Trummors – Headlands
Trummors are Anne Cunningham and Dave Lerner, himself formerly of Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. Originally working out of New York, they’re now based in New Mexico. And they seem well at home there. Headlands is a mix of folky ballads, desert drone, and Topanga Canyon-era sounds. There’s also a cover of the Ian Matthew’s 1971 classic, ‘Hearts’. ‘L.A. River’ and ‘Hollis Tornado’ stand out, while ‘Breezin” is yet another candidate for the best song that Neil Young never wrote. To add to the mix, Anne Cunningham has a PhD in comparative literature, ensuring that there’s some method in the madness. This is Trummors’ third album. Rumours are that Headlands is their best. They’re right.
Eric & Magill – Peach Colored Oranges
Happy to recommend the new album by Eric & Magill. With all the tracks coming in at under three minutes, Peach Colored Oranges is a lovely collection of dream pop vignettes. Inspired by travel, the songs communicate more a sense of space than location. In their bio, Eric and Magill reference influences such as Nick Drake, Beach House, Mojave 3, and Neil Young. But discerning listeners might also hear echoes of Sufjan Stevens in quiet mode as well as their near homonyms, Lewis & Clarke. Highlights include ‘Tightrope’ and ‘A Softer Sound’. Peach Colored Oranges is available over at Bandcamp.
John Statz – The Fire Sermon
Really pleased to announce that John Statz’s new album, The Fire Sermon, is now available worldwide. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, it follows his 2015 release, Tulsa, which was lovingly reviewed here. The two albums are wonderfully complementary. Strong on narrative, big on melody, they make you feel slightly wistful at the same time as they get your toes a-tapping. The vistas are huge. There are plenty of references to his beloved Colorado. But the stories are always local. People look back at the past, reflecting on what happened, and without necessarily being able to explain why. The opening track, ‘Cashmere’, sets the scene, with the full band playing impeccably. A particular favourite, though, is ‘With Some Horses’, which could have been written by none other than Willy Vlautin. There’s also a cover of a Caitlin Harnett song, ‘Bad Man’, which provides a really nice take on the original. Disappointed to have missed him by only a day in both Bray and Nottingham on his recent European tour, but hoping to catch up next time and looking forward to more releases. The Fire Sermon is highly recommended.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Live)
Sufjan Stevens has done us all a favour. When the Trumpian apocalypse comes, when we’re sitting in our homemade shelter, when we’ve used up our final Nespresso capsule, and when the bars on our iPhone disappear for the very last time, then we can still put on Carrie & Lowell and realise that someone, somewhere is worse off than we are. For Carrie & Lowell is the ultimate feel-bad album. There’s not a moment of even faintly uplifting sentiment, never mind outright comic relief. Question: “What did you learn from Tillermook burn, or the Fourth of July? Answer: “We’re all gonna die”. Turning an album like Carrie & Lowell into a live show seems like one of those things artists do when they’re trying to escape from a major-label contract because of artistic differences. Yet, this is Sufjan Stevens. He runs the record label. More importantly, he also knows how to put on a live show. That’s not to say he turns the most maudlin album of 2015 into an all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza, but he does know how to play with tempo, pitch, and harmony to bring out the best of any material. Live, the original songs lose none of their intimacy. The creak of what seems to be the piano seat can be heard. But they also gain in stature. The orchestration is fuller. The song order is also slightly rearranged to create a little more drama. And a couple of non-album songs are added. Carrie & Lowell was already one of the great albums of the 2010s. This version complements it perfectly. It’s no fun fair, to be sure. But it is human life. Question: “What did you learn from Tillermook burn, or the Fourth of July? Answer: “We’re all gonna die”.
Jeff Caudill – Reset The Sun
Happy Record Store day. This week’s stand-out release is Jeff Caudill’s new 6-track EP/mini-album, Reset The Sun. It’s an alt-country road record about someone who has made “some questionable life decisions and is struggling with forgiveness and starting over“. Musically, it’s a ways away from Jeff Caudill’s previous work with Gameface. Here, we’re deep in the heart of Son Volt territory. And if anyone was disappointed with Jay Farrar’s recent blues-based album, then Reset The Sun can fill the gap very nicely. It’s country, but not Bro-Country. It’s rock, but not Dad-Rock. The song craft is exceptional. The break in the middle of ‘Tears In My Eyes’ is a particular favourite. And the playing is top notch, with the keyboards making a real difference on all the songs. So, if you looking for some slightly down-at-heart songs with a few upbeat hooks, then Jeff Caudill’s new release is for you. It’s available on vinyl and CD from all good record stores. And there couldn’t be a better day to try to track down a copy at one. Essential.
Fionn Regan – The Meetings of the Waters
There’s a rumour that Fionn Regan was thinking of giving up music for visual art. And five years on from his previous release, things are undoubtedly different this time around. There’s been a relocation eastwards. Those who follow him on Instagram will have already noticed plenty of Japanese references. Here, the cover art seems to reflect such a mood. He’s also set up his own record label, Tsuneni Ai, which means ‘Always Love’ in Japanese. Indeed, the new album finishes with a 12-minute ambient track of the same name. Taking up nearly a third of the record as a whole, it puts us firmly in Jim O’Rourke territory, another Japanese exile. This track is a radical departure for an artist who previously looked towards mid-60s Dylan or early-70s Nick Drake for his influences. Yet, whether it’s a bold new move from a restlessly creative artist or a musical distraction from someone whose head perhaps isn’t in the game any more is a matter of discussion. Because even after a five-year absence, The Meetings of the Waters seems more like a stop-gap offering than a mature piece of musical reflection. The title track would be at home on any of his previous albums. A couple of other tracks also work quite well. And there are some reassuringly Reganesque chord changes on ‘Euphoria’. But it’s all a far cry from The Shadow Of An Empire or 100 Acres Of Sycamore, his two classic albums from the early part of the decade. Rather than charting a new course, Fionn Regan seems to have reached a crossroads with his new record. He has to figure out what sort of sound he wants to make, indeed he has to decide what sort of art he wants to create. Let’s hope he makes the right choice.
Leeroy Stagger – Love Versus
If the mere thought of listening to Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy makes you weary, then there’s a fine alternative out this week. Leeroy Stagger’s new release has hit the shops. The lead track was previewed here previously. The album doesn’t disappoint. In contrast to the industrial levels of solipsistic irony from the artist formerly known as J. Tilman, Love Versus is a more direct, a more honest offering. There’s an homage to Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone, a raucous singalong in ‘I Want It All’, and a bunch of tracks that deal with relationships, both the good, the bad, and the everyday. Perhaps the stand-out song, though, is the murder ballad, ‘Run Rabbit Run’. It features a clever break in the middle that changes both the sound of the music and the perspective of the story-teller. So, if it’s a case of Love Versus versus Pure Comedy, then there’s only one winner. And that’s no joke.
Holy Holy – Paint
Fan of early 1980s Rush, but don’t like Ayn Rand? Then Holy Holy are for you. Paint is their sophomore album, building on an already sublime debut, When The Storms Would Come. With hints not only of Rush (‘True Lovers’), but also The Police and Foreigner, Paint captures an era when rock ruled supreme. But it’s no fake copy. No paint-by-numbers, if you will. The colours are fresh. The experience is vivid. It’s full of inspired touches. The break out at the end of ‘Willow Tree’. The riff on ‘Darwinism’. The bass on ‘Shadow’. With Paint, Holy Holy have delivered a modern-day masterpiece. And one thing’s for sure, their work will only increase in value.
Conor Oberst – Salutations
Conor Oberst has hit upon a great new idea. In October last year, he released Ruminations, a stripped-down set of new songs. Now, he’s released Salutations, a ramped-up collection of the same songs plus seven others. Whereas previously there was just himself on acoustic guitar or piano plus the occasional harmonica, here there’s a full band. The two albums complement each other really well. They’re not just the equivalent of a tired-old Deluxe edition. There are no outtakes. There are no demo versions, though the songs on Ruminations were always refreshingly immediate and raw. And there’s perhaps just one change of lyric, courtesy perhaps of the lawyers. On ‘Counting Sheep’, “[Someone] got killed walking to school, Hope it was slow, hope it was painful” becomes “Billy got killed walking to school, Hope it was quick, hope it was peaceful”. The result is two separate, but related albums, containing songs that are familiar yet transformed from one iteration to the next. In this manifestation, the band includes the great Jim Keltner on drums, plus sundry visitors, including M. Ward, Gillian Welch, and Jonathan Wilson. The most telling presence throughout, though, is that of Ian and James Felice. They bring their trademark controlled raggediness to the proceedings in a way that allows these versions to remain fundamentally true to the ‘difficult’ originals from last year. And the seven new songs are welcome too. In fact, you can almost hear some of them in full on Ruminations mode. ‘Overdue’ is perhaps the best example, “I’m in bed beside some jailbait, Meghan’s passed out on the staircase, Michael’s searching for a good vein, Tomorrow comes we’ll do the same thing”. Maybe Salutations was the idea all along. In which case, Ruminations is the treat. Or maybe it was only ever intended to be Ruminations. In that event, Salutations is the icing on the cake. Two different, but similar albums won’t work every time with every artist, but here it’s an inspired choice. And maybe there’s more. On the recent tour, there was another variation. Conor Oberst plus a solitary bass player. That sounded really good too. Time for the live album perhaps?
Leeroy Stagger – I Want It All
Happy St Patrick’s Day. Let’s celebrate it in time-honoured fashion with a dose of Canadian alternative country. Leeroy Stagger hails from Victoria, BC, and currently works out of Alberta. He has a new album out on 7 April called Love Versus. As a taster, he’s put out a video for a single off the album. It’s called ‘I Want It All’ and it’s really good. Looking forward to the album.