Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Slothrust – The Pact – 12 songs / 42 minutes
An out of nowhere album that is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year and has started a hard-core music crush for yours truly.
Before their fourth album, The Pact, was released, I was not familiar with this band. A three-piece consisting of Leah Wellbaum on guitar and vocals, Kyle Bann on bass, and Will Gorin on drums, they have been making music since 2012. Covers album Show Me How You Want It to Be notwithstanding (check out her raucous version of Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” and her slyly awesome take on Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time”), most of it was not all that memorable. I say that after taking the time to check out their catalogue, because this new record is terrific.
Conjuring the solo guitar heroics of indie rock legends such as Doug Martsch (Built To Spill) or J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr), Leah is the band. Her lyrics and the delivery of them are blatantly aloof, even sarcastic at times, as if she is daring the audience to join in on some inside joke she is telling. Seeing her live at the Aftershock Music Festival confirmed this, as she distorted her face into snarky poses and danced around like a bizarre robot while she shredded and basically melted our faces off. Watching her and how confident and talented yet somewhat disinterested she was really had an impact on me. In short, Leah is seriously badass and is my musical spirit animal. I swear that the fact she is beautiful has nothing to do with it – without songs of such a high quality as are found on The Pact (and a shout out to “Crockpot”, from Of Course You Do), I wouldn’t give a shit about this band.
To the songs! “Double Down” starts the record off with a bang – slick guitar riff, don’t-give-a-damn lyrics, and a healthy dose of angst combine into a hooky rock classic. “Peach” is pure guitar loveliness and finds Leah comparing herself to a soft peach against her enemy’s sharp teeth. The first verse is basically scat wordplay a la Beck; it sounds good but does it mean anything? No, but turns out it doesn’t really need to. On “Planetarium”, she rocks our socks off so hard that throwing in some snarly “blah blah blah blah” lyrics isn’t anywhere near as annoying as it should be. Oh, and the line “I want to take you to the planetarium, I want to show you how ugly the sky is” is fantastic.
That trio of rawk songs leads us to the true gem of the record: the slow-tempo of the morose and regretful “Walk Away”, which is truly beautiful and the rare song here that is not centered firmly around her guitar playing. Basically just bass and drums until the last minute when she lets into a wicked yet restrained guitar solo, it finds her longing to go back in time and be alone because what she has now is not working and she just can’t leave it. Check this out – it is not only the best song here but the only one that she seems to be 100% sincere and committed to.
Another highlight is the acoustic guitar driven yet still punky “New Red Pants”, where Leah tells us “I’m not into romance, I am into blood”. The finger-picked acoustic guitar and solitary man story on album closer “Travel Bug” is further proof that there is more than one dimension at play here. Even though she repeats a lyric from “Double Down”, all is forgiven. This music and this band are Leah’s vehicle, and clearly she can take it in several different directions. Here’s hoping this is the start of a good run for Slothrust, because the potential is clearly there.
Key Tracks: “Walk Away”, “Double Down”, “New Red Pants”
Also released (and not strong enough to recommend):
First Aid Kit – Tender Offerings EP
This four-song EP is leftovers from their Ruins LP, and starts off with my new favorite FAK song: the melancholy and heart-wrenching “I’ve Wanted You”. This is one of the finest songs of the year, and I encourage you to give it a listen. The rest of the songs here didn’t leave a mark on me and feel very much like the B-sides they are.
Willie Nelson – My Way
Willie’s relentless stream of releases continues with this collection of Sinatra covers. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and it sounds exactly as you think it would.
Beta Radio – Ancient Transition
Nothing here is really off-putting, it just isn’t all that great either. Imagine my surprise at just how great their live show was last month. Turns out their first couple of albums are quite spectacular, and I am glad I saw them and checked those records out (thanks, B).
Blitzen Trapper – Furr (10th Anniversary Edition)
If you are not familiar with this album, listen to the original version, and enjoy. There is nothing really worth worrying about on the pile of B-sides that accompanies this 10-year deluxe edition.
Jungle – For Ever
I enjoyed the soul and funk elements of their live show when I saw them this spring, but really didn’t care for this studio album.