Saturday, 11 May 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, May 2019


ARCH/MATHEOS – Winter Ethereal

Even though I’m a huge Matheos/Fates Warning fan I have to say this one sounds a bit forced – almost as if the main purpose of the occasional weird prog-metal time signature is to accommodate Arch’s verbosity and awkward phrasing. (7)

BAD RELIGION – Age Of Unreason

I love Bad Religion, one of my favorite punk bands ever, but this is not one of their best albums – it starts out really strong but somewhat deflates towards the end. They can still kick the ass of 99% of all other punk bands though. (7)


No surprises, just the expected Maiden/Lizzy worship with slightly off-key vocals. (6)

DUB TRIO – The Shape Of Dub To Come

Best known as frequent Mike Patton collaborators Dub Trio return with their first album in eight years, a metal/dub-reggae hybrid featuring special guest vocalists Buzz (Melvins), Troy (Mastodon) and Meshell Ndegeocello. (7)


They’ve got the hooks, they’ve got the mustache, all they need now is a stupid “human pyramid with mouths open” promo photoshoot and the metamorphosis into “Blackout”-era Scorpions will be complete. (7)


Heavy metal the way it should be, epic and catchy at the same time in the time-honored tradition of 80’s Manowar and Dio. (8)

L7 – Scatter The Rats

Grunge runners-up return after a 19-year hiatus. “Scatter The Rats” is OK for a brief nostalgia trip if you were there in the 90’s, but will be totally forgotten within a couple of months. (6)


Gothic folk chanteuse teams up with hardcore/metal guitarist. Includes a cover of Guns’n’Roses’ “Estranged” because, apparently, Nadler likes dolphins. Recommended if you like black clothes and tons of reverb. And dolphins. (7)

PELICAN – Nighttime Stories

Do you remember post-metal? Do you remember Hydra Head? Do you miss that stuff? (7)


Prog/occult rockers return with their most “pop” album to date, i.e. with shorter songs and catchier melodies, trying to recreate the 70’s but ending up with a very 2011 sound. (7)

VAURA – Sables

Members of Kayo Dot, Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, Tombs etc. explore their inner Depeche Mode/The Cure. I fucking hate Depeche Mode and the Cure. (6)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Brown Acid: the Eighth Trip

This is a great compilation series if you’re into obscure late 60’s / early 70’s hard rock and proto-metal, and its eighth instalment will introduce you to painstakingly discovered total unknowns like White Rock, Luke & the Apostles, Bartos Brothers Band and Moloch. (6 for the actual music, 11 for the concept and the effort)



What this Dutch/Turkish combo plays is supposed to be a tribute to the Turkish psychedelia of the early 70’s (yes, early 70’s Turkish psychedelia was a thing). I’m sorry, but to my ears it sounds too much like the Greek skyladika I grew up to hate. (5)


It’s a charming little folk record but come on Pitchfork, 9.2/10? No way. (7.7)

BILLY JOEL – Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2

Sony Music re-releases, re-masters, re-packages etc. this one every few years, they just did it again and for good reason, if you need a masterclass in PERFECT songwriting then look no further. (10)

CAROLINE SPENCE – Mint Condition

An excellent country album by a very talented young woman who sounds like Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crow, Tom Petty and various Pistol Annies all rolled into one. (8)

CRAIG FINN – I Need A New War

The Hold Steady totally owned the 00’s. This is their leader’s fourth, and best, solo album – more subdued and quiet than his band’s output, but his storytelling just keeps getting better and better with each song packing more punch than a Bukowski novel. Seriously, if you can’t get into these songs you have no heart. (8)


Reimagined for the 21st Century, Steve Wynn’s band release their second post-reunion album and it sounds nothing like the previous one, so it’s exactly what you’d expect from the Dream Syndicate. Psychedelic and motorik at times, Beatles-y and REM-y and jangly at others, it’s a pure delight. (8)


American rootsy folk rock quartet enhances its sound and goes political. Some of these tunes wouldn’t feel out of place on a Springsteen set. (7)

JOSH RITTER – Fever Breaks

With Jason Isbell at the helm as producer and Isbell’s band The 400 Unit providing the back-up, comparisons will be inevitable. (7)


Electronic music pioneers and important influence to everyone from Massive Attack to Nine Inch Nails return with a strong album titled after the world’s ugliest color and sounding quite 90’s-ish. (7)


Mexican singer with otherworldly voice capabilities covers Manu Chao, invites guests like Norah Jones, and sings about immigration, injustice, politics, and cooking. Not her best album, still really good. (7)

LIZZO – Cuz I Love You

She can sing, she can rap, she can dance, she can even play the flute, and she can certainly join Janelle Monae and a couple of other multitalented black female artists on the list of possible heirs to Prince’s throne. (8)


After releasing a magnificent album with folk supergroup Our Native Daughters, Giddens returns just two months later with a Mediterranean-flavored masterpiece working with Italian multi-instrumentalist Turrisi, and it looks like she might end up having two spots on 2019’s end-year List. (9)


A further move towards a smoother sound, still influenced by their 60’s heroes like Otis Redding but with some of the dirt cleaned up. (7)

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, April 2019


BIG BUSINESS – The Beast You Are

Heavy metal heretics are back to the two-piece format, and they sound fucking epic. (8)

DALEK – Respect To The Authors

Dense, suffocating hip hop/industrial hybrid on a tour-exclusive vinyl EP, from a group that’s much better than Death Grips if you ask me. (8)


This is not “the heavier stuff”, to be precise it’s the exact opposite of heavy stuff, but since the guy also plays with Ulver and SunnO))) we thought we’d list him here. This is a fantastic and very English album that defies categorization but if you like Nick Drake AND Neil Young AND Soft Machine AND Current 93, you will love this. Check it out and then go out and discover Mothlite, the least known band O’Sullivan’s been involved with but arguably the best. (8)


This is his 24th album I think, and it sounds like all 23 previous ones playing simultaneously. Surely the kitchen sink was left out by mistake? Totally bonkers, but in a good way. (7)

DRASTUS – La Croix De Sang

Epicus Blackus Metallicus. (8)


Gypsy punks return and blow the roof off the sucker. (8)

MANOWAR – The Final Battle I EP

Four tracks: A faux Hollywood instrumental, a sub-Judas Priest rip-off, a Celtic ballad counting on keyboards for the “epicness”, and one good song ruined by DeMaio’s decision to “sing” it himself. Time to go home boys. (5)

PUP – Morbid Stuff

Best punk rock album of the year so far. (8)

SUNN O))) – Life Metal

Majestic, hauntingly beautiful and FUCKING HEAVY. Not for the faint of heart though. (8)

SWANS – What Is This?

Weird acoustic tracks that seem to be a teaser/demo/foundation for the next proper album, which will apparently be recorded with a new line-up including Bill Rieflin (Ministry, King Crimson) and Anna Von Hausswolff. (7)

VLTIMAS – Something Wicked Marches In

Extreme metal supergroup featuring David Vincent (Morbid Angel), Blasphemer (Mayhem) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy), this is skull-crushing death metal at its best. Much better than anything either Morbid Angel or Mayhem have come up since 2000. (9)


AMON TOBIN – Fear In A Handful Of Dust

Electronica pioneer returns after a long hiatus with one of his strangest records to date – no sign of the twisted sampled breakbeats that characterized his most popular work, but with a captivating icy atmosphere. (7)


Less rap, more soul-funk this time around. Not bad, but he’s no Smokey Robinson even though Smokey guests here. (7)

BETH GIBBONS & THE POLISH NATIONAL RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs)

Live recording from 2014 finally released, with Portishead vocalist discovering her inner soprano and singing in Polish. (7)

BHI BHIMAN – Peace Of Mind

Releasing the album as a podcast is an interesting experiment on music distribution, and the political sentiments expressed here are admirable. As for the music itself, I’ve previously called this guy “the Sri Lankan Ben Harper”, and I’ll stand by that. (7)


Soul/funk/afrojazz/psychedelic rock band kills it with 10 instrumentals featuring fuzz-drenched guitar riffs, awesome horns and a drummer who wants to be John Bonham. Fun! (8)

JIMBO MATHUS – Incinerator

Introspective and more country than rock this time around, Mathus stays true to his Southern roots with another excellent set of songs. (8)

NORAH JONES – Begin Again

Refusing to be pigeonholed simply to cash in, Jones adds electronica and country flourishes to her jazz-pop, and from a purely artistic point of view it mostly works. (7)

LAST POETS – Understand What Dub Is

Dub version of last year’s “Understand What Black Is” album, which was reggae-based anyway so this works just fine. Light up a spliff and enjoy the poetry. (7)

PJ HARVEY – All About Eve

Original score for a new stage adaptation of a classic play. Lead actresses Lily James and Gillian Anderson both contribute vocals. It doesn’t sound like a PJ Harvey album and it’s hard to judge its effectiveness as a soundtrack without having seen the play, but of course Polly Jean fans will have to hear it, it’s a matter of principle. (-)


Husband and wife team on homebrewed folk rock ditties. And no, their actual names are not Peter Shovels and Jennifer Rope or something along those lines, and this is probably the right time to admit that, for decades, I was under the impression that Barclay James Harvest was a trio of dudes called Barclay, James and Harvest. (7)

THIRD EAR BAND – Elements 1970-71 (expanded edition)

Obscure underground prog/freak-folk “classic” rediscovered, remastered and expanded to 3 CDs. Proves it had deservedly fallen into obscurity because it’s utter shite and for the most part sounds like a classical orchestra comprised of stoned amateur hippies (which I’m sure is what they were) unsuccessfully trying to tune their instruments before rehearsing together for the first time. (1)

TODD SNIDER – Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3

Solo acoustic album from Todd, basically just guitar and vocals and a bunch of witty songs recorded in Johnny Cash’s studio, with some help on backing vocals from his buddies Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. (7)

WEYES BLOOD – Titanic Rising

Natalie Mering has just created some classic 70’s-style AM radio pop that brings to mind what the Carpenters and various assorted solo Beatles used to do, or what Father John Misty is currently doing. (8)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Late Night Tales: Floating Points

I love LNT, a chill-out compilation series built around the idea of making the perfect late night mix and the latest instalment, curated by electronica musician Sam Shepherd (AKA Floating Points), doesn’t disappoint – I’ve previously heard only one of the jazz, soul and ambient artists featured here but these beautiful rarities blend seamlessly into each other. (8)

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, March 2019


EX HEX – It's Real

Female trio featuring Helium’s Mary Timony plays power pop halfway between Cheap Trick hard rock riffage and Buzzcocks angsty wit. (7)

O.R.K. – Ramagehead

Prog rock/metal supergroup featuring members of King Crimson and Porcupine Tree and an Italian singer who sounds creepily Chris Cornell-ish. SOAD’s Serj Tankian guests on one song. Impressive on the first listen but wears out quickly. (6)

SOEN – Lotus

I was going to describe this as a really good cross between Katatonia and Opeth, but then I realized that Opeth is already a really good cross between Katatonia and Opeth. (8)

TESLA – Shock

Produced by Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, it's no shock that “Shock” is a rather polished, poppy affair. Not bad, but I prefer my Tesla a bit dirtier. (7)


It’s almost as good as a bad AC/DC album, so it’s pretty good. (7)



Another group of siblings goes for that Everly Brothers vibe, and to a large extent succeeds. (7)


A new slice of downtempo jazzy semi-electronica from the masters. Gorgeous, essential nighttime listening. (8)

KEL ASSOUF – Black Tenere

Tuareg music might have originated in Africa, but Kel Assouf make it sound like it’s much closer related to Led Zeppelin than to Salif Keita or Ali Farka Toure. (7)

PATTY GRIFFIN – Patty Griffin

One of the best albums of the year by criminally underrated Americana singer/songwriter, this time incorporating some jazz elements into her folk/blues. Ex-boyfriend Robert Plant provides backing vocals on a couple of tracks. (9)

SOLANGE – When I Get Home

More experimental than its excellent predecessor “A Seat At The Table” and that’s not a bad thing by itself, but in this case it’s a bit all over the place and a hit-or-miss affair. (7)

STRAND OF OAKS – Eraserland

Timothy Showalter rocks a bit harder than his trademark Americana this time around, with studio help from Jason Isbell and 4/5’s of My Morning Jacket (who apparently brought their reverb unit along). Minus one point for the boring 17-minute experiment that closes the album. (7)

TOM RUSSELL – October In The Railroad Earth

Russell had made the List two albums back, in 2015. This time he settles for doing his best Johnny Cash impression. (7)

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, February 2019 Pt. II

Her 2016 debut was one of that year’s hidden gems, and with an impressive second effort that builds up on her swampy blues/gothic Americana/garage punk hybrid Victoria firmly establishes her position as someone to watch. (8)


Somewhere between Americana and power pop you’ll find Nashville’s Blank Range with a solid sophomore effort. “Change Your Look” is such a great song! (7)

DIE KLUTE – Planet Fear

Industrial metal supergroup of sorts featuring members of Die Krupps and Klute (duh) plus Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares on guitar. Lots of repetitive drum machines, lots of synthbass, and not enough Cazares on a total 90’s throwback that sounds rather dated. RYIL “Metal Machine Music” (the 1992 Die Krupps single, not the 1975 Lou Reed monstrosity). (6)

DREAM THEATER – Distance Over Time

It’s around 70 minutes shorter than 2016’s double behemoth “The Astonishing”, but feels like it's two days longer. (6)

GALACTIC – Already Ready Already

A cross between jam band extravaganza and Meters-like hot NOLA funk. (7)


This time a Jessica Pratt album did not coincide with a Natalie Prass album so we’ll avoid the confusion. Indie folkie Pratt (not Prass) builds a more textured soundscape this time around with a set of beautiful songs that feel like you’re snuggly wrapped inside a soft fluffy blanket on a cold winter evening. (8)

OUR NATIVE DAUGHTERS – Songs Of Our Native Daughters

If the idea of a blues/folk supergroup consisting of four black female banjo players doing an album about racism, slavery and misogyny turns you off, you’ll miss out on the best album released in the first two months of 2019. It might help if we mention that one of the four is Rhiannon Giddens. (9)

R. STEVIE MOORE – Afterlife

Lo-fi/DIY pioneer releases what is probably his 400th album of homemade pop songs. (7)


Some metalheads like 90’s RC, others prefer 00’s RC, and another bunch thinks 10’s RC is the best. This reviewer belongs in the latter category. (8)

RYAN BINGHAM – American Love Song

Californian roots rocker calls out the idiot orange-colored President, but even apolitical listeners will have a blast with the hard blues-gospel-country-rock rhythms and kick-ass guitars driving this album. (7)


Americans do this political hip-hop/post-punk hybrid thing better, but they probably can’t come up with a line like "Graham Coxon looks like a left-wing Boris Johnson." (7)


Each of the four main Paisley Underground bands covers songs by the other three. Fun project, especially hearing the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn sing “The Hero Takes A Fall” which the Bangles, allegedly, wrote about him. (7)


Primus mainman and John’s more talented son join forces on weird technicolor prog-psychedelic album. Much better than their debut. (8)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The Humorless Ladies Of Border Control

Franz Nicolai, best known as the Hold Steady's mustachioed keyboard player, quit his band in 2009 and spent the next five years on a seemingly neverending DIY tour across what used to be known as the Eastern bloc playing solo shows in anarcho-leftist squats and damp basements with just a guitar, a banjo, an accordion and, occasionally, his wife. This is the book about those five years.

I became a professional traveler. It said “musician” on my tax returns, but if you drew a bar graph illustrating how I spent my years, “music” would be a matchbox, and “travel” and “waiting” twin towers. I stopped having real friends. My old friends still saw one another, met for drinks, fell in and out of love — they just did it without me. And my new friends were either friends of necessity — we were trapped in the same rolling boxes — or of transience, necessarily shallow relationships since I wouldn’t see them until their own orbit blipped through mine again.

"The Humorless Ladies Of Border Control" (rather catchily subtitled "Touring The Punk Rock Underground From Belgrade To Ulaanbaatar") is not strictly a book about DYI punk rock touring, however: Yes, it is that, and I suppose those are the parts of the book of most interest to the readers of this particular blog, but it's also a snapshot of the past and a window into the future of punk rock in the former communist countries, and it's also a wonderful and accurate travelogue and description of what life is like in Ukraine, Bulgaria, even Mongolia from a countercultural perspective. Nicolai certainly knows his Eastern European history and politics, is a keen observer of human behavior, traits and flaws, ventures off the beaten track and keeps a detailed diary in a writing style that's equal measures informative and entertaining.

There is a great deal of similarity between touring life and military life: small groups of men (and it is still, almost always, men) of disparate backgrounds, bonded by close quarters, foreign places, and meager rations, engaged in activities of dubious purpose but governed by vague and powerful ideals—patriotism, punk rock, machismo. The rules are the same: Do your job. Pack light. Defend your gang, don’t get off the boat, beware of strangers. Sleep stacked three-deep in bus bunks like submariners or curled in hard foxhole corners. Release your tensions in promiscuity, alcoholism, and violence. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your feet dry. Above all, don’t complain.

The book features a fantastic supporting cast of ageing hipsters, idealistic concert promoters, weirdo train riders, Mongolian neo-Nazis and Hot Water Music T-shirts, and is certainly an eye-opener if you'd never thought that a punk rock scene exists in Siberia or didn't know/care that an actual war is still going on in the Black Sea region of Crimea. So do yourself a big favor, pick up a copy of this book, and enjoy passages about train travel across Russia such as this one:

We asked the provodnitsa (the iconic uniformed carriage attendant who brings linens and dispenses tea) if anyone else will be in our coupe. “For a thousand rubles,” she said, “I can make sure there isn’t.”
We passed a train labeled НОВОТРАНС, which is pronounced “Novotrans” but which I couldn’t help but read as “Hobo Trains.” Finally, they’ve got their own! Separate but equal.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, February 2019

The Jimi Hendrix of West Africa, ngoni innovator and virtuoso Kouyate, goes unplugged and brings in the guests, African and Western, for an excellent Malian folk album. (8)

BEIRUT – Gallipoli

If you were a sensitive 20-year old in 2006 (or an immature 38-year old for that matter) that year’s “Gulag Orkestar” probably means quite a lot to you. “Gallipoli” is a strong return to form, once again combining Zach Condon’s indie rock pedigree with those beloved world folk sensibilities. (8)

BOB MOULD – Sunshine Rock

Good on him if he’s found love and internal peace but in my mind Bob Mould is not supposed to sound so, you know, happy. Some of the songs feature strings for Chrissake. (6)

CANE HILL – Kill The Sun

Nu Wave Of Nu Metal band from Nu Orleans shows a different side on semi-acoustic EP. Turns out that side looks like mellow Linkin Park. (6)

CASS McCOMBS – Tip Of The Sphere

Genre-hopping Californian releases beautiful new album. You’ll read comparisons to everyone from Nick Drake to Paul Simon but really, this guy’s just unique. Will make several prestigious year-end Lists 10 months down the road. (9)

FRANK TURNER – Don’t Worry

EP featuring his latest single plus a brand new song, a track previously released only on vinyl and a fun new version of “Little Changes” with a choir. (7)


Holy Grove? Holy Shit’s more like it, this is first-rate heavy-as-fuck doom metal, hot ‘n’ sweaty like Satan’s armpit where it probably came from. (8)

KAIA KATER – Grenades

Released back in November this could’ve made the year’s best-of list if I’d heard it earlier – an eerily beautiful, modern folk album (think Joni Mitchell) exploring Kater’s family history and Grenada roots. (8)

METALLICA - Helping Hands: Live & Acoustic At The Masonic

Live double-LP on colored vinyl, released for charity purposes and featuring 7 originals and 5 covers. It’s Acoustic. Some tracks work surprisingly well in this format (e.g. “Disposable Heroes”, “The Four Horsemen”), others fall flat (“e.g. Enter Sandman”). (7)


Franti’s political reggae/soul hybrid band returns with a follow-up to 2001’s excellent concept album. Good, but not as good as the first one and no Woody Harrelson this time around. (7)

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE – Balaklava (50th Anniversary Restoration)

Psychedelic cult classic from 1968 revisited. It’s really out there and otherworldly and a must for any serious 60’s collection, and great background music for your next bad acid trip too. (8)

SHARON VAN ETTEN – Remind Me Tomorrow

A bold departure from her signature guitar-driven sound, “Remind Me Tomorrow” features lots of synths but the same solid songwriting. (8)


The Lynyrd Skynyrd to Blackberry Smoke’s Allman Brothers, or vice versa. (7)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – All The Young Droogs: 60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks

Another excellent Cherry Red box set – 3 CDs of 70’s glam, pre-punk and bubblegum featuring a couple of top-shelf names (Stooges, Mott The Hoople), a few great outliers (Taste featuring Rory Gallagher before he went solo, The Spiders From Mars post-Bowie…) and a whole bunch of fantastic unknown Sweet and Slade knock-offs you’ll love. (This one goes to 11)

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, January 2019

Bosnian singer dedicated to the traditional folk music of her ancestors revisits some "Sevda" standards, accompanied by a Norwegian classical string chamber ensemble. Just beautiful. (8)

CREAMER – Creamer

Fantastic power-pop debut album that sounds like a 21st century version of Big Star/Harry Nilsson/Badfinger. Yes, it’s THAT good. Would’ve most probably made the Music Geek’s Top-20 for 2018, but we we’re still waiting for a physical release (so far only available as a digital download and on streaming services). (8)

ERIC & JEFF CLAYTON – Bowie Decade

Clearly a labor of love from the brothers behind Christian gothic metal band Saviour Machine, covering one Bowie song from each year between 1969 and 1980. And in case you weren’t sure where they got their band name from, now you know. (7)

I’M WITH HER – See You Around

Missed out on this when it first came out last year, but it’s a nice little record by an all-female acoustic folk supergroup of sorts. The three voices blend beautifully but as recent female rootsy supergroups go, both Pistol Annies and case/lang/veirs did better than these ladies on the songwriting front. (7)

LOW – Double Negative

I always fall for this: I read reviews highly rating an album but decide it’s not for me because they compare it to Radiohead’s “Kid A", then year-end comes along and it tops every hip year-end list so I finally decide to listen to it, only to realize that it’s really not for me. (7)

PORCUPINE TREE – The Sky Moves Sideways (Reissue)

Re-issue of early career highlight from 1995, before Steven Wilson discovered metal. It’s a small miracle David Gilmour didn’t sue this guy’s ass off back in the day. (7)


The Reverend kills his guitar and sings like a punk Eddie Cochran, the rhythm section is all wild upright bass and crazy snares and rimshots, just what you’d expect from a RHH album. (7)

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS – Love Junk (Deluxe Edition re-issue)

When this was originally released pre-grunge in 1988, people didn’t know what to make of it: The melodies were too pretty for punk, the lyrics too smart for metal, the guitars too loud and the hair too long for pop. I loved it. Re-released with bonus tracks 30 years down the road it still sounds great and “I’m An Adult Now” remains one of the greatest young adulthood anthems of all time. (9)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Harmony In My Head: UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-81

Yet another fantastic box set from Cherry Red – three CDs of great tracks from hitmakers (Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Nick Lowe, Eddie & The Hot Rods…) and dozens of might-have-beens. (9)


Recorded and shelved before Robert Fisher’s untimely death in 2017 and completed by close collaborators, “Untethered” is a heartbreaking affair reminiscent of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds at their most depressing. Guests include Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw. (8)