Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New albums from Finish Ticket and Sun Clay

Tears You Apart
* * * 1/2

Finish Ticket are now a far more recognized band than they were when they released their last EP two and a half years ago; though one may expect a band as populist as these guys to go all-out Maroon 5 on our asses, their long-awaited debut Tears You Apart is their artiest, weirdest, and best album yet.  Though it would be a stretch to call anything on it “experimental,” Tears You Apart finds the band taking a few satisfying sonic risks--“Pockets” features arpeggiating synths and Cure-like pizzicato string melody, while “Bring The Rain” and “Lying Through Our Teeth” use a wealth of studio effects to create an almost psychedelic atmosphere.  All of it comes together on the fantastic “Killing Me,” whose bold chord changes, spooky coda and haunting harmonies make it possibly the band’s best song yet and certainly their most beautiful.  However, most of these events occur during the album’s second half, and though there are only two skippable tracks on the album (“Catch You On My Way Out,” “In The Summer”), the first four songs probably won’t appeal as much to those who aren’t total suckers for the pop-rock sound.

Wreck Coast Revival
* * * 1/2

Psych-pop prodigy Matthew Horton recorded The Side Of The Room, his brilliant debut as Sun Clay, largely by himself; Wreck Coast Revival is Sun Clay’s first album as a band, a shift that has completely redefined the project’s sound and direction.  While The Side Of The Room was devoted to rough-hewn yet effective pop songs in the Deerhunter/Pixies school of songcraft, Wreck Coast Revival is meandering, introspective, and groove-focused.  Horton’s decision to make Sun Clay a band does not appear to have anything to do with the sonic potential of more instruments and more instrumentalists; on the contrary, the instrumental textures here are far more uniform than on The Side Of The Room.  Wreck Coast Revival’s lack of sonic diversity is what makes it ultimately a step down from its predecessor, whose toolbox timbres were key to its appeal.  But the new musicians do their job, providing a substantial backdrop for Horton’s hand-on-chin ponderings; it’s as if Horton is a meditator and the band’s grooves are a forest or a beach or something where he can sit down and let his mind stretch out.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New music from False Priest and Thee Oh Sees

Uncanny Valley
* * * *

 While his Handshake co-frontman Devin Clary generally employed an eyes-closed, head-in-the-clouds performance style, Evan Greenwald would stare relentlessly into the crowd, ensuring every lyric was pressed into their heads; he applies this same aesthetic to False Priest, the band he now fronts.  Their debut Uncanny Valley is an intensively lyrical album, finding Greenwald roasting the super-rich kids of his native Marin County through pointed observations dotted with bizarre, Tweedyesque couplets like “my hands are garbage disposal blades.”  His deliberate, menacing tone of voice, combined with the punchy yet relatively simple music, hammers every lyric in like a nail.  Though Greenwald’s unquestionably a great songwriter, the music is far less interesting than the lyrics; the textures are electric and rockish (with the exception of the successful country experiment "The Internet"), but they raise the ultimately unanswered question of whether this is a rock record or an electric singer-songwriter record.  Yet there’s a few great bits of verse-chorus genius scattered throughout: “Novato” rides an awkward riff that stumble forward like a newly hatched chick, and “You Hang Lights From Yr Neck” plays like an extended, song-length hook over which the lyrics scramble athletically.  

“Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster”
* * *

 If there’s anything Thee Oh Sees’ last few albums have taught us, John Dwyer knows how to write a rock song.  “Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster” did not change this opinion, but he already wrote a few highly similar songs to this--“Lupine Dominus” pulled the no-chorus, all-riff trick to much better effect, while the contrast between metallic guitars and rockabilly-echo vocals is very reminiscent of “The Dream.”  However, it’s the atmosphere this song creates that makes it more than a simple retread; the swagger in the song’s beat and the moments of levity between crashing tides of guitar evoke walking down a crowded street in San Francisco during that weird late-winter hot spell.  “Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster” is nothing new for Thee Oh Sees, but it suggests that like protege Ty Segall, Dwyer may be content to distill his sound rather than stake out new ground on upcoming Thee Oh Sees record Floating Coffin.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

New music from Sun Clay and Christopher Owens

The Side Of The Room
* * * * 1/2

It’s difficult to tell whether the sounds on Sun Clay’s fantastic debut album, The Side Of The Room, are the products of youth or a deliberately cultivated art-naive sound.  Unprocessed, close-miked vocals dominate the sonic space as psych guitars meander in the background; it’s almost like you’re listening to the music through Skype.  Yet The Side Of The Room is a fine psych-pop album in any context, featuring a few flat-out great pop tunes (“Tame,” the title track) that approach straightforward early-rock song structure with the same artfulness Deerhunter applied to the shorter songs on Halcyon Digest.  The longer tracks are just as good, particularly the album-opening “Aging Fast” and the climactic “Kids Climbing On Top Of Cars.”  It’s possible that all of this came together so well through some remarkable coincidence and that Sun Clay are, at the moment, little more than a teen garage band trying to find a sound.  But all the best evidence suggests there’s a secret brilliance at work here beyond their years.  Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

* * *

As an expert on men, I can confidently say that the artful placement of the hair-mop obscuring Christopher Owens’ face on the cover of his post-Girls debut Lysandre does nothing to make him more attractive; he’s shooting a pretty adorable face, but his low-hanging dead skin cells make it difficult to make out.  The music on Lysandre is filled with similar cutesy distractions, mainly stemming from the unnecessary conceptual weight Owens puts on this album.  The musical motif that appears in every song becomes extremely annoying after three tracks, and the weird, pastoral flutes that toot in the background make everything sound slightly more curled-shoes.  But once you take all the extra baggage off, Lysandre is, essentially, a collection of Girls songs.  Highlight “Here We Go Again” uses quivering ‘70s organs and a great guitar solo to create the same classic-rock exhilaration that defined Girls’ work; the similarly named “Here We Go” is a shy, brooding ballad that made me believe in Owens’ luscious locks for a second.  There’s a good rock album in here somewhere; you just need to get the hair out of your eyes to see it.