Monthly Archives: June 2008

Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

January 01, 1970




In the packaging for the Silver Jews’ sixth album,
bandleader David Berman includes a hand-drawn chord chart and an entreaty
reading, “Anyone can play these songs. Just put your fingertips on the polar
bear noses and strum.” Berman, of course, is being modest, as everything that
seems so basic about this band – the childlike melodies, the pranksterish
lyrics, his own monotone vocals – would give even the most classically trained
musician fits attempting to replicate. It may not take a genius to pen lyrics
such as “How much fun is a lot more fun?/Not much fun at all,” but it does
require a certain enviable madness to write a song about a “Suffering Jukebox”
and cover an obscure Japanese composer and still sound as winningly innocent as
a grade-school choir. Advisable or not, the desire to poke some polar bears in
the nose and play along is damn near irresistible.


“Open Field,” “Party Barge” JAKE CLINE

War On Drugs – Wagonwheel Blues

January 01, 1970

(Secretly Canadian)

Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs aren’t easy to pigeonhole,
and that’s a plus when so many new bands sound “new” by tweaking their favorite
style from the past. In the tension between grand ambition and mid-fi
recording, The War On Drugs are definitely indie-rock, but the touchstones for Wagonwheel Blues, their debut, come from
unexpected sources.


Adam Granduciel pens florid, expressionistic lyrics and
sings them with a poet’s fervor: the way he comes down hard on vowels at the
end of lines is blatantly Dylanesque, but the quaver in his voice also recalls
Mike Scott of the Waterboys. The blast of harmonica that opens the album also
cues Dylan connections, but Granduciel and fellow multi-instrumentalist Kurt
Vile, helped occasionally by others, are also fond of shimmering drones, most
prominently displayed on the My Bloody Valentine meets Velvet Underground
layers of guitars in the ambling ten-minutes of “Show Me The Coast.” A song
like “There Is No Urgency” could be off-putting in its prophetic proclamations,
but it’s refreshing to hear a band going for grandeur, and hitting the mark.


Standout Tracks: “Arms
Like Boulders,” “Buenos Aires Beach”  STEVE KLINGE



Bonnie Bramlett – Beautiful

January 01, 1970

(Rockin’ Camel)



With Southern rock pioneer/producer Johnny Sandlin behind
the boards, Bonnie Bramlett gets just the right amount of punch to balance out
the shimmer in her latest album. Soulful as ever, Bramlett’s sass and brass
voice continues to age gracefully with just a touch of rasp on the edge of her
delivery. The crack-team of studio musicians (Muscle Shoals members included)
power through number after number, adding bottleneck grit and mournful steel
when appropriate.


Top-rate musicianship and Bramlett’s genuine demeanor carry
through some of the weaker moments – “For What It’s Worth” rings true enough,
but the following Gary Cotton tune, “Some of My Best Friends” comes off terribly
heavy-handed. Nonetheless, Bramlett is a woman of conviction and never looks
back once she has put her foot down. She tears apart “Strongest Weakness”,
co-written by her daughter Bekka, and gets equally low and dirty on “Shake Something
Loose”. At the slower moments (“Beautiful”, “I Do Believe”), she sounds no less


The days of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends have long
passed, but the energy remains very much alive in Bramlett’s solo output. She
may not be breaking new ground, and “return to form” seems all too slighting a
tag. But there certainly is something classic in Beautiful. 


Standout Tracks: “Strongest Weakness”, “Bless ‘Em All” ZACHARY HERRMANN

Pete Francis – The Iron Sea

January 01, 1970



Pete Francis has amassed an impressive solo catalog with a decidedly pop streak
during the run and since the demise of his much beloved indie band Dispatch.
For his fifth album in seven years Francis forsakes his poppier past to weave
colorful swatches of folk, country, blues and rock into a soulful set that
offers the urbane indie rock ethic of Lloyd Cole (“Carnival”), the Brit
folk/pop muscle of Paul Weller (“Carousel”) and the international Americana
swagger of Bernard Fanning (“Armies of Angels”). And when Francis channels his
inner Dylan (which is channeling his inner David Gray), as on “Shooting Star
and the Ambulance,” “Let It Go” and the title track, there is a sense — and
perhaps a hope — that he’s extending his sonic range on Iron Sea and the Cavalry to include this homespun classicism that
he happens to wear quite well.


Standout Tracks: “Carnival,” “Shooting Star and the
Ambulance” BRIAN BAKER

Earlimart – Hymn and Her

January 01, 1970






It’s hard to imagine it’s much fun writing pessimistic soft
pop about being sort of miserable and maybe a little angry. (Even after you add
strings and horns and stuff.) And there’s no guarantee that Earlimart’s Aaron
Espinoza and Ariana Murray actually like it. There is, however, no doubt that
they’ve gotten incredibly good at it. The result is a mini-masterclass in how
to craft achingly gorgeous songs in a small studio with an acoustic guitar.
Full of subtle hooks and ear-catching surprises, it’s perfect for filling up
some silence. A refinement of last year’s expansive Mentor Tormentor, H&H boasts tightness in contrast, as one song laces itself into the next, until
time has run out and it’s hard to remember what you were feeling before it all
got started. With this, the duo’s first try in an attempt to release an LP
every twelve months, there’s finally reason to smile.


Standout tracks: “Facedown
In the Right Town,” “Before It Gets Better” ZACHARY BLOOM

[Photo Credit: Darrin Noble]


Girl Talk – Feed the Animals

January 01, 1970

(Illegal Art)



First things first: Greg Gillis – the boy wonder sampler/MC
that is Girl Talk – is pulling a RadioReznor.


Take it for free at the Illegal Art site, listed above — pay
any price for a download of the entire album as high quality mp3s. Cough up $5
and get the album as one long track (how Gillis intended for people to listen
to it), or $10 or for all of the above and a packaged CD when available in


Pay for this.


The talent behind Girl Talk (and any great sampling/sequence
outfit and merry mash-ups) is his taste when it comes to the treatments – like
the window dressing your girlfriend puts in your office that makes you smile or
scowl. You’ll want hear Gills zip through the culture in Ratatat-meets-Paul’s Boutique fashion like a pitch-shifting
snippet-stealing bar mitzvah DJ swallowing globs of amber crystal meth – the
chunky stuff. That don’t mean Gillis/Girl don’t like his slow grooves: Lil
Wayne meet a Red Hot Chili Peppers ballad, Fergie’s Shelia-E steal “Glamorous
say hello to my lil-fren’ Ludacris.” It’s just that the rapier slaps and the
rapid-fire pushed-to-the-max rips of Metallica, Yung Joc, Levon Helm, Jay Z and
his pay-it-forward pals in Radiohead give you a reason to cheer; to recognize,
to scream and kick out the jam because it’s a jam.


And there’s nothing better than not hedging that bet when it
comes to doing it sampladelciately.


Standout Tracks: “Set
It Off” and “Give Me A Beat” A.D. AMOROSI


Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

January 01, 1970





Ben Gibbard has made a career out of being miserable, so
it’s no surprise that Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album is a similar foray into
all things depressing. But while Death Cab’s previous albums, 2003’s Transatlanticism and 2005’s Plans, had a meandering, dreamlike
quality interspersed with despairing lyrics about failed relationships and
lives falling apart, Narrow Stairs buzzes with a frenzied, frantic tone, mixed with an (un)healthy dose of


Gibbard still excels at making pained lyrics sound
disturbingly happy, such as on “No Sunlight” (“the optimist died inside of me,”
he sings) and jams occur heavy and often, as with the first four minutes of the
stalker-ish first single “I Will Possess Your Heart.” But the similarity of
subject matter and instrumentation (lush as it may be) make all the songs flow
together into one morose blob; only a few markedly different tracks, such as “Bixby Canyon
Bridge” and “Pity and
Fear,” stand out. Overall, the album is more of the same for Death Cab –
there’s nothing on here as fantastic as on Transatlanticism,
and there’s nothing as interesting or melodic as on Plans. Narrow Stairs is
just as morose as you expected – nothing more.


Standout Tracks: “I
Will Possess Your Heart,” “Pity and Fear” ROXANA HADADI

Denmark Veseys – The Denmark Veseys

January 01, 1970

Sex School)




The fact that his latest band, The Denmark Veseys, is named
after a slave who was executed for trying to overthrow slavery says a lot about
Jerry Joseph (vocals/guitars/piano). He’s well read, outspoken and never shies
away from the heavy stuff. It’s all sex and god and drugs and they’re all the
same for Joseph. Backed by drummer/percussionist Steve Drizos along with some
help from producer Dave Barbe (guitar/keys/vocals) and John Neff (from the
Drive-By Truckers, on pedal steel), songs like “Ho Chi Minh” and “Zombie Blues”
retain the fierce, bile-spitting, trance-inducing, politically-charged vibe
that has made him a cult anti-hero. But it’s tracks like “Elastic” — with its
message of enduring love — and the warm, church organ feel of “Supper’s Ready”
that show a softer, more accessible side to the man. Jerry Joseph has been
wrestling his demons into song for more than 25 years, and there are few that
do it better. If the path broke a different way he could have been a Springsteen,
The Denmark Veseys is another
bundle from the criminally underappreciated cannon of Jerry Joseph.


Standout Tracks: “Ho
Chi Minh,” “It Comes In Waves” AARON KAYCE

RZA as Bobby Digital – Digi Snacks

January 01, 1970





With that recent Wu Tang Clan record a not-too-surprising
letdown, it’s impressive to see its sonic provocateur — RZA — up, at ‘em and
returning to superhero mode, Bobby Digital. It’s been a long time between Digi
drinks. But RZA’s putting forth his cast of cartoon usuals and letting them
front a brand of slow unctuous funk and electro-fried hip hop that’d impress
George Clinton.


For all of Digital’s characters’ ill travails, much of what RZA’s
espousing takes a highly personal tack. The loss of cousin Ol Dirty Bastard and
a community of thugs with more drugs than Walgreens on the title track, the
Wu’s beginnings and its Shaolin uprising atop the soulful slinky sounds of “You
Can’t Stop Me Now.” Most impressive though – from the royal jazz of “Drama” to
the Blaxploitative spazz of “Creep” – is RZA by himself spitting a sort of curt
verse you can’t get enough of. 2008s best hip hop CD to date.


Standout Tracks: “Longtime Coming,” “You Can’t Stop Me Now” A.D. AMOROSI


Jet Age – What Did You Do During The War, Daddy?

January 01, 1970

(Sonic Boomerang)


On the second Jet Age release, former Hurricane Lamps
frontman Eric Tischler stays true to his Who Down Under ethic with a set of
quiet/loud mondo distorto jangly indie garage pop songs. Beyond reinforcing his
longstanding Pete Townshend-channels-Martin Phillipps sonic philosophy,
Tischler uses Daddy? to conceptually
examine the desperation of a voting minority that understands the savant coup
which has swept America
and envisions an American suicide bomber who destroys himself to save his
family. Without endorsing such a course, Tischler tells the cautionary tale
with a vulnerable and trebly passion, from the Mitch Easter/Keith Richards pop
of “If I Had You Then, I’d Still Want You Now” to the Who/Chills demo rush of
“O, Calendar” to the spritely darkness of “Shake.” Tischler poses controversial
questions on Daddy? while
simultaneously turning out a compellingly stripped down and satisfying indie
rock record.


Standout Tracks: “O, Calendar,” “If I Had You Then, I’d Still Want You Now” BRIAN BAKER