Tony Esposito providing vocals for White Reaper, opening group for Spoon. Photo: Lmsorenson.net

Spoon have been at it a long time, releasing indie gems since 1996 up to their most recent undertaking, the slightly spaced-out Hot Thoughts, for which they are currently touring. Spoon stopped at Salt Lake’s The Depot with a young group of lovable punks, White Reaper. The two bands were an odd match, their sounds only similar in volume and energy, but that was all that really mattered. I wondered how the aging crowd—there were as many silver foxes in attendance as young bucks—would dig the rapid, nonstop onslaught of something between MxPx and Misfits. Turns out that the older portion of the crowd wasn’t all that rickety beneath their Local H and Built to Spill T-shirts—they fared just fine. White Reaper showed everyone a great time and played their accessible, hour-long set with vigor. Their pedal-to-the-metal aesthetic was a great primer for the main act.

Spoon took the stage around 9:30 p.m., opening with a song from the new album: “Do I Have to Talk You Into It.” It was a smooth beginning, quiet to start and culminating with something I was expecting. I’ve loved frontman Britt Daniel for years with his unique vocals and clever guitar plucking. He’s always been able to bring it live—he can wail, and crowds love him. He didn’t disappoint at The Depot, and nor did his bandmates. Jim Eno is no slouch, either: His drumming is every bit as impressive as Daniel’s charismatic persona.

There was a stretch of four crowd favorites in the middle of the set that really engaged the whole place. There were people cutting a rug in the furthest corners of the venue while Spoon played “I Turn My Camera On,” “The Beast and the Dragon, Adored,” “Don’t You Evah” and “Do You” without a hard break between the songs. Even the light show, which was fabulous throughout, pushed the vibe from one track to the next, hitting the crowd squarely in the chest and making no bones about doing it.

That group of songs got everyone revved up, which, I guess, was a perfect time for an intermission. For the next several minutes, the band, sans the guy with the keyboard and the drum machines, left the stage, and all we got was ambient noise with ambient lights. When the band returned, they started up again just like they did to begin the whole performance: slowly, quietly building back to a steady pace.

As I mentioned, Spoon aren’t a new band. They’ve done a lot of things over the past couple of decades. They have performed a lot of shows, and Daniel spoke of them. He talked about doing two in a row at the same venue, something he said the band likes to avoid, and apologized to fans for doing it out of necessity. He also mentioned a show from long ago at which he got into a tussle on stage. He couldn’t remember the venue, but the loyal listeners, hanging onto all of his words, quickly jogged his memory, yelling to him that it was at the Zephyr Club. I hadn’t thought about the Zephyr Club for years, and it helped to put into perspective just how long Spoon has been something worth following.

Before the encore, the show ended with the title track from the latest album, which was well done and fitting. But as the crowd cheered, Daniel came back out alone and blew me away with a solid rendition of “I Summon You,”  playing solo on his knees behind a fan that was making the whole thing that much more dramatic. It was great.

I think I can see why Spoon were touring with White Reaper. Their sound is different, but their origins are the same. Spoon have gotten older, and their production and preferences have changed, evolved. Their suits are pressed and tailored these days, but under the pleats and buttons, they are the same band I discovered who tore shit down and scuffled onstage. –Billy Swartzfager


Click images for captions

Lucy Dacus
Historian

Matador
Street: 03.02
Lucy Dacus = HEM + Portishead

Lucy Dacus’ sophomore album, Historian, is a solid follow-up to her 2016 debut, No Burden. As of now, I’m not quite sure this album is everything I hoped and expected it to be, but that’s only because of how good of a debut I felt No Burden was. I guess that’s the rub, right? Sophomore slumps are generally the result of a bar being set exceedingly high by an atypical freshman’s performance.

Like most good albums, though, the more I listen to Historian, the more I find to like about it. Dacus is a good narrator, and my favorite tracks are those in which she displays that talent profusely. There is one song in particular I revisited often. “Pillar of Truth,” a track concerning an old woman on her deathbed, is a poignant reflection on time and how we are all helpless beneath it. Dacus does a beautiful job of portraying her own insecurities in the presence of someone who has experienced so much more of life than herself while also realizing that the old woman was once young and apprehensive about the process as well.

In addition to “Pillar of Truth,” her writing sets the tone on other tracks too. The lead single and opening song, “Night Shift,” is another example of her storytelling abilities. The lyrics encompass painful recollections of a breakup and the ensuing attempts at moving on all while having one last cup of coffee with the very person she is struggling to forget. It’s very astute and laid out in a way that everyone with a broken heart in their history can identify with.

Those two songs act as bookends, sandwiching the rest of the album, holding the other parts up and giving them structure, substance. That isn’t to say that there is nothing substantial in the middle. It’s not a sandwich if it’s only bread, no?

“Yours And Mine” and “Body To Flame” are right in the middle, the fifth and sixth tracks, and both are splendid pieces of songwriting. The lyrics are compelling, but I have yet to mention any other feature that makes Dacus’ music what it is. Sure, her voice is always smooth and sharp when necessary, but what pushes it over the top is the dramatic contrast found within most of the songs on Historian. She’ll set listeners up to feel one way to begin with, but will speed it up or slow it down significantly to hammer home a point or emphasize an emotion. Dacus does this very well early on “Nonbeliever” and later on “Timefighter.”

There are a lot of different sounds present on the album as well, and they really work together to create something that comes off as entirely singular. I catch a lot of ’90s grunge and alternative influences with the guitar and tone in many of the songs. At the same time, there is an obvious touch of the folkish vocalist here, too. Dacus’ voice reminds me of Sally Ellyson, but the dense guitar, which strangely works with her pipes, is PJ Harvey–esque or Hole-like.

I like Historian, more after having processed it more. But, I feel there is more to it than what I have gathered thus far. To fully love an album, I have to digest it over time. I can’t say that I love this one, yet, but I will be listening to it for some time, which leads me to believe I will ultimately be a long-time fan. It will just take more cycles, catching different lyrics and strings plucked in other songs to garner my fixation. –Billy Swartzfager

Wolf Alice | Visions of a Life | RCA

Wolf Alice
Visions of a Life

RCA
Street: 09.29
Wolf Alice = Siouxsie and the Banshees + Karen O

As a followup to 2015’s My Love is Cool, Wolf Alice’s sophomore effort, Visions of a Life, had a lofty standard to live up to. The band’s first album was successful, both critically and with fans, for good reason, too—they are unique and skilled. Wolf Alice sound like a lot of different acts out there, depending on which song you are listening to, but collectively, they don’t sound like anyone at all. They mix it up in a way that would muddy up most bands to the point that they couldn’t establish a calling card or carve out a corner to call their own. I do have to say that Wolf Alice are not like most bands.

Their four early-release singles from the album couldn’t be more different from one another, and they happen to be the first four tracks on the album. The first single from Visions of a Life was “Yuk Foo,” a bold choice to be sure, released in the summer to acclaim and excitement. The song is a brutal onslaught of angst, which is more punk than anything I’ve ever heard from them, and such a stark difference from the single that came next. “Don’t Delete the Kisses” dropped in August and is a great track. The story the song tells is one most people are familiar with, though they might not actively remember it until they listen to a song like this, but it musters something inside, compelling one to hit repeat. The sound could be Karen O singing Goodnight Radio’s “Sofia So Far.”

“Beautifully Unconventional” is the album’s third song and also the third single and is a perfect fit for the title. It’s loud and fast, but it isn’t seething like “Yuk Foo.” It’s like the difference between Black Flag and The Strokes. I have to stay present to remember that Wolf Alice are one band, especially after I reread the line I just used.

The opening track on Visions of a Life is “Heavenward,” a shoegazing homage of atmospheric sound, reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine meets The Cranberries.

As much as I was blown away by the eclectic mix that was the first portion of the album, there is just as much gold to be mined as the record pans out. The dream pop–ish “Planet Hunter” is an interesting ditty, one that conjured memories of Cyndi Lauper and visions of what she would sound like if she and Beck made a song together. I’ve said it about other songs, and I’ll say it again: This track sounds like no other on the album.

Not only do tracks sound different from one another, but there is also a lot of contrast within songs throughout the project as well. “Space & Time” is a great song to jump around to. The pace is brilliant, and the changes in mood are eye-opening. “Sadboy” is a breathy lost- or never-had-any-love song that displays Ellie Rowsell’s pipes, which are sometimes hidden behind layers of sound and distortion.

Another great and difficult to classify song I really like is “After the Zero Hour.” It is an interesting piece, one that forced me to pull my head away from the computer screen when I first heard it. It sounds like Tori Amos singing at a medieval jousting tournament while playing a lute in a really long, elaborate dress. Wolf Alice could totally write a song for Game of Thrones, and it would be cooler than Ed Sheeran for sure.

Closing out the album is the title track. It’s long, but I feel it showcases everything Wolf Alice are about, everything they are capable of. There’s contrast, punk-ass vibes, electric ambiance, grungy guitar—it has it all.

Visions of a Life is the perfect second album. Wolf Alice shouldn’t disappoint anyone with it. In fact, it should add to their lore of being able to do anything they feel like and as well as anyone, if not better. –Billy Swartzfager

Spiritualized | And Nothing Hurt | Fat Possum Records

Spiritualized
And Nothing Hurt

Fat Possum Records
Street: 09.07
Spiritualized = John Cale/Lou Reed Velvet Underground + unbridled John Coltrane

Jason Pierce has always made music that is different than anything else being done. Spiritualized have always been his vehicle, or spacecraft, and he has always been the spaceman on a mission to bring something interesting home for anyone willing to listen. Even when his albums fell short of what fans and critics were expecting, they were still better than most everything else, especially anything not pushing boundaries.

With Spiritualized’s eighth studio album, And Nothing Hurt, Pierce has bitten off an awful lot to chew—particularly if one considers having to follow his last album, 2012’s panned Sweet Heart, Sweet Light. This time around, he recorded almost everything himself in a room in his London home. Not using a full recording studio and all of its accompanying resources sounds a little crazy—maybe not so much for a generation of DIY musicians. But, for Pierce, who generally incorporates complex sounds and layered subtleties as well as full choirs and large ensembles using non-rock instruments, it was a change, something he isn’t unfamiliar with.

Well, he did it, and painstakingly so. Not having a ton of experience in digital recording, Pierce taught himself on a laptop, bit by bit and recorded And Nothing Hurt alone. I think it came out beautifully.

Nothing in the world sounds like Spiritualized’s 1997 masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen…We Are Floating in Space, but I was instantly brought back to that album with And Nothing Hurt’s opening track, “Perfect Miracle.” It’s a wonderful song—complex, heartfelt and a perfect tone-setter to begin a Spiritualized album. That’s just the beginning of the beginning. The following two songs, “I’m Your Man” and “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go,” are the leading singles released earlier this summer to tease and satisfy those awaiting the full album’s eventual arrival.

Pierce’s lyrical prowess is also on parade here, as usual. He gives listeners a truthful glimpse into his reasoning and the things in his life that he is trying to address with each song, all while not coming off as pretentious or overly philosophical. Pierce is ordinarily straightforward, which is a large part of his appeal. His songs are easy to identify with. Most tracks are packed with enlightened gems of wisdom that people can put in their back pocket. One of my favorites from this album is from the song “On The Sunshine.” It says, “If youth is wasted on the young then wisdom on the old”—perfect. And in another yet, this time from “Let’s Dance,” he says to someone he is trying to convince to forget that it’s closing time and dance with him instead. “We’ve got the rest of our lives till the coming dawn/ Hold my hand a while—we’ll go out in style and dance.” Again, perfect, relevant.

I could just rant on about every song on this album—they’re all good, most are fantastic and some absolute classics. But it isn’t truly an examination of a Spiritualized record unless one allows themselves to be immersed under the entire thing. I’ve always loved the wall-of-sound style of production found throughout a lot of Spiritualized’s stuff, and many tracks here are blended in a way that makes it hard, maybe even overpowering, to focus on just one aspect of it all. When I let go of those attempts, however, I am rewarded by something so dense with sound, emotion and joy. It really only works as one, magnificent whole anyway.

On the album’s cover, Pierce is alone, surrounded by a moonlike environment in a spacesuit—a man by himself, somewhere unfamiliar. It’s a fitting visual, which complements a deep album done by the one guy who could actually pull it off. –Billy Swartzfager

The Urban Renewal Project | 21st Century Ghost | Fastrac Records / Resonance Records

The Urban Renewal Project
21st Century Ghost

Fastrac Records / Resonance Records
Street: 09.15
The Urban Renewal Project = Gang Starr’s Jazzmamatazz – Guru + Digable Planets and Gloria Estefan

My first thoughts upon hearing a few tracks from The Urban Renewal Project’s latest album, 21st Century Ghost, was that they sounded eerily similar to ’90s one-and-done Camp Lo. (I know Camp Lo made more than one album, but most folks can’t tell you anything about any of them but Uptown Saturday Night, their first.) So, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Camp Lo is featured on 21st Century Ghost.

I should clarify that this album doesn’t sound like Camp Lo alone, absolutely not. It does on just a few of the songs, namely those that Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede appear on. There is a lot more to hear throughout the sparse 10-track album. The Urban Renewal Project consist of a large ensemble of horns, which bring a ton of traditional, original jazz music to the forefront of something that sounds new and refreshing. Add on to that lyrical optimism about an ever-changing and always plugged-in culture, and you have an inkling of what the album sounds like.

Initially, I thought that 21st Century Ghost would be more hip-hop than it is and was excited to give it a try. I was a bit thrown off by all of the songs that had no hip-hop in them at all, but continued to listen. I ended up OK with the mixture. Hip-hop and jazz music can go hand in hand—there is even a label for it—so it isn’t new. A lot of the older hip-hop artists who pulled influences from jazz used classic and groundbreaking samples, which resulted in the jazz rap label. But some took it further, like Guru of Gang Starr whose Jazzmatazz album series infuse true hip-hop music with live jazz in the studio. Those albums were cool, but they always conjured images of a smoke-filled room where one could go to soak up some of the world’s more depressing occasions. (I am specifically thinking about “Sights in the City.”) 21st Century Ghost is every bit as jazzy and musically inclined, but so much more upbeat and lively. Just like Camp Lo’s “This is It,” The Urban Renewal Project have created something to get people out of their chairs and onto the dance floor.

21st Century Ghost is highlighted by rap tracks “Newsflash” and “Don’t Ask Y.” The rhythm and the rhymes are rapid, head-nod-inducing components that show that the band knows what time it is. But there is just as much to be discovered within the pop tracks, like “Armor Love,” as well. With Gavin Turek featured on vocals, the song eclipses mere pop with everything else going on musically. “Another Day” is another fine piece from the album, exposing the listener to samples of video game electronica toward the album’s last track, “Roll Credits.”

Overall, the album is a funky, somewhat experimental mix of soul-filled tunes that feature elements of soul, ’90s pop, disco, hip-hop and jazz, blended in a way that feels cohesive and natural. Like Jazzmatazz, the raps and beats may not be enough to please a hip-hop head who has nothing else in their library, but they should be more than sufficient for the head who has just as much hip-hop as everything else. –Billy Swartzfager

Sleepy Passenger | Sleepy Passenger

Sleepy Passenger
Self-Titled

Self-Released
Street: 06.27
Sleepy Passenger = Coconut Records + James Mercer

Will Sartain strikes again. The name of his newest project is Sleepy Passenger and he has released a self-titled, ten-track album, it’s pretty much fabulous. Other than his vocals on some tracks, I’m only slightly reminded of some of his stuff I followed back in the day, though the way I listen to music has changed just as much as the music itself has.

Sleepy Passenger begins strong with a handful of dreamy pop songs that catch and hold. The opener, “I Hope to See You Soon,” is a great choice to bat leadoff and features the first of some killer vocal accompaniment from Felicia Anderton, who can be heard all over the first half of the album. “I Can’t Get Off This Trip” follows up nicely, slowing the tempo and turning up the ambient atmosphere a touch. The engaging introduction to the album doesn’t quit there, either “The Stars Come Out” and the straightforward, disarming “Davey” are superb, with the former being a perfect candidate for a single, if there were one.

The latter half of the album is just as stellar. Continuing with my favorite, “Brother Oh Brother,” Sartain gets down with some exceptional poetry, that’s exquisitely vivid and meaningfully ambiguous at the same time. “Let You Down,” another powerful gem, features an additional bout of solid songwriting as well as the aforementioned backup vocals, which certainly play a part in the shape the album takes when all is said and done.

Sartain definitely does the heavy lifting here, playing guitars, bass, drums and managing a pile of other moving parts that make up all of the various arrangements. But, he gets a bit of help as well. Andrew Sato plays a lot of the keys and strings while Mike Sasich expertly handles the album’s production. Together, following Sartain’s lead, Sleepy Passenger have dropped an album that should get a lot of love and play around here, deservedly. –Billy Swartzfager

Wyclef Jean. Photo: Lmsorenson.net

Wyclef Jean throws a fabulous party! Through all the years, all the shows, the different genres, the various artists and venues that couldn’t be any more different, I have never witnessed a performer have as much fun as the former Fugees member did at Metro. By the end of the night, there was barely a dry brow in the place and nearly everyone was all smiles on their way out the door. I like Wyclef, and have since his days with one of the most iconic hip-hop crews of the ’90s. The Score was one of the most impactful albums of its time, not just in the hip-hop world either, and that lent Wyclef all the credibility he would ever need going forward, in my opinion. Same goes for Lauryn Hill. Even though a lot of what Wyclef released wasn’t totally hip-hop, when that was all I cared about, I still played his music with interest and reverence. My tastes eventually broadened, and artists like Wyclef were a large part of that.

I believe Wyclef’s ability to reach large audiences, commercial audiences, while still maintaining respect within hardcore circles is why everyone in the audience was so involved with his performance, from those there to dance to his MTV hits and those who knew every lyric from deeper cuts from The Score. The guy isn’t just a rapper, he’s a musician, an entertainer, and a damn good one too. He displayed his abilities and deep love for music while onstage. His passion was obvious, and nothing was forced. It seemed, and likely was, that he wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

The fun atmosphere wasn’t due to Wyclef alone either. The opening band, Culture Crew, did a fantastic job of concocting and spreading positive vibes with their energetic set. The group’s entire mission is to impact the world with love through music. Onstage, they exhibited exactly that with soul-filled reggae-pop tracks that simply make people feel good. Wyclef came out late, but there was no restlessness from the crowd. Most were content to be present and entertained, thanks to the openers.

Wyclef began his set with “How Many Mics,” fiddling with the song’s structure and throwing some freestyle verses in for good measure, in both English and Spanish to boot. And, like the source album, the song was piggybacked by “Ready or Not,” to very spirited hails and shouts. Wyclef let everyone know that he was going to take us on a trip to the ’90s, which was fine with me and everyone else in the house, it seemed.

Prior to going back into the depths that are The Score, Wyclef gave us all a story about his friend, Dave Chappelle, as an intro to “If I Was President,” a track featured on Chappelle’s Show. After that, he told another story, one about the beginnings of his love for music and when the seeds of his dreams were planted. He said it happened when he saw Bob Marley sing “No Woman, No Cry.” Then he played the beautiful version his Fugees made famous over 20 years ago. The decades-old impression the song left on people appeared terribly fresh as nearly everyone in attendance mouthed the lyrics, staying respectfully quiet in order to breath it all in. It was lights out, honestly. It was brief, and the only moment that could be considered woeful all night, but appreciated.

Then he went crazy, in a good way. He played the song he produced for Santana, “Maria Maria,” while killing it on guitar, playing Carlos’ parts with precision and excitement. Like I said, a musician. This was just about the time he ventured into his first solo album, The Carnival. Beginning with “Gone Till November,” he got the crowd to jump, sway and nod at his command, seemingly without any effort whatsoever. When the axles were totally greased, he delivered another favorite from his debut with “We Trying to Stay Alive.”

He moved forward onto another chart topper, “Guantanamera,” while picking up and plucking the bass like he was born for it. Wyclef just kept impressing the audience as time passed and he dabbled with more and more instruments as the songs kept coming. He tiptoed over the ivories, or acrylics I guess, on “Killing Me Softly,” where he did his part, but left Hill’s to a recording. Wyclef may be extremely talented, but singing Lauryn’s vocals has to be a no-no. He also spent time manhandling the drum kit and dove into the 1s and 2s on the last track he played from the good old days, “Zealots.”

Wyclef performed some brand new songs that not everyone was familiar with, but had a lot of fun with them. He took some time to go through a verse and a chorus, teaching the fresh tracks to the crowd. He then hit pause and started over again. On the second time around, everyone sang along, dancing, laughing and jumping around like they were songs from their youth, reminding them of times they seldom consider. Who knows, maybe years from now people will hear “What’s Good” and remember the blast they had the first time they heard it at Metro.

It’s hard to fully comprehend just how influential Wyclef has been throughout his career. His fingerprints are all over the place, physically, creatively and socially. His message, and the messages of his collaborators, tied to his brilliant production, has reached far and wide. I was reminded of so many different things hearing these songs live. It was nonstop too, everyone up, everyone moving from the moment he emerged until long after last call. There were actually boos when he said he was out of time. But, like all of the best party throwers in history, he played a couple more anyway. –Billy Swartzfager


Click images for captions | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Amen Dunes | Freedom | Sacred Bones

Amen Dunes
Freedom

Sacred Bones
Street: 03.30
Amen Dunes = Suicide + Angel Olsen

Not being terribly familiar with Amen Dunes’ catalog, nor with any of the work done prior to Damon McMahon adopting that alias in 2006, I chose to review Freedom from the viewpoint of a noob. I made no comparisons. I had no expectations. That approach can be helpful sometimes, especially when one is prone to setting themselves up for disappointment.

The album is an eclectic mix of instruments and atmospheric presentation, complete with darker tones hidden beneath lighter synth-riddled hooks and happily struck keys and chords. For the most part, it’s the lyrics that set the gloomier stage—heavier, less straightforward with their strangely painted character portraits of the past.

McMahon enlisted the aid of Delicate Steve on guitar and Panoram, from Rome, tinkering with the electronic touches. Chris Coady, of Beach House, also stepped in to do production. All of them, along with regular contributor Parker Kindred, came up with something substantially unique.

It is difficult to label Freedom, to pin it down as one type of music or even a specific blend. There are danceable, poppy tunes that bring about smiles, though brief once the reality of the lyrics sets in. The album also contains interesting surf funk, if that could be a thing. I think I’m referring to slower tracks with dense basslines that sound oddly—though not out of place—beachy. Again, great vibes, music that conjures movement, head nodding, toe tapping, wrapping the steering wheel. But again, the haunting lyrics don’t quite match the positive senses the music provides.

I thoroughly enjoyed several tracks from the album, playing them on repeat for the ride home. “Blue Rose,” the project’s first song, is one of its standouts. The subtle bongo beats are immediately catchy, but they become a part of something that lingers, a pulse that remains present for the duration of not only the song but the entire album.

“Miki Dora,” the album’s first single found neatly tucked right in the middle, is also unforgettable, at least for a spell. Miki Dora was a surfer and a movie star in the ’60s. He got in trouble and became washed up. The lyrics portray the sad process nicely, with lines like, “Pride destroyed the man / I didn’t know the deal,” and “Catch the next wave, Miki Dora / The waves they are gone.” I, of course, don’t know the personal reference McMahon is tapping into, or if there even is one, but I was left to contemplate life and pride each time the song faded out.

“Skipping School,” “LA” and “Freedom” are all good tracks as well, systematically spaced out at perfect intervals, giving me something to look forward to while diving into songs that weren’t immediately appealing to me.

The song I favor the most, though, is “Believe.” It could be the best representation of what the entire LP is. It builds slowly, through some old-timey-sounding, solidly strummed guitar, into what has to be the most soul-filled offering Freedom has. To me, it sounds like it hurts McMahon a little to deliver it. His authenticity is unquestionable; his voice is vulnerable yet unwavering. This one will end up on several of my playlists, no doubt.

There are some lulls on the album, but even the best records contain low points. What is truly great about the Freedom, though, is that it never gets stuck in the ruts—the peaks are too high. I’ll have to go back and pick up some earlier music from McMahon. It might be under par, though, because all of that will be compared to this …–Billy Swartzfager

Head Portals | Brighter Later | Self-Released

Head Portals
Brighter Later

Self-Released
Street: 07.21
Head Portals = Up Records Modest Mouse + early Built to Spill

According to Head Portals’ Facebook page, they are a dad rock band. This is a group that appeals to an older generation or is heavily influenced by one. I feel that Head Portals is the latter. Their sound is pulled directly from late-’90s early 2000s indie rock from the Northwest. While listening to their new album, Brighter Later—close to the name of a brilliant record by the late, great Nick Drake—I couldn’t decide who they sounded like the most: Modest Mouse, Built to Spill or, to a lesser degree, Death Cab for Cutie. That is a good thing. I have reviewed performances by Isaac Brock and Doug Martsch in the past year or so, and I was interested from the beginning.

A lot of the heavy guitar play and jamming after the vocals stop is what draws pictures of Martsch in my mind. The formula worked exceptionally well on the tracks “Carry Weight/Holy Man,” and “Sound.” The nasally vocals and slightly self-hating lyrics of MLH, who wrote and arranged the whole thing, are a nod to pre–Lonesome Crowded West Brock and company.

There are a few tracks that stand alone as uniquely belonging to Head Portals, though too. “Brighter (Later)” is a grindy, distortion-filled romp with some excellent guitar play from MLH and perfect, complementary percussion from band member Colby Edwards. The crumbly vocals here sound like the instruments are creating an earthquake beneath the microphone—it’s pretty damn cool. Then, there is “Obsidian,” a song that certainly begins with the indie rock sound present throughout, but the horns—well played by Parker Andrezzi, over the culmination create a perfect harmony of dad rock and someone else’s dad rock. I liked this album. It made me feel like I also needed to pull out Sad Sappy Sucker and Keep it Like a Secret for old times’ sake. –Billy Swartzfager

Sam Reading | SAMUEL | Self-Released

Sam Reading
SAMUEL

Self-Released
Street: 09.22
Sam Reading = The Weakerthans + Beck

SAMUEL is a short new EP from Sam Reading. It contains five tracks, two of which are instrumentals, and is 20 minutes total. The album begins with “What is to Come.” In the beginning, it teases something atmospheric with a bit of a “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” feel, and eventually levels out for the duration with a slow melody/melancholic lyric combo.

The third track on the album, “Steadily,” was the most well-rounded, from my perch anyway. It was a tad more uptempo and complex than any of the other songs and had me reminiscing about John K. Sampson when Reading’s voice poked through the pop-rock instrumentation, forcing me to focus. My attention was rewarded, as this track is the album’s strongest, due in part tits lyrical prominence. 

The final number on the album is “The Vent on the Ceiling in the Basement.” It has a lot going on. There are woeful periods of guitar and drums, some of which conjure imagery of ’90s flannel, as well as muffled sounds near the end which could be feedback or someone screaming from far off. Either way, it was something that caught my ear.

Overall, the record is a decent listen. I wonder how Reading does live, as there are a lot of components to his music that would be fun to see pulled off onstage. I’m not sure if he plays all of the instruments on SAMUEL, especially on the instrumental tracks, which had horns, percussion and strings. If he did, I’m impressed with his effort. It should lead him into some pretty big things in the future. –Billy Swartzfager