Many are the bands chasing down the sound of roots-rock’s most well-known practitioners (The Band, Flying Burrito Bros., The Jayhawks). Into that arena steps the Athens, Georgia ensemble The Pink Stones, who released their debut full-length this month through the New West Records-affiliated label Normaltown. It’s a fine little rambler, with all the right details—washes of Hammond organ and pedal steel, a lightly zonked out vibe—to signify that they were taking notes when they sat through their 50th rewatch of The Last Waltz. The band photo on the record insert reveals a hairy bunch of dudes who look comfortable using the gatefold sleeve of Harvest to roll a joint or three. And the choice of colored vinyl (a nice marbled eggshell blue) and pastel heavy cover art are reminders that they are 21st century boys. The Pink Stones may be missing the cynical or truly fried edges of their forebears but the inviting glow of the music is all the better for it.
Travis fans in the U.S. are getting a bit of a bum deal with the reissue of the Scottish pop group’s 1997 debut. Over here, the album has been pressed on standard black wax. Meanwhile, folks in the U.K. can choose between a heavyweight 180 gram black pressing and a limited red vinyl version. That should tell you everything about how Travis is being perceived some 25 years after their first album was released. In their home continent, anticipation is high for the group’s forthcoming run of concert dates. Here in the States, the band’s popularity waxed and waned in the ‘00s and has never returned to those peaks. It’s a shame as this quartet had the goods from the jump. With the help of producer Steve Lillywhite and drawing inspiration from recording at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, Travis’ created big and brash art rock that picks from the fertile ground already tilled by the likes of Radiohead and Oasis. Like the best British bands, this group aimed for the stars with their debut and very nearly got their collective hands on a supernova. They’d get there eventually.
You likely wouldn’t know that drummer Chris Corsano and guitarist Bill Orcutt were, for the first time in their long-running partnership, forced to record in separate locations from one another. That’s a testament to how talented these musicians are as well as the wonders of modern technology that allowed them to capture the volatile nature of their live performances and improv sessions. This also allowed Orcutt to overdub multiple guitar parts on many of these tracks, layering leads like an elaborate design for a cane back chair. Snapping through this thicket of sound is Corsano, one of the most exciting drummers working today. He clearly loves working with Orcutt and expresses that affection with playing that doesn’t try to direct or follow the guitar work. His generous rhythms stay on equal footing, reacting subtly and fluidly to each harsh strum and springing pluck of Orcutt’s strings.
One of the surest ways for an electronic artist to get their music heard by a larger audience is for them to produce the soundtrack to a film or TV series. Which is exactly what German musician Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, has been doing in the years since he moved from making dancefloor fillers to creating more ruminative ambient work. This lovely, limited edition boxed set brings together four such soundtracks that Ring has produced for films—all of them made by European directors. Not that it is necessary to have seen Capri-Revolution or Dämonen to appreciate the music on this collection. Divested of the visuals, these compositions are still capable of leaving a deep impact. I’m partial to the work Ring did for Capri-Revolution as there’s a frizzled element to it, as if his failing hard drive was straining to be heard over the gently plucked acoustic guitar and foggy drones, and the heavy low end and foreboding neo-noir atmosphere of the soundtrack for Stay Still. Though simply packaged, combining the Dali-esque artwork from George Tyebcho and Carsten Aermes with four lovingly mastered LPs music makes this set feel downright lavish.
Do your best not to dismiss this as a mere gimmick. I mean, it’s an understandable reaction to how the music on the album was created: Psychic Ills member Elizabeth Hart had MIDI devices applied to her pregnant belly and, with the help of musician Iván Diaz Mathé, translated the signals into sound using synthesizers. But this is hardly some New Age-y ode to motherhood and the wonders of fertility. The music that came out of these odd sessions is as soupy and colorful as a sci-fi movie soundtrack with all the dark portents and wondrous delights that evokes. Mathé and Hart wisely avoided trying to turn this material into straightforward songs. Instead the emphasis is on mood and texture—an impressionist array of drones and wobbles and rude squeaks and blurts. There’s also, to these ears at least, a strangely soothing quality to the record that is either bringing my lizard brain back to my in utero days or speaks poorly of my state of mind right now.
Daptone Records founder Gabriel Roth did the right thing when he invited Moroccan ensemble Innov Gnawa to his studio to record: he set up some mics, rolled tape and stayed out of the way. The recording he captured on Lila isn’t as crisp and bright as his other productions for Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley but it puts listeners right in the center of a traditional gnawa ceremony—an all-night throwdown of unrelenting polyrhythms produced by metal castanets, call-and-response vocals and a guembri pulsing through it all. It’s an imperfect recording with little clatters and throat rattles evident throughout, which only adds to the immediacy of these performances. Particularly on the closing number “Hamdouchia,” which puts a spotlight on bandleader Maalem Hassan Ben Jaafer’s impassioned vocals and guembri playing. It’s just as hypnotizing and entrancing as every moment preceding it. I don’t expect this one to come off the turntable any time soon.
Why are the rock fans of the world losing their collective minds over Greta Van Fleet when a group like The Vintage Caravan is right there. This Icelandic trio kicks up a far more appealing racket using the same ‘70s hard rock source material but without the mannered histrionics. These gents seem to feel the music of their influences—Rush, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep—deep within their bones and let it flow out from their bodies like plumes of heat. Their fifth album Monuments—the band’s first for new label Napalm—is a mighty furnace blast of prog-adjacent thrills that, even though it was a studio construction, was recorded to approximate the volume and dynamics of their live performances. As cosmic as the music can get, the band writes their songs about earthbound concerns: love in all its vagaries and the global political landscape. Hard to say whether this album will change anyone’s minds or turn the heads of the ones that got away, but it’s a hell of a groovy ride listening to The Vintage Caravan try to move mountains with this wonderful album.