Bell X1 (Belly Up)
Irish outfit Bell X1 began more than 20 years ago as Juniper, with Damien Rice as frontman. Creative differences prompted Rice to jump ship in 1998, but members of the band renamed themselves and pressed onward with drummer Paul Noonan taking over vocal duties. It has gone on to become second to U2 in popularity among bands hailing from the Emerald Isle. Sixth full-length “Chop Chop” ranks among Bell X1’s best efforts, as the band adopts a minimalist approach on these nine tracks. After a so-so start with “Starlings Over Brighton Pier,” Bell X1 hits its stride with keepers “A Thousand Little Downers,” “Diorama,” “Motorcades” and “The End Is Nigh.”
‘L’ami du Peuple’
While I was a little late to the party when it comes to appreciating Mike Kinsella’s work under the Owen moniker, I have become one of the talented singer/songwriter’s biggest fans. Seventh full-length “L’Ami du Peuple” follows 2009’s terrific “New Leaves” and 2011’s even-better “Ghost Town” and continues Kinsella’s run of first-rate indie records. Utilizing a more collaborative approach than usual, Owen infuses the 10-track release with some strings, female vocals (courtesy of Lupe Martinez) and the steady hand of producer Neil Strauch. The results are nothing short of fantastic, as Kinsella scores with “I Got High,” “Blues to Black,” “Love Is Not Enough,” “Bad Blood,” “A Fever” and “Vivid Dreams.” Highly recommended.
‘Endless City/Concrete Garden’
Roger Eno/Plumbline (Hydrogen Dukebox)
I have come to respect electronic music — if not fully embrace it — in recent years pretty much out of necessity. The genre, in all its incarnations, is booming and I figured I had to get on board. Try as I might, however, I can’t get into the latest collaboration between Roger Eno and Plumbline (aka Will Thomas), a languidly paced gathering of tunes that threatened to put me to sleep on several occasions. The arrangements are sparse and minimal — some might say boring — and outside of “Geometry,” “Ulterior Motives” and closer “Beauté De Passage,” there’s nothing I’d care to revisit. Unless I’m suffering from insomnia.
The O.S.S. (Law)
Ska/punk collective the Oceanside Sound System (aka the O.S.S.) formed in 2009 when Wanted Dead vocalist Skillet teamed up with guitarist Ben Blessing and drummer Sid Hilarides. Now an eight-piece ensemble, the O.S.S. has cobbled together a first-rate new album in “4th Wave.” It’s a high-octane gathering of 11 tunes from the self-proclaimed “New Kings of Ska” and the band shines especially bright on “Evacuate,” the early No Doubt-inspired “Stranger,” “Mace on My Face,” “1, 2, 3, Let’s Go!!” and “Wasted Days.” Rock on.
‘Have You Been Drinking?’
The Tosspints (East Grand)
There’s no question where folk/punk trio the Tosspints stands on the subject of alcohol. It is a big, big fan of spirits and that love shines through in every booze-soaked note. Third full-length “Have You Been Drinking?” follows 2009’s “11 Empty Bottles” and 2011’s “Cenosillicaphobia” and is the Michigan outfit’s best record to date. The 12-track release includes 10 originals and a pair of traditional tunes and should be required listening at your local Irish pub. Keepers include “Genocide Is Painless,” “Soldiers Heart,” “My Own Country,” “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” “Come Out Ye Black and Tans” and “Eleanor.” Next round’s on me, lads.
The Henningsens (Arista Nashville)
Fans of country/pop artists like the Band Perry and Lady Antebellum should get a kick out of the self-titled debut from the Henningsens, a family trio comprised of dad Brian, eldest son Aaron and daughter Clara. With Clara holding down lead vocals, the four-track release should help launch the Henningsens onto the country charts. Lead single “American Beautiful” was made for the radio, and the trio fares almost as well on “I Miss You,” “To Believe” and “The Color Red.” Enjoy, y’all.
‘The Cerny Brothers’
The Cerny Brothers (self-released)
Illinois natives Robert and Scott Cerny have been making music together since they were kids and their Cerny Brothers quartet looks to raise their profile considerably with the release of this sublime self-titled sophomore slab. Fans of folk/rock bands like the Avett Brothers, the Felice Brothers and Mumford & Sons should waste no time tracking down a copy of this nine-track gem. There isn’t a clunker to be found, but the Cerny brothers are especially impressive on “All I Need,” “Ohio,” “Darling,” “Mountainsong,” “Out of Time,” “Worry” and “Whiskey.” I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Sir Sly (Cherrytree/Interscope)
While you probably don’t know much about Los Angeles rock trio Sir Sly quite yet, it’s only a matter of time until this talented outfit pops up on your radar. Its “Gold” EP marks Sir Sly’s major-label debut and the band’s atmospheric rock figures to have plenty of mainstream appeal. The four-track release is bookended by the two strongest tracks — “Where I’m Going” and “Ghost” — and the title track is almost as enjoyable. Only “Found You Out” fails to register on the 14-minute release. Keep an eye on Sir Sly.
‘Spirit of Minneapolis’
The 4onthefloor (self-released)
If you caught its performance last month at the Smiling Moose, you no doubt were intrigued when the 4onthefloor took to the stage with four kick drums in tow. The Minnesota four-piece maintains perfect 4/4 time by having each member hit the bass drum simultaneously with his foot while playing his instrument. It’s a novel but effective approach and pays dividends on dynamite new album “Spirit of Minneapolis.” The 12-track collection of heavy, blues-infused rock is anchored by frontman Gabriel Douglas’ Jim Morrison-like vocals, which he puts to great use on standouts “King of the Jungle,” “Enough,” “Stand Off,” “Some Days,” “Fear, Hope, Green, or Me,” “Bonfire” and “Off the Cuff.” Good stuff.
Blue Sky Riders (3 Dream)
Kenny Loggins is the name you’ll recognize in country/pop trio Blue Sky Riders, but he isn’t the focal point of the group’s enjoyable “Finally Home” debut. Teaming with singer/songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, Loggins, at age 65, is earning some of his best reviews in decades. The threesome shares lead vocals throughout and are especially effective on “I’m a Rider (Finally Home),” personal favorite “How’s That Workin’ for Ya,” “Just Say Yes,” “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” “Dream,” “Say I Like It” and “As Luck Would Have It.”
‘This Is the End’
Various Artists (RCA)
The apocalypse comedy “This Is the End” is a hit-and-miss affair (I thought the first half was quite funny, but found the second half to be an embarrassing mess), but the film’s soundtrack fares a bit better. It’s an eclectic collection of 12 tunes featuring such artists as Funkadelic (“A Joyful Process”), Norman Greenbaum (“Spirit in the Sky”), Backstreet Boys (“Everybody [Backstreet’s Back]”), J-Kwon (“Tipsy”) and Whitney Houston (“I Will Always Love You”). There’s a nice collaboration between movie co-star Craig Robinson and Snoop Dogg (“Take Yo Panties Off”) and a laughable entry from co-star James Franco’s band Daddy (the mostly spoken word “Love in the Old Days”), but overall the platter is more consistent than the Seth Rogan-Evan Goldberg-directed movie.
‘Lost at Seventeen’
Emily’s Army (Rise)
With pop/punk icon Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) in the producer’s chair, Oakland outfit Emily’s Army serves up a high-octane sophomore full-length “Lost at Seventeen.” There’s nothing especially original about the Army’s take on the genre, but the kids put enough energy and attitude into the 16-track, 48-minute release to make it worth a few spins. Though the record overstays its welcome by about a third, pop/punk fans are sure to get a jolt out of “Part Time Bum,” “Gubermensch,” “Avenue,” “Kids Just Wanna Dance,” “War” and “18 years.” Rock on.
Rodeo Ruby Love (Pentimento)
The pride of Indianapolis, indie collective Rodeo Ruby Love looks to raise its profile considerably with the release of its fourth full-length “The Pits.” It’s an ear-pleasing gathering of a dozen country-tinged pop songs anchored by charismatic frontman Zachary Melton and golden-throated co-vocalist Annie Cheek. “Made It Marion,” “It Was Weird,” the title track, “Where You Find It,” “Bottom of the Barrel” and “Worst Case Scenario” are terrific and merit multiple spins. Here’s hoping the masses catch on to Rodeo Ruby Love.
‘Fishing for a Thank You’
Beans on Toast (Xtra Mile)
In the vein of fellow British folkies Frank Turner and Billy Bragg, singer/songwriter Beans on Toast tackles what he perceives as the wrongs of the world in his catchy, thought-provoking new album “Fishing for a Thank You.” With his thick accent, brutal honesty and refreshing sense of humor, Beans on Toast has a winner on his hands in this intriguing 15-song album. Among the many highlights are “Beer and a Burger,” “Angry Birds,” “Rainydays,” “Protest Song,” “The Apple of Eden,” “Freedom” and “A Real Life Country Song.” Highly recommended.
The Silent Comedy (self-released)
Unless you’ve spent time on the West Coast in recent years, chances are you haven’t heard of up-and-coming indie rockers The Silent Comedy. I urge you to track down a copy of latest EP “Friends Divide” because this San Diego-based four-piece has some real chops. The six-track EP is nothing short of fantastic, as The Silent Comedy serves up a series of winners in “Neon God,” “Always Two,” “Light of Day,” “You Don’t Know Me” and “Ghosts.” I think big things are in store for these guys.
‘This Is Another Life’
Case Studies (Sacred Bones)
I was very disappointed when indie duo the Dutchess and the Duke (Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison) parted ways a few years ago just when it seemed like they were coming into their own. Lortz went solo (using the Case Studies moniker) and with “This Is Another Life” has his second fantastic album in as many tries. It’s a stark, morose gathering of indie folk tunes, but his songwriting skills and haunting vocal work make it a record I want to revisit again and again. There aren’t any real misfires to be found, as Case Studies scores with “In a Suit Made of Ash,” “Villain,” “Driving East, and Through Her,” “You Say to Me, You Never Have to Ask,” “From Richard Brautigan” and “A Beast I Have Yet to Find.”
Danish soul/pop duo Quadron opened some eyes with its 2010 self-titled debut and serves up more of the same on even-better sophomore set “Avalanche.” Vocalist Coco O. is the star of the show and she shines bright throughout the 10-track release. There are dancetastic tunes galore on the front-loaded record, with “LFT,” “Favorite Star,” “Hey Love,” “Befriend,” “It’s Gonna Get You” and “Better off” (featuring rapper Kendrick Lamar) the cream of a very good crop.
‘Woodland & Young North’
The Paper Kites (Nettwerk)
It’s only a matter of time until Australian indie folk quintet the Paper Kites enjoys success on our shores. With a debut full-length slated to drop in the fall, the folks at Nettwerk are releasing the Paper Kites’ first two EPs — “Woodland” and “Young North” as a boxed set. The 11 combined tracks serve as a nice introduction to the band’s earthy melodies and pitch-perfect vocal harmonies. “Woodland” is the stronger of the two discs, with standouts that include the title track, “Featherstone” (which was featured prominently in the Season 8 finale of “Grey’s Anatomy”),” “Willow Tree March” and “Bloom.” “Young North” has some nice moments as well, most notably “Leopold Street,” “When Our Legs Grew Tall” and “Kiss the Grass.”
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or [email protected].