Thing about treasure hunts, you know that a treasure’s been buried somewhere. So if you and other kids root around long enough, something buried is gonna be found by somebody. This treasure hunt is similar but even easier: the treasure is right out in the open. You just have to come and get it.
In what has been one of the most anticipated albums of 2022, Tamar Berk kicks off Start at the End with her heady pair of pre-release singles, “Your Permission” and “Tragic Endings.” The duo are a slick, carefully-calibrated dose of sophisticated songcraft in the best Suzanne Vega or Aimee Mann style. I mean, the arrangements themselves comprise half the beauty of the songs here. But the rest of this album is no slouch either. There’s an intimate, confessional quality to most of the songs, like Berk is beckoning you in, confiding something. “Hoping This Day Won’t Kill Us” starts so spare, building tension with some subtle 1980s synth and eerie background vocals. From there the tracks roll out like a shifting kaleidoscope of emotions, each one using a distinctive guitar, keyboard or vocal effect to speak to its raw feeling. “June Lake,” “You Already Knew,” “No Chair,” and “Wrong Information” – these songs are wistful and delicately shaded. Meanwhile “Just Be” gives off an air of self-liberation, its carefully stated acoustic guitar and piano lines circling, propelling us forward. The album has some more rocking moments too: the early Bangles-like “Real Bad Day,” the Stonesy “Sweet Relief,” and the Harrisonian “Alone Tonight.” “Dandelions in my Flowerbed” has got rollicking, good-time single written all over it. And if you do decide to Start at the End the first thing you’ll hear is the album closer “This is Me Trying,” a song that captures the whole point of the record, a stark, raw testament to just putting one foot before the other. This really is an album to treasure, a wonderful, messy, emotional and joyous journey through song. And it is going directly to the ‘best of the year’ pile.
There is little more I can say about the many talents of Austin’s legendary Tex Mex troubadour Freddy Steady Krc that hasn’t already been said. From his fabulous 1980s recordings with his band The Explosives to his numerous turns as sideman to the stars the guy is a living rock and roll museum. And he’s still putting out great new music. Dandy sees his Freddie Steady Review knocking out new tunes as well as polishing up some older, previously released material. The album kicks off with the should-be hit single “Bohemian Dandy.” Driven on by rippling piano lines and irresistible melodic hooks, it’s a flawless slice of radio-friendly tune-age. Nothing else on the record is quite like it but that’s ok, the range of retro Americana material lends the record a party air. “Dear Delilah” has that great 1950s rockabilly guitar and a swing that says get your dancing shoes ready. “Muchacho Borracho” is an obvious fun Tex Mex workout. “Rustler’s Moon” reminds me of so much of the mid-period solo Nick Lowe material, though the vocal leans more to Ian Gomm. There are some departures, like “Girl Who Wore the Violent Crown” with its Elvis Costello feel to the songwriting. Or outliers like the jazzy cool talking-blues “I’ve Been Framed.” But overall this is an album that understands what Nick Lowe once called the ‘roll’ side of rock and roll, i.e. the key importance of tempo and timing to great performances. The Freddy Steady Review are the kind of band you know can dole it out all night, steady and highly entertaining.
What a transformation can occur in a band in just a few short years. In 2017 I had Brighton’s Fur pegged as a pleasant early-1960s beat group revival band and I was happy with that. But 2021’s When You Walk Away marks a remarkable and dramatic expansion of the band’s musical palette. The record charges out from the start, a veritable onslaught of guitars relentless in their aural assault. But the guitar wash is all in the service of a host of irresistibly hooky tunes. Opening cut “When You Walk Away, Pt. 1” is the sort of song that has audiences leaping to their feet and belting out the chorus. “Anybody Else But Me” combines a distinctive lead guitar sound with a melody that shifts effortlessly from major to minor hues. The wall of acoustic guitars that floats “To Be Next to Her” allows the inventive melody to be just that much more alluring. “The Fine Line of a Quiet Life” exudes excitement with a relentless pumping piano that won’t let you not start dancing. There are few throwbacks to the band’s earlier, more manicured 1960s ballady sound, tunes like “No Good for You” and “What I Am” with its 1963 fairground feel. “Wild Heart” also stands out for its sparkly jangle lead guitar line. This is definitely a band to watch. They’ve got the thrilling quality and intensity of bands like The Strypes, The Strokes and The Vaccines but with a demeanor all their own. Just listen to the jazz notes threaded through “Love You All the Time” or the obvious hit single vibe all over “She’s the Warmest Colour in My Mind.” I think these guys may just be getting started.
Brooklyn duo My Idea have got a highly original sound. Bits of it may seem familiar but when it comes together the effect is something else. Their initial EP release That’s My Idea hinted at the madcap creativity that was to come with breezy pop tunes like “I Can’t Dance” and more edgy stuff like “Stay Away Still.” Full album Cry Mfer delivers, kicking off with a Kate Bush in a Hounds of Love register on its title track, the effect both mesmerizing and hypnotic. Then “Crutch” breaks that spell with its jaunty guitar pop and breathy Mary Lou Lord vocal. “Baby I’m the Man” sounds simple but the audio keeps warping ever so slightly, like a cassette tape left in the rain. “Lily’s Phone” sounds tougher in a post 1970s new wave sort of way. The styles change up quickly, one minute vibing a pristine jangle on “Yr a Blue,” then offering up an off-kilter country-style sing-a-long on “Pretty You.” If pressed, I’d choose the collaboration with Thanks for Coming “One Tree Hell” as the single. But let’s face it, this band repels convention at every turn. Anything could be the single for them. Best to let the album flow over you and enjoy the ride.
Knowing there’s treasure doesn’t take away the thrill. Get out there and get yours from this seriously good quartet of new albums. Top photo courtesy Suhash Villuri.