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.
Anthony Ruptak – Sticks
Thanks to the ever reliable Kramies for alerting me to a new track by Anthony Ruptak. It’s from an upcoming EP, which we’re now very much looking forward to here at Half-Life Music. Anthony Ruptak is based in Colorado and the band features his brother on percussion. If you can’t get enough of the official video below, then there’s a great live version of the song from a gig at Red Rocks here. The same gig also features an absolutely sublime track called ‘Poltergeist’. Highly recommended.
Nadia Reid – Preservation
The cover of the new release by Nadia Reid is slightly unsettling. Staring straight out, it says ‘I’m looking at you‘. The image is deliberately disconcerting, because this is an angry break up album. There’s a strong sense throughout that the other party is being addressed very directly. “There were two little words that I used, One was ‘fuck’, the other was ‘you’.” Which is maybe fair enough, because she’s revealed that her former beau was seeing her best friend at the time. From this perspective then, Preservation should be seen as an exercise in musical catharsis, or perhaps even self-preservation. It seems to have worked. The tone can be bitter, but the songs are always fully under control. In fact, that’s the most noticeable feature of the music. Nadia Reid may be angry, but she’s not going to let it spoil a good tune. Among the Joni Mitchell-style acoustic numbers and the Sharon Van Etten-like mid-tempo songs, ‘Te Aro’ stands out. With its skittery percussion and crunching guitars at the end, it’s unlike anything else on the album. It even contains a moment of wry humour. “Living in the country ain’t so bad, You get city folk, They love your stories”. Preservation has perhaps helped Nadia Reid to work through some of her demons. If so, we are the lucky beneficiaries of that process.
Christine Leakey (feat. Linda Perhacs) – Walks Like An Angel
Christine Leakey has a new album out tomorrow. I haven’t heard it, but apparently it’s “a blend of upbeat songs, a few dreamy ones, some jazzy and sultry ones, other worldly, circus vibes and more with a cinematic twist”, which is refreshingly ambitious. However that turns out, I have heard one of the tracks and it’s really impressive. It’s a woozy piece of dream pop called ‘Walks Like An Angel’. More than that, it features none other than Linda Perhacs, who adds a nice little twist to the song at the end. One of the good things about the track is the accompanying video, which with its slightly claustrophobic yet shimmery quality fits the song very well. The new album is called Wanderlust Wishing Well. You can discover more about Christine Leakey here.
Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom
In 2013 Matthew Milia and Frontier Ruckus released a sprawling, 20-song album called Eternity of Dimming. The road was long, the journey was often hard, and many listeners never made it to the final destination. Four years on and Matthew Milia has a new album out. This time we’re facing not so much a frontier ruckus as a polite suburban melee. Think middle-class bargain hunters at an out-of-town mall at the start of the Labor Day sales. This is an altogether more polite place to grow up in. But its inhabitants still face their own distinctive set of problems. And the scars can be just as deep as those received at any previous wilderness location. On Enter The Kingdom Matthew Milia takes us on a 37-minute tour through modern suburbia. It’s a real pleasure to be in his company even for such a short time. He’s certainly one of the most erudite guides in the neighbourhood. With his talk of glottal stops and gerunds, it’s clear that language is a major preoccupation. In fact, the man is a walking rhyming dictionary. And he sure knows how to make music. Every song on Enter The Kingdom is as catchy as a late-night hickey. Whether it’s the plaintive call for the return of ’27 dollars’, or the comforting waltz of the title track itself, these are melodies that keep on giving. And they’re always played with a full-on verve and sometimes a refreshingly idiosyncratic instrumentation. On ‘If You Can’, it seems like Frontier Ruckus like nothing more than to stay in on a rainy night and play the musical saw. Elsewhere there’s the sound of trumpets, clarinets, melodicas, and more. Yet this is modern suburbia. All is not exactly what it seems. “Your mind’s half hot lava and half Dexedrine”. “Our sacred neighbourhoods now only nominally exist, Your dad’s looking for work on craigslist”. Sounding like songs of innocence, these are more like songs of a certain type of experience. It’s an experience that’s common to many in today’s new suburban frontier. And Matthew Milia and friends are offering to take you on a short trip through it. Buckle up. You won’t be disappointed.
Timid, The Brave – Firesale
Timid, the Brave is the artist formerly known as Tim Selles. Straight out of Hamilton, Ontario, he has a new record, Firesale, out tomorrow. It’s early days, but it’s perhaps my favourite release of the year so far. It’s thoughtful, but tuneful. Spare, but not cold. Quiet, but not insipid. There’s the haunting sound of pedal steel. Some achingly beautiful strings. And melodies that insinuate their way into your very consciousness. These are songs that, according to Timid himself, capture that moment when “you muster up the courage to step back outside with fresh perspective”. Well, I’m glad to be back out there and in the company of such great music. Sometimes you luck out. Firesale found its way to me ahead of time and it’s been on repeat ever since. Did I mention it’s out tomorrow and that you can get it here?
Strand of Oaks – Hard Love
Strand of Oaks’ previous album, HEAL, marked the final instalment of Timothy Showalter’s transformation from the shy indie folk artist of Pope Kildragon to the muscular, tattooed, angry-sounding noise maker of ‘Goshen ’97’. In fact, the change in style was so profound that it raised the inevitable question ‘what could possibly come next?’ A ten-track homage to Mickey Rourke? A concept album about WWF? ‘Hard Love’ provides the answer. In some respects, things have been toned down a little. There’s a quiet piano-led ballad, ‘Cry’. And on songs such as ‘Salt Brothers’, there’s a reminder of the distinctively fragile quality that Showalter’s voice can have, something which had gotten a little lost over time. That’s not to say there isn’t a fearsome aspect to some of the sounds. ‘Everything’ being a case in point. But this time the energy tends to be channeled to a Springsteen-like end, with ‘Radio Kids’ sounding like it was born in the early 1980s, while ‘On The Hill’ is a truly great workout. With Hard Love Timothy Showalter has found a sweet spot between the fey indie artist at an open mic night in a university town and the hard-living, loud-playing ’70s rock ‘n’ roll star. For the listener, it’s a good place to be. Hard Love it might be, but it’s his best album yet.