Essential New Music: Supersuckers’ “Holdin’ The Bag”


Eternal rabble-rouser Eddie Spaghetti and Co. return with another helping of shit-kicker power country in the vein of 1997’s Must’ve Been High. Guest spots from the incomparable Hayes Carll and sultry crooner Lydia Loveless only add to that allure. The release falls on the heels of the frontman’s battle with stage-three oropharanx cancer and a string of cancelled European dates; he promises to make a full recovery complete with touring in support. Godspeed, Eddie. From the hell-bent harp howling of the album-opening title track to the perhaps tongue-in-cheek backhand at the state of so-called pop country and its seemingly nonsensical, at times uncreative wordplay on “Let’s Bounce,” Holdin’ The Bag pleases the punks and suppresses the alt-country garage rockers alike. Choice covers of Bocephus and Shaver close out the record like a late-round one-two combination.

—Scott Zuppardo

Essential New Music: Lou Barlow’s “Brace The Wave”


Lou Barlow is a legit legend—if, as he’d probably prefer it, of the little-“l” variety—and every bit as much an old-guard indie-rock lifer as Malkmus, Pollard or, say, his old nemesis Mascis. If he lacks much of those dudes’ cachet and practically any of their mystique, put it down to his unassuming, emphatically casual persona, as reflected by his preferred aesthetic modes, both aural and visual: low-key, low-strung, lowercase and lo-fi. Historically speaking, at least. Brace The Wave, like the two previous Barlow LPs, is a notably more polished and considered affair than his erstwhile Sentridoh offerings, though it captures a comparable sense of intimacy and immediacy. (Elliott Smith’s Either/Or is a decent reference point, sonically and otherwise.) Given the prolificacy (and, you know, lenient self-editing) of Barlow’s home-taping decades, it’s telling that, even trailing his last album by six years (which saw the continuation of successful reunions for both Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr), this outing contains a mere nine songs. Frill-free cover on down, this is a deliberately small record: trim, but hardly slight. Each song boasts a strong, memorable melody, buoyed as always by Barlow’s familiarly resonant, expressive, pliable voice, and there’s an appreciable dynamic range within its generally understated, drum-free palette—from poppy, burnished near-rocker “Boundaries” to the sweet, gentle acoustic picking of “Repeat.” Standout “Nerve” builds from a gruff, jagged off-kilter march into an unexpectedly lush, harmonized chorus: “What’s wrong with wanting more than I deserve?” As usual, he’s selling himself short. Go get it, Lou!

—K. Ross Hoffman

Essential New Music: !!!’s “As If”


The saga of !!! (or Chk Chk Chk, or whatever clicking, clacking noise you can muster) is as long and cluttered—yet ultimately straightforward and simple—as its music. Nearly 20 years old, !!! was the dance-punk California creation of singer Nic Offer, guitarist Mario Andreoni and a handful of throwaways from Black Liquorice and the Yah Mos. With its first album in 2000, !!! beat other skittering, chanty rock-rhythm ensembles such as the Juan Maclean and LCD Soundsystem to the punch. Still, somehow Juan and James Murphy’s LCD got the headlines and hits, and had the stronger profiles. To an extent, !!!’s rock-’em-sock-’em brand of punk-funk may have been sharper and shard-ier due to the DFA label connection to NYC and Rhode Island. The funk is harder on the East Coast, the contrast between the airy chill of the band’s melodies against the heat of its catty grooves more clearly delineated. (Sorry for the weather report.) Which is why As If kicks a bit more ass than its five studio predecessors, as the !!! crew exists more as a New York City-based group now, with a greater focus on pumped-up pulses to go with the sinewy melodies. There’s less of a floating, jive-y jam-band sound, with the oblong disco of “Freedom! ’15,” the party-ball pop of “Bam City” and the salty R&B house-music mix of “Sick Ass Moon” offering contrapuntal melodies that are Moebius-stripped to tight-ass perfection alongside biggish beats. As If offers something close to perfection, as far as !!! goes.

—A.D. Amorosi

Essential New Music: David Bowie’s “Five Years 1969-1973”


Thursday, July 6, 1972. Britain’s youth tune in to the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. They are confronted by a performance as stylish, subversive and iconic as the Beatles on Ed Sullivan or, later, the Sex Pistols creating drunken havoc on the Bill Grundy show. The hype had been building through the year, but nothing prepared the nation for the eye-popping vision of David Bowie flouncing shamelessly through “Starman” with the Spiders From Mars. Parents were appalled, but the kids suddenly had a new pop messiah, and a bright new future beckoned. By the end of the year, Bowie had reinvented himself as Ziggy Stardust and taken America.

It wasn’t an overnight success story. Far from it. Bowie had been floundering around the British pop hinterland for almost a decade, flitting from image to image with little commercial success. And it’s this trajectory—from stumbling beginnings to cultural lightning rod—that’s captured on Five Years 1969-1973, a magnificent behemoth of a boxed set.

Technically speaking, it might be better renamed Four Years (which doesn’t quite have the same ring or the play upon the song title), but you get the gist, as 1969-1972 was where Bowie found his voice as an artist, building and cementing his legend. 1973 was the year he consolidated his newfound status as the world’s preeminent postmodern pop star, witnessed here by the nervy, wired glam-rock thrills of Aladdin Sane and the odds ‘n’ sods of Pinups. Elsewhere, Bowie fans with money to burn get all four of his other (remastered) studio albums of the period (David BowieThe Man Who Sold The WorldHunky DoryThe Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars), two live albums (Live Santa Monica ’72, the Ziggy motion-picture soundtrack), plus a 2003 Ken Scott remix of Ziggy and—one for the completists—Re:Call 1, a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks, as is de rigueur with such collections.

The average Bowie obsessive will most likely own a great deal of this, and any fan of pop music in general with even a modicum of taste and style should own at least two of these albums (Hunky Dory and Ziggy, in case you were wondering). So, what’s the point, other than to enrich the already substantial Bowie coffers? It’s an historical artifact, one put carefully together by Dame David himself, an attempt to ensure his historical legacy, one that follows his path from uncertainty to legend—and in doing so, altering the course of pop music and defining a decade. And really, you can’t ask for much more than that.

—Neil Ferguson

Essential New Music: Glenn Mercer’s “Incidental Hum”


Three years ago, Feelies guitarist Glenn Mercer had the idea to create atmospheric accompaniments to the pictures in his mind, folding in not only his guitar influences, but also subliminal movie-soundtrack references—particularly spaghetti-Westerns and horror films. He called the project Incidental Hum, burned CD-Rs of the recordings and sold them at Feelies shows. Incidental Hum is finally getting an official release, and it’s a fascinating peek into Mercer’s attic of influential detritus. “Hana” sounds like a George Harrison outtake, “Kara Sea” bubbles and boils like a J Mascis slow-burn, and “Winslow” drifts along like vintage Robert Fripp. Mercer’s three covers are perhaps the most telling; “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” reveals Mercer’s dedication to traditional melody, even as he fiddles with context; “Third Stone From The Sun” shows his debt to Jimi Hendrix as a guitarist and innovator; and his swingy spin through “Here Come The Warm Jets” spotlights his love of Brian Eno’s art-damaged classicism and experimentalism.

—Brian Baker

Essential New Music: The Icarus Line’s “All Things Under Heaven”


Since arriving some 13 years back, the diseased minds within California’s Icarus Line never intended to be your pals. They wanted to be contrary, confrontational, difficult—as if punk took more the no-wave path in its infancy, rather than merely re-energizing traditional rock ‘n’ roll forms. With its eighth studio full-length release, the Icarus Line has created a masterful artistic achievement that can scarcely be listened to. The musical sweep is epic, highly orchestrated, far from the Black Flag-meets-the Birthday Party bashing that was its initial m.o. Now the band seems to have entered its Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds phase, right down to a Warren Ellis cameo. Except Cave and crew never unleashed anything as malevolent and destructive as the music here. Musically alone, visions of hatred, violence and chaos are evoked—unrelenting negativity. The Icarus Line has now created music so evil that black metal sounds like nursery rhymes in comparison.

Tim Stegall

Essential New Music: Jawbox’s “Jawbox”


Now that we’re in the era of car-commercial “indie” rock, it’s quaint to think back on a time when calling a band a bunch of sellouts was the most slanderous thing you could say. But those were the scene politics of 1994, when Jawbox left DIY-label Dischord for mega-label Atlantic to release For Your Own Special Sweetheart. The major-label courtship ended just two years later with the release of the band’s self-titled album. Atlantic dropped the four-piece soon after, Jawbox disbanded not long after that, and all it had to show for its trouble was two of the best albums of the mid-’90s. Those records were out of print until the band’s own DeSoto imprint finally reacquired the rights. Jawbox was rereleased digitally in 2006, and now it has a physical reissue. The band’s fourth and final record smooths some of the edges of its admittedly better predecessor. But it’s also more sonically restless, pulling in sounds and textures that strayed further from the group’s post-hardcore roots than it ever had before or ever would again.

—Matt Sullivan

Essential New Music: Battles’ “La Di Da Di”


When Animal Collective gets the “post-Y2K Phish” tag, it’s more in reference to the group’s position as the house band for an individualism-allergic cultish hive-mind fan demographic—and a huge one at that. Reading the term “New Weird America” should have induced nausea when coined in 2003, but the bastardization of weird only spread, and regarding not so much the music, but the consistent overcompensating dependence on substance-free ALL-CAPS overt-ness, there remains a “Mr. Bungling of Experimental Music” thanks to nonsense like Man Man, CocoRosie, Yeasayer, John Maus and the adult-adolescent McDonald’s PlayPlace supervised by Dan Deacon.

To genuine music people who process listening experiences on a sonic, intellectual and emotional level, there’s a clear distinction between Battles’ body of work and the aforementioned hit squad poking experimental underground rock with a slow-acting poison-tipped umbrella. While 2011’s much-loved Gloss Drop had a few unsubtle and totally unnecessary organic-averse elements, this was probably in reaction to the preceding departure of founding member Tyondai Braxton. But third full-length La Di Da Di takes Battles’ proprietary musical invention that contemporaries were still far from catching up to, and makes the effort categorically futile.

The noticeable lack of Battles being referenced in other bands’ music is that even a grossly inadequate imitation is impossible to pull off. For the uninitiated, there isn’t the luxury of space to describe how co-founders Ian Williams (guitar and too much else to list), John Stanier (drums and ditto) and Dave Konopka (bass and ditto) make music, and as far as what it sounds like or the stylistic framework? The risk of appearing lazy and stepping out of the way to let this consummate artistic triumph speak for itself.

—Andrew Earles

Essential New Music: Silversun Pickups’ “Better Nature”


Why Better Nature is billed as Silversun Pickups’ “most human music thus far” is something of a mystery. The slinky, dreamy Los Angeles quartet’s fourth full-length is hardly a stripped-down effort. Organic elements do not feel unusually emphasized; heavy processing has not been lightened. Indeed, the quest to locate the sweet spot between hyper-layered My Bloody Valentine-esque sonic shimmer, Spoon’s propulsive, tight rhythmic drive and the expansive electronica of Violator-era Depeche Mode (last heard on SP’s 2012 Neck Of The Woods) essentially carries on apace. (Pro tip: A band that releases a hallucinatory music film rather than a music video is probably not about to drop its Nebraska on your unsuspecting skull.)

Do evolution and cultivation rear their heads throughout? Sure. Yet, engaging and alluring as this fresh coat of cool on an easily recognizable sonic vehicle may be, Better Nature nonetheless remains an album destined to placate—not trip out—fans. Nurture kicked the shit out of nature this time out.

—Shawn Macomber

Essential New Music: Lucero’s “All A Man Should Do”


The biggest stumbling block for a band like Lucero—which has sculpted and defined its own sound after what seems like 377 years (give or take) on the write/record/tour circuit—is generating new material that not only cuts the mustard, but doesn’t simply rewrite past glories and successes. Of course, a definite stylistic thread exists—the alt-country folk/punk supporting structure, the honky-tonking old soul feel, and Ben Nichols’ always incisive lyrics and gritty storytelling—but there are spots where you can almost hear Lucero slipping with “The Man I Was” and “Throwback No. 2,” which sound sparse and sleepy, almost lazy. Thankfully, those are the rarer occasions of album number 11, as the Memphis ambassadors display strength after songwriting strength on the infectious chorus of “Went Lookin’ For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles,” the driving, forceful horns of “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” and the sizzling boogie of “Young Outlaws.”

—Kevin Stewart-Panko