Cass McCombs’ sprawling recent release Big Wheel and Others is the latest in a line of excellent and intriguing albums from the enigmatic singer-songwriter. Boasting 19 songs, Big Wheel also has the distinction of being by far the longest album McCombs released. On Friday, you can catch him at the Empty Bottle. Judging from his recent set lists, McCombs is going back years, drawing from all his albums and usually playing no more than three or four new songs in a night. This intimate setting should be a perfect venue.
If you’re a fan of Waxahatchee (like me), chances are you’ll like Swearin’, the band led by Allison Crutchfield. Allison is the twin sister of Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. The musical styles of the two projects are not exactly the same (though they’re not radically different, either).
Where Waxahatchee may remind you of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, Swearin’ summons another ’90s icon, the Breeders. Neither of these Crutchfields are knockoffs, but the mid-90s reference points are obvious. Born in 1989, the Crutchfield girls began playing in bands together in their teens in Alabama.
Certainly, Allison Crutchfield and Swearin’ deserve to be more than a footnote to Waxahatchee’s great release this year, Cerulean Salt. Swearin’ made a fine album itself with the recently released Surfing Strange.
Swearin’ plays Township Thursday.
Chicago’s Radar Eyes is about to rerelease its 2012 self-titled album next month on cassette! Check out this video for Side of the Road.
Here’s a new video from Islands for Wave Forms off the new album Ski Mask.
Take a look at this new video from Diane Coffee, the solo project of Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming. The song is Green from Fleming’s debut My Friend Fish.
Here’s a new video from Los Angeles band Obliterations for the song Wage Slaves. It’s pretty subtle. So you’ll have to pay close attention.
There’s no shortage of hype around Arcade Fire’s new album Reflektor. The thing is: The hype may be justified. An Album of the Year Grammy winner, The Suburbs was a fine release but Reflektor is far more adventurous and interesting. With the help of producer James Murphy, Reflektor blends Caribbean beats, disco, punk and pop to create a mish-mash of musical styles that actually do form a cohesive album. As a fan of Murphy’s work, I hear the influences throughout and wholeheartedly embrace the production even as a longtime Arcade Fire loyalist. This is a much different sound than the earnestness of Neon Bible.
Early reviews (both derisive and favorable) for Reflektor point to comparisons with the Clash’s Sandinista! That was the first thing that struck me when I heard Flashbulb Eyes followed by Here Comes the Night Time on the first ”disc” (the physical versions are released as a double album). Those two early songs, one dub style followed by a calypso-sounding number, is reminiscent of the multi-genre Clash classic made more than 30 years ago. But I never feel that Arcade Fire is aping the Clash or anyone else on Reflektor. There are so many good songs, from rockers Normal Person and Joan of Arc to the more dancey Afterlife, We Exist and the title track, that there’s a lot to like here.
I was really skeptical about this album given how commercial success has spoiled so many bands. But Arcade Fire delivers a thoroughly enjoyable record.
Cass McCombs opens his ambitious new album with (partial) title track Big Wheel set to the tempo of a big ol’ trucker song. “I dig the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” McCombs sings as he starts us on a journey through almost an hour and a half and one of the more intriguing releases this year. Big Wheel and Others is not a concept album and, really, the only unifying aspect about the lengthy record is that it’s a lot of good songs by one of America’s best singer-songwriters. Like most of McCombs’ work, the songs sound personal and from the perspective of an outsider. Country and blues are the most common musical influences running through the record.
Among the many highlights: Morning Star, Joe Murder and Angel Blood. There are far more hits than clunkers on Big Wheel despite its girth.
That’s not to say this is a perfect album. Everything Has to Be Justified is way too long. The jazzy instrumental It Means a Lot to Know You Care doesn’t work for me and seems out of place. When you record 19 songs for a single album, it’s hard for all of them to succeed. And then there are the snippets from Sean, a 1969 short film that features an interview with a 4-year-old boy in San Francisco whose parents are hippies. There are three roughly one-minute sound bites from the movie.
The late actress Karen Black made an appearance on the album, singing Brighter! It’s another highlight of Big Wheel. The song also appears earlier on the album performed by McCombs, but Black truly puts the exclamation point on the song. Black, who died in August of cancer, also appeared on McCombs’ 2009 release Catacombs, singing on Dreams Come True Girl.
Big Wheel closes with Unearthed, a softly delivered country-blues number. Musically, it’s a quiet song and not a particularly strong finish, but, thematically, Unearthed complements the tongue in cheek manliness of the opener, Big Wheel. “I moved seventy-five thousand tons of earth with my teeth.” McCombs, who is notoriously media shy, doesn’t lay out an easy map to read with Big Wheel but that’s part of his mystique.
Last May, Bill Callahan played Garfield Park Conservatory, a unique venue for a Chicago show. On Monday, Callahan is back to support his new album, Dream River, and this time he’s playing another unusual spot, Alhambra Palace west of downtown. It’s an early show and should be a good one. The new album gets better with each listen. Read my initial thoughts on Dream River here.
Radar Brothers is a Los Angeles band that got started in the early ’90s. Reflections is a perky song off the band’s eighth album, appropriately titled Eight, released earlier this year.
Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, has sampled a lot of hip hop songs on his mash-up albums and shows. Now he’s planning a release, an EP called Broken Ankles, with rapper Freeway. More details will be coming later.
Watch a very chaotic video below from a recent New York show.
All music is derivative. Some artists are far more derivative than others, but none of this is particularly bad. I actually admire the creativity in melding influences to produce something that still sounds fresh today. With that in mind, there are some recent releases that, to me, are unmistakably (sometimes in a heavy-handed way) influenced by various older genres or groups. Yet, I like them enough to say that you should check them out for yourself.
Holy Ghost! meticulously recreates ’80s synth pop. The duo of Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser enjoy a relationship with James Murphy and his DFA Records that dates back a decade, before the New Yorkers performed as Holy Ghost! That familiarity with Murphy comes through on the new album Dynamics much as it did on the self titled debut from 2011. That’s not to say Holy Ghost! approaches Murphy’s LCD greatness but the sound does distinguish these guys from the hordes of other ’80s-influenced artists. Best songs: It Must Be the Weather and Okay.
Crystal Stilts has a cool, dark sound. The obvious reference on Nature Noir is the Velvet Underground, though I feel like these guys draw more from the scores of bands from the 1980s and ’90s who themselves copped the Velvets’ sound. That’s still not a bad thing. I’m game for the moody sound and Crystal Stilts has that sultry, spooky vibe I like. Favorite tracks: Future Folklore and Star Crawl.
Crocodiles draws from Echo and the Bunnymen, Jesus and Mary Chain and others from that late ’70s, early ’80s post-punk era. Crimes of Passion, the San Diego band’s latest, is definitely enjoyable pop that shows its teeth at various points throughout the album. The best songs: Cockroach and Teardrop Guitar.
Time to get those bongs out as Ty Segall and friends take you on a hazy journey back to the days of hard rock jams and the sweet stench of tasty buds. It’s the heavy sound of early ’70s rock, the kind that played on turntables in shag-carpeted rooms to the accompaniment of bubbling bong water.
The eight songs on Fuzz’s just-released self-titled debut album are a contrast to Segall’s latest release from August, Sleeper. That album features a lot of strumming and a slowed-down tempo, at least compared with many of Segall’s other albums and projects. While Sleeper recalls last year’s Twins (a 2012 favorite), it is much more comparable to the 2011 album Goodbye Bread.
Fuzz, on the other hand, is a sometimes bombastic ode to the grandfathers of heavy metal. It’s a fun album, for sure, and recommended. Fuzz is three players and, though he sings, Segall actually puts his guitar aside to be the band’s drummer. Joining Segall on guitar is his longtime buddy and touring band mate Charlie Moothart, who also appeared on the Ty Segall Band’s epic Slaughterhouse. Roland Cosio rounds out the band, playing bass.
Fuzz is scheduled to open for the Men at Logan Square Auditorium October 18. The video below is for the song This Time I’ve Got a Reason, off an EP released earlier this year.
The great Parquet Courts has a new EP, Tally All the Things That You Broke, out today. Here’s a video for You Got Me Wonderin’ Now, off the release.
Check out this video from San Francisco’s Sleepy Sun. The song is 11:32.
Cults released a new video, High Road, for a song from the new album Static, out Oct. 15,
If you’re going to see Wavves at Park West Saturday, don’t you dare miss King Tuff. This is one of those shows where the opener excites me as much as the headliner. King Tuff is Kyle Thomas, a guy who has been rocking out for a number of years. (He used to be in the band Witch with J. Mascis.)
Last year, Sup Pop released King Tuff’s self-titled album and, this spring, Burger Records reissued one of the most fun, hook-laden albums I’ve heard all year, Was Dead.
Cave is playing a set on the Chicago River Wednesday. To be clear, that’s not a show by the river or near the river. The band is promoting its new album Threace on a boat early evening. Cave is expected to travel from Lake Michigan, floating west with a couple of stops along the way. The show starts at 5 p.m. and the band is expected to play about two hours.
A couple of years ago, these guys did a similar promotion on the back of a truck driving around Chicago. The local heroes are set to put out their new album next month.
Here’s some footage of the flatbed truck performance, which promoted the release of Neverendless.
Here’s a new video for Bad Reputation, from Bass Drum of Death’s recently released self-titled album.
“The only words I said today are beer and thank you. Beer. Thank you. Beer. Thank you,” Bill Callahan sings on his opening track, The Sing, from his just-released album Dream River. His lyrics can be sparse and his recording style remains simple but there’s something just intoxicating enough about Callahan’s music that brings me back. Callahan had an unenviable task of following up the superb 2011 release Apocalypse, but Dream River doesn’t disappoint. You certainly have to like this style of music (at least a little) but even if it’s not exactly your thing, Callahan has a seductive, disarming style that slowly draws you in. Comparisons are tough. Bonnie Prince Billy? Silver Jews? Leonard Cohen? You could lump him in with a wide swath of singer songwriters, but, as the best of the bunch usually prove, each artist is uniquely original. Callahan’s sound is fresh and interesting.
I love the musical style, too. It’s a mix of lounge, world, pop, folk, indie, and, I’m sure, a few more genres I’m forgetting. The music often serve as a background for Callahan’s poetic observations delivered in his deep, impassive voice. Dream River is an intriguing album and definitely recommended.
This new song from Crystal Antlers is off the upcoming album, Nothing is Real, which is out next month.
Here’s a short and sweet video for Misery Over Dispute from the highly recommended new album Cerulean Salt.