J Mascis fans have had a lot to rejoice over in the past decade. They've seen Mascis reunite with Murph and Lou Barlow for a full-on Dinosaur Jr. reunion (shocking just about everyone - band members included) with consistent tours and four (4!) albums of new music since they last called it a day. The band is in prime form - not as slobby as the mid- '80s, but still impressively ferocious. Meanwhile, Mascis has managed to multitask like a champ, keeping up his solo output. The latest, "Elastic Days," his third since 2011, continues on the same trajectory as the last two, forgoing the loud abrasive guitars - his Dinosaur Jr. signature - in leu of a quieter, but still just as impactive acoustic guitar route, punctuated with savvy lyrics.
Songs like the beautiful "Sky is All We Have" and the title track are among some of the best solo Mascis songs ever committed to tape.
It's hard not to draw comparisons to peers like Husker Du's Bob Mould, coming from a similar cold climate punk rock background, who has grown significantly as both a musician and a songwriter in the decades since arriving in the 1980s, while still keeping up a trends-be-damned philosophy to writing stellar punk music buttressed by sharp lyrics and solid playing.
[Vinyl Re-Release] (Craft Recordings)
The distance from punk rocker to acoustic folk/alt-country artist appears to get shorter and shorter every year. Everyone from Frank Turner and Tim Barry to Mike Ness and Chuck Ragan have unplugged and perched on the edge of a stool channeling their inner Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. So, it was not that surprising when Tiger Army singer Nick 13 strapped on an acoustic guitar in 2011 and lent his pipes to 10 Americana/country songs, a departure from his day job leading a psychobilly band. He did however manage to cover two Tiger Army songs.
The vinyl pressings of Nick 13's lone solo effort sold out long ago, so Craft Recordings is reissuing the album on black vinyl and limited editions on clear and walnut vinyl.
The record is not too much of a stretch for Tiger Army fans, for as much as the band was inspired by The Misfits and The Cramps, it's clear Nick's writing and singing was just as inspired by Buck Owens and good ol' Hank.
The only downside to these songs is that quite a few tend to sound a little too similar to each other bleeding from one to another. But when he does stretch a bit, like on "Restless Moon," with a strong infusion of classic country swing and the two reworked Tiger Army tracks, "In the Orchard" and "Cupid's Victim," the result is impressive. There's also no denying that his voice, not having to compete with distorted guitars and loud drums with this outing, is on full display and comes of as remarkably smooth, like an even cooler version of Chris Isaak (though Isaak still boasts the better pompadour).
CURSE OF LONO
As I Fell
(Submarine Cat Records)
Every once and a while you stumble on an amazing band that is so frustratingly under the radar that it makes you question the very concept of justice. The London-based five-piece, Curse of Lono, is one of those bands.
For three albums now, spread across the past three years, the band has turned in one nearly-flawless record after another and aside from the cheers coming from music reporters, some Americana devotees and record store nerds, the ripples in the pop culture lake never seem to go beyond one or two rings. The band's latest effort, "As I Fell," continues their streak of brilliantly simple and simply brilliant blend of Americana and Gothic Alternative Rock. Though the band has never been accused of being overly raucous, "As I Fell" finds the band at their most subdued, bringing about a strong Dylan vibe throughout the 11 songs here.
It seems almost unfair to single out one track from the next as the record is nearly devoid of any filler material. The band instead opts for creating a deeply moving Southern Gothic (yes, I realize they're from London) sound that recalls everyone from the Cowboy Junkies to Nick Cave.
It sort of makes sense, given the remarkably twisted political world we are currently living in, that one of the best bands out there is not getting the attention it clearly deserves. Here's hoping change is coming soon, on all fronts.
The seeds planted decades ago by folks like Bob Mould, Paul Westerberg and even further back, Alex Chilton, are finally starting to yield an impressive crop of brilliant new musicians.
Michigan-based Power Pop band Extra Arms is a prime example. Their latest, "Headacher," is a whirlwind of crunchy guitars, machine gun drumming, singalong choruses and sharp enough to kill hooks.
From the keyboards on "Why I Run," worthy of a comparison to The Cars (though admittedly if Ric Ocasek and the boys spent much of the morning downing espresso) to "Honey Brown," a track that would not be out of place on one of The Replacements last couple of records, the band has perfected the art of smart, brisk pop, with loud guitars.
Extra Arms evolution from a solo effort (Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms) to a full-fledged unit has been pretty swift. And it's hard to deny just how great a decision it was listening to just about any track off of 'Headacher."
All The Pain Money Can Buy
[20th Anniversary Edition] (Omnivore Recordings)
The sophomore record from the Texas-based Power Pop band Fastball is likely remembered by most for the lead track and ultimate earworm "The Way." The ridiculously catchy song about an old couple who goes out for a drive and gets lost forever, was endearing for the first few weeks of it's release... but seven weeks in, the amount of time it spent on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, it had more than worn out it's welcome. Which is a shame for the band, because the album, "All The Pain Money Can Buy," listened to with fresh ears, is remarkably impressive from start to finish. And Omnivore Recordings, keeper of the Power Pop flame, is ensuring the record gets it's due with a proper 20th anniversary re-release - including its debut on vinyl. The band may have been a victim of their own success wearing out their welcome before many had a chance to listen to the complete LP - one that happens to be a nearly flawless collection.
The CD version of the album - which also boasts the impossibly catchy singles "Fire Escape" and "Out of My Head" - includes nine bonus tracks. The add-ons are various demos (four of which have never been released before), several B-Sides and songs from random compilations. Appropriately enough, the closing track on this set is a simply divine acoustic version of "The Way," reframing and refreshing the song for a whole new decade.