Albums of the Week

August 7-August 13

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In this edition: Baroness, The Toadies, Futurebirds, Southeast Engine, Beachwood Sparks, The Mommyheads, and JBM.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse)

Savannah, Georgia by way of Virginia’s Baroness make the big leap out of the metal/hard rock cul-de-sac with their third release, Yellow & Green (released July 31), a double album that feels neither bloated or so sprawling it crawls up its own proggy ass. Like Mastodon’s Crack The Skye, Metallica’s Black Album and Queenscrye’s Operation: Mindcrime, this set jettisons expectations and reservations to passionately embrace the music in their heads, a thing of real beauty, hard truths and gorgeous melodies that reminds us that heaviness isn’t only achieved through volume and brute force. There are definitely linking underlying themes and band sculpted mythology to untangle (as with earlier efforts) but that’s something to find down the line. This takes no time to sink its hooks in, one swept up by the proper fucking singing and playing throughout, not to mention the positively plush feel, a fullness that comes from thoughtful textures, emotionally honest lyrics, and interesting sounds to pepper the songs proper. Once again vocalist John Dyer Baizley has painted a Rubenesque, pagan symbolism panorama for the cover ideal for pondering while the music jostles one and thick curls of fragrant smoke creep from one’s lips and nostrils. Water, the ocean and other seaward thoughts haunt Yellow before giving way to Green’s mountains and low country, and one definitely feels they’ve journeyed a distance by the end, though not in a wearying way. The time passes smoothly, swiftly even, and only on the other side does one realize the weight and implications of what Baroness has wrought. That said, one can dig Yellow & Green on a purely visceral level, a modern answer to the kind of thick, enjoyable music Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy once served up. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
The Toadies: Play. Rock. Music. (Kirtland)

There are moments on this cult-beloved Fort Worth, TX’s band’s fifth effort where one wonders about the sincerity of this crazy-fun cock-rock extravaganza, but ultimately, everything passes the sniff test. Whether marinated in post-modern irony or not, this is balls to the wall stuff and it’ll get ya off with clockwork efficiency – stereo porn in the tradition of 70s Aerosmith, the classic rock loving bits of Nirvana, and other tried ‘n’ tested purveyors of carnal riffage. This is suitable for all manner of hip grinding movements – hate fucking, dry humping, lascivious eyeballing, revenge sex – and if one carries things through to fruition expect rough, animalistic instincts to emerge. Rose Hill Drive and The Stone Foxes are exploring similar territory but The Toadies are bit more modern rock radio ready here, where they basically achieve what Nickelback and their imitators have failed to flesh out so well for the past decade. These guys have power pop snap and melodies that cling in addition to the greasy grappling. While it could slip in between the endless spins of Chad Kroeger’s band and various Weezer hits, Play. Rock. Music. (released July 31) is simply better at this game, living up to its title with groin thunder (and one of the finest lead singers around – Todd Lewis is a descendent of dead sexy powerhouses like UFO’s Phil Mogg and Babys-era John Waite). Sometimes what we want from rock isn’t overly complex, and The Toadies feed that need admirably here. (DC)

[Pick up a download of this album for just $5.00 here.]

Dennis’ Bonus Review:
Futurebirds: Seney-Stovall (SFP Worldwide)

It was nakedly obvious from their 2010 debut Hampton’s Lullaby (well, at least to the Impound) that Futurebirds were the next great band to emerge from the rock crucible of Athens, GA. And like their ancestors, they both combine elements in a fresh way and offer up a sound that’s swiftly engaging and not a little comforting. This live album (released April 24) shows how their music has coalesced into a full-throated, well-composed thing delivered with all the heart and punch one could ask. Amidst reverberant pedal steel and heartbeat drums, Futurebirds give us something a little bit country and a lot rock ‘n’ roll, but the kind that recognizes that everything is fair game, including an inspired covers of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game and Stevie Nicks’ Wild Heart that suit them to a tee. Nearly every selection here has a nifty surprise – a distortion laced jam, back porch harmonies that rise to homegrown holiness – awaiting in the final third of each song, the band saving up something special each time to bring things to a memorable close. And they do this over and over again on this live set, making one feel confident that this is a group hell-bent on delivering the goods in concert. Seney-Stovall also works as a primer for those who haven’t caught up with their debut and excellent self-titled EP from 2011, but mainly it’s a signal to get yourself a ticket to see them asap. (DC)

[Futurebirds are currently on a West Coast tour. Check out dates here.]

Dennis’ Other Bonus Review:
Southeast Engine: Canaanville (Misra)

The painting of an apple split clean down the middle on the cover of this 4-track EP exposes the seeds, which is something Ohio’s Southeast Engine has been doing a lot in the past year or so. Canaanville (released July 31) is a companion piece to last year’s great Canary (one of DI’s 20 Favorite Albums of 2011), and in a show of the band’s usual good instincts, this batch works better in brief than they would have integrated into the longer release. Handing out fishes and loaves, stagehands laughing, Southeast Engine uses this sprightly collection – a more sincere cousin to The Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies in general vibe – to suss out lines of connection, the flowers traveling down their stems to see what lies in their roots. Spirit and the human condition – regular Southeast Engine themes – float all over this brief set, which is dotted with astute observations like, “Sure, our sins have been atoned and man don’t live on bread alone, but still a man needs bread all the same.” While such subject matter can feel leaden and preachy in lesser hands, these guys increasingly make it skip, the joy of living threaded into its travails. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Beachwood Sparks: The Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop)

With all the crazy shit that’s gone down in the world as of late, the ten years that have passed since the last time the Beachwood Sparks graced the nation with a full-length LP seems like a lifetime ago. But after spending time apart to pursue other endeavors – Farmer Dave Scher taking jobs as a touring sideman for such acts as Interpol and Jenny Lewis, drummer Aaron Sperske joining the ranks of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, guitarist Chris Gunst obtaining his Master’s in psychology and becoming a licensed therapist, and bassist and band founder Brent Rademaker landing a job at Ikea’s environmental recovery division – these four college buds have come together again to deliver the masterpiece of Cosmic Americana longtime fans always knew they had in them with The Tarnished Gold (released June 26). For these 13 new songs, the Sparks employed the talents of veteran indie rock producer Thom Monahan as well as an expanded auxiliary of friends and conspirators, including the aforementioned Mr. Pink, Ben Knight and Daqrren Rademaker (Brent’s brother) from the psych-pop group The Tyde, journeyman guitar great Neal Casal, Gunst’s wife Jen Cohen, and original Sparks drummer Jimi Hey. Together, this super ensemble deliver a poignant, touching love letter to their native Los Angeles, scaling back the trippier textures of 2002’s Once We Were Trees to expand upon their roots in classic California canyon country rock that smacks of Gene Clark’s White Light and David Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name that lets such young bucks as Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes know who the OG’s of this music truly are. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
The Mommyheads: Vulnerable Boy (Dromedary Records)

It’s been 25 years since The Mommyheads emerged from the creative think tank of an NYU dorm room with a four-song 7-inch EP called Magumbo Meatpie produced by underground rock icon Wharton Tiers and flexing a sound that was once described as a combination of XTC, James Brown and Pussy Galore. A quarter century later, Adam Elk and his quirky quartet continue to make some of the most enjoyable, melodic indie rock that’s just beyond the perimeter of Pitchfork’s circle of hip with one of the strongest albums of their collective career. Vulnerable Boy (released July 17) is by far their most adventurous work yet, one that strips away the scrappy promise of their salad days to reveal a deft sense of musicianship and intuitive ear for pop melody that comes across like Todd Rundgren if he had recorded Runt with his prog rock band Utopia and was then later covered in its entirety by Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Here’s to another 25 years of power pop magic from this most underrated group. (RH)

Ron’s Bonus Review:
JBM: Stray Ashes (Western Vinyl)

The whole spiel about this new album from Brooklyn recording artist JBM (nee Jesse Marchant) being created in a log cabin in “Upstate NY” (a term that gives people like myself who actually were raised in some portion of that wide swath of land broadly labeled as such by city folk who think they are upstate once they go over the George Washington Bridge a case of the grimaces) in the dead of winter next to a lake with geese – blah blah blah – is enough to inspire you to stay as far away from it as possible; especially if you are not some kinda hipster lemming who falls for the canned romance of that sort of hyperbolic diatribe. But don’t let the corn in the meal of this hard sell short you on experiencing Stray Ashes (released May 22), a beautiful, haunting set of 21st century loner folk rooted in experiments with hushed drum patterns and electric guitar loops somewhere up in the Catskills and then transplanted to the studio of producer John Congleton of The Paper Chase, where Marchant was joined by Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith and A.A. Bondy bassist Macey Taylor to create these somber, sobering songs of snowy discontent that will certainly cool your soul during these hot summer days. (RH)