(Fat Possum ***)
The original four members of pioneering Los Angeles punk band X have been touring semi-regularly since reuniting in 1998. But the group — fronted by former spouses John Doe and Exene Cervenka and featuring drummer DJ Bonebrake and guitarist Billy Zoom — hadn’t recorded an album of new music together since Ain’t Love Grand in 1985.
That is, until they surprise-released the impressively vital Alphabetland, giving fans a treat to hold them over until the band can do their postponed 40th anniversary tour for the classic 1980 debut Los Angeles.
Teaming on the new album with producer Rob Schnapf (who’s worked with Beck, Guided By Voices, and Dr. Dog), the band recaptures the locomotive sound from their urgent, early works, always threatening to careen out of control.
Two songs aren’t actually new: “Delta 88 Nightmare” and “Cyrano deBerger’s Back” (with a saxophone solo by Zoom) were both written in the late 1970s.
But nine others are. Most are marked by a rip-roaring spirit pushed forward by Zoom and Bonebrake’s locked-in, muscular playing.
The tightly compressed tunes — only one is over three minutes — tell tales about class warfare and urban disintegration, with Cervenka and Doe’s overlapping vocals full of sharp wit as they long for escape.
“My bank account is down and out and overdrawn,” Doe sings on “Goodbye Year, Goodbye.” “I could go on and on and on.” Thankfully, he and his X mates don’t. Instead, they keep it short and to the point and sounding remarkably like they did 35 years ago.
— Dan DeLuca
Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between
(Sub Pop ***)
Man Man started when Ryan Kattner, also known as Honus Honus, was in art school here in Philadelphia. With an ever-evolving lineup — often dressed in white jumpsuits on stage — the band released five wild albums between 2004 and 2013.
But then Kattner, now based in Los Angeles, set the project aside to focus on his other band, Mister Heavenly, on a solo album, and on work in other media.
Now he’s rebooted Man Man for Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between, which revives the band’s wry sense of the grotesque, juxtaposed with joyfully unhinged and happily unpredictable music.
Kattner’s growl of a voice has always drawn comparisons to Tom Waits, and this album goes further. With its marimbas, baritone sax, bang-on-a-can percussion, and stop-start rhythms, it often sounds like Waits’ Swordfishtrombones (and that’s a good thing).
Dream Hunting is full of other fun musical allusions — to the cartoon soundtracks of Carl Stallings, to Caribbean carnival music, to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” — and the melodies are more accessible and the hooks more overt than in the past.
Lyrically, the songs are bleak, full of breakups and meltdowns, broken dreams and maladies. The contrast is cathartic, and Man Man’s return is a treat.
— Steve Klinge
Do You Wonder About Me?
Diet Cig’s latest, Do You Wonder About Me?, is an energetic, 10-track album recorded in part at Philadelphia’s Headroom Studios.
The duo of Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman, formed in 2014, scrape the remaining zest off the rinds off that era’s indie pop and pop punk — and combine it with thoughtful, confessional lyrics by Luciano that you can sit with for a while.
Do You Wonder About Me? Is slower than their 2017 debut, Swear I’m Good At This, and though mostly conventional in the same way, finishes with some nicely surprising flourishes.
The title comes from the opening track, “Thriving,” as Luciano lets an ex-love know that she’s flourishing, post-breakup. “Do you wonder about me? / Do you think I’ve been losing sleep?,” she asks, but not because she’s pining. At 3:42, it’s the longest song on the album.
Luciano has a knack for these quietly cutting little lines — quick daggers through the ribs. “There’s a man at the end of my bed,” she sings on “Night Terrors,” “and he wants my soul.”
On the eighth track, “Worth The Wait,” they bring in some new keyboard texture that adds welcome variety. There’s a new inventiveness here that portends well for the band’s future, and it’s probably the best song on the album.