Ex Hex – Rips

Mary Timony has led a storied and checkered career. She cut her teeth in Autoclave, a DC post-punk outfit whose reputation well exceeds its scant Dischord output. Then as Helium she delivered some enduring ’90s indie rock (see 1995’s The Dirt of Luck) before making an unfortunate detour into tree sprite art rock. Timony gradually… Continue reading Ex Hex – Rips

Spoon – They Want My Soul

Two very positive reviews of They Want My Soul refer to it as Spoon’s “most booming” and “most generous” album. These adjectives could easily be replaced with “shrill” and “pandering,” but that’s why music criticism is a judgment game – after a sustained run of excellence Spoon has earned some semantic leeway. Advance warning: this… Continue reading Spoon – They Want My Soul

Lower – Seek Warmer Climes

At this time last year Iceage’s Atlanta visit was circled on my calendar as the show of the season. It was their Copenhagen scenemates and friends Lower, however, who carved the evening’s indelible impression. The quartet pulled off the rare feat of totally commanding the stage for a full set of material of which I… Continue reading Lower – Seek Warmer Climes

Comet Gain – Paperback Ghosts

Comet Gain has reached the rarefied air of Spoon, the Mekons and Yo La Tengo – all bands that have sustained excellence for multiple decades, deftly navigated a wealth of stylistic evolution, and settled into a narrower range in their later years. Fans know pretty much what to expect from the London six-piece’s seventh album,… Continue reading Comet Gain – Paperback Ghosts

Wire – Document and Eyewitness

“Pure audience confrontation.” When I spoke with him a few years ago, that’s how Wire frontman Colin Newman laughingly described the Electric Ballroom performance that comprises the band’s Document and Eyewitness LP. A message group acquaintance once called it the aural equivalent of Monty Python’s “Confuse a Cat” sketch. Both are wholly accurate. Document and… Continue reading Wire – Document and Eyewitness

Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

Dylan Baldi is quickly becoming Cleveland’s finest musical export since Pere Ubu’s David Thomas.While that bold claim says a lot about the Mistake by the Lake’s lack of post-1980 output, it nonetheless points to quite an emerging talent (I’m excluding Trent Reznor on a technicality, by the way). Baldi’s first full-band outing, Cloud Nothings’ 2013… Continue reading Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

Gold-Bears – Dalliance

Gold-Bears’ choice of a title for their second album telegraphs reams of intent. “Dalliance” doubles as the name of a touchstone single by the Wedding Present, the Britpop band to whom the Gold-Bears are inevitably compared. It also marked the pivot point when the Weddoes shifted to a more abrasive sound, apparently an aspiration for… Continue reading Gold-Bears – Dalliance

Bill Pritchard – A Trip to the Coast

Remember Bill Pritchard? If so, you probably own too much vinyl and have a habit of boring your friends with Anglophile trivia. And you can probably dig out a copy of Three Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, Pritchard’s 1989 high water mark from the days when the Brit stood at the precise intersection of… Continue reading Bill Pritchard – A Trip to the Coast

EMA – The Future’s Void

Erika M Anderson unleashed one of 2011’s most surprising breakthroughs with Past Life Martyred Saints. Recording as EMA, the South Dakota native lightened the overt druggieness of her early work in the duo Gowns, yet continued to deliver gauzy dirges that betrayed plenty of demons and an eerily dark soul. Then on the road Anderson… Continue reading EMA – The Future’s Void

The Notwist – Close to the Glass

The Notwist have a Fugazi problem. Like that storied DC postpunk band, Germany’s Notwist perfected a sound that soon became epochal at the hands of those who crashed the gates behind them, only to shift course in order to avoid repeating themselves and sounding like guests at the party they started. In the Notwist’s case… Continue reading The Notwist – Close to the Glass

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

We seem to have entered a new golden era of female singer songwriters. Arguably launched by Sharon Van Etten in 2010 and unquestionably continued by the likes of Torres and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper last year, these voices have ignited a fresh spark in a potentially weather-worn genre. For 2014, add Angel Olsen’s name to… Continue reading Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Ava Luna – Electric Balloon

If I had one musical do-over for 2012, I’d use it to move Ava Luna’s Ice Level into my top ten. It was the quintessential grower – sounding even more compelling today than it did upon release, and cementing Carlos Hernandez’s three-vocalist juggernaut’s position among the most fascinating young bands around. On Electric Balloon Hernandez… Continue reading Ava Luna – Electric Balloon

Tracy Shedd – Arizona

Tracy Shedd has quietly assembled an impressive run of solo records – and her fifth is the quietest of all. Arizona is the first album Jacksonville native Shedd fully conceived since relocating to Tucson with her husband, guitarist James Tritten, and the desert air has put her in a tranquil mood. Shedd has long been… Continue reading Tracy Shedd – Arizona

Eleanor Friedberger

Eleanor Friedberger’s Not-So-Personal Record: The Once (and Future?) Fiery Furnace Reaches Outside the Family to Collaborate on a Great Solo Album The last time Eleanor Friedberger passed through Atlanta as a solo act she was providing musical grounding for the Portlandia tour, Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Brownstein’s night of (mostly) sketch comedy.  This wasn’t such… Continue reading Eleanor Friedberger

Superchunk – I Hate Music

It’s the ideal way to encounter a subtle twist on a tried and true flavor – the blind taste test. My initial reaction upon hearing “FOH” on a car radio in Minneapolis was to track down the name of this energetic young pop-punk band with the spirited female singer (hardly the first time Mac McCaughan’s… Continue reading Superchunk – I Hate Music

Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister

This was my initial review: “Crash pop done to perfection; get it now, read about it on my best-of-year list.” Then I got wordy…. Weird Sister has all the attributes of a winning Slumberland release – the precarious balance of noise and melody; titles like “Sugarcrush,” “Lemonade Grrl” and “Candy” that announce its twee roots;… Continue reading Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister

Tommy Keene – Excitement at Your Feet

Is it possible for an album to sound both totally illogical and perfectly natural? If so, Tommy Keene has threaded that needle. Without ever generating a signature song (1984’s “Places That Are Gone” probably comes closest) or a radio staple, through perseverance and chops Keene has established himself as arguably the standard-bearer for American power… Continue reading Tommy Keene – Excitement at Your Feet

Richard Buckner – Surrounded

Richard Buckner wants to shake this wandering troubadour lifestyle, really he does – the problem is that it’s in his blood. The long-running Americana-tinged folkie always seems to have a tale of woe to accompany his latest release – last time out it involved stolen cars and lost recordings. By his telling, Surrounded represents Buckner’s… Continue reading Richard Buckner – Surrounded

Scout Niblett

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Restraining Order Material: Scout Niblett Has Both Barrels Blazing Something about Scout Niblett has always seemed a little… off. Check out the cover photo of her 2011 album The Calcination of Scout Niblett for a case in point – she’s sporting a detached, eerily gleeful smile while waving and holding a lit blowtorch, either oblivious… Continue reading Scout Niblett

Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

It’s typically a bad omen when a band’s influences can be called out too readily. And sure enough, this problem dogs Speedy Ortiz – about half of the time. The young quartet has clearly put in quality time poring over the catalogs of 1990s alter-nation’s leading lights. Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis channels Liz Phair’s tossed-off, spoken/sung… Continue reading Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

Savages – Silence Yourself

First, the bad news: Savages’ debut LP is significantly overrated. However, the hype machine overheated so furiously on this one that Silence Yourself remains a compelling listen and an impressive initial volley. Many young bands launch with a bundle of bracing songs, then struggle to convey their full essence in a studio setting. This London… Continue reading Savages – Silence Yourself

Scout Niblett – It’s Up to Emma

Scout Niblett has been bobbing about the indie fringe for the better part of a decade, brimming with interesting ideas but never quite managing to harness them. Album number seven is well past the point one would expect an artist to pull it all together, which is all the more reason to trumpet the achievement… Continue reading Scout Niblett – It’s Up to Emma

Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

For a magical moment in the mid-aughts, the Fiery Furnaces were the greatest band in the world. Circa Blueberry Boat and the singles/EPs that straddled it, the Friedberger siblings were on a creative bender – churning out genre-defying guitar and piano-driven epics, then spinning them into “James Brown Revue” non-stop live sets paying virtually no… Continue reading Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

Iceage

Zen Brigade: Iceage Connect the Dots Between Warsaw and Copenhagen “When sung in Danish, it almost sounds as if you’re yelling at someone,” Iceage guitarist Johan Wieth offers. Of course hardcore punk tends to entail a lot of yelling, although in the case of Iceage it sounds more like ominous proclamation. While cracking the US… Continue reading Iceage

Parquet Courts

Still Stoned, A Little Less Starving: Parquet Courts Have Yet to Taste the Financial Rewards of their Deserved Hype It’s a question that’s vexed anthropologists for 35 years: what if Jonathan Richman had fronted the “Totally Wired”-era Fall? It took a philosopher like Austin Brown to provide an answer. Brown and his buddies in Parquet… Continue reading Parquet Courts

Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen

I can’t understand why more people don’t hear Veronica Falls the way I do – as an old-school British folk-rock band that just happens to coat its classic vocal harmonies in a layer of C86 guitars. Waiting For Something To Happen has the earmarks of a difficult sophomore outing but somehow twists those usual gotchas… Continue reading Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen