The story behind Insecure Men’s debut record began with Saul Adamczewski teaming up with old school chum Ben Romans-Hopcraft (of the band Childhood) to form the duo after being asked to temporarily depart from his primary occupation as guitarist and main songwriter for England’s bad boys of indie rock, Fat White Family. Whether the split is temporary or permanent remains unclear. What is most clear is the relative ease with which Adamczewski switched from the darkness and depravity of his former work to the lightness and effervescence of his most recent. The bulk of the record was written during a particularly tumultuous time for Adamczewski while sharing a South London practice space with his former bandmates. The eponymous debut began to take shape during Adamczewski’s stay in upstate New York while working on the Moonlandingz collaborative recording project with Sean Lennon and Fat White Family bandmate Lias Saoudi. Lennon, hearing Adamczewski tinkering away in the corridors of his New York recording studio in-between Moonlandingz takes, was intrigued with what he heard and stepped in as co-producer. Gradually, as more and more layers were added, what began life as an eleven track demo tape recorded on an old Tascam multi-track tape recorder evolved into the self-titled debut we hear today leaving virtually no trace of the original demos which lay underneath. Highlights include numerous playful nods to original madcap crazy diamond Syd Barrett as well as a delightful dash of psychedelicized exotica Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny would be proud of. One of the most wonderfully curious records of 2018, Insecure Men deserves exploring.
Star Rating: 3.5/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 11/52
The Decemberists are a whimsical shapeshifting eclectic roots rock band formed in Portland, Oregon at the turn of the century. Since their 2002 debut album Castaways and Cutouts they have released a total of eight albums including their most recent I’ll Be Your Girl from 2018. Within the last two decades their musical direction has shifted everywhere from the 1960s British Folk Revival to country blues Americana and beyond. Contemporary influences include 1980s Waterboys, Morrissey and REM as well as indie rock acts Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service, Modest Mouse and The Shins. Lead vocalist and primary songwriter Colin Meloy holds sway over much of the eleven tracks that make up I’ll Be Your Girl, aided by the lush full instrumentation provided by the band’s two contributing multi-instrumentalists, keyboard player Jenny Conlee (piano/organ/vibraphone/accordion/synthesizer) and lead guitarist Chris Funk (acoustic & electric guitars/banjo/bouzouki/mandolin/synthesizer). Additional members Nate Query (electric and upright bass/cello) and John Moen (drums/percussion) hold their own as the quintet’s rhythm section. Of particular note on this latest record are the highly evocative vintage analogue synth sounds heard throughout as well as the wonderfully surprising Bowie inspired sax solo courtesy of guest artist Joe Cunningham. Fresh, fun and upbeat (even while espousing sentiments like “Everything is awful” and “We all die young”) I’ll Be Your Girl manages to stay clear of the kind of chanty anthemic clichés and intolerably earnest naval gazing introspection that mars much of today’s acoustic roots rock scene. This record should be of particular interest to fans of legendary Canadian west coast roots rockers Spirit Of The West and their 1993 masterwork Faithlift. Standout tracks include Severed, Sucker’s Prayer, Your Ghost and We All Die Young.
Star Rating: 3/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 10/52
Bassist Shannon Shaw and guitar player Cody Blanchard formed Shannon and the Clams along with drummer Ian Amberson in the late 2000’s while attending art school in Oakland, California. Soon the trio were playing shows in and around the city and within a short period of time released their debut single on Weird Hug Records. In the years since the trio has switched drummers (Nate Mahan) and morphed into a quartet with the addition of retro keyboardist Will Sprott. Ten years in Shannon (also a member of queercore punk band Hunx And His Punx) and her accompanying Clams have come up with their most sophisticated and sonically ambitious album to date. The delightfully charming Onion, expertly produced by The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach, is chock-full of the same sunshine pop and rainbows that illuminated Auerbach’s 2017 masterwork Waiting On A Song. And in much the same way that his record embraced the analogue aesthetic of early 70’s Top 40 AM radio Shannon and the Clams unashamedly celebrate the vintage sounds of garage psych, surf and 60’s pop along with a Blondie-esque girl group vibe flavored with just a dash of The Beatles’ covers era as heard on their 1963 debut album Please Please Me. This fabulously infectious album, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee (all of the most interesting indie records are coming out of Nashville these days) will have listeners toe-tapping and head-bopping from the moment the platter drops. An absolute delight!
Star Rating: 4.5/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 9/52
Black Label Society founding member Zakk Wylde first came to prominence in the late ’80s at the tender age of 21 when he was chosen by heavy metal legend turned reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne to be his writing partner and lead guitarist. After a decade spent in Ozzy’s shadow Wylde branched out on his own with what would become known as the Black Label Society. Formed out of the remnants of Wylde’s bluesy southern rock side project Pride & Glory which had disbanded in 1994 after one record, Black Label Society released their debut album Sonic Brew in 1998 within two years of Wylde’s first ever solo acoustic record Book of Shadows from 1996. After 20 years and numerous personnel changes multi-instrumentalist Wylde remains the one constant and driving force behind Black Label Society. Recorded and mixed at The Black Vatican in Los Angeles, California, their latest album, the deceptively titled Grimmest Hits (the record is neither a compilation of previously recorded material nor is it a collection of so-called “hit” songs) is the band’s 10th album in 20 years. A balls-to-the-wall riff bashing groove-fest Grimmest Hits is sure to satiate rockers of all ages who dig melody and lyrics along with heaps of heavy hooks and swaggering guitars. The casual listener should not be put off by the heavy metal trappings often associated with both the marketing and branding of BLS. Despite the fact that the Grim Reaper features prominently in the packaging and artwork accompanying Grimmest Hits, old time blues based southern rock riffs still remain at the heart of much of Wylde’s music (as witnessed by the album’s three ballads The Only Words, The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away and Nothing Left To Say). Highly recommended for fans of Queens Of The Stone Age and other millennial hard rock acts. All labels aside, Black Label Society are without question a hard edged American rock ‘n’ roll band of the finest order.
Star rating: 3/5
2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review: 8/52
Brighton England’s The Go! Team (not to be confused with Washington State indie rockers The Go Team from the late 80s) are the brainchild of Ian Parton, the deeper dig record collecting mix-master musician turned DIY record producer/arranger extraordinaire. He recorded his first album Thunder, Lightning, Strike at his parents’ place in 2004. Since that time his work has garnered widespread critical acclaim including a nomination for the UK’s prestigious music award The Mercury Prize for Best Album of 2005. Having recorded his debut album entirely by himself Parton formed the touring incarnation of The Go! Team out of necessity after being asked to perform live for a Swedish music festival at a time when no band existed. The present line-up includes Parton in various capacities as well as Sam Dook (guitar) Simone Odaranile (drums/percussion) Adam Hutchison (bass) Ninja (vocals) and Angela Won-Yin Mak (vocals/guitar).
At the heart of Semicircle, their 5th album in 14 years, what makes it most unique, is Parton’s latest obsession with marching bands and youth choirs. In combining the bands live instrumentation (bolstered by a swaggering six-piece horn section) with samples of obscure high school marching band recordings Parton has managed to capture a distinctive blend of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm quite unlike anything else that has come before it. The vocalists he handpicked for the project are no less wonderfully unconventional and equally diverse ranging from members of the Detroit Youth Choir and area high-school kids to elementary and middle school students from the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. Additional offbeat vocal contributions provided by Bandcamp discovery Darenda Weaver, Doreen Kirchner, Annelotte de Graaf (aka Amber Arcades) and Julie Margat as well as live and original band members Ninja and Angela “Maki” Won-Yin Mak. A refreshingly upbeat uplifting tapestry rich with genre bending grooves mashing unexpected elements of R&B, girl group, wall-of-sound, schoolyard chants with old school hip-hop funk and sunshine pop. The perfect soundtrack to Summer!
Star Rating: 3/5
2018 Album Reviews: 7/52
25-year-old millennial indie rocker Will Toledo is perhaps best known and loved for the half dozen or so self-released Bandcamp albums he wrote and recorded as a teenager, particularly Twin Fantasy. Now he has re-recorded it. Released in multiple formats including cassette, compact disc and digital download the original Twin Fantasy album has inspired an impassioned cult following in the years following its release in 2011. Calling himself Car Seat Headrest (a reference to early vocal takes recorded in the soundproof back seat of his car), Toledo recorded the entire original album on a laptop computer playing all of the instruments himself having no backing band at the time (he had left his previous band Nervous Young Men the prior year). Toledo has since been signed to the prestigious Matador Records label and added Ethan Ives (guitar) Andrew Katz (drums) and Seth Dalby (bass) to the band’s current lineup. No stranger to revisionism, this reimagining of Toledo’s 7-year-old low-fi indie opus to teenage heartache and angst marks the third such occasion he has revisited older material. In 2013 Toledo re-worked a slew of songs from his old band for the two hour long Nervous Young Man album. His Matador debut and 2015 follow up Teens Of Style served as a kind of introductory compilation of newly recorded versions of Toledo’s older songs written in his teens and originally released between 2010 and 2012.
In order to differentiate between the two latest Twin Fantasy releases, Matador has rebranded the original 2011 album Twin Fantasy (Mirror To Mirror) while dubbing the newly recorded 2018 version Twin Fantasy (Face To Face). Whether the update of Toledo’s 2011 DIY indie classic resonates and connects with fans the same way the original did remains to be seen. According to Toledo he never properly completed Twin Fantasy in the first place, “It was never a finished work and it wasn’t until last year that I figured out how to finish it.” Fans of the original will be pleased to know that there are plans for the first ever vinyl pressing of the original 2011 Twin Fantasy album just in time for Record Store Day. Either way, the future looks bright for the talented young Toledo who no doubt has a wellspring of “millennial life at 25” material waiting to be written now that he has afforded himself the opportunity of reconciling the legacy left him by his former teen self. Perhaps that is precisely why he chose to close out the final strains of Twin Fantasy’s second last piece with 1st Corinthians 13:11-12 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. At the end of my childhood I put these ways behind me. For now we see only reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Absolute biblical.
Star Rating: 3.5/5
2018 Album Reviews: 6/52
The Sheepdogs ’70s CanCon rock band lineage can be traced back through heritage acts The Guess Who (No Sugar Tonight), Crowbar (Oh What A Feeling), Lighthouse (Sunny Days) and The Five Man Electrical Band (Signs). Although they freely admit to forming under the heavy influence of Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Allman Brothers, Humble Pie and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Sheepdogs are perhaps best viewed in light of their particularly Canadian pedigree. Formed just over a decade ago around the nucleus of rock steady rhythm section Ryan Gullen (bass) and Sam Corbett (drums) Australian-born lead singer/guitarist and primary songwriter Ewan Currie rounds out the lineup along with brother Shamus Currie (trombone/keyboards) and the latest addition to the band, former child prodigy and award-winning Canadian blues guitarist Jimmy Bowskill. Noted for being the first ever unsigned band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the Juno Award winning Platinum selling Sheepdogs are 12 years into a gig which began a year before Trying To Grow, their self-released first album from 2007. Five albums later and The Sheepdogs sound content sticking to a tried and tested formula for success with their retro sounding ‘70s styled bluesy guitar rock, what frontman Ewan Currie likes to describe as “pure, simple, good-time music”. However, he may want to consider ditching the Abbey Road-styled song medley album enders The Sheepdogs have come to employ for half of their albums now, the approach feeling wholly predictable, tired and completely over utilized by the band. Be that as it may Changing Colours is a more than satisfying listen, expertly produced, arranged and executed, highlighted by soaring vocal harmonies and musicianship that is tight as a drum. A slickly produced professional sounding success, nothing more and nothing less than what has come to be expected from Saskatoon’s famously derivative sons.
2018 Album Review 5/52