25 years ago The Breeders released their classic album, Last Splash featuring the iconic single “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer”. That line-up included Kim and Kelley Deal on guitar along with Josephine Wiggs on bass and Jim Macpherson on drums. The band broke up soon after but came together for the 20-year anniversary tour. Sparked by that tour, the reformed band released All Nerve in earlier this year.
The album starts out with a fine burst of early 90s alt rock in “Nervous Mary” and first single “Wait in the Car”. The title track is a touching yet messy love song. The album unfortunately peaks here. “Spacewoman” and “Walking With a Killer” are both fine coming off the bench tracks but here they are thrust in the starting line-up and can’t keep up. The rest of the album doesn’t offer up any surprises or standouts. It’s nice to have the band back together but All Nerve is not the record you want to hang out with on a regular basis.
Following up on two well received EPs, Melbourne rockers Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have now released their debut LP, Hope Downs. Preceded by dynamite single, “Talking Straight”, the album contains a spry 10 tracks that trend similar indie rock ground to one another. A great bassline propels “An Air Conditioned Man” whereas “Bellarine” ruminates that it “feels like rum is taking all my time…I never did my best”. “How Long” simply repeats the line “what are you running from” while your foot bounces up and down to the beat.
Through the album, there is not a lot to distinguish one track from another other than how much it gets the listener nodding their head. Tracks like “Sister’s Jeans” and “Cappuccino City” are catchy with nice guitar lines but don’t particularly go anywhere. This will certainly appeal to fans of Supergrass, The View and Spoon. Good summer rock record for the beach.
Courtney Barnett’s 2015 debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit was a big hit with both critics and fans. Tracks like “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best” treated audiences to Barnett’s witty banter mixed with early 90s guitar sound. Many tours later, plus a well-received effort with Kurt Vile, Barnett releases sophomore effort Tell Me How You Really Feel. After listening to the attention weary album, the title comes off more of an inward question than an outward one for the Melbourne artist.
First single, “Nameless, Faceless” features a jangly guitar melody until the chorus blows that away with distorted vocals singing the Margaret Atwood quote “men are scared women will laugh at them… women are scared men will kill them”. “City Looks Pretty” hits the ground running but slows down considerably half way in. Perhaps a metaphor for Barnett speeding through life then needing to rest. “I’m Not Your Mother…” is more harsh sounding and could easily have come straight from Nirvana’s In Utero.
Tell Me How You Really Feel is not as immediately likable as her debut. There is a tiredness to some of the tracks. “Charity” asks “You must be having so much fun/everything is amazing” before asking, “so subservient, I make myself sick/Are you listening?” The feature song here is album closer “Sunday Roast”. A sadness runs through until the uplifting chorus statement, “I know you’re doing your best, I think you’re doing just fine”. Barnett does not always make it an easy listen but one that reveals several gems through repeated listens.
Way back in the 90s Belle & Sebastian became a much loved band in the world of indie rock. Besides excellent albums such as If You Are Feeling Sinister and The Boy With The Arab Strap, the band released several coveted EPs. In late 2017 and 2018 B&S released three EPs one month apart which were then collected on one disc entitled How To Solve Our Human Problems. This idea recalls the 1997 boxset of three early EPs albeit in different packaging.
The 90s version of the band was known for Stuart Murdoch’s melancholy lyrics about awkward relationships and witty asides but over the years they have blossomed into an excellent band who easily move from ballads and folk-rock to 70s blue eyed funk. “Sweet Dew Lee” is an upbeat opener with a pleasant guitar melody whereas “We Were Beautiful” recalls darker electronics of “Electric Renaissance” from debut album, Tigermilk. “I’ll Be Your Pilot” showcases a beautiful chorus while that EP’s closer “A Plague On All Other Boys” was written after meeting teenage contest winner from the Write About Love era in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. The next EP starts with “Poor Boy” which is all steering wheel tapping funkiness. Album closer “Best Friend” features Carla J Easton and sounds like a more mature take on classic “Lazy Line Painter Jane”.
“Best Friend” aside, female vocals have always been a one of the best things about Belle & Sebastian – from Isobel Campbell in the early years to Sarah Martin from the early 2000s onward. Here the Martin lead tracks are mostly forgettable. “Everything Is Now” appears twice – once as an instrumental and the second time around with lyrics, neither register while the abrasive “Cornflakes” is mostly dreadful. At fifteen songs, How To Solve Our Human Problems has lots to like but little to love. Somewhere within there is a killer 10 track album.
On various message boards, one constant thread is the struggle to follow new music while keeping up with ever growing physical and digital collections. It’s easier to keep up with a sliver of a niche than try to be everywhere but what fun is that? Meghan Remy’s cleverly named U.S Girls project is one of those that passed us by when she signed to 4AD in 2015 after 4 studio albums. The Illinois born, Toronto based artist’s second release on that prestige label caught our ear after hearing the excellent Citizen Kane inspired single “Rosebud” and In A Poem Unlimited started getting rave reviews.
Third track on the album, “M.A.H” (Mad As Hell) is a mix of 70s Blondie disco with Gwen Stefani vocals. A closer listen to the lyrics reveal a critical look at Barack Obama’s presidency. In this time of the left railing against Trump, it’s a curious throw back look to the Democratic hero. The aforementioned “Rosebud” is laid back R&B dance music with electronic strings striking throughout. “Incidental Boogie” is a vicious track about an abusive relationship set to distorted guitar over a terrific groove. “Poem” maybe the catchiest techno dance track about capitalism to come out this year.
The music that Remy creates on In A Poem Unlimited is extraordinary and the lyrics are uncompromising. “Pearly Gates” describes seducing St Peter “I opened my gates wide and St Peter came inside” and wonders how heaven can be safe if it’s run by men…? “Rage of Plastics” is about becoming infertile while working in a manufacturing plant. The pop sheen throughout gives a door to the political lyrics and while these will be anthems to some, it will make a hard listen for others.