Thursday, August 30, 2012

Captured Tracks - DIIV and Wild Nothing

While I'm always happy to see some of my old favorite bands like Redd Kross and the dBs release new music, I do listen to music from new bands as well. A couple things on my shopping list include new records from Brooklyn's Captured Tracks label. Captured Tracks is a relatively new label, but they've managed to release a lot music in a short time and also establish a relatively consistent aesthetic.

DIIV (formerly Dive) released their first LP Oshen in June. I'm still waiting to score my own copy as it keeps selling out at my local indie record shop. DIIV have concocted a compelling sound that combines the neo-dream-pop aesthetic that Captured Tracks specializes in with a pronounced Krautrock groove. The Krautrock influence is not as prominent on "How Long Have You Known?" (see video below) as on some of the other album tracks.

The video shows DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith tossing a bunch of different objects, including a bit of an In Utero cassette tape (the band named themselves after a Nirvana song), bits of a light bulb, part of an American flag and the liquid from a lava lamp into a blender, then creating a pill from the results which he swallows. It's as good a metaphor as any for the band's sound.

I mentioned Wild Nothing in one of my previous posts. Their new album Nocturne was released earlier this week (although I am still waiting for it to show up at one of my local record shops). Captured Tracks has released a second track from the album, "Paradise," on youtube. This track strongly reminds me of Colour Of Spring era Talk Talk (a good thing, in my opinion).

Some (not me) might complain that there is a certain sameness to the sound of Captured Tracks artists, and anyone old enough to remember the 80s could surely play an extended "name that influence" game. So what? The music sounds fresh and tuneful to me even if it does evoke a slight sense of déjà vu.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Redd Kross - Researching The Blues

Researching The Blues is the first new Redd Kross album in fifteen years. The lineup is the same as the one that recorded Neurotica in 1987, brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald, along with guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (no relation). When attempting to evaluate one of these "reunion" albums from bands that have been inactive a decade or longer, I feel I always have to keep my guard up.

I'm not so old that I can't remember my reaction to various 60s acts that reformed during the 1980s. I was contemptuous of them. In my younger mind these bands' best days were well behind them and their reunions were, almost without exception, pointless exercises in nostalgia. So when listening to an album like this I have a constant internal dialog between my younger (more cynical) self and my older (probably not wiser) self. I don't want to sound like the old fool in a record store who in 1987 wasted his breath trying to convince me The Monkees' Pool It! was really worthy of my attention.

It took about two seconds of guitar riffage from the title track of Researching The Blues to melt my defenses completely. I don't care what my younger self would have thought of this album. If the younger me dismissed rock and roll this good because the band hadn't been active for a measly decade and half, I was an idiot. Darn it, Researching The Blues really is worthy of your attention.

The album showcases the high-density amalgam of punk, metal, bubblegum, girl-group pop and psychedelic rock Redd Kross should have become famous for in the 80s and 90s. Every song has a great hook, and the production is pitch perfect, lacking the occasional overly polished, metallic sound of some of their previous albums. The ten songs are among the catchiest of the band's long career, and any one of them could stand proudly along their earlier work.

I feel it would be too cliché at this point in the review to say something along the lines of, "but this is a more mature Redd Kross," so I won't. What I will note is that the overabundance of irony that sometimes characterized Redd Kross' earlier work is almost completely absent from Researching The Blues. There are no tributes to Linda Blair or characters from Planet of the Apes. In place of smirking references to Mackenzie Phillips' copious drug intake is an account on the title track of a desperate phone call from a friend afraid to be left alone with with the temptations that might send her on a permanent vacation. Instead of snotty punk rock put downs like "I Hate My School" is the middle-aged admission that "we're getting uglier everyday" ("Uglier"). True, there's a song called "Dracula's Daughters," so it's not like the McDonald's obsessions with junk culture have been totally abandoned, but if you listen to the lyrics you'll realize the song is a bitter riposte to those who would suck the creativity from others.

That's not to say that Redd Kross has forgotten how to have fun. Far from it, this is one of the most fun sounding albums I've heard in years. Even when the lyrical subject matter is dark, there are hand-claps, "woo-woos" and tasty guitar licks a plenty; it's bubblegum with bite. And the boys haven't gotten so "mature" as to be afraid to dress up in KISS-like makeup and outfits for the video of "Stay Away From Downtown."

The sticker on the cover of the LP promises "10 Brand-New Songs Scientifically Designed To Make Anybody Happy" as well as an MP3 download of the entire album. I am happy to report it delivers on both counts (actually, I didn't use the MP3 code, but there's a card in there and I assume it works). Far from being a tepid rehash of past glories, Researching The Blues may be the best album of Redd Kross' long career. Just go buy it already.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Redd Kross Are Back!

Out tomorrow on Merge Records: Redd Kross - Researching The Blues, the first new Redd Kross album since 1997's Show World. Glad to have the guys back.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Wild Nothing - Shadow

Wild Nothing is indie-bedroom maestro Jack Tatum's fresh take on the classic dream pop formula. His debut album, Gemini, was released on the Captured Tracks label in 2010 and was one of my favorite records of the past few years. On songs like "Live In Dreams" and "Summer Holiday" Tatum wrapped his heartbreakingly melancholy melodies in a comforting blanket of distortion that brought to mind classic shoegazer, noise pop and post-punk sounds without sounding self-consciously retro or overly derivative.

Wild Nothing's second album, nocturne, will be released by Captured Tracks on August 28th. Captured Tracks has made a preview track, "Shadow," available on youtube. From the sounds of it Tatum has chosen to refine (rather than redefine) the Wild Nothing sound for his sophomore album, and in my opinion it's a good choice. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing.