Ty Segall Band - "Slaughterhouse" (In The Red) (rating 7 out of 10)
"Slaughterhouse" sounds very much like a Ty Segall record but also like no Ty Segall record before. Recording as the Ty Segall Band, this marks the first time Segall has recorded with his touring band - Mikal Cronin, Charlier Moothart and Emily Rose Epstein - and the difference is palpable. You can feel the group's chemistry, the blistering live energy, and that strange alchemy that comes when like-minded players work together. It's also fitting that the album is coming out on In The Red, a label long devoted to great rock and roll records and the crunchiest guitars money (or lack thereof) can buy.
After the more spacey psych tunes on "Hair," "Slaughterhouse" is exactly what its title implies: a tensed-up, massacre of thrashing guitars and pounding drums. The opening track "Death" starts with squeals of feedback and bent-to-snapping notes, the sound of a band turning up the distortion, seeing how messy it can get, before they launch their attack. When the song kicks in, the pay-off is immediate. The guitars and bass rumble with a sharp, lean angle to them under Segall's echoed, chilling vocals. He shouts later in the record, but the deadpan vocal harmonies here play nicely against the unwieldy grind behind them.
These songs can earworm their way into your head, but make no mistake, they live on sheer volume and brash tones, and the guitars carry the load on that front. Sure, Segall screams his ways through the title track or "Mary Ann," but those moments actually seem to press a bit, like they're trying too hard to get loud. That's because it's the brittle tension and white-noise squall of the guitars - whether their chords are surrounding us or their riffs are piercing through us - that makes all this racket work. It's convincing because, for all its fury, it's carefully controlled, so when the album takes the last 10 minutes, on "Fuzz War," to bring back the noisemaking that started "Death," to fill our ears with crashing cymbals and formless distortion and endless feedback, it feels like too much, like a tacked-on indulgence that does nothing the rest of the record doesn't do better. It's a fitting coda for a moment, a minute to let the ripples of all these tunes wash over you, but it quickly becomes overkill.
That said, "Slaughterhouse" is still a hell of a rock album, one that shows us the speedy evolution of Segall as a songwriter and gives us a convincing document of his touring band's energy. It's the rare artist that can pin down their own sound without repeating themselves, especially in the limited elements of guitar-bass-drums rock. But Segall has done just that, and "Slaughterhouse" is his most volatile shift yet. - Matthew Fiander
Everclear - "Invisible Stars" (eOne) (rating 6 out of 10)
Everclear recorded a handful of its hits "yet again" (back in its original rockin' arrangements), along with a bunch of covers, for 2011's "Return to Santa Monica." Now "Invisible Stars" comes along, and it finds Art Alexakis going back to basics. Since "quieter and more mature" failed to generate any sort of audience response, he's swung back in the other direction. The album's 12 tracks are all new songs (thank heavens for small favors), but they sound exactly like what you'd expect from classic Everclear. These are punchy hard-rock songs with enough pop hooks to be
Opener "Tiger in a Burning Tree" is a short intro song (under two minutes) that features both chunky distorted guitar chords and a strummed, clean riff. It's a serviceable song that's nearly undermined by Alexakis' insistence on speaking, or maybe kinda sorta rapping, the verses. But the guitar tone definitely announces the band's intentions for the album. The fast, upbeat second track, "Falling in a Good Way," finds Alexakis sliding back into his storyteller persona, as the verses introduce a head-spinning number of characters and discuss what happened to them after high school.
Despite Alexakis' apparent issues with aging gracefully, "The Golden Rule" is one of "Invisible Stars' " few outright missteps. Mostly these are strong songs that would've fit right in with the band's '90s hits. First single "Be Careful What You Ask For" sounds like a lost B-side from "So Much for the Afterglow." In fact, it sounds like the band decided to marry the wobbly, siren-like guitar riff (here played on a synth) from "Everything to Everyone" to that album's deep cut "Sunflowers in Europe." But nakedly rewriting older material is definitely a step above just re-recording old songs. The mid-tempo "Santa Ana Wind" essentially recasts "I Will Buy You a New Life" as an introspective power ballad about wanting to be a better person and the joys of living in Los Angeles.
It's hard not to be cynical about what Alexakis and his band are trying to do here, but the fact remains that "Invisible Stars" is an album Everclear probably should've made a long time ago. This isn't great stuff, but it's highly listenable and a lot of fun. If the band had followed up the minor sonic experimentation of 2000's dual "Songs From an American Movie" albums with something like this, they might have been alternative rock survivors like the Foo Fighters. Instead, they're spending the summer of 2012 on tour with fellow '90s also-rans the Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray, Lit and Marcy Playground. - Chris Conaton
Beachwood Sparks - "The Tarnished Gold" (Sub Pop) (rating 7 out of 10)
It has been almost a decade since Beachwood Sparks, the L.A. country-rock group, released anything. The band hit a high note with its second album, "Once We Were Trees," released on Sub Pop in 2002, and then followed up the next year with the more difficult EP, "Make the Cowboy Robots Cry," before quietly dissolving into various side-projects. But now they're back with "The Tarnished Gold," which resumes as if no time had passed - a fitting statement for a band that recreates the sounds from a bygone era, when psychedelia and country music cross-pollinated at the end of the '60s.
The overwhelming theme in the lyrics of "The Tarnished Gold" is the act of returning to something and discovering what you had been looking for all along. This is literally the message of the title track's chorus: "Funny how when you find what you're looking for/It was already there/I don't know why/The simple things hide/The bright shining light/That was and always has been you." To confirm that the Sparks really know what they're doing, the whole album has a self-referential feel. From the big and catchy opening track, "Forget the Song," which starts the album strongly with an ironically unforgettable chorus, to the album closer, suitably named, "Goodbye," the band comments on itself.
Beachwood Sparks was (or is) an interesting band because of the composite structure: the different members pulled the sound in various directions, so that an album sounded multifarious yet remained coherent. For the reunion, Beachwood Sparks has ditched the hydra head approach and seems to be of one mind. Rather than have variety in composition, as "Once We Were Trees" did, "The Tarnished Gold" sound likes the most complete album by a solidly ensconced band. The variety is still there, but it now exists in the instrumentation. Each player, each vocalist, makes his mark, allowing the songs to unfold their richness over time. Immediately striking, however, are the band's rich harmonies. Though harmonies like this aren't hard to come by these days, Beachwood Sparks' laidback sunny singing is nearly irresistible. Add, on top of that, the ethereal and spacious pedal steel. These sounds are golden for a reason, and denying them only lets in the gloom. - Scott Branson
Jerry Douglas - "Traveler" (eOne) (rating 6 out of 10)
Jerry Douglas is no decaying relic. He's a respectable country gentleman whose flawless dobro playing is venerated by many, yet he's seldom recognized outside of the bluegrass community. The title sets the listener up for a legendary attempt at world music fusion. However, the bulk of his musical travels are still within the confines of the Southern U.S., often bouncing between Nashville and New Orleans, with a few trips across the pond thrown in for variety's sake.
Given the possibilities of his instrument, one might expect him to experiment with a few non-Western melodies to authenticate his traveler status, but it only makes sense that Douglas prefers to pitch his tent around the pentatonic scale. The arrangement of instrumental and vocal tunes between one another make the forward progression of "Traveler" feel like a journey. It is a dazzling, yet understated, showcase of the influence of Douglas' legacy among a cross section of fabled songsters including Eric Clapton, Marc Cohn, Keb' Mo', Alison Krauss, Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon. Other notable backups include Sam Bush, Dr. John, Bela Fleck, Omar Hakim and Del McCoury.
There's a consistent flame of craftsmanship and friendship that burns underneath. This record sounds like it was made among, and for, friends. One can't help but compare "Traveler" to the kinds of collaborative projects that greats like Herbie Hancock have so brilliantly put together over the last few years. Like jazz, bluegrass has never been a solitary endeavor, and the communal aspects of these genres generally play out beautifully as collaborations, even though not everything works on this collaboration.
Jerry Douglas' track record as a supporting actor attests to the fact that he has always been after beauty and not just self-expression. This album bears the weight of this impulse within the Americana tradition. These virtues are heard in this album and will continue to mark Douglas as a musicians' musician. "Traveler" furthers his reputation as a player that understands music's ability to break down barriers and cultivate relationships. It is only appropriate that this release falls upon the heels of the death of Earl Scruggs (whom Douglas played with on his 2008 album "Glide") and Doc Watson. A collection like this from an instrumentalist like Jerry Douglas is a fitting tribute to the influence of roots music and human friendships. - Philip Majorins
A Place to Bury Strangers - "Worship" (Dead Oceans) (rating 6 out of 10)
Brooklyn's A Place to Bury Strangers has always essentially been a Jesus and Mary Chain cover band. It's understandable, though, why A Place to Bury Strangers is so intent on recreating an aesthetic pioneered over 25 years ago. It's a rather thrilling sound - that jerry-rigged welding of pop bliss and howling guitar chaos - that even the Mary Chain never exhausted to its full potential, having stripped back its characteristic sheets of white noise as soon as its second album. In the 21st century, A Place to Bury Strangers gamely took up the sonic baton dropped by its Scottish forbears, making a reputation for itself in the last few years by pushing the volume and distortion to extreme levels, both on record and in concert. Indeed, when APTBS is at its most urgent and violent - as heard on the early high-watermark "Missing You" - the potency of the group's primal roar manages to sweep aside all concerns about brazen unoriginality for a blissful few moments.
Being so dedicated to noise pop as a concept, the band isn't about to throw its fanbase stylistic curveballs on the fittingly titled "Worship," its third album. As always, there's plenty of blown-out, overdriven guitar mayhem to make your next-door neighbors utterly loathe you once you hit the "play" button on your preferred playing apparatus. But while "Worship" once again wears the same influences transparently and unrepentantly on its sleeve, it somehow (barely) manages to get away with it. Chalk it up to the execution. For instance, there's nothing new to be found in the opening trifecta of "Alone," "You Are the One" and "Mind Control." They're all ominous noise rock assaults of the sort to be expected of APTBS, wrapped around Oliver Ackerman's faithful replication of Jim Reid's "too cool for school" laconicism.
Given its narrow stylistic parameters, it can be easy to underestimate A Place to Buy Strangers at times. "Dissolved" features an elegiac first half that beautifully congeals before cleverly giving way to a faster B section daubed with a sprightly guitar part that could've been swiped from the Drums. And the band ends concludes album strongly with the bare-knuckle "Leaving Tomorrow," a track that comes blazing out of the gate in a manner not typical expected of LP closers. "Worship" doesn't break new ground, and it's arguably not even the greatest record done in this vein (or even the greatest record by APTBS, for that matter). But there's a diligent craftsmanship here and just enough attitude to carry the album all the way to the finish line. A Place to Bury Strangers undoubtedly has the aptitude for generating engaging rock music - if only it would work harder on cementing a unique stylistic identity. - AJ Ramirez
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