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Blanck Mass – Blanck Mass

Blanck Mass is the solo project of Benjamin John Power, half of London’s noise duo Fuck Buttons. While Fuck Buttons is best known for their danceable beat-driven avalanches, Power took a different exit with Blanck Mass and ended up in an underwater city where everything moves in slow motion and where everybody seems to have all the time in the world.

Take “What You Know” for example… it starts off with some splashing sounds and synth sounds that seem to go on forever before building up to to something that is dark yet pretty at the same time, only to then slowly dissolve again. It’s just a bit of a shame that it takes ten minutes to get there.

If you’re into ambient albums that only slowly reveal their beauty, then you should definitely check out this album. I liked it for the most part yet always found myself skipping to the next track because things took too long… years of listening to punkrock will do that to a man!
Score: 6 out of 10

John Doe – Keeper

There are two John Does… there’s the one who was on the forefront of the LA punk scene with his band X and then there’s the solo artist who wouldn’t look out of place in some honky tonk shack in Alabama. Supported by a couple of excellent musicians (Howe Gelb, Steve Berlin, Patti Griffin, Doug Pettibone,…), Doe works his way through a dozen Americana/rootsrock tunes on his latest album, “Keeper”.

The good man’s punk days are only revisited here in the lyrics with plenty of relationships going bad alongside a bunch of social issues that need to be addressed. The result is like listening to an album made by a bunch of professionals (which they are) who forgot to pour their soul into it. The fact that Doe isn’t the greatest singer out there doesn’t exactly help things along. So basically you end up with an album that’s neither here nor there… it just is.
Score: 6 out of 10

The Supervisors – Supervising The Industry

From Oslo, Norway come The Supervisors, a fierce yet melodic punkrock band that just released its debut full-length. “Supervising The Industry” harkens back to the days when Scandinavian skatepunk was all over the place! Or think of A Wilhelm Scream or Strung Out if you will… you know what I mean. The tunes on here are short and to the point, überfast with technical yet highly melodic riffage and catchy hooks.

There’s nothing on here you haven’t heard before but these guys are doing a pretty solid job nonetheless.
Score: 6.5 out of 10

Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. – Area 52

Alright, let’s be honest here… I never really got the hype surrounding Rodrigo Y Gabriela and I doubt that’s gonna change listening to their new album. And to be completely honest, their success remains as much of a mystery to me as the actual (well, you know what I mean) Area 52.

Right after recording the soundtrack for the last Pirates Of The Caribbean movie with Hans Zimmer, Rod & Gab were on a plane heading for Cuba to record an album with a 13-piece orchestra made up of some of Havana’s finest musicians. Other guests include The Cult’s John Tempesta, Carles Benavent (Miles Davis), a Palestinian outfit called Le Trio Joubran and a Swiss pianist named Alex Wilson, who got to sort out all the arrangements.

There are no new songs to be found on here, instead nine older songs got the Cuba treatment. I’m sure a lot of people will love this but I already didn’t care for the original versions and I get nervous listening to Buena Vista Social Club. So for me, this is like my personal Guantanamo… which is equally tropical.
Score: 4 out of 10

Skeleton Key – Gravity Is The Enemy

You might still remember NYC’s Skeleton Key from the Grammy-nominated album “Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon” which earned them tours with the Melvins, The Jesus Lizard and Primus among others. If not, then here’s another chance to get to know these guys with their experimental streak and who refuse to be easily pigeonholed.

“Gravity Is The Enemy” is the name of their latest release and the fourteen songs on here sound as nasty as that phlegm you coughed up this morning… drums are all over the place, the bass is rumbling dangerously low and the vocals are menacing and melodic at the same time.

It’s not hard to pick up on the nineties vibe that still courses through this band’s veins and the end result is the sonic equivalent of a mudslide… creeping forward at a deceivingly slow pace yet unstoppable. It may take you some time to get “Gravity Is The Enemy” but once you’ve settled in, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Score: 7 out of 10

Rocky Votolato – Television Of Saints

“Television Of Saints” marks the end of Rocky Votolato’s collaboration with Barsuk. Instead he opted to go with the hip new way to release an album and rustled funds from his fans on Kickstarter for his first release since 2006’s “Marker”.

The spirit of Elliott Smith is strong on this one but the songs come with an additional rootsy touch that shows there’s still some Texas blood running through Votolato’s veins. I really like the guy’s voice, which is backed up mostly by just an acoustic guitar and some very sparse arrangements. I don’t know whether it was the intention to deliver a spartan album or if it was forced on due to lack of more funds, but the songs that come with richer arrangements (“Fool’s Gold”, “Sunlight”) are by far my favorites on here and kinda make me wonder how much better still “Television Of Saints” could have been if all the songs were given the band treatment.
Score: 7 out of 10

Blood Orange – Coastal Grooves

Dev Hynes is not only the man behind Lightspeed Champion (and a consultant for Jay Z’s Rocawear), he now only has a solo album out under the Blood Orange moniker.

“Coastal Grooves” comes with a ton of thumping bass lines, arpeggios whirling around and more 80ies nostalgia than you can shake a stick at. Apparently the guy was trying to write songs ‘that could be sung by a drag queen’ and listening to “Sutphin Boulevard” it’s not hard to imagine a guy in high heels strutting down the street. “Can We Go Inside Now” on the other hand sounds like Chris Isaak at its darkest and closing track “Champagne Coast” is as close as you can get to a Prince tribute without actually ripping off from the guy.

I’m not entirely won over but this is nevertheless a solid Thursday night album… you know, the kind that is best played when it’s dark outside but it won’t get you all pumped up to go out and jumpstart your weekend.
Score: 7 out of 10

Unsane – Wreck

When Unsane lashes out with yet another album, you know what to expect by now. And that’s once again no different on “Wreck”, the band’s latest. Bassist Dave Curran and drummer Vincent Signorelli manage to make your stomach lurch by using sheer force. All the while Chris Spencer is unleashing hell with überheavy blues, all the while completely shredding his larynx with his manic howls.

Opener “Rat” hits you like an uppercut to the chin. At least “Decay” comes with a hint of melody but that’s before “No Chance” kicks in and drags you back to hell with a harmonica as your sole companion.

You won’t find any surprises on here because let’s be honest here… every Unsane album sounds the same. But stagnation rarely sounded this good and they manage to keep rattling your fillings as you work your way down the tracklisting, right down to the cover of Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha”.
Score: 8 out of 10

I Hate Our Freedom – This Year’s Best Disaster

If you haven’t heard of I Hate Our Freedom just yet, I strongly urge you to change that. Asap! Featuring members who have previously spent time in Garrison, Texas Is The Reason, Thursday and Milhouse, they come at you with guitars blazing and drums pounding.

“This Year’s Best Disaster” is already their second album and while “Seriously” was already pretty damn good, this one sounds even better. Which might have something to do with Kurt Ballou producing the album and making the songs shine even more. If you’re into the kind of driving rock meets post-hardcore that comes with a rough edge… you know, the kind that makes your pulse quicken, make sure to check out this album. Not a single bad song to be found!
Score: 8 out of 10

Authority Zero – Stories Of Survival

Mesa, Arizona’s Authority Zero originally released “Stories Of Survival” in 2010 on Suburban Noize Records but us Europeans had to wait up until now for it to be available over here. Not too many reggae-infused tunes this time around (save for the occasional track like “Big Bad World” or “The Movement”), but all the more fast rhythms and loud guitars.

It’s all very well made and comes with hooks and choruses in all the right places, plenty of variation between fast and more laidback tunes yet somehow the band never manages to reel me in. It’s the kind of formulaic punkrock that Authority Zero has been cranking out for years alongside a thousand other punkrock bands. “Struggling For Survival” might have been a more fitting album title.
Score: 6 out of 10

The Shins – Port Of Morrow

The 2012 version of The Shins is slightly different from what we were used to. Except for James Mercer, it’s basically an entirely new band. What has stayed the same however are their particular brand of indie pop tunes. Okay, “Port Of Morrow” sounds more polished and slicker than what we heard on “Wincing The Night Away”. But if you’ve listened to Broken Bells (Mercer’s other project) this can hardly come as a surprise. And it’s not a bad thing at all

The dreamy opener “The Rifle’s Spiral” immediately sets the mood with its reigned in grandeur, only to then be followed by the album’s first single “Simple Song”, a song that manages to mix autumn-y melancholy with the optimism that comes with spring in the best of ways. The bossa nova touch in “Bait And Switch” is a lot of fun as well and “40 Mark Strasse” is just plain endearing.

“Port Of Morrow” will probably not become my favourite Shins album but it’s still an extremely solid release that effortlessly bridges the gap between 60ies pop music, some decidedly 80ies sounds and the indie wave of the 90ies. No small feat but Mercer & co pull it off perfectly.
Score: 8.5 out of 10

Death By Stereo – Black Sheep Of The American Dream

Death By Stereo was a pretty solid band back in the day with albums like “If Looks Could Kill, I’d Watch You Die” and “Into The Valley Of Death”. It was the mix of punk, hardcore and metal coupled to Efrem Schulz’ great vocals that did me in. But the well seemed to have run dry once original members Paul and Jim Miner left the band with “Death Is My Only Friend” as the absolute low in the band’s careeer.

Fast-forward to 2012 which could be a turning point for Death By Stereo. They welcomed Paul Miner back into the fold and he not only played bass but also produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the new album. I can’t say that he is solely responsible but fact is “Black Sheep Of The American Dream” turned out to be a way better album than I was expecting it to be. The band once again sounds pissed off with a purpose and shows that there could very well be life after death indeed.
Score: 6.5 out of 10

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Listening to “Wrecking Ball” it becomes obvious pretty quick that the spirit of Pete Seeger hasn’t left Bruce Springsteen just yet. With plenty of banjo, mandolin, trumpets and a complete gospel choir aboard, Springsteen heads resolutely for folk territory on his most pissed off album to date. Pissed off? Yes, but only in the lyrics with stories about the bankers and their victims. Great stories wrapped great lyrics as always.

The music on the other hand is unfortunately not equally inspired. “Death To My Hometown” and “Shackled And Drawn” are decent folk songs but for the Boss decent just doesn’t cut it. Nope, then I prefer opener “We Take Care Of Our Own”, “The Depression” or “Land Of Hope And Dreams”, which has long since been a live favorite and has now finally found a home on an album. Oh, and the mariachi band in “We Are Alive” is fun as well. This in sharp contrast to Tom Morello’s contributions. Completely unnecessary? Yup.

It makes “Wrecking Ball” a glass half full/half empty kind of album… there are some great tracks on here but it comes with its fair share of clunkers as well. Luckily the lyrics make up for some of this but I still wouldn’t call this another Springsteen classic.
Score: 7 out of 10

Salim Nourallah – Hit Parade

When an album is being shelved for two years, there’s usually a good reason for it. That point is once again proven while listening to Salim Nourallah’s “Hit Parade”, a title which I can only assume is slightly tongue-in-cheek. Recorded in 2009 after a European tour, it took up until now for Tapete Records to release the thing.

With plenty of hints towards greats such as The Kinks, The Beatles and Elvis Costello, Nourallah works his way down the tracklisting without every becoming engaging. It’s just all trickles along quietly and towards the end even Nourallah himself sounds bored with the material.
Score: 5 out of 10

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

First Aid Kit are two Swedish sisters that listen to the names Johanna and Klara Söderberg. I first read about them a little while ago and was immediately smitten. Not because they look good (they do) but because the mail came with a link to “The Lion’s Roar”, the first single off of their second album with the same name. The song also serves as the album opener and is immediately followed by another instant country classic, “Emmylou”.

With the help of Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis, First Aid Kit recorded an album full of gentle, sweet songs that are… well, pretty. And cute. The lyrics might not dig too deep but it’s the way the songs float around and how the sisters’ voices swirl around each other, that lend the material an almost irresistible charm.

And it’s not just the first two songs that impress. Check out “I Found A Way” or “New Year’s Eve”… they’re easily as good as the abovementioned cuts. And by the time Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst joins in on “King Of The World”, you’ve long since been won over by this female version of Fleet Foxes.
Score: 8 out of 10

Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

The first words you hear on Justin Townes Earle’s new album are ‘hear my father on the radio’. Yup, this is Steve Earle’s son, but more than that Justin is a gifted songwriter who stands on his own two feet. Something he has already proven with his previous releases, especially 2010’s “Harlem River Blues”.

“Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now” (or the new one with the long name as I call it) sees Earle veering off in another direction, one that harkens back to the heydays of Memphis soul. Recorded live in just four days without any overdubs with the help of producer Skylar Wilson, the new one with the long name comes with a very warm, organic sound that’s holed up somewhere between country and soul. Some horns here, a little bit of organ there and a mostly laidback vibe… it’s all he needs to make this an awesome album. There are a couple of exceptions though… the rockabilly of “Baby’s Got A Bad Idea” or the upbeat “Maria”.

Most of the times though, Earle keeps things mellow… “Down On The Lower East Side” has a jazzy feel and there’s a little bit of “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” era Springsteen in “Unfortunately, Anna”. And then there are the songs where I don’t care what or who they sound like, they’re just amazing. Check “Look The Other Way”!

Basically – okay, I’ll type the whole damn name here – “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now” is a pretty much flawless album that could just as well have been recorded in the sixties, seventies, eigh… well, maybe not the eighties… but it comes with an equally ‘here and now’ vibe… timeless tuneage!
Score: 9 out of 10

Weedeater – Jason… The Dragon

What the…I had no idea that Gollum played in a band! But apparently he’s fronting a doom outfit called Weedeater. They have a penchant for sludgy riffs, lame puns in the album title (their previous album was called “God Luck And Good Speed”) and a vocalist you keep expecting to say ‘my precious’ . Oh, they also like to flirt with Southern rock… check out the banjo in “Whiskey Creek”. Most of all this is loud, dark and obnoxious though but without a whole lot of variation going on, making the album seem a lot longer than it actually is. And doom already isn’t a genre known for speeding things along.
Score: 6 out of 10