David Bazan (Pedro The Lion, Headphones) has never had the answers. His first two solo records, 2009’s Curse Your Branches and 2011’s Strange Negotiations lived inside questions. Questions of politics, of relationships, of addiction, and of God. For anyone looking to art to remove doubt, Bazan is not that refuge. With a catalogue that orbits the darkest corners of the human experience, his songs are the tiny pinprick of light, the first breath coming up for air, the rest stop on a trip with no destination.
Having spent half of the last decade on tour, away from home, Bazan wrote his new songs from the wandering life of a traveling troubadour. And while there is joy in that life, Blanco is born of its challenges. It’s what, and whom, he leaves at home that you hear on Blanco. Made up of tracks that were previously available in a very limited edition 7” vinyl series called Bazan Monthly, Volume 1 and Volume 2, Bazan started the project to see what kind of songs would come if he sat down in a small bedroom in his basement, propelled by a deadline, kids sleeping upstairs, and wrote from the duality that had blocked him from writing before – what it means to have a home, and have to constantly leave it to make ends meet.
These are home songs, songs about returning, songs about not quite knowing what it means to return. They long for home with the ache of a child, and they dissect that longing with a surgeon’s precision. They also signal the end of the organic singer/songwriter mode that he never loved but seemed to be mired in anyway, with delay and distortion binding layers of drum machine and synth together. Guitar comes in as a sweet reminder of where he started, but stays sparse. Blanco continues to ask questions, but they are the questions of a man who has found contentment within them. Who has somehow, against odds, made a home in them.
RIYL: Pedro The Lion, Destroyer, Andy Shauf, Mountain Goats, Eric Bachmann
TRY: #3, 5, 6
"Robert Francis has been crafting burnished folk poesy since he was a teenager. He’s negotiated turbulent times, both personal and professional, without losing the distinctive voice and lyrical dexterity that have made his four full-lengths so compelling. In fact, those negotiations seem ongoing, as they tend to be, and they have yielded the songs on “Fire Engine Red,” his fifth album, due May 13. It’s the result of a creative burst inspired by Francis’ escaping his native Los Angeles.
“While recording in L.A., a writer for Vice Magazine, Aldo Monterrubio, flew out to interview me about the ups and downs of the music industry,” the 28-year-old songwriter explains. “We spoke mostly about the struggle and maintenance that is required of artists to continue to create in a climate that is usually not in our favor. Being in Los Angeles at this time had me uninspired. Aldo suggested I come to León, Mexico, and so I did. Recording in León felt more like the Deep South than the South does today. This was Muscle Shoals. There was no tourism, no musical history, nothing but a city of stucco houses, corrugated steel roofs, thunderstorms and 10 cent beers. As I began to spend more time in León, I couldn’t help but be affected by the culture. I started writing more songs. This time instead of writing for ‘myself,’ I started writing ‘out of myself’ for other people.”
If “Fire Engine Red” sounds like the songwriter’s most outward-looking collection of songs yet, it’s probably a reaction to these turbulent times — the world’s more than his — to which he bears witness.
Says Francis: “We are living in an incongruous era. Pop music is bigger than ever. Our voting system is rigged. A billionaire promoting violence can be president. The oldest cities on earth are being leveled. This is a warm record and I wanted it to feel like somewhere you can escape to when everything else is too much.” - Buzzbands.la
RIYL: John Hiatt, Jeff Buckley, Langhorne Slim, Conor Oberst, Devendra Banhart
TRY: #1, 3, 4, 8
"Ramones worship with all the spirit, power pop hooks, and speed that you need to pull something like this off. It’s not just Ramones though. For one, Mean Jeans have a lot more guitar solos than those early Ramones records. They also have a different sense of humor, with track titles like “4 Coors Meal” and “Michael Jackson Was Tight,” and they even bring synthesizers in on closing track “Are There Beers In Heaven?” (There’s that sense of humor again.) It’s a fun record that rocks from start to finish..." - Brooklyn Vegan
"Tight New Dimension stands as a strong batch of catchy, fist-pumping anthems that land somewhere between the straight-ahead pop-punk of the band's first LP, Are You Serious?, and the more polished power-pop of the follow up, On Mars. " - PunkNews
Since forming in 2006, Mean Jeans have become one of the better-known bands of the Pacific Northwest punk scene for their chaotic but relentless attack, raucous live shows, and fierce commitment to the art of partying.
With two full-lengths under their belt on Dirtnap Records, and a slew of 7”s; Fat finally landed these party animals for their much anticipated third album. Tight New Dimension furthers the band’s absurdist party-punk agenda. The music is tight, Ramones-influenced pop-punk with garage-rock attitude. The song titles are gloriously literal, positing such deep thoughts as “Michael Jackson Was Tight” (about the King Of Pop), “4 Coors Meal” (sure to be the new liquid diet craze) and “Are There Beers In Heaven?” (an existential question everyone will likely face at some point in their lives). When it comes to lyrics, Mean Jeans is happy to keep it simple.
RIYL: The Spits, Teenage Bottlerocket, Ramones, Jay Reatard, Joyce Manor, Titus Andronicus
TRY: #2, 4, 8
Born from optimistic attitudes, star-studded backgrounds in the music industry, and penchants for life’s finer things (including cold beer and broads), the NYC-based collective of seasoned musicians known as Cold Beer & Broads was built upon the mutual friendship among Larry Studnicky (songwriter/lead & backup vocals), Charles Czarnecki (producer/songwriter/keyboards, percussion/lead & backup vocals), and John Macom (songwriter, rhythm & electric guitars/lead & backup vocals). The group is rounded out by Mike DoCampo (rhythm & electric guitars, backup vocals) and backup singers Christina Benedetto and Sabrina Ann Curry.
“There are Jennifer Aniston obsessions... then there are ‘Jennifer Aniston obsessions’. The latter takes centre stage in a quirky and ever-so-slightly eccentric music video for Cold Beer & Broads‘ new song. Titled Jennifer Aniston (Why Are You Married?), it stars model and stand-up Chelsea Skidmore as a woman with an unhealthy interest in the Friends star.” – LOADED
“The single is as catchy as it is cheeky, spiked with Devo-esque synthesized panache, and you’ll soon find yourself singing along to the loving, longing chorus.” – ELMORE
Islands return with not one, but TWO new albums on May 13. These are two distinct, entirely unique records, each one a wholly individual offering. The forthcoming albums, Taste and Should I Remain Here At Sea? will be released on limited edition vinyl and digitally via Manqué Music.
In keeping with the dual nature of things, Islands has announced east and west coast tours in the spring. The west coast run will be supported by Honus Honus (of Man Man), while the east coast dates will be supported by Lushlife.
SPIN has premiered a playlist featuring "The Joke" from Taste and "Christmas Tree" from Should I Remain Here At Sea?. Islands Nick Thorburn told SPIN, "'The Joke' is Islands’ first real attempt at anything overtly political, a reaction to the racial tensions and police brutality in America and the struggle to galvanize the general population against injustice and indifference." He adds, "'Christmas Tree,' recorded entirely live in one take, represents the personal, a further exploration of what Freud termed the death drive; a willingness to self-destruct completely. I’m calling it now: the song of the summer!"
This winter, Stereogum premiered "Back Into It" from Should I Remain Here At Sea? and "Charm Offensive" from Taste. Thorburn says,"Back Into It' "is a study in contradiction. It’s a bright, loose affair, with bubblegum backing vocals and major key guitar chugging, but you don’t have to dig that deep to hear the venom, acrimonious and sour. When someone rains on your parade, make rain on your parade lemonade." By contrast, he says, "'Charm Offensive' is all sharp angles, smooth lines and mechanical melodies, but just underneath is a desire for the round edges, the soft corners, a loose swing and some crude revelry. I was trying to express that urge to find the good times, and let the bad ones go. To stop using songwriting as a pool to wallow in. To find the light, to sneak in, “pull back the shades, see the darkness fade”.
Last summer, Islands decamped to a little studio in Toronto to record the upcoming albums.
Taste, Islands’ sixth record, is a muscular, crystalline affair, with the majority of the music electronic, buoyed by drum machines, programming and arpeggiated vintage synths. The songs still flirt with Islands’ bread and butter; evergreens such as ennui, remorse, and a general disenchantment with the modern world hover over the tracks, with lines like “we got so thrown, we felt lost at home” and “steal a little moment, lose it like you own it”, to hammer home the point. The songs cut a wide swath, however, and also go in directions that Islands has never tackled, including police brutality and white male privilege (!).
Should I Remain Here At Sea? (a semi-reference to Tarkovsky’s "Solaris") Islands’ seventh album is, in many ways, a spiritual sequel to the debut album, 2006’s Return to the Sea; a natural, raw record, stripped down to it’s essentials, performed live off the floor. Reflecting on the decade that has elapsed, SIRHAS kicks off with a darkly funny tartness, tackling religion, race, addiction, and murderous fantasies, but by midpoint, the songs give way to a resigned and doleful melancholia, tackling heartache, numb disillusionment and emotional disorientation through the guise of stupid parrots, the Internet, sea turtles and perhaps the loneliest maritimer to ever sail the seas. It was recorded as spontaneously as could be, with some of the songs captured live in one take, vocals and all.
Both albums were produced by Nick Thorburn and Evan Gordon. Taste was mixed by Roger Levinsand and SIRHAS was mixed by Rob Schnapf. About the process, Nick says: “Contained on these albums are the saddest songs I've ever written, the funniest songs I've ever written, the catchiest songs, and the most satisfying songs. Excuse all the superlatives, but I honestly don't think I've ever walked away from a recording process more fulfilled and invigorated."
RIYL: The Unicorns, Of Montreal, Wolf Parade
TRY: #1, 6 - DIRTY: #4, 8 on SIRHAS
TRY: #1, 9, 11 on Taste