Like it or not friends, our voyage to brave new worlds is already underway and it’s not clear return tickets will be honoured. That’s Ok. There’s always something exciting lurking on the musical horizon, songs and performances that will push the boundaries of something new but somehow also feel familiar. That covers the acts in today’s post, explorers and adventurers with a twist of the familiar about them.
Vices is the new album from Brighton retro guitar duo Peggy Sue and, for me, it’s the very best thing they’ve released. Past records exhibit a range of talents with songs and performances that range from experimental to borderline punk to performance art folk. The collection of covers included on 2012’s Play the Songs of Scorpio Rising kinda pointed where the band was going to go and ultimately arrive with Vices. I mean, the reinvention of “My Boyfriend’s Back” was sheer genius. But Vices is, to my ears, a new level of accomplishment for the band. The album kicks off uber cool with “I Wanna Be Your Girl,” its Velvet Underground chords drawing you in, that is until the vocals arrive and clinch the deal. You hear it again on the ethereal “In Dreams” with its twisted David Lynch early 1960s aura. There are going to be those who hear a spooky Lana Del Ray vibe here but duo’s otherworldly, sibilant harmonies remind me of other amazing vocal bands like Everything But the Girl, First Aid Kit, Jack and Eliza, and The Kickstand Band. The guitars on this record are also pretty special, like the ghost of Link Wray is haunting the proceedings. And the songs! I’m loving “Motorcade,” “Validate Me,” and “Souvenirs” just to get started but, really, the whole record is listener. Tune in to Peggy Sue. They really demonstrate that everything old can be new again.
It starts out a bit harsh but then the acoustic guitar kicks in and you hear the sweet melody and hooks that are soldering “Grow Your Garden” into your brain. So begins Brett Newski’s latest long-player, Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down. It’s a record with an edge, like that bite of tequila after the salt, but one that ultimately rewards the listener with loads winning, melody-tinted tunes. The first three tracks say radio singles to me, particularly the spare but hooky charm of “What’d Ya Got to Lose,” while “Do It Again” sounds like a great lost Tom Petty song. I love the little details on the songs, the subtle organ backing on “Do It Again,” the plinky piano on “Buy Me a Soul,” and the addictive swing and killer chorus carrying “Pure Garbage.” Longtime Newski fans will applaud the folk notes here on tracks like “Lousy T-Shirt” and “Fight Song, while Petty loyalists will approve the strong Tom Petty vibes radiating from “Last Dance” and “Evervescent.” Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down is a masterpiece of understated melodic rock and roll. The songs are punchy but Newski’s performance is nuanced, sometimes spare, leaving room for their subtle charms to shine.
For a lot of people Grouplove amount to “Tongue Tied” but frankly I came to them on the strength of “Naked Kids” from that same 2011 debut album Never Trust a Happy Song and “Sit Still” from their 2013 EP Spreading Rumours. I love the loose group feel to the performances, like a crowd of friends just singing their hearts out. But such as sound actually takes a lot of precision and talent. Well, that talent is all over the band’s just released fourth album, Healer. The sound has that peppy contemporary pop feel of bands like The Mowgli’s and Portugal. The Man with just a bit of Fun thrown in. And let me note, this record sonically sounds amazing! Put on your headphones and just take in the exquisite mix on tracks like “Expectations,” “Youth” and the lovely acoustic “Places.” In terms of singles, “Deleter” got the nod for first release and it’s a worthy choice, but “Promises” is a subtle ear worm while “Hail to the Queen” doesn’t hide its winning hooky chorus. But the hands down winner here for me is “The Great Unknown.” I really like its slow burn approach, with a melodic kick that sneaks up on the listener in a shout-out-loud chorus. And Grouplove make it look so easy. This is one for your summer soundtrack, when the convertible top’s down and you want to look cool.