Friday, July 21, 2023

John P. Strohm – “This American Lie” [Music Video]

You may remember John P. Strohm from college rock favorites Blake Babies, his time in The Lemonheads, or as frontman of Antenna and Velo-Deluxe. He also released a trio of solo albums across the mid-to-late ‘90s and 2000s. Strohm has recently prepped his fourth solo album (his first in 15 years) – Something to Look Forward To – for a September 29 release on Propeller Sound Recordings (home to artists like Dex Romweber, the dB’s, Love Tractor, and others). 

Something to Look Forward To has been described as being “shaped by life-altering loss and the subsequent reawakening of Strohm’s voice as a songwriter.” It was most deeply inspired by the passing of his close friend and fellow Antenna bandmate Ed Ackerson, who contributed to a handful of the album’s tracks. (You can read Strohm's touching Talkhouse piece on his relationship with Ackerman here: The album also features Strohm’s versatile musicianship across a variety of instruments – guitar, bass, drums, organ, keys, banjo – and boasts an impressive guest list: drummer Marshall Vore and bassist Harrison Whitford (both members of Phoebe Bridgers’ band) and singer-songwriters Erin Rae, Courtney Marie Andrews, and Kate Tucker as harmony vocalists. 

Ahead of the September 29 release of Something to Look Forward To, Strohm is debuting a new lyric video for “This American Lie,” the album’s second single. On the melodically melancholic ballad, Strohm’s vocals, acoustic, bass, and drums provide the lion’s share of the wistful musical mood. The track is further elevated by Ackerson’s ornamental keys, Alex Yaker’s underpinned piano, and Courtney Marie Andrews’ stellar background vocals. 

Something To Look Forward To can be preordered on CD and limited edition vinyl from Propellor Sound Recordings here:

Thursday, July 20, 2023

R.E.M. – Around the Sun [Vinyl Reissue]

Once again partnering with Craft Recordings, R.E.M. is reissuing a quartet of late-era reissues on high quality, 180-gram vinyl: 2011’s Collapse into Now and 2004’s Around the Sun (both out July 14), as well as 2001’s Reveal and 2008’s Accelerate (both out August 25). 

2004 was certainly an interesting year to be an R.E.M. fan. While news that the band was in the process of recording what would become their thirteenth studio album (Around the Sun) was swirling about, they graciously tided fans over by releasing one of the best concert films of their career, Perfect Square. Recorded the prior year at an outdoor summer show in Wiesbaden, Germany, Perfect Square is an incredible snapshot of the band’s impressive ability to retain global rockstar status in their post-Berry iteration. It certainly helped that the Perfect Square setlist was not only rich with older favorites (for example, opening with a fantastic ‘80s-‘90s one-two punch of “Begin the Begin” into “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”) and updated classics (“Country Feedback” getting a stunning Peter Buck guitar solo and Michael Stipe peppering it with lyrics from Reveal’s “Chorus and the Ring”), but the cinematography of the day-into-night, “on the green” setting was a visually remarkable cherry on top. At the time, it certainly helped to drum up additional excitement for their forthcoming album as well. 

Then, as Around the Sun was being prepped for a fall release, the mid-tempo piano ballad “Leaving New York” was released as an early single to a surprisingly lackluster response. In fact, here in the states at least, “Leaving New York” received minimal radio play and became their first lead single from an album to not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart since 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction. (It should be noted, however, that the song still became a Top 5 hit in the UK). Subsequent Around the Sun singles – the equally piano-heavy “Aftermath,” the trippy synths of “Electron Blue,” and the Beatles-like mix-metered bounce of “Wanderlust” – all faired the same; mid-level charting in the UK and veritable crickets in the US. Overall, critics didn’t much seem to know what exactly to make of the album. In later years, even the band themselves have been pretty blunt in their own assessments, with Stipe recalling that “in the process of recording, we lost our focus as a band” and Buck admonishing that it “wasn’t really listenable” because it was made by “a bunch of people that are so bored with the material that they can’t stand it anymore.” 

With all due respect to the band, Around the Sun has always been an “agree to disagree” situation with me because I think the album is packed with beautifully vulnerable songwriting moments and a charming, pro-level hand of restraint in the sonic coloring. As Perfect Square evidenced, the band still knew exactly how and when to crank into their singularly transcendent rock-modes and create idiosyncratic guitar-and-bass interplay riffing like few else. They had a celebrated two-decades-and-counting back catalog of it to pull inspiration from at any time. What they didn’t have yet was an album that managed to fully harness the confidence and ability to be intoxicatingly drifting and meditative without veering into aimlessness – which was exactly what many critics at the time failed to allow Around the Sun to be. As soon as Accelerate came out four years later, a general sigh of relief and chorus of “yes, they still got it” accompanied the well-deserved praise for that album’s genius (but that’s a story for another review). 

What this new 2023 vinyl repress of the long out-of-print Around the Sun might allow for is a collective reassessment of the album’s stunning vulnerability and self-assured meandering. While the original 2004 pressing of Around the Sun was already thankfully spread across two discs, the new 180-gram upgrade wonderfully grounds the sonic mix even further. Stipe’s vocals still feel securely nestled into the instrumental beds without getting muddied, and many of the piano and synth textures somehow feel a bit sharper. There was no remixing or remastering done for these reissues, but there’s definitely something about the vinyl quality that elevates the album’s overall sonic presence – especially in the background vocals of tracks like “Boy in the Well” and album closer “Around the Sun.” Once again, the impressive attention-to-detail work on the physical vinyl by Memphis Records and Kevin Gray of Coherent Audio can’t be overstated. The stalwart gatefold packaging feels nice and solid for the double-disc presentation, and the minimalist vibe of the cover art (subliminally echoing Stipe’s “lost our focus” assessment) carries through to the black-and-white, lyric-emblazoned printed sleeves. Overall, the stark-yet-sturdy production checks all the boxes; impressive
physicality without any gilded razzle-dazzle. Again, the most appreciated value to this welcomed and worthy reissue is the superb vinyl quality upgrade. 

Along with the standard black version from Craft, the band also released a limited edition opaque white variant on their website. 

Here’s a helpful link to multiple purchase options for all four reissues:

Friday, July 14, 2023

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now [Vinyl Reissue]

It goes without saying that 2011 was a deeply bittersweet year for R.E.M. fans. The highs of getting a brand new album (Collapse Into Now, their fifteenth studio album overall) bottomed out just six months later when the legendary outfit finally called it a day. But where Michael Stipe’s charming wave on the Collapse Into Now cover turned out to be a fittingly farewell gesture back in 2011, it has now transformed into a bit of a reconnective greeting as it adorns the 2023 vinyl repress of the long out-of-print album. This year the band has once again partnered with Craft Recordings for a run of high quality, 180-gram vinyl represses of a quartet of their post-Berry-era releases, including Collapse Into Now and 2004’s Around the Sun (both out July 14), as well as 2001’s Reveal and 2008’s Accelerate (both out August 25).

As far as final albums go, Collapse Into Now proved to be an incredibly strong closing statement from the band. The energetic back-to-back album kickoff of “Discoverer” and “All the Best” contain all of the best elements of the band’s singular magic – Stipe’s peerless vocal swagger, Peter Buck’s enchantingly buzzy guitar riffs, Mike Mills’ foundation-rattling bass and duet-like background vocals, and invitationally singalong choruses – seamlessly woven together in familiar-yet-still-fresh arrangements. The three commercially-released singles from the album – “Mine Smell Like Honey,” “Ɯberlin,” and “Oh My Heart” – all have their own apropos sonic signatures, with the latter’s enduring timelessness being evidenced by its prominent placement last year in an episode of one of the most popular television show’s of the moment, Hulu’s The Bear. Collapse Into Now is also notable for boasting one of R.E.M.’s most robust guest lists – featuring incredible musical contributions from Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, Lenny Kaye, Peaches, Joel Gibb, and others (including a robust horn section on a couple songs).

The first thing about the 2023 repress of Collapse Into Now that sets it above its original 2011 pressing is the quality of the 180-gram vinyl. You can not only feel the heavier weight when pulling it out of the sleeve, but also the sonic presence of the tracks feel more crisp and cohesive. The meticulous attention given to the vinyl album itself – cut by Kevin Gray of Coherent Audio and pressed at Memphis Records – comes through in both its physical feel and aural brilliance. The packaging is unembellished but certainly reliable enough; featuring a standard side-open jacket, white poly-lined inner sleeve, and single-page monochrome lyrical/liner printed insert. As far as standard reissues go, the impressive leveling up of the actual vinyl (both in physical durability and sonic quality) is worth the price of admission alone. Along with the standard black version from Craft, the band also released a “Milky Clear” variant on their website (limited to 1,000 copies).   
Here’s a helpful link to multiple purchase options for all four reissues