Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg

In the late 90’s I found myself outside of Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern desperately trying to listen to a sold out Super Furry Animals show. The Welsh band were about to release another masterpiece in the form of Guerilla and were playing a mix of hit songs and yet to be released songs. Sadly, the sound was almost imperceptible from the street and I went on my way walking around the city. It was a sign of things to come, unfortunately – each time Super Furry Animals or Gruff Rhys solo came to town I’d either have a show lined up already (Black Sabbath being the most notable) or simply couldn’t make it. That’ll change this October when I finally take in a Gruff Rhys solo show in an intimate venue. He’ll be supporting his latest solo album, Babelsberg one of the finest records he’s been involved with, solo or otherwise.

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Kanye West – ye

I used to love Kanye West – it’s true. Through his 1st four albums he never failed to entertain me, make laugh, and with 808 & Heartbreak, make me feel real emotions. I wrote him off before most people (how’s THAT for know it all hipster statement) and was bewildered as he increasingly became more outlandish. I was also baffled at the accolades he received for each album that was released – I’d give them cursory spins and write them off, never to listen to them again. I was wrong. In recent months, Kanye West has come out as a Donald Trump supporter (or did he?), questioned the role of slavery in US history, and pretty much turned off a large majority of the audience who loved him. I’m not sure if it is all an act or if these are legitimate feelings. But I couldn’t shake the notion that people turning their back on Kanye West now were overlooking the bizarre antics and statements he made during his peak popularity. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. But from the moment I played ye I was entranced. This is the sound of a man hurting inside. Confusion. Poetry. Maybe because it coincided with losing a friend to suicide, I’m not sure – but ye hits me in a way that no Kanye album has for years. Continue reading

DJ Jazzy Jeff – M3

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.

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Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man

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.

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The Classic Hunt – The Lyrids EP

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

Tracks:

  1. Back To Life
  2. Catalina
  3. Sunflowers for Rye
  4. Star Vultures

Eels – The Deconstruction

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.

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Dinosaur Jr. – Hold Unknown

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.