Roadrunners (HHBTM Records)
Coming in two years after their last LP (the band has consistently put out a new record every other year since 2012), Athens, GA's Eureka California turn in another solidly fun collections of loud, distorted Indie pop nuggets with "Roadrunners."
Efficient with both their power chords and song lengths, the duo â€“ comprised of Jake Ward on vocals and guitar and drummer Marie Uhler â€“ take hints of everyone from Husker Du and Superchunk to the Wedding Present and XTC and infuse it with plenty of their own personality for an impressively catchy modern take on '70s and '80s post punk. Songs like "Mexican Coke" and "I Can't Look in Your Direction" are some of the band's best work to date. The acoustic intro of "Howard Hughes at The Sands," with Ward's vocals front and center go to highlight just how strong a lyricist he can be, but sadly too often those vocals get drown out by the loud guitar that are pushed too high up in the mix.
A good record that could be just a little bit better with Ward's vocals at the forefront.
Whip-Smart; Whitechocolatespaceegg; Liz Phair (Capitol/UMe)
In 1994, Liz Phair was coming off of one of the most critically-lauded debuts of the decade. With expectations set incredibly high, she put out the follow up, "Whip-Smart," just 15 months later and while she could never escape the comparisons to "Exile in Guyville," decades later, that second album still remains a gem. UMe, alongside Capitol is finally re-releasing a trio of Phair records from her time with Capitol.
Coming in at 14 tracks, there is arguably a little bit of filler on "Whip-Smart," but overall, it's a remarkable record that would have gotten more praise at the time if Phair didn't have to compete with her own debut. Songs like "Supernova" and "Go West" are among some of the best in her catalogue. Opting to go with Brad Wood again as producer, there's slightly more sheen to the sound, but you certainly don't lose any Phair's bitingly witty lyrical appeal in the process.
"Whitechocolatespaceegg," initially out in 1998, is likely the weakest from this batch, but still houses a couple of Phair's strongest tracks, "Polyester Bride" and "Johnny Feelgood," both exceptionally executed alt pop songs that still hold up 20 years later. Phair's self-titled effort, came out in 2003, her longest break between records at the time, and was an ambitious (considering her role as alt rock queen) pivot towards the pop music world. She even brought in The Matrix, a production team behind some of the biggest hit from Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears, Shakira (and oddly enough Korn) to work on five of the album's 14 tracks. The idea to bring in The Matrix was her label's suggestion after they were rumored to be left unimpressed by Michael Penn's results. Predictably, this new direction alienated some of her earliest fans, but it's hard to argue just how much fun this record was and still is. Songs like the amusingly raunchy "H.W.C." and "Rock Me" are undeniably catchy.
Both "Whip-Smart" and "Whitechocolatespaceegg" have been hard-to-find on vinyl for years, while her the self-titled album has never been pressed to wax before now. "Whip-Smart" is being released on a single 180 Gram vinyl LP, while both "Whitechocolatespaceegg" and the self-titled albums are spread across two LPs each.
Self-Titled (Cornelius Chapel Records)
Andy Stepanian and Mason Brent, both refugees from Virginia's Wrinkle Neck Mules wanted to avoid too many comparisons between their old outfit and new band, Leon III. And while they may not sound that far removed from the roots rock/alt country sound of their pervious group (when you've got a noticeable southern accent and you use pedal steel throughout your album, it's hard to shake the country vibes), they have created a pretty solid debut nonetheless.
From the opening track, the sweet "Maybe I'm Immune," drenched in a psychedelic wah guitar through to the equally lush closer "From These Heights," Leo III lays out an enjoyably mellow collection pretty much custom made for listen in the dark, bourbon in hand. Stepanian and Bret fill out the band with some of the best session musicians in Nashville. The added vocals of Jordan Caress throughout, go a long way in filling out theseÂ songs.
Not all the tracks here are great; a few sound like demos of stronger songs that never made it to the end, but when they do come together with a track like "Jesus," or "Between the Saddle & the Ground," you can't help but forgive the few missteps here and there.
The Underhill Family Orchestra
Tell Me That You Love Me
(Skate Mountain Records)
Sometime in the past few years, someone made the decision that modern rock bands were free to add liberal amounts of funk, soul and creativity to their sound and (thankfully) the floodgates seem to have finally opened. On the heels of some of the great eclectic Americana, folk and R&B musicians that seem to have surfaced from nowhere â€“ folks like Nathaniel Rateliff, The Wood Brothers and Shovels & Rope - Alabama's The Underhill Family Orchestra add their impressive 5-part vocal arrangements to the bill.
Their debut, "Tell Me That You Love Me," covers a lot of ground with just 10 tracks, from the horn-heavy funk on "When the Trumpet Sounds," the soulful call and response on "Wooden Hymnal in C," the delicate ballad "On the Wind" through to the gothic/almost hard rock gospel of "Oh Spirit, Bring Me Home." The band's refusal to stick to a specific genre template on this record just adds to their appeal. With such an impressive opening salvo, it will be interesting to see what they offer for a second act.