After the usual slow start to the year, 2024 kicked in hard after MLK Day with tons of big announcements. Release-wise, though, it’s still baby steps and I review five new releases: Bolts of Melody (Adam Franklin of Swervedriver), Shaun Ryder’s post-Happy Mondays band Black Grape, Toronto groups PACKS and Hot Garbage, and shoegaze/psych vets The Asteroid No.4.
Need more reviews of new stuff? Andrew listens to new albums from Sleater-Kinney, glass beach, and more in Notable Releases. Also out today: the 90 Day Men box set on Numero Group.
As I mentioned there was a lot of news this week, including: album announcements from Pernice Brothers, A Certain Ratio, Ulrika Spacek offshoot Astrel K, Khruangbin, Sam Evian, The Dandy Warhols, Jane Weaver, and Holiday Ghosts. Plus rare tour announcements from Madness and The Raveonettes.
Also did you know the creator of Peaky Blinders has a new show set against the late-’70s 2-Tone scene featuring a score by Kae Tempest and Dan Carey? I’m in. Also: Northern Exposure finally hit streaming.
Next week will be a much bigger week for new releases so get yourself ready for that. Until then, head below for this week’s crop…
Bolts Of Melody – Film Noir (Outer Battery Records)
Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin explores his love of soundtrack music on the first Bolts of Melody album in a decade, with help from J Mascis and The Besnard Lakes
Before Swervedriver reformed in the late ’00s, frontman Adam Franklin made music first with Toshak Highway and later as a solo artist. The title of his first solo album, 2007’s Bolts of Melody, became the name of his backing band. Ten years since his last record, Bolts of Melody are back as a proper band (no “Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody” this time) and a new album. Movie scores, particularly those from the ’60s and ’70s, have always fed into his music but here it gets a starring role. Franklin says the album was conceived by bandmate Locksley Taylor as an instrumental album, a soundtrack to an imagined film. “Each song was given license to roam,” he says, ” Some were quite literally composed as library music before being rescued from life in an elevator when it was realized that they contained some semblance of heart and soul.” Fans of Italian giallo, horror and spaghetti westerns will in particular find a lot to like on Film Noir but these songs — not all instrumental, either — are appealing all on their own, gorgeously textured with keyboards, vibraphone and strings along with the awe-inspiring axework Franklin is known for. This Film Noir also has a few cool guest stars: J. Mascis drops in a simmering guitar solo on the eerie “Black Flower” and Montreal’s Besnard Lakes provide support on the towering “The Village Sleeps.” It’s the gentler pieces, like the beautiful “Harpsiglass,” though, that conjure images in listeners’ minds and could have directors asking if Bolts of Melody might want to work on their next picture.
PACKS – Melt The Honey (Fire Talk)
Second album in less than a year from these lo-fi Torontonians is a winsome charmer
Toronto singer-songwriter Madeline Link is on a roll. As PACKS, she released the wonderfully titled Crispy Crunchy Nothing in March 2023 and less than a year later is back with another excellent collection of lo-fi indie rock. When I use “lo-fi” I’m talking in the classic ’90s way, not the “beats to study to” connotation the term has come to mean in the streaming age, and you could imagine Melt the Honey being released on Elephant 6 in 1996 alongside Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. There’s just something warm and inviting in the sound of an acoustic guitar being driven into the red, and that sounds even better when set against warbly, winsome earworms like “Time Loop,” “HFCS” and “Honey.” Link and her band have chops but choose vibe over precision and fidelity and they shouldn’t be in any hurry to enter a fancy studio for their next album which, at this rate, may have already been made.
Black Grape – Orange Head (DGAFF Recordings)
Shaun Ryder, Kermit and Bez are back for the first Black Grape album in seven years
It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, that Shaun Ryder and his maraca-wielding mate Bez have been in two hitmaking bands (in the UK) while being some of the most infamous imbibers of the last 40 years. Happy Mondays are best known, in America at least, but Black Grape successfully updated the Madchester sound for the Britpop era, racking up seven UK hits from 1995-1998. Even more amazing: both groups are still going and putting out good records. Orange Head is Black Grape’s fourth album and first in seven years, and it’s clear this was made out of love and not a bid for the charts. The group’s appeal was always the chemistry between Ryder and co-vocalist Kermit (ex Ruthless Rap Assassins) and it’s clear that’s what is still driving things. (Bez I love your dancing, and you are always an inspiration.) Ryder’s gift of gab — Factory Records founder, the late Tony Wilson, famously called him a poet worthy of WB Yeats — remains sharp, if psychedelic, and he and everyone else are clearly having a good time here. That positive vibe and party atmosphere carry things even though it’s not the most musically inspired record of Ryder’s career. Orange Head might not have the tunes that their 1995 debut It’s Great When Your Straight, Yeah? had, it’s never less than fun and danceable — the album sounds great, and hearing Ryder and co-vocalist Kermit trade off lines is always a treat.
The Asteroid No.4 – Tremble (Silver Black Arrow Records)
Long-running pysch-shoegaze band have still got it nearly 30 years into their existence
Formed in the late-’90s, The Asteroid No.4 began sort of as Philadelphia’s answer to The Brian Jonestown Massacre (by way of Lilys), weaving hazy psych and jangly pop with shoegaze textures and soaring guitar heroics. They actually released a few records via BMJ main man Anton Newcombe’s Committee to Keep Music Evil label, including 2008’s great These Flowers Of Ours: A Treasury Of Witchcraft And Devilry. Having relocated to San Francisco in 2011 (psychically a better fit for them, at least theoretically), The Asteroid No.4 have kept flying the flag all these years and are back with this EP that is out via Silver Arrow Records, the label run by Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes. (This is one of its few releases that is not Robinson-related.) I admittedly haven’t followed their career that closely but Tremble is excellent, with the band having shifted into shoegazier territory and with a mix of flower-power melodies and stompbox maelstrom, these five songs are firmly in Ride territory. “Sky Blue,” in particular, is fantastic with co-lead vocals by Seablite‘s Galine Tumasyan that really send it into the stratosphere. There’s a lot of talk about the new shoegaze scene, but vets like The Asteroid No.4 clearly still have lots to say.
Hot Garbage – Precious Dream (Mothland)
Superior garage rock with a healthy dose of gothy post-punk from these Torontonians
Garage rock has fallen in and out of fashion many times over the last 50+ years; my own interest in the genre peaked in the 2000s as Detroit gave way to San Francisco and the rise of labels like In the Red and Castle Face, not to mention the abundance of Brooklyn DIY venues (always the best way to experience this music). I don’t listen to as much of it as I used to but I still get excited when groups transcend the genre. Toronto’s Hot Garbage inject their gritty sound with a seamy, steamy, dark undercurrent that tilts into gothy post-punk territory. Just listening to their new album, Precious Dream, you can tell their shows are a hot, loud, sweaty mess, but they bring studio sonic experimentation and good songs to the table as well. They made the album with Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh who helps the band give everything a thick, bulldozer force without sacrificing groove or melody. A name like theirs may all but ask for a smug, one line review (“Hot Garbage stink”) but Precious Dream makes a party out of the steaming refuse of the world.
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