CD reviews: 'Small batch' has enough good tunes
The Cannanes (Exro FM/Lammingtone)
Dreamy indie pop outfit the Cannanes have been at it for almost 30 years, yet I hadn't heard their music until latest EP “Small Batch” came across my desk several weeks ago. The Cannanes managed to carve out a nice career in their native Australia despite numerous lineup changes, but they never broke into the American mainstream. This six-track release is their first in more than a decade, and principals Frances Gibson and Stephen O'Neill impress with lead single “Bumper,” “Crawler” and “Tiny Compartment.” Remaining tunes “Basics,” “Molecule” and “Zone” aren't quite as effective, but there's enough good here to convince me that the Cannanes aren't done yet.
‘Sock It to Me'
Colleen Green (Hardly Art)
A proud purveyor of what she's dubbed “stoner pop,” singer/songwriter/one-woman band Colleen Green is the epitome of the DIY aesthetic. Latest effort “Sock It to Me,” her first for Hardly Art, finds Green handling everything herself and, in typical fashion, handling things quite well. It's a pretty low-key gathering of 10 tunes, with Green especially impressive on “When He Tells Me,” “Close to You,” the title track, “Every Boy Wants a Normal Girl” and “Number One.” The album falls just short of essential, but all the elements are there for Green to move on to bigger and better things. Here's hoping she does just that.
‘Water on Mars'
Purling Hiss (Drag City)
With a sound that relies on plenty of distortion, fuzzy guitars and pounding drums, garage trio Purling Hiss have cobbled together a raw but compelling album in “Water on Mars.” It's the fourth LP in five years from the Mike Polizze-fronted band and could well be the slab that raises their profile significantly. Rough-around-the-edges gems “Lolita,” “Mercury Retrograde,” “Dead Again,” “She Calms Me Down,” “The Harrowing Wind” and the title track are the tunes you'll remember, and make me want to be in attendance the next time they roll through the 'Burgh. I missed their set at Brillobox last November and won't make the same mistake twice.
‘On the Hills'
Heidi Happy (Tonequake)
Swiss pop sensation Heidi Happy has earned acclaim all over Europe and Japan, and with latest effort “On the Hills” seems poised to be embraced by American audiences. The 10-track album is filled with infectious melodies and elaborate arrangements not usually heard in the world of pop music. Mixing together elements of country-folk, electro and symphonic pop, “On the Hills” is Happy's most ambitious project to date. Among the highlights here are the title track, “Patient Heart,” “Big Boy,” the Scott Matthew duet “Not Long Ago,” “Land of Horses” and “I'm Over You.” Good stuff.
‘Make Your Way'
Cinema Sleep (Standby)
Your appreciation of Cinema Sleep's debut EP “Make Your Way” figures to hinge on how you receive the borderline bombastic vocals of frontman Brady Reis. Reis is front and center throughout a five-track, 16-minute release that's filled with blistering guitar riffs and pounding drums — but enough melody to make it appealing to mainstream listeners. Though the five members of Cinema Sleep have an average age of 22, the lads are more polished than you'd expect. Of course, it helps to have acclaimed producer Kris Crummet in the studio with you. Opening track “Through This House” and closer “The Response” are the best songs here and bookend the EP quite nicely. “Light to Shadows” is another keeper. Keep an eye on Cinema Sleep. Their future seems bright.
‘Hundred Thousand Pieces'
Krief (Rock Ridge)
Best known for his decade-plus as guitarist for Montreal collective the Dears — I highly recommend that band's 2011 release “Degeneration Street” — singer/songwriter Patrick Krief finds time to explore more personal themes as a solo artist. “Hundred Thousand Pieces” is his first full-length as Krief (he dropped 2009's “Calm Awaits” as Black Diamond Bay) and it's an introspective gathering of 10 songs. While there are some nice moments to be found on the new album — most notably “Forever Goodnight,” “Perfect Bodies,” “Possibly Impossible” and “The Eyes of Isabelle” — the album falls just short of an unqualified thumbs up. It's nice that Krief has this outlet between Dears projects, but I hope he plans on keeping his main gig for as long as possible.
‘Life After Defo'
Deptford Goth (Merok)
As the guiding creative force behind Deptford Goth, London-based musician/producer Daniel Woolhouse is a go-to guy for remixes (Purity Ring, Blood Diamonds) and has earned comparisons to countryman James Blake for his mix of synth-pop, R&B and soul. Latest effort “Life After Defo” finds Deptford Goth showing why those Blake comparisons are apt over the course of 11 tracks and 40 minutes. The tunes are impeccably produced and sound terrific, though the relentlessly mellow vibe grows tiresome down the homestretch. Standouts include the title track, “Bronze Age,” “Guts No Glory” and “Particles,” as Woolhouse shows off his estimable skills. Fans of electronic music should make a point to seek out “Life After Defo.”
‘All Hail Bright Futures'
And So I Watch You From Afar (Sargent House)
Irish instrumental math rockers And So I Watch You From Afar earned rave reviews for their 2009 self-titled debut before taking a step backward with the looming and more abrasive follow-up “Gangs” a couple years later. Now a three-piece after the departure of founding member Tony Wright, ASIWYFA have rediscovered their groove on “All Hail Bright Futures,” an unexpectedly engaging platter that can stand alongside their fantastic debut. Keeping the songs fairly tight (the 12 tracks clock in at a manageable 43 minutes) was a brilliant move and the guys score with “Big Thinks Do Remarkable,” “The Stay Golden” “Rats on Rock,” “Mend and Make Safe” and the title track. And So I Watch You From Afar are one of the bands that just might make me a fan of instrumental music after all.
Solvents (On Bee Resin)
Having expanded to a full-fledged band for 2010's “Forgive Yr. Blood,” Solvents have pared back to the core duo of husband-and-wife tandem Jarrod Bramson (vocals/guitar) and Emily Madden (violin). Bramson realized that his songs are better served as an intimate duo and the stellar “Ghetto Moon” proves him correct. Stunningly, the nine-track release was recorded in a single day with most of the songs needing a single take. The musical chemistry between Bramson and Madden is evident on songs like “Don't Expect to Find Love (With No Compromise),” “Are You Gonna Wait for Love to Leave,” “Golden Chains (Waiting for My Girl),” “Unslaved and Unrenowned,” “Maybe I Will Run to You” and “Careless Step.” Indie pop records don't get much better than this.
Night Club (Gato Blanco)
The synth-pop of Los Angeles-based duo Night Club whisks me back to the days of my youth in the 1980s, when New Wave music was all the rage. Night Club's self-titled debut EP serves as the perfect introduction to these talented newcomers. The five-track release is enjoyable from beginning to end as vocalist Emily Kavanaugh (daughter of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes keyboard player Kevin Kavanaugh) and DJ/producer Mark Brooks score with “Control,” “Another One,” “Lovestruck” and “Medicine.” Only middling closer “Do It Again” prevents Night Club from hitting them all out of the park. Can't wait to hear more.
‘The Blue Room'
Madeleine Peyroux (Decca)
Jazz vocalist Madeleine Peyroux has been making stellar albums for the better part of two decades, yet the Athens, Ga., native has rarely been better than she is on latest platter “The Blue Room.” Inspired by Ray Charles' legendary 1962 release “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” Peyroux takes a similar genre-bending approach on this remarkable 10-track release. She reimagines a few songs from the Charles record (“Bye Bye Love,” “Born to Lose,” “I Can't Stop Loving You,” “You Don't Know Me”) and puts her own stamp on additional entries “Guilty,” “Bird on the Wire,” “Gentle on Mind” and “Desperadoes Under the Eaves”). Even if vocal jazz isn't your usual cup of tea, I urge you to let Peyroux and “The Blue Room” wash over you.
Youth Lagoon (Fat Possum)
No one can accuse Trevor Powers, aka Youth Lagoon, of being anything less than incredibly thorough. The Idaho native packs so many sounds into sophomore full-length “Wondrous Bughouse” that it's impossible to keep track of them all, though utilizing a good set of headphones certainly helps. As a result, I'm sad to say, Powers has overstuffed the 10-track collection of noise pop and I found it difficult to fully engage with Youth Lagoon's latest. After a slow start with “Through Mind and Back,” Powers hits his stride with keepers “Mute,” “The Bath” and “Pelican Man.” But even in the album's best songs, the dense layers of sound grow exhausting. There's no disputing the fact that Youth Lagoon ooze ability, but Powers needs to reel himself a little to make the most of his gifts.
‘Mad Talkin' Man'
Rod Melancon (self-released)
Louisiana native Rod Melancon is a country boy through and through and he digs deep into his musical roots with delightful new EP “Mad Talkin' Man.” Taking a page from the books of rockabilly legends like Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran, and adding in a heaping helping of classic country icons like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, the 24-year-old Melancon hits all the right notes on the five-track release. In fact, my only real complaint is that the 20-minute running time is way too short. The title track is the ideal leadoff and Melancon additionally scores with “Mercy Mercy,” “Lord Knows” and “Long Lost Friend.”
‘All the Times We Had'
Ivan & Alyosha (Missing Piece/Dualtone)
With a pair of terrific EPs under their belt (2009's “The Verse, The Chorus” and 2011's “Fathers Be Kind”), it's high time Ivan & Alyosha got around to making their full-length debut. Originally a duo comprised of vocalist Tim Wilson and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Carbary, I&A have expanded to a quartet and the fuller sound serves them well on the terrific “All the Times We Had.” Making the type of sunny, feel-good music that belies a band that took its name from characters in Dostoyevsky's bleak masterpiece “The Brothers Karamazov,” Ivan & Alyosha deliver one good song after another on this 11-track gem. They wisely included some of the best songs from their previous EPs (“Fathers Be Kind,” “Easy to Love”), and additionally impress with “Be Your Man,” “The Fold,” “Don't Wanna Die Anymore,” the title track and “Who Are You.” This one's an absolute gem, folks.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org