New York Music Daily

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Tag: guided by voices

NO ICE Represent the Real Brooklyn at Bowery Electric

NO ICE might be the best band to come out of Brooklyn in the last few years. They spun off of punkish populists the Brooklyn What when one of that band’s original three brilliant lead guitarists, Evan O’Donnell, absconded to Indonesia to work on a gamelan metal project (he’s been a member of New York’s Balinese gamelan, Gamelan Dharma Swara) and then most recently put out a ferociously good, dark art-rock album.

So frontman/multi-instrumentalist Jamie Frey decided to finally play all those instruments he’d been hiding down in the basement and keep the band going with a slightly different lineup and a different name. No ice – say it fast, ok? Or, you know the deal: if you’re ordering a fountain soda to go with your fast food, you get twice as much if you tell the girl at the register, “No ice!” Hardly rocket science – and it’s not known if that scam is the band’s M.O. beyond the noisy pun of a bandname.

Frey is one of New York’s most erudite musical talents. His songs draw on sixty years or more of music history: he’s as adept at doo-wop as he is at noiserock, fuzzily catchy Guided by Voices powerpop, unhinged punk rock and probably stuff we haven’t heard yet. It wouldn’t be out of the question to think that he had a couple of Duke Ellington big band numbers in him. He and the band are back from a marathon US tour and have an enticing show coming up on June 3 at Bowery Electric at 10, where they’re on an amazing all-New York triplebill, with power trio Castle Black – who veer between acidic Bush Tetras postpunk, stoner metal and more straight-up, sardonic punk – opening the night at 9. Television lead guitar legend Richard Lloyd headlines at 11; cover is an absurdly good $10. They’ll also be playing the annual Northside Festival on June 9 at 9 PM at Main Drag Music and on the 10th at the Gutter at 11.

NO ICE’s album is Come On Feel the NO ICE, streaming at Bandcamp. It opens with The Cemetery,  a fast electric remake of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Deep One Perfect Morning. The themes are similar, the musicianship better since they have Jesse Katz’s live drums backing John-Severin Napolillo’s guitar, Frey’s piano and Sean Spada’s organ. It makes a good diptych with with Summer Bummer, a hazier but equally brooding J&MC-style post-Velvets tune. “She’ll never love you again,” intones singer Oliver Ignatius.

Darlin’ will have you reaching for your phone – damn, what song from Daydream Nation does this take to the next level? Answer: it’s Hey Joni, complete with awesomely unhinged noise guitar jam. Then Frey goes deep into the soul-rock he loves so much with Leave Her Alone, a battle of superego vs. id. Superego wins, walking off with less than a home run.

I Want You goes back toward J&MC territory with some tastier, more dynamic guitar multitracks than that band ever laid down. We Get High Together is just plain sweet: if you have a stoner girlfriend, if you had a stoner girlfriend – or if you are a stoner girlfriend – you’ll get it. By contrast, Change Your Mind comes across as a haphazard mashup of the Lemonheads and Bay City Rollers (ok, nobody in the band except for Jamie probably ever heard of the Bay City Rollers, but that’s what it sounds like).

Out With the Brats is a powerpop gem: “Out on a weekday, feeling so weak and greY.” The trick ending is primo. The next track, simply titled Guitar, is an acidically simmering, twistedly psychedelic tableau with a sideways shout-out to Queen. Then the band returns to super-catchy mode with TBD and its blend of Britfolk and vintage powerpop. It’s here where it hits you, if you’ve read the song credits, how Frey has internalized the style of every other writer in this band to the point where he can sound like them just as easily as he can slip into Robert Pollard, or Thurston Moore, or (who was the songwriter in the Ink Spots?).

The swaying, jazzy miniature Eat This Heart is a co-write with Saskia Kahn. The band aptly turns the album’s lone cover, Leonard Cohen’s Memories, into leering vintage Springsteen. They wind up the album with Five Beers, a slow, contentedly slit-eyed nocturne: Frey really nails the starry distance that a few bowls and a few beers put between you and the sick Trumpy reality that awaits you when you wake up  hungover and hashed over, Napolillo turning in a tantalizingly fleeting slide guitar solo.  Somewhere Lou Reed is listening to this and smiling and saying, uh huh.

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The Anderson Council Bring Their Hard-Hitting Psychedelia and Powerpop to the Delancey Tomorrow Night

Let’s get any possible confusion out of the way: the Anderson Council are not a Pink Floyd cover band. Nor should they be confused with the Canadian prog-metal band of the same name. The Anderson Council who’re playing the Delancey tomorrow night, Feb 6 at 9 PM are a killer psychedelic/powerpop band whose sonic roots are in the 60s, but their sound is in the here and now. At their most succinct, they bring to mind Guided by Voices at their most Cheap Trick, using old tube amps. When they go further outside, they look further back to a more eclectic mix of 60s psych sounds. Their latest album Hole in the Sky is streaming at Reverbnation; the bill at the Delancey also includes excellent Chicago blues cover band Boxing the Needle opening the night at 8, and Stones/Social D-influenced guitar band Anchor Lot headlining at 10. Cover is a measly $5.

The title track is not the Sabbath song but a jangly skiffle-rock tune with bagpiping guitars, a swirly, flangy halfspeed interlude and a trick ending straight out of the Move, 1972. They follow that with a bizarre Coke commercial and then Don’t You Think, a big Badfingeresque powerpop anthem over a swaying bump-ba-bump rhythm. Pinkerton’s Assorted Colors throws a Farfisa and la-la bvox over a tumbling Quadrophenia-style drive, singer Peter Horvath maintaining a perfectly clipped British accent that might well be the real thing.

Then they switch things up with Love Bomb, a stomping, amped-up, broodingly minor-key Laurel Canyon psych-folk number seemingly straight out of 1968, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy on good coke, David Whitehead’s richly layered multitracks roaring and clanging over drummer Christopher Ryan’s Keith Moon-inspired attack. Feet of the Guru offers more of an elegant take on the late 60s Who channeled through the warped prism of GBV, while Poppies Pansies & Tea evokes the Move putting a more guitarish spin on bouncy Penny Lane pop over Christopher Rousseau’s blithely walking bass.

Never Stop Being ’67 is a droll Beatles homage in the same vein as Love Camp 7 at their most satirical and spot-on. Pretty People also looks to the Fab Four, but in a late 70s powerpop vein. The Next One is arguably the album’s best track, a snarling, wickedly catchy smash: imagine Robert Pollard amping up classic 60s Lynchian Orbison pop. Strawberry Smell also has plenty of GBV wafting in, but with the 60s tropes that band doesn’t take the time to add, for some extra spit and polish. The last track is Fake Lane, a trippy Paint It Black ripoff.

The 50 Best Albums of 2014

Of the hundreds of thousands of albums released every year, maybe ten percent of them are worth hearing. That’s about twenty-five thousand albums, possibly a lot more – it’s harder to keep track of the numbers than it was in the previous century. A very ambitious blogger can hear bits and pieces of maybe twenty percent of that total. That’s the triage.

A very, very ambitious blogger can hear, at best, maybe ten percent of that small sample, all the way through, at least enough to get the gist of what those few hundred albums are about. So consider this list – and the Best Songs of 2014 and the Best NYC Concerts of 2014 lists here – a celebration of good music released in 2014 or thereabouts rather than anything definitive. Links to listen to each album are included: whenever possible, the link is to an ad-free site like Bandcamp or Soundcloud rather than Spotify. So bookmark this page and come back to enjoy what you might have missed.

Every few years, there’s one album that stands out above all the rest, which transcends genre. This year, that was Big Lazy‘s Don’t Cross Myrtle, a creepy collection of reverb-drenched, Lynchian songs without words and desolate highway themes. Even by the standards of frontman/guitarist Stephen Ulrich’s previous work for film, tv and with this band, he’s never written with more delectable menace. Stream the album via Spotify.

Before the rest of the list kicks in, there are two ringers here from a couple years ago: Great Plains gothic tunesmith Ember Schrag‘s The Sewing Room, a quiet, allusive, disarmingly intense masterpiece (at Bandcamp), and a considerably more ornate and more chromatically-charged release, Philadelphia-based Turkish art-rockers Barakka‘s Uzaklardan (at Reverbnation). Both albums came over the transom too late to be included in the 2012 list here, but each of them is a real gem.

Beyond the choice of Big Lazy as #1, there’s no numerical ranking on this list. For fairness’ sake, the remainder of the fifty are listed in more-or-less chronological order as they first received attention here, without taking release dates into consideration. So the albums at the end aren’t the ass end of the list – they just happened to have been reviewed here at the end of the year. To be clear, the Ministry of Wolves, the last act on this list, are every bit as enjoyable as creepy surf band the Reigning Monarchs, who lead the rest of the parade:

The Reigning Monarchs – Black Sweater Massacre
Marauding crime-surf instrumentals from an unlikely cast of 90s powerpop types. Stream the album via the band’s page

Curtis Eller – How to Make It in Hollywood
Wickedly literate, historically rich, pun-infused and unexpectedly rocking Americana from the charismatic roots music banjoist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Karla Moheno – Gone to Town
Nobody writes more intriguing noir musical narratives than this inscrutable chanteuse. If Big Lazy hadn’t put out their album this past year, this one would be at the top of the pile with a bullet. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Marissa Nadler – July
Arguably her best album, the atmospheric folk noir chanteuse and storyteller’s lushly enveloping adventure in Pink Floyd-style art-rock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Marianne Dissard – The Cat. Not Me
A stormy, brilliantly twisted, angst-fueled, epically orchestrated art-rock album by the French southwestern gothic avatar and Sergio Mendoza collaborator. Stream the album via Spotify

Aram Bajakian – There Were Flowers Also in Hell
Darkly blues-inspired, characteristically eclectic, moody instrumentals by the last great lead guitarist from Lou Reed’s Band. Stream the album via Spotify

Rosanne Cash – The River & the Thread
A pensive southern gothic travelogue set to terse Americana rock, arguably as good as Cash’s iconic Black Cadillac album from a few years ago. Stream the album via Spotify

Laura Cantrell – No Way There from Here
The lyrically strongest and most musically diverse album yet by this era’s most compelling voice in classic country music. Stream the album via Spotify

The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
A janglefest of gorgeous Britfolk-infused powerpop from Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky. Stream the album via Spotify

Siach HaSadeh – Song of the Grasses
Slowly unwinding, raptly intense improvisations on classic Jewish cantorial and folk themes from over the centuries. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Son of Skooshny – Mid Century Modern
Mark Breyer achieved cult status in the 90s with powerpop vets Skooshny and continues to write biting, lyrically rich, beautifully jangly songs. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Isle of Klezbos – Live from Brooklyn
A deliriously fun concert recording by the mostly-female, pioneering New York klezmer whirlwind. Stream the album via Bandcamp

New Electric Ride – Balloon Age
Period-perfect, fantastic mid-60s style psychedelic rock in a Dukes of Stratosphear or Love Camp 7 vein. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Baseball Project – 3rd
Catchy, characteristically insightful powerpop, paisley underground and janglerock from Steve Wynn and Peter Buck’s supergroup, rich in diamond lore from across the decades. Stream the album via Spotify

Ichka – Podorozh
Meaning “journey” in Russian. the new album by the Montreal klezmer group blazes through bristling chromatic themes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics – Cigarros Explosivos
The Firewater lead guitarist’s adventure in psychedelic cumbias comes across as a sort of a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Bad Buka -Through the Night
A harder-rocking, more theatrical take on Gogol Bordello-style Slavic punk from these New York guys and girls. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun
Ominously jangly southwestern gothic and paisley underground rock from the Canadian Americana band and the Tragically Hip frontman. Stream the album via the band’s page

Cheetah Chrome – Solo
It took practically twenty years for this searing, intense album by the punk-era guitar icon to see the light of day, but the wait was worth it. Stream the album via Spotify

Andrew Bird – Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of
The cult favorite Americana songwriter plunders the catalog of another similarly literate, frequently creepy Americana act, the Handsome Family, for an insightful and lyrically rich collection of covers. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Guided by Voices – Cool Planet
If the last of the final four albums from the indie powerpop band’s marathon of recording over the last two years is really their swan song, they went out with a bang. Stream the album via Spotify

Golem – Tanz
A wickedly hilarious, blistering mix of edgy punk rock, crazed circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. Stream the album via Spotify

Matt Kanelos – Love Hello
Pensive, allusively lyrical Radiohead-influenced psychedelia and art-rock from the popular NYC jazz and rock keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Spottiswoode – English Dream
Purist, richly arranged, artsy janglerock with psychedelic and Britfolk tinges from the cult favorite lyrical songwriter and bandleader. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Skull Practitioners – ST1
Searing, pummeling, catchy noiserock and riff-driven jams from Steve Wynn lead guitarist Jason Victor’s explosive trio. Stream the album via Bandcamp

HUMANWINE – Fighting Naked
Creepy, menacing, chromatically-fueled narratives from an all-too-plausible, Orwellian nightmare future from the politically spot-on Vermont band. Stream the album via Bandcamp – free download

Amanda Thorpe – Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg
The riveting Britfolk chanteuse reinvents songs by the Tin Pan Alley figure as noir-inflected janglerock, backed by a stellar NYC band. Stream the album via Spotify

Changing Modes – The Paradox of Traveling Light
Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Wendy Griffiths’ band’s most ornate, intricately crafted art-rock masterpiece, with the occasional departure into punk or powerpop. Stream the album via Soundcloud

The Bakersfield Breakers – In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers
These New York surf and twang instrumentalists put their own kick-ass spin on a classic Telecaster-driven sound from the early 60s. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Sometime Boys – Riverbed
One of the most distinctively unique bands on this list, they blend newgrass, country blues, funky rock and Nashville gothic into a spicy, anthemically psychedelic, lyrically intense blend. Stream the album via the band’s page 

The Immigrant Union – Anyway
The Australian band – a Dandy Warhols spinoff – craft deliciously catchy Rickenbacker guitar janglerock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Bombay Rickey – Cinefonia
The year’s best debut album is by spectacular, intense singer/accordionist Kamala Samkaram’s ornate, intricate, surfy Bollywood-inspired art-rock band. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Hannah Thiem – Brym
Lush, moody, Middle Eastern and Nordic-inspired violin grooves and cinematic soundscapes from Copal‘s dynamic frontwoman/composer. Stream the album via Soundcloud 

The Larch – In Transit
Characteristically urbane, insightfully lyrical, Costello-esque powerpop with searing lead guitar from the highly regarded New York quartet. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The OBNIIIs – Third Time to Harm
The twin guitar-driven Austin garage punks are probably the closest thing we have to Radio Birdman these days. They released two albums this past year, one a sizzling live set, and this studio release which is more psychedelic and every bit as volcanic. Stream the album via Spotify

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
Arguably the darkest album on this list, this harrowing collection mines the desperation of living at the fringes of society, set to scorching, reverb-drenched noir rock. Stream the album via Spotify.

Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons – Rebel Devil Devil Rebel
The Canadian gothic chanteuse returns to her fiery, electric Neil Young-influenced roots with this stampeding effort, driven by guitar great Hugh Pool’s ferocious attack. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Ward White – Ward White Is the Matador
The most intricately literate of all the albums on this list. Nobody writes more intriguing, or menacing, rock narratives than this New York tunesmith. And he’s never rocked harder, either. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Jessie Kilguss – Devastate Me
The title is apt – the NYC folk noir singer/bandleader offers a quietly shattering. impeccably crafted collection of Nashville gothic and paisley underground rock. Stream the album via Spotify

Mesiko – Solar Door
One of the most tunefully eclectic albums on the list, the debut by Norden Bombsight’s David Marshall and Rachael Bell with all-star drummer Ray Rizzo has postpunk, paisley underground, psychedelia and kinetic powerpop, sometimes all in the same song. Stream the album via Bandcamp

O’Death – Out of Hands We Go
A characteristically careening, ominous mix of Nashville gothic, oldtimey, circus rock and noir cabaret from these Americana individualists. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer
One of the great lead guitarists in rock, Prophet is also a great tunesmith who spans from psychedelia to janglerock to Americana and powerpop. Stream the album via Spotify

Wounded Buffalo Theory – A Painting of Plans
The New York art-rockers have never sounded more focused, or more intense on this richly ornate, psychedelic collection. Stream the album via the band’s page, free download

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne – I Line My Days Along Your Weight
A brooding, plaintive and vividly lyrical folk noir masterpiece, Byrne’s tersely evocative lyrics and luminous vocals over a darkly magical web of acoustic textures. Stream the album via Spotify

Jessi Robertson – I Came From the War
Combat is a metaphor for all sorts of angst on the riveting soul and Americana-influenced singer/bandleader’s intricate, atmospheric latest release. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Metropolitan Klezmer – Mazel Means Good Luck
An especially wild live album by this deliciously shapeshifting, latin and reggae-influenced New York Jewish music juggernaut. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Matt Ulery – In the Ivory
The jazz bassist’s lush, rippling compositions blend soaring neoromantic themes, edgy improvisation, cinematic instrumental narratives and frequently haunting interludes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jenifer Jackson – TX Sunrise
One of the most diverse songwriters here, she’s done everything from Beatlesque bossa pop to psychedelia to Nashville gothic. This is her deepest and most rewarding dive into Americana, comprising both classic C&W and southwestern gothic. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Mark Sinnis – It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter
A death-obsessed hard honkytonk album from powerful baritone crooner and leader of cult favorite dark rockers Ninth House. Stream the album via Spotify

The Brooklyn What – Minor Problems
The best short album of 2014 has explosive, dynamic guitar duels, a catchy anthemic sensibility, psychedelic intensity and edgy, sarcastic wit. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Robin Aigner – Con Tender
Historically rich, period-perfect, sultry and often hilariously lyrical tunesmithing equally informed by stark southern folk music, vintage blues and oldtimey swing jazz. Stream the album via Bandcamp, free download

The Ministry of Wolves – Happily Ever After
The second album of creepily theatrical art-rock songs based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the all-star band of Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch, Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto from Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds co-founder Mick Harvey. Stream the album via Spotify 

If you’re wondering why there’s hardly anything in the way of jazz or classical music here, that stuff is more likely to be found at this blog’s older sister blog, Lucid Culture.

Dark Tuneful Uncategorizable Indie Rock from the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries

The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries‘ debut album is titled Mass.Grave (you get it, right? Massachusetts supergroup-of-sorts?). Kahoots’ Elisha Wiesner plays guitar and sings with Shellac’s Bob Weston on bass and Chris Brokaw – who’s played with everyone from Steve Wynn, to Come, to Jennifer O’Connor (whose insurgent Kiam Records is putting this album out) – back behind the drums. As the title implies, this is unassumingly dark, thoughtful but very catchy stuff, unadorned without being threadbare. Most of the seven tracks here sound live; there don’t appear to be a lot of overdubs. You could call it postpunk, for lack of a better word.

Wiesner writes most of the songs. The first track, Wrist Full of Holes, works insistent, chromatically-charged guitar riffage over a loping beat. They bring in phasers on the chorus: cool touch! There are hints of Elliott Smith, another guy with a Massachusetts connection.

Track two, Parachute, sounds like an early 80s Boston band’s take on the Gang of Four, noisy but without any of the affections. It’s about an actual parachute jump,  or a metaphorical one, a pulsing, minimalist beat dropping out for a series of tradeoffs between the guitar and bass and then back up in a hurry. She’s a Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven), by Brokaw, adds layers of dreampop guitar and the kind of offcenter, noisy edge you might expect from a longtime Thalia Zedek collaborator. It’s also the funniest and most upbeat song here.

The best song here is Ramon and Sage. An insistent intro hands off to variations on an enigmatically clanging, resonant guitar phrase and then a deliciously catchy verse over Weston’s fuzz bass. It’s over in less than three minutes but could have gone on for twice that and wouldn’t be boring at all. Blonde on Red also begins with an insistent, rhythmic intro, evoking early Wire or Guided by Voices without the faux-British thing.

Weston’s Look Up, an anxious Boston-area motorway narrative, also has Wire echoes, that fuzz bass again and a sarcastic chorus: “Look up from the telephone, step off of the curb alone.” The last track, One White Swan is a post-Velvets slowcore dirge, Brokaw subtly coloring the funereal pulse with his fog-off-the-ocean cymbals as eerie vocal harmonies slowly rise to take centerstage over a minimialist guitar loop; this track also evokes Zedek in ultra-hypnotic mode. Safe to say that there is no other band alive who sound anything like them. It would be great to hear more from these guys; if this is the only album they ever make, it’s a gem, one of the best of 2013.

Cheap Trick at Coney Island: Still Vital, Still Fun

Would you stand in the rain for an hour and a half, in 2013, to see Cheap Trick? Last Friday, an energetic crowd of about 400 – a mix of diehards in ancient tour t-shirts, curious locals and a scattering of expensively dressed trendoid kids – didn’t let the seaside deluge at the old Steeplechase Park space at Coney Island deter them from witnessing an unexpectedly ferocious show by the powerpop cult favorites. For those who remember back far enough, or listen to “classic rock” radio in the car, Cheap Trick got pigeonholed as a top 40 band, and still do, and that‘s too bad. The American Badfinger; the prototype for Guided by Voices; the hitmakers that Big Star should have been – a strong case can be made that Cheap Trick were all those things. After their signature, Spinal Tap style intro, they ambushed any skeptics in the crowd right off the bat with another cult favorite, their cover of the Move’s California Man, complete with the recurrent heavy metal riff from another Roy Wood tune, Brontosaurus. And then followed immediately with the sad Abbey Road powerpop elegy Oh Candy, the best song on their debut album.

Rick Nielsen must be seventy by now, with a curmudgeonly presence to match, but his fingers on the fretboard are still fast. Robin Zander – the model for Robert Pollard, vocally at least – is past sixty, but still has the snide, sarcastic faux British accent and rockstar moves down cold. Tom Petersson supplied the occasional growly bass break, and Nielsen’s son Daxx made the absence of Bun E. Carlos behind the kit easier to forget. They followed the Alladin Sane-ish glamrock of another early track, He’s a Whore, with the crunchy Downed and its delicious Do Ya broken chords, reminding just how much ELO kiddies these guys were from day one. Zander’s tongue-in-cheek vocals on the equally gorgeous 1983 album track Borderline echoed the late, great Carl Wayne. They blasted through the blatant Beatles ripoff Taxman Mr. Thief and the distantly Blue Oyster Cult-ish On Top of the World before coming back to the gorgeous, Move-esque Voices, The House Is Rockin’ – Chuck Berry as done by the Boomtown Rats, maybe – and then the band’s last recognizable radio hit, If You Want My Love (You Got It). Baby Loves to Rock and its sardonic sex lyrics still screams out “college radio hit.” There were only a couple of tracks more recent than 1980s vintage, one a forgettable film theme, the other an impressively fresh take of Sick Man of Europe with its evil, stairstepping chorus.

After all that, it was easy to forgive them for the cloying, annoying radio hits I Want You to Want Me and Dream Police. They wound up the set with a long, extended version of Surrender, Nielsen finally breaking out his five-necked guitar but only playing a few riffs on it before handing it back to his roadie, who was obviously working overtime in the rain. They did the famous outro and that was it, no encore, but that was to be expected considering that the rain still hadn’t let up.

Guided By Voices’ Brilliant English Little League: The Other Blogs Got It All Wrong

You can never trust the indie music press: they screw everything up. For the past month, the blogosphere has been abuzz with the ostensibly bad news that Guided By Voices‘ fourth album (!!!!) in the past year, English Little League, is a dud. And that’s dead wrong.

It’s the best of the four, in fact, one of the best albums of the band’s celebrated career, even with the reinvigorated “classic” lineup of guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin  Fennell. With their two-guitar attack, especially, there was always a hint that they were about to head in more of an art-rock direction, and this is the album where they finally do that. Which makes their ever-more anthemic sound even more intriguing, considering that none of the album’s sixteen songs go on for much more than two and a half minutes, if that. Frontman Robert Pollard is as inscrutable and sometimes frustrating as ever, but he’s still pretty unsurpassed as a surrealist visionary: among the unexpected lyrical gems here are a creepy recurrent theme of “friction in Japan,” a “fishtank with black sails” and a shout out to Zero Mostel, possibly the first ever in a rock song. Behind him, the band plays with fury and drollery and a rich, mentholated, reverb-toned resonance.

They get off on a good foot with the first single, Xeno Pariah, a post-Kinks romp with a tricky tempo and the gorgeous guitar sonics that will linger throughout all the other fully fleshed out songs here (impressively, most of them are). Know Me As Heavy works a solid backbeat drive, like Oasis with a sense of humor in lieu of insufferable attitude. Island (She Talks in Rainbows) rises from a hushed tiptoe to a killer four-chord hook, psychedelic 60s Britpop spun through Pollard’s wryly fractured lens. Trashcan Full of Nails pulses like mid-70s Who as it reaches for a tongue-in-cheek stadium rock swagger, while Send to Celeste (And the Cosmic Athletes) follows a trajectory up from elegant chamber rock, like the Church but with a smirk.

Quiet Game stomps along on a hypnotic riff in a gritty Steve Wynn garage rock way. Noble Insect is a dead ringer for apprehensive late 70s era Wire, except that it has a groove. The most nebulous, traditionally indie thing here is Crybaby 4 Star Hotel, which works because of the lyrics, followed by Flunky Minnows, which looks back to the Beatles and Kinks for a tune but gives the lead line to the bass.

Birds is dreampop as the Church (them again) would have done it if dreampop had existed in 1982. The Sudden Death of Epstein’s Ways is a Brian Epstein reference, given away by the gorgeously ornate Sgt. Pepper tune: what it means isn’t clear. The Fab Four are also referenced on Taciturn Caves, which is like Hey Jude with guitars, while the final track sounds like the Clash done as powerpop. Admittedly, there are a trio of what appear to be solo Pollard sketches featuring a disastrously out-of-tune piano that were unwisely included here. But that’s a small price to pay for tunesmithing this offhandedly brilliant. Count this among the best albums of 2013. To all the Bushwick and Wicker Park blogs who dissed this album: up yours.

GBV Work Toward the Record for Most Singles From an Album

Could be true by the time these folks finish. The latest limited-edition Guided by Voices vinyl single from the forthcoming English Little League (their fourth album in a year, no joke) is the best one. Xeno Pariah has a Pollard title but Tobin Sprout roar and catchiness, vintage Britrock that draws on the Kinks, glam, Britfolk and everything good coming out of the UK prior to 1975. Little Jimmy the Giant, the b-side,  is a catchy, bouncy lo-fi powerpop romp that shifts the focus a couple of years forward into the pub rock era . Collect ’em all, they’ll be worth something someday!

And as nice as it’s been to have all these singles to fill the front page here on days where there’s a lot going on in that you can’t see, it’s tempting to say, enough already, before the jokes start and people start to refer to this thing as a Guided by Voices fan blog…

Another Day, Another GBV Single

If you’re a legacy rock act, how can you make money off recordings in the internet age? With vinyl, for starters. Everybody talks about how Robert Pollard has been on a tear writing-wise in the last year, but his bandmate Tobin Sprout hasn’t been far behind. The previous Guided by Voices single Islands (She Talks in Rainbows), which came out in a limited-edition thousand-copy vinyl pressing this past March 5, is a Sprout tune, slowly coalescing into a lushly delicious, hazy mix of psychedelic jangle and clang. And they’ve got another one, by Pollard, titled Trash Can Full of Nails, coming out on the 19th. That one’s a lumbering, staggerstepping anthem with typical, surreal lyrical wit. Both singles have multiple B-sides (C-sides?) penned by both songwriters, presumably all from the sardonically titled forthcoming album English Little League. If everything on it is as fully realized as the singles have been so far, it’s going to be special.

A Catchy Update on Classic Dreampop with Butter the Children

Today’s free download is from Brooklyn guitar band Butter the Children. Cool name for a band, huh? Two perfectly innocuous ingredients combine for a creepy command. They have an interesting sound, one that looks back to the 80s, catchy but nebulous, part dreampop, part retro new wave.Their debut album came out last year and is up at their Bandcamp page as a free download.

With a bent-note scream or two, the retro Motown fuzz bass comes in, and then they’re off into Robyn Byrd with an insistent downstroke pulse. Frontwomoan Inna Mkrtycheva’s vocals are half-buried in the mix so it’s hard to tell how this relates to the legendary host of what all New Yorkers back in the 80s knew as “the naked talk show” on public access tv.

Earthbound puts a dreampop swirl on a very, very, very familiar mid-80s Cure riff with some attactively weird, tone-warping guitar EFX. Flesh Wound in Ithaca blends Guided by Voices catchiness via the bassline against a wall of shoegaze guitar opaqueness. Vermin $upreme kicks off with a stomping backbeat and a sly Stones allusion but quickly goes in more of a vintage Sonic Youth direction complete with cool bass chords.

Prognosis Negative is  over in less than two minutes, something this band does a lot: nothing here makes it to the three-minute mark. This one’s a chirpy pop song with a lead guitar line echoing PiL and vocals higher in the mix: “A temporary friend or a born-again, I should have known by now,” Mkrtycheva laments with a cold bitterness. Rochelle Rochelle takes Johnny Marr jangle and sandpapers it roughly, while Lupus, the final track adds layers of cool guitar sonics as it builds over another one of those fast downstroke beats. Butter the Children are even better live than on record; they’re at Big Snow Buffalo Lodge in Bushwick tonight, Saturday, March 9 at 11ish.

Another Day, Another New Guided by Voices Single

OK, the new Guided by Voices single, Flunky Minnows b/w Jellypop Smiles (limited edition vinyl, 1000 copies) is out today. Here’s the press release: “The first single from the upcoming Guided By Voices long-player English Little League is a classic Pollard-penned power-pop gem, as catchy as anything in the band’s canon, backed with ‘Jellypop Smiles,’ a reverb-heavy acoustic number with out-of-tune recorder that wouldn’t sound out of place next to Bee Thousand’s “Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory.”

Should we believe this, or trash it? Hmmm…the A-side is catchy to the point of cruelty, staggering along the fine line between purist powerpop and exasperating refusenik indie nebulosity. In other words, classic GBV. The B-side sounds like something left over from one of the Pollard solo albums – is there anybody on it but him? It’s not bad, and it’s over sooner than it could be. Again: classic GBV. Bring on the album, dammit!