Some interesting new releases by veteran artists have wandered into hearing range the past few months. Here are a few particularly notable ones, along with one disc from some newbies heading to Madison soon.
Mark Sultan: Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want
Perhaps still better known by his main nom-de-rock BBQ (among many other aliases), Sultan has become a one-man musical industry no matter what name he's using. I was a bit bemused when I heard Sultan was releasing two albums at once, as that's often the kiss of death for quality and consistency. But thinking back over his extensive discography with various bands and solo projects, I guess Sultan's probably had two new records out at once a few times already under different monikers.
Either way, my worries were unfounded, as there's not much filler to be found on either of his two new In the Red albums. Sultan's '50s rock 'n roll base is spiced up with some '60s garage, '70s punk or power pop, and squelchy '80s keyboards, and occasionally some found sounds. There's even a doo wop ode to pancakes, apparently a Four Lords cover. These albums ain't called Whatever He Wants and Whenever He Wants cavalierly, folks; anyone who has the balls to release a cover of "The Wind," as Sultan did recently, can be trusted anytime. These are essentially vinyl-only releases, as the CD version is a selection of tracks drawn from the two releases. (In the Red Records, 2011; includes digital download)
Wild Flag: Wild Flag
Sleater-Kinney fans rejoice! Two-thirds of that ensemble, Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein, are back in action as half of Wild Flag. While it's hard to escape noticing echoes of S-K's signature sound -- spikily melodic guitar, close harmonies, power chords, no bass player -- Wild Flag is its own animal, also including the talents of Mary Timony on guitar and former Minders drummer Rebecca Cole on keys. While Brownstein has been something of a queen of all media since Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus, it's great to have her musical side back. It doesn't hurt that Wild Flag is an undeniably great straight-up rock record, either. (Merge Records, 2011; includes digital download)
Richard Buckner: Our Blood
From the 1994 release of the instant classic Bloomed through 2006's Meadow, singer-songwriter Richard Buckner issued a steady stream of recordings on both major labels and under his own aegis. But it's taken until 2011 for his latest, Our Blood, a time that's likely felt longer for many of Buckner devotees. The delay was due to a fairly unique set of reasons largely out of his control, detailed at online profile provided by Merge Records. Thankfully, with the release of the new album, it's like he's never been away.
Buckner's often lumped in with the alt-country or Americana genres, but that's always been a too-easy tag for a songwriter willing to follow his muse wherever it takes him, whether it be two-chord meditations or flat-out sonic experimentation. As on his last album, Our Blood expands on his signature quiet-yet-intense sound, but is still accessible enough to pull in new listeners. If you haven't heard Buckner's work before, it's a good place to get acquainted. But then do yourself a favor, and go back and start from the beginning with Bloomed. Be warned, though: If he catches your ear you'll have to hear them all. As far as I know, this is Buckner's first album to appear on vinyl. (Merge Records; includes digital download)
Rocket From the Tombs: Barfly
Speaking of long delays ... how about the career of Rocket From the Tombs? The Cleveland proto-punks were only briefly around in the mid-1970s before the members split off into two much more famous bands: Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys. Those two groups got their start with some RFTT songs, however.
Nearly three decades later, an official Tombs release was unleashed; The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs consists of demos and practice space recordings, invaluable music no matter the fidelity. In an even more surprising second act, a 2003 tour was undertaken by original members David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome and Craig Bell, with help from Television's Richard Lloyd and Steve Mehlman, followed by a studio disc reprising old material. They toured again in 2006 (including a memorable show at the Annex), and are now back with an album of new material, Barfly. While Thomas' always-unique singing voice shows the wear of the decades and the music's not quite as raging as those old '70s practice tapes, Rocket From the Tombs definitely isn't interested in aging gracefully either, making Barfly an album of solid and spiky hard rock. (Smog Veil, 2011; CD on Fire Records)
Burial at Sea: The Deepest Shade of Blue
A radio-ready modern rock trio, Burial at Sea works the ground somewhere between the arenas and hushed indie folk. Edge-reminiscent guitar playing and a bit of synthy '80s gloss gives their songs an often anthemic feeling, which counters nicely with the melancholy song subjects and rough hewn singing of Andrew Deadman. The lead-off track, "Who's Gonna Love You," is the sort of classic put down song that would be blasting from car radios if rock music still was a part of the Top 40 charts. The Deepest Shade of Blue is their first full-length disc, and the group is currently touring across the country from their home-base in L.A.; they'll stop in Madison for a show at the Frequency on Friday, November 18. (self-release; includes digital download)