Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 106)


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PICKS

Sleigh Bells, Bitter Rivals     (Mom & Pop)

Finally, 80s revival done right, meaning tuneful and brash and fucked up and hardly 80s at all, an AC/DC / Tiffany union forged in outrageous synths and the oldest power chords known to womankind. If you’ve always found loud to be its own reward, the twenty-nine minutes of brisk bombast herein might restore your faith in indie’s capacity for unreasonable noise. If you prefer a little substance with your cheerleader-from-hell anthems, rest assured most threats and winks seem grounded in reality - Derek Miller’s asthma figures prominently in an eastward migration number, plus “it’s a terrifying thing / the American dream”. And when the duo indulge in a little playacting, they have fun the way pop fabulists should, whether taking on the female sheriff in the opener or sending gummie bears to the electric chair on the closer. So step back as Alexis Krauss asserts her rock goddess bona fides, channelling pure heartache on “To Hell With You,” throwing shade, thinking in symmetry, with a heart so dark it makes dirt look clean, chewing over “make like a banana / and split” just like she’s David Lee Roth. R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

The Dismemberment Plan, Uncanney Valley     (Partisan)

The howls of protest/incomprehension largely greeting this unapologetically melodic dispatch from millennial hero Travis Morrison and co. can’t completely be blamed on Team Stasis, even if true believers might rage against any suggestion the perpetual nervousness of jittery rhythms aren’t sustainable once blue balls no longer reign supreme among life’s agonies. Besides, these tunes are far more musically voracious than their shimmering surfaces suggest - imagine them transposed to open mic night and you’ll miss every keyboard squiggle and electric sitar, not to mention Joe Easley. But even if you find “Lookin’” too sweet a sentiment for polymaths, you’re wrong to feel betrayed by this album. When you love a frontman in part thanks to his daft non-sequiturs, you can’t grimace when he doles them out, which is another way of wondering why fans memorialized plastic cubes filled with pus on supervisor’s desks but roll eyes at fat nuns on drugs drowning in hugs. When you’ve canonized tales of fraught domesticity like the post-coital McLaughlin Group-watching “Ellen & Ben,” you can’t gag when a slightly older narrator admits he misses the rock & roll kids but rock & roll was killing him. And if a sentiment like “I hope I’m not a mystery / to those who knew me best” strikes you as corny, perhaps it’s time to let a little cornball into your life. Or you could turn up the Slade-worthy glam stomp of “Go And Get It” and warble along with “Let’s Just Go To The Dogs Tonight”. “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer” will be waiting for you when you’re ready.  

NEAR PICKS

Best Coast, Fade Away     (Jewel City)

As direct and tuneful as Taylor Swift herself, Bethany Cosentino could no more phone in a melody than she could scribble a thought-provoking turn of phrase, and therein as always lies the power pop rub. From the beefed-up production to the guitar swoops, from the weepy countrypolitan of “Baby I M Crying” to the Skyliner swoon of “I Don’t Know Why,” she’s never sounded better. But one year ago I wondered aloud about the looming conundrum of a maturing Cosentino - that day when she’d no longer pen odes to cats and weed. Balthus and Willie Nelson might note there’s nothing wrong with either topic. Yet both subjects seem scarce, although there’s plenty of stupid fights and fears about identity, along with queries as to why the sun is in the sky and a couplet she admires enough to visit twice: “sick of you being mean / I didn’t do anything”. Is it really all that boorish to want more from a self-identified Joan Didion fan?

Parquet Courts, Tally All the Things That You Broke   (What’s Your Rupture?)

Stopgap EP from Brooklyn-cum-Texas “Americana Punk” band, trippy and skippy and brimming over with guitar, especially on the one that declaims “the more you use it / the more it works”. Not much guitar on the closer, a seven-minute funk goof across their very  own “Fodderstompf,” the tale of a two-wheeled weed courier worth hearing once, then maybe once again. 

Elizabeth Morris, Elizabeth Morris   (self-released)

Four solo demos courtesy of Bandcamp, and if Elizabeth Morris wasn’t the Aussie frontwoman for London-based twee rockers Allo Darlin’ you’d likely not be reading this nor any other review. “Optimism” suggests a Joni Mitchell influence I’d never otherwise have pegged, and Morris tosses off plenty of noteworthy asides (“I don’t have enough time to play it cool”; “in this room / we will build the young republic”). But in both sound and delivery, these songs suggest an author unsure of their ultimate worth. Morris shouldn’t undercut herself - a little backbeat and she’d really have something here.

BOMB

Cults, Static     (Columbia)

Lovers no more, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion chirp and ooze within their studied cinematic landscapes, wet reverb permeating every organ-laced bad sex lament. At their crispest (“I Can Hardly Make You Mine”), they suggest a garage/soul amalgam few of their peers dare shoot for. Elsewhere, it’s anybody’s guess what the static of the title is meant to reference. Noise? Quiescence? Maybe all those old radios they dragged into the studio the better to provide between-song blasts of fuzzy anachronisms? Kids today - so literal, so old-fashioned.