It's catch up time on some recent LP releases ... with more to come as soon as I can get my hands on the new Sights disc! Here's my initial impressions on some albums you should know are out there.
Beachwood Sparks: The Tarnished Gold
This is a welcome return from a band I didn't expect to see back in the record racks. Beachwood Sparks has been mostly inactive for about a decade -- only breaking their silence for a brief reunion around the time of the Sub Pop label's 20th anniversary celebration -- though the various players have mostly stayed busy during the intervening time in projects such as All Night Radio, The Tyde, and others. Back in 2000, the group's self-titled debut whomped me over the head with its psychedelicized California country rock-folk and lighter than air harmony vocals. Their second full-length, When We Were Trees, took them in a trippier-but-mellower direction.The Tarnished Gold continues on that course; for those who heard their other albums, it's almost like they never went away. Re-emerging in a musical climate that should be more receptive to their sound, hopefully around more folks will catch up with them this time! Clocking in at around 45 minutes, The Tarnished Gold makes for a very short four-sided LP. The trade off is that it plays at 45 rpm and does sound excellent. (Sub Pop SP 784, 2012; with download card)
The Milwaukee garage-pop combo returns for their second Sub Pop platter with a collection of shiny but cranky songs. Traps is an appropriate moniker for these tales of various life situations gone wrong, with titles that include: "Horrible Things (Make Pretty Songs)," "House with Haunting," and "Everyone's a Bitch." The album's songs overall remain in a melancholy mode, with Vincent Kircher's slippery wordplay delivered in a less rapid-fire fashion in the past. Traps is also an apt title due to this album's more subtle hookiness as compared to their last two excellent albums. It's not an instant grabber, but like There's No Sky and That's How We Burn, it's definitely a grower. With more spins, Traps pulls one inexorably into its snare.
On the album's nifty/random poster of some bears, the group is listed as a trio. But at their last few shows in Madison, Jaill has been a five-piece with the addition of a synth player and a second guitar/keys player, and their new songs really spark in this live setting. One thing to note with the LP version: It's mastered in such a way that it sounds better the louder you can play it. It's also worth keeping an eye out for the bonus single, featuring a couple electro-pop numbers, which came with pre-orders and initial in-store sales. (Sub Pop 994, 2012; with download card)
Hacienda's last platter, Big Red and Barbacoa, was a stomper of a rock 'n roll record, with the San Antonio four-piece whipping up some vintage sounding garage raunch, Tex-Mex soul, and surprisingly sweet harmony vocals. For those expecting more in a similar vein, Shakedown throws an indie rock curve that slices away most of Hacienda's endearing rough edges. The Farfisa has largely been replaced by synths or electric piano. The brash guitar sound is toned down. A danceable backbeat and groove-centric hooks anchor most of the album's songs. Folks, this is a radio ready indie pop record, somewhat in the vein of the most recent work by producer Dan Auerbach's Black Keys. Auerbach co-wrote the songs with Hacienda, and they have toured as his backing band in the past, so any similarity may not be too surprising for some listeners. However, for this garage rock lover Shakedown initially left me pretty shaken up. After a few spins, I'm liking most of the songs, but it's still jarring to hear Hacienda try to sound like The Strokes ("Don't Turn Out the Light") or '80s synth pop ("Savage," the album's lead single). This one will take some digesting before I know quite what to think of it. (Collective Sounds CS015-1; with download card)