NEW RELEASES, 8/17: BLUE OCTOBER, CIRCLES AROUND THE SUN, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, CULLEN OMORI and more!

BLUE OCTOBER, I Hope You’re Happy (CD/LP)
Blue October return with their ninth album with expectations high after the excellent ‘Home’ album released in 2016.  Vocalist and main songwriter Justin Furstenfeld is in a happy place in his personal life being a proud and doting dad judging by his various social media posts. This is reflected in the album’s general upbeat air in the music which is a mixture of rock, dance, 80′s influences, indie, pop and more. The title track and ‘How To Dance In Time’ are the album’s lead songs, both have wonderfully uplifting melodies and emotive lyrics. Blue October have the knack of recording deeply personal music that can connect to a wider audience. The upbeat air comes through on ‘Let Forever Mean Forever’, whilst opener ‘Daylight’ adds in beats, effects – reminiscent of Imagine Dragons. The rhythm section of drummer Jeremy Furstenfeld and bassist Matt Noveskey keep the beat tight, modern and tasty. Fans of the band’s earlier albums may not be overly taken by the dance/pop of ’I Want To Come Back Home’, however the band always evolve on each album and that is part of the attraction about them. ‘Colours Collide’ is the most ‘in your face’ song, Justin upping the vitriol in his singing, the one song that harks back to the band’s early sound. What gives Blue October that extra lift above other bands is not only Justin Furstenfeld’s vocals and songs, but the violin and soundscapes created by Ryan Delahoussaye. Take for example ‘Further Dive (The House That Dylan Built)’ where the violin and strings arrangement creates a beautiful ambience midway through. At over nine minutes this is a proper dim the lights, headphones on, and immerse yourself into the music.

CIRCLES AROUND THE SUN, Let It Wander (CD/LP)
Let It Wander signals a new beginning for the band as they move beyond their original musical mandate of evoking the spirit of the Dead and fully embrace their own personality. More than anything, what you hear on this album is a band growing into its own sound. The songs on Let It Wander are focused and filled with imaginative musical turns. Bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy form a veritable groove machine that knows intuitively when to tighten up and when to stretch out. They expand and collapse the rhythmic pocket around guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall, who pass melodies back and forth in an elaborate game of musical tag as they take turns adding color and shade from a seemingly endless kaleidoscope of cosmic sounds.

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, Thank You For Today (CD/LP)
It’s almost exactly 20 years since Death Cab for Cutie released their first album, Something About Airplanes, on the tiny Barsuk label. The intervening years saw them sign to a major label, get nominated for Grammys and become poster boys for canvas-haversack-toting mopey emo kids everywhere. But nine albums in, and Ben Gibbard and co are no longer kids themselves, and their nostalgia has a decidedly autumnal feel. Gibbard can recall being 22 and “Trying so hard to play it cool” (60 & Punk), and reflects that “Sometimes I’m overcome by every choice I couldn’t outrun” (Summer Years). The dilemmas that are faced are adult ones: “I don’t need you to be honest / Or to be faithful to the end / I just need you to be always a friend,” Gibbard sings on When We Drive. At this point, Death Cab have settled into a sound that eschews experimentation: in a sense this is MOR music. Nothing surprises, nothing jolts, but it’s so expertly judged, such a warm fug of melancholia, that it’s all but irresistible, like slipping into delicious self-pity. The melodies are gorgeous, never overdone but always foregrounded: you would get almost nothing from the individual elements, from the bass, the guitar, the keyboards and the voice, but they add up to much more than the sum of their parts. It’s not that it sounds like 80s adult rock, but there’s something of artists like Bruce Hornsby and the Range here – something welcoming and accepting that feels awfully appealing.

CULLEN OMORI, Diet (CD/LP)
It’s easy to roll eyes at the concept of an album comprised entirely of love songs. Hasn’t that been done — perhaps superlatively — by groups like the Magnetic Fields, the Shins, the Beatles? Isn’t about every other pop song on the radio about love? And yet, former Smith Westerns frontman and self-proclaimed piece-of-shit Cullen Omori’s sophomore solo album The Diet proves that there’s more to be said. Recalling Andy Shauf’s The Party with its curiosity about sound, vocal quality, and narrative structure, Omori’s newest effort suggests that love isn’t dead — perhaps it was simply on hiatus. Love songs can often have a stale nostalgia or, on the other side of the coin, over-exuberant anticipation. We’re all familiar with thumpy pump songs that anticipate a night with an attractive prospect ahead or a breakup album that succeeds through sulking in the rejection. However, The Diet lives in the present; Omori even reportedly wrote some of the tracks with his girlfriend at the time. The songs live beyond the realm of corporeal romance, instead often professing love for drugs, ideals, and beyond. Perhaps the only straightforward love song on the album is “Natural Woman”, a song that explores the get-and-give of modern-day relationships. Omori sings, “Pink silk shorts and the pictures on TV / Your bedroom eyes make it hard to breathe now they’re part of me / Oh I want you, Oh I want you, Honey / there’s so much more to come / So many lonely people but I ain’t one.” His ability to expand the love song form while also living within it showcases a dual-talent for control and exploration, a gift that is the root of The Diet‘s sonic success.

THEE OH SEES, Smote Reverser (CD)
If you were to look at the album cover of Oh Sees’ 22nd (!) record for the first time, you’d think it belonged to that of a death metal band and not the California psych-rockers. Dark and gothic, the artwork depicts the figure of a monster not dissimilar to that of the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, and you’d expect the album to belong to a band who plays Download Festival every year without fail and whose logo obscures their name in some illegible scrawl. But it doesn’t belong to some Download band. On their latest album, Oh Sees reinforce the idea that they don’t want to be pegged to one genre – or idea, or philosophy. Smote Reverser is not so much a new album from Oh Sees as it is a new album from a new incarnation of Oh Sees – a culmination of the ideas and the works of the band also known as Thee Oh Sees, The Oh Sees, Oh Sees, OCS and The Ohsees. Picking up from where they left off with last year’s Orc, Smote Reverser is linked by its very inability to sound like a grander project. Less thematic or cohesive than other records, Smote Reverser is, quite deliberately, a record that sounds like an endless stream-of-consciousness, with no underlying nucleus that pulls it all together. Any of these tracks, each so distinct from the others, could potentially hold the charm of the record. Perhaps its off-kilter nature is an honest reflection of the chaotic, restless and lawless nature of our society today. Smote Reverser has Oh Sees go full-out psych-rock, with inklings of post-apocalyptic soundscapes, both thematically and sonically. Where the punishing goth-doom of lead single “Overthrown” is caustic and feral, there are instances of fresh organs and keyboards to reinforce a more progressive rock feel. There are more pop and garage-rock elements strewn across the record, but they play second-fiddle to the more grandiose and amplified energy of the rest of the tracks. “Moon Bog” is a more dialled-down number, but still haunting nonetheless, and the restlessness of the tracks create for an unsettling energy. So who really are Oh Sees? Are they themselves aware of who or what they are? They could be anything they want to be.

 

 

COMING SOON:

ALICE IN CHAINS, Rainer Fog (8/24)

BLOOD ORANGE, Negro Swan (8/24)

INTERPOL, Marauder (8/24)

MARK LANEGAN & DUKE GARWOOD, With Animals (8/24)

 

 
And don’t forget these STILL-NEW platters that matter!

SHOOTER JENNINGS, Shooter (CD/LP)
For nearly two decades, Shooter Jennings has defied expectation while constantly expanding the parameters of country, rock ‘n’ roll, and beyond. The scion of American music royalty, he has affirmed his own place in histories still to come as a truly limitless artist whose ambitious experimentation spans myriad genres and creative platforms, from releasing seven solo LPs, countless EPs, and founding his own label and multimedia outlet, Black Country Rock, to hosting his “Shooter Jennings’ Electric Rodeo” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country channel, producing music by Jamey Johnson, Wanda Jackson, and his mom, Jessi Colter, and the creation of acclaimed BBS Door games (available via his own BCRGames.com). Ever the outlaw, Jennings has now crafted what might well be his most truly idiosyncratic work thus far, SHOOTER. Produced by longtime friend and collaborator, Low Country Sound founder Dave Cobb, at the renowned RCA Studio A on Nashville’s Music Row, the album sees Jennings staking out a fairly straightforward goal: to simply make a great country record. It should be noted, Jennings’ last studio album was a genuinely visionary tribute to Giorgio Moroder so in some ways, making a straight up country record is as much of a left turn as anything else in his brilliantly mercurial career thus far. But with songs like “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” or the raucous “I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy,” Jennings more than affirms his mission by returning to country’s original, if oft misplaced, mandate: singing songs about growing up and getting older, about going out and getting trashed. In short, making music for real people with real lives. With SHOOTER, Jennings truly puts his own mark on country music, living up to his extraordinary birthright with unparalleled passion, experience, and heart. Jennings’ decade-plus relationship with the GRAMMY® Award-winning Cobb extends all the way back to 2005 and his first trio of solo albums, a landmark series of records in which they tried to “stretch the boundaries of what was acceptable on a country record” by adding elements like electronics, psychedelic guitars, and Shooter’s distinctly modern point of view. SHOOTER – which marks their first full length effort together since 2010’s psychedelic metal concept album, BLACK RIBBONS – turns that experimental approach on its head by stripping the country sound bare to its bones to reveal the genre’s hot blood and hard muscle. Though raised in Nashville, Jennings has spent the past two decades residing in Los Angeles and admits to having little taste for contemporary Music City’s hard hustle and hipster bustle. With his own peace of mind in mind, he opted to stay with a dear friend from childhood in Springfield, TN, 30 minutes drive from Music Row.  SHOOTER stakes its claim as classic country right from the jump, kicking off with the brass-fueled boogie-woogie of “Bound Ta Git Down” (though admittedly, few if any country LPs start with a high-energy honky tonk tune referencing weed, Guns n’ Roses, and Jennings’ good pal, Marilyn Manson). Jennings’ hard-fought clarity and determined honesty can be heard throughout the record, on songs like the tender “Love In A Minor Key” – which he first recorded for 2014’s George Jones tribute EP, DON’T WAIT UP (FOR GEORGE) – and “Rhinestone Eyes,” a heartfelt paean to his wife, Misty. In addition to the “bunch of songs” written at home before heading to Nashville, much of SHOOTER – including highlights like “Denim & Diamonds” and the Lone Star anthem, “Do You Love Texas?” – were co-written by Jennings and Cobb in the studio on the spot.  SHOOTER further features songs co-written with a number of other collaborators. The rowdy, rousing “D.R.U.N.K.” was penned with Nashville songwriter Aaron Ratiere, the first time Jennings admits to any success with a traditional co-write. Elsewhere, “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” sees Jennings and Cobb sharing a credit with iconoclastic character actor Randy Quaid. With his encyclopedic knowledge of music history, Jennings is well aware that self-titling an LP usually means one of two things: either the record is exceptionally personal or the artist is flat out of ideas. Suffice to say, Shooter Jennings is not an out-of-ideas kind of guy. The power and passion that rings through SHOOTER make the answer resoundingly clear. “It’s a very honest record,” Jennings says. “There are no magic tricks. It’s really stuff that’s from the heart; it really encapsulates a lot of the styles I’ve done across all my records. Dave said, ‘Can’t we just call it SHOOTER?’ I said, I love that. Let’s just call it SHOOTER.”

ROBBIE FULKS & LINDA GAIL LEWIS, Wild! Wild! Wild! (CD/LP)
Anyone who has been married nine times, almost died from substance abuse and, oh yeah, was a member of her wildman older brother Jerry Lee Lewis’ band with whom she sang duets has some stories to tell. Enter roots folk-rocker Robbie Fulks providing late career assistance for Linda Gail Lewis to help voice some of them.  The combination of Fulks’ studio know-how (he has 13 solo albums under his belt), songwriting prowess and industry connections along with Lewis’ powerful vocals, rollicking piano work and a sassy attitude that 50 years in the country/rockabilly trenches brings (the nine marriages likely contributed too) may not be a match made in heaven but, like the finest collaborations, it brings out the best in both artists. Fulks pens seven of the 13 tracks and helped curate the rest, plus assembled a band of veterans like Telecaster master Redd Volkaert to give the talented Lewis full room to shine. Which she does masterfully, shifting between the feisty humorous country of “Till Death” (“We said till death do us part, and that’s now”), dueting the Tammy Wynette-styled part next to Fulks’ George Jones in “That’s Why They Call It Temptation,” and banging the 88s like brother Jerry Lee on the appropriately titled and rowdy “Boogie Woogie Country Gal.” She shifts into banjo-led folk/blues for “Memphis Never Falls From Style” and goes full-bore Chuck Berry rocking on the title track, where she trades vocal licks with Fulks before launching into a fiery piano solo worthy of her famous relative. She even swings some jazzy C&W on a jaunty cover of Don Gibson’s “Who Cares” and the organ driven, finger-popping “Your Red Wagon.” The twosome nod to the music’s church origins by resurrecting the traditional country gospel classic “On the Jericho Road,” a song Lewis once sang with Jerry Lee when they were kids, done here in a peppy acoustic style with strains of bluegrass. Despite the joint billing, this is primarily a showcase for Lewis’ long under-appreciated vocal and keyboard talents. But Fulks holds his own singing lead on the barroom honky-tonk of “I Just Lived a Country Song,” an original that could easily have been plucked from the Jones songbook. He also shines on the sweet, melancholy soulful ballad “Foolmaker,” another original where his easygoing voice borrows some of Gram Parsons’ honeyed approach.  Linda Gail was briefly thrust into the spotlight when she hooked up with Van Morrison in 2000 for the moderately successful collaborative You Win Again. But with Fulks’ assistance she gets long overdue love on this organic, joyful partnership that sounds like the participants had as much fun putting it together as you will spending 45 exuberant minutes listening to it.  Nothing epitomizes this terrific twosome better than “It Came From the South,” nearly hidden away at track twelve. It’s where the earthy roots that exude from every song are put into historical perspective with “Black or white, blues or hillbilly/ it’s got a rhythm that’s knocking me silly” as Lewis pounds away on piano like she was born to make this music. Which clearly she was

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