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.
In part inspired by the dissolution of a romantic relationship, Heartbreaker Please finds the British native/American resident presenting a set of songs equally inspired by real life and artistic co-option of same.
Singer and songwriter Mark Lanegan has, in his long career, moved through psychedelic grunge, gothic folk rock, stark balladry and electronica-infused alternative rock. Given his eclecticism, noting that Straight Songs of Sorrow is different than anything else he’s ever done is really saying something.
No Good to Anyone doesn’t make anything easy for anyone venturing into its realm, but it’s also an album suffused with hope.
Pianist Lara Driscoll reveals a magic touch on Woven Dreams, her first album as a leader.
With one hoof in the heavier end of the stoner rock pool a la Electric Wizard, and the other in the realm of postpunk headbangers like Killing Joke, the Newcastle upon Tyne outfit channels aggression into a tight-fisted series of disciplined explosions that are more punch than splatter.
While the line between classical music and jazz seems to look more and more faded as the decades go by, Impressions of Debussy is still an unusual project.
The Piano Equation lives up to its name, not only as a great example of a modern solo piano record, but as a distillation of ideas from one of the instrument’s foremost contemporary architects.
Combining highlife guitar lines with a swinging rhythm section playing in a difficult time signature, Lionel Loueke’s “Têkê” functions almost as the bible by which the group will adhere.
Oranssi Pazuzu is a Finnish quintet of blackened metallurgists who’ve little interest in blast beats, lo-fi shred, Satanism, corpse paint, or any of the other trappings of their chosen genre.
Australian quartet RVG proved themselves expert practitioners of explosive, melodic rock & roll on their remarkable debut A Quality of Mercy in 2017. Three years later, Feral picks up exactly where its predecessor left off.
On Complications, the band’s third album, E explores the nooks and crannies of high volume guitar rock, rarely reducing themselves to mere butt-kicking.
If the music wasn’t so clearly sun-baked, we might think this was a long-lost artifact from the Germanic seventies.
A supergroup of sorts, Human Impact consists of Spencer, bassist Chris Pravdica (Swans), drummer Phil Puleo (also Swans, as well as Cop Shoot Cop) and electronicist Jim Coleman (Cop Shoot Cop).
Joined by two drummers and two electric guitarists, Cohen draws from rock, pop, funk, electronica and ambient music for a blend that casts a net outside jazz while remaining firmly inside its value set – like a trip-hop take on seventies fusion.
For casual listeners, the years between Bay Area unique psych/prog/power pop combo Game Theory’s final album Two Steps From the Middle Ages and the debut of bandleader Scott Miller’s more overtly psychedelic combo The Loud Family seem barren, save the usual “greatest hits” compilation (Tinker to Evers to Chance). In reality, the band hadn’t stopped working – it had merely reconfigured itself into what would now be called an indie rock supergroup.
In all honesty, the record follows the usual rules: intro, head, solos, return to the head – it’s what jazz is built on. But describing the record’s mechanics belies the brilliance that lies in its tracks.
For music nerds that follow such things, Music from the Early 21st Century presents a dream team of post-fusion improvisers.
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.