Michael Toland began scribbling about music in 1988 for the photocopied ‘zine FHT Music Notes. He’s since written for various print and online publications, including Pop Culture Press (for whom he was reviews editor for several years), Texas Music (of which he was a founding editor), Trouser Press, Sleazegrinder, Sonic Ruin, Amplifier, Goldmine, Austin Citysearch the Austin American Statesman, Blurt and the Austin Chronicle. He was also the creator and grand poobah of the music-obsessive web site High Bias (2001-2006). He lives in Austin, Texas and works for public television.
The leader of Austin’s long-running pop/rock outfit Moonlight Towers, James “JM” Stevens knows how to craft a good song.
Four: Three clocks in at three songs in eleven minutes of new wavy pop glory.
For twenty years, Clay Walton and John Wilkins have been wielding acoustic guitars in service of scorched ambience as FiRES WERE SHOT.
AIR has been remarkably consistent over its near-two decade career, and Eternal keeps its winning streak going.
This record’s return to the spotlight as a double-vinyl reissue, with bonus tracks, is well-deserved – not just because of its status as ECM’s debut, but simply because it’s an excellent record in its own right.
For her tenth album Not Far From Here, German pianist Julia Hülsmann expands her working trio (herself, bassist Marc Muellbauer, drummer Henrich Köbberling) to a quartet with the addition of tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff. Though, as leader of the band, Hülsmann sets the agenda, this group is a true collective, with each member bringing tunes to the table.
Live at Yoshiwara is music made at a high level, but with an accessibility and humor that makes it cracking entertainment as much as high art.
Swiss quartet Sonar takes a unique approach to its music by tuning all of its guitars and bass to tritones, also known as augmented fourths.
Ah, the virtues of two guitars, bass, drums and melody.
Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue is one of those strange cases where the bandleader becomes the least well-known member of his own gig.
The second album from Canadian soul singer Tanika Charles, The Gumption recalls R&B classics of a bygone age.
Inspired by his travels in Spain and Portugal, the album mixes fado and flamenco into his usual folk and psych pop.
Playing and singing everything himself in the Todd Rundgren tradition, Jones packs his ten-song debut with winsome tunes that stick to the ear like honey from a comb.
Born in 1973 thanks to the patronage of Kim Fowley and done by the late 70s, the Hollywood Stars are one of those worthy bands that got lost in the shuffle, mainly due to timing.
Laufer’s fifth full-length (and first in almost a decade), The Floating World is full of the kind of lush, bittersweet pop that makes music nerds nod in appreciation of its intricacies and more casual listeners sigh with pleasure.
Joined here by Audra guitarist Bret Helm and longtime co-vocalist Ericah Hagle, bandleader Michael Laird curates a program of melancholy ballads and mini-anthems that pay tribute to grief, romance and altered states of being.
Pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian constituted a fearsome free jazz trio in the sixties, expanding on the fine work by Bley’s former sideman Ornette Coleman and showing what a piano trio could do with the form. Despite the excitement and acclaim the band generated, it went strangely under-recorded.
Back in the nineties, singer/songwriter Peter Hutchison led Subduing Mara and (with Miracle Legion guitarist Mr. Ray Neal) Lucas Shine, a pair of alternative rock powerhouses that never caught on with more than a small cult audience. Talent and passion persevere, however, and now Hutchison has a new band called Empire of Light.
Arising from the sessions for Supercalifragile, the final, posthumous Game Theory album, Salt turns on the collaboration of Posies co-frontman Ken Stringfellow, singer/songwriter Anton Barbeau and French guitarist/songwriter Stephane Schück.
The umpteenth album from the ever-prolific Anton Barbeau, Berliner Grotesk is a tribute of sorts to the Sacramento native’s adopted city.
Once upon a time the term “contemporary instrumental” got thrown around a lot, mainly as a euphemism for the saccharine sounds of new age or fuzak. But if any album deserves this literal description, it’s Lost River, the debut by the speechless trio of drummer Michele Rabbia, trombonist Gianluca Petrella and guitarist Eivind Aarset.
Like any good record by a thoughtful, experienced writer, The Birmingham Poets covers a lot of emotional ground, from self-loathing to detachment to compassion – sometimes all in the same tune. And like any forward-thinking artist, Matthew Edwards builds on his past successes, continuing to evolve as a performer and a tunesmith.
What makes Bonney’s work special is his outsider take on Americana. Though his music works with familiar elements – acoustic guitars, violin, steel guitars, folk- and country-derived melodies – it maintains an exotic feel.
Like an undiscovered artifact of the original new wave days, Oscillator sounds fresh and exciting, including signposts of its era while still coming off as iconoclastic.
The source of some of the most daring and even intimidating sounds in popular music, free jazz flourished in the sixties thanks to the innovations of Ornette Coleman and the endorsement of John Coltrane, among others. While plenty of classics have stayed in the racks over the decades, there are great records that have also fallen out of print, as with any other genre. Fortunately, ORG Music has begun rescuing many of these gems, reissuing them in new vinyl editions that are facsimiles of the originals.
With its debut LP Burst, the mighty Brutus exploded out of Belgium two years ago to redefine the term power trio. Now the band returns with its much-anticipated follow-up Nest. To say that the young threesome meets and exceeds its promise is practically an understatement.
Guitarist Pete Greenway, bassist Dave Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling – AKA the longest-running version of The Fall – knew they couldn’t just replace Mark E. Smith when he died last year. The Fall without Smith would be a parody of itself. At the same time, the trio had developed a chemistry and rapport that couldn’t just be abandoned. So they did the smart thing: added vocalist/guitarist Sam Curran, reconstituted as Imperial Wax and didn’t even try to sound like their old band.
The brassman pulls off a neat trick on this record: being faithful to jazz tradition whilst not falling to the traditionalist trap.
If it’s folky, vaguely R&Bish, prefers jangle to distortion and vibraphones to reverbed snare, mixes heart-on-sleeve sincerity and arch cleverness, and, above all, remains intensely melodic, it can find a home on Marina.
Dedicated to improvisation, the keyboardist’s omnivorous tastes and punk rock attitude keep at least one foot outside the tradition at all times.
Remember when U2 and the Alarm wrote unabashedly uplifting anthems, with simple, catchy guitar hooks, lighter-waving arrangements and lyrics that unironically championed love and joy over hate and gloom? Divine Weeks remembers.
Recording everything live on his phone with little more than his guitar and his collection of New Yawk accents, Hamell eschews slick production – or any production at all – in order to put his stories right in your ear, where they’ll slither into the lizard part of your brain and leave stains.
Having proven themselves the most experimental groove combo on the circuit, MM&W take another step forward with Omnisphere, a concert collaboration with postmodern orchestral ensemble Alarm Will Sound.
Like a broken-hearted romantic with a shelf full of Larry Brown books and a bottle by his side, Max Jeffers writes songs as if every record in his collection comes from either Texas or Minneapolis.
Though it may be only for certain rock cognoscenti, the arrival of a new album from guitarist Richard Lloyd is always something of an event.
The hiatus of Australia’s amazing Drones was a shock coming after its upward creative arc, but all is not lost for fans of their distinctive arty psychedelic postpunk roots rock. Singer/songwriter Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin keep the vision flowing with drummer Lauren Hammel and guitarist/keyboardist Erica Dunn in Tropical Fuck Storm.
Soul Asylum would go on to make records with more acclaim and success, but its first two lay out the qualities that would get them there, making them as essential as anything in the band’s catalog.
With his now-signature blend of twinkly new wave and melancholic power pop, Dragonetti knocks out one sweetly melodic gem after another here, putting adult uncertainty and confusion to a catchy soundtrack.
Duet records can be a challenge, especially if neither musician is part of the usual rhythm section. But acclaimed saxophonist Mark Turner and former Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson make it seem easy.
Bassist/composer Chris Lightcap has an impressive resumé in the jazz field. But he also harbors a love for psychedelic and instrumental rock from the sixties, and that’s what provides the inspiration for Superette.
Though he’s been slinging strings for a couple of decades, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel is hardly a household name, even in the jazz world. But it’s a mark of the respect for which his peers have for him that he can attract the kind of talent that makes up his band on his latest release.
It’s been five long years since we last heard from worldbeat iconoclasts Dead Can Dance. Fortunately, the hiatus ends with the release of Dionysus, a brand-new DCD album that’s both familiar and not quite like anything the group has done before.
Solo bass recordings often seem off-putting at first, more of a showcase for technique than anything else. But that’s only in the hands of a bassist who’s not interested in the music first. Phillips definitely is – here he comes across more as a composer whose primary instrument happens to be the double bass.
The second album in 2018 from Jakob Bro, Bay of Rainbows is a return to the Danish guitarist’s working trio with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron.
This is pop of a kind rarely heard anymore: informed by the sixties but matured in the eighties and nineties, guitar-based but not overwhelmed, high on craft but never aloof, heart on sleeve but rarely overwrought.
A triumph of experimentation with jazz sounds, Andrew Cyrille’s previous album The Declaration of Musical Independence_reasserted the AACM-associated drummer’s place in the top tier of the jazz pantheon. _Lebroba, its even-better follow-up, consolidates that position.
An excellent combo that fell through the cracks of a confused early nineties music industry, Permanent Green Light deserves this second look more than just about anyone else from the time period.