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(Anti-/Epitaph, $9.99)

The most elegant and fierce of supergroups has to be this combo of powerhouse Neko Case, elegant chanteuse K.D. Lang, and indie folkie Laura Veirs. The idea to join forces came from Lang three years ago after she moved to Portland, OR and met local Veirs and visiting Case. A simple email was sent stating, “I think we should make a record” and, half an hour later, all were in. Each musician contributes her obvious strengths. Veirs brings her descriptive tales of real life people, Lang offers love songs for the martini lounge in your heart, and Case sings her tough but tender odes to human connections.

The trio weaves its exquisite vocals and harmonies together on the stand out track, the beautiful “Atomic Number,” and rocks with certain ferocity on the “Georgia Stars”. “Song For Judee” is Veirs’ vivid, touching ode to obscure ‘70’s folk rock songwriter Judee Sill, while Lang reaches beautifully exquisite heights on “Blue Fires”. Case soars on the quiet and pensive “Behind The Armory” before all three unite in honeyed, bountiful harmonies for the chorus. A mature, lovely showcase of not too dissimilar talents that makes for a most interesting union.

(Rhino Records, $9.99)

To mark their 50th anniversary, the surviving members of The Monkees (Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz) were presented with a genius idea for a reunion album…dig up the songs they demoed and recorded back in the ‘60’s, but never released, and ask a few of today’s musicians to write new ones. So, joining Carole King and Boyce & Hart in The Monkees’ stable group of writers are Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, and XTC’s Andy Partridge, among others. The bubblegum pop you’d expect is present, thanks to the saccharine sweet “You Bring The Summer,” written by the usually acerbic Partridge. Pulled from the past is a Neil Diamond cover “Love To Love” recorded in 1967 by Davy Jones, who died four years ago, and the title track, a 1968 piano-pop demo written and sung by the band’s friend, the late Harry Nilsson, whose vocals were kept intact along with fresh harmonies from Dolenz.

Half a century disappears on the stunningly beautiful “Me & Magdalena”. This simple, piano and guitar-driven tune, written by Gibbard, hits closest to Nesmith’s country-rock leanings, which were the far more substantial songs in The Monkees’ catalogue. The pristine, warm harmonies of Nesmith and Dolenz show not a hint of wear as the two sing with heartbreaking yearning on what, if there is any justice in the world, should be a chart-topping hit.


(Love’s Way Records, $8.91)

What a delight this surprise album from Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley, Jenny and Johnny) is! And yet another supergroup! Lewis joins forces with Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Forster and The Like’s Tennessee Thomas under the in-your-face moniker, Nice As F*#k. The trio’s sound is pure L.A. pop punk as they sometimes dip into comically teenaged themes. Take the track “Cookie Lips” with the line “Oh, Cookie Lips/Give me a crumb” before spiraling into a spoken word “Are you even still alive?/I think I just got roasted by Cookie Lips/What a d*#k.” Electronic beats ride throughout, especially on the sultry, slowed down EDM track “Mall Music”. NAF revs full speed ahead to get you up and pogoing on the motorized “Higher”, the first single, “Door” and “Homerun”, thanks to Thomas’ drumming on tighter than tight tom-toms. The women get political on “Guns” with the line “There are children dying/Every day/Put your guns away/Crisis is not Isis”. Each track is minimal, lyrically and instrumentally, but packs a new wave punch. The band’s name is also a track on this debut, a cheerleader-esque shout out, imploring that they are “Nice as f*ck/ Wish you good luck”.

(Anti-, $10.00)

Back with her first album in four years, indie folk darling Beth Orton trades her acoustic guitar for a synthesizer and the result is the electronica-drenched “Kidsticks”. An interesting and challenging listen, Orton’s vocals often sink into the whirling soundscape, exemplified best on the spoken word “Corduroy Legs”, an ode to her baby boy. When they do manage to rise above the fray, they dot in a sparkly way, especially on the kinetic groove of “1973”. The EDM feel of “Wave” recalls Orton’s previous output that had touches of electronica but most of the album; especially “Snow” with its layers of Orton’s vocals over a driving beat; forgoes the alt-country altogether. “Petals” takes on the drama of a cathedral psalm, with her exalted, ethereal soprano rising towards a cacophony of clanging static. “Dawnstar” offers swirls of tin percussion wrapped around watery sustained notes…beautiful in spite of Orton’s lyrics not being decipherable. “Flesh and Blood” is a joyful love song while “Falling” is the closest we get to Orton’s signature style of lilting, repeating, introspective lyrics. “Kidsticks” is a natural evolution of a stellar songwriter maturing and mastering her inherent talents and sensibilities.


(Interscope, $11.99)

This time, steering clear of their southern rock leanings, Band of Horses settles into an overall quieter rhythm on their latest offering led by frontman Ben Bridwell’s distinct, clear-as-a-bell vocals. Bridwell is responsible for penning these new tracks from a more personal point of view, something he’s shunned in the past for elusive metaphors. The extensive “Dull Times/The Moon” reveals a musician’s life of writer’s block…not as soul bearing as it is mundane. Meaning aside, the band’s orchestral moves swell on the dramatic “Hag”, while the ‘70s, low-key rocker “In A Drawer” features surprising guest vocals from Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis. Overall, the album (whose title comes from a text written by Bridwell’s 3-year old daughter) should please long-time fans not looking for anything off their desired course.

(Stax Records, $12.99)

Stax recording legend William Bell is best known for his gut-wrenching song “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, a soul gospel staple performed to glorious country rock acclaim by The Byrds back in the ‘60s. The legendary singer was part of the label’s original roster with Otis Redding and The Staple Singers and graces the world again with this, his 16th release. “The Three of Me” melds R&B and country perfectly while “I Will Take Care Of You” features Bell’s beautiful, loving vocals that are as strong as ever. Producer John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin) makes the mistake of creating too-clean-of-a-record; his attempt to drench the track “Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge” in the Memphis sound where Bell was born is far too sterile and doesn’t do justice to a man who deserves so much more.

“SHUT UP KISS ME” single from “MY WOMAN”
(Jagjaguwar, $9.99)

Indie sensation Angel Olsen has released the first single from her third album, “My Woman”, hitting shelves this September. It’s an insolent-filled, garage-rock gem with shades of Pat Benatar. Spare electric guitar, distorted vocals and the snappy chorus of “Shut up / Kiss me / Hold me tight” is a direct assault and instruction to a lover to form some kind of suicide pact. Crazy good is the menace Olsen expresses in this song, making it a contender for Song of The Summer. If this is just a speck of what’s on the forthcoming “My Woman”, fans will be drowning in a potential goldmine.

(Matador Records, $9.99)

24-year old musician Will Toledo is a wildly talented man who, on this his first studio album, employs an alter ego named “Joe” to tell tales of drinking too much and general angst defined by Wikipedia and Air Jordans. Comically sure of himself, Toledo recalls ‘90’s indie rockers Pavement, Beck, and Jonathan Richmond, i.e., smart music you can dance to. Many of the tracks clock in at over 6, 7, and even 8 minutes long, showing Toledo’s impressive ambition and lack of convention. The track “Vincent” starts as isolated guitar notes coming to the surface before launching into a full-on rock drive about anxiety while “1937 State Park” and “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” are perfectly crafted, messy punk tunes. / Issue 183 - September 2018
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