! = recommended
* = all-ages
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I'm going to start this new "album round up" for Three Imaginary Girls with the above recent You Tube video for Sean Rowe's "Jonathan": (1.) Because I think it's the best song off of his recent Magic album (recently given full treatment here) and though it's been out a while the video is new. More-so, it's starting my summer off all rum and cola-sweetly, buzzy and bubbly at dusk-time, and I want to share it with you because the tune still grabs my attention. (2.) That's to help set the tone for a regular column that will primarily focus on the best songs on the albums I'm playing, while taking care of full length business as economically as possible. This doesn't mean I won't be doing more full length album reviews; but they might get the test-run here before they get the full heat treatment. Or, as in Rowe's case, I might remind you dear reader of previously scribed-about music that I think needs further attention, probably due to a bright jelly ear-worm melting in the candy jar of my brain.
Now to a hit and run consumer guide starting in my iTunes, and running into my headphones and down through my fingers briskly with the assistance of a jar of cold, strong coffee and soy milk:
Tune Yards' Whokill (4AD) is hip-swirling, pogo-worthy montage-rock, sounding like something Joe Strummer would have produced for a young girlfriend between Cut The Crap and Earthquake Weather, but much better. That could be insulting, as you can see from the video below there's a whole lot of lady DIY involved, and Merrill Garbus sounds like she's listened to a whole lot of funky Gil Scott-Heron joints with Brian Jackson all on her own. Like Wavves' recent full-length, the glitchy debut energy gets transformed into more straight-ahead pop territory, but Garbus writes lyrics that tap into poverty and international injustice, not just playing Nintendo while coming down off street LSD and "the night, the moon." (Which is why I love Wavves and don't know why I brought that up as some sort of criticism. Oh well.) Oddly, feminist post-punk bands used to snarl about fat being a feminist issue, and "Esso" here is about the guilt of gluttony (but it's a woman singing it for herself, so I guess I'll just enjoy the Harry Belafonte of the tune and not attempt the vague-arcanely academic). "Powa" has a grunting 80s anthemic lurch, and "Riotriot" gets really weird about having sex with a cop or something and sounding something like riot grrrl Last Poets. ("There is a freedom in violence that I don't understand and that I've never felt before.") I am charmed. Yet "Gangsta" is my song here, but then I'm white and grew up on The Clash. (7.9)
Thao & Mirah (Kill Rock Stars) was produced by Tune Yards, who also contributed in various other ways, and it makes a superb accompaniment to the above release. Extremely good vocalists Thao (of The Get Down Stay Down) and veteran K act Mirah are good pals, and this fat-bottomed blunt is superior to the Tune Yards record just by virtue of so many awesome talents involved, but I feel mean in saying that. (Buy both, they really do complement each other.) "Spaced Out Orbit" is the best song here, and probably one of my top ten songs of the year, its lyrics sounding like something novelist Joanna Russ would have written in the mid-60s when she was creating gender-bending, paranoid science fiction brilliant authors like James Tiptree Jr. and Octavia Butler would be inspired by. (I hype The Female Man to you, to be read ASAP.) There's jazzy extrapolation ("Sugar And Plastic") and the pop-erotic verse ("Likeable Man") to rival Joni Mitchell's tawny and toothiest, and voice-weaving wonderfulness ("Little Cup") that in any kind of good world would be loop-played on real FM radio. Essential full length of the summer. (8.4)
Sloan, The Double Cross (Yep Roc) is workman-like in the best ways for indie rock. The twelve songs all seem like one cunning extended riff on making a good life in spite of the unforeseen plans caused by caustic partners, and Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, and Andrew Scott pump it up full of a little-more-rock-than-power-pop, a lot-less-raw-than-punk bang and snap. There's a heavy taste of betrayal salt on most songs' lips, which makes the leanness and levity of the hooks and tempos that much more appreciated. Some of these are definitely my favorite Sloan songs, with very direct "Unkind" being the kind of not-bitter-but-a-broken anthem possibly being the best in the pack, but "Shadow of Love" is thrift store sweater swoony, "Laying So Low" has a keen cinematic-existential loner vibe, and the best news is that it's completely enjoyable from start to finish (and it's neat that you really don't care where you might be in there, from the way it's squash-sequenced). (7.5)
Seapony, Go With Me (Hardly Art) should come with a warning sticker in swirly handwriting on a creamy pink background: "If you ain't ready to twee, you won't be down with me." This is not a criticism. The band's debut on Hardly Art is perfect summer indie pop, perhaps too perfect, but if the last Math & Physics album taught us anything, it's that our heartsick heroes can play tight, in tune, and make with the big bold jangle. Not that this isn't more shoegaze than sparkle-glazed; brilliant, beautiful tracks like "Blue Star" and the beach foam-soaked "Into The Sea" sound more like current American basement girl groups than Scottish tea-mates. I just don't think there's a lack of anything here, as some critics have stated. It's an album of lush homemade pop, and like the Sloan record described above, probably best enjoyed during a snogging session -- and no one gets up to punch tracks ahead during those. (You want to tangle lips and smoosh band buttons through the whole thing, silly.) (7.6)
My Goodness (Sarathan) is a young two-man rock band (Joel Schneider, guitar and vocals; Ethan Jacobson, drums) that perhaps inherited a lot of classic rock LPs from their pep-peps. It's got a glint of less-skronky grunge, a whole lot of tom-tom hammering, real howling and no yarling, and was recorded and mixed by Chris Common at Red Room Studios. Which means it sounds serial-killer, as the songs flashback through "long nights of drowning in covers," go-go girls lighting matches to only cause damage, and you can huff the garage air just to get baked to dust. It's kind of what you may have imagined The Black Angels would sound like before you actually heard they sounded more European minimalist than heartland hard rock. It's as predictable as meat loaf from your mama, but it puts you in rock heaven when it fills the gut, and the spicy tempos and perfect chords utterly satisfy. Be great on a tour with See Me River, as sort of the CCR to their Dylan, if you know what I mean. (7.5)
The Smithereens, The Smithereens 2011 (Eonemusic) Produced by Don Dixon, the damn-straight-it's-a-full-comeback album for 80s punky power-pop gods The Smithereens (who recorded "Behind The Walls Of Sleep" and "Blood And Roses," two songs you need to DL RIGHT NOW if you do not have them in your mix), is just as good as any album they've ever made. It matches their first EP and first two albums in terms of energy, and there's a less maudlin vibe and more assured worldview in songs like "A World Of Our Own" and "As Long As You Are Near Me." I love leader Pat Dinizio to pieces, he's got one of the very best voices in garage rock, and if you haven't experienced his slightly mordant tones over his band's buzz-saw beat menace music (and are a fan of groups like the Night Beats and the Godfathers) here's as good a place as any to get involved. I love hearing a truly veteran band sound better than ever when they come back on board, and even losing a bit of the 80s mope after a few years in the adult world. (I imagine Pat found some love-happiness and it fueled this action; also Dixon really is a king of production.) For fans of REM, The Attractions, The Hives, and a thousand other USA-hometown bands with truly distinctive lead singers-songwriters and back-cracking brotherhood bands. (8.3)