It’s hard not to think of DJ Jazzy Jeff as the partner of The Fresh Prince – aka Will Smith. The late 80’s and early 90’s featured a near constant stream of radio and MTV hits from the duo. Once Will Smith broke into television, he made sure DJ Jazzy Jeff – aka Jeffrey Townes – had a constant presence on his hit show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The Fresh Prince started putting out records under his new name (some of them still featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff), and DJ Jazzy Jeff put out two critically acclaimed records and an impressive amount of mix tapes. The last decade or so has found Jeff DJ’ing throughout the world, producing records, and reminding the world that he is one of the world’s premier DJ’s – setting moods, scratching, and mixing with an expert ear. M3 marks his 1st album in 11 years and is the final chapter of the Magnificent trilogy. It just may be his finest solo work yet.
Gaz Coombes is perhaps an unlikely solo star. At the height of Britpop in the mid 90’s, he fronted Supergrass – a band lumped in with the scene but who were more punk inspired, more fun, and yet – had a deep sense of melancholy as their career progressed. My personal favorite was the underrated self titled third album, with my favorite Supergrass song What Went Wrong (In Your Head). The songs struck a balance between sadness and euphoria, something that will endlessly appeal to me. 3 albums more would follow before the band split in 2010 citing the usual musical differences. As a solo artist, Coombes has deepened his sound while retaining some of the elements that we loved about him in Supergrass. You just have to dig a little deeper to find that playfulness. Middle age is a bitch. World’s Strongest Man is his 3rd album and it just may be his finest album yet.
The Classic Hunt are a new – but not new to the scene – band based out of Philadelphia, PA. My hometown and where I spent my 1st 24 ½ years. The band describe themselves as “psychedelic-folk-jazz-punk-blues” and I can’t think of a more apt description. The confidence displayed in their first officially released recordings betrays the depth of experience that each member brings to the table. The band was founded by keyboardist and singer Tyler Hayduk who has made a name himself in various Philadelphia bands – even opening for GZA on the 2012 Liquid Swords tour. After laying down songs that hinted at a new direction, the full band came together through jam sessions in early 2017. The band is now composed of Tyler, Brendan Burke (guitar), Andrew Haff (guitar), Jude Alvarez (bass), and Aaron Wolf (drums). Full disclosure – Jude is related to a relative of mine, though we aren’t officially related. All through “the law”. The Lyrids is the band’s debut. And what a debut it is.
The Lyrids takes its title from the annual meteor shower that takes place from April 16th to April 26th each year. A nice variation on the “April Showers” expression, the EP release coincides with these celestial happenings. The title of the EP is a nod towards the in-depth intellectual wit on display in the lyrics on all 4 songs. Back to Life starts the album with a bit of a jangle pop feel. Hayduk’s vocals kick in and sound like a mix of 90’s alternative and Bob Dylan. A tone poem story longing for simplicity in the face of life’s complexities, it keeps coming back to the phrase “I’m dying to…fuck you…back to life”. And the way it is phrased comes off as a statement of intent. Perfect. The sound fades out on a Guns ‘N Roses / Slash type guitar solo. Which is the way to my heart, truly. Catalina has my favorite line on the record: “The company was on point / They smell like lavender and pumpkin pie”. I can picture that, I’ve been there, you probably have too. The guitars shimmer like something from The Chameleons and the bass line just kills – anchoring the whole thing down. The song does a great job of building – and sustaining – a mysterious vibe that keeps the listener entranced. A catharsis of sorts is reached in the last minute or so when the band jams to another killer guitar solo. Sunflowers for Rye continues with the cryptic atmosphere. The band’s interplay is particularly exceptional on this track, the space between the instruments really allowing the players to flourish. Lyrically, this is devastating stuff. “Are you holding me / Or are you holding me back?”. Star Vultures brings things full circle – jangle pop that is an altogether lighter affair than the previous two songs. This is also the song where the EP takes its title from. Of course, that’s not in the chorus. The chorus reminds me of a big 90’s alternative hit single. I can envision the video filmed in downtown Philly as Hayduk sings “Don’t watch me walk away without saying goodbye”. A perfect way to end a perfect EP.
The EP is available now on Bandcamp. You can also follow them on The Social Network. The band has an album release show coming on May 18th at Orlieb’s in Philadelphia. Limited edition CD’s will be available at that show. I can’t praise this band enough – absolutely worth checking out. They just may be the next addition to the legacy of great bands hailing from Philadelphia.
Verdict: Promising Debut
For Fans of: The Essex Green, Lilys, Mojave 3, The Band, The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub
- Back To Life
- Sunflowers for Rye
- Star Vultures
Eels have always presented a conundrum for me – for every heartbreaking song that touches my soul they’ve had a bland middle of the road mid-tempo rocker that did nothing for me. 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues was the rare album that hit me fully on just about every song. Nuanced, emotional, depressing – it hit everything that I love. Other albums have come close, while others have been forgettable. It’s been 4 years since Mark Oliver Everett’s Eels have released an album. That album – 2014’s The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett represented a solid record with a few mix tape worthy songs of note. 2018’s The Deconstruction betters this in just about every way. In fact, it might be my favorite Eels album in almost 20 years.
It’s been 2 years since we last heard from Dinosaur Jr. in their highly successful and drama free reunion period. 2016’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not was the perfect blend of noise, melody, and melancholy (and my favorite song was a Lou Barlow tune). In fact, it ranks very highly in my “Favorite Dinosaur Jr. albums” imaginary list. Also the supporting show at The Showbox in Seattle was insanely amazing (and loud). Hold Unknown is (apparently) a one-off single as part of the Adult Swim Singles Series. A slab of pop punk that will bring a smile to your face. A J. Mascis fronted tune that is joyous and infectious. A recommended tune that will be worth the $1 spent.
2017 saw the release of Weather Diaries – the 1st album released by Ride in over 20 years. It was also the last reunion shoegaze album to arrive, preceded by My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Swervedriver, and Slowdive. Strangely enough, unlike those other bands, Ride’s comeback album didn’t receive across the board glowing reviews. It probably doesn’t surprise my readers that Ride’s album was my favorite of the lot. Not totally ignoring the band’s Britpop phase, nodding to the shoegaze early albums, and yet pointing towards a new direction. It didn’t land on most end of the year lists, but it was near the top of mine (the one that I forgot to write for this site). Tomorrow’s Shore is a quick 4 song EP follow-up, and was cut from the same cloth as Weather Diaries.
Amazingly, the EP doesn’t have the sound of leftovers or b-sides – these tunes stand on their own (and actually would have been among the strongest album tracks on Weather Diaries). Pulsar is a nice mix of shoegaze, white noise, and melody. It is the perfect opening track. Lyrically, it’s a stunner. “Like the summer always fainted and the wind gets cool on your skin / You know that something was will never be here again”. Surreal has a Britpop feel to it with just the right amount of sounds f/x. The last two songs are really where the EP shines. Cold Water People finally shows the reunited Ride not ignoring their Carnival of Light days (actually, my personal favorite album by them). Melody, mellow, Britpop, classicist – what a song. The lyrics. Man, this is a band just completely in sync. “Life as jagged as your favorite song / But love is forever”. Catch You Dreaming is the single, and it encapsulates everything great about this EP – a bit experimental, strong melodies, emotional. Slight nod to the shoegaze days with a strong chorus. Andy Bell explains that the song “is written from the perspective of being one of the last two people alive, watching as the Universe is ending”. Vocally, it is a haunting performance from Andy Bell (hard to believe he was able to stay to the side in Oasis and Beady Eye for so many years). It is a stunning closer to a stunning EP.
The EP is available at all the usual places online or local record shops. It it is highly recommend.
Verdict: Ride ride again
For Fans of: Slowdive, The Beatles, Lush, Badfinger, Mansun,
- Keep It Surreal
- Cold Water People
- Catch You Dreaming
AAA Battery is a cross-country collaboration between guitarist Fred A. Jeske (based in Chicago), bassist Joe A. Maydak (based in San Francisco), and singer Spookey A. Ruben (based in Los Angeles). The music doesn’t suffer from its file swapping origins – the band dubs it “prog you can dance to” which is an apt of a description as I can think of. In fact, many songs brought to mind the one-off Tool side project, Lusk from the mid 90’s (also – still the only Tool related thing I own, with apologies to all the other related bands). Alternative guitars slot in comfortably with horns and progressive rhythms. Corrosion of Buddha is the band’s sophomore release and is an homage to the corrosion of the human spirit. As singer Fred Jeske explains “…the songs represent individual streams of known imbalance based on relationships, political filtering and overall sight of the ongoing devolution of our planet and people”. It also helps that it is a great record.
Runaway With The Gold is the album opener and serves as a statement of intent. An almost ska feel with the horns and underlying deep bass. Bonus points for a jam in the middle of the song. The title track has abrasive elements jutting up against melody to great effect. Invisible has such a latter-day Bowie feel to it I had to double-check the credits. Musically, this is all about atmosphere. Vocals intertwine with the lead guitar, really giving it a space vibe. Stunning. The song fades out on an amazing instrumental coda. Techno And The Man has an intro that reminded me quite a bit of a mid period Red Hot Chili Peppers funk jam. The song segues into a bizarre sounding tune that is equal parts Primus and the 60’s Batman theme song. Pretty awesome, in other words. Landfills, A Meditation is probably my favorite song on the record. The intro vocals call to mind Neil Young & Crazy Horse with a dash of The Beach Boys for good measure. It then segues into a dark soundscape instrumental for the last 5 minutes or so. Perfection.
Verdict: Prog You Can Dance To
For Fans of: Lusk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, David Bowie, Porno for Pyros
- Runaway With The Gold
- Taxi Heart
- Corrosion of Buddha
- Victim Of My Life
- Techno And The Man
- Sunshine Flies
- August Blade
- Landfills, A Meditation
- Medicine Box