Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive – 11 songs / 32 minutes
Punk/pop veterans continue to crank out catchy rockers, and I would dare say that they are getting better in their old age.
I admit to being a sucker for bands that can keep it together for three decades. So many great bands that I loved have splintered off in the wake of ego, addiction, or death. Yet our friends in Superchuck have been making punk rock catchy and danceable since I was in grade school, and their latest few efforts are among their best. Super (pun intended) bonus points for not only staying true to their indie label roots, but for owning one of the best small-time labels in existence: Merge Records. Somehow in between numerous side projects and running a record label, Mac McCaughan and crew still make consistently solid music.
What a Time To Be Alive is no exception, with the sing-along chorus of the title track and the 90 second explosion that is “Lost My Brain” leading things off with a fury. The zesty guitar riff of “Break the Glass” compliments Mac’s unique vocal delivery perfectly and comes complete with sci-fi backing noise. However, nothing on this record compares to the infectious and repeat-listen worthy goodness that is “I Got Cut”. That chorus and hook is pretty damn simple, but I can’t get enough of it. Mac screams over blistering guitars that “you try to tie us up, but we’re free as fuck”. This is Superchunk at their best, and sounds like a band revitalized. Funny what a divisive presidential election will do to revive a band that had become less prolific over the last few years.
Yes, there are weak spots on this record – that is true of almost any album worth its salt. See the repetitive and aimless “Reagan Youth” and “Dead Photographers”, but overall this thing is a winner and worth a listen or three for anyone who fancies themselves a fan of independent and raucous music. Love live Superchunk, and long live Merge Records!
Key Tracks: “I Got Cut”, “Break the Glass”, “What a Time To Be Alive”
Twin Peaks – Sweet ’17 Singles – 12 songs / 47 minutes
These guys (who will play two sets at Treefort next month) serve up a melodic batch of songs that harken back to a simpler time; Dan Auerbach would be proud.
**This one was actually released February 9th – better late than never!
This thing is all over the place – acoustic picking on “Fat Chance”, 60s pop-rock riffs and melodies on “Tossing Tears” and “In the Meadow”, mellow slow jams such as “On the Line” – which conjures up Mac DeMarco – or “Come For Me”, which sounds straight out of a Dan Auerbach solo record, and the 6+ minute instrumental ballad “We Will Not Make It (Not Without You)”. This lends to a feel that this is a collection of singles and random songs as opposed to a cohesive album, but also showcases the band’s potential and talents.
A fresh take on a love song, “Under the Pines” features these lyrics sung over a la-la-la backing vocal: “the gutter was filled with flowers, and our bodies filled with wine, and the wine was filled with a secret power and I filled your body with mine; and now I’m yours, and now you’re mine”. While a few songs later, “With You” has a slightly different feel: “Being with you, I might as well just be alone; you’re so heartless, it’s hard to believe, you’re so useless, you’re just what I need”.
On one of the album’s standouts, “Shake Your Lonely”, we are told how even in the wake of heartache, everything will be all right: after all, the next romance is potentially waiting around the corner. “Hey boy, why so down? Smoking all your teeth brown; it’s gonna be gonna be gonna be good. Hey boy, what are you doin’? Drinking yourself to ruin, it’s gonna be gonna be gonna be good”.
This is a band to keep an ear on and one to catch at Treefort next month. In what has become a more frequent phenomenon in contemporary music, they wear their 60s rock influence on their sleeves – but they do so effectively and to their benefit.
Key Tracks: “Tossing Tears”, “In the Meadow”, “We Will Not Make It (Not Without You)”
David Robert King – Idaho – 10 songs / 47 minutes
Local songwriter gets serious (and seriously dark) on his second LP, and first after moving to Boston and giving up music six years ago.
Credit goes out to Ben Schultz for his article and interview that I read in last week’s Boise Weekly for alerting me to this local musician. Unfortunately, I read the article too late to catch David’s appearance at the Sapphire Room. David – an Idaho Falls native – grew up loving the grunge scene and later in life gravitated towards singer-songwriter types, which is something I can relate to. In 2011 he quit music and went to school in Boston soon after the release of his debut album Midnight in Gloryland. He had lost the muse, and no longer wanted to pursue a career as a recording artist.
After moving to Georgia while his wife attended graduate school there, he met one of his songwriting idols, Mary Gauthier. Spending some time with her and watching her do her thing got him back in the groove, and the result of that new passion for songwriting is what would become Idaho. This record has a relentlessly dark, slow, and brooding feel. Instrumentation for the most part is minimal beyond acoustic guitar and piano.
There are some clear Tom waits influences in both his vocal delivery (“Bad Thing”, “Are You Thinking About Leaving?”) and choice of instrumentation (“Where Have You Gone?”, with its circus sideshow eeriness and pickaxe sound effects could be a Bone Machine B-side). On the incredibly heavy closer “Lower Lights” – which uses powerful hospital-room imagery to touch on the death of a loved one – David’s voice and deep, near-whisper delivery are eerily reminiscent of third act Leonard Cohen. “Well you’re gone now, you took the stars with you; you saw the best in me, I guess that that’s gone too; I’ll take these lower lights, and they’ll burn for you.”
While this album is certainly hit and miss, and only half of the ten tracks found their way onto my Spotify mega-playlist, there is plenty here to like – if you are not in the mood for dancing or smiling, that is.
Key Tracks: “Where Have You Gone?”, “Bad Thing”, “Lower Lights”
Also heard (but not recommending):
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy – “Stop Smoking (We Love You)” sounds like melancholy and irreverent Beck and was a fun 90 seconds on an album that I otherwise didn’t enjoy much.
Pete Astor – One for the Ghost – The title track was enjoyable and easily the best material here. Pete speak/sings about several famous dead folks over an up-tempo guitar riff; good old danceable death music!
Ought – Room Inside the World