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Rogers: April unleashed some impressive debuts in alt rock

In so many ways, April was a weird month.

It was freaking cold. I was “training” for a 5K, something I never thought I would do. The Cubs were good, then bad, then good again, then bad again.

It was a weird month for music, too. How weird was it?

Sting put out a record with Shaggy (“It Wasn’t Me”).

And the best four records released in April were from bands I’d not heard of before. Three of them were debuts.

Let’s get the names out of the way first. Mastersystem. The Penske File. Nectar. The Spielbergs.

Bonus points to anyone who had heard about them before April! (But I think you’re lying.)

The best of the bunch is “Dance Music” by Mastersystem. But it’s not dance music at all. It’s pure crunchy, fuzzy grunge. And it is glorious.

It wasn’t long into the first listen of the record that I was struck by the singer’s voice. It sounded so familiar. That’s gotta be Scott Hutchison, right?! Hutchison is the lead singer of the fantastic Scottish band Frightened Rabbit.

The slightest of research led to the discovery that Mastersystem is a supergroup of sorts – Scott and Grant Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, Justin Lockey of Editors, and James Lockey of Minor Victories.

For as long as I’ve loved Frightened Rabbit, I’ve always wanted them to rock just a little more. Play the guitars a little more aggressively.

That’s what “Dance Music” is. It’s a ripper. No offense to Editors and Minor Victories, but Mastersystem sounds a lot more like Frightened Rabbit than the other two bands represented.

(Note After this was written, Scott Hutchison was reported missing in Scotland. As of press time, he had not been found.)

“Salvation” by Canadian punk rockers The Penske File also has a familiar sound to it. Think The Menzingers meet Gaslight Anthem. Both excellent bands, by the way.

But while The Penske File’s sound is familiar, the songwriting on “Salvation” is a notch above most of the hundreds of peers in the crowded genre. The sound is booming, punchy, anthemic and uplifting.

Speaking of punchy, Nectar, the latest impressive young heavy hitter from the underrated Infinity Cat label, pulls no punches and wastes no time in its debut release.

“Knocking At The Door” is 10 songs but all of 19 minutes long. Nectar’s twee pop punk hits hard and fast, the longest of the first 9 songs on the record, “Smile,” clocking in at 2 minutes. Only the closer, “Birthday” lasts longer than a boxing round.

Frontwoman Kamila Glowacki and her three bandmates hail from Champaign-Urbana, so we’ll call them local!

Finally, the debut EP from Norwegian band Spielbergs, “Distant Star,” thunders in with the melodic rocker “We Are All Going To Die,” that includes a 2-minute jam reminiscent of The Joy Formidable’s “Whirring,” which I still maintain might be the best 8 minutes of rock music ever made.

Spielbergs – no relation to the filmmaker, though he does have kids who are in a band called Wardell – don’t rest on the excellent EP opener. No, their guitar-heavy indie rock hits hard on “Daisy! It’s The New Me,” turns epic and measured on the 8-minute-long “Ghost Boy,” clicks back into high gear on the title track, then wraps up a diverse 23 minutes of music with the ballad “Setting Sun.”

Spielbergs are definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Speaking of that, keep an eye on what Father John Misty does in 2018. If the stellar songs released last month and earlier this year by FJM – “Just Dumb Enough To Try,” “Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest of Them All,” and “Mr. Tillman” are indicative of the strength of his next album, he’ll have the best record of 2018. “God’s Favorite Customer” is scheduled for release June 1.

Speaking of fantastic glimpses of what might be ahead from some other fantastic indie rock artists in 2018, April saw some great singles from Courtney Barnett (“City Looks Pretty”), Tokyo Police Club (“New Blues”) and Natalie Prass (“Lost”). All are slated for record releases later this year. All could compete for record of the year.

Finally, April brought a new release from Prince. OK, well, it’s not new. It was recorded in 1984. And the song will not be new to you, either. It’s “Nothing Compares 2U,” which Prince wrote but Sinead O’Connor made popular in 1990. Personally, I like the O’Connor version just a bit better, but the Prince recording is quite good.

May has already started off strong, with excellent releases by Frank Turner, Iceage, Middle Kids and Skating Polly. Evidently, the year in music is heating up along with the weather.

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