Originally released in September 1971, T Rex’s Electric Warrior is often touted as a cornerstone of glam rock, arriving as it did nine months before David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. But aside from that, one could argue that Electric Warrior is one of the coolest albums ever recorded. And 40 years after its initial release, it still sounds cool and irresistibly hip where some of its contemporaries and glam successors have taken on a dated, sugary-sweet, nostalgic coating of dust. To commemorate the album’s 40th anniversary, Universal have released a deluxe edition with a bounty of extras rich enough to excite the dedicated fan, but accessible enough so as not to frighten off the inquiring new listener.
Krystle Warren - a Missouri native who has spent time performing on the streets of Paris and New York - made a name for herself with her 2009 debut, Circles. She draws obvious comparisons to Tracy Chapman, but perhaps it’s only due to the depth of her alto vocal range. Despite comparisons to Chapman and Nina Simone, Warren is a decidedly different brand of singer-songwriter, managing to hit multiple styles, often within a single song, so that each carries with it a new and refreshing sense of promise and surprise.
The Shins are back, and four years on from their Grammy-nominated 2007 album, Wincing The Night Away, Port Of Morrow feels like a welcome visit to a well-loved - but nearly forgotten - old friend. James Mercer is at the helm, fulfilling all songwriting duties and masterfully leading yet another incarnation of his rotating cast of players. The sound is leaps and bounds from the quiet, quirky, literary types the greater world first met through Zach Braff and his quiet, quirky lovelorn 2004 film Garden State. Where Oh, Inverted World felt very much like the work of one dedicated and talented songwriter with a few instrumentalist friends, Port Of Morrow is a delightfully full-band affair. But, is there anything here that, like New Slang (the song from which Mercer may well never escape), will prompt smitten starlets to proclaim, “You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear”? Well, yes… maybe there is.
On a recent appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, Guided By Voices tore through their latest single, The Unsinkable Fats Domino. They narrowly averted tragedy (or perhaps only embarrassment and minor injury) when bassist Greg Demos went for a little rock ‘n’ roll jump move, lost his footing, and landed on his ass, right there on the stage in front of millions of television viewers. Did he cry, or pout, or storm off the stage, though? Hell, no. He flashed a moonfaced grin and shook his head in brief disbelief, barely missing a beat, and when the timing fit, he took a second to right himself and rejoin the band.
Porcelain Raft. The moniker calls up something overly clumsy, sort of a life vessel that just doesn’t work, a hobbled rescue vessel in constant need of a bailout, floating and sinking simultaneously upon a gauzy, dreamy seascape under passing cloud-puffs and setting suns, shining white porcelain gleaming and glinting even as it weighs down and dooms its rowing refugees. In reality, we’ve got Italian born one-man wonder Mauro Remiddi, recording alone in that most DIY of locales, a New York basement.
In the post-modern landscape of popular music, you’ve got a weird mingling of new, ankle-biting bands trying to sound like they’re from the ’90s (Yuck and Silversun Pickups come to mind).
And, you’ve got the venerable dinosaurs who’ve been playing jangly pop for years and are now, largely unsuccessfully, trying to reinvent themselves for a modern audience (R.E.M. being the most prominent one, ultimately fizzling out late last year).
Then, there’s Nada Surf, who’ve accomplished something remarkable in scoring a hit (1996’s Popular) on MTV and radio when the former still played videos and the latter was at its alt-rock peak. After Popular, though, Nada Surf made that incredibly difficult transition into the indie underground, and have sort of grown up along with it. They were from Brooklyn before that locale evoked hipster irony or avant garde experimentalism. Nearly two decades into their career, Nada Surf are still playing guitars (and, yes, jangly is still a fitting description), on their first album of new material in four years, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy, which follows their excellent, if forgettable, covers album, 2010’s palindromic If I Had A Hi-Fi.
It’s been six years since The Little Willies released their debut, self-titled album, and in that time it sounds as if Norah Jones and her rowdy friends have loosened up considerably. For The Good Times finds The Little Willies - named after their unabashed admiration for Willie Nelson - tearing through another set of long-lost country covers with twang to spare and virtuoso musicianship in spades.
Nicolas Jaar doesn’t make dance music. Not really. The Chilean-American producer - aged only 21 years, and certainly fitting of the label wunderkind - blends electronic elements with field recordings, sound collage, samples, string instruments, loops, and his own voice to create something sparse but melodic, challenging but breezy. He keeps the BPMs low enough that dancing to his work is unlikely, and his club performances tend to be a give-and-take between himself and the audience; he’s not looking to move hips, but to find communion. His approach can’t be pigeonholed into any sub-genre of electronic music, and the effect is that his debut full-length (after a series of well-received remixes and singles on his own Clown & Sunset imprint), Space Is Only Noise, is in a class by itself.
2011 has seen its share of excellent 20th anniversary reissues from the shamelessly longhaired and scrappy early days of grunge and alternative rock. To name a couple, Nirvana’s lovingly curated Nevermind reissue is certainly stacked to rank among the year’s best, and Pearl Jam have continued the process of remastering their early works (this year seeing Vs. and Vitalogy re-issues) to mark their 20th year as a band. And adding to the nostalgia for a time before alt-rock radio was dominated by tasteless nu-metal sound-alikes, Smashing Pumpkins have released new remastered editions of their 1991 debut, Gish, and its 1993 follow-up, Siamese Dream.
37 years is a long damn time to wait for a debut album. That’s the case with seminal Cleveland, Ohio band Rocket From The Tombs (not to be confused with the more recent San Diego rock band Rocket From The Crypt), who wrote music, played shows, did drugs, drank too much, and fought their way through one rocky year together before calling it quits without much tangible evidence they’d ever existed. During their brief, tumultuous time together from 1974 to ‘75, they re-invigourated the fledgling Cleveland rock scene and arguably woodshedded the punk rock sound before the Ramones ever took the stage at CBGB. After they burned out as a band, their factions split to form to prototypical bands on different ends of the spectrum. Singer David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner formed the avant-garde Pere Ubu while guitarist Gene O’Connor (aka Cheetah Chrome) and drummer Johnny Madansky formed the punk stalwarts Dead Boys. Each group relied on Rocket From The Tombs tunes in their repertoires.
French/Finnish duo The Dø (pronounced “The Dough”) released a No 1 album in France in 2008 with their debut, A Mouthful. At home, they’re a major act, packing stadiums and thrilling the festival circuit. Now, their eclectic and quirky sophomore release, Both Ways Open Jaws, is getting a proper UK release seven months after its first appearance.
Youth Lagoon’s The Year Of Hibernation is, quite simply, magic. Trevor Powers, a 22-year-old Idahoan, has somehow created in his own bedroom an album that arcs and soars, that sounds at once confident and achingly intimate, and he’s done it all on his own, using his Youth Lagoon moniker to unpack the sorts of feelings that haunt everyone who’s ever grown up.
Soul Time!, the fifth album from soul revivalists Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, collects tracks that previously only appeared during the group’s famously awe-inspiring live shows, and that should tell you something. What we’ve got here are Sharon Jones, a woman born perhaps a generation late, and the Dap-Kings, led by Boscoe Mann and sought after to back anyone looking to get funky (including the late, great Amy Winehouse), turning in a collection of crowd-pleasers in fine form.
Londoners My Sad Captains could certainly be lumped in with all the other folk revivalists out there today, but the sound on their sophomore album, Fight Less Win More, is more akin to Matt Pond PA, The American Analog Set, Wooden Birds or Earlimart. Strange to say, but this sound that seemed so prevalent as recently as five years ago has a sort of lovely nostalgia to it that makes My Sad Captains instantly endearing from the first notes of the album’s opener, Orienteers. These guys would have fit right into Zach Braff’s Garden State soundtrack, for instance, and that is by no means a bad thing; music like theirs is hard to come by these days.
"I know a song. I know a song to sing on this dark night," whispers a spooky, spectral David Lynch on Noah’s Arc, a quietly smoldering, beat-driven fever dream tucked away in the midst of Crazy Clown Time. And that’s really how auteur film director Lynch’s first album comes across; it’s a hellish, claustrophobic night terror, plodding a somnambulant path of destruction through the listener’s fragile psyche. A song for a dark night, indeed, and beneath all the telltale Lynchian weirdness (and perhaps, at turns, because of it), Crazy Clown Time is something of an off-kilter, haunted pop gem.