Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Sub Pop

It’s hard to remember these days that there was a time when post-rock seemed to promise the connotations of its moniker. It was to be something beyond age-old rock & roll cliches, something with the sophistication of the avant garde but not without modern residue and understandable virility, and something more than the latest catchphrase.

Well, that was then and this is now, a decade and change later. There are few survivors that fell under that umbrella, and those still standing probably shouldn’t have been labeled as such to begin with. Case in point is Mogwai, the Scottish pucks who dared mince dramatic instrumentals with volume and ferocity into something altogether unique and epodic. Their reference points were more likely to have been the Minutemen and Fugazi than John Fahey and Red Krayola.

If that fact hasn’t been painfully obvious in the past, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will makes that clear—and not for only the title. This is an album that gathers speed as it goes, seemingly purely by will alone. This momentum is first noticeable on “Mexican Grand Prix,” which isn’t entirely instrumental as vocoderized and whispered vocals are layered into the mix as it races along the line that splits Can and Silver Apples. Such vocalized motifs are resurrected again in “George Square Thatcher Death Party,” which also benefits from the waves of distorted guitars that wash over the entirety of the cut.

It is those guitars that are Mogwai’s most potent weapon, and they give “Rano Pano” its thrust as it sores off into the aether. As I’ve thought in the past, Mogwai could stand to bring in a guest vocalist for a track or two, and here, “San Pedro” begs for the verses and choruses to accompany its harmonic, three-minute (pop) structure. But then a song like “How to Be a Werewolf” benefits from a fluidity that a singer would only muss up. Mogwai is a rare breed that completely defies expectations when it needs to while also utilizing form when it is to its advantage. And that’s why they’ve survived.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “San Pedro”

Cowboy Junkies

The Cowboy Junkies do what the Cowboy Junkies do, and what the Cowboy Junkies do has fostered a pretty respectable career. They’ve been riding that smoky, jazz-folk texture for more than 20 years now, never quite able to exceed the regal beauty of their 1988 breakout, The Trinity Session, and honestly none of the songs they’ve written have ever exceeded the notoriety of their “Sweet Jane” cover.

But they still make pretty music, despite the lack of double-platinum status. Their 2011 effort, Demons, is a collection of reworked songs by their friend, the late Vic Chesnutt. It’s another batch of slow-motion alt-country waltzes, though perhaps a little looser than the tight-lipped stoicism found on their earliest work. Margo Timmins’ ballroom voice swings a little easier, while brother Michael unfurls a few guitar solos. The first couple tracks, “Wrong Piano” and “Flirted with You All My Life” are among the most showy they’ve ever written. But as the running time wears down, the band recedes deeper into their introverted tradition. “West of Rome” and “We Hovered with Short Wings” reflect the same churchy smolder that characterized the legendary “circle round the microphone” recording technique they became known for with Trinity. It all wraps up in a completely likable, but completely unremarkable, package of sooty folk. Like I said, they do what they do.
Luke Winkie

MP3: “Wrong Piano”

La Sera
La Sera
Hardly Art

The Babies
The Babies

A few years back, Vivian Girls played in Columbus at Cafe Bourbon Street. I think it was the first time they’d been through, and the show was relatively well attended. The band was riding a hype wave surrounding the awesome “Wild Eyes” 7-inch and the poor supply-to-demand ratio of their eponymous debut long-player. Everyone was talking about how good they were and how you just had to see them play live. Blogs were going crazy about this band (and still are to some extent).

At the time of that show, the Vivian Girls had already drafted a second drummer, Ali, to replace original drummer, Frankie, who was playing with Crystal Stilts. Now they have a new drummer, Fiona from Coasting, because Ali went to play with Best Coast. Meanwhile, Cassie started the Babies with that guy from the Woods, Kevin, and Katy has a new band called Le Sera. Who knows what’ll happen next! Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Everybody loves Vivian Girls because that first record was great. Neither of these two new bands’ debut records will turn off any fan of that record, nor bore gossipy indie rock fashion blogs—and not just because of who’s playing with who.

If you like the dreamy, smoky multiple harmonies of Vivian Girls songs like “My Baby Wants Me Dead,” then you’ll probably take to La Sera right away. It seems a little more serious, a little more concerned with the deeper side of the emotional spectrum than the Babies’ platter. Reverb is all over this album, but the clarified variety like that of Bat For Lashes. On lead-off track “Beating Heart,” Katy pronounces the rhotic “r” in the word “heart,” instead of singing “haat” like most rock & roll singers, and it comes off endearingly sincere. It’s almost too personal sounding, like instead of trying to sound like a cool, rockin’ singer, man, she’s just singing for herself the way she wants. She does this sometimes in Vivian Girls, but never so prominently as here.

Weirdly, there’s a few times Le Sera becomes reminiscent of ’90s power-girl rockers Veruca Salt, like on “Been Here Before.” It must be the guitar sound and harmonies coming together. La Sera means “the will” in French, but Sera is also a Robotech alien who was in love with Lancer. Le Sera wins for coolest name.

The Babies will be right up your alley if you like the pizza punk side of the Vivian Girls, a la “Wild Eyes.” While the first vocals are male (presumably Kevin Morby), Cassie comes in on the chorus. Soon enough they take on the double-date vocals of Times New Viking or Thee Oh Sees. The Babies are definitely the hair flippin-est and shit kickin-est of these two projects. Their record belongs on during the day for dancing around in the sunlight. “All Things Come To Pass” bobs like a Beat Happening songs, and “Break The Law” is call-and-response like Pink Mountaintops’ “Tourist In Your Town.” Of the two, the Babies is the weaker name: Babies was an extremely unsettling 2010 documentary about the beginning years of human life; and The Babys was a post-glam pre-arena rock band that spawned Bad English, Journey and Air Supply.

Vivian Girls are on tour as this review goes into the ether, so fans need not worry that either of these projects will tear the band asunder. If anything, maybe we’ll get ever more great records.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

MP3: La Sera, “Devils Hearts Grow Gold”

MP3: The Babies, “Run Me Over”

The Twilight Singers
Dynamite Steps
Sub Pop

Let the cult Of Dulli rejoice! After a five-year absence, roguish frontman Greg Dulli has revived the Twilight Singers brand. After a detour that saw the release of a solo album and the formation of the Gutter Twins with Mark Lannegan, Dulli is back with his latest batch of doomed romantic missives, Dynamites Steps.

The original line-up of the Twilight Singers featured Howlin’ Maggie’s Happy Chichester and Satchel’s Shawn Smith, but with the release of second album Blackberry Belle, the band became a rotating cast of players and in essence the Dulli Show. Dynamite Steps continues in this vein, but it also features a bunch of pedigreed guests: Ani DiFranco, Petra Hayden, the Verve’s Nick McCabe, Joseph Arthur, and frequent collaborator Lannegan. The result is that the Twilight Singers don’t have one static identity and can go anywhere without betraying their sound.

Perhaps as a result of the original line-up’s collaboration with dance producers Fila Brazilla (or perhaps someone at Apple has a sense of humor), iTunes has tagged Dynamite Steps as electronica. While the record isn’t fist-pumping its way down to the Jersey Shore, there are moments like the opener, “Last Night in Town,” that are a bit four-on-the-floor. But anyone who’s ever listened to anything Dulli has done won’t be thrown for a loop. It’s largely a distillation of sounds from all over his career. One interesting twist, though, is that while his music is generally becoming more sharp and polished, Dulli’s voice is getting more raw. While it’s technically imperfect, it’s emotionally real.

The one thing you can’t argue is Dulli’s consistency. He’s made a career of writing romantic songs from the dude perspective. While another singer might try to spin his failings into a time to woo, Dulli never shies from his faults. There’s something appealing about a guy who’s not afraid to be a bit of a bastard, and on Dynamite Steps, things seem to be going a badly as usual. Thank heavens.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “On the Corner”

Sun Bronzed Greek Gods ep
Astralwerks/Burning Mill

Recently Dom, a Worcester, Massachusetts–based garage-pop four-piece, signed to Astralwerks, a label best known for making a lot of money off of Hot Chip, Phoenix, Fatboy Slim, and the Chemical Brothers. And at least for the first two songs of Sun Bronzed Greek Gods, it’s easy to see why. The crystalline electro pulses and “1901”-style rave-blasts of opener “Living in America” make an incredibly good first impression, and that’s even before the karaoke-worthy “it’s so sexxxxxxyyyyyyyy” chorus appears. “Burn Bridges” follows, and that again is a shining piece of smothering pop electro hedonism, equipped with a synth-loop so effortlessly joyful it could be played at carnivals. The cuts are mirthfully infectious, raising Dom’s chintzy means to a ballsy plane of disarmed dancability and showing that the limited means of a bedroom artist can sometimes hit real euphoria.

But Greek Gods is longer than two tracks, and after the historically great opening tandem, Dom’s genius begins to wane. The rest of the EP, first released last year but now remastered and re-released, is composed of the watery, reverb-pumped surf-punk that’s become so interchangeable lately. The lyrics are submerged beneath fringed guitars and punctured drums, and the production is merrily ramshackle; there’s none of the character or confidence that made those first two tracks so wonderfully distinguished. But still, those two tracks remain, and therefore Greek Gods is elevated as a whole. There’s a reason they’ve cemented Dom’s place as a blog topic for the foreseeable future after all.
Luke Winkie