Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I came to the table intent on burying Frightened Rabbit, I confess. Since 2008’s brilliant The Midnight Organ Fight, this once-beloved trio had entered a spiral toward mediocrity, leader Scott Hutchison adding members and diluting his impact in pursuit of a wider audience. Given reports of a major label signing and bigger budget for Pedestrian… Continue reading Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

Wire

On Returning: Colin Newman Connects Wire – Past, Present and Future “Wire’s first three albums are a bit too revered.” I beg to differ, but it’s a provocative statement coming from one of those albums’ creators. From 1977 to 1979, four British art students called Wire made a trio of albums – Pink Flag, Chairs… Continue reading Wire

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

Now that we’re done feting the best of 2012, allow me to introduce the first great album of 2013. Better yet, it arrives courtesy of a fresh new voice. Aly Spaltro is a Maine native with the unfortunate pseudonym Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – a name that’s induced cringes from everyone to whom I’ve gushed… Continue reading Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

Iceage – You’re Nothing

In 2011 four Danish teenagers called Iceage released a very good debut album – or more accurately, they released a few very good songs tucked within 25 minutes of unbridled energy. From that promising start You’re Nothing ups the ante in almost every regard. On its sophomore outing the band sounds firmly in control of… Continue reading Iceage – You’re Nothing

Yo La Tengo – Fade

I was not initially jazzed about the notion of John McEntire in the producer’s chair for Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth “proper” album. The storied post-rock engineer has some impressive credits but his greatest successes (Stereolab, Tortoise, the Sea and Cake) share a clinical aura; McEntire’s also managed to suck the life out of bands as… Continue reading Yo La Tengo – Fade

The Evens – The Odds

It’s been eleven years since the last Fugazi album, and notwithstanding the motherlode of live tapes made available online earlier this year, it’s safe to assume nothing new is in the works. It’s even been six years since the last Evens record (Get Evens), during which time Ian MacKaye and drummer Amy Farina had their… Continue reading The Evens – The Odds

Tyvek – On Triple Beams

In a season when labels stock shelves with market-friendly releases primed to capitalize on what’s left of holiday music budgets, In The Red has engaged in a glorious act of counter-programming. They’ve chosen to respond with arty, messy blasts of idiot savantry that strike the perfect chord. Last November it was Wounded Lion, and this… Continue reading Tyvek – On Triple Beams

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

When applied to most musicians “mature” is shorthand for “not as interesting,” but in the Mountain Goats’ case that backhanded translation doesn’t apply. It’s instructive to consider Transcendental Youth in the context of the band’s two recently reissued archival titles. Just as Paul McCartney was a member of Wings longer than the Beatles, and Carlton… Continue reading The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber

Melody’s Echo Chamber is among the most aptly named bands/albums in recent memory. Its guitars and vocals are draped in layers of reverb, and the overall production (courtesy of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker) tends toward the cavernous. But the real echo chamber exists the way the group compiles and spits back of-the-moment influences: dream pop,… Continue reading Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber

A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Carl Newman’s solo efforts have always felt like placeholders. The songs were there, but his arrangements had the whiff of demos, the workshopping of ideas being fleshed out for the next New Pornographers album. Until now. Maybe it was Dan Bejar’s Destroyer breakthough, giving Newman two sidekicks whose stars threatened to eclipse that of his… Continue reading A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

Britt Daniel was due for a shakeup. Spoon’s last album, Transference, while perfectly fine, felt like a bit of a coast for Daniel, who revisited old ideas while arguably distancing himself from the breakthrough Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Enter Dan Boeckner, primed for a new challenge upon the dissolution of his Handsome Furs project… Continue reading Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

Mission of Burma – Unsound

My expectations for Mission of Burma’s Unsound were uncharacteristically tempered. It follows the storied Boston quartet’s first true misstep (2009’s spotty The Sound, the Speed, the Light) and in the interim they cut ties with the label run by their longest and most fervent champion – surely not a positive indicator. Unsound opens like a… Continue reading Mission of Burma – Unsound

Royal Headache – Royal Headache

Remember The Who’s rallying cry of “Maximum R&B”? Well, it took 45 years and an Australian quartet, but Royal Headache finally fulfills that promise. Royal Headache originally surfaced in Oz late last year and it’s beyond me why it took so long to wash up on these shores, but for my money it’s the first… Continue reading Royal Headache – Royal Headache

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Why is it that when The Hold Steady churn out their anthems for also-rans I break into hives, yet when Japandroids tread similar turf I lap it up? Maybe it’s because I believe the Vancouver duo actually means it, because I appreciate how they forgo the layer of smarmy detachment and let it all hang… Continue reading Japandroids – Celebration Rock

The dB’s

The dB’s Change (Just Enough) with the Changing Times What took so long? That was the first question I was itching to ask Peter Holsapple. After all, the “classic” lineup of his dB’s – four Carolina boys who relocated to NYC in the late ’70s and blazed the trail for a tuneful strain of indie… Continue reading The dB’s

Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery

What a third rail of a record – it’s hard to weigh in on Acousmatic Sorcery without venturing onto thin ice. The indie music world has grown accustomed to the eccentric bedroom artist, but Willis Earl Beal’s spirit seems more akin to the self-taught outsiders of the visual art community. This 27-year-old African-American’s babe in… Continue reading Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Jason Pierce is on a roll. Recovered from a serious illness, and having toured a walk-through of career-defining album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space, you’d be forgiven for thinking the onetime Jason Spaceman was primed to coast on the laurels of a 25-year career. Instead he’s rattled off the most exciting Spiritualized… Continue reading Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Allo Darlin’

Allo Darlin'.

Aussie Belle and the Black Diamond Express: Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris Channels Her Inner Tallulah? Gosh! It’s the Monday before South by Southwest, and Elizabeth Morris is seemingly the only musician in the northern hemisphere not in transit to that nearly mandatory indie rock cattle call. “I literally just walked in the door from All… Continue reading Allo Darlin’

Mark Stewart – The Politics of Envy

Mark Stewart hasn’t gotten enough credit. His ironically named Pop Group unleashed some of the most musically and lyrically caustic sounds of first wave punk-funk (for all the talk of the Gang of Four’s leftist stances, it was Stewart’s crew that devoted an entire b-side to stark recitation of documented human rights abuses). In the… Continue reading Mark Stewart – The Politics of Envy

fIREHOSE – LowFLOWs: The Columbia Anthology

Remember The Year Punk Broke?  Once Nevermind exploded in 1991, a major label feeding frenzy ensued for alternative rock bands. (I’d argue that punk shattered in late 1985 when Minutemen guitarist D. Boon died in a van wreck, but more on that later.) Among the most eye-popping of these signings – in terms of both… Continue reading fIREHOSE – LowFLOWs: The Columbia Anthology

Amy Ray – Lung of Love

There’s a line about halfway through Amy Ray’s new album that I can’t stop singing. “There’s a little Joe Strummer/ In my DNA,” she declares on “Little Revolution,” one of the more straightforward and best songs on the widely varied and frequently excellent Lung of Love. It’s a chromosomal cocktail that drove her to release… Continue reading Amy Ray – Lung of Love

Grimes – Visions

For all the chatter about witch house or whichever micro-genre you choose to namedrop, Visions brings to mind for me something more relatable. Imagine a 1983 Madonna, in full-on culture carnivore mode, being dropped into the present day underground club scene on the prowl for trends to which she can apply her wiles. There are… Continue reading Grimes – Visions

Standard Fare – Out of Sight, Out of Town

This one has all the earmarks of a Difficult Second Album. Standard Fare’s debut The Noyelle Beat won hearts with a blast of youthful hormones and spirited twee pop. Its follow-up simultaneously strives to introduce complex melodies, add more sophisticated instrumentation, and tackle grown-up subject matter. It’s a testament to the trio’s way with a… Continue reading Standard Fare – Out of Sight, Out of Town

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

The last time I spoke with Sharon Van Etten, she acknowledged feeling some pressure over her still-in-process third album. It was the classic “people are paying attention this time, there are expectations” mindgame, a line of logic I’ve never really embraced. After all, with the brilliant epic Van Etten had already proven she could deliver… Continue reading Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

John K. Samson – Provincial

I was probably too hard on the last Weakerthans album. Reunion Tour found Winnipeg’s finest in a state of transition, gradually shifting their focus toward elegant hymns closer to Automatic for the People than the anthemic pop-punk on which the quartet had built its rep. By 2007 they sounded more convincing on the former, however,… Continue reading John K. Samson – Provincial

Wounded Lion – IVXLCDM

It’s a rare album for which a Urinals namedrop serves as a meaningful reference, but IVXLCDM is such a record. These Angelinos sound old beyond their years, perhaps in part because they approach music from a visual arts background, like many of their influences from the earliest reaches of post-punk. The quintet’s repertoire consists mostly… Continue reading Wounded Lion – IVXLCDM

Eddy Current Suppression Ring – So Many Things

For those not yet plugged into the Eddy Current Suppression Ring, consider this a wake-up call. The Melbourne four-piece has been churning out prime garage rock for several years, to sporadic stateside acclaim. The quartet’s second (and best) album, Primary Colours won 2008’s Australian Music Prize, the regional equivalent of Mercury/Polaris/Shortlist honors. This feat is… Continue reading Eddy Current Suppression Ring – So Many Things

Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls

I’m worried about Slumberland Records. Until now this tastemaking label has done everything the right way. When the shoegaze/trance-pop sound (think Stereolab, Velocity Girl, Lilys) that spurred the label’s ascent receded from the spotlight, the imprint wisely went into a near-cryogenic freeze rather than halfheartedly chase new fads. Now that its chosen sound has returned… Continue reading Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls