Cost of Living (Sub Pop)
“A Wall,” the opening track on Cost of Living, winds up like it could be a punk Springsteen cover—then vocalist Victoria Ruiz bursts through with the righteous, insistent bellow of Dog Faced Hermans’ Marion Coutts or holy Poly Styrene. Downtown Boys calls itself a “serious band from Providence,” and it’s no joke—Ruiz scorches the earth and brings the radical noise on every track, backed by no-frills, howling, sax-abetted punk. (Boys guitarist Joey DeFrancesco also plays with raucous brass band What Cheer? Brigade, which played Charlottesville in June.) Downtown Boys will be at DC9 on September 4.
Brand New Abyss (S/R)
On its cover of “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” The Blow makes me wistful for the Eagles, an emotion I thought impossible. It’s the first song on Brand New Abyss, though it feels weird calling it a song, because Melissa Dyne’s singing is stoutly amelodic—and she only tries slightly harder on the other ill-advised cover, “The Greatest Love of All.” But the backing tracks of spacey bubble synths are likable enough, as is Dyne’s vibe, and thankfully her classic Sprechstimme returns on “Dark Cold Magic” and for much of Brand New Abyss. On a bed of minimal, gently floating textures, Dyne manages to sound nonchalant as hell while she spills her guts—it’s smart and interesting, and if there’s nothing in it that touches “Hey Boy” (2007), well, not much does. Coming to DC9 on November 8.
Cage Tropical (Slumberland)
Truth in packaging: The ’80s-looking palm tree/sunset album cover sets the musical tone, as Frankie Rose continues to edge out the guitars in favor of layered “Miami Vice”-ish synths and mechanical drum tracks. And Cage gets the mood; Rose’s vocals are smudged and detached throughout, and the phrases that emerge are mostly doleful. The band gets a motorik jam up and running on “Trouble,” but most of Cage Tropical pensively jogs along the boardwalk, shimmering alluringly, but tough to see as it reflects the sun. And I really didn’t mean to do this, but Rose is at DC9 on September 12.
There’s No One Here (S/R)
Husband-and-wife duo Eric Olsen and Amanda Gustafson front Burlington, Vermont’s Swale, singing lead and writing clever and wry about the growing pains you still have even when your own kids are having them. There’s No One Here is a sprawling hour united by sophisticated musicality as the band’s guitar-bass-keys-drums foundation gets adorned with strings, horns and pedal steel. The album runs through moods from borderline Up-with-People anthems to wistful twangy folk to brash rock—my fave stuff is the sunshine pop of “Loser” and “All Down Tonight,” along with the tasty instrumentals. Ambitious and admirable, Swale makes family rock sound like a good thing.
Sandgrown (Trouble in Mind)
One of my favorite records of 2016 was Dusk by Ultimate Painting, the London duo of James Hoare and Jack Cooper. Earlier this year, Hoare released a solid album with his other band, Proper Ornaments; now Cooper (also late of Mazes) has released his first solo record, and, lo and behold, it’s great. Sandgrown is an atmosphere album evoking comfort and contentment under overcast skies. It’s also a guitar album, Cooper’s clean, patient, chiming arpeggiations punctuated with efficiently glorious solos and an occasional, strangely apt nod to Jerry Garcia. Cooper’s relaxed, affable voice and easy melodies seal the deal—Sandgrown could be the sleeper of the year.