TURNPIKE GLOW – Inflatable Optimism EP

1976380304-1 (1)The four songs on this debut EP by Turnpike Glow present the beginnings of a band with a great talent.  There are various influences at play, and although each of them add plenty of colour to this London indie-rock quartet’s sound, there’s never anything that’s obviously plagiarised.  This is a band talented enough to borrow various styles and meld them into their own style, which throughout this release, treads a fine line between rhythmic sharpness and a garagey fuzziness.  Fuzz is cool, but, most importantly, Turnpike Glow have the songs necessary to back up the tunes – and a couple of them are absolutely terrific.

On two of the EP’s numbers, Turnpike Glow’s sound is rooted within 21st century indie pop.  ‘No More Dancing’ comes with a slightly distorted vocal, while a particularly loud drum gives things an extra edge.  From time to time, a few surprisingly funky moments hint at bands like Frankie & The Heartstrings – but only much better.  A similar mood drives ‘Marie’, largely thanks to Anthony Hutchinson’s tight drum grooves, over which some catchy woo-hoo vocals and occasionally surprising harmonies greet the ear.  Digging beneath the loud drum, you’ll also discover some lovely bass runs which, while relatively busy, are always melodic.  These tunes alone would be strong enough to recommend Turnpike Glow, but ‘Inflatable Optimism’s other pair of numbers are much stronger.

The EP’s unmissable tracks take the best elements of Turnpike Glow’s general sound and dish up something a touch more new wave influenced.  By the time ‘1986’ kicks in, there’s a vibe of an early XTC number played by Robert Pollard’s Boston Spaceships.  Guiseppe La Mela’s vocal is, again, distorted and a little ugly in places, although this is balanced out by a ridiculously catchy hook which isn’t even diminished by the presence of odd falsetto yelping.  With a spiky rhythm, largely driven by fuzzed up bass, ‘The Turn, The Pike, The Glow’ features great performances from each band member, but of particular note here are the ringing lead guitar parts connecting the verses.  Combined with another upfront drum part, they help to give this track a real feeling of urgency.

With a perfect mix of strong songs, great musicianship and a decent amount of controlled aggression, Turnpike Glow are worth seeking out.  In short:  If you like things with a strong indie-rock bias, you’ll want this.  You can stream the EP via the widget below.  [Also, watch the video clip for ‘The Turn, The Pike and The Glow’ at Popdodger.]

October 2012

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Drug Buddies: A Tribute To The Lemonheads

In terms of mainstream popularity, The Lemonheads’ peak came in the early 90s, when their fifth album ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ and cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs. Robinson’ both became big hits.  Either side of that release, despite hugely unstable line-ups, the band recorded other great music, both punk based and of the summery slacker pop variety.  Each of the albums within the band’s catalogue are worthy of investigation.

With such cult status – and Evan Dando’s knack with a throwaway pop ditty deserving of the praise he has intermittently been given – it’s obvious they would be a huge influence upon other jangle-pop bands from Boston and beyond.  On this tribute disc, twenty one DIY bands have been brought together, putting their mark on various tunes associated with The Lemonheads, alongside one original composition about Dando himself.  The results, as you may expect, are mixed.

For ‘I’ll Do It Anyway’, Star fuzz things up considerably, so much so there’s more distortion than actual tune in places, but they make it their own.  Cutting through the sheets of trebly noise, a twee female voice evokes recordings by Velocity Girl and other 90s indie favourites, and once you’ve tuned into the band’s style, Dando’s melodic leanings eventually shine through, especially on the chorus, which still stands up as an amazing piece of pop.  Far less fortunate is Marauder’s take on the lovely ‘Down About It’.  There are a few nice slide guitar notes and a reasonable jangle, but any enjoyment is killed by an extremely flat vocal performance.  Better, Himson re-imagine ‘My Drug Buddy’ as stripped down workout for acoustic guitar and ukulele.  While it turns out exactly as you’d expect for something with a uke in tow, all harmony vocals are well executed and the electric guitar laying down jazzy leads intermittently provides a welcome addition.

Following a long-wave radio-esque intro, Shindig don’t really use the full spectrum of their obvious talents on ‘Confetti’, preferring instead to offer something as close to Dando’s vision as they can. This is fine, but without the sharpness in the guitar department it doesn’t quite have the impact it should.  Vicious Whiskey turn in a raucous version of ‘6ix’ (originally from the overlooked ‘Car Button Cloth’) which, while a little unimaginative, their version is great in its own right, chockfull of garage-sounding guitar lines and a small serving of feedback for good measure.  In the hands of The Neuvos, ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ has plenty of summery guitars, shimmering constantly and an occasional accompaniment which sounds as if it really ought to belong to a brass section.  Both features are enjoyable on this slightly slower rendition, but like Marauder, The Neuvos is a band hampered by a wobbly vocalist.  Overall, Neuvos’ offering is a case of “close, but…”

Fans of The Lemonheads’ punkier sounds may find some enjoyment from Numbers on Napkins thrashing their way through a decent version of ‘Uhh’ (the comp’s only Ben Deily related tune), and Suinage taking the jangly ‘Stove’ and cranking the speed and volume just enough to make it interesting.   Both are worth spinning, though neither are classic.  [Since Deily’s compositions are seemingly fair game – unless, of course, NoN chose ‘Uhhh’ unknowingly, it’s a pity they didn’t plump for his vastly superior ‘Second Chance’.]

So with a lot of the material hovering around the enjoyable but workmanlike mark or – in a couple of cases – bewilderingly bad, why should you bother checking out this comp?   Hidden amongst the more average material, there are a few of bright shining stars…and it’s those that have used a little more imagination that gives ‘Drug Buddies’ a huge lift.  With a staccato riff leading the way, Trucker Cleavage offer a rendition of ‘Being Around’ that’s got plenty of punch via a chunky bass riff and slightly discordant lead guitar.  What makes this enjoyable, though, is the lead vocal performance: it’s delivered in a nasal harmony throughout, hugely reminiscent of John Linnell and John Flansborough of They Might Be Giants!  A hugely jangly take on ‘The Great Big No’ sounds at times like the work of a bad Matthew Sweet impersonator, but if you can make it past that, it’s musically sound, making use of swirling keyboards and  big power pop harmonies throughout.  You’re probably curious about the ballsy one-note guitar solo from the original version…  It’s now nowhere to be heard!  The instrumental break here is filled with a suitable amount of noodling, always tastefully played, not shadowing the rest of the tune.

The best of the bunch is Lucky Day’s thoughtful reimagining of ‘Bit Part’, stretching it out to three times the original length.  While the vocal melody remains intact, the music is soft and almost loungy, with the addition of wordless oohs and ahs reminiscent of Sixpence None The Richer.  Of all the tunes featured on ‘Drug Buddies’, Lucky Day are streets ahead of the competition, taking a once trashy ninety second trashy number and dressing it up with passionate vocals and a multi-layered arrangement, culminating in a funky lead bass solo.  In short, this is a tune not to be missed.

…And that previously mentioned original track written as a tribute to Evan?  Mean Carlene’s ‘Evan Says’, surprisingly, is an okay slice of jangle pop that befits Boston’s slacker hero.  Staccato riffs and a repetition of the title are its main concerns, but it’s a more than solid piece of pop rock. Given that it’s writers Mean Carlene appear to be reasonably talented – certainly far more talented than some of ‘Drug Buddies’ contributors – it would have been good to hear them singing one of the many Lemonheads numbers not included here: where are ‘Dawn Can’t Decide’, ‘It’s About Time’ ‘Mallo Cup’, ‘Half The Time’?  Surely all are better than the ‘Car Button Cloth’ era tunes present…

Listen for yourselves using the widget below.  For the hardcore Lemonheads fan, ‘Drug Buddies’ may not always be much more than a welcome distraction, but there are a handful of tunes worth downloading.

November 2012

DEAD WOLF CLUB – Dead Wolf Club

The members of Dead Wolf Club weren’t out of primary school when Pixies called it a day the first time around, or when My Bloody Valentine released the seminal ‘Loveless’, but the influences and legacy of late eighties and early nineties arty alternative/noise rock is deeply rooted within their sound.  While Dead Wolf Club’s re-visitation of a 90s alternative sound could draw parallels with the much praised revivalists Yuck and A Place To Bury Strangers – at least in terms of attitude – on their debut album they’re not always as consistent as either.  That’s not to say the ideas aren’t there, though – these guys have plenty of inspired musical moments.

Behind the brightly coloured origami wolves which adorn the sleeve lies a world of visceral noise, interjected with atmospheres.  ‘Wave’, the centrepiece from both this album and the band’s live set, shows DWC at their absolute best.  On this mini-masterpiece of swirling anger, a four chord, looping riff has an almost hypnotic appeal, starting slowly and gaining momentum throughout.  Eventually, a much weightier riff (recalling early Smashing Pumpkins and Slint) crashes in under which the treated lead vocals are barely audible.  The sprawling six minute ‘Colossus’, works its magic via a similarly simple riff, creating a world of general trippiness via various alt-rock and shoegaze influences.  The multi-layed guitar parts (courtesy of John Othello and Alwin Fernandez) rise and fall, while Othello’s lead vocal interjects in an echoing fashion, like a man shouting from the end of a long corridor.  Looking beyond the twin guitars – fuzzed up and at maximum jangle – Martha’s hard bassline really carries the weight of the tune.  While not quite as distinctive as ‘Wave’, this tune represents a more than solid slice of arty indie rock.

On the slightly more aggressive front, ‘Headful of Horrors’ opens with a heady mix of clanging rhythmic chords overlaid with heavily distorted lead guitar and some similarly distorted vocals.  Surprisingly, given the DIY approach, there’s still a clear separation between the multi-layered guitar parts, allowing an occasionally used clean lead ample opportunity to ring out above the world of fuzz.  A busy drum part underpins the verses of ‘Radar’, but an ugly vocal and uninspiring tune initially suggests this song needed more work.  However, something more melodic soon appears over the horizon: a clean-toned guitar bridges the verse and chorus via a great (but all too brief) interlude, while the chorus itself is okay too.  By the track’s end, it fares better than initial impressions suggest, but measured against a couple of DWC’s best numbers, though, it’s not a classic by any stretch.  ‘Allison’ is even more guttural and basic with most of the song hammered home with a screamy vocal, occasionally backed by a shouting counter-voice.  Despite the brief running time, there’s still time for a couple of quieter sections where Martha offers some superb sounding bass.  On those quieter parts, for those willing to invest the time it takes to tune in fully, DWC prove the creation of multi-layered soundscapes within even their briefest of numbers is just as important as throwing primal aggression out there.

While some more discerning listeners may detect a slight inconsistency in drum sounds [the album itself having been recorded with three recording engineers/producers and as many different drummers], there are enjoyable results on ‘Dead Wolf Club’. While it may not always capture the levels of anger present during parts of their live set (which is worth catching to see drummer Serra Petale attacking her kit), this independently released disc has a ragged appeal and a bristling energy that captures Dead Wolf Club’s “geek rage” well enough for a first outing.

Listen to or buy the album via the widget below.

July/August 2012


Stephen Malkmus’s first solo album is potentially the best album his band Pavement never made. That’s hardly surprising since some of the songs were being worked on for a Pavement record prior to their break-up. His follow up release ‘Pig Lib’ – delivered a couple of years later – is angular and wilfully difficult in places, as if he wished to take a step back from the (relatively) commercial edges his music had moved towards. His next few releases have their moments, sometimes moving towards psychedelia and even farther away from Pavement-esque sounds.

In 2010, Pavement reformed for a bunch of live shows, though rather unsurprisingly, no new material was recorded. His first work since that brief reunion, Malkmus’s 2011 release ‘Mirror Traffic’ could be his most consistent release for a decade; with well crafted tunes and often oblique lyrical slant, most of its fifteen numbers are on a par with those from Malkmus’s solo debut. Whether or not it was a direct influence from those live shows, this album has more in common with Malkmus’s former band than his previous couple of releases. Fans may choose to debate the amount of Pavement-ness at the heart of ‘Mirror Traffic’, but whatever, SM and his band sound really inspired throughout; the songs themselves are given an extra lift by a great production, courtesy of one of their closest peers – the legendary Beck.

The lead single ‘Tigers’ is a brilliant, brilliant piece of slacker-pop. A ringing guitar lead, soft harmony filled chorus and slight country edge are all topped off with SM’s Lou Reed-esque vocal wandering. It’s an almost perfect marriage of alternative rock and radio friendly pop chorus. The lead guitar works a riff which is almost a hook in itself, while a steel guitar lurking in the background lends that air of country rock which pulls everything together. The fuzzy rock and roll of ‘Tune Grief’ showcases a far more throwaway rock n roll side to the band, with SM’s semi-distorted vocals counterbalanced by some sharp male woo-woo’s and some female harmonies. This, too, is enjoyable (albeit in a completely different way), but it’s with the slacker-rock of ‘Forever 28’ the band excels once again. The track combines an ELO style rumpty-tumpty strut, combined with Pavement-esque changes in pace (almost as if the band are winding down like clockwork) and a few interesting guitar leads. There may be imitators, but this number represents the kind of thing that only Malkmus manages to such exceptional levels.

With its harsher vocals and almost constantly shifting time signature, the offensively (and unnecessarily) named ‘Spazz’ is the closest ‘Mirror Traffic gets to ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ or ‘Crooked Rain’ territory, and even then, there’s a degree of sophistication here that’s lacking on those earlier Pavement records (probably the lack of Bob Nastanovich’s shouting!). The verses combine a quick pace and an offbeat to superb effect, but it’s the slower tempos creeping in which are most reminiscent of Pavement. The track’s best moments are during the slow, mostly instrumental mid-section where the guitars have a hint of the Grateful Dead and the vocals pull together for a wordless harmony. The slow, brooding ‘Share The Red’ is a rather ordinary indie-rock/slacker number, with a touch of Pavement numbers like ‘Transport Is Arranged’ present. The noodling guitars provide some enjoyment, but long time fans are likely to sense some déjà vu here.

‘Jumblegloss’ acts as a brief interlude, but it’s minute and a quarter is great in its own right, with SM’s reverbed guitar lines laying down something which sounds like a movie score, set against Jake Morris’s slightly jazzy drum part. ‘Asking Price’ is understated; Malkmus’s almost spoken delivery finds a great place atop of clean guitars, a solid bassline and some electric piano. In terms of overall feel, it’s not too far removed from the gentler end of Pavement’s ‘Terror Twilight’, but the addition of the electric piano is definitely a plus, even if it could have been used a little more. ‘Stick Figures In Love’ ups the pace and isn’t anywhere near as good, despite the inclusion of a breezy guitar riff providing an instant hook while, once again, Morris’s occasionally offbeat drumming is allocated plenty of room in the mix. It’s not a bad track by any means, but since the quality threshold of this album is so high, this feels like more like filler than perhaps it would have done, had it appeared on any of SM’s other records.

‘No One Is (As I Are Be)’ is an acoustic workout, with finger-picked guitar lines and buzzing strings. Rather uncharacteristic for SM, this number has a sixties vibe and shows the band in a great light when tackling something relatively simple. The instrumental break – where you’d probably expect a slightly distorted guitar – appears to feature a slightly distorted trumpet (or maybe a French horn), which eventually gets complimented by a piano and tinkling glockenspiel. It’s lovely stuff indeed, which brings maturity without sounding tired or stale. ‘Fall Away’ is also soft, but with a bigger focus on vocal arrangements, as the whole band sing harmonies against an otherwise ordinary number.

With Stephen Malkmus’s off-centre approach to song writing and musical structures, there’s always a strong possibility of any of his albums missing the mark, but ‘Mirror Traffic’ is great, with no obvious skippers. It’s one which, in the main, fans will certainly enjoy, but it’s also a reasonable entry point to the works of Steven Malkmus for the uninitiated.

August 2011