Album reviews: James Elkington, TOPS, Rips, Beach Fossils, The Strypes

Album reviews: James Elkington, TOPS, Rips, Beach Fossils, The Strypes

James Elkington

Wintres Woma (Paradise of Bachelors)

When bashful guitar hero Steve Gunn played the Tea Bazaar in fall 2014, a lot of the crowd ended up buzzing about sous guitarist James Elkington, whose electric and lap steel provided endlessly dazzling settings and accents. On Wintres Woma, his solo debut, Elkington sticks to acoustic guitar for a set of Brit folk (if the Old English title doesn’t tip you off—by the way, it means “sound of winter”). Elkington taps the somewhat dour vein of Bert Jansch, with Nick Drake and Richard Thompson thrown in the mix. His voice is on the prosaic side (not unlike Gunn), and the material is only sporadically compelling, but as Wintres Woma proves at every turn, Elkington’s a talent to savor.


Sugar at the Gate (Arbutus)

This Montreal band’s synthy indie rock has always been sophisticated and laid-back, so recording in Los Angeles seems apropos. There’s definitely a West Coast languor to Sugar at the Gate; “Cloudy Skies” is a downbeat opener that proves more harbinger than quirk. The band stirs to life on “Petals,” which nicks the chunking guitar rhythm of “One Way or Another” (by The Fixx, not Blondie) and fully wakes up on “Dayglo Bimbo,” which, at 2:15, leaves one wanting more. Then the sleepiness returns, locked into place by Jane Penny’s dispassionate vocals. Sugar at the Gate is sprinkled with sweetness and comes with a crash.


Rips (Faux Discs)

Brooklyn four-piece Rips includes UVA grad Gary Canino on bass, and whereas his Charlottesville band Caninos took a casual (and adorable) approach to writing and rocking, Rips sound like ambitious contenders. The debut was produced by Parquet Courts’ Austin Brown, and it must be said, not only does Rips truck in the same barreling grooves as the Courts, but singer Daniel Abary sometimes sounds suspiciously like Brown. This could be irritating, but the band is super tight and whips up an exhilarating frenzy on songs like “Break” and “Delay.” Hey Gary, how about a homecoming show?

Beach Fossils

Somersault (Bayonet)

Let us faintly praise Beach Fossils, the Brooklyn quartet that trades on easygoing, tuneful indie—less beach music and more like what you’d put on after showering off the sand and settling in for the evening. Bandleader Dustin Payseur’s retiring vocals perfectly match the dreamy-clean backing tracks, and he throws in enough craft to keep Somersault on the right side of boring—check the nifty flute solo and George Harrison-like slide on “Saint Ivy.” This won’t set anyone’s world on fire, but aside from the (blessedly brief) head-scratcher “Rise,” it’s pretty darn pleasant.

The Strypes

Spitting Image (Virgin)

This Irish band’s crappy turn-of-the-millennium name and updated mod suits are instant red flags, and the opener “Behind Closed Doors” delivers on the paint-by-numbers threats, aiming for pop-punk mixed with Pulp; it’s mighty annoying. “Consequence” offers promise in an angular, Devo-like guitar hook but devolves quickly, and when Ross Farrelly barks that you could be “a pussy with nine lives,” sorry, I gotta go. The whole production is lifeless, so for the sake of the numerous festival crowds that will see The Strypes this summer, here’s hoping these songs come to life onstage. 

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