Happy New Year, and I swear that’s the last time I’m saying that phrase in 2024. January is always slow out of the gate but we’ve got a few new records for you this week, including wonderful and tonally similar albums from Bill Ryder-Jones (ex-Coral) and Marika Hackman, the debut 12″ from Brooklyn/DFA supergroup Jayson Green & The Jerk, the debut EP from Baltimore’s Station Sleeper, and a record I missed last year from San Francisco’s Famous Mammals.
Andrew’s got a slightly more active week in Notable Releases with reviews of Infant Island, Kali Uchis, Nailah Hunter and more. Need more recent news applicable to this column? Ride announced their new album, and keeping things shoegaze new London band Whitelands announced their full-length debut. Also new album announcements from Gustaf and Four Tet. And if you want to look further ahead, check out the Indie Basement Most Anticipated Albums of 2024 list which still has 50 weeks of relevance left. Things are about to get busy!
Head below for this week’s reviews…
Bill Ryder-Jones – Iechyd Da (Domino)
The Coral co-founder wraps himself in beautiful sadness on his wonderful fifth album
“I’ve always railed against it when people ask if making a record is cathartic,” Bill Ryder-Jones says of his fifth solo album, “but I’d have to admit that this one really was.” The Coral co-founder, who’s been a solo artist longer now than he was in a member of that band, had a rough pandemic, including a bad breakup and close calls with substance abuse. He’s come through the other side, though, with one of his best-ever records. Iechyd Da, which is Welsh for “Good Health,” is one of those albums that seems to process joy and sadness as the same emotion, not unlike Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs, The Delgado’s The Great Eastern or pretty much everything Spiritualized or Sparklehorse have ever done. Whether he’s singing “It’s noone’s fault, there’s sometimes nothing to be done / I just don’t see myself getting past this one” (“Nothing to be Done”) or “There’s something great about life” on the very next song (“It’s Today Again”), they all hit with a massive wave of beautiful sadness. There are some wonderful pop moments, too, including “If Tomorrow Starts Without Me,” that bring on the warm-n-fuzzies while still keeping a dark cloud in the blue sky. The whole album washes over you with orchestral grandeur, swooning strings and choral backing (more than once via a children’s choir), and in lesser hands these towering creations would topple from schmaltz. But Ryder-Jones has such a sure grasp of tone, in all senses of the word, so that the songs never wobble. He’s got a soft, fragile voice that could carry the emotional weight of these songs all on its own but is also the perfect center for exquisite heartbreak he’s wrapped himself in.
Marika Hackman – Big Sigh (Chrysalis)
Fourth album from this UK singer-songwriter splits the difference between her elegant debut and its two more pop-oriented follow-ups
“Big Sigh” is not only the name of Marika Hackman’s wonderful fourth album, it’s also a pretty perfect two-word descriptor for it. There’s haze of melancholy that infiltrates everything on the album, from the lyrics, to the melodies, arrangements and Marika’s breathy vocals which are probably the biggest sigh of them all. It also plays like a comedown from 2019’s Any Human Friend, an album that was fun, extremely sex-positive, and found Hackman very comfortable in her own skin. Big Sigh feels like a hangover, or at least waking up with a shock wondering “what have I done?” Strings swirl around her like 1000 doubts on tracks like “No Caffeine” where she tries to distract her way out of tailspin: “Take a day off work / Call your mum / Have a glass of wine / Stay away from fun / Pretend like you don’t care.” At first glance Big Sigh is most like her first, 2015’s We Slept at Last, windswept and atmospheric, but with the skill, confidence and nuance that comes with nine more years of life. Marika played every instrument on the album — apart from brass and strings — and clearly learned a lot making her previous records (including 2020’s Covers). You can hear echoes of her second and third albums’ sound here even if it’s employed in very different ways, including subtle electronics that bubble under many of the songs. For those missing the zesty, carnal delights of Any Human Friend, there is “Slime” — “Stranger I wanna rearrange you / Climb your spine and shake your mind / Slide back and feel your bones crack / So sublime, turn to slime” — but these two albums make for a satisfying meal, expertly pairing the bitter with the sweet.
Jayson Green & The Jerk – “Local Jerk / I Need Love” 12″ (DFA)
The former Orchid/Panthers frontman leads this Brooklyn/DFA supergroup and their debut 12″ is snarky disco in all the right ways
Being a clever wiseass has served Jayson Green well as frontman of a variety of punk(ish) bands over the last 25 years, including screamo legends Orchid (who are back), OG Williamsburg hipsters Panthers, Violent Bullshit, and Cheeseburger. (It’s also served him well as a standup, podcast host and probably won’t hurt as a new restaurant/club owner in Toronto.) His sense of humor and seen-it-all attitude permeates Jayson Green & The Jerk, a solo project he launched at the start of the pandemic with a song on Bandcamp and has now picked up again with a 12″ out via DFA. These two songs would’ve fit right in on the label 20 years ago, and the list of musicians who help out here — including co-producers James Murphy and W. Andrew Raposo (Midnight Magic) as well as players Nancy Whang (LCD, Juan Maclean), Nick Millhiser (Holy Ghost!, LCD) and more — reads like the most Peak Williamsburg thing since the Pool Parties stopped being in an actual pool. If someone played me this 12″ and told me it was a new LCD Soundsystem single, I would probably believe them; musically they are speaking the same language — krautrock, disco, post-punk — and Green’s voice is not that different from Murphy’s. Add in shouty backing vocals from Whang and we’re in very DFA territory.
This sounds like a criticism, and it is, yet both songs are good, sound great (how could they not given the talent involved), and deal with the annoying side of NYC nightlife with plenty of quotable lines. “Local Jerk” is the dancefloor filler, fueled by Raposo’s slinky bass skills and bongo-fueled percussion, painting a portrait of a very poor socialite — “She’s my local jerk and you can’t let her in / she’s got 65 dollars and a glassful of gin” — and when the horns kick in it’s blissful stuff (instrumentally, shades of Hercules & Love Affair). “I Need Love,” meanwhile, plays like a bad drugs nightmare sequel to “Losing My Edge” by way of The Doors’ “The End” where Green bellows “I had a dream my son walked down the hall / He came to a door and stepped inside and said “FATHER…yes son…I want to be a party photographer!” And when he cries “Do you want to come to my DJ night?” it feels like a threat. “Me neither,” is his own reply. How this will track outside of Brooklyn and part of Queens is hard to say and probably beside the point. Having just seen The Jerk make their live debut, it’s not all snarky disco, Green has other colors with this band (rock, soul), but he knows his audience well and delivers.
Famous Mammals – Instant Pop Expressionism Now! (Siltbreeze)
Former members of Naked Roommate and The World make early-’80s DIY punk right down to the fake London accents
“Siltbreeze puts out an album by a trio of Bay Area underground heroes perfectly capturing, commenting on, and possibly bettering the classic UK DIY art punk sound? Sounds swell to me.” That’s Protomartyr’s Joe Casey in his end-of-year list for us regarding the debut album from San Francisco’s Famous Mammals which was released back in June. (Barbara Manning is also a fan.) The band is the latest group from Bay Area underground lifers Amber Sermeno, Andy Jordan and Stanley Martinez who have been in such bands as Non Plus Temps, Children Maybe Later, Naked Roommate and, fairly recently, The World (who I liked a lot). As Casely rightly notes, Famous Mammals are paying homage to post-punk-era DIY indie punk, and by that I mean The Fall, Television Personalities, Swell Maps and the many obscure groups compiled on those Messthetics compilations. Most songs teeter around the two-minute mark, are loaded with big hooks, charmingly out-of-tune guitars, perfectly shambolic production and fake British accents drenched in echo and dubby production. In other words, it’s ace! Will Famous Mammals ever play outside the Bay Area? Will they ever make another record? It’s best to treat this like a record from 1980 Rough Trade forgot to release and cherish it like a lost classic.
Station Sleeper – Glidepath (self-released)
First new music from Pat Ferrise since his ’90s Trampoline albums
Station Sleeper is the first musical project from DC/Baltimore-area artist Pat Ferrise since the mid-’90s when he released a couple albums on Spin-Art Records as Trampoline. (Full disclosure: Pat and I worked at the same college radio station a very long time ago.) Those Trampoline records are terrific, full of quirky acoustic pop, so I was excited to learn that Pat had started writing songs again. The three-song Glidepath EP picks up mostly where Trampoline left off, with simple arrangements augmented with moody basslines, simple percussion, glockenspiel, atmospheric touches and healthy but restrained love of reverb. If you are a fan of early R.E.M., Echo & the Bunnymen and the early-’90s Slumberland Records scene, there’s a lot to love here. And if you need more, check out Trampoline.
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