Monthly Archives: January 2009

Cut Off Your Hands – You And I

January 01, 1970

(Frenchkiss Records)

www.frenchkissrecords.com

There are moments when you feel bad for New Zealand’s Cut
Off Your Hands, in the occasional echoes of The Strokes and Hot Hot Heat; as
if, rather than eighteen hours, there were a time difference of six years
between our two lands. Then there are beguiling moments of adolescent
greatness, blossoming under the tutelage of producer Bernard Butler (bombastic
arranger, uglier androgynous founder of Suede), as slick pop naturally flows
from their fingertips. On “Happy as Can Be” singer Nick Johnson leads a rolling
anthem, surrounded by an intoxicating swirl of strings and jangling guitar,
belting out sweet little nothings.

It’s a half-empty promise for You And I as “Expectations” quickly descends into watered down
post-punk resurgence. Throughout there are treats that dot the way (the
hand-clap happy “Let’s Get Out Of Here”) and it seems like a fair fight.
Ultimately, the skippably ham-fisted rockers win out, and it’s a loss. God bless the EP, because there’s hopefully
gonna be less need for filler.

Standout Tracks: “Happy
As Can Be,” “Still Fond” ZACHARY BLOOM

Tina Dico – A Beginning A Detour An Open Ending

January 01, 1970

(Finest Gramophone)

www.defendmusic.com

Like Joni Mitchell, a notable influence early in her career,
Tina Dico has proven that she’s as astute a poet as she is a singer and
songwriter. While previous efforts have emphasized
her role as a pop pundit of sorts, her latest effort – a tidy box set boasting
three EPs – reflects the more thoughtful side to this Danish songstress, and
offer momentary pause in anticipation of her next album.

In the liner notes to the attractive booklet included in the
box, Dico notes that these EPs were originally for distribution at her
shows. Those plans changed as she grew
more enamored with the material, leading her to package the discs together and
release the songs en masse. Surprisingly,
it holds together quite well, a series of cloudy, contemplative narratives that
inhabit a realm midway between darkness and desire. Dico’s lyrics often flow like freeform
poetry, at times seemingly oblivious of the melodies. Yet like these lines from “London,” they evoke a vivid imagery and
sensuality:

“I’m flying over London on a cold November night
The river snakes across the vast ocean of electric lights,
Fast and weightless like this marvel in the sky,
The young and restless skateboard in the dark beneath the closing London eye.”

That said, many of these musings tend to be mired in
melancholia – as personified by the gentle ode to a lover burdened by the past as
illuminated in “Glow” or the troubling reunion detailed with a “Friend in a Bar.”
Yet even though the songs are sparse and eerily atmospheric, the mood is more
about reflection than remorse. Flush
with intimate details, songs such as “All I See,” “Magic,” “Quarter to Forever”
and “An Open Ending” seem spawned from personal circumstance, creating a
connection that’s all the more affecting, even in spite of the ethereal
ambiance. Those qualities make A Beginning A Detour An Open Ending a unique
journey and one well worth savoring.

Standout
Tracks:
“London,” “Friend in a Bar,” “All I See” LEE
ZIMMERMAN

Loop – Heaven’s End [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Reactor)

www.heavensend.org

I honestly think you
ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over…

So intones an ominously calm male voice, from a 2001: A Space Odyssey clip featuring the
HAL computer not doing a very good job of reassuring astronaut Dave, at the end
of what would have originally been side 1 of 1987’s Heaven’s End, by Croyden, England, outfit Loop.
Ah, if only things were that easy. The gobbling-the-pill part, that is. Because
the sizzling sonics bookending the aforementioned clip – the whorling, backwards
phased guitars of “Heaven’s End” and the jagged, tremolo-strafed ur-punk of “Too Real To Feel” – are
about as far from stress relief as you can get. More like a descent into the
proverbial maelstrom, a nightmarish, claustrophobic, psychedelic death trip
located halfway between Altamont and
Thatcher’s Orwellian England. Yeah. But it’s a Lovely Sort of Death.

Loop existed for but a
brief blip on the alt-rock sonar, yet during their 1986-91 run enjoyed some
well-deserved notoriety for their skull-denting brand of Stooge-oid/Suicide-al
psych. The band’s uncompromising approach to fuzz/drone/wah-wah freakouts
sometimes resulted in dismissive “Spacemen 3 Jr.” labels from the press; if
memory serves, a territorial-minded Sonic Boom, from S3, may have pushed that
notion as well, resulting in cross-media sniping between the two bands, for
indeed in interviews Loop founder/guitarist Robert Hampson came across
unusually sensitive towards the accusation (although when I talked to him later
in the mid ‘90s he seemed to have gotten over it, laughing about how competitive
British bands could be).

Hampson & Co. weren’t reluctant to wear their influence
on their sleeves, though, as evidenced by the covers gracing their numerous
singles: Suicide’s “Rocket USA,” Can’s “Mother Sky,” the Pop Group’s “Thief of
Fire” and “Thief (Motherfucker)”. And in truth, they were credible contemporaries
both sonically and spiritually of My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & Mary Chain,
Swervedriver, and of course the Spacemen. Loop
left behind three official studio albums, several singles collections and a set
collecting the band’s Peel Sessions. Bandleader Robert Hampson subsequently put
together his ambitious ambient/experimental project Main
(he also performed, for a short while, with Godflesh), which lasted until about
2006, at which time he commenced operations under his own name. Meanwhile, the
other erstwhile Loop members had formed the
Hair & Skin Trading Company and released several well-regarded albums.

In any event, with the benefit of hindsight and the reissue in
hand here, Loop held its own, and then some,
carving an estimable legacy well worth rediscovering. Heaven’s End also operates as reasonably effective time capsule of
a period when Loop and their ilk were picking
up assorted ‘60s and ‘70s torches and setting their own blazes against what was
at the time a bleak British economic and cultural backdrop. Escapism through noise,
in other words, and Loop definitely brought
the noise. Check the above-mentioned pair of tunes, the fuzzed-out,
Ecstasy-fueled (or so one imagines) overdrive of “Head On” or the chugging,
knuckle-dragging, Stooges-like thump of “Straight To Your Heart”: there’s no
subtlety here, just pure brute application of force. You may want to sit down
calmly, take a stress pill and think things over when the record’s done.

A bonus CD features the band’s first, three-song Peel
Session, originally broadcast over the BBC in August of ’87; “Straight To Your
Heart” is a standout, not quite as unhinged as the LP version and boasting more
clarity in the vocal department (on the album, Hampson’s voice is typically submerged
in about three layers of echoey gunk), while the scorching “Rocket USA” is
utterly true to the sound and spirit of Suicide’s original, right down to the
headache-inducing drum machine pattern and Hampson’s sneering vox. Three
previously unreleased Heaven’s End session cuts are also present: the Suicide song, the original mix of “Head On”
(it pales, though, against the beefier and edgier LP version) and the original
mix of the wonderfully-title “Soundhead” (which in an alternate universe is
what Hampson might’ve named his band instead of “Loop”).

Heaven’s End arrives alongside 1988’s Fade Out,
each a two-disc set. (Still to come: 1987 compilation The World In Your Eyes, which will bring together all the singles,
and 1990’s A Gilded Eternity.) The
albums were remastered from the original analog tapes, and though the Reactor
label’s website indicates that in assembling the reissues it was discovered
that some of the tapes had been damaged, there are no noticeable flaws. Throw
in mini-LP packaging that reproduce the original sleeves, and you’ve got a pretty
accurate recreation of the Loop experience. It
would have been nice to have a booklet featuring liner notes that tell the
whole story, but then, Hampson was never about explaining himself – he just did
it
.

Standout Tracks: “Straight
To Your Heart,” “Rocket USA”
(Peel Session) FRED MILLS

Triffids – The Black Swan + Treeless Plain + Beautiful Waste and Other Songs

January 01, 1970

(Domino)

www.dominorecordco.com

Australia has been a nurturing ground for iconoclastic rock
‘n’ roll ever since the ‘60s, beginning with the Easybeats and subsequently
moving forward through AC/DC, the Bad Seeds, Men at Work and scores of other
bands who achieved varying degrees of fame and notoriety. However none were more deserving – or as
sadly unappreciated — as the Triffids, a group that purveyed acinematic view
specific to its Down Under environs. Few other outfits captured the sweep and
spectacle of the rugged Australian Outback as superbly or as specifically,
while creating such an indelible imprint in the process.

It’s to Domino Records’ credit then that they’ve opted to
give the band a second look, courtesy of a series of reissues that have
expanded the Triffids’ original offerings and packed them with bonus songs,
unreleased tracks, liner notes that reveal personal insights from surviving
band members and other highly coveted accoutrements. Last year, the label reconfigured three of
the band’s seminal efforts – Born Sandy
Devotional
, In The Pines and Calenture, the former being the album
that originally introduced them to American audiences. Now Domino has opted to
up the ante with further forays into the Triffids catalog, specifically those
recordings that found the group expanding their palette and creating some of
the most sophisticated recordings of their career.

This round of reissues bookends the band’s career, from
their earliest outings to the final album considered their ultimate
masterpiece. The Triffids’ sound can be
effectively documented on a progression of rare EPs — Raining Pleasure, Lawson
Square Infirmary
and Field of Glass — all recorded early on, between 1983 and 1985. Banded together under the collective title Beautiful Waste and Other Songs, every
track originally released on these three EPs is now available on a single
CD. The initial sequence from Raining Pleasure, spearheaded by
rollicking “Jesus Calling,” spotlights singer/songwriter David McComb’s
penchant for parlaying a croon into a swoon, taking a stance that’s by turns
somber and sedate, testy and turbulent.
The songs culled from Lawson
Square Infirmary
find the Triffids playing the role of down-home denizens,
rambling from the woozy hoedown “Figurine –” which sounds like Eddie Cochrane
plying Hank Williams — and the jaunty “Mother Silhouette” to the rustic, back
porch designs of “Mercy” and “Crucifixion.”
The Field of Glass set wraps
the disc up on a darker note, with McComb channeling Jim Morrison over a
musical backdrop that recalls the Velvets, Echo and the Bunnymen, Nick Cave
and the early Airplane in a muddled, turgid brew. It’s scary stuff, a precursor of the more
ominous application that would follow later on.

With that varying pastiche, Treeless Plain, the Triffids’ full-length 1983 debut, was the first
recording to fully flesh out their sound.
While the emphasis continued to be on McComb’s dry delivery, the
instrumental arrangements moved along at a good clip, particularly the
propulsive undercarriage steering songs like “Branded,” “Old Ghostrider” and “I
Am A Lonesome Hobo,” a Dylan composition that became one of the first and only
covers finding a way into their repertoire.
“Old Ghostrider” and five other tunes – four of them taken from that
first album -are reprised as bonus tracks on this reissue, extracted from a
live performance recorded immediately prior to their debut. They find the band in an upbeat mood,
enthused, exuberant and seemingly ready to take on the world.

Unfortunately those expectation were never fully
fulfilled. The Triffids’ trajectory
culminated just six years later with The
Black Swan
, a sprawling opus that successfully summed up the band’s sound
in all their elegiac glory. Cinematic in
its wide-eyed overview, it found chief McComb writing songs from an arched
perspective and a dramatic motif. “Too
Hot to Move, Too Hot to Think” sets up the scenario, via a parched perspective
that illuminates the vast and eerie expanse of the Australian hinterland. The sinewy, half-spoken groove of “Falling
Over You” might have found a compatible niche on today’s airwaves alongside the
most atmospherically inclined rappers, as ironic as that might otherwise
seem. Likewise, the calculated croon of
“Go Home Eddie” and “Blackeyed Susan” (not so coincidentally, the name of
McComb’s next band), as well as the mellow love songs, “New Years Greeting” and
“Fairytale Love,” combine to provide an emotional embrace. An extra disc of
demos and excised offerings enhances that welcome return, albeit it in more
stripped down settings. It provides a
worthy wrap to this Triffids triple play, not to mention a welcome return for a
band that remains as intriguing as ever.

Standout
tracks:
“Jesus Calling,” “Too Hot to Move, Too Hot To Think,” “Old
Ghostrider,” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – Old Money

January 01, 1970

(Stones Throw)

www.stonesthrow.com

Sometimes, things turn up in the unlikeliest places – a crumpled $20 bill in
your refrigerator, a slice of pizza in your underwear drawer, or Mars Volta
guitar player Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo album on LA underground hip-hop
imprint Stones Throw. The latter actually makes more sense, given the label’s
penchant for releasing experimental music – see Baron Zen and Gary Wilson for
proof.

Old Money will
sound familiar to fans of the Mars Volta’s expansive and jazzy prog-rock.
Latin, Middle-Eastern, psychedelic, and electronic elements all have their say
over the course of the album’s 45 minutes. This, actually, is a bonus, too; a
70-minute-long record of these instrumental meanderings would be too much of a
good thing. Rodriguez-Lopez certainly enjoys an extended solo or two, but
fortunately he chooses to surround them with a mélange of squeals, frenetic
drumming, and stoned synths. Sometimes, as heard on “How to Bill the Bilderberg
Group,” he throws in a few distorted vocal effects as well.

These songs could clearly have fit in on the next Mars Volta
album. Without actually asking the man himself, it’s hard to pin down exactly
why he felt the need to make this a solo release. Whatever the reason, if you
have a reasonable tolerance for jamming and epic rock, Old Money is a good
album to explore.

Standout Tracks: “How
to Bill the Bilderberg Group,” “Private Fortunes” JONAH FLICKER

Franz Nicolay – Major General

January 01, 1970

(Fistolo)

www.fistolo.com

Though he’s best known as the mustachioed (there, I said it)
keyboard player for the Hold Steady, Franz Nicolay has been a New York City
fixture for years, as co-founder of the chamber group Anti-Social Music, leader
of the Balkan-klezmer quartet Guignol, as a sometime-member of the virtually
unclassifiable World/Inferno Friendship Society. And while Major General, Nicolay’s first solo album, isn’t nearly as eclectic
nor freewheeling as that CV might suggest, the influences of Eastern European
folk music and cabaret nicely pepper a collection of tunes that, for the most
part, wouldn’t be out of place on the Hold Steady’s next album.

Nicolay kicks things off with “Jeff Penalty,” a
collaboration with Hold Steady tourmates Demander. A roiling, rocking,
not-quite-tribute to the singer who stepped for Jello Biafra in the
post-lawsuit Dead Kennedys, the song offers an astute analysis of the nuances
of punk purism and the performer-audience relationship: “There were wisecracks
in the upper deck from people in the scene but it sure looked like we all still
wanted to believe.”

He explores that relationship further in “Confessions of an
Ineffective Casanova,” another punk rocker on he which manages to be both
self-flagellating and self-congratulatory as he catalogs his various romantic
fuck-ups, concluding with a very Hold Steady-esque commentary on the freeing
power of performance, “I do like people, I want them to know that…but I can
only say that from behind a microphone.”

These and the other rock tunes on the album, particularly
“This World is an Open Door,” are positively exhilarating, made moreso by
Nicolay’s commanding tenor; who’da thunk that all these years, his voice has
been his secret weapon? The Brechtian “Dead Sailors” and the Django Reinhardt
-esque “Do We Not Live in Dreams?” offer bittersweet counterpoint to the louder
fare, but Nicolay can deliver a rock anthem with the best of ‘em.

Standout Tracks: “Jeff
Penalty,” “This World is an Open Door” ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

Rokia Traore – Tchamantche

January 01, 1970

(Nonesuch)

www.nonesuch.com

“Say no to exodus/France is a source of
suffering,” counsels Rokia Traore on “Tounka,” a song from her
exquisite new Tchamantche. As
subsequent lines make clear, the Malian singer-guitarist is warning against the
dangerous ocean passage that desperate migrants take to Europe,
not the place itself. Indeed, Tchamantche is Traore’s most Westernized album, although that doesn’t mean she’s mislaid
her heritage. Sung mostly in her native Bambara, with occasional forays into
French and English, Tchamantche expands Traore’s music without forfeiting its essence.

On Traore’s three previous studio albums, her brand of
African folk-rock was not unlike that of fellow Malian Habib Koite; both
employed easygoing tempos, rippling timbres and luxuriant vocal harmonies.
About half of Tchamantche‘s songs
feature backing singers, but the overall style is starker and bluesier. The
album is dedicated to Mali-blues master Ali Farka Toure; it was also inspired
by Billie Holiday — Traore performed in a 2005 “Billie and Me”
tribute tour — and the twang of a vintage Gretsch electric guitar. Although
the n’goni (a West African lute) is heard, the sound is dominated by guitar,
bass and drums.

The only non-original is a version of “The Man I
Love” that starts slow and spare, suggesting Holiday’s
rendition, but then turns jazzy and bilingual. Equally unexpected is
“Zen,” a bare-bones Francophone groove in praise of “rien”
(“nothing”). There are no stomping dance numbers, but
“Aimer,” “Koronoko” and “Tounka” (which boasts
the set’s earthiest vocal) are rhythmically intricate and quietly driving. A
diplomat’s daughter, Traore has the experience and assurance to compound her
own worldly style. But its pulse is that of the place that Traore, in the
insinuating “Dounia,” calls “an Africa
alive.”

Standout Tracks: “Koronoko,” “Dounia” MARK JENKINS

Bird And The Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future

January 01, 1970

(Blue Note Records)

www.bluenote.com

They may like Burt
Bacharach, but The Bird and The Bee certainly don’t sound like the godfather of
lounge-pop. Often perceived as a high-minded blend of psychedelic pop,
tropicalia, and all kinds of smooth, sexy ‘60s swinging sounds-set to Lily
Allen’s beats (her producer is one half of this duo)-Ray Guns… is, in fact, no more spectacular than a middle of the
road dance-pop record.

Kylie meets Ladytron and “Barbie Girl” on the bouncy,
cloyingly catchy, perfect for a ring tone (yet ultimately ridiculous) “Love
Letter To Japan.” Handclaps bolster the laconically anthemic “My Love”, like a
‘tween Flaming Lips. For maybe a little bit better and worse, these are the two
most memorable tracks offered. Singer Inara George can costume up like Embeth
Davidtz in a Nancy Sinatra biopic, but her thin voice doesn’t set her apart
from a sea of sirens vying for a spot in the next iPod commercial.

Standout Tracks:
“My Love” “Love Letter To Japan” ZACHARY BLOOM

Rio The Definitive Authorized Story of the Album

January 01, 1970


(Eagle Vision; 127 minutes)

www.eaglerockent.com

Throughout most of their career, from their beginnings even
through to the present day, Duran Duran found themselves labeled with the
notion that they were nothing more than a teen sensation, a pop band whose
music was undermined by their model-perfect looks, an impeccable sense of
fashion and an unbridled optimism that radiated from the dark core of Margaret
Thatcher’s chokehold on the U.K.. Yet,
anyone who gives closer examination of the band’s earliest albums will likely
come away with a greater appreciation for the flawless craft and solid sense of
style that they imbued in each effort.
Ultimately, the appeal boils down to the songs themselves, ringing with
the instantly infectious choruses that became a rallying cry for the uncertain
eighties.

Consequently, a re-examination of their landmark album Rio seems all
the more appropriate, given the 25 years since its release and the undue
dismissal some still shrug in their direction.
And in the setting of the Classic
Albums
DVD series initiated by Eagle Entertainment a few years back,
there’s no better venue for giving it its due.
The usual cast of talking heads offer their evaluation – the band
members themselves, aged but no less photogenic (although the absence of
guitarist Andy Taylor suggests there’s still resentment in the ranks), producer
David Kershenbaum (looking strangely like an android), various managers,
A&R types, a journalist here, a designer there, and fellow Brit-rocker Bob
Geldof who offers heaps of praise tinged perhaps with a wee bit of jealousy, if
for no other reason than he hasn’t weathered nearly as well.

Still, it’s the dissection of the disc itself that provides
the most convincing case as to why this album still serves them so well. With the band members peeling back the
various textures and isolating the individual instruments, it becomes increasingly
evident that beneath the unabashed exhilaration of songs like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” there was a specific
craft and genuine emphasis on creativity undermining it all. Even in the context of a slower song like
“Save a Prayer,” the absorption of early influences – in this case Roxy Music –
only enhances their credibility as artists who took their music far more
seriously than some might have otherwise suspected.

Nevertheless, what sold them to the masses were their
stunning videos – mini-epochs actually – driven by the ambitions of both the
band and their cinematographers. And
while in a certain respect they served to undercut the group’s credibility as
musicians – in one particular aside, singer Simon Le Bon notes that he couldn’t
even tap his feet in time – they served to reinforce the effusive energy and
glamour so integral to their success.
Finally, if there’s still any doubt lingering as to their abilities,
five songs recently recorded live on a soundstage in Boston with four of the
original members demonstrate that a quarter century on, Duran Duran may be more
mature but their music’s no less embracing.

Special Features: Brand
new session performances filmed in Boston
especially for this DVD of: 1) Save A Prayer 2) The Chauffeur 3) New Religion
4) Hungry Like The Wolf 5) Rio. Additional
interviews and demonstrations not included in the broadcast version. LEE
ZIMMERMAN

Loney Dear – Dear John

January 01, 1970

(Polyvinyl)

www.polyvinylrecords.com

Yet another record from the one man Swedish gang (not really
true) Emil Svanagen who, at just shy of 30 years old, has delivered his 5th record. Dear John comes after his Sub Pop debut (ok, his one and only
record for Sub Pop) the excellent Loney, Noir. The new one is not
as immediately arresting as Loney, Noir, in fact, truth be told I had
trouble staying awake the first few runs through this one as the trips through
epic territory seemed more interested in getting lost (on purpose) than staying
on the road and getting safely to the correct destination (more on that later).

The record opens with a few swift, synth-pop numbers in
“Airport Surroundings’ and “Everything Turns To You” then gets a
bit more heart-heavy an sublime on “I Was Only Going Out.” By track
four, “Harsh Words”, Svanagen seems to derail a bit but repeated
listens show the mad scientist exploring a new genre (not speed metal) and
proves he knows what he’s doing while “Summers” shows a similar
aesthetic (not unlike the better Mercury Rev stuff) and “I Got Lost”
brings Andrew Bird into the fold for some eerie violin. Those worried that
Svanagen has lost his magic touch need not fret because while Dear John is not the chummy, immediate pal that Loney, Noir was, this is a
friendship that will be longer lasting.

Standout Tracks: “Summers”,
“Airport Surroundings”, “Everything Turns to You” TIM
HINELY