Albums of the Week

August 24-August 30

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In this edition: Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound, Audacity, Rhett Miller, Shoes, Bassoon, and Slug Guts.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound: Manzanita (Tee Pee Records)

It’s almost like saying nothing to call a band “psychedelic” in 2012 since the word has been so devalued through overuse. Once a signifier of expanded consciousness in musical form, psych in the modern vernacular is usually just shorthand for a reverb drenched young band aping the moves of 60s groundbreakers. But every so often a group transcends the contemporary meaninglessness to conjure the true power of the psychedelic approach. Manzanita (released June 19), the fourth album from San Francisco-based Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound, is the good stuff, clawing at things beyond the everyday while remaining grounded in fabulously together, earthy playing and themes. AHISS are sort of a modern answer to Spirit, where they’re fully switched-on and capable of hanging in the dreamland of Dr. Sardonicus AND knocking one flat with “I Got A Line On You” efficiency. One of the main failures of contemporary psych-rock is the sameness and monotony of so much of it, not to mention the needless elongation, where a three minute idea goes on wearily for 7-8 minutes. Manzanita skirts these shortcomings at every turn, the tunes well composed and played with passion and good editorial instincts. Sure, they stomp the ol’ over-thruster from time to time and their keyboardist is a fleet fingered mood monster, but not one piece goes on longer than it needs to or resorts to histrionics and noise where captivating harmonies and biting guitars will do the job much better. Everyone in this band can sing and play – if you have ears that’s obvious – and what they do together is a heady mélange that makes one’s scalp tingle as inviting warmth permeates the frontal lobe. That stony mood would be enough of a draw but things are so varied on Manzanita – from the scoop-you-up rush of opener L.A. Sacrifice to country tinged (Gone) ‘Round the Corner to the insistent moan of Blue Wire to closer Low Island Blues, which has the mob chanting oomph of Sisters of Mercy’s This Corrosion – that one leaves this sharply navigated journey knowing they’ve been some places and seen some things with a band that’s impossible to pigeonhole despite their allegiance to psychedelic ways. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Audacity: Mellow Cruisers (Recess Records)

These Fullerton, CA punk-pop kids remind one of The Ramones, as well as The Jam and Buzzcocks. No, they aren’t trying to sound like these touchstones, but their new joint Mellow Cruisers (released August 21) makes it clear they’ve absorbed the key ingredients that made these bands great – womping hooks, garage-y impoliteness, a romantic edge, and equal love for rough handling and single-ready sure-handedness. This album is relentlessly listenable, and it’s over so fast you’ll be scrambling to hit play again as the final track fades. In many ways, what Audacity is doing here isn’t all that complicated – i.e. making music that’s fun, relevant to daily life, and soaked in attitude – but rarely do young bands get it this right. While they haven’t nailed their own Blitzkrieg Bop, That’s Entertainment or Ever Fallen In Love yet, Mellow Cruisers gives one faith they’re on their way to it before too long. (DC)

Dennis’ Bonus Review:
Rhett Miller: The Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine)

What we have here is one of those Everyman albums, meaning that it’s hard to imagine this not connecting – at least a bit – with almost anyone. The Old 97’s lead singer’s fifth solo studio release is a lovelorn creature, waltzing with partners delightedly one minute and licking its wounds from the encounter the next. It’s a little bit rock and a little bit country, and throughout it’s the sort of music that pairs wonderfully with shots, beers and tears. With ladies “glowing like a sign on a place I’ve never tried,” Miller walks on “the long, thin fingers of dawn,” a thoughtful romantic armed with a charming voice, a beat up guitar, and songs just looking for a spot in a stranger’s life. Let ‘em in and clear a space. You won’t regret the decision. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Shoes: Ignition (Black Vinyl)

Zion, IL’s Shoes were the premier DIY band in America during the mid-70s. So much so the best way to have been able to buy their stuff before they signed their souls to Jac Holzman and Elektra Records was through a mail order clip-out advertising their living room-born imprint Black Vinyl in the pages of Bomp! Magazine. But the music the core trio of John Murphy, Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe created was far more in line with The Nerves than R. Stevie Moore in terms of the way they served up their damaged pop. Short, sharp and shambolic, these guys should have been bigger than The Knack. Hell, they should have been at least as big as Cheap Trick. I mean, they sounded like Teenage Fanclub if they made albums for Stiff Records back in 1981 instead of Geffen Records in 1991. But while they do have the odd huzzah of being one of the very first bands to have their video played on MTV in its infancy, the Chicago-land power pop outfit did not quite capture the unadulterated attention of the general public than those who aped their sound and whored it out for maximum profit. However, Shoes are fucking still here, and from the sound of their first new LP in 18 years (released August 14), they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon now that they are back. Ignition indeed. From the sound of these 15 tracks, these Midwesterners have not missed a fraction of a beat in terms of their collective abilities to execute pure ‘77 FM gold on songs like Diminishing Returns, Sign of Life and Out of Round. You can tell these guys are harking back to early classics like One in Versailles and Black Vinyl Shoes on Ignition. Both of those classic albums, coincidentally, are being reissued by the Numero Group this fall. But the way the Murphys and Klebe deliver the goods on this excellent comeback outing it’s as though the last 30-odd years never even mattered. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Bassoon: Bassoon (self-released)

For fans of intelligent metal, any project attached to Stuart and Steve Tanner of the Athens, Georgia noise rock outfit Harvey Milk is certainly worth investing a moment of your time to check out. But what if said project emerges without the input of its primary principles? Truth be told, Bassoon is only the Tanner brothers’ group in theory, conceived during their collaboration with journeyman avant-jazz bassist Stuart Popejoy, who participated in the creation of Harvey Milk’s 2006 LP Special Wishes. However, Popejoy turned the concept into a full-fledged vision with the help of guitarist Sean Moran and drummer John Mettam with this eviscerating eponymous debut (released August 2), with nine compositions that sound like the Melvins colliding with Melvin Sparks in an unholy union of high-brow fusion and low-end sludge. Call it ‘Bash and Bop’ with all apologies to Tommy Stinson. (RH)

Ron’s Bonus Review:
Slug Guts: Playin’ in Time With the Deadbeat (Sacred Bones)

Somewhere between the Gothic post-punk of The Birthday Party, the savage pub rock of Feedtime, and the jagged post-hardcore of Box of Fish exists the sound of Australia’s Slug Guts. On their second full-length for Brooklyn’s Sacred Bones label and third overall, the band expands their lineup to include saxophonist Nick Kuceli, who brings the same sense of beat-em-up bleat Steve Mackay did to Funhouse. Playin’ in Time With the Deadbeat (released July 24) is not only the Guts’ best work to date, it is also a firm pronouncement that punk rock in Oz is alive, well and kicking like a rabid kangaroo. (RH)