Behind the Parade (Second Motion)
Local favorite Tommy Keene provided something of a smart-pop soundtrack to the 1980s, much like Pavement's Stephen Malkmus did a decade later. But while Malkmus became an indie sensation, Keene toiled in relative obscurity, which is a shame, because the guy crafts the most engaging guitar pop you'll ever hear. That's why the title of his new CD stings a little—longtime fans know that Keene should be leading the parade, as gems like "Deep Six Saturday," "The Long Goodbye," and the title track attest. Even when he experiments, like on the string-laden "La Castana," his power-pop instincts win the day. It's amazing to see him, at this point in his career, abandoning the hit parade and simply beating the pavement with such great material.
JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
Want More (Bloodshot)
At this summer's Solid Sound Festival—held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Wilco—Brooks and company tore through a scorching version of "Baltimore is the New Brooklyn" that had the crowd on its feet singing its Balto-friendly refrain. Afterwards, I asked Brooks about his Chicago-based group's Baltimore connection, and he said bassist Ben Taylor hails from our area and wrote the tune. "And he's right—Baltimore is the new Brooklyn," Brooks added, flashing a huge grin. On this disc, Taylor co-wrote four of the 11 songs, but Brooks steals the retro-soul show by channeling Otis Redding's focused intensity and Little Richard's exuberant swagger, with a little indie-rock attitude and country twang in the mix. "Sister Ray Charles" manages to simultaneously evoke the Stones, The Velvet Underground, and the soul legend in an inspired, three-and-a-half minute burst of hipster cool. A funky cover of Wilco's "I'm Am Trying to Break Your Heart" adds to the fun.
White Life (Ehse)
White Life's Jon Ehrens loops slinky synth parts and nimble bass lines over a homespun/low-key aesthetic that suits his ambling electronica on these eight playful, catchy songs. Sure, they sometimes feel tossed off and not fully realized—like a Future Islands goof mixed with Arthur Russell—but local heavyweights Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak) and Andrew Bernstein (Dan Deacon Ensemble) add some heft and legitimacy to the proceedings.