High Times on Lowly Streets (Reclaim Records)
Bands tend to evolve slowly. But the difference between Coastwest Unrest’s second album, Old Weird America, and this new longplayer is considerable. Maybe it’s the availability of a recording studio like Battle Born. Or the production contributions of Robert Root (a previous Killers studio collaborator). Or the addition of cellist Zoe Kohen Ley, who adds another layer to the band’s roots-music aesthetic. Or the artistic growth of the band, which has elevated its songcraft and adapted its sound accordingly.
The biggest difference, however, may be Coastwest Unrest’s newfound energy, a notable contrast to the raw starkness of Old Weird America. While that release made you want to pour over singer/lyricist Noah Dickie’s every word, the sweep of the ascending melodies and rollicking rhythms on High Times threatens to distract you from the singer’s old-soul observations. That doesn’t quite happen; Dickie’s weathered baritone is one of the music scene’s most distinct voices, and his thoughtfulness can be as catching as the instrumental liveliness scoring it — which seems to have balanced his gravitas with optimism. “It’s us against the world again/but our hearts are where they’ve always been,” sing he and the band on “Lost & Damned,” in a repeated refrain all but prompting an audience sing-along. Now that Coastwest Unrest has given itself a reason to feel good, it follows that we might experience the same effervescence. MIKE PREVATT
CD release party: Friday, March 22, 8 p.m.; The Bunkhouse, 124 S. 11th St., www.neonreverb.com, $8.
Captain of the Men of Death EP (self-released)
Even as his primary music project Deadhand steadily ascended the local music scene last year, frontman Brendan Scholz remained restless. That’s a good problem to have if you’re an artist, especially when that itch is scratched. Scholz did just that when he began working on songs by himself, trading his electric guitar for an acoustic one, and began applying his trademark lyrical bloodletting to, of all things, power-pop chords. That sounds like a recipe for either irony or emo rehash, but Mercy Music’s first release dodges those contrivances with straightforward strummers, sharp tunefulness and Scholz’s earnestness. “Bird of Death” recalls 1960s romanticism, but Scholz sells it with a note-perfect delivery. Similarly, “Undone,” performed with a full band, is pure Help-era Beatles bliss. The other songs expose Scholz’s widening music influences, and there’s no telling how far he can take this side project if keeps following his intuition. M.P.
EP release party: Saturday, March 23, 10 p.m.; Beauty Bar, 517 Fremont St., www.neonreverb.com, $8-$10.