Words by Art Jipson
Every month Off Shelf contributor and Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative host Art Jipson brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find nine highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist. Please follow our Spotify account so you don’t miss any future playlists!
The War on Drugs – ‘An Ocean Between the Waves live’ from ‘Live Drugs’ (Super High Quality)
Following the response to the band’s ‘A Deeper Understanding’, The War on Drugs embarked on a lengthy tour. ‘Live Drugs’ captures the energy, flow and most importantly the feel of the band’s live performances. The first track, the driving ‘An Ocean Between the Waves’ captures perfectly the melding of the bouncing bass, weaving of guitars, keyboards and propelling drumming. War on Drugs has moved from indie faves to major label artists all the while not compromising on their sound, lyrics and emphasis on guitar. The compelling lyrics that capture the tension between identity and life experience. The songs on this cross section of performances from their yearlong tour shine and glide. Also, highly recommend ‘Thinking of a Place’ and ‘Under the Pressure’.
The Cribs –‘Running into You’ from Night Network (Sonic Blew)
Following a lengthy protracted legal fight over the rights to their songs in which the band was ultimately successful, we have a new album from The Cribs. The band has made an energetic, surprisingly happy, satisfying guitar power pop that seems to find a path to peace with the difficulties of the present and past. Recorded at Dave Grohl’s LA studio, the album and the standout track ‘Running into You’ demonstrates depth and maturity that showcase catchy melodies, Beach Boys inspired harmonies and an eye to the past of pop production. Sounding like a power pop Rhett Miller (The Old 97s), The Cribs involve us an infectious song that will stay in your head for days. Also, recommend ‘Never Thought I’d Feel Again’, the flirty ‘She’s My Style’ and the Lee Renaldo (Sonic Youth) guesting on ‘I Don’t Know Who I am’.
The former Blasters and X Guitarist, Alvin has released a series of excellent albums that explore the introspective contours of his own compositions. With ‘From an Old Guitar’, Alvin explore a series of covers that suit his voice perfectly. There are several exquisite tracks on the collection that includes the country artist Don Williams hit ‘Amanda’, Dylan classic ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and the swinging ‘Albuquerque’. It is shocking that Alvin never officially released so many great covers until now. These songs are filled with tremendous emotion, excellent arrangements and Alvin’s voice has rarely sounded so deep and resonate. The excellent Peter Case tune ‘On The Way Downtown’ becomes even more intimate in Alvin’s hands. This song becomes part Americana, part folk and part country in Alvin’s interpretation.
In a clear move away from the lo-fi bubble gum pop of their previous records, Helen Love has embraced the guitar. While the band has kept their distinctive English sensibility and punk aesthetic, the group continues to expand their music while keeping the fun. Fusing their love of Ramonesian punk with indie guitar-based pop, the group has made one of their most accessible and fully realized albums to date. ‘Hold Your Hand’ is a perfect illustration of the group’s charms. A fun non-serious statement about love while employing elements of punk and indie. ‘Hold’ has the feel of intention that the band is exploring its interpretation of those musical styles without needing to embrace melancholy that is so often the terrain for indie music. Helen Love has always embraced whimsy without feeling forced or awkward. You want to sway and move to this song. There are hooks galore on this song about early love and the joy that comes from that feeling. A diversion from the seriousness of the world around us is a welcome respite. Also, recommend ‘Jackie From the Estate’, ‘Sandra Dee’ and ‘On My Own’.
AC/DC – ‘Shot in the Dark/ from ‘Power Up’ (Leidseplein)
While we do not discuss many big label artists in this column, we felt the need to reflect on this particular single. The return of AC/DC is a remarkable surprise with the loss of founding member, Malcolm Young, and numerous health and legal challenges for band members. This album was originally conceived as a tribute to Malcolm. However, after the band member reunited after attending Malcom’s funeral the band decided to regroup around a series of songs that Angus reviewed prior to dementia taking Malcolm from the band. The urgency and energy are a pleasant surprise. Whether you love or hate AC/DC, the influence of the band and its direct full throttle approach has had a profound effect on music. ‘Shot in the Dark’ feels like a classic AC/DC song with its bluesy open into a driving guitar-drum attack. Brian Johnson sounds urgent. He yells, screams, yelps and sings with a focus that demands attention that is even more surprising given his hearing loss. Also, recommend ‘Realize’ and ‘Wild Reputation’.
The Reverbs – ‘Trusted Woods’ from ‘Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1989’ (Captured Tracks)
The lead track on this collection of jangle indie pop, curated by Captured Tracks performs an important service to the history of American popular music. Yeah, that sounds like hyperbole – but it is accurate. There are so many unknown bands associated with the idea of ‘jangle pop’ and ‘jangle indie’ that contributed directly and indirectly to the birth of College/Alternative music in the 1980s. This anthology helps fill the gap in our knowledge of many of these bands. ‘Trusted Woods’ by The Reverbs has all of the sonic elements that are considered essential jangle – ringing and chiming guitars, passionate vocals, melancholic themes and diving harmonies. The song sounds like a testament to a time, to a feeling when a new form of music was coming out of many local scenes around the country. ‘Strum & Thrum’ is part archival collection, part labor of love, part still photograph of a particular moment in the indie rock moment of the early to late 1980s. This collection highlights the various forms of the too often used awkward label of jangle. The numerous bands who melded the sound of The Beatles (Rubber Soul and after), The Byrds (pre-Sweetheart of the Rodeo) and Southern indie courtesy of Big Star, The DBs and early R.E.M. in the American underground are given space on this album. The band names will not be as familiar as R.E.M. or The Connells, but this excellent compilation will provide the opportunity to take a deep dive into the various forms of this genre. Recommend the entire compilation.
Katy J. Pearson is one-half of the indie brother-sister duo, Ardyn. While that band was gaining more interest from their strong harmonies and arrangements, creative disagreements led to this excellent record that is both a departure from the music of Ardyn but also – and more importantly – a statement of to borrow from the track title ‘something real.’ The entire album brims with feminine authenticity and identity that draws the listener into both intimate and collective human need. The slow build of ‘Something Real’ displays Pearson’s vulnerability, willingness to explore authentic complications without presenting problems as thematic devices for the songwriter. The song is clearly drawn from Pearson’s experiences and interest in making more accessible music that draws the listener into a captivating experience. This allows a listener to connect with the music on both an intimate level examine the frailties of need with a dispassionate eye. Pearson sounds confident and in command without feeling disconnected from what she sings. One could make a joke that the entire record is indeed something real. Also, recommend the album opener ‘Tonight’ and the catchy as heck ‘Fix Me Up.’
Originally from the excellent, ‘Chomp’ from 1983; ‘Crazy’ is often believed to be a song by R.E.M. who frequently covered the Pylon song. In reality, the Athens, GA Pylon wrote the song and pioneered a southern new wave sound. Pylon’s influence on a host of bands – too many to mention in this brief review – has been well accepted. Much like The Method Actors and The B52s, Pylon created the fertile music ground that launched R.E.M., Flat Duo Jets, Matthew Sweet and many more who interestingly sounded nothing like them. Pylon unfortunately never caught on to the degree of many of their contemporaries. The new release ‘Box’ hopes to remedy this oversight by bringing remastered versions of their albums (‘Gyrate’ and ‘Chomp’) as well as singles, rarities, remixes and demos. The ability to hear the development of this band in one collection is useful even if more recent music created by the reformed Pylon is not included here. Recommend the entire collection.
Does a reissue count as one we may have missed? Hmmmm… in this month’s column, Dr. J seems to be listening to many bands from the 1980s who have released career-spanning packages and reissues.
Another Athens, GA band has a fantastic new reissue that benefits from loving attention from Bill Berry of R.E.M. and David Barbe of Sugar. The band’s self-titled debut album is an indie based form of guitar new wave power pop that combines elements of classic indie, new wave, jangle, pop and more together in way that creates an irresistible groove. The lack of vocals only adds to the texture on the songs from this record. A standout on the record is the infectious ‘Tropical.’ The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While each member of Love Tractor makes contributions that are interesting – the alchemy of the assembled sounds makes something that is more than the pieces. When you hear a song like ‘Tropical’ you want to shimmy, dance and move. A feeling common to the 80s southern new wave bands. This song would feel right at home in an indie club in the 1980s or at a dance today. Also, recommend ‘Buy Me a Million Dollars,’ ‘Sixty Days Below’ and ‘Seventeen Days.’
If you have recommendations for future editions of this column, please contact Dr. J at email@example.com. Remember the brief before you contact us, the music either needs to be released in the particular month or is a song that should be celebrated as a “missed” catch.