return with an unexpected, blistering punk rock circus entitled Monomania. At first listen, the punishing guitar threads have a startling effect. Bradford Cox’ normally sweet, illuminating vocals become agitated and raw in “Dream Captain” while the fuzz and distortion swamp and disrupt Cox’ words altogether in “Leather Jacket II.” The skies clear just a tad as Lockett Pundt’s “the Missing” floats above the scattered battlefield like dream-pop sunset.
This isn’t Halcyon Digest, their coveted indie-pop release from 2010, folks. Monomania is Velvet Underground-inspired reaction to something swirling around the Deerhunter/Cox world over the last few years and they’ve managed to really gravitate to something unholy and entirely rock and roll.
Veronica Falls’ second full release, Waiting for Something to Happen, is a moody, sordid love affair with jangly guitar leads and atmospheric vocals. The girl/guy vocal interplay plays up the adolescent angst as much as possible while also sounding earnest and vulnerable. The London quartet refrains from experimenting too much, for the most part. They hone their focus with tangible, straightforward hooks and structure recalling many of their contemporaries such as the Pains of Being Pure At Heart or Frankie Rose.
Personally, songs like “Shooting Star” and “Last Conversation” do a wonderful job of pulling their talents together under one roof. Here, they delve darker, deeper, and more intimate, providing a distinct and warm balance. As is often the case, great music often finds its way out from restlessness and change. If you’re waiting for something to happen today, tomorrow, or next year; let this album be your guide.
It was the band name the drew me in, but it was the enigmatic modern shoegaze that kept me engaged. The dynamic mind trip in Ringo Deathstarr’s second proper album, Mauve, is something to behold. Fuzz-drenched guitars are balanced behind pillowy, tranquil female vocals. This is a wall of noise you’ll want to be trapped under.
“Nap Time” is the most experimental song in the lot, and it’s a druggy, psychedelic mixture. There are ambitious pieces to this song which the group probably wouldn’t have attempted on earlier releases, but pull it off nicely. They even trend into an electronic glow just a little with “Drag.”
All in all, they stood more to lose with a release that trended more on the noise-pop level, but Mauve is relentless, rewarding, and over much too soon.
Here’s one of those moments. A relatively unknown group (stateside at least) blindsides us with a debut album that will rank as one of 2012’s finest. Saturated in London’s savage gloom and shimmery shoegaze heritage, TOY’s self-titled debut album is intensely gratifying from beginning to end. There’s the krautrock explorations in “Dead and Gone” that bleeds with a sort of quiet discomfort as well as the surprisingly eerie, heartfelt ode “My Heart Skips a Beat.” Everything about this album sounds fresh, but so familiar. They’ve really connected with the ability to be sparse when the lyrics call for it and then, inversely, pull the blinds and let the psychedelic distortion completely fly.
Woods have always presented the sort of rough and ready craftsmanship our jaded musical age has needed. With Jeremy Earl leading the way, their albums have leaned on layers of psychedelic folk and down to earth poetry. And on their most realized album to date, Bend Beyond, Jeremy Earl’s enigmatic lyrics are pumped full of sunshine and jangly melody. The album is crafted with sounds of old rickety chairs, winding country roads, and rock and roll fuzz. Earl’s sullen lyrical sanctuary languishes in some of the darkest places he’s ever been. But, he’s also mastered the two and a half minute pop song with bursts of whimsical buzz, lifting such tracks “Is It Honest?.”
Woods continue to capture their maturation process beautifully, Bend Beyond is yet more proof.
Like their predecessors in Pavement or Teenage Fanclub, Dumb Talk command a guttural mix of melody and punk on their self-titled debut. Even though the album’s vocals trend slightly in the slacker direction, they’re eagerly displaying their lo-fi power pop sensibilities simultaneously. Songs like “Sliced White” or “Bully” are powered with a nostalgia for 90’s era angst and sound particularly raw and fluid. On “Nail Polish” the guitar chords sway carefully while a dejected lead singer sounds powerless to stop himself from the romantic overture of a certain lucky lady.
For me, the album drops off slightly in the second half, but for a young band like Dumb Talk, they’re clearly ready to cut through the B.S. and build on an effective debut album.
Let it be known that I love the descriptors I get to use when describing surf music. Just listening to Y Niwl gives me the hypnotic rush of a salty ocean breeze on my face, bikinis, and of course, surfers catapulting through enormous waves. Each song embraces a thick, colorful surf guitar twang and salty percussion. But at the same time they’ve allowed enough room for the solos to breath and the thumping coastal rhythm to permeate.
You’re probably wondering, as did I, where on the West Coast did these wonderful young men form their early 60’s love for Dick Dale and all things surf? Not California and not even stateside. Kiwis, maybe, but Welsh? That’s right, Y Niwl (meaning, ‘the Fog’) hail from North Wales, England. From its cold and foggy shores, they’ve created roaring, glowing embers of freewheeling surf pop instrumentals with textures as smooth as a the open water.
Y Niwl may not have the surfer mystique that often coincides with an instrumental surf-rock band, but what they’re channeling is absolutely terrific.