In a year celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first Guided By Voices album, 1987’s Devil Between My Toes, band leader Robert Pollard marks the personal milestone of seeing the release of his 100th album, Guided By Voices’ first double album and latest record, 2017’s August By Cake. Astoundingly, with 25 Guided By Voices albums and 22 solo albums to his credit, over the past 30 years Pollard has found time for an additional 50 plus record releases through various side projects and collaborations. With more than 2,000 songs registered to his name, Pollard, celebrating his 60th birthday this year, remains singularly one of the most prolific songwriters of the era. With 8 songs per side August By Cake‘s 32 tracks continue to pad Pollard’s numbers embracing his apparent “more is more” philosophy towards songwriting and record making. Pollard exhibits an almost ADHD zeal towards beginning and ending songs and moving on to the next one as quickly as possible with all 32 tracks overlapping and running into one another like a crammed K-Tel compilation from the 1970’s. However, by the time the needle drops on the fourth side, after a strong start, August By Cake looses momentum and begins to wear thin as it limps towards the finish line. Still, with it’s wealth of poignant material and integral moments of musicality there’s more than enough brilliance cast over this decidedly lo-fi double album to make most shady singles weep with envy.
Their first album in three years since re-imagining The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper with a motley crew of freaks and fwends, Oczy Mlody is the 14th Flaming Lips studio album and 20th overall in a career spanning 34 years since their inception in 1983 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Best described as an atmospheric symphony of chill, Oczy Mlody is more an elaborate musical composition for full band in 12 movements than a mere collection of songs presented over two sides of a standard rock n roll album. Imagine the HAL 9000 computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey attempting to decipher the Dark Side Of The Moon without rise or crescendo building solely upon a bleak emotional landscape of enveloping sound. An album that boldly states, “There should be unicorns!”, this is certainly music to listen to while hunting for faeries and witches and wizards to kill when your not too busy listening to the frogs with demon eyes.
Steel Panther are no joke, despite the fact that their first two albums debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Comedy chart. These guys have been routinely topping rock charts and selling out shows all over the world since releasing their major label debut Feel The Steel back in 2009. Having paid their dues playing covers of ’80’s hair metal hits on LA’s storied Sunset Strip as well as doing time as a Van Halen tribute act, Steel Panther have proven time and time again they are more than a mere Spinal Tap type parody of a mock rock band but rather a quartet of skilled musicians sincerely dedicated to celebrating their passion and exuberance for the spirit of ’80’s hair metal. There is no denying the hard rock pedigree of both lead singer Michael Starr (Ralph Saenz), once the lead singer for L.A. Guns, as well as lead guitarist Satchel (Russ Parrish) who, after graduating from The Guitar Institute of Technology at Hollywood’s Musician’s Institute in the late ’80’s, played guitar for Judas Priest singer Rob Halford as well as Sebastian Bach. Ironically, Lower The Bar is anything but, with Starr and company actually toning things down a bit lyrically from 2014’s All You Can Eat homage to certain oral proclivities whose infamous cover blasphemously parodied Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Perhaps taking cues from critics who felt the band had gone too far Lower The Bar’s innocuous song titles “Anything Goes”, “That’s When You Came In”, “Wrong Side Of The Tracks”, “Now The Fun Starts”, “Wasted Too Much Time”, “I Got What You Want” and “Walk Of Shame” seem to indicate a slight shift away from the more extreme x rated nature of their previous efforts “Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin'”, “Party All Day (F*ck All Night)”, “It Won’t Suck Itself”, “Gloryhole”, “Bukkake Tears”, “Gangbang At The Old Folks Home” and “F*cking My Heart In The Ass” to name a few. Still, make no mistake, there are few if any euphemisms here, Steel Panther continue to revel in their own brand of in your face let it all hang out shock rock.
The recent departure of long time drummer Spencer Schoening along with a revolving door of bass players has resulted in Vancouver’s Juno Award winning one time 5 piece Said The Whale reduced to the trio it is today comprised of founding members Ben Worcester and Tyler Bancroft on guitar and vocals and Jaycelyn Brown on keyboards. Their 5th album in nine years, As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide plays along similar lines of their vocal based electro pop contemporaries Mother Mother and The xx, pleasant but not overly challenging. Many of the album’s most engaging moments are closely linked to Brown’s interesting layers of synth lines and keyboard work, particularly on the track Miscarriage.
Australia’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have decided that 2017 is the year for excessive experimentation. With plans of releasing no less than 5 full albums of difficult music before the year is out they have chosen the field of microtonal music as their first foray with Flying Microtonal Banana Volume 1 – Explorations Into Microtonal Tuning. By definition a microtone is a musical interval that is smaller than a semitone. Microtonal music may also including any music using intervals not found in the standard Western tuning of twelve equal intervals per octave. Traditional Indian music as well as Thai, Burmese, Indonesian and African music which relies on intonation and other alternative tunings may also be considered microtonal music. Achieving this sonic authenticity required the Lizard lads to customize their instruments to play in 24-TET tuning, a modern Arab system of musical tuning based on the division of the octave into twenty-four equal parts rather than the customary twelve. And the verdict? 42 minutes of groovy trance inducing electric ragas spread out over nine tracks where music class and the dance floor meet and merge into one.
England’s newest hit makers, Temples have followed up their exquisite 2014 debut album with this self produced collection of 12 dreamy psych pop tracks recorded at their home studio in Kettering, Northamptonshire 80 miles north of London. Originally a home studio recording project formed in 2012 around the nucleus of singer/guitarist James Bagshaw and bassist Tom Walmsley, Temples later added fellow Kettering resident drummer Samuel Lloyd Toms along with keyboard player Adam Smith in order to play their songs live. Volcano, their second album of psych tinged pop, will most certainly catch the ire of some haters who are likely to complain they have betrayed their strong psych base from the first album. Bagshaw himself has commented on the progression from the first album describing the latest record as “a result of implementing a load of things that we didn’t know about the first time around”. On Volcano Temples have boldly decided to not lock themselves into a formula opening themselves up to a world of limitless possibilities beyond the narrow margins and confines of modern psychedelia. Rating: 8/10
Austin, Texas indie darlings Spoon have been making their own brand of arty experimental indie pop for close to 25 years now. Centred around longtime band-members Britt Daniel on lead vocals and guitar along with drummer Jim Eno, their 9th album in 21 years, Hot Thoughts demonstrates a sharp shift away from the arty and more directly towards the pop. Side 1 and Side 2 are divided equally into 5 parts, one fifth art four fifths pop with each side concluding with the longer artier pieces. By far the two most interesting tracks on the album are the closers, side one’s “Pink Up” along with side two’s sax heavy five minute instrumental “Us” which would not have sounded out of place on either one of Bowie’s triumphant Berlin period albums Low and Heroes. What Hot Thoughts suffers most from is a complete and utter identity crisis. The band went so far as to bring in indie rock god Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, The Go-Betweens, Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst, The Shins) as the albums officially credited “sequence adviser” to help make sense of these disparate tracks in search of a home. Perhaps the simplest solution would have been to flesh out the musical topography over two different albums instead of trying to jam it all into one neat little Hot Thoughts box because, contrary to what that old bearded hippie philosopher once said, the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts. Roll over Aristotle and tell Spoon the news.