Kelly Hogan, a backup singer for Neko Case and former Rock*A*Teens guitarist, has an intense fan base impatient with the pace of her infrequent solo work. Four years ago, Hogan teamed up with fellow Chicago vocalist Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Alex Hall and Casey McDonough to form The Flat Five. While not entirely an a cappella group, the five singers merge their voices in droll and unexpected ways. Their 2016 debut album has just been followed by Another World (Pravda Records), a sophomore effort that revels in fun.
They might seem to overload the gimmicks and tricks, as if Squirrel Nut Zippers teamed up with New York Dolls for a vaudeville revival. Even the silliest songs, like “Drip a Drop,” have much to recommend them. But when they get serious in tracks like “The Great State of Texas” or “House of Foam,” it becomes apparent that the quintet is maturing into a 21st-century equivalent of Manhattan Transfer. Still, with Hogan and O’Connor’s informal approaches, it’s obvious that once The Flat Five can offer live shows again, none of the members will sport formal evening wear.
Also New & Noteworthy
Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help, 2 (Rhyme & Reason) – Morrow, founder of Bar/None Records and a leading light in Hoboken’s indie scene, has fronted the foursome since 2015. This second album expands blues and 1965-era garage pop elements beyond the debut album, with Morrow providing a rich timbre midway between Jeffrey Gaines and Elvis Costello. There’s an occasional hint of psychedelia from Morrow’s involvement in the Paisley Underground movement, but tracks like “What Happens Next” and “Yellowed Pages” are mostly about three-minute pop perfection.
The Red Step, s/t (Pravda Records) – Tobias Nathaniel of the infamous Black Heart Procession has been in Belgrade assembling the best Serbian underground musicians to craft lo-fi punk gloom that sounds like a distillation of many influences. By later cuts in this debut album, the band shifts to broader minor-key palettes, jumping from Bauhaus influences to hints of Blue Öyster Cult (check out the organ in “The Ghost of Our Beginning”). Has Nathaniel called the right time for another revival of post-punk gloom? If so, The Red Step could define the moment.