One of the New Year’s Resolutions your humble editor made, and intends to keep, is to feature more new, local and obscure artists here in our virtual pages. I have to admit, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the same old bands. Besides the usual set-in-my-ways crap, it’s daunting trying to keep up with the sheer flow of information that comes to a music editor– us eighties college radio guys are used to getting showered with new music but these days, it feels more like trying to stand in front of a firehose and pick out the good drops. So my challenge to myself, as I try to get out of my comfort zone of writing about people whose work I already know by heart, will be met with this column, titled Snap Judgments. I will make observations about the work of artists that are, at least, new to me, even if they’ve been around a while. No Prince and Beach Boys reviews in this column, at least.
But because I’m no masochist, I don’t promise exhaustive research on the things that rub me the wrong way; I may deliver a verdict after one complete song comes to its merciful end.
To kick this off, and provide the most current information possible, I’m going to check out the bands in the last ten emails in my inbox. (This method may be refined for future columns.) Happy 2014, music world – are you ready to rock me?
Nina Persson - Animal Heart (The End Records)
This gets an immediate extra nod of attention from me due to the presence of Joan “As Police Woman” Wasser. The title track’s production feels like a throwback to early eighties, not my favorite kind of thing, but the kind of people who still listen to their Motels and Berlin albums will probably want to check it out. Other tracks have a sparer, almost Eno-like production sheen, built around Persson’s distinctive voice. It’s quality work, without doubt.
SJ: Perfect for hip dentist offices and Motels collectors.
Train Company – The Remains Of An Effort (self-released)
That’s it! I have been sitting here listening to this not bad/ pretty good blues rock-y kind of thing, and the singer is really reminding me of someone, and I can’t quite make it out… and as I read the band’s bio, describing shows they have opened on the Chicago music scene for such acts as Blind Melon, Blues Traveler and Counting Crows, it finally hits who it is that this singer reminds me of: it’s Huey Lewis! And then I remember: the one time I ever saw Huey Lewis and the News play live, right before they were big at the bottom of an all-day festival bill, I left with the impression that they were not bad/ pretty good themselves.
SJ: The New Huey, yours for the taking if that’s what you really want.
Dr. Dog and Saint Rich – Casual Freefall Tour EP (Noisetrade) This tour hits the Wiltern Theater on February 27.
A cute throwback idea for an EP promoting a package tour – each band covers the other. Dr. Dog’s take on Saint Rich’s “Dreams” has a low-key buzz that suggests a marginally higher-fi version of hippie folk magicians Pearls Before Swine. Saint Rich return the favor with an ecstatically mumbled rendition of Dr. Dog’s “Rock And Roll”; I’ll bet both of these singers are constantly asking for their monitors to be turned up. Each group also contributes a current album track, leading to the conclusion that that this pairing could very well make a coherent night out. Both groups retain some remnants of the Band-influenced Brown Albums of the late sixties and early seventies, but put a modern spin on their old-timey influences.
SJ: A cautious thumbs-up for the tour based on this taster; bring your uncle who always complains how CSNY haven’t made a good new album in a long time.
Moderat – II (Mute/ Monkeyphone)
Moody synthetic pop with both feet firmly planted in 1987, but the drum machine’s been set on double speed by accident.
SJ: Living in the past as if that were a bad thing.
3 Years Hollow – The Cracks (Imagen Records)
I think the singer for this band must teach a lot of motivational courses. They ask poignant questions, “What do you wanna want to be? With every choice in your life that you make, how will you be remembered?” Here’s a poignant question in return: When did punk rock turn into the dad in the Twisted Sister videos? The music sounds as if they might be influenced by early Falling In Reverse, which, I mean, Lord help us all.
SJ: I must accept that some music exists for purposes which I cannot fathom, and try to love all God’s creatures.
Within Temptation – Hydra (Nuclear Blast)
If you’ve ever wanted to celebrate the beauty of sonic diversity by getting Metallica to join forces with Gloria Estefan, have I got some good news for you. Dave Pirner’s in the mix too? This party’s going to go on till 10:30 at this rate!
SJ: I listen to extreme metal in order to ESCAPE music like this.
The Lawrence Arms – Metropole (Epitaph) Their tour hits the El Rey Theater on February 16.
At first listen, this immediately sounds like the kind of band that Epitaph used to sign by the bagful, melodic pop-punk with medium-intensity vocals and sugary layers of guitars. But the album’s best tracks recall the acid harmonies and fuzzed-out bliss of Husker Du’s Flip Your Wig. Four tracks in, it’s sounding like a strong, distinctive album, the best of its kind to cross my path in years.
SJ: Boys after my own heart, which of course I’m gonna like.
At this point in the column I am already afraid I am coming off like a “modern life is rubbish” type of person. The one album I uncategorically like is one that sounds like my favorite album from when I was 17. I’m not sure I like where this is going or what my honest answers say about me. I’m going to make it through three more emails though, because ten is a round number and I committed to it. Who’s next?
Neon Trees – Pop Psychology (Island Def Jam)
Is it me that’s stuck in 1985, or is it music? Here’s another thing that recalls the DX7 keyboard textures and Simmons drumbeats of Howard Jones and OMD. The problem with most faux eighties music though, is that it reveals what conceptual geniuses the producers of actual eighties music really were, even the ones written off as lightweights. This track is hooky enough that it could plausibly have competed with the real thing, immaculately produced with soulful vocals.
SJ: This band is to my high school years what the Stray Cats were to my parents’ high school years.
Sleeper Agent – Last Night (Mom + Pop)
This is the kind of song I like to hear while waiting in line at the drug store: a bouncy, good-natured romp about California falling into the ocean, with contrasting vocal sections, attractive with no saccharine aftertaste.
SJ: Real summer-festival music.
Ume – Monuments (Dangerbird)
Speaking of summer festivals, this is a sound I could easily imagine capturing my attention on a bill between Black Mountain and Black Sabbath. Epic, fist-waving metal riffs, dreamy female vocals that turn vicious on a dime.
SJ: I’m terrible at judging next big things but if this turned out to be one, I wouldn’t be shocked.
Prostitute Disfigurement – From Crotch To Crown (Willowtip)
Yeah, come to think of it, haven’t there been more gory metal songs about Jim Jones?
SJ: One of those things that meets your expectations, exactly.