New Music Friday, Sept. 9, 2016: Ramones, Pansy Division, Bastille, M.I.A.

The best new album this week came out 40 years ago. All hail The Ramones! Elsewhere, great new work from iconic gay group Pansy Division


September 9, 2016 :: 3:37 PM

Ramones – Ramones (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Forty years after the fact, and two years since the last of the four original members left this earth, and Ramones still sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday or tomorrow or forty years from now. Historians can argue about whether this quartet of non-brothers actually started punk, but they absolutely crystalized it into a movement. By turning what they loved about pop and rock into the bare basics they changed the course of music forever. Simple, primitive, scary, funny, and raucously alive, the three chords that made up the bulk of their songs (and those of too many others) never sounded better or more committed. They’re presented here in a remastered version, a mono version, demos, and plenty of live tracks to spare. The original record – in stereo or mono version – is a stone-cold classic. Demos are demos, though it’s amazing how little changed from conception to production. And, live, they were something fierce. Anyone who believes that anyone could do it need only look back over recorded history to discover how few did it as well, or with such passion, or – and here was and is the key – with such immaculate precision. (“Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You,” “Beat On the Brat”)

Teenage Fanclub – Here
These Scottish alt-rock stars haven’t changed much over twenty-six years, and sometimes that’s okay. Album ten is a distillation of what they do best, which is write and record gentle, melodic, and decidedly low-key tunes that never stray too far from the name that has summed them up perfectly for decades. (“I’m in Love”)

Bastille – Wild World
A pleasant debut turned into a bit of an annoyance when it became a huge international hit. But this U.K. indie pop band now has global domination set in its sights, so Dan Smith and his helpmates just go for it on their sophomore record. And – surprise, surprise –it’s infinitely better than that overrated first volley. (“Good Grief”)

Local Natives – Sunlit Youth
Primed for a commercial breakthrough after two well-received releases this Silver Lake quintet delivers on their promise by widening their sights and opening their hearts. Great pop can never have enough open hearts. (“Villainy”)

M.I.A. – A.I.M.
There was no one like her in 2005 and there still isn’t, but imagine how much more sterile the pop landscape would be without her influence. Then perish the thought. (“Freedun feat. ZAYN”)

The Head and the Heart – Signs of Light
Seattle indie folk inching ever closer to the golden main of Cali soft rock on album three. (“All We Ever Knew”)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
One of the saddest records in a discography never known for its joyousness, but if you need a wallow this is your new go-to place. And though Cave is in fine, deep voice here, it’s the Danish sopranoElse Torp who steals his record out from under him on the sublime “Distant Sky.”

KT Tunstall – KIN
The sixth studio album is the most steadfast this Scottish troubadour has sounded since her 2004 debut Eye to the Telescope. And, to quote the singer herself, “Maybe It’s a Good Thing.”

Okkervil River – Away
This week is Americana (if that’s what they’re still calling it)… (“Okkervil River R.I.P.”)

Grouplove – Big Mess
Better and more focused by miles compared to their first two releases, though the title is a ruse. Big Hooks would have been more like it. (“Welcome to Your Life”)

Twin Atlantic – GLA
Lad rock by way of Scotland. (“No Sleep”)

Wilco – Schmilco
Has it really been 21 years since Jeff Tweedy made a splash during the first round of the Americana craze? Truly it has, though he’s staved off obscurity by keeping the quality of his ongoing concern high whether in experimental mode or – as he is here – just writing and recording a handful of tight and memorable tunes. (“Someone to Lose”)


Pansy Division – Quite Contrary
You can read my recent homage to this S.F. rock band here, and then you can pay your respects by checking out their seventh record released just in time for their 25th anniversary. They are older and wiser now, and – though their bodies may beg to differ – tighter. Musically, that is. While they may have joined in the spirit of punk to give voice to gay men in an era when our (rock) options were limited, that youthful ardor and spunk now comes with some serious technique behind it. You don’t do this for as long as they have without learning some new – sorry, there’s no other way to put this – tricks. (“Love Came Along,” “It’s a Sin,” “I’m the Friend”)

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