Album reviews: The Stevens, The Rubs, Look Blue Go Purple, Helium, Matthew Sweet

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Album reviews: The Stevens, The Rubs, Look Blue Go Purple, Helium, Matthew Sweet

The Stevens

Good (Chapter)

The Stevens are from Melbourne, Australia, sharing a member with Twerps and sounding pretty similar. They invoke classic Aussie/New Zealand indie heroes like The Clean, cut with Pavement and Guided by Voices (and on “Purple and Grey,” Syd Barrett). It’s almost suspicious how effortlessly the 18 songs on Good unfold, but they’re deceptively well-wrought, and so endearing you end up wondering: Why do other bands try so hard? If obvious singles, clear enunciation and shiny production are your things, you should probably keep walking. But if you’re down with brief songs sporting sneakily catchy melodies and Malkmus-y solos, you might wanna hang with Good for a while.

https://chaptermusic.bandcamp.com/album/good

The Rubs

Impossible Dream (Hozac)

More lo-fi here, sounding less like diffident indie and more like horny pub rock with an American accent. The Rubs is the project of Chicago’s Joey Rubbish, who’s fluent in the sounds of Marshall Crenshaw and Dave Edmunds, as well as newer practitioners like Outrageous Cherry. Rubbish played every note on the album, and produced the thing to boot. It’s not as unbridled as Rubbish’s previous outing, The Rubs Are Trash, but Impossible Dream is a muddy stomper of a bedroom record, and the surprisingly touching title track is the cherry on top.

https://therubsaretrash.bandcamp.com/

Look Blue Go Purple

Still Bewitched (Flying Nun)

Hailing from the heralded 1980s Dunedin, New Zealand, scene, Look Blue Go Purple produced three EPs from 1985-1988. This one-disc anthology neatly collects the band’s recorded output and adds live versions of eight unreleased songs. While the female quintet’s signature tune—the beloved “Cactus Cat”—replicated the poppy jangle and easy melodies of The Clean and The Chills, the bulk of LBGP’s output had the mysterious murk of Fables-era R.E.M., with tom-heavy drums and pervasive flute parts. The results are endearing, often mesmerizing, and still sound fresh three decades later.

https://flyingnun.bandcamp.com/album/still-bewitched

Helium

Ends With And (Matador)

I missed Helium in their mid-’90s heyday, even as friends stuck photos of bandleader Mary Timony on their fridge with captions like “Lick my boots, minion!” This welcome compilation comprises singles, demos, EPs and unreleased tracks, providing an overview of the band while leaving aside the LPs for future discovery. And discovery is the word; I’m enthralled. Starting from a base of rumbling, minimal, cinematic indie, Helium expands over time—the sludgy psychedelia of “Fantastic Castle,” the perfect lo-fi pop of “Leon’s Space Song,” the Kraftwerk-y “Golden Bridge”—while Timony supplies endlessly inventive peals of guitar and conveys menace and naiveté simultaneously while tossing off perfect lines like “You don’t get it / ’cause it gets you.” Righteous.

Matthew Sweet

Tomorrow Forever (Honeycomb Hideaway)

With the Kickstarter-funded Tomorrow Forever, Matthew Sweet returns with his first new material since 2011. It carries the usual Sweet flavor of melodic, mid-tempo rock, with power-pop royalty along for the ride, including Debbi Petersen (The Bangles) and Rod Argent (The Zombies)—along with The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, who lays down nice guitar solos on “Pretty Please” and “Country Girl,” two of the album’s gems. Sweet’s nasal vocals are in full, somewhat grating effect, and Tomorrow Forever is a tiring hour. With 19 songs, he might have saved some for the next album, but Sweet wanted to give his supporters what they paid for—and threw in 21 demos for his earliest backers. The issue isn’t quantity.

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