Boy in a Well (Bloodshot Records)
Clearly not a band to shy away from a challenge, the Denver country punks in The Yawpers decided to make their third LP a concept record about a tragedy set in World War I Franceā¦ including a song in French. Oh, and none of these guys actually speaks French. Regardless, "Boy in a Well" still managed to come out remarkably well. Ambitious as hell and not nearly as accessible as 2015's "American Man," but on repeat lessons you begin to realize just how strong this record is. The concept focuses on a mother who abandons her unwanted newborn. With that framework, The Yawpers are able to bring about an emotionally deep and wildly satisfying set of songs. Among the stand outs here are the country-infused "A Visitor is Welcomed" and the achingly beautiful "Room With a View". Written as Nate Cook's marriage was imploding, likely a strong influence here, "Boy in a Well" is emotionally charged from the first track on and never lets up. Along with writing some of their most ambitious songs to date, the band also brought in Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, GN'R, Bash & Pop) to play on a few songs. The result is an impressive collection of music that grows with greatness with each listen. A big gamble that pays off handsomely.
Hamell On Trial
Tackle Box (New West Records)
The first voice you hear on the 10th album from acoustic punk poet Hamell On Trial is from Donald Trump ("I'd like to punch him in the face," declares the Whiner in Chief on the opening line, to the album's opening track "Safe"). And much like Ragan launched a slew of great punk bands in the '80s, Trump's white-pride-and-fuck-the-rest style of leadership serves as fodder for much of Hamell's latest brilliant offering. He's always been the conscious of modern music and nowhere is that more obvious then on "Tackle Box," where Trump's America is on full display.
Easily the strongest track here is bound to be the most controversial, "Not Aretha's Respect (Cops)," a dark, autobiographical song told in the first person to his son about the realty of the mindset of many cops today ("I'm trying to teach my kid there's some authority that needs to be respected but we have no respect for you/now I'm trying to teach him to not get shot"). Oddly, Hamell mixes in four children's songs throughout the record via the "Froggy" tracks. And as peculiar as it sounds (and it does seem a bit weird on the first listen or two), surprisingly it works, providing levity throughout the record. As he's proven album after album, Hamell is a master at holding up a mirror to society through searing, wry lyrics, via strong melodies and some well-placed acoustic guitar licks. We may be going through a particularly dark period in our country's history, but at least we've got a stellar soundtrack to get us through it.
Thousand Springs (Soundly Music)
Nashville musician Korby Lenker decided to skip the traditional record studio for his latest album, 'Thousand Springs,' and take a field trip instead. Armed with his guitar, some recording equipment and a tent, he headed to a dozen various places including his home state of Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts and Standing Rock, the site of the recent government standoff. He played in bookstores, hotel rooms and even a mortuary. The inspiration can be heard all over 'Thousand Springs,' an expansive, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable album. The record starts out on a solemn note with the song "Northern Lights," and while his arrangements are beautiful throughout, not every track here is mellow. Lenker channels Paul Simon on the catchy "Nothing Really Matters" and even taps into a little funk on the driving song "Last Man Standing," recorded at Standing Rock and written about Chief Sitting Bull. Not every song here is earnest, however, with Lenker showing his light side on songs like the cleverly infectious "Book Nerd." Hitting the road to record this album, Lenker tapped close to 30 fellow folk musicians to help lend their efforts to 'Thousand Springs.' While certainly ambitious, the gamble has paid off remarkably well, making this one of his best efforts to date.
PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland, Jr. (HHBTM Records)
With a title like that, you kind of know what you're in for. Spread across two records, this 28-song, 75-minute opus is a pretty bold experiment for the Athens-based indie pop band just three albums into their career. Surprisingly, it pays off handsomely. There are admittedly some quirky detours here, but also plenty of flat out great pop and rock songs as well, like the melodic "Incinerate," the jangly 'Come Feed Your Dogs" or a "Noise Problems," with its buzz saw guitars. Like their last two efforts, there is still plenty of electronic instruments throughout, but this record shows them expanding their sound impressively. Some songs are easier to grasp than others on first listen and it's a hard record to devote your attention to all at once, but over time, you start to realize just how much work went into every contribution here (unlike many double albums that seem to just pick up every bit of recording, good or not, and cram into submission). With a slow burn appeal that takes a little patience, "PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland, Jr." proves the hype surrounding the band's last two efforts was well deserved.
Brick + Mortar
Dropped Again (Self-Released)
For a two-man band, Brick + Mortar have figured out a way to make an impressively big sound. On "Dropped Again," their latest album, Brandon Asraf plays guitar, bass and sings; Jon Tacon drums, while both handles samples. The result, though a little sterile at time, for the most part is an eclectically fun mix of Indie pop and electronic rock. The fact that the album was even released is a feat in itself and owes its availability to a clerical error on the part of the band's former label that resulted in the band owning its own songs (something major labels tend to oppose). Seven of these songs first appear on 2015's "Dropped" album, but this re-release includes that addition of "Great Escape" a perfect intro to the band, and a song the finds the duo at its best creating dreamy, atmospheric pop. "Move to the Ocean" is equally great and the band tacks on a remix to this latest release, (in addition to the track "One Little Pill"). Brick + Mortar plan to spend the rest of the year touring with a new LP is in the works for 2018.