New Music

Boreal Hills
Dope Hugz
Self Release
STL

I’ve been asking around, and as far as I can tell, Boreal Hills is still pretty much unknown here in town. That makes Dope Hugz all the more sweet a discovery. This little five-song EP has already become one of my favorite STL releases in memory. Singer-guitarist Karl Frank delivers the lyrics with easy confidence, and the hooks in each song come as much from how he performs the vocal as from the part itself. Apparently he and drummer Tom O’Connor originally hail from Columbia, MO, but it’s our luck that they’re here now.

The nouveau-garage vocal distortion on opener “Split Lips” brings to mind STL’s own Volcanoes by way of the Black Keys—the main riff is lean and mean, and the guitar solo full of clever surprise colors. But it’s the second track, “Wise Up,” that gives a clue as to what might be special about this duo. It has a melancholic bittersweet quality I associate with Girls or Smith Westerns, where the emotion of the song is built into the DNA of every note, spoken or shouted.

Then again, “Belcher” might turn out to be the STL hit of the summer, with its excited “WOO OOO OO OOO” kickoff and out-of-control reverb/delay on the distorted lead vocal. The bridge section takes a swipe at Swell Maps’ art-rock classic “Full Moon in My Pocket,” then snaps back out into full-on joy rock a la Arctic Monkeys’ first album. These guys know how to get max dynamics out of the two-piece arrangement. “Ripped Jeans” starts with a classically simple line—”No more rocks in the driveway, no more cars on the highway, I’ll see you later when I’m gone”—and lets the image grow from a stray thought to an escape plan to a wild, carefree kiss-off. 

By the time you hit the Superchunky hook buried in finale “Kids”—”I want it, I need it”—it seems clear we’ve got a serious contender for a break-out band here. There’s just enough shamble in the sharpness and pop intuition underneath the seemingly careless delivery. The recordings (apparently by the band themselves, surprisingly) are deceptively complex without sounding dense. Every one of the songs delivers a new dimension and a new character, and I can’t think of a single reason Boreal Hills couldn’t be huge nationwide by this time next year. I sure hope this band delivers live, because Dope Hugz has me hooked and jonesin’ for more. 

by Evan Sult


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Yo La Tengo
Fade
Matador Records


Twenty-nine years on, Yo La Tengo remains our most unassuming rock band, a shy group of wallflowers who excel at taking big, challenging musical ideas and rendering them small—screeching feedback as lovely as a music box. Fade, their thirteenth proper album, finds the band leaning on their quieter side to turn in one of their loveliest and tightest sets, ten perfect songs in 46 minutes.
       
The album starts with a provocation: “Ohm” chugs on a single chord for nearly seven minutes. On first listen, it can feel roundly monotonous, and yet their expert songcraft turns this avant-garde challenge into a compelling pop song. All three band members harmonize over a hypnotic robot beat. It’s propulsive, funky, and mesmerizing, like Neu! collaborating with the Hollies.

Yo La Tengo follow this challenge with the album’s most melodically generous songs: “Is That Enough” would sound like orchestral ‘60s pop, with sweeping strings and bouncing bossa nova chords, if not for the screaming distorted guitar buried low in the mix. And “Well You Better” takes the Motown formula and dials back the energy until its four-on-the-floor stomp sounds almost private—Marvin Gaye’s Saturday night sex appeal replaced by Ira Kaplan’s sleepy Sunday morning affection.

Fade’s vulnerable emotional core arrives in its more sedate second half on the acoustic strum of “The Point of It,” which starts with a lyrical lover’s quarrel before reassuring the listener that yes we are afraid, yes we are weak, yes we are aging, yes. “Maybe that’s OK if we’re not so young,” Kaplan sings…but we are still “we,” after all. And that is the point of it all.

The truly unexpected new moment for the band comes at the finale. “Before We Run” introduces a sophisticated strings and horn arrangement to Georgia Hubley’s typically shy vocals, transforming her into Dusty Springfield in Memphis, caught up in the sweeping emotion of it all.

Even at their loudest, Yo La Tengo have an unrivaled sense of personal intimacy. On earlier albums, listeners could almost feel they were eavesdropping on lovers. From title to lyrics to the consolidation of past strengths, Fade feels more like the private reassurances of life partners facing the ravages of age. Because 30 years on, here they are, and here you are, together but alone, not yet ready for the end. 
by Ryan Boyle

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Miss Molly Simms
Revenants
Self Release
STL

Spring is a weird time in STL, veering from t-shirt time to snowy in the same day, so it can be tricky to find the right soundtrack for the season. Happily, Miss Molly Simms has just released her debut album, Revenants, to warm your cold soul while you wonder wistfully about all the shenanigans you’d be getting into if you could only feel your toes—and then empower you on those days warm enough to finally open the windows and belt along in your car.

Simms has been building a reputation as a blues crooner since she was underage, which is saying a lot in the town that gave the world Tommy Bankhead and Bennie Smith. She’s a veteran of the local Baby Blues Showcase and has musical assistance throughout the record that ain’t nothin’ to eff with. Local legend and master harpsman Eric McSpadden lays down the law on “Usual Suspects,” building a solid contrast between Simms’ enduring alto vocals and the higher range of McSpadden’s harmonica. The call and response between Simms’ guitar and McSpadden’s harp is not just good fun: it demonstrates that Simms really gets how the blues work, though her guitar solos throughout the record are minimal and arguably the thing she can most elaborate upon in future recordings. 

Simms is no one-trick pony: Revenants is an interesting mix of sassy, upbeat blues songs and a slower, more introspective style of songwriting more comparable in structure to classic singer/songwriters. Ross Bridgeman’s keyswork shines throughout the album, regardless of the tempo or style. “Spiritual Healing” is the easiest example of his contribution—if the track were about any other topic, the mix would seem inappropriate, but it instead continually brings you back to the subject at hand. 
by Suzie Gilb


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My Bloody Valentine

MBV
Pickpocket

For a band that spent 22 years making their follow up to the critical darling Loveless, it seems like My Bloody Valentine haven’t changed all that much—and for the generation of fans who have grown up in the shadow of these shoegaze legends, this is a good thing. After all, if the combination of guitar noise, buried vocals and dreamy washes of sound found on that 1991 genre touchstone were enough to hook in a legion of fans and soundalike bands, why mess with a good thing? So the real question is : was it worth the wait? And the answer, like many things MBV-related, is complicated. 

You can say what you want about the bands that have come after, but My Bloody Valentine’s main strength has always been that, despite the complexity of the sound, the song structures remain stock simple. Right off the bat, blurry grinding dirge “She Found Now” establishes that the band’s writing formula is in full force, made only more urgent by the passage of so much time. The record has many moments like that, ones that feel as though the ‘90s never ended and that Kevin Shields has found his own personal time machine back to when Loveless was new. 

At the same time, there are welcome surprises—tunes that break away from what we expect from a band this storied—and those truly stand out. They include the crunchy “Only Tomorrow,” which puts a garage-rock tune through the MBV blender and comes out the other side like a Brian Wilson B-side that was buried in peat moss and left to decay, stretching its legs to the six-minute mark without breaking a sweat.

Album closer  “Wonder 2” also tries to teach these old dogs a new trick,  with a layered explosion of sounds, some in tune, some not, that collide together, at first dissonant and then later taking on a form of their own. This experimentation is welcome on a record that seems to dive headfirst into its own nostalgia.  All of which makes the whole record more a chronicle of the time between Loveless and now. Consider MBV required listening for ‘90s kids whose indie scene is currently in the throes of a shoegaze resurgence. On the flipside, if you didn’t grow up on My Bloody Valentine or Ride or Slowdive and are wondering what all the fuss is about, you might not find the resulting chaos appealing. 
by Jason Robinson