When you love a band, you’re blissfully happy when every new album is as good if not better than the last. In that regard, Slow Wave by London quartet It Hugs Back signals a band that keeps getting better while holding onto what makes them great.
Slow Wave boasts alluring half-spoken baritone lead vocals and hypnotic guitars courtesy of songwriter Matthew Simms, also known for his work in Wire since 2010. Graceful keyboards and lush vocal harmonies, echos and responses are provided by Jack Theedom. Paul Michael delivers gentle basslines and drummer Will Blackaby rounds out the relaxed rhythm section. All combine to create layered, dreamy songs you can fall in love with. Or to.
It Hugs Back albums are recorded in Simms’ studio The Record Room, and sound just as good as any studio recording. In their early days, having formed in 2006, It Hugs Back was on Too Pure and 4AD record labels, but their last few albums have been released on their Safe & Sound imprint.
Slow Wave was first recorded live by the full band, then Matthew and Jack added 12-string guitars, mellotron strings, analog synthesizers and vocal overdubs. The songs were then sent through an old copi-cat tape delay.
Whereas past IHB albums like 2013’s Recommended Record featured up-tempo songs you can get a speeding ticket to — with plenty of noise-pop and psychedelic moments and heavy effects — Slow Wave is the prettiest release, more along the lines of Remember off their Inside Your Guitar release. It still sounds like the same band, just more hushed and halcyon.
Slow Wave comes out June 15. Pre-order today on iTunes and get an immediate download of Everything’s OK:
Blow Up The Moon is Blues Traveler’s 12th studio release. This latest offering sees the New Jersey jam band collaborate with a multitude of different artists, giving the band an opportunity to stretch its musical legs by experimenting with various musical genres. Hip hop, country, pop and reggae are all represented, with Blues Traveler pairing up with such acts as 3OH!3, Plain White T’s, Jewel and Hanson.
I would go as far as to call this effort a concept album, as the songs produced on this record bear very little resemblance to the band’s past efforts. I applaud Blues Traveler’s effort to step outside of themselves and try something new, however the result that is Blow Up The Moon is an almost unlistenable misstep.
The songs have almost no life to them. The band was aiming for a pop sound; and for better or worse, that’s what they got. The production on this album is so clean it’s almost sterile. There’s no depth in the sound of this record, and that’s what really hurts it. Blues Traveler is a jam band that benefits from an open space recording where you can hear the room. This album sounds like it was produced in a small isolated booth, with each performer going in and recording their parts separately. They trick up the vocals by adding auto-tuning and a chorus of anthem chants and “Oh oh ohs” (“Hurricane” and “Blow up the Moon”) that seem more fitting for an Old Navy commercial than a Blues Traveler record. The resulting product is a album that sounds sonically flat.
I found it difficult to get through Blow Up The Moon. Perhaps I am not the audience for this record, or perhaps I’m just stuck wishing the band would return to form. Brookvale Records recently released the first four records from Blue Traveler’s catalog, so fresh listens of those records really frame how different the band is from when they started. It would be nice to hear a new record from that band again.
Give a listen: “All The Way” (featuring Thomas Ian Nicholas)
If someone was handed a Charles Hill Jr Shootin’ Man vinyl record, they would be hard-pressed to locate the region or era from which it came. When you find out it’s a modern-day man from Cleveland, it will either draw you in or cause you to fold your arms and shoot a sideways glance. But this red-headed young man made a tried, tested and true traditional country and western album.
Each track has classic, well crafted songwriting, from the title track Shootin’ Man to Learnin’ To Get On With My Life (Without Lovin’ You). You can hear his self-professed influences from George Jones to Willie Nelson in his style of singing and the pining for days when this was the way you made a record. Charles has claimed his sound and bathes in the age-old sound that he clearly identifies himself with, while his band does their best to emulate the session musicians of that era, with Al Moss as a cornerstone on pedal steel, Ben Gmetro and Stelianos Simantiris (guitars), Chris Russo (drums) and Mike Allan (bass) filling out the rest of the record’s twangy sound.
My only issues with the album is that I would have liked the song order to be more aware of the flow. It starts a little slow and the gems of the album are more of a surprise when they show up than an expectation. Charles also gets a bit too timeless with his lyrics and I don’t always get the feeling he believes what he is singing; but songs like I Don’t Want to be Reminded and The Best Efforts absolutely ring true when he sings them. The faster songs, including the title track and Mouse Island are just fun, toe-tapping songs. The band respects where the music comes from over anything else, and they want this record to feel cemented in the canon of country and western music that shaped what they do.
If you want a record that helps the afternoon wind away, with life feeling a little slower, love full of pain and heartache, and your solutions involving whiskey, this album is for you.