After spending a couple of records in thrall to Mercyful Fate and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, occult metal quintet In Solitude takes a different road on its third LP Sister. What direction that is, exactly, seems still to be determined. Apparently hellbent (pun intended) on no longer sounding like King Diamond and co.’s greatest acolytes, the Swedish band folds strains of 70s hard rock, mournful doom and straight-up rock & roll into its anthemic devil metal stew.
The ragged hybrid results in rockers like “Horses in the Ground,” “Pallid Hands” and “Death Knows Where” that roar aggressively forward without that familiar NWOBHM gallop, as well as less pounding but no less powerful anthems like “A Buried Sun” and the title track. The group also finds room for the roiling epic “Inmost Nigredo” and the ghostly acoustic hymn “He Comes.” The loose arrangements boldly sacrifice precision for feel, and if singer Pelle Ahman sometimes sounds as if he’s fighting for his place in the mix, it gives his vocals a bawling passion they didn’t have before.
Occasionally the music sounds like it’s not quite fully formed, but there’s an energy to this ¾-baked confection that still foments excitement. A transitional record, then, one that seems to be leading to a masterstroke.
There are few things sadder in the world of music than bands that keep trying to recycle the same stale act 30 years after first trotting it out on the world stage (I’m looking at your Sex Pistols and your sad, sad cash grab reunions). On the flip side, there’s always the chance that you’re going to alienate your original audience when you tinker too much with the formula (For many fans, “And here’s another one from our new album” is just a dog whistle that says “bathroom break”).
But somehow the British Post Punkband new Model Army have managed to pivot away a bit from their original 1980’s sound, evolving into a much more layered, heavily-produced sound that, more often than not, manages to impress. Lyrically, the band’s frontman and primary songwriter Justin Sullivan has always skipped the typical she-broke-my-heart rock clichés in favor of tackling more profound themes of injustice and oppression and Between Dog and Wolf is no different. While the lyrics here do tend to come off as pretentious at times, the sentiment is still admirable and actually pays off on songs like “March in September.”
Thirty-three years after they initially formed, it’s notable to see a band like New Model Army manage to remain relevant by going down new avenues. If the Stones had done so, they might actually have been able to play songs past 1981’s Tattoo You.
DOWNLOAD: “March in September” and “Tomorrow Came”
Sumie Nagano plays a spare and delicate folk music, her fingers tracing spidery guitar patterns that circle one chord and then another, her voice cutting clean through a sparkling silence. She sounds a bit like Linda Perhacs if you can imagine her without the occasional blues slide, or perhaps somewhat akin to Sharon Van Etten, though more remote and less vulnerable.
The person she does not sound like, at all, is her sister Yukimi Nagano, who shades the electro-pop of Little Dragon with stylized R&B cools and trills. Little Dragon is all stylish pose and posture.Sumie, by contrast, brings almost no artifice to this self-titled debut.She uses no vibrato, indulges in no surface emoting, refuses to belt and declines, even, the drama of a well-placed stage whisper. Sumie merely sings, hitting the notes crisply and exactly. Her guitar playing has the same distilled clarity, each note plucked and rounded and left to hang, nothing fancy like bends or pull-offs or hammer-ons.
The lucidity of Sumie’s delivery contrasts with the foggier quality of her lyrics, which live at the intersection of “imagistic and nonlinear” and “makes no sense at all.” She is, after all, native to Sweden; perhaps English is not a comfortable language. What exactly can you make of a line like “Hold me down/from my diamond nights/the sand pours down/and it spells you” anyway?And what exactly, in later songs, would a “sailor friend” or a “show talked window” be?
Oddly enough, Sumie’s best lyrics — in her best song overall — consider the limits of communication, even between two people who are in love. “You say that I’m amazing/yet you don’t know what I do/you fold my words to hold them/until they sound like you,” she sings, before heading into the syllable stretching, octave leaping closure of “Sloo-oo-oow-ly I speed into.”
The thing is that, however pleasing Sumie’s crystalline voice may be, however inviting her soft, minimal arrangements, people come to this type of music for meaning. Too often, it seems like the singer is leading us into blind alleys, stringing words together willy-nilly on bead chains, then scattering them like sparkling baubles in a heap.How about telling us a story next time?
Collaborations in modern music are pretty much everyday things these days. But every now and again a pairing will come together that has the potential to set the world on fire. And the notion of future funk master Dâm-Funkand the incomparable Snoop Dogg getting down is downright nuclear for longtime fans of California hip-hop.
Working for the first time with a singular producer since he and Dr. Dre made Doggystyle 20 years ago, the D-O-double-G (working under the moniker Snoopzilla) and the great Dâm deliver an exciting homage to George Clinton’s Computer Games—the Rosetta Stone of G-funk—with eight jams of pure bounce that sum up the last two decades of West Coast rap history in a hair under 40 minutes. Most notably: opening cut “Hit Da Pavement,” “1Question” featuring guest vocals from former Slave frontman Steve Arrington, and bonus track “Systamatic,” which boasts a Dogg Pound reunion for the ages.
The name of this project might be 7 Days of Funk, but there’s enough groove in this mofo to last a lifetime.
DOWNLOAD: “Hit Da Pavement,” “1 Question”
NOTE: The 7 Days of Funk album is currently streaming at Rdio, and there’s also an exclusive Rdio bonus track, “Wingz,” included.
In 2012, Bailter Space put out its first album in thirteen years, the spectacular Strobosphere, which merged the band’s dense, dissonant murk with wavery tunefulness. It was a welcome return for the band tagged as New Zealand’s Sonic Youth, the wild card noise instigators among its lo-fi janglers. Now just a year later, Bailter Space has returned with more abrasive take on its feedback-altered storm and drone. Trinine builds on static-fuzzed foundations laid down more than three decades ago in cuts like “Grader Spader” (off the wonderful Flying Nun compilation In Love With These Times). It just takes them a little further into mess and distortion than Strobosphere did.
Bailter Space began in 1987 when Alister Parker started fooling around, post-Gordons, with Clean drummer Hamish Kilgour. Kilgour dropped out shortly after the band’s first album Tanker. Bailter Space is currently a three-piece with Parker, along with ex-Gordons bass player John Halvorson and (also ex-Gordons) drummer Brent McLachlan. Despite the continuity in personnel, Bailter Space sounds roughly nothing like the Gordons, a boxy, acerbic Fall-like post-punk outfit, which made two albums in the 1980s before breaking up.
Trinine is a sprawling, blistering, hallucinogenic trip of an album, whose sense of endless drift coincides, somehow, with propulsive rhythms. There is a density to these tracks that belies its sparse, three-man line-up. Bailter Space is well-known for interspersing taped samples of instruments into its mixes, creating a dense, shifting plethora of guitar sounds. You can hear this best on the rowdy, uptempo “Tri5” and the closer “Tapenzloop.”
Most of these tracks have vocals – that’s Parker, who sounds eerily like Thurston Moore – though buried so deep in the fuzz that it’s hard to pick out individual words. Strobosphere brought the melodic lines forward, eliciting an almost jangle-poppish sound in “Blue Star”, but Trinine funnels them in through a secret air duct. They arrive, impossibly soft, murmured almost, so that you feel like you’re hearing them, barely, through some acoustic trickery. It’s a ghostly, spectral shade in the band’s overall sound, a cool element in a mix that often seems to buckle in its own frictive heat. I like, for instance, the contrast between the chanted lyrics of “Trinine” and the sawed-off abrasion of its bass and guitar. It’s a song that sprawls and spreads and roils, but also moves in a discernible direction. You know when it’s about to end (which you don’t, necessarily, with the droniest kinds of songs).
The best track, though, cuts through the fog with a Prolapse-ish sense of mad propulsion. There’s an uneasy clarity to “Silver”, where inexorable bass and drums hammer on under a spectral electronic aura. It’s the cut on that album that Neu-like, balances motion and stillness, and that builds a wall of sound pock-marked with stillnesses. On the whole, I liked Strobosphere better, but this song hits harder than anything on it.
Before they’re even halfway into Beyond the Drone, Saint Rich evokes two legends of guitar-pop: Big Star and the Kinks. The guitar riff sounds in “Sorry/Sadly” sounds like an electrified version of the acoustic “Watch the Sunrise” on #1 Record. It doesn’t mesh with the song’s four-on-the-floor beat but that, coupled with the twangy breakdown that fills in for a proper chorus, gives the song its power. One track later, “Dreams” has chiming guitar chords and an understated vocal from Christian Peslak that sounds like a handful of Kinks songs. He might not have Ray Davies’ lyrical bent, but he lets fly with his own rich imagery.
The album’s first moments don’t exactly indicate this direction. An opening keyboard/guitar interlude that accompanies police scanner samples seems a little dark. Then comes “Officer,” wherein Peslak plays a wiseass teenager, asking the fuzz, “Why do you look so mad/ you always look so fucking angry,” among other things. His somewhat nasal voice adds to the snarky quality of the song, with a chorus that lingers long after it’s over.
Peslak and Steve Marion began playing together in the latter’s instrumental band Delicate Steve. They came up with the new project when Marion sat down behind the drum kit and Peslak started coming up with song ideas on guitar. While his voice might take a bit of getting used to, his songs do not. With touches of country guitars and a production that favors warm reverb and brings out extra layers of the arrangements (voices and instruments), Beyond the Drone comes off as a strong debut full of engaging pop.
Kudos to Band of Heathens for working their way into the spotlight, from an initial bunch of semi-insurgents to a group so polished and professional that they can make an album like Sunday Morning Record actually appear to echo its title. Not that they didn’t boast an auspicious entrance; their first studio efforts were widely praised in Americana circles before subsequently soaring to the top of the charts, thanks in large part to the fact that each of its members were talented singer/songwriters in their own right.
Given that fact, it’s not surprising that this, their fourth studio album to date, sounds so assured. Accessible to a fault, and exceedingly mellow to boot, it flows with a natural ease usually accomplished by those with far more track time under their belts. From the graceful opening lines of “Shotgun,” through to the final wistful refrains of “Texas,” Sunday Morning Record proves its mettle as both a set of songs that’s radio-ready, and a disc that might even offer sweet salvation on a particularly demanding morning after. Only “Miss My Life,” a sampling of judicious honky-tonk which recalls Elton John’s bombastic “Honky Cat,” and “Shake the Foundation,” a southern stomp and shuffle, breaks the embrace, and even then, not for long.
Clearly, Band of Heathens have evolved into a band of first rate contenders. Seven years on, they’ve earned all admiration they been able to muster.
DOWNLOAD: “Shotgun,” “Texas,” Shake the Foundation
Slowdive fans rejoice when they heard that the band’s leader, Neil Halstead was cooking up a new record more in that vein with two other like-minded souls, Seefeel’s Mark Van Hoen and Coley Park’s Nick Holton. That U.K. band were leaders of the shoegaze movement and since they never reformed (and toured over here very little) the fans had been dreaming, hoping for something. Since the breakup for Slowdive, Halstead has been creating rustic pop/folk in Mojave 3 for the past decade or more and had released a few straight folk solo records.
Stars Are Our Home might not be exactly what the old fans were looking for though there are bits and pieces that fall right in. Overall, the record is much more experimental than what most fans I have talked to were expecting. As the cover (and inside sleeve) suggest, it’s a trip through the outer reaches of the atmosphere with music that at times soars and others time sputters into a big mess. Van Hoen. The electronic guru, knows all the tricks of the trade, sometimes too many, and occasionally needs Halstead and Holton to reign it in and form a song out of the blips and bleeps.
You want the high points (of course you do)? The melodic fuzz of “(I don’t mean to) Wonder”, the ballad-y “This is How It Feels” and the absolutely great “UFO.” They waited until the end to offer up a charming little pop song “Look Out Here They Come” (let’s have more of these next time). Stay away from snoozers like “Oh Crust,” “I’m Back” and the meandering opening track, “Stars Are Our Home.”
There’s a lot to like here and hopefully these three will keep working again, trim the fat and lock in for an even more thrilling ride next time.
DOWNLOAD: “(I don’t mean to) Wonder,” “This is How It Feels,” “UFO,” “Look Out Here They Come”
We’re used to compilations accompanying movies as soundtracks or released as tributes, but records put out by a restaurant, that’s a first. But that’s exactly what chic restaurant Fig &Olive has done with its new Fig & Olive The Music Collection release.
With posh locations in New York’s Meatpacking District, trendy Melrose Place in Los Angeles, Fashion Island on Newport Beach, and Chicago’s posh Oak Street, Fig & Olive aims to create a laid back vibe at its restaurants and that’s exactly what Fig & Olive resident DJ and Music Director Julien Nolan managed to do when putting the compilation together. The 16-track release offers an eclectic, yet well-balanced, blend of tracks inspired by the elegant lifestyle of St. Tropez and Cannes. Filled with lush and loungey tracks that sooth, relax and set the soundtrack for a festive and elegant night out, the compilation is billed as a warm music selection of seductive grooves from the French, Spanish and Italian Riviera.
With artists such as Imogen Heap, Nouvelle Vague, Ivy, and Poolside, this is music to lounge to with a refreshing cocktail or glass of wine in hand.
“There’s a powerful factor that music plays at Fig & Olive,” Nolan explains, “and with this collection it is our desire to offer our take on a perfect soundtrack with a range of artists and styles we’ve come to love.”
Nolan, born in the South of France but now a resident of Los Angeles, brings an eclectic and sophisticated sound with a unique blend of Downtempo and Nu Disco. I was surprised I took to the collection so quickly. I’m more the rock guy but the vibe and mood is so constant and consistent that it really works, even though most of the artists, with the exception of a few, I haven’t heard of before. “Dedicado” by Don Gorda Project sounds like something Rodrigo y Gabriela would do. And Poolside’s cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is inspiring. This isn’t music I want to run a marathon to or listen to while I demolish a house (if I was so inclined to ever demolish a house) but it’s great to relax, host a dinner or cocktail party, or get seductive or funky.
That amorphous period known as the mid-seventies was a weird time. On the one hand you had the tail end of psychedelia which had evolved into Prog (well, DEVO might contend it had DE-volved, but that’s another story), while good ol’ no-frills rock had splintered into a number of subgenres, among them blues ‘n’ boogie-informed Southern Rock, the so-called Heartland stylings of the Springsteens and Segers of the world en route to stadium domination, and the decided unfrilly Glam—not to mention the what-the-fuck-is-this fusions of bands like The Stooges and MC5, who snatched random elements from all of the above even as they were unconsciously laying the groundwork for Punk a couple of years later.
Positioned squarely in this cultural mashup was 15-60-75, aka The Numbers Band for obvious reasons (and ease of record bin filing), founded in ’69, based in Kent, Ohio, and operative on the same fecund, frequently twisted Akron/Cleveland club scene that had or would thrust Rocket From the Tombs, Pere Ubu, the Electric Eels, DEVO, Dead Boys, Tin Huey and even a pre-Pretenders Chrissie Hynde upon the public. The group took elements of blues and jazz, particular in the big-ass sound that the rhythm section and two sax players mustered, and injected significant doses of garage and hard psych plus no small degree of pre-punk ‘tude and swagger. Vocalist/guitarist Robert Kidney also had that same kind of streetwise, free-association post-Beats approach to lyrics that might’ve eventually made him a celebrated presence at CBGB alongside Patti Smith and Richard Hell had his group decided to make a migration to the Big Apple.
Jimmy Bell’s Still In Town was a live album cut by the band at Cleveland’s storied Agora June 16, 1975, during an opening set for Bob Marley & the Wailers. It’s now reissued as a 2-LP, gatefold sleeve-adorned, expanded set featuring fresh liner notes by journo and fan David Fricke and DEVO biographer David Giffels. Clearly, a lot of love went into the project, considering the deluxe nature of the packaging and the fact that the Numbers name will most likely draw a blank look from anyone not from the region or who wasn’t privy to rock fanzines back in the day. The music is new to me, in fact; although I seem to recall hearing of the band through my zine contacts, as I had been reading them since the early ‘70s and wound up helming my own zine at the tail end of the decade, with Clevo area bands routinely cropping up in our pages.
History lesson aside, whattaya get? As notesman Fricke enthuses, “I’m always taken aback, then carried away again, by how they fuse and swerve; by the way Kidney rides the tides and tensions, in emotionally charged incantation; by the trap door humor all over the place.” That’s it, in a nutshell: from the set-opening charge of “Animal Speaks,” with its nimble riffage and Stax-style horn accents; through the raw, dark, dissonant rumblings of “About the Eye Game,” which very nearly lets you imagine what Television might’ve sounded like had they added saxes; to the tour-de-force title track, an extended trawl through the urban jungle in which Kidney, over a modified Velvets/Creedence choogle, outlines the titular Bell’s exploits on the streets (think of a more menacing, noirish take on Springsteen’s “Saint in the City”) while white-hot frissons of sax and guitar erupt like so much back alley gunfire. The bonus material includes a nifty acoustic guitar/harmonica run through Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” and a smokin’ live romp of a take on Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin” (listen to the way the horns play response to Kidney’s call; it’s like have a cadre of female backing singers up there wailing away), plus a live original called “Drive” that’s every bit as riveting, in its extemporaneous-yet-focused power, as the Bell album material proper.
The Numbers guys are still making the rounds. Various players have come and gone over the years (fun fact: after early bassist Jerry Casale split to form DEVO, among the bassists who subsequently filled his shoes was Chris Butler, he of future Waitresses fame), with the core members of saxman Terry Hynde (brother of Chrissie), Kidney and his brother Jack keeping the flame burning. During their salad days they drew sizable audiences on the strength of their reputation as the kind of group who knew exactly which sonic and emotional buttons to push at exactly the right moments. Listening to this album now, you get a clear sense of that cathartic prowess the Numbers wielded, and in one sense, well… it’s a midwestern thing, you wouldn’t understand.
Or maybe you would. Give it a shot.
DOWNLOAD: “Jimmy Bell Is Still In Town,” “Drive,” “About the Eye Game”