New Release Reviews

I know, I know…I promised I’d try to make this an ongoing series of posts, but alas, it’s kind of hard to review albums when the first quarter is more often than not a barren wasteland.

Okay, maybe not exactly a wasteland.  Just that the January-March season is often the slowest in the music world. I’ve heard many and varied reasons as to why, and each of them kinda sorta make sense, so I won’t bore you with that little distraction.

I won’t bore you with a distraction about my thoughts on the Global Release Day idea that’s been in the news day.  To be honest, I don’t have many thoughts on that anyway…the old Tuesday release in the US was basically to keep sales fair, but the internet has pretty much changed that on multiple levels, what with rush/surprise releases, instant reveals, single track offerings, and so on.  It’s a new zoo out there now.

Besides, over the last few weeks we’ve seen some pretty tasty platters drop!

Jellyfish, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk reissues
Rel. 1/20/15

I equate these two with my stay at Emerson College in Boston…the first one released as I was starting my sophomore year, the second when I was about to graduate.  A phenomenal band with a sadly short lifespan, Jellyfish popped up in late summer 1990 with their first album and an excellent Beatles-meets-Nuggets track called “The King is Half-Undressed”.  Bellybutton was a creative mix of equal parts XTC, Queen, 60s pop, and 90s Gen-X ennui.  The band itself had a stellar line-up: lyricist/singer/drummer Andy Sturmer (who would later work with Puffy AmiYumi and many other alt-pop bands), Jason Falkner (just out of the last 80s version of the Three O’Clock and later a respected solo performer), and Manning brothers Chris and Roger Jr (the latter would be a session keyboardist for everyone from Beck to Angels and Airwaves).  Jason and Chris would depart after the first album and tour and be replaced by two other session musicians.  They released one further album then went their separate ways.

For those curious, Bellybutton is the easier of the two to get into, as many of the songs are bright and very melodic with a hint of 60s and 70s pop nostalgia.  Spilt Milk is a different beast altogether…the alternapop sound is still there, but the sound is a lot darker and denser.  The two albums were recently reissued with a ridiculous amount of extra tracks and fascinating liner notes from the band members.  They’ve also been remastered for the first time since their initial releases, so the sound is crisp, clear and strong.


Black Rivers, Black Rivers
Rel. 2/9/15

I first heard of Black Rivers late last year while listening to RadioBDC.  I’d missed the introduction but thought…wow, that really sounds like Jez from Doves. Lo and behold, it was!  Fellow Dove Jimi Goodwin had released a solo album last year, but I hadn’t known the other guys would start their own side project as well, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear this track.  And you can definitely tell this is Jez and Andy Williams’ work…whereas Jimi’s is more pastoral and perhaps reminiscent of Elbow, Jez and Andy’s songs have more pop to them, more eccentricities.

Black Rivers is a much darker affair than the Doves’ canon, its lyrics (and videos) hinting at a more science fictional setting, perhaps a space opera of sorts.  They’re songs about loneliness in travel and in distances.  And in an unexpected but welcome twist, Andy and Jez perhaps hint at their pre-Doves past as part of electronic band Sub Sub–there are dark, swelling keyboards here that evoke early Thomas Dolby or the metronomic twitterings of Kraftwerk.


Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday
Rel. 3/3/15

I’m not gonna lie, I’m still an Oasis fan.  Some people can’t stand them, others think the only good thing they ever released was Definitely Maybe.  I’ve been a fan since “Live Forever”, even despite the fact that neither Gallagher brother owns a great singing voice. Liam’s was always nasal and snarky, and Noel’s was kind of lifeless and just that tiny bit out of tune.  Post-breakup, I gravitated more towards Liam’s Beady Eye project (read: late-era Oasis minus Noel) and felt Noel’s HFB project was promising, but hadn’t quite made it yet.

Three and a half years later, however, Chasing Yesterday ends up being a solid winner and an excellent album, even more memorable than either Beady Eye album.  He’s returned to his biggest strength — his solid songwriting skills — and he’s written some phenomenal tracks such as the singles “In the Heat of the Moment” and “The Ballad of the Mighty I”.  Musically he’s got a much stronger band here that hints at the more mature Heathen Chemistry era sound of Oasis (my favorite album of theirs), letting the music stretch its muscles and reach new points.  There’s even a bit of Pink Floyd-y prog going on with a few tracks, which actually works to his advantage.

All told, one of my favorite albums of the year so far.


Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Rel. 3/3/15

There are but a handful of bands and musicians where I will buy their album, regardless as to whether I’ve heard a track from it or not.  Porcupine Tree is one of them, and PT’s singer Steven Wilson is another.  A phenomenal guitarist and songwriter, he puts out beautifully crafted music just this side of prog rock (a label he himself dismisses, as his and PT’s sound does vary wildly from prog to metal to folk balladry).

Hand. Cannot. Erase. is a song cycle inspired by a movie called Dreams of a Life, itself a documentary about Joyce Carol Vincent, a British woman who had died of natural causes in her apartment in 2003 and had not been found until three years later.  Like the movie, the album focuses on a woman and her relationships with friends and family, personal and emotional distances, and how, despite how close one can be to family and friends, the connections are often more tenuous than people are willing to believe.

Wilson’s last few solo albums have all been excellent and strong, but often straying into different genres (his last few were more on the jazzy side), but HCE is almost a return to the forms he’s best known for.  The widescreen sounds of earlier prog-oriented PT (such as on 1999’s Stupid Dream or 2000’s Lightbulb Sun) make a welcome return here, though there are also hints of tighter, harder-edged intensity (such as from 2002’s In Absentia) as well.  Despite the dark theme, it’s filled with gorgeous sounds that you can get lost in.

I’m pretty sure this one’s going to end up on my writing session playlist this year.

New Release Reviews: January 6 & 13, 2015

[Hi there, and welcome to what will hopefully be an ongoing series here at Walk in Silence! My aim here is mainly to give a bit of an overview of albums that cross my path–some will be new releases, some may be ‘why didn’t I buy this earlier’ albums, some will be ‘where did this come from’ albums. It’ll be a mix. They may be short blurbs, they may be dissertations. I’m also aiming not to be *that* music journo who only likes Pavement and anything sounding remotely like them, or what have you. My tastes vary wildly, and I’m really not one to hate-listen to something, because I’d only be wasting my time and yours. I like what I like, and what I like I want to foist upon everyone as Really Cool Stuff to listen to. Hope you enjoy!]


I became one of those people who buys things on the drop date around 1996 when I started working at HMV. Before that, I did have my moments of “Ooh! I need to have that album!” but due to my funds or lack thereof, I rarely picked up titles on their release day. That all changed when I got that job at the record store. My position was the lone shipper/receiver in the back room, so every single bit of stock that came into the store went through me first, where I would enter it into the system, slap a price sticker on it, and send it on its merry way to the sales floor. The register jockeys were the ones with the job of slapping the security clamshells on them, where many a finger was pinched in the process.  And if I could in get a sneak preview listen, I would most definitely do so.

I got into the habit of checking out the new releases as they came into the store (we’d get them on Monday so we’d have them ready for sale on Tuesday). It was partly so I’d be knowledgeable for when customers asked, but also because I liked checking out new bands. By the time I left that job in the autumn of 2000, I realized two things: I was deep into the drop-date habit, and I now had to quickly find a new fix. That was soon found in the Newbury Comics store down in Amherst, where I soon became quite the regular. And now in the age of the internets? I read multiple music blogs and magazines, and frequent various new album stream sites to check out what I want to purchase.

It’s actually kind of fun to preview new albums, and I get where the excitement come from. Nowadays bands can go up to three or four years or more between albums, so you’re eager and curious to find out what their new stuff sounds like. Or you’ve heard all the hype from the magazines and the blogs about This Awesome New Album and want to see what it’s all about. Or just that your favorite band in the world just dropped a new platter and you can’t wait to get your mitts all over it. It’s fun, and it’s entertainment. Naught wrong with that.

Let’s go over a few new releases:

Catfish & the Bottlemen, The Balcony.
Rel. 1/6/15 (US)

This Welsh band was one of maybe a dozen or so groups I found via the NoiseTrade free music website, where they released a four song sampler around the same time the single “Kathleen” was released in the UK. It finally dropped last week here in the States, and it’s worth the wait. It kind of reminds me of the jangly guitar bands like Gaslight Anthem, tight and crunchy and maybe even with a tiny touch of country to it. [Props for using the word ‘sympatico’ in the first line of “Kathleen”. Always a good sign when songwriters get nerdy with their lyrics!] I’ll have to listen a little closer to this one to let some of the songs stick, but I don’t think that’ll be a worry–these are catchy, well-written and well-played tracks that are worth checking out.

Guster, Evermotion.
Rel. 1/13/15

I’ve always liked Guster…they’re your favorite quirky band that doesn’t quite fit into any specific description–the weirdness of “Airport Song” is different from the poppy-but-offkilter “Barrel of a Gun”, and so on. With Evermotion they’ve maintained the oddness, but they’ve also become less acoustic and organic and more electronic. The new single “Simple Machine” is damn addictive; it’s got that OK Go-style bounciness and fun. They still retain some of their acoustic sound here, but the music feels more wired, maybe a bit twitchier and full of nervous energy. It’s a new direction for them, but it fits them quite nicely.

Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.
Rel. 1/13/15

I admit there’s a stretch there between 2006 and 2009 where I actually didn’t pay that much attention to new music. Part of it was that we were too busy settling in to completely new surroundings (having moved from the northeast to California), and another part was that a lot of the sounds from that time just weren’t quite jiving with me. They weren’t bad…they just didn’t sing to me. The latter could probably date further back to maybe 2001 or 2002, when I started seeing the next wave of indie bands going against the commercial grain. Some worked for me, some didn’t. Animal Collective was one of them. I totally admit that I didn’t quite grok Panda Bear (AC’s singer) until he guested on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. By then I was making up for lost time and catching up on those bands I missed out on. That said…Panda Bear’s newest contains the usual oddness in sound and melody, but I now get what he’s trying to do with the songs. I’m fascinated by what he’s doing with the vocals on these songs, sort of a layered one-man overdubbed chorus that treats itself like another instrument. This’ll definitely take some time for it to cement itself in my brain, but I definitely like what I’ve heard so far.

Mark Ronson, Uptown Special.
Rel. 1/13/15

Yup, got this one simply because of the buzz that’s been generating. Threw it on with barely a pre-purchase sampling, and was instantly transported to my preteen youth. Right now it’s 1977 and I’m wearing brown corduroys and an Ernie-like stripey shirt, hearing “Summer Breaking” on the crackly AM car radio on the way up to Keene. “Uptown Funk” and it’s now 1981 and I’m hearing Prince for the first time. “Daffodils” and I’m watching one of those pre-Solid Gold variety TV shows, watching the band play in all their bellbottomed glory. “In Case of Fire” and I’m hearing Wings on the family stereo. In short: I love it when an album that’s meant to evoke a retro feel, does so flawlessly. Well worth the buzz.


As always, January’s releases are often few and far between, but already we have a few strong contenders, so I’m happy. There promises to be a lot of excellent new titles coming out in the near future (The Decemberists, Steven Wilson, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Black Rivers to name a few), so this promises to be an interesting first quarter!