Category Archives: CD

MUDHONEY — L.i.E.

Album: L.i.E.

Artist: Mudhoney

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: January 19, 2018

https://www.subpop.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

 

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

 

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

 

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

 

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

 

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

DOWNLOAD: “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme,” “Broken Hands”

 

 

FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – Fantastic Plastic

Album: Fantastic Plastic

Artist: Flamin' Groovies

Label: Sonic Kick

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.facebook.com/TheFlaminGroovies

 The Upshot: Cyril, Chris, & Co. hit the ignition button and blast off in a spectacular return to form.

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

With the state of decay that rock ‘n’ roll has composted into over the last several years, it’s important to have a touchstone like the Flamin’ Groovies to reboot our brains and remind us what it’s really all about. Since the original lineup formed in ’66, their lineups over the years have seen more changes than Drumpf’s White Power House staff appointments, but, have remained pretty true to their original sound through it all. This point in time finds them still creatively brilliant in both writing and playing. Although ex-Charlatan/Groovie Michael Wilhelm and band co-founder Roy Loney weren’t involved in this latest resurrection, original bassist George Alexander makes the scene on most of the tunes, drummer Victor Penalosa and former member Chris Wilson co-writes about half the numbers with Cyril Jordan, after a 38-year separation. This partnership is where the ignition hits the combustible and blast-off is achieved, and is pretty damned spectacular. Their touring lineup includes bassist Chris von Sneidern and Tony Sales (grandson of Soupy; Tony’s father is Tony Fox Sales of Tin Machine) on drums. After Jordan and Wilson rekindled their friendship in 2013, they started slowly recording tunes at a Sausalito studio, slowly piecing together an album over a 3-year period.

Having been a fan since Sneakers was released in ‘68, I was blown away from the first couple of tunes, and greatly impressed by this latest incarnation. Through the decades, their musical

choices have always been a bit out of sync with the current time period, making them not exactly appealing to the hippies of the late ‘60’s, with songs that sounded like they were lifted from artists of the previous decade, in a period of folk-rock and psychedelia. Plastic Fantastic stays true to their vision, belting out tunes that cover ground remindful of British Invasion bands, classic rock, power-pop, Mod and Freakbeat. There’s even a tasty instrumental thrown in. I can’t let the great cover by Jordan go by without a nod. Jordan drew Mickey Mouse comics at Disney in the ‘80’s, and had hoped to get famous Mad magazine Jack Davis draw a cover for some future project. Davis agreed, but passed away before it came to fruition. Putting rapidograph to paper, he came up with this very serviceable homage to Davis’s 1959 cover for Monster Rally.

The album kicks off with a ballsy, bluesy, Stones-flavored smack-down, “What The Hell’s Going On.” It’s a clear shot across the bow, letting you know that they aren’t screwing around. It also makes for a pretty good anthem for 2017.  “The End Of The World” couldn’t sound more Groovies-infused (think “Shake Some Action”) if they had a gun pointed at their head and were forced to clone their signature sound. They dig into the Beau Brummels’ catalog and juice up their classic Mod-ish number “Don’t Talk To Strangers,” really capturing the atmosphere of that time period. Their Flamingo-era flavored “Let Me Rock” shakes things up old-school style and belongs on juke boxes in soda shops everywhere. This is not the ’71 version, but a fresh update. Rock on, indeed!

“She Loves You” and “I Want You Bad” revisit the jangle of “Shake Some Action” and “You Tore Me Down” to lovely effect, making it not much of a stretch for them both to have come from that era. Early Beatles-sound shines through (ala “Long Tall Sally”/”Matchbox”/”Slow Down”) on “Crazy Macy,” thanks to a pounding Jerry Lee beat. This was a single released by the band about a year ago as a tasty appetizer for the upcoming album. “Lonely Hearts,” as the title evokes, is a broody ballad about separation, love lost and hope of reconciliation. “Just Like A Hurricane” rolls in a lot like Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together” but with throbbing guitars and wah-wah instead of a horn section.

It sounds like all voices are joining in on “Fallen Star,” which locomotes and chugs right along like a freight train, with some fine guitar riffs, fading out with some Byrdsian guitar chimes. I’m endlessly disappointed that bands don’t do more instrumentals, but the band shines through here with “I’d Rather Spend My time With You,” which is about one step removed from a surf number, with a sprinkling of “ahhhs.” Drummer Prairie Prince joins in on drums, along with bass parts laid down by noted producer-archivist Alec Palao. A Byrdsy beginning kicks off “Cryin’ Shame,” a very ‘60’s sound, accompanied with nice harmonies on the chorus parts.

It has to be noted, that even with a pretty amazing catalog on the shelves from decades back, Fantastic Plastic might just be their finest effort. This is the music that stirs your loins and flies in your face like the sweet bird of youth come home to roost. Fingers crossed that this isn’t their Final Vinyl.

DOWNLOAD: “What the Hell’s Going On,“ “End

JAKOB BRO – Returnings

Album: Returnings

Artist: Jakob Bro

Label: ECM

Release Date: March 23, 2018

http://ecmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

By now, guitarist Jakob Bro is a veteran of the Scandinavian jazz scene. For Returnings, however, he and his stalwart bassist Thomas Morgan call upon the talents of musicians who’ve been plying their trade in Northern Europe for even longer: drummer Jon Christensen and trumpeter/composer Palle Mikkelborg.

No high velocity fusioneer, Bro puts his watery tone to the service of tunes that take their time getting where they’re going. As a rhythm section, Morgan and Christensen walk around the beat more than alongside it – the drummer in particular plays without much care for keeping the pulse. Riding Christensen’s amorphous groove, “Lyskaster” and “Song For Nicolai” saunter forward, not so much relaxed as unconcerned. This approach well suits Bro and especially Mikkelborg, who prefers a sonorous tone and likes to make each note count, rather than engage in pyrotechnics.

Though ostensibly the leader, the Danish six-string master gives his guests plenty of space, often more interested in providing backgrounds over which Mikkelborg and Morgan solo than opportunities for himself. Besides highlighting Bro’s generosity, it makes the times when he does step out, as on Mikkelborg’s purposefully meandering composition “View,” extra special. Other highlights include the title track, an atmospheric Bro-Mikkelborg co-write that sounds like Miles Davis if he did In a Silent Way for ECM, and “Hamsun,” a duet between Bro and Morgan that doesn’t need its high-profile guests to stand out.

Bro has long proven himself a master of his main instrument – with Returnings he shows that he’s come into his own as a bandleader as well.

DOWNLOAD: “View,” “Returnings,” “Hamsun”

 

CLAUDETTES – Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Album: Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Artist: Claudettes

Label: Yellow Dog

Release Date: March 23, 2018

www.yellowdogrecords.com

The Upshot: A musical magician’s act, primarily based around hi-nrg blues-jazz compositions for piano, bass, drums, and vocals, and a helluva lot of fun.

BY FRED MILLS

If you just gave a cursory glance to the band name, album title, and sleeve art gracing this Chicago outfit’s third full-length you might think “garage punkettes,” but nope, the Claudettes are a sleek—but decidedly non-slick—blues band with elements of jazz (particularly with the song arrangements’ emphasis on songwriter Johnny Iguana’s piano work) and poppy soul (Ms. Berit Ulseth’s rich vocal stylings). At the same time, those first four letters of “punkettes” definitely apply here, because the quartet, which is rounded out by drummer Matthew Torre and bassist/guitarist Zach Verdoorn, musters more per-capita energy across these dozen tunes than most any garage combo you’d care to mention. That they are produced by Mark Neill of Black Keys fame is no coincidence.

Indeed, from the peripatetic “November” (an epic-in-feel cinematic number that finds Ulseth cooing from the mountaintop) and the whomping boogie-woogie of “Give It All Up for Good”; to the dense, avant-garde-esque wall of Tom Waitsian sound that is “Influential Farmers” which was apparently inspired by an NPR report on occupational trends, and the titular-appropriate “Utterly Absurd” (a kind of cross between Dr. John-styled N’awlins rock and Krautrock-laced psychedelic punk), Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! is an exercise in sonic and thematic gotcha. Song after song, just as the listener thinks he or she has nailed down what the Claudettes are all about, the band duly yanks the rug out from under those expectations, leaving you gasping and laughing from the surprise. I mean, there’s even a tune about Bill Clinton (“Bill Played Saxophone”) which could rightly be described as Political Prog—if that’s an actual genre. Who the hell knows?

“Yanks the rug out”? Make that “yanks the dinner cloth out from under the place settings and dinner.” This is a musical magician’s act, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.

DOWNLOAD: “Influential Farmers,” “Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium,” “November”

BOB BRADSHAW – American Echoes

Album: American Echoes

Artist: Bob Bradshaw

Label: Fluke

Release Date: October 20, 2017

https://www.bobbradshaw.net/

The Upshot: Attempting to categorize Bob Bradshaw and his 7th release would prove a complete disservice, as he’s one of those rare artists who’s bound to represent something different to anybody who happens to hear him. Folk? Americana? Blues? Roots-rock? Country? All of that. And none of that.

BY ERIC THOM

In the “not what you expected” department, Bob Bradshaw delivers an eyebrow-raiser on American Echoes – 12 tasty originals defying traditional categorization. While the disc’s peculiar cover art might suggest a New Age outing as the inside sleeve conjures the Old West, you’d be hard-pressed to connect either image to the music found inside. American Echoes is, instead, a fully realized collection of masterful songs and fully fleshed-out arrangements that feature an impressive cast of like-minded musicians. Admittedly, it may take some time for these songs to glue themselves to your brain because there’s so much going on, both musically and lyrically – but they will, eventually proving irresistible. Like wet puppies in a rainstorm.

It’s Bradshaw’s vocals that hit you first. His is not an immediately likeable voice – but herein lies its charm and appeal as you come to know him. A mongrel of sorts – you swear you’ve heard this voice before. Darden Smith? Richard Shindell? Think more of a non-alcoholic Robert Earl Keen – a warm, laidback tone with all its rough edges worn off. A disparate collection of songs, each sounds unlike the one before it. The hooks are subtle, but they’re there – the type which sink their roots deeper and deeper with continued listening. So Bradshaw is hard to peg. Why do you need to? An honest singer-songwriter of poetic proportions, he seems both blessed and cursed with a world-weary outlook and a voice to match.

His music is more beautiful than it is cool, a throwback to the ‘60s in some ways. Born in Cork, Ireland, Bradshaw’s time spent in America (Boston) has paid off in his ability to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly – many of the characters in these songs read like entries from a diary. Mix in the lessons he’s learned from Berklee and it’s quite understandable why Bradshaw dances to a different drummer. He’s a skilled storyteller, painting elaborate pictures as an observer more than he is the subject of each song, arousing our interest as he chronicles each vignette. He’s been there – as have we all.

Kicking off with “Exotic Dancers Wanted”, you’re instantly engulfed by warm, acoustic bass and gentle piano as a full tapestry of acoustic and electric guitar joins Britt Connors and Annie Lynch’s lush backup vocals. Bradshaw mirrors an intersection of Keen to John Prine, possessed of all the confidence in the world, owning the end result. Likewise, “Meet Me” presents a beguiling invitation which leans on Connors’ background vocal as Andrew Stern turns in a tasty, country-dipped solo on electric guitar, all set against the burbling keys of James Rohr’s electric piano. You might pay special attention to the drums and percussion work of Mike Connors, who repeatedly brings much more to the party than a mere beat. A comparably darker “Call It What You Will” is buoyed by Rohr’s delicate touch on piano, lifted further by keyboardist/ co-writer Scoop McGuire. Britt Connors’ mournful vocal support helps darken the clouds behind this stormy relationship despite McGuire’s odd choice of synth. Cue the more upbeat, ”The Assumptions We Make”, driven by the strumming of Bradshaw’s acoustic guitar, challenged by the electric guitar and resonator work of co-writer, Andy Santospago and abetted by Stern. Rohr’s B3 provides real body to the mix over the rhythm section of Ed Lucie and Mike Connors.

Next, audition the downright peculiar, almost angular, “Workin’ On My Protest Song”, which features the dynamic, exploratory, spidery guitar of Andrew Stern and the soft, combined hush of backup singers Connors and Lynch. As Mike Connors provides a powerful foundation of soothing percussion in African proportions, the chorus breaks to reveal one of this disc’s true highlights. The addition of Chad Manning’s fiddle to “A Bird Never Flew on Just One Wing” provides a country feel as Bradshaw’s vocal preens, Keen-like, over Stern’s tough guitar sound and Connors’ fat backbeat. Suddenly, Bradshaw rocks out with a guitar-driven “Weight of the World” which, more Beatles than Petty, more Mellencamp than Seger, commands a charm of its own for the trucker in all of us. Co-writer/lead guitarist Andrew Stern is clearly off his leash and this pounding power ballad offers a distinctive wake-up call – right down to its cowbell – marking the album’s halfway point. Alternately, “Stella” proves an intoxicating love song in the form of a waltz, bathed in Rohr’s B3, Stern’s soothing electric guitar with Rohr doubling up on accordion. “My Double And I” features the sparring, double guitars of Stern and Santospago, offering up wah-wah and lead accompaniment, built around an odd, jazz-fueled swing beat. The more melancholy “Material For The Blues” celebrates the invisible bruises of the heart, reinforced by Manning’s country fiddle and Annie Lynch’s ghosted vocal support. (Take special note of Andy Santospago’s seductive baritone guitar break.) “O Brother” incorporates a slide guitar technique (Stern) that could’ve fallen from George Harrison’s trickbag, yet this device, together with Bradshaw’s bent lyrics, succeeds in conjuring a doomed, too-casual relationship between two strangers championing distinctly opposite needs. The Celtic-edged “Old Soldiers” erupts like American bedrock – all fiddle, banjo and military snare, adding meat to the old adage that, for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, will live forever.
Bob Bradshaw is clearly a different breed of singer-songwriter who has spent a lifetime honing his craft – invested as he is in each and every song. Lovers. Losers. Dreamers and derelicts collide with the hopeful and the helpless. They’re all lovingly depicted here in their stark beauty, wrapped in a readily-identifiable reality – as observed in exacting detail by a writer with the power to see in from the outside, while experiencing life from both sides to be able to tell their tales so convincingly.

DOWNLOAD: “The Assumptions We Make,” “Weight of the World,” “Stella”

FRIGS – Basic Behaviour

Album: Basic Behaviour

Artist: Frigs

Label: Arts & Crafts

Release Date: February 23, 2018

www.arts-crafts.ca

The Upshot: An intense yet catchy album full of noisy rock and gritty vocals.

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

Toronto post-punk quartet Frigs—formerly Dirty Frigs—created a charged debut LP that is unapologetically jagged and intensely electrifying. Only on a first name basis through press releases, following their 2016 EP Slush, Frigs—Bria (vocals and guitar), Duncan (guitar), Kris (drums) and Lucas (bass)—return and hit hard on Basic Behaviour. The loud quartet combines noise rock with punk as Bria’s gritty vocals ranges from growls and shouts to sultry calm amping up the already raw music of gnarling guitar, bass and Kris’ primal drums.

Inspiration of post-punks bands of the past is indeed felt but Frigs are simultaneously creating a sound all their own thanks to Bria’s unique melodies and the riotous music. Anxiety, depression, feeling of hopelessness are all themes within the lyrics on Basic Behaviour. Singles “Talking Pictures” and “II” are indeed standout tracks that easily catch your ears for their jangly guitar and haunting melodies. Holding back from no difficult issues Bria takes on rape and assault with “Chest”: angered by the Brock Turner case that made US headlines, the case inspired her lyrics such as: “titles neck, yeah, they watch me/stay asleep as you spoil me.”

“Solid State,” a tongue-in-cheek title for a song that touches on mental instability, is another memorable track as the rolling guitars and interjections of guitar wails and Bria’s soft vocals, for the first time, hide beneath the wall of sound. “Gemini” is unique as the only track that does not scream of ferocity as the quiet song in addition to Bria only includes a quiet keyboard.

All of Basic Behaviour illustrates Frigs’ artistic, avant-punk abilities, but third song “Waste” is a fun epicenter of their possibilities. The 5 minute track undergoes 4 tempo changes as it starts out with a slow, growling bass, flat guitar plucks, a simple slap on the snare and Bria’s dragging, slurring vocals. Then after 2.5 minutes it transitions to a slightly faster tempo as Bria repeats “do you want to talk about it, it’s a waste;” the song picks up and moves even faster with the same lyrics. One last shift occurs as the music ends and Bria screams into the mic and closes the track with “I am a fortune teller, baby” before fading into a rambling.

A raw and solid debut, Basic Behaviour translates anguish into an intense yet catchy album.

DOWNLOAD: “Talking Pictures,” “II,” “Waste”

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN – How To Solve Our Human Problems Pts. 1-3

Album: How To Solve Our Human Problems (Parts 1-3)

Artist: Belle and Sebastian

Label: Matador

Release Date: February 16, 2018

www.matadorrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

If nothing else, Belle and Sebastian deserve credit for perseverance. Over the course of dozens of albums, EPs, collections and chronicles, they’ve kept their consistency by purveying a sound so unfailingly effusive, it’s placed them at the forefront of today’s quintessential British pop masters.

It’s something of a crime then that Belle and Sebastian have yet to gain the wider recognition their efforts deserve. After all, any band that writes songs with such craft and care warrants attention, especially in this era of prefab pop. At one point, Belle and Sebastian would surely have found permanent placement in the Top Ten. Today, however, those that dare to write intelligent and well-crafted melodies sadly aren’t given the love and admiration they so well deserve. Indeed, it’s all but impossible to hear songs like “Sweet Dew Love,” “The Same Star,” “We Were Beautiful,” “The Girl Doesn’t Get It” or literally anything else they have to offer and not come away awed by the artistry and execution.

We can only hope then that How To Solve Our Human Problems, originally released as a series of three 12” EPs, helps reap the recognition this ensemble’s earned, because if it doesn’t, then nothing else will. These beautiful, beguiling melodies make for an album that’s so rich and regal in both style and shimmer, it’s simply stunning to say the least. Prepare to be enticed.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Dew Love,” “The Same Star,” “We Were Beautiful”

MONKS OF DOOM – The Brontë Pin

Album: The Brontë Pin

Artist: Monks of Doom

Label: Pitch-A-Tent

Release Date: March 23, 2018

http://www.monksofdoom.com

The Upshot: Welcome return – and a return to form, as well – from the Camper Van B. offshoot.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

It’s been thirteen years since Monks of Doom released an album, and twenty-five since it was a LP of original songs. Simply put, The Brontë Pin was worth the wait. Camper Van Beethoven members Victor Krummenacher (bass, guitar, vox), Greg Lisher (guitar) and Chris Pedersen (drums) join once again with multi-instrumentalist David Immerglück for a new odyssey into the realms of Middle Eastern psychedelia, atmospheric prog rock and dystopian paranoia.

On the Pink Floydian epic “The Last Leviathan,” the bitter folk punker “The Bastards Never Show Themselves” and the shimmering cover of Sandy Denny’s “John the Gun,” Krummenacher mutters and intones lyrics that seem emitted from his constantly shifting eyes, rather than his throat, but the music makes up for his discomfort. Which is as it should be – the Monks have always been more about the sounds they make than the words they sing. Thus the instrumentals are where Pin’s heart really lies. The versatile ensemble jumps from the disjointed funk of “The Honorable Death of the 100 Millions” and the proggy postpunk of “The Brontë Pin pt. 2” to the mando/synth psychedelia of “Duat! Duat!” and the American primitive folk of “Boar’s Head.”

For some bands, this kind of eclecticism would be a detriment, indicating an ADHD-addled lack of focus. For Monks of Doom, however, it’s a strength, as the group’s identity never wavers, no matter what path the band takes.

DOWNLOAD: “Boar’s Head,” “Duat! Duat!,” “John the Gun”

REFRIGERATOR – High Desert Lows

Album: High Desert Lows

Artist: Refrigerator

Label: Shrimper/Revolver

Release Date: February 09, 2018

https://midheaven.com/label/shrimper

The Upshot: Produced here by Simon Joyner, the Callaci brothers’ signature laid-back rusticity remains intact as the linking DNA between its noisier lo-fi beginnings and the stripped-back models of recent years.

By John Schacht

With its irresistible songwriting draw to times good and bad, the past is a honey trap. The danger lies in getting fossilized back there.

That’s clearly on the minds of the Callaci brothers (Allen and Dennis, the latter founder of indie stalwart Shrimper Records) and their band mates in Refrigerator. Throughout the 11 tracks on their 11th LP,  the group’s signature laid-back rusticity remains intact as the linking DNA between its noisier lo-fi beginnings and the stripped-back models of recent years.

But with decades of tenure come plenty of reasons to look back. “Break Up the Band,” a mordant take on intra-band dynamics, reads like a litany of reasons ‘90s indie bands split up. Over a nervous beat accompanied by synth blips and the occasional crunchy  guitar chord, the lyrics chronicle shitty bassists, cramped vans  and horrific living conditions, but look back witheringly at the outsized importance any of them had:  “A self-referential past that was barely lived/how could we expect anyone to care about it?/Caught in amber/sleeved in plasticene/reanimated by kids spinning it to death.”

Even if it’s part piss-take, it’s still pretty grim fare and the anger bleeds through. The LP’s better when it’s less self-referential in its reminiscences and more open to timeless (read: twangy) tropes. Opener “High Desert Lows,”  with its tinkling piano fills and pedal steel, is a gorgeous glass-raiser to sorrow; “Twice as Less” is a pretty Neil Young-like ballad mourning what’s lost when relationships die; “World of Warcraft” is an ode to self-destructive relationships that waltzes its way into your heart with strings, guitars and a go-for-broken (people) chorus, “take me with you, I don’t care where we go, I don’t care what we do.”

Unfortunately, High Desert Lows is frontloaded with its more compelling tunes. Allen Callaci’s vocals also have a limited range on the best of days, much like fellow traveler Simon Joyner, who produces and plays here as well. But the Callacis and company lack Joyner’s poetic knack, and through Refrigerator has always prized simple song structures as a vehicle for what they have to say, by the time you reach the twin dirges “The Maid” — a hook-less guitar and strings narrative about poverty — and skeletal piano piece “Bonnie Pointer,” the LP has run low on dynamism and charm, and feels frozen and lifeless in willful obscurity.

DOWNLOAD: “High Desert Lows,” “Twice as Less” “World of Warcraft”

CALEXICO – The Thread That Keeps Us

Album: The Thread That Keeps Us

Artist: Calexico

Label: Anti-

Release Date: January 26, 2018

www.anti.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Calexico’s ties to the aura of the great Southwest have made them one of the more indelible and inventive outfits of the past 20 years. With their smouldering brand of ambient experimentation and meandering, melancholic melodies, the Tucson group has created a sound that resides at the juncture between psychedelia and arched drama, appropriately stirred in the shimmering sands of the sun-baked desert and its otherworldly environs.

The tellingly titled The Thread That Keeps Us finds the band, on its ninth official studio album (not counting a litany of live and tour-only releases), integrating verve with variety, tossing in South of the Border canciones (“Flores y Tamales”), an essential urgency (“End of the World with You”), preening pop (“The Town & Miss Lorraine”), percolating percussion (“Under the Wheels”) and epic brass-infused instrumentals that convey their weary resilience (“Unconditional Waltz”). In short, it’s a credit to the band’s sonic stockpile that they’re able to mine such endless cascades of tone and texture and not allow themselves to be confined to any particular template.

The two men who remain at the helm—founding members (and formerly of Giant Sand) singer/guitar/keyboardist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino—summon ample reserves of talent and technique, and it’s that sonic suggestion which finds them consistently broadening their palette with such riveting results. “When the world goes dark I’ll always be close by,” the haunting final song “Music Box” promises. Indeed, a defining blend of assurance and intrigue makes Calexico’s music come across as both so sumptuous and so surreal.

Consumer Note: Calexico offered the album to early adopters via a PledgeMusic campaign (autographed items, handwritten lyric sheets, and sundry memorabilia as premiums), and consumers who joined up could obtain a signed, deluxe vinyl version that boasted a bonus 7-song LP. As the band also included a digital download with the record, Calexico’s dedication to going the extra mile for fans should be lauded.

DOWNLOAD: “End of the World with You,” “Unconditional Waltz,” “The Town & Miss Lorraine”