Album Reviews April 27, 2017

Charly Bliss – Guppy (NYC)

Finally moving up to a full LP, the New York pop-punk rockers from Charly Bliss have a fleshed out album to show the world. Bringing a fierce sense of tone along with some sugary vocals, and earnest lyrics about growing up, the record is best taken lightly, but fun nonetheless. "Percolator" has such an inherent sizzle to its sound, it feels like they replicated the titular machine with their guitars. Tracks like "Glitter" take the edge out of their guitars, going for a much more emotional-side to their sound, while "Black Hole" goes for chaos before pulling itself together. On a crackling mix of vocals and guitars "DQ" tackles bad jobs and growing up while "Totalizer" is a melange of hooks and the most rock-driven track on the record for something intense near the finale. While not a very deep album, it's a great base for this band to continue their trajectory upwards.

Pongo – Pongo (Ottawa)

Perhaps one of the classiest and most intriguing records to hit the instrumental hip hop scene in Ottawa in quite some time, the new LP from Pongo is a breath of fresh air, filled with some older sounds. On what may be the most polished production for an indie hip hop record in Ottawa this producer crafts a retro infused delight that has the classy sounds and push to match its tight packaging. With horns blaring, "No Trumpet" flares like a slow-jam take on the Shaft-theme mixed with the Budos Band. Lo-fi grooves run high on "Through Tweed," taking its xylophones to a different space. "Vibra Leos" is a killer drive, weaving old songs together in a cleverly sloppy way. Even the long "A Bowtie" takes the album out on a explorative but enticing look and sound production after its soul runs.

Ray Davies – Americana (UK)

Ray Davies may very well be one of the most influential artists of our time, thanks to his time through the Kinks and beyond, but what inspires Davies? Apparently it's America. Infusing his classic riffing along with some iconic American tones and some interesting commentary he both holds up and dissects the idolization of America. Startlingly the best track on the record "Change For Change" takes a lot of alt-folk clichés and makes them work by dialing them up to 11, in a surprisingly fun track. While tracks like "Rock 'N' Roll Cowboys" and "The Mystery Room" mix his style on the very sound of Americana, along with cute calls out to life and pop culture, the majority of the record all too often feels like a great Davies record buried in a lot of bland and overdone "classic" sounds. Interestingly enough, there are some rather cool spoken-word tracks like "Silent Movie" and "The Man Upstairs" which provide fun insights and reflections on Davies' life that end up being more fun than some of the actual music on the record.

The Heavy Medicine Band – ERSATZ ERA (Ottawa)

Pushing their chops in more dreamy directions, the trippy hard rock of these locals is always a fun surprise. "Asteroids [Goliath]" is a jazz-tinged, dream-wash of a reverb and echo slow-jam, and its Latin-infused jam-out is a frantic and exciting moment especially with Johnson's vocals. While "Teeth" does go a little to monotone "Stained Glass Visionary" hits back with a barely lucid swing and stumble that's all too enveloping. Going into a steady rollick and rhythmic back-and-forth, "Breath" is a fun take on a low-keyed jam session, only feeling like it could have pushed in some vocals and explored itself even further. On an old-school pop meets endlessly plunging effects "Rabid Dog" hits all the right emotional notes thanks to its familiar and not so familiar tones, and heavy delivery.

The Black Angels – Death Song (Austin)

One of the most interesting psych-rock bands in the U.S., these Texas rockers aren't afraid to push the envelope and try something new, and they keep interesting as long as they do. Openers like "Currency" and "I'd Kill for Her" do run a little too predictable and straightforward, while being tonally rich and exciting, really only suffering due to the oversaturation of great psych-rock in recent years. "Half-Believing" however is a much more roomy and spacious beast, letting its notes ring out and the emotion grab hold, for a track that hits hard. "Comanche Moon" goes back to the overt psych-rock with at least a lot of vigour and grit to push it up, and while "Hunt Me Down" is all too familiar it goes for gold on its pop-infused take on the heavy psych sound. Through its second half though things get a lot more interesting both sonically and in the overall ambition of writing through trippy and fun songs like "I Dreamt," "Estimate" and "Grab As Much (As You Can)" that elevate a lot of the more deadweight of the album for something to remind you why people get excited around this band.