New This Week: Elvis Costello & the Roots, Sebadoh, Dirtbombs & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 09.17.13 in Spotlights

This week, the return of some old friends (Elvis Costello, The Dirtbombs, Sebadoh), the introduction of some new ones (Keep Shelly in Athens, Windhand) and a bunch other solid new outings. Why waste time on a perfunctory intro?

Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost: I was lucky enough to attend last night’s show at Brooklyn Bowl where Costello & Company premiered these songs alongside with a host of EC classics. I can say first and foremost — as I have in this space many, many times — that the Roots are one of my favorite bands, and that I genuinely think they rival Radiohead in terms of their fascination with the possibilities of sound, and their dogged determination to experiment each time out. To spend any length of time with their studio albums — giving them real, concentrated listens — is to marvel at the master craftsmanship. Their pairing with Costello is a natural one. Both EC and ?uestlove are walking music encyclopedias, and Costello over the last few years is one of the few veteran performers who still displays a remarkable willingness to push himself. Even when he fails, you can’t accuse him of being complacent. Fortunately, the pairing is a win/win — Wise Up Ghost is the nerviest and edgiest Costello has sounded in years. It gets a hearty RECOMMENDED. It’s also an album with layers. Douglas Wolk dug deep into its catalog of hat-tips and references for us in this head-spinning piece that you should make some time to read. Of the record, he says:

The new Costello/Roots collaboration Wise Up Ghost — mostly recorded in the Roots’ dressing room for their regular gig on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon — sounds like the product of a couple of intense music nerds cheerfully impressing each other, and it’s drenched in musical history. Costello’s always been a habitual quoter of and alluder to other people’s songs, but the curious thing about Wise Up Ghost is that the catalog Costello spends most of his time revisiting is his own. It’s a remarkable record, the most surprising and challenging album Costello has made in many years.

Sebadoh, Defend Yourself: This is the first new Sebadoh record in 14 years! Holy shit! And it’s pretty good. God, remember The Sebadoh? That record was absolutely not good. But Barlow is back, the music is toothy and he’s as ornery as ever (as his biting, 100% accurate takedown of Don Henley for the AV Club proves, though he loses points for defending the Eagles because come on.) Defend Yourself is RECOMMENDED Michaelangelo Matos says:

What can it mean when a band whose defining trait was angst comes back after 14 years and sounds exactly the same? That’s Sebadoh’s Defend Yourself, their first full album since 1999′s The Sebadoh, whose ballad-heaviness made it among the lesser-loved items in the band’s catalog. The folks who missed the gnarlier guitars and faster tempos of classics like 1994′s Bakesale have their wish granted here. Defend Yourself is outright sprightly in places, whatever the lyrical temper. The album carries its makers’ age gracefully — the craft makes even the crabbier moments sing.

The Dirtbombs, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!: Detroit garage punkers successfully dive headfirst into the world of bubblegum on this HIGHLY RECOMMENDED new album. Evan Minsker says:

They studied the cheerful hooks from Saturday morning cartoons and the Archies’ discography, and then, they turned that research into an album filled with sunshine, lollipops, sugar and spice, etc. Ooey Gooey is packed with idealistic notions, schoolyard elation, phrases like “eenie meenie miney mo” and words like “groovy.” It’s happy, but the menace in their fuzz pedal stops it from ever nearing schmaltz. It’s 2013; who knew that a “punks meet the Banana Splits” record would be so compelling?

MGMT, MGMT: I might be more-or-less alone in thinking this band has gotten more fascinating as they’ve gotten more obstinate, but that’s the life I choose to live, so don’t try to talk me out of it. I repped pretty hard for their last album as a bold change-in-direction. This one seems even more obtuse, ladling on the heavy psychedelia. Good weird, or weird for its own sake? Only you can decide.

Islands, Ski Mask: Controversially, I never really liked The Unicorns. Which is pretty irrelevant to be bringing up at this point, since that band existed for one album like 68 years ago. Nick Thorburn has gotten a little more stately with his songwriting, putting those quirks to actual use. Ski Mask retains all of his trademark idiosyncracies, but puts them in service of meticulously-constructed pop songs. “Becoming the Gunship,” with its yearning chorus, is the closest to a power ballad he’s ever written, and “Nil” sounds like a revisionist take on German beer bar polka.

Windhand, Soma: Incredible, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED second LP from Virginia doom metal band Windhand is like chasing 10 bottles of NyQuil with a long session at the Ouija Board. It is phenomenal. In my review, I say:

To be overly flip about the album’s spectacularly suffocating lethargy is to short-sell its incredible power. Punishingly slow without every feeling airlocked or plodding. Far from it: Instead, there’s a gravity and severity to Soma that’s utterly skin-crawling. The closest sonic touchstone is Electric Wizard’s towering obelisk of horror Dopethrone, but where that record often had fangs bared and knives drawn, Soma‘s power feels more insidious and spectral and otherworldly. That grim grey shack on the album cover may as well be the haunted cabin where the witch from the first Black Sabbath record lives.

AVICII, True: This guy. So the thing to know about AVICII is that he’s a Swedish DJ considered one of the leading lights in the alarmingly-popular EDM movement — the slicked-up mainstream version of electronic music that’s kind of everywhere. But so then when he played the Ultra Music Festival in March, he unveiled a bunch of songs that apparently had some kind of crazy artisan small batch suspender-folk angle? Well, apparently it made it to the record, because the first song is straight-up barrel-booting tobacky-core. The rest of the album mixes that approach with the dancier stuff he’s become known for. You can decide what you make of this, but I’m pretty sure this is the first electronic-to-country crossover record ever. I guess look for Burial’s all John Denver covers record next.

Crystal Stilts, Nature Noir: Latest from onetime eMusic Selects alum is somewhat sunnier than they’ve been in the past. I was a huge fan of their last album, Alight in Night, which felt like the full culmination of the doom-core blueprint they’d been refining for some time. This one expands even further. Ian Cohen says:

Now ten years into their career, Crystal Stilts have about five decades worth of ironclad credibility giving them reason to stay the course on their third LP Nature Noire. There are certain, incremental tuneups that sound colossal within Crystal Stilts’ fully-formed aesthetic: real-deal strings illuminate “Memory Room” and “Future Folklore” integrates blue-collar classic rock of the 60s into their 70s-based, all-black art-rock. But the quintet aren’t going to fundamentally alter what got them here in the first place – rhythmic interplay that never advances beyond “perpetually hungover” and Brad Hargett’s baritone drawl going for “Most Dour Man in Brooklyn,” something like The National’s Matt Berninger for the non-showered, non-blue-blazered.

Keep Shelly in Athens, At Home: The Greek outfit has hints of Robert Smith and Cocteau twins on their second album. We talked to this band over a year ago. I liked them then, and I like them now:

Its opening track — titled, naturally, “Time Exists Only to Betray Us” — thunders into existence: a big boom of bass, a rain of glass-shard synths and Sarah’s Stevie-Nicks-as-Lady-Macbeth wail arriving in one shattering cataclysm of sound and light. From there, the album maintains its ether-clawing aerialism, stirring Sarah’s liquid sugar voice into milky-blue synths and serving it in a frosted champagne flute. It’s called At Home, but that’s only if you’ve got a sweet deal on a lake view somewhere in the mesosphere.

The Naked & Famous, In Rolling Waves: Pretty tremendous amount of buzz behind this New Zealand group. Bright, blinking synths and defiant vocals make for a batch of late-night, yearn-heavy dance-pop jammers. A subtler Icona Pop?

HSY, HSY: Grinding, scuzzy, pigfuck-by-way-of-shoegaze (I’ll let you come up with your own name for that one) this record is a beast. The guitars are as jagged as rusty hunting knives, and they saw up the center of these songs with genuine malice and ill-will. Pair that with howling, menacing vocals and you’ve got the perfect soundtrack to a back-alley brawl. RECOMMENDED

Various Artists, The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco: I’ve said this before, but these Rough Guide albums are great, and I feel like they don’t get nearly the attention of, like, Analog Africa or Soundway (who are also great!) because their packaging is so naff, and it looks like Starbucks World Music for Bored Suburbanites or something. Don’t make that mistake! The people who put these comps together know what they’re doing. This one is full of great, loopy, intoxicating Bollywood Disco songs that have all the pulse & rush of their American counterparts but with intoxicating Indian melodies. RECOMMENDED

Cult of Luna, Vertikal II: Spooky Swedish group returns with four imposing songs that total one terrifying half-hour of music. I’m pretty into this: creeping and claustrophobic, the band builds songs slowly, ramping up the tension moment by moment until it explodes.

Blouse, Imperium: I really like this band. Captured Tracks group writes songs that are filmy and hazy, but are always rooted in solid melodies. Some of this stuff can float away in the ether, but Blouse feel more assured than most, walling in the mist with thick lines
of guitar.

Lake, The World is Real: Forthrightly-titled album from quirk-tastic Olympia band has moments tha kind of remind me of a more playful Sea & Cake. Can you imagine! Other times it sounds like a super-slowed down version of Apples in Stereo’s Tone Soul Evolution. So, somewhere on that spectrum you will find your answer.

Lucy Rose, Like I Used To: British singer/songwriter with as serious Dido vibe delivers delicately-skipping acoustic guitars and cappucino-smooth vocals for your early-fall front-porch chilling-out soundtrack.

Dog Bite, LA EP: Drifting, dreamy batch of songs that puts a premium on mood and texture. Vocals drift by on milky rivers of synth, songs are languid and bob like kites in a light breeze.

Pinkish Black, Razed to the Ground: Grinding, driving and doomy. There are some metallic overtones, to be sure, but there’s also a fair amount of hostile post-punk — like Joy Division blasting in the middle of a steel-pressing plant — and sinister drone.

Sub Rosa, More Constant Than the Gods: This band’s last record was a jaw-dropper, a stomach-thumping blast of demonic doom metal set alight by the menacing vocals of frontwoman Rebecca Vernon. This one is somehow even better, moodier, more controlled, more potent. Fans of, say, early Swans or Junius are going to love this. It’s melodic, but suffocating and imposing; electric violins lend the songs a gothic edge, but in a way that feels truly eerie. This record is phenomenal, and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Sun Araw, On Patrol:I really, really like this dude. His work is eeire and intoxicating and spooky without being overbearing. He creates whole dark worlds to live inside. On Patrol first came out in 2010; it’s been reissued, and it’s RECOMMENDED. Abby Garnett says:

These nine compositions, which lean heavily on improvisation, take well-crafted textures and then subtly warp them through repetition. Earlier works, like 2009′s Heavy Deeds, exploited immediately recognizable elements of psychedelia — Theremin-like wailing, reverberating vocal swashes, the modal drone of Indian ragas — but On Patrol finds Stallones plucking through his influences’ gutted frames and re-evaluating the usefulness of their parts. As a result, the sound is leaner, more pointed, and moves closer to the mantric ideal of drone.

Billy Currington, We Are Tonight: Long-running country singer returns with his fifth record in 10 years. 10 years! The second song has a pretty cool “Where It’s At”-style organ and some kind of dodgy lyrics about picking up girls at bars. Country music! Currington’s got a rich voice, though, and a knack for kick-back, boots-on-the-table melodies. Sorry that it looks like you have to watch a commercial for that bullshit Fox show Dads before you can see the above video.

Sisu, Blood Tears: Ex-Dum Dum Girl Sandy Vu delivers an album that swings from twitchy, ’80s-style pastel-guitar pop to lush, swirling shoegaze. There’s an air of menace, as you might guess.

Arp, More: Arp never fall too far from the ’70s on their latest. Andy Beta says:

Opener “High-Heeled Clouds,” with its buoyant upright piano line, could come right out of John Cale’s Paris 1919, while the gentle “Daphne & Chloe” with its “bah-bah”s serve as an elegant update of The Velvet’s “I Found a Reason.” Cribbing from the VU playbook is nothing new, but Arp also investigates those who did the same, like Bowie and Eno. “A Tiger in the Hall at Versailles” mixes wordless vocals, puttering drum machine and harpsichord like some strange “Heroes” outtake. And the catchy “Judy Nylon” namechecks Eno’s girlfriend and emulates the buzzing siren guitars and snare thwacks of “Camel in the Needle’s Eye.”

Carcass, Surgical Steel: Grindcore pioneers return with another blast of blinding fury. The guitars dart around like weaponized hummingbirds, zipping and zig-zagging above full-arrhythmia percussion. It is a skull-crushing blast of fury.

Clear Soul Forces, Gold PP7s: Detroit group that was mentored by Royce da 5’9″, the group blends old-school style rapping with production that’s at once nostalgic and future-facing. The backdrop on “Freq Freq” recalls the early days of neo soul, but it’s shot though with plenty of neo-soul flange. “Sparring Session” is backward-looking beatbox banger that serves as a showcase for the group’s toothy rhyme style

A Storm of Light, Nations to Flames: A more aggressive and (gasp!) straightforward album from the cinematic post-metal band. This record is rad, and is RECOMMENDED Jon Wiederhorn says:

The songs are more structured and compact, the riffs more rigid, and there’s a distinct industrial element to the distorted vocals and abundant samples. There’s also a new diversity to the tempos. “All the Shining Lies” trudges and tumbles like Godflesh; “Apostles of Hatred” and “Omen” are considerably faster and more torrential, bringing to mind High on Fire. And the largely muted main guitar part on “Disintegrate” is surprisingly reminiscent of Metallica’s “Whiplash.”

Chris Forsyth, Solar Motel: Dreamy, vaguely droney outing from this guitarist imagines what might have happened if John Fahey had been on Siltbreeze. There are lots of lovely, finger-picked passages, but also plenty of tension and blank-eyed pattern-creating. It’s riveting stuff. RECOMMENDED

CCR Headcleaner, Lace the Earth With Arms Wide Open: 2013: Trasheriffic! Pretty awesome gSan Francisco arbagecore band sneer above gunk-covered guitars, trading off between putrefied sludge-rockers and scotch-taped sad boy ballads. Also this was put out by a label called Pizza Burglar, which is awesome.

Berlin, Animal: When I was 16 my dad took me to see Top Gun and in the middle of this whole overblown, over-loud, vaguely homoerotic coin-op movie comes a really long sex scene between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis to pretty much the entirety of the Berlin song “Take My Breath Away” and I remember sitting there next to my dad with my face on fire thinking, “GOOD GOD WHEN WILL THIS BE OVER HOW LONG IS THIS SONG.” That band has a new record out today.