Monthly Archives: February 2009

Yahowa 13 – Sonic Portation

January 01, 1970

(Prophase)

 

www.prophasemusic.com

 

In late 2007 the publication of The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, YaHoWa 13 and the Source
Family
(Process Media) revealed for the first time the inner workings of
early ‘70s cult commune the Source Family, founded by the charismatic Jim
Baker, a/k/a Father Yod. The group came far closer to achieving the utopian
ideals of similar collectives of the era – had the Source Family managed to
supplant the Manson Family in the eyes of the media, perhaps the term “cult”
wouldn’t have had such negative connotations – and among music aficionados, Yod
& Co. had the additional cachet of featuring an impressive house band that
released ten LPs in its lifetime (and actually recorded scores more), many of
them under the name YaHoWa 13, sometimes spelled Ya Ho Wha.

 

For the most part they were all private pressings, so
they’ve become highly prized over the years by collectors of underground
psychedelia and nascent freak-folk. It wasn’t until 1998 when Japan’s Captain
Trip label stepped up to compile the bulk of those recordings (including
unreleased material) in an elaborately-designed, limited-edition 13 (natch) CD
box set, God and Hair, that the
general public was even made aware of the Source Family and YaHoWa 13. More
recently the all-digital Anthology label began reissuing some of the albums as
well, so with The Source book also
serving to revive the YaHoWa 13 name, the next logical step was for some of the
erstwhile band members to get back together for some performances

 

That they did in November of 2007 for several West Coast
shows (the Los Angeles Times said that the band “makes Devendra Banhart look like Don Rumsfeld,” further comparing
their tribal trance-rock to Animal Collective and Soft Circle), which was
followed in April 2008 by a concert at NYC’s Knitting Factory. Call it a long
overdue coda to the shuttering of the hippie dream. And as these things happen,
in rock ‘n’ roll there are always additional codas – hence the CD at hand. Sonic Portation features original Ya Ho
Wa 13 members Octavius Aquarian (drums, percussion), Sunflower Aquarian (bass) and
DJin Aquarian (guitars), now going by the slightly more streamlined Yahowa 13,
and its creation was born of serendipity: two days of studio time were donated
free of charge to the band, and when it came time to mix the tapes, through
connections stemming from one-time Source Family member Sky Saxon and Ya Ho Wa
13 fan Billy Corgan, veteran drummer and producer Kerry Brown stepped up and
volunteered to assume mixing duties.

 

The first thing you notice, particularly if you’ve heard any
of the original seventies recordings, is how tight and disciplined the trio
sounds. This is psychedelia rooted in the jam aesthetic, yes, and it’s an
understatement to say that Yahowa 13 gets suitably “out there” from time to
time – isn’t the whole point of psychedelia to strive for the musical
equivalent of out-of-body experiences anyway? But where the old Ya Ho Wa 13
sometimes veered off into highly indulgent free-form wankery that could leave
even the most dedicated student of psych frustrated (much of the blame for that
could probably be laid at the feet of Father Yod, a non-musician who fancied himself
a musician and vocalist), this contemporary incarnation really understands that
if you’re gonna set the controls for the heart of the sun, keep going until you
reach the fiery source; don’t take a detour around Uranus.

 

To that end, Sonic
Portation
is alight with such tuneful gems as “Raga Nova,” thrumming slice
of motorik rock which DJing describes
in his delightfully extemporaneous liner notes as “a ‘new’ type of Raga” (but
which you or I might simply feel free to file alongside our beloved Neu! Records);
and “Traveling Ohm,” powered by a relentless choogle rhythm and liberally
spackled by shards of cosmic twang fretwork (pardon the less-than-cosmic
comparison, but to me it suggests Creedence Clearwater Revival and Quicksilver
Messenger Service jamming together). Even the lengthy 12-minute opening track
“E Ah O Shin” is intensely focused despite progressing through a complex,
suite-like arrangement, from the opening vocal chant (which resembles a Native
American prayer) through an effects-strewn, dissonant midsection to the luminous,
melodic, almost Savage Republic-like conclusion.

 

Thematically, of course, the members of Yahowa 13 have
brought the Aquarian age tenets that initially nurtured them to the recording
studio, although for the most part the record is instrumental with occasional
vocal interjections; Djin’s liners help outline the underlying philosophies
embedded in their material. In that regard, listening to Sonic Portation – and it’s strongly recommended that it be heard
from to from start-to-finish – is akin to an extended sonic yoga lesson.
Breathe in deeply, and then exhale very slowly, and at length. For despite numerous
peaks and valleys in some very dynamic musical arrangements, this is ultimately
one of the most relaxing, and therefore gratifying, musical travelogues I’ve
heard in ages. Most reunions happen due to nostalgia, a need to care of
unfinished business, or simply in order to cash in. Happily, the Yahowa 13
reunion happened for the best of reasons – for the brotherhood, and for the
inherent spirituality of the music itself.

 

Standout Tracks: “Traveling
Ohm,” “Raga Nova,” “The Big Kundalini” FRED MILLS

 

Aidan Moffat and the Best-Ofs – How To Get To Heaven From Scotland

January 01, 1970

(Chemikal Underground)

 

 

www.chemikalunderground.com

 

 

Aidan Moffat calls How to Get To Heaven From Scotland his
Valentine’s Day album, but that’s a touch misleading. The former Arab Strap
frontman is a lover, perhaps, but never a hearts-and-flowers romantic. His
beery, brooding love songs not the least idealistic, but infused with rueful admissions
of failure and occasional violence. “Living with You Now,” for instance, opens
with this cozy domestic scenario: “You punched me in the ear/so I threw you on
the bed/you slammed against the glass of the front door/I kicked a table into
bits and threw a grapefruit at your head.” 
Still, he reassures his battered better half, “I have never, I have
never loved you more.”

 

Moffat couches his most sardonic
songs in pub-crusty traditionalism, backed by a pick-up ensemble of Stevie
Jones, who has played with Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, and Alun Woodward
from the Delgados.  There’s an accordion
wheezing through the group shouts and whistles of “Oh Men!”, a thudding Celtic
drum in the background. The sentiment, though, is entirely modern. It’s sort of
a musical take on Men Are From Mars when Moffat observes, “You think we’re all
the same/I think there’s few exceptions/yes, we all love to lech/we’re slaves
to our erections.” 

 

Yet for all the profanity, the
drinking, the burnt-black sarcasm, and the stories that hint at how Moffat got
cynical, you have a sense of happy ending. “A Scenic Route to the Isle of Ewe” is
flat-out lovely, bruised and hushed and sublimely hopeful. And later, on
“Lullaby for an Unborn Child”, Moffat turns downright tender, recounting the
world’s harshness, then murmuring, “If you need me, just knock on the wall of
your womb.”  Moffat has evidently taken
some detours on his way to heaven, but he has gotten there all the same.  

 

Standout Tracks: “A Scenic Route to
the Isle of Ewe”, “Big Blonde” “Oh Men!” JENNIFER
KELLY

 

 

Sir Finks – “(Tres Mexicanos) Del Sur De Texas”

January 01, 1970

(Get Hip)

 

www.gethip.com

 

 

This 22-track retrospective makes a solid case for Texas
surf-rock underdogs the Sir Finks as detail-driven masters of the classic instrumental
sound. In fact, it only takes one track, “The Ugly Surfer,” with its swinging
surf beat and its clean guitar lines bathed in reverb, most notes played on
muted strings with just the right amount of whammy bar. And they’ve not only
mastered the sounds of the era, they’ve mastered the melody writing as well,
often topping it off with a tip of the hat to old Spaghetti Western
soundtracks.

 

They take an unexpected detour 16 tracks in with a heavy,
fuzz-guitar-fueled instrumental version of the Yardbirds’ hit, “Heart Full of
Soul,” but that’s great, too, bringing the fuzz like a Mudhoney single. And the
fuzz is just as thick when the Finks go wild on a revved-up, organ-driven
reinvention of Booker T. and the MG’s’ “Can’t Be Still” that truly can’t be still
then turn around and swagger through Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Are Made for
Walkin’,” letting the whammy bar handle the attitude.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “The Ugly Surfer,” “Can’t Be Still” A. WATT

 

Lafayette Afro-Rock Band – Darkest Light

January 01, 1970

(Strut)

 

 

www.strut-records.com

 

 

Formed
on Long Island, matured in the Barbés district
of Paris, and possessed of an amorphous, pan-African funk vibe, the Lafayette
Afro-Rock Band was a quintessential faux-world music group. Both completely
inauthentic and totally natural, Lafayette had
less in common with Fela than with the post-exotica movement of London studio creations
like Mandingo or the many anonymous Italians creating funky for-hire library
music in the ’60s.

 

 

There’s
a certain imitative stiffness to the group’s music, which doesn’t make for the
funkiest experience, but as any experienced crate-digger will attest, it does
make for some mighty fine sampling. Accordingly, the majority of songs on this
collection of LARB’s early ’70s material (both under their main banner and
under several different names as well) will sound instantly familiar, due to
the recognition of a horn line or drum break from any number of hip-hop songs.
Unfortunately, only a handful of Lafayette’s songs hold up as standalone jams;
the ultra-greasy “Soul Frankenstein” (recorded under the name Captain
Dax) and the culturally overextended horns-and-djembe groove of “Heels &
Soles” are both fantastic, while a cover of “Soul Makossa” turns
Manu Dibango’s classic into a grinding bit of homage.

 

 

Most
of the rest of the material here is pleasant and faintly evocative of prime
Afro-funk, but don’t mistake it for the real thing.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Soul Frankenstein,”
“Heels & Soles” JASON FERGUSON

 

Angi West – Love is a Special Way of Feeling

January 01, 1970

(Appalachian Anti-Pop)

 

www.myspace.com/angiwest  

 

Berklee-trained, keyboard-wielding chanteuse Angi West hails
from the mountains of western North Carolina
(raised in the tiny, touristy town of Cullowhee,
resides in the regional cultural mecca Asheville),
and her choice of name for her homegrown label couldn’t be more appropriate. Think
of how other bands’ locales have often yielded similar descriptors: Calexico’s desert noir; R.E.M.’s kudzu pop; Tortoise’s Windy City worldbeat; etc.

 

So on West’s second full-length, Appalachian anti-pop would seem the perfect tagline. West boasts a
delightfully eclectic vocal style that conjures at times Feist’s forceful
sensuality, Tori Amos’ elegant swoops ‘n’ purrs, Joni Mitchell’s upper-register
free-form flights and Bjork’s chirpy eccentricity, all put to dramatic effect
against a stately-but-edgy backdrop of piano, bass and percussion occasionally
augmented by horns.  Those Appalachian
roots shine through at unexpected moments: the a capella “Let Them Sleep,” what with West’s subtle slide into a
regional twang, could be a vintage folksong handed down for generations; the
droning arrangement of “Home in Heaven” and West’s gospel-informed vocal suggest
the mountain Celtic tradition and time spent as a youth singing in a church
choir.

 

And from the elegantly operatic “Same Speed” and the
delightfully-titled, slightly gothic “Lucy and Linnea” to the spangly,
Feist-like “One Hand” and the title track (curiously, not credited on the
sleeve) that, with its loopy accordion backing and boozy group singalong, makes
you feel confident that hanging out with West & Crew down at the pub would not be without incident, the songstress
exudes a rare charisma and personality. The record’s gifts are bestowed slowly,
subtly; spend some time with it; because, while it may be anti-pop in the sense of going against the grain, it’s never the
antithesis of “pop.” Rather, it’s the very essence.

 

Standout Tracks: “One
Hand,” “Home in Heaven” FRED MILLS

 

 

Vetiver – Tight Knit

January 01, 1970

(Sub
Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

 

It’s
not much of a leap from Vetiver’s 2008 album, Thing of the Past-an old flatbed truck loaded with obscure covers
by forgotten artists (Norman Greenbaum, Michael Hurley, Garland Jeffries)-to
the radiant new Tight Knit, whose
material was penned entirely by the San
Francisco combo’s frontman, Andy Cabic. That’s a
tribute to both his influences and Cabic, himself, whose understated tunes are
just as rich in ornately detailed melody as those of his heroes.

 

Vetiver
can now hold its own with Cabic’s tabloid headline-making old friends/sometime
collaborators, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. “In high school I was
always trying to figure out where I fit in,” says Cabic. “I’d go see
Fugazi shows, then hang out with friends who loved the Grateful Dead.”
Traces of that open-eared upbringing still season Cabic’s music on the gently
rolling “Another Reason To Go,” where Vetiver core members
(guitarists Kevin Baker and Sanders Trippe, bassist Brent Dunn, drummer Otto
Hauser), augmented by a horn section and former Beachwood Sparks keyboardist
“Farmer” Dave Scher, give the tune a Workingman’s Dead vibe. There’s no raging, D.C.-style punk rock
here, of course, but the sparkling “More Of This” recalls another of
Cabic’s faves: the unclassifiable N.R.B.Q.

 

Jump
while you can, though, warns Cabic: “This one’s a little more upbeat, but
our records are always introspective with just a bit of melancholy.”

 

Standout Tracks: “More Of This,”
“Another Reason To Go” JUD COST

 

 

J.J. Cale – Roll On

January 01, 1970

(Rounder)

www.rounder.com

 

The low-lit vocals, modest melodies and humble arrangements
suggest a performer with tightly-reined ambitions, a singer/songwriter who’s
been content to veer only marginally from the same template over the course of
a 35-year career.  In truth, J.J. Cale is
more accomplished than even he lets on, boasting a proficient prowess as not
only a singer/songwriter, but also as a multi-talented instrumentalist,
producer and engineer.  Add the occasion
standard – “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” for pal Eric Clapton, “Call Me the
Breeze” as covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and songs such as “Cajun Moon,”
“Travelin’ Light” and others that were farmed out to the likes of Santana, the
Allman Brothers, the Band and Johnny Cash – and the image of an icon begins to
take focus.

 

Even so, Cale’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as those
other artists who started out in the same era. 
Blame his unassuming style, his easy, unhurried approach or the fact
that neither his singing nor his songs ever revealed much of the inner
man.  Cale’s earned a respectable living
no doubt, but superstardom never seemed a part of his plan.  Consider the fact that it took him over
thirty years to earn his first Grammy, which came courtesy of The Road to Escondido, his 2006
collaboration with Clapton.

 

Roll On,
Cale’s latest effort – his sixteenth so far – will likely do little to alter
that humble impression, although it does find Cale slightly more assertive when
it comes to modifying his signature stance. 
While songs such as “Who Knew,” “Cherry Street” and “Down to Memphis” maintain his
basic blues template – a sound that’s earnest and yet unhurried — others alter
the palette.   Cale’s vamp-like delivery on “Former Me,” the
jaunty banjo plucking of the otherwise foreboding “Strange Days,” the low-key
love song “Fonda-Lina,” and the warm and easy embrace of “Old Friend” offer a
personable perspective that diverges ever so slightly from his usual motif.   Even
though the majority of this set would fit quite comfortably on any his early
albums, it’s not the consistency that’s key. 
To the contrary, Roll On paints
a picture of an artist who has little left to prove, an erstwhile troubadour
settled comfortably in his groove.

 

Standout
tracks:
“Old Friend,” “Strange Days,” “Fonda-Lina” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

 

 

Odd Nosdam – T.I.M.E. Soundtrack

January 01, 1970

(Anticon)

 

www.anticon.com

Odd Nosdam’s nasal voice and Anticon-tainted hip-hop sensibility can be a
bitter pill to swallow for some. Sure, it’s creative and unique, but sometimes
the sci-fi beat production and esoteric wordplay can be a little annoying. That
being said, his specific vision of boom-bap is what it is. Love it or leave it.

 

 

Fortunately, on this new album, a soundtrack for an Element
Skateboards film called This is My
Element,
Nosdam lets the music do the talking. His vision ranges from the
progressive beat psychedelics and guitars of “Root Bark” to the start-and-stop
crunch of the smoothed-out “Zone Coaster.” His production all the way through
is clearly the product of some deft finger control on an SP-1200, but this
recognition doesn’t detract from the pleasure, tenuous as it sometimes is.

 

 

The real test of this soundtrack will come when set to the
images of kick flips and ollies it presumably goes along with. In the meantime,
if you’re an Anticon believer, this will satisfy. If not, move along.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Zone
Coaster,” “T.I.M.E. Out” JONAH FLICKER

 

Bibio – Vignetting the Compost

January 01, 1970

(Mush)

 

www.mushrecords.com

Bibio’s music seems to always be compared to that of Boards of Canada, and for
good reason. Besides being discovered by Boards, both render electronic music
eerily warm and organic, keeping the sharper edges warm and fuzzy with a cool
veneer of spaced-out psychedelia. Bibio’s world of sound, though, leaves the
beats behind, opting instead for a lo-fi world of AM radio ’70s folk filtered
through ProTools and a distinctly 21st century sensibility.

 

 

Vignetting the Compost,
his latest for the experimental-leaning Mush Records, is a pleasing listen,
even if it’s not quite as attention grabbing as his previous albums.
“Dopplerton” is a warped-record folk song, a picked guitar line that warbles
along under flurries of flutes. It’s hard to tell where Bibio’s world of field
recordings and original production ends, but that’s the beauty of it. “Odd
Paws” starts out like an alternate universe “Dueling Banjos” but ends up
sounding more like a soundtrack for outer space than inbred Appalachia.
And the crackling “Under the Pier” captures memories you’ve never had with its
nostalgic loops and hidden melodies.

 

 

Bibio’s music isn’t dance, it’s not entirely electronic, and
it’s only sort of folk. But the absence of a clear tag is exactly what makes it
work.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Dopplerton,”
“Odd Paws” JONAH FLICKER

 

Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

January 01, 1970

(Capitol)

 

www.capitolrecords.com

 

Since her dub-laden,
bounce-along debut, Lily Allen has traded barbs with just about everyone, feuding
her way into tabloid stardom. So it was only a matter of time before she
delivered the self-reflective, morning after album, sorting through the
controversy and substance abuse that made it all so hazy. It’s just a shame
that that album had to come so soon, because it may have sucked the
inventiveness out of her. That and producer Greg Kurstin’s lifeless production.
Gimme Mark Ronson’s beefed up drums and thumping bass any day over the crystallized
pop-techno Kurstin peddles here-much the same as with his equally lackluster
Bird and The Bee.

 

The template for success as
envisioned by Kurstin and Allen is repeated back to back on openers “Everyone’s
At It” and “The Fear”.  Step 1. Take a
look at yourself in the mirror and cleverly dish on all the things you would
proudly change or adamantly defend; Step 2. Imagine what Madonna’s producer
would do, thus cheekily subverting the glossed out pop perfection with
anti-pop/ironically pro-pop messages. And that makes for a catchy damn song… once
or twice. Somehow it unravels because while Allen would maintain her mission
for popularity, it’s clear she’s aware of the marionette strings and looks down
on it all. In the end, it’s just not fun enough to make it worth wrapping your
head around.

 

Standout Tracks: “The
Fear,” “Everyone’s At It” ZACHARY BLOOM