Sorry we’re a little late with the New Release Spotlight this week. The holidays are kind of a music industry deadzone so I really wanted to dig deep and give a lot of bands I wasn’t as familiar with a chance. I hope you’ll do the same!
Bust out those Thanksgiving leftovers and give a listen to:
The Pharmacy- Stoned & Alone [Old Flame]
Quick Take: This is my essential pick for the week. The Pharmacy are a bit of an anomaly. Their music and their attitude represents an impossibly broad spectrum of influences, many which would typically contradict at best or completely fall apart at worst. Yet the end result is a confident, refined, and amazingly enjoyable band. One that not only makes sense, but reflects so many familiar things while not sounding exactly like any of them. Even more amazingly, The Pharmacy make this remarkable feat seem effortless- they present and carry themselves with an all-encompassing rock and roll swagger (sorry Bieber, the big kids are taking that word back) that makes me honestly believe they don’t care all that much about the end result or what you may think of it so much as the self-fulfillment of being and living this band. It’s an understatement to say Stoned & Alone (a loose concept album as the title would suggest) is the band’s strongest release to date. Mostly shed of their garage punk beginnings (though the spirit lives on), the record encompasses the range of indie rock, psychedelic flair, britpop, legacy punk, retro rock, and a TON of Seattle (the band’s homebase) influence- both in the classic alt rock sense and more modern, artsy experimental Seattle aesthetic. It not only bounces around this spectrum from track to track, but within individual songs themselves as well- songs such as “Dig Your Grave” juxtapose punk rhythms with britpop vocals, modern indie riffs, total psychedelic tendencies, and retro lofi production that manages to sound timeless yet perfectly comfortable on the modern musical landscape. How the record sounds overall is another point of astonishment: the production value is so high, so clean, so perfectly matched to the band’s sound that it’s essentially invisible. The record sounds both old and new, appropriate to each track yet so consistent and fluid throughout- it doesn’t exist anchored to the sound of a time, present or past, it just moves forward with steam and energy and lets The Pharmacy’s strong material speak for itself. The songs are short and concise without a single weak point- even at its slower and more melodically focused moments (which there are many of) Stoned & Alone plows forward with an energy and confidence that leaves you so immensely enthralled and completely wanting more. The restraint and range serves the band well and makes this one of the strongest, most refreshing, and most enjoyable listens of 2012.
Check Out: “Baby Be,” an energetic, poppy, and driving track that encapsulates a bit of surf and a bit of psychedelia in a pleasant, urgent indie pop burst.
The Pharmacy will be performing at The Stone Fox in Nashville on Thursday, November 29th. More details are available here.
Click “Continue Reading” to find out what else I’m listening to this week!
The Evens- The Odds [Dischord]
Quick Take: After essentially pioneering hardcore and kicking off several related movements (as well as fundamentally shaping the entire sound and attitude of a geographic area) with Minor Threat, then basically inventing post-hardcore with Fugazi, Ian MacKaye’s latest band, The Evens, have had a markedly less-impactful run (I don’t think we’re going to see a post-post-hardcore movement spring out of this one). However, The Evens have still very faithfully carried on a quality and attitude worthy of their frontman’s legacy throughout their decade-long existence. As just a duo, comprised of MacKaye on vocals and baritone guitar along with partner (both personal and musical) Amy Farina (formerly of The Warmers) on drums and vocals, the band’s latest release The Odds marks their first in six years. The Odds is also their best. Now 50, MacKaye isn’t exactly unpredictable but he’s always dependable, still flexing that DC/Dischord sound he helped pioneer and possessing the same attitude, bite, and focus in his lyrical and musical delivery that he’s retained throughout his whole career. Farina is a nice counterbalance; her lyrical style is more generalized and interweaves with MacKaye’s quite fittingly. Her rhythmic style is well-matched too; MacKaye’s guitar tendencies still retain the structure of his faster, heaver days while Farina’s drumming provides a nice relaxed, yet still driving backbone. It’s very clear that the two are more than just musical partners; they play together with such confidence and closeness that few duos can muster, as if they’re reading one-another’s minds. While The Odds has its faster, spazzier, more intense moments, it’s definitely the next evolution of MacKaye’s artistic sensibilities and reflects the aesthetic pacing of his evolutionary career (don’t expect any full-on Fugazi jams here). Strict fans of MacKaye’s heavier work might be disappointed (maybe that’s part of why The Evens fly much more under the radar than his previous endeavors), but would it even make sense for him to attempt to recreate a sound that was so much a reflection of its time and his personal state at that moment? The Evens have really found their voice over the past decade and have settled into a strong and relevant band in their own right. Perhaps this is the sound of hardcore growing up- and a welcome sound it is.
Check Out: “Wanted Criminals,” which is probably the most ferocious Ian MacKaye gets on The Odds. Opening with a harmonically dissonant and high-energy build it sounds for a moment like the MacKaye of old is about to make an appearance, then dissolves into a hypnotizing, unpredictable urgency that is by far one of the records’ strongest moments.
Connect | Site
The 1975- Sex [EP] [Vagrant]
Quick Take: Sex isn’t just the title of the new EP from Manchester indie synth rockers The 1975; it could also be the records’ thesis statement. In both lyrical voice and musical tone the album permeates sexuality, sexiness, emotional and physical desire, and sexual infatuation. Its focus enhanced by a flawless tonal and lyrical parity, Sex is a stunning, effective, and gorgeously-crafted EP. It’s the band’s second EP this year and The 1975 are exploding strong onto an already crowded scene by asserting an unparalleled quality and confidence. Sex is a focused, more controlled leap forward from their previous EP Facedown; grounding the bands’ sound firmly in the British danceable indie pop territory with a vintage post-punk flair. Imagine if M83 and Foals hooked up at an ’80s theme party and you’ve got something of an idea of the The 1975. Over the course of its 4 songs, Sex does a remarkable job of flexing the band’s range while more cohesively settling into a very unified voice. With such a fantastic effort from such a new band, I’d be shocked if The 1975 doesn’t explode within the next few years.
Check Out: “Sex,” the EP’s title track and also its most grounded. It’s a straightforward, dancy post-punk jam about sexual frustration and complicated relationships. It’s melodically fantastic and thematically sets the tone around which the rest of the record is crafted.
Aspiga- Every Last Piece [EP] [Paper + Plastick]
Quick Take: Aspiga lists Jawbreaker and The Weakerthans among their influences and they most definitely wear their affinity for both of those artists on their sleeve. Hailing from New Jersey, the trio plays a focused and angsty flavor of punk rock with melodic sensibilities and a huge nod to ’90s underground emo/punk. Every Last Piece is a near-flawless balance of those influences adapted in a very modern, relevant context. At a time when pop punk has become an abstract, meaningless concept, bands like Aspiga exist to attest to the fact that real, honest punk rock music can legitimately be crafted with true pop sensibilities without going soft or losing its edge. Though it directly bears significant influence from artists and movements past, never does the record feel like a ripoff or dated piece of art. The band is strong enough to create something very refreshing and original within the parameters of something very recognizable. Structurally and melodically, Every Last Piece has a lot of moments that also remind me heavily of Sunny Day Real Estate. Though it’s overall a great record, the EP’s final 3 tracks lose some of the steam and intensity of its first 4. They’re not bad, they just break the flow the record for me ever so slightly enough to keep it grounded in the realm of “great” rather than “near-perfect.” Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable and fantastic listen which I recommend to all fans of punk rock (especially those looking for a bit of ’90s nostalgia).
Check Out: “Users,” where Aspiga’s ’90s emo influence is in full swing. It’s angsty, melodic, and heartfelt and frontman Kevin Day’s delivery is perhaps the strongest of any point on the record here.
Bad Brains- Into the Future [Megaforce]
Quick Take: It’s fitting that new releases from Bad Brains and an Ian MacKaye project would drop on the same day. The two couldn’t be more different albums, and provide us with a glimpse into the end result of opposite approaches for the continuation and maturation of a musical legacy. Bad Brains arguably invented hardcore, which MacKaye, in the same city with Minor Threat, helped simultaneously refine and added personal agenda to the movement. As I mentioned earlier, MacKaye went on to pioneer post-hardcore (while running a label facilitating the health of his scene) and has since settled into an older, more evolved project in The Evens. Bad Brains, though they had some lineup changes and turmoil over the years (and are now back to their legacy lineup), have more or less stayed the same. They still play their signature hardcore infused with reggae, metal, and funk. They still champion the same ideals, still claim the same city, and still deliver high-energy, over the top emotionally and politically charged performances. It’s not a bad thing; they’ve stayed true to their formula and have consistently refined and distilled their strong sound that they laid the roadmap for long ago. But with their 9th album, Into the Future, it starts to feel like we’ve heard it all before. That’s not to say it’s a bad record- Into the Future is on par with 2007’s Adam Yauch-produced Build a Nation as perhaps the group’s best of the past two decades. It’s just that it might not be necessary. Hardcore, at its essence, is a sonic and visceral reflection of the attitudes and ideals of youth culture at its time. For a legacy act like Bad Brains, even though they’re still high-caliber and accomplished musicians, it might be time to pass the torch to the next generation and allow their legacy to exist as it stands (or, take a cue from MacKaye and reinvent). Either Way, Into the Future is still a fantastic listen.
Check Out: “Into the Future,” the in-your-face opener and title track that really showcases the band’s most punk sensibilities and proves, definitively, that Bad Brains have still got it. It does a great job setting the pace for the rest of the record as well.
BONUS: Kate Nash- Death Proof [EP] [Have 10p]
Why: She’s always been edgy and a bit unconventional, but previous Kate Nash releases at least somewhat existed within the realm of radio pop predictability (granted the more talented, artistically relevant part of that realm). Death Proof finds the singer for the first time really producing no holds barred, aesthetically unchained collection of songs that musically match the attitude and lyrical delivery she’s always possessed. Check out intro and title track “Death Proof” which, whether or not its an intentional Quentin Tarentino reference, would fit perfectly into one of his movies. You can also stream the entire album on Spotify.
BONUS: Tight Phantomz- Silk Prison [Forge Again]
Why: Silk Prison is the first Tight Phantomz release since their debut in 2005, but don’t worry- at 36 tracks the double album should more than make up for it. Frontman Mike Lust spent several years crafting and recording the record and even with its massive track-listing it never falters. It’s more introspective and heartfelt than their debut and truly cements the fact that Tight Phantomz are one of the most talented and under-appreciated bands making music today. Check out moody, driving, alt rock jam “Waiting For” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
BONUS: Wild Yaks- Million Years [Ernest Jenning]
Why: Hailing from Brooklyn, Wild Yaks play a sloppy, folky, punk-tinged and wholly unique flavor of indie rock. Bouncing between layered and thoughtful traditional rock songs and drunk-chant-singalong ready anthems, Million Years is a fun, energetic, and amazingly satisfying album. The band hasn’t made a huge splash yet outside of their native New York, but at evolutionary pace they’re going, it’s only a matter of time- check ’em out now or you’ll be late to the party. Check out title track, singalong ready, and perfectly chosen album opener “A Million Years” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
BONUS: Worried Well- She’s Got Something to Say [EP] [self-released]
Why: Upon initial listen, Worried Well might come off a bit like a pop punk band (perhaps due to singer Daniel James’ vocal inflection), but as you dive into their music, the duo is unmistakably indie. She’s Got Something to Say is comprised of 3 very strong, poignantly emotional, layered, and very well recorded songs. It’s both a huge leap in production value from self-titled previous release and is much more refined in sound and focus. Check out strong, personal opener and title track “She’s Got Something to Say” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
BONUS: Code Orange Kids- Love Is Love//Return to Dust [Deathwish]
Why: I’ve already spoken about releases from two pioneers of hardcore: Ian MacKaye/The Evens and Bad Brains. The former having moved on from the genere while the latter continues within the style they established several decades ago. If those bands represent the current product of the evolution of something from the past, Code Orange Kids represent their influence as felt in the hardcore of present. Love Is Love//Return to Dust is more intense and unchained than anything Minor Threat and Bad Brains ever released (and of course it is, things get more intense by evolving and in hindsight the true impact of classic hardcore will never resound as heavy as it did at the time), but couldn’t exist without them. Whether or not Code Orange Kids will grew to obtain such a legacy is still up in the air, they’re young. Their album is nonetheless an intense, sonic romp and an exploration of the current legacy and tone of a genre that always benefited the most from the energy of youth. Check out intense, raging, and powerfully concise opening track “Flowermouth (The Leech)” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
Code Orange Kids will be performing with Gaza at The Forge in Birmingham on Sunday, December 2nd. More details are available here.
If you have any suggestions for upcoming releases you’d like me to consider for the list in the future, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at [email protected]. You can also find me on Twitter and find more of my entertainment writing here.