August 7, 2014

Today's Hotness: Johnny Foreigner, Bent Shapes, It Looks Sad., Frontier(s)

Johnny Foreigner -- Worse Things Happen At Sea (detail)

>> We couldn't let this bit of news completely slip by without trumpeting it once more here, given our self-proclaimed status as the publication of record for all things Johnny Foreigner. So, in case you missed it in the mad run-up to our vacation last month, the Birmingham, England-based noise-pop titans have signed with Philadelphia's Lame-O Records to release its music in the U.S. The first fruits of this relationship is a weird virtual "mix tape" released a few weeks back called Worse Things Happen At Sea; it collects an unusual assortment of mostly previously released material, probably as many deep cuts as greatest hits, we'd say. Highlights include a session version of the opener to Johnny Foreigner's incredible 2014 LP You Can Do Better, "Shipping," as well the lead cuts from its titanic third LP Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything and devastating 2010 EP You Thought You Saw A Shooting Star But Yr Eyes Were Blurred With Tears And That Lighthouse Can Be Pretty Deceiving With The Sky So Clear And The Sea So Calm. The real deep cut is "Candles," a track that originally appeared on demos collections that pre-date any of the quartet's official album releases, and perhaps the most welcome return is the twinkling ballad "199x," whose only prior release to date was on the compact 2011 odds and sods set There When You Need It. Not that anyone's counting besides Clicky Clicky Music Blog, but the deal with Lame-O -- which is home to Johnny Foreigner BFFs The Weaks and has also put out music by Modern Baseball -- is the Brummie's third North American deal in its decade of existence. A 2008 deal with Nettwerk can most charitably be described as a non-starter (or even non-existent); Johnny Foreigner then signed with Chicago's Swerp in 2012 to release the excellent Names EP. It's unclear what will come next after the release of Worse Things Happen At Sea; the aforementioned You Can Do Better, which was released earlier in 2014, has not been released in the U.S., so we would hope that Lame-O might be able to make that happen (for that matter, besides Names, basically none of Johnny Foreigner's roundly excellent catalog has been properly issued on this side of the Atlantic, so, uh, you know, someone get on that). In related news, it would seem to be an unofficial off-season for Johnny Foreigner, as fronter Alexei Berrow recently disclosed he is working on new material for his solo guise Yr Friends, and drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidley has similarly disclosed he has turned his attention to new recordings by his electropop project Fridge Poetry; the two projects even merged under the name Yr Poetry for a live date earlier this summer. Laidley, incidentally, has also signed on to drum for a new, full-band version of Birmingham's Mutes, which will make its live debut Aug. 15. Further bulletins as events warrant! For now, bask in the weird glory of Worse Things Happen At Sea via the embed below.

>> Another piece of news that fell in the gap during our vacation: Boston indie-pop heroes Bent Shapes issued recently its first new material since downsizing its official personnel to a two-piece. The release came in the form of a 7" plexi-disc put out by Olympia, Wash.-based "micro-indie" (redundant?) label People In A Position To Know. The disc itself is a legit piece of art, a flat, two-sided, lathe-cut plexiglass circle that carries the band's logo and the song titles on its front side; the disc comes in three colors in a hyper-limited edition of 25 pieces per color scheme (yellow/brown; black/teal; blue/brown). "It's thick and heavy and pretty pointy at the edges," fronter Ben Potrykus told Improper Bostonian recently. Fortunately for fans, the odd media is still not as snappy as the music. The A-side touts the tune "86'd in '03," which Bent Shapes has been performing live since at least its release show for Feels Weird a year ago. The flip-side carries a cover of a The 2x4's lost-classic Boston punk tune "Bridgeport Lathe" (whose title, incidentally, would be incredibly meta if it turns out these lathe-cut discs were actually fabricated in, say, Bridgeport, CT, or better still, Bridgeport, PA). "86'd" in particular is a stunner, compressing all the jagged changes and vocal hooks of the standout 2013 long-player Feels Weird [review] into a two-minute blast that proves the recent line-up shuffle has done nothing to squelch the band's fizz. One can acquire her or his own copy of "86'd In '03" b/w "Bridgeport Lathe" from People In A Position To Know right here, or at Bent Shapes' upcoming show later this month at TT The Bear's Place in Cambridge, Mass. But one, of course, should act expeditiously, even decisively, given the extremely limited quantities involved here. Stream both cuts below, then stream them again. -- Dillon Riley

>> In what we can only hope is a viable trend in indie band branding, one of the latest acts from the indefatigable Tiny Engines stable is the relatively new It Looks Sad. To dispel any confusion, yes, that is a full stop tagged to the end of the Charlotte-based quartet's name [counterpoint: special punctuation, symbols or use of capitalization in band names has been a deplorable scourge since at least NSync, whose name we will not grace with the once-requested-by-publicists giant asterisk. See me after class, Riley. -- Ed.]. The post-#emorevival self-parody via name is not the band's most distinguishing trait, however -- which is saying something, as the band initially traded under the signicantly more unwieldy moniker It Looks Sad, That's Why I Said It's You. No, more importantly, the native Carolinians favor an atmospheric approach to its music, injecting palpable elements of dream pop into an expansive sound. It's a key distinction that interestingly situates It Looks Sad. stylistically closer to bands on Captured Tracks than the foursome's hometown label peers. It Looks Sad.'s music is no less emotional, though. Fronter Jimmy Turner's reedy vocals do plenty to convey that, buffeted by airy guitar playing that ranges from mopey to soaring, in a manner not terribly dissimilar to the impressive contemporary work by New Yorkers Cymbals Eat Guitars. It Looks Sad.'s debut release for Tiny Engines is a four-song EP titled Self-Titled. During its sub-twenty-minute runtime, the quartet packs in nearly as many ear-catching hooks. The act's playing comes tightly into focus when it slows the tempo, consolidating into a loose groove on the standout track "Fingers" [video]. Here the band falls in around a high, trebly, circular riff that persists throughout the song, outlasting even a forceful, crash-cymbal aided chorus. Despite having just four songs out, It Looks Sad. exhibits an admirable mastery of its chosen musical argot at a time in its career trajectory when other young bands are struggling to break out of the bedroom. We're eager to hear where the band heads next. Self-Titled is slated for release later this summer, and it can be pre-ordered from Tiny Engines on 7" vinyl (in a limited edition of 500 pieces available in salmon, seafoam or cream) and/or download right here. Stream the entire short stack via the Soundcloud embed below. -- Dillon Riley

>> From the other side of the Tiny Engines spectrum comes another fairly new act, Frontier(s), which is helmed by Chris Higdon of '90s emo luminaries Elliot. The Louisville-based quartet dropped its second release, an EP titled White Lights, via the aforementioned label Tuesday. Drawing influence from the D.C.-styled post-hardcore sound that birthed first-wave emo acts such as Embrace and Rites Of Spring (and, honestly, maybe even a bit from '80s hair metal), White Lights feels a lot like the logical sonic mean of Higdon's prior acts, the early '90s hardcore collective Falling Forward and the aforementioned Elliot, despite the long passage of time since either of those groups have been active. More importantly, though, the EP feels vital and fresh, not a throwback to another time, much in the same way as the tremendous and recently released reunion album from Braid, No Coast. White Lights certainly carries in its five songs a certain amount of world-weariness, but doesn't feel bogged down with comeback emotions. Frontier(s) is at its best on set closer "Bare Hands," where the foursome sounds as if it has a lot to prove, despite its notable pedigree. You can grab White Lights from Tiny Engines on 12" vinyl and/or digital download right here, and stream the entire EP via the Soundcloud embed below. -- Dillon Riley

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