The American Spirit make nice first impression with ‘Season of Violence’

The American Spirit‘Season of Violence or Mourning, Protest & the Birth of Bishop Killborne’
The American Spirit (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

With “Season of Violence or Mourning, Protest & the Birth of Bishop Killborne,” ambient folk newcomers The American Spirit figure to boast one of the longer album titles of 2015. As fate would have it, it might be one of the year’s better debuts, as well.

The American Spirit CDThe American Spirit are comprised of Gabriel Strycharz (vocals/guitar/harmonica), Adam Morgan (piano) and Nick Price (drums) and the trio already is being mentioned in the same breath as My Morning Jacket, Father John Misty, Pedro the Lion and David Bazan. That’s pretty impressive company for a young band.

Opener “Are You Listening to Me?” sets the tone for the 10-track gem, and The American Spirit also score with “Going My Own Way,” personal favorite “Dance With Me,” “All Night,” “Wait for the Night” and “Walking in the Rain.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Newcomer Keath Mead shines on his ‘Sunday Dinner’ debut album

Keath Mead‘Sunday Dinner’
Keath Mead (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Keath Mead, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter who makes quite the first impression with full-length debut album “Sunday Dinner,” has a pretty simple — but remarkably effective —philosophy when it comes to crafting a tune.

adventureWeird_LP_11183_new“If a song doesn’t hold up with one person singing and playing a single instrument,” the 25-year-old South Carolina native reasons, “then it’s probably not that good of a song.”

Fortunately, Mead doesn’t have to deal with many misfires on “Sunday Dinner.” It’s a fully realized gathering of 11 pop/rock tunes indebted to the singer/songwriter halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s. Clocking in at just 37 minutes, Mead doesn’t pad the record with any extraneous material.

Lead track “Waiting” is the clear-cut highlight of “Sunday Dinner,” but Mead also hits all the right notes on “Grow Up,” “Change,” “Settle for Less,” “Where I Wanna Be,” “Polite Refusal” and “So Close.” Keep your eye on this kid, folks. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Alien Ant Farm make a welcome return with ‘Always and Forever’

Alien‘Always and Forever’
Alien Ant Farm (The End)
3.5 stars out of 5

Alien Ant Farm were riding high in 2001. Their alt-metal cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” topped the modern rock charts, spurred major-label debut “ANThology” to platinum status and earned the California quartet a Grammy nomination for best hard rock performance. The band was involved in a deadly bus crash later that year, but bounced back in 2003 with first-rate sophomore slab “truANT.”

Alien CDMusical tastes shifted away from nu-metal, however, leaving Alien Ant Farm in limbo. Their 2006 effort “Up in the Attic” failed to make much of a dent and the band faded into obscurity. Until now, that is. Almost a decade after their last studio effort, AAF are back with the surprisingly solid “Always and Forever.”

“The curiosity for this band and its new material has been insane,” frontman Dryden Mitchell explains. “I was wondering if anyone would care about a new release, and it’s been exciting to see that there’s thousands — tens, maybe hundreds of thousands still rooting for this band to bang out studio tracks and tour. I cannot wait for the future.”

Though not quite as good as their first two records, “Always and Forever” marks a welcome return for AAF. The 13-track release is filled with plenty of high-octane tunes that should appeal to new and old fans alike. Among the standouts here are “Simpatico,” “Let Em Know,” “Homage,” “Little Things (Physical),” “American Pie” and “Better Weather.”

Local audiences can check out Alien Ant Farm live and in person on Tuesday, April 21, when they co-headline at Pittsburgh’s Altar Bar with (Hed)P.E. Should be a terrific show. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Odesza to play sold-out show at Pittsburgh’s Mr. Smalls on Tuesday, March 3

(Photo by Tonje Thileson)

(Photo by Tonje Thilesen)

Electro duo Odesza invade Pittsburgh’s Mr. Smalls on Tuesday, March 3, at 8 p.m. They’re touring in support of latest album “In Return.” We hope you have gotten your tickets for the show, which includes Little People and Big Wild, because the venue is sold out. Mr. Smalls is located at 400 Lincoln Ave. in the city’s Millvale neighborhood. Call 412-821-4447 or visit http://www.mrsmalls.com for additional information.

British up-and-comers Doe score with ‘First Four’ debut full-length

Doe‘First Four’
Doe (Old Flame)
3.5 stars out of 5

Doe, an up-and-coming indie punk trio comprised of Nicola Leel (vocals/guitar), Matt Sykes (guitar) and Jake Popyura (drums), came together in 2013 over a shared love of iconic outfits like Sleater-Kinney, The Breeders and Weezer. The London-based band wasted little time recording a handful of singles and EPs and the underground buzz soon began to grow.

Doe CDFor debut full-length “First Four,” Doe combined all their previously released music into a single 13-track release. It’s a high-energy gathering of tunes that showcase all the promising things this young band has to offer. Doe are playing their first U.S. shows this week in New York and New Jersey and hopefully future American tours will include Pittsburgh.

“First Four” gets off to a so-so start with “Let Me In” before kicking into high gear with killer cut “Late Bloomer.” Additional standouts from Doe include “Nowhere Girl,” “Work in Progress,” “Swings and Roundabouts,” “Broken Souvenirs” and “Julia Survived.” I can’t wait to hear more from this talented young three-piece. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Camper Van Beethoven’s ‘New Roman Times’ gets reissue

Camper‘New Roman Times’
Camper Van Beethoven (Omnivore)
3.5 stars out of 5

Camper Van Beethoven were one of the best and most-respected alternative rock bands of the 1980s, delivering a slew of killer albums that included 1985’s “Telephone Free Landslide Victory,” 1986’s self-titled effort, 1988’s “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” and 1989’s “Key Lime Pie.” CVB took the 1990s off before reuniting in the early 2000s and putting together reunion album “New Roman Times” in 2004.

Camper CDThe folks at Omnivore have released an expanded reissue of that platter which, while rock solid, doesn’t hold up as well as CVB’s earlier records. “New Roman Times” was one of the band’s most ambitious offerings, recalls frontman David Lowery.

“(It’s) a sci-fi alternate reality rock opera. It is intended as a political farce, a sarcastic commentary on the whole notion of a red state/blue state America,” Lowery says. “It is not directly a commentary on the Iraq war, although much of it reads that way.”

Now a whopping 24 tracks clocking in at almost 80 minutes, “New Roman Times” is tough to manage in a single sitting. Tunes like “White Fluffy Clouds,” “Might Makes Right,” “Militia Song,” the title track, “I Hate This Part of Texas” and “Civil Disobedience” still sound great. Among the four previously unissued tracks included on the reissue, “Alien Ghost Song” and “It’s Gonna Rain” are the ones you’ll remember. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Iron & Wine dip into vault for ‘Archive Series Volume No. 1’

Iron & Wine‘Archive Series Volume No. 1’
Iron & Wine (Black Cricket Recording Co.)
4 stars out of 5

Sam Beam, the guiding creative force behind lo-fi indie folk project Iron & Wine, has been remarkably consistent for more than a decade. Iron & Wine have released six studio albums and a handful of EPs and compilations since 2002 and have yet to deliver a clunker.

iw_vol1_outerBeam’s 2002 Iron & Wine debut “The Creek Drank the Cradle” was a revelation, and he was every bit as good on 2004’s “Our Endless Numbered Days,” 2007’s “The Shepherd’s Dog” and 2013’s “Ghost on Ghost.” For his latest offering, Beam has gone back to his pre-Iron & Wine days at the turn of the millennium. The 16-track “Archive Series Volume No. 1,” despite its decidedly blah title, is a must for Iron & Wine fans.

These songs were written and recorded around the same time that Beam was making “The Creek Drank the Cradle” and serve as a companion piece to that magnificent platter. These home recordings are very lo-fi but it’s clear that Beam — and soon Iron & Wine — was on the verge of something special.

You won’t go wrong anywhere on the 61-minute slab, but pay close attention to standouts “Slow Black River,” “The Wind Is Low,” “Two Hungry Blackbirds,” personal favorite “Judgement,” “Quarters in a Pocket,” “Loretta,” “Your Sly Smile” and “Postcard.” Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Elvis Perkins returns at last with third full-length album ‘I Aubade’

Elvis Perkins‘I Aubade’
Elvis Perkins (MIR)
3.5 stars out of 5

Elvis Perkins set the bar impossibly high in 2007 with the release of his near-perfect debut album “Ash Wednesday.” Perkins poured every bit of personal pain (his father, actor Anthony Perkins, died of complications from AIDS in 1992 and his mother was aboard one of the jetliners that slammed into the World Trade Center on 9/11) into the hauntingly beautiful 11-track release.

Elvis Perkins CDTwo years later, “Elvis Perkins in Dearland” proved the first album was no fluke and, while a notch below its remarkable predecessor, had me convinced that big things were in store for Perkins & Co. Yet it’s been almost six years since we’ve heard from Perkins — an eternity in the music business — and all that career momentum has, sadly, faded away.

Latest album “I Aubade” is a departure from the first two platters in that Perkins has taken a DIY approach to the good-but-not-great 13-track release. “I had the impulse to hear what would happen if left to and with my own devices,” he explains. “Not surprisingly this is the thing that sounds the most, to me, like myself.”

It’s a lower key collection of tunes, no question, and though there are moments that flirt with greatness — “I Came for Fire,” “It’s Now or Never Loves,” “The Passage of the Black Gene,” “Gasolina,” “My 2$” — “I Aubade” lacks the consistency that made the previous records so terrific. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait so long for album No. 4. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Dutch Uncles deliver another complex gem in ‘O Shudder’

(Photo by Adrian Lambert)

(Photo by Adrian Lambert)

‘O Shudder’
Dutch Uncles (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

There’s nothing at all simple about British math rock five-piece Dutch Uncles. The lads first popped up on my radar a couple years ago with the release of third full-length “Out of Touch, In the Wild,” and they’re back with arguably their most accessible platter to date in “O Shudder.”

Dutch Uncles CDThe melodies are wonderfully complex and the arrangements suitably sophisticated on an 11-track album that whisks by in an efficient 42 minutes. Dutch Uncles drew inspiration from artists as varied as Kate Bush and Igor Stravinsky for an album that frontman Duncan Wallis says covers themes like “pregnancy, social media, terrorism, divorce, sexual dysfunction, job seeking, health scares, doubt and love.”

Things get off to a strong start with “Babymaking” and “Upsilon,” and Dutch Uncles later score with “Decided Knowledge,” “I Should Have Read,” Given Thing,” “Don’t Sit Back (Frankie Said)” and “Tidal Weight.” If you like what you hear on “O Shudder,” I encourage to revisit the band’s earlier albums. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Colleen Green spreading her wings on ‘I Want to Grow Up’

Colleen Green‘I Want to Grow Up’
Colleen Green (Hardly Art)
3.5 stars out of 5

Having earned a well-deserved reputation as a first-rate DIY singer/songwriter/one-woman band, Colleen Green spreads her musical wings on latest effort “I Want to Grow Up.” It’s a rock-solid follow-up to 2013 gem “Sock It to Me,” which put Green’s self-styled “stoner pop” on the map.

Colleen Green CDThis time around, Green has a full band in tow, including Jake Orrall (JEFF the Brotherhood) and Casey Weissbuch (Diarrhea Planet), and the results are a fuller sound and songs about maturation and all the anxieties that come along with growing up.

The 30-year-old Green comes out of the gate firing with the title track and “Wild One,” setting the stage for what’s to come on the 10-track, 37-minute platter. Additional keepers include “Deeper Than Love,” “Things That Are Bad for Me (Part II)” and set closer “Whatever I Want.” It’s nice to see the talented Green continue to evolve as an artist. I see big things in store for her. (Jeffrey Sisk)