Album Reviews

Melkbelly – Nothing Valley (album review)

by Woody on October 16, 2017

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I made the mistake to have my first spin of Nothing Valley be in the morning after a shitty night’s sleep. I was tired and irritable; and I am sure the kids were pissing me off. Nothing Valley challenged me and irritated me more, so I turned it off thinking; nope I don’t like it.

Something drew me back a week later. Feeling good after a good day of work, I dialed it up on the drive home. Soon I was turning it up thinking; yep this is excellent. Nothing Valley, the debut LP by the Chicago quarter, gets up in your grill. Consisting of by Miranda Winters on vocals/guitar, her husband his brother (Bart & Liam) on guitar & bass and rounded out on drums by James Wetzel; Melkbelly create some sort of racket.

There’s lots to love about this album whose roots stem from loud brash 90s indie; think Sonic Youth and The Breeders. At times, the album feels like it is coming apart at the seams. It is brash and Miranda’s vocals are excellent as the band careens around; most notably Wetzel’s drumming. Kind of like Bryan Devendorf with The National, Wetzel will at times seem to be reading from a different page; but my word does it add plenty to the music.

There are a couple of tracks that come together in the middle of Nothing Valley that really stand out. Middle Of and Twin Lookin Motherfucker. On Middle Of, the song just keeps revving up; faster and faster; sounding like Wetzel has been cloned. Twin Looking Motherfucker follows up with a guitar lick spawned from the 90s that eventually leads to all sorts of shit. The tune has more twists and turns than an episode of Twin Peaks.

Some day I’ll be too old to listen this stuff. But that day isn’t today. Hopefully that day isn’t yet for you either as this an excellent debut.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Melkbelly is here

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Photo by Frank Ockenfels

Stranger In The Alps is the debut of 22 y/o Phoebe Bridgers. It is also a textbook example of how good an album can be when you combine an artist with a beautiful voice, wonderfully written songs and production that sets out to give the artist space and never tries to overshadow him or her in any fashion. It is a wonderfully executed album and all in involved should be proud.

The album opens up strong with its two best tracks – Smoke Signals, a visually arresting track that name checks Bowie, Lemmy and a tune by The Smiths; and Motion Sickness, a song built on a crunchy guitar lick that speaks of getting fucked over by a friend/lover.

While those two tracks are my favorites, the rest of the album is excellent as well. The gorgeous Funeral follows; almost confessional in context as Bridgers tries to cope with the sudden death of one of her piers. Killer is a heavy melancholy piano ballad. Georgia follows with some gorgeous harmonies.

22 years old, a killer album under your belt and you count Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst among your fans. Seems so easy. Stranger In The Alps is one of the finest debut LPs of 2017.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Phoebe Bridgers is here

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Elliott BROOD – Ghost Gardens (album review)

by Woody on September 19, 2017

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Photo: Trevor Weeks

I was trading texts with Oz (remember him) about this album. In response to his query to whether Ghost Gardens was any good, I answered with, “Really good. What you’ve come to expect from them.” And that is some great alt-country.

Ghost Gardens, the sixth LP by the Canadian trio has an interesting back story. The songs of Ghost Gardens were all born some 15 years ago. The demos and outlines of the tracks were recently found in an old suitcase in a garage. Soon enough Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet and Stephen Pitkin were breathing life into them to create another gem of an album.

The album is 11 tracks long and the boys do a nice of mixing things up throughout. The album opens with four upbeat BROOD tracks culminating in 2 4 6 8, a track that opens with a dark, foreboding banjo riff before exploding with punk energy. The track about a traumatic event that Sasso witnessed on TV as a kid is all over the place, constantly changing tempos with crunching guitars and Pitkin pounding away. It is as brilliant as anything they’ve done.

The albums slows a bit after that but the quality never does. Adeline is a wonderful and sparse track, almost lullaby-like. The Widower is a great track with some wonderful harmonies, Sasso sounds like he’s in the next room as his voice joins in with Laforet; making it even more poignant. For The Girl gently closes the proceedings with some tasty mando.

The boys have been a HearYa staple since we started this thing 10 years ago. Ghost Gardens is a great addition to their excellent catalog.

Our 2009 live session w/ Elliott BROOD is here

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Elliott BROOD is here

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Deer Tick – Vol 1 & Vol. 2 (album review)

by Woody on September 15, 2017

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Photo credit – Laura Partain

I’m happy to say I was there when the boys found renewed vigor for recording new music. After scrapping some stuff they did in 2015, the boys met for their traditional run during the Newport Folk Festival in 2016 and creative juices began to flow. Easy to see how; as the set I caught was outstanding and a tremendous amount of fun for everybody involved.

2013’s Negativity were the nascent stages of John McCauley coming out of a funk. We’re now experiencing a McCauley who has a nice home life with a baby girl and is generally taking care of himself – running and cutting back on the booze and smokes. Much like Isbell, those developments have not deterred him from penning some quality tracks.

And quality tracks you will get; in fact you’ll get 20 – split among two separate LPs (don’t call it a double album). Vol 1 is the acoustic and Vol 2 sees them plugging back in. After spending some time with both, I’d say the most enjoyable aspect has been playing Monday Morning Quarterback – wondering which tunes would have sounded better acoustic vs. electric (and vice versa).

The most endearing quality of Deer Tick has always been their heart-on-sleeve approach to their music. While they be married and more mature, that aesthetic is still on full display throughout. Vol 1 opener, Sea Of Clouds is a track about letting go built. McCauley’s rasp is surrounded by angelic harmonies and the tune, built around in a tasty acoustic lick, eventually builds into an orchestral finish.

Only Love is a sad track about the impending end of a relationship. And as you’ve come to expect, McCauley hits it out of the park but the rhythm section is the real star here. It doesn’t let the tune get too bogged down and it really works. Cocktail is a made for Vegas lounge track. Conversely, the closer Rejection deals with the often thankless task of helping someone with addition issues.

On Vol. 2, McCauley mines the addiction subject again with Jumpstarting, arguably the best track of the twenty. I get goose bumps just imagining how this will play out live (yes, I am that lame). The boys revisit the Deervana days with the Nirvana inspired It’s a Whale and Sloppy.

On the back-half on Vol. 2, McCauley takes a humorous look at being a band at the summer festivals with S.M.F. This is sure to be another winner live. That leads into the touching instrumental, Pulse – a tribute to the victims of the 2016 Orlando shooting. The closer, Mr. Nothing Gets Worse, sung by Ian O’Neil feels like it was lifted off one of the Diamond Rugs albums; boozy sax and all.

Not many bands could have pulled this off. But Deer Tick certainly did. Throughout the 20 songs, you get the full gamut of Deer Tick in a way that reflects their current station in life. Good for them. They are and always will be one of my favorites.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Deer Tick is here

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Lilly Hiatt – Trinity Lane (album review)

September 11, 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Alysse Gafkjen Back in 2014, Lydia Loveless announced Somewhere Else and it was mostly met by indifference by myself. I had liked her 2011 effort, Indestructible Machine, but was far from chomping on the bit for her follow-up. But after a few spins of Somewhere Else, I realized just how much of a […]

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Ratboys – GN (album review)

August 31, 2017

Photo by Johnny Fabrizio Admittedly, I had dismissed this album after hearing the first single. It just didn’t connect with me and with the sheer flood of music that comes in, it got lost in the shuffle. But being that they’re from Chicago, I decided to dig into album earlier this week after I saw […]

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The Yawpers – Boy In A Well (album review)

August 29, 2017

In a nutshell, The Yawpers are a powder keg, They are volatile and you don’t know when they’re going to blow; but rest assured they will sooner or later. Fronted by Nate Cook, a man who’s stage presence should only be described as maniacal. He’s like Elvis after a day of electroconvulsive therapy that maybe […]

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Blank Range – Marooned with the Treasure (album review)

August 28, 2017

Credit: Don VanCleave The Nashville quartet finally get around to releasing their full-length LP and it proves worth the wait. Some might call it a Labor Of Love. Maybe that somebody would be Blank Range as that is the title of the 4th track and the one, where the album title comes from. Its a […]

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The Districts – Popular Manipulations (album review)

August 9, 2017

Photo Credit – Pooneh Ghana The Districts are one of the best young bands out there today and one of the best live acts you’ll have the pleasure of seeing live. After 2015’s A Flourish And A Spell, my hopes for Popular Manipulations were pretty high. In my mind, I wanted another dozen ripping bluesy […]

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Tyler Childers – Purgatory (album review)

August 4, 2017

A few years back, I saw Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires perform in the backyard of The Blackheart during SXSW. The music was arresting, literally demanding your attention. It was clear that his music had moved on to a different plane. That’s happened a couple of times these last few years when hearing an artist […]

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