Monthly Archives: April 2009

Tragically Hip – We Are the Same

January 01, 1970

(Rounder)

 

www.rounder.com

 

Along with single-payer health care and 12-month maternity
leave, the Tragically Hip are at the top of the list of things that the United
States should learn from Canada. Monstrously successful north of the border,
the Hip’s literate rock anthems have inexplicably failed to find much success
here.  Sure, they’ve got more songs about
hockey than most rock bands, and Gordon Downie’s lyrics tend toward the cryptic,
but for all of their quirks, the Tragically Hip are nothing if not big, bold,
arena rockers at heart. If Nickelback can top the charts here, surely these
guys deserve more love than a few sold-out theaters in a half-dozen major
cities, which is the extent of the band’s U.S. touring these days.

 

We Are the Same,
the band’s 12th studio album, isn’t likely to change that; save for
“Love is a First” and “The Exact Feeling,” they’ve mostly
traded in the swaggering, straightahead rock that made their early albums so
instantly appealing for pleasures both more subtle and more ambitious. On one
end of the spectrum are “Coffee Girl,” a pensive paean to the bohemian
behind the counter, and “Morning Moon,” a twangy exploration of the
banalities of a relationship quietly falling apart.

 

At the other extreme lies “The Depression Suite,”
nine-and-a-half minute epic that travels lyrically from Chicago to New Orleans
to Canada’s Barrens and musically through three distinct musical sections from
pulsing pop to midtempo rock to lighter-waving power ballad, orchestral
strings.  Then there’s “Now the
Struggle Has A Name,” on which the strings appear again, propelling a
bridge that sounds like early ELO.

 

So what keeps it all from turning in to bombastic cliché? It
all comes down to Downie’s voice, a nasally snarl that’s by turns vicious and
tender, and his lyrics, which sketch out enough descriptive and narrative
details to create a vivid scene and the skeleton of a story, leaving the
listener to fill in the rest. Well, that and the fact that the Tragically Hip
are the best rock band you’ve never heard of.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“The
Last Recluse,” “Now the Struggle Has a Name” ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

 

Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers – Songs in Night

January 01, 1970

(Ramseur)

 

 www.ramseurrecords.com

 

At the tender age of 22, Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain
has already carved out an impressive reputation, one sparked by critical kudos
and two sensual sets of songs – an EP called Confiscation and this beguiling followup. It’s not that Crain goes
out of way to draw attention; while others her age sometimes lean towards a
more insurgent stance, Crain keeps a lowered gaze. 

 

Fortunately, the unembellished arrangements don’t mute her
enthusiasm; the ebullient surge of songs like “Rising Sun,” “Long Division,”
“Songs in the Night” and “Bullfight (Change your Mind)” makes her back-country
balladry all the more endearing.  Still,
anyone inclined to think of Crain as some freewheeling folkie would clearly be mistaken.
The sense of urgency infused in “Devils in Boston,” the forlorn sprawl of “The
Dam Song” and the skewered theatrics that drive “Bananafish Revolution” each
attest to Crain’s savvy and spunk.

 

Standout
tracks:
“Rising Sun,” “Long Division” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Tosca – No Hassle

January 01, 1970

(K7)

 

www.k7.com

Downtempo, trip-hop, ambient electronic music is so early ‘90s. These days, if
you hear it at all, it’s probably on a car commercial or at that new Asian
fusion restaurant down the street. Amazingly, Tosca still manages to make this
often preciously slick genre exciting and engaging. The duo of Richard
Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber – both electronica OG’s – have been at it for well
over a decade. And their latest album, No
Hassle,
feels as fresh as anything playing in the chill-out lounge circa
1994.

 

The album’s initial one-two punch, “My First” and “Elitsa,”
is a soft, lovely caressing blow. Both are heady, slightly psychedelic mixes of
loops and hushed vocal samples that are as tuneful as they are somnambulistic.
From there, the music picks up the pace a bit, entering the jazzy funk of
“Springer” and “Birthday.” But “jazzy funk” is really a misnomer, conjuring
images of cheesy synth-laden syncopation. This is acid jazz run through a Boards
of Canada filter, resulting in a hypnotic and graceful blend of organic and
electronic.

 

There is a lot going on in the layers of sound and
atmosphere that comprise Tosca’s body of work, even if it is basically ambient
downtempo. Tempting as it may be, Tosca should definitely not be relegated to
background music status.

 

Standout Tracks: “My
First” “Elitsa” JONAH FLICKER

 

Chain and the Gang – Down with Liberty… Up with Chains!

January 01, 1970

(K)

 

www.krecs.com

 

Ian Svenonius is either a master of
the ironic stance, a musical agent provocateur, or he’s an abrasive guy who
knows how to strike a pose. The press release for Chain and the Gang begins,
“Everywhere that liberty goes, it leaves a path of destruction.” It goes on to
describe the band as such: “Like a true chain gang, they’re on the road to
confront and defy any freedom-lovers that come across their path.” Coming from
the guy who brought us Nation of Ulysses, among other bands, you have to wonder
how much of this he believes and how much spoofs serious musical agendas.

 

The same thoughts of “Is he serious?”
pop up during the songs, especially since the lyrics often come up like the
thoughts of a young angst-ridden guy who still figured out how to channel his
thoughts.  “I want reparations from the
government/ I want reparations from the school/ I want reparations from the tv/
I want reparations from you,” he sings on “Reparations” which busts into a taut
soul-garage chorus as the band cheers him like a congregation. Yeah, it’s kind
of ridiculous, but it’s pretty catchy too.

 

Recorded at Dub Narcotic with members
of various bands helping out, the album has an intimate, slinky feel in the
rhythm section that frequently gets mileage from girl-group backing vocals and
some simple but infectious saxophone riffs. “Interview with the Chain Gang”
doesn’t quite come off because the monotone indie girl reading rhymed questions
sounds too hip even for a spoof. But most of the album strikes a good balance
between irreverent and irresistible.

 

Standout Tracks:
“What Is A Dollar,” “Unpronounceable Name” MIKE SHANLEY

 

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – A Stranger Here

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

 

www.anti.com

 

 

Revered trad
troubadour Ramblin’ Jack Elliott takes an unexpected turn via his sophomore
offering for Anti-, turning in a set of swampy blues standards that date from
the Great Depression.  Under the guidance
of producer Joe Henry – a man who’s made it his mission to revive the careers
of extraordinary icons like Solomon Burke and Bettye LaVette – these roughshod
renditions sound as if they were plucked intact from Alan Lomax’s original
field recordings or some Smithsonian archive. 
The ramshackle arrangements belie the stellar cast of participants – Van
Dyke Parks and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo chief among them – but it’s the 77-year
old singer’s gritty howl that affirms authenticity.  The ominous overtones and weary perspective
offer few reprieves, but even lighter moments – the lanky “Richland Women
Blues” and the mellow, meandering “How Long Blues” – reflect the imprint of a
genuine American master.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Rambler’s Blues,” “How Long Blues” LEE
ZIMMERMAN

 

Cocktail Slippers – Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

January 01, 1970

(Wicked Cool Records)

 

www.wickedcool.com

 

Fair or no, all-girl bands are judged by either the
commercial success of such distaff outfits as the Go Gos and the Bangles, or by
nostalgia-enhanced memories of the queens of proto-punk, the Runaways. Never
mind that female rock bands, though fewer in number than their masculine
counterparts, are just as diverse, quirky, and creative as any other band,
regardless of critical biases or preconceived notions.

 

This is the critical and commercial environment that
welcomes Norway’s
Cocktail Slippers, a five-woman band of Scandinavian bad girls, unabashed
rockers all with hearts of gold. Saint
Valentine’s Day Massacre
, the band’s sophomore effort, is a modern day
classic of garage-pop goodness, evoking memories of both the raging femininity
of Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes as well as the snarling tomboy, take-no-shit
attitude of Joan Jett’s best solo work.

 

The band members collectively write a fair rockin’ song,
sweeter than the Donnas, punkier than the Eyeliners, and tunes like “You
Do Run,” with their vocal harmonies and whipsmart lyricism, slashes of
manic guitar and explosive drumbeats, pay homage to 40+ years of girl-group
history. “Gotta Crush” is a delightful throwback to a simpler era,
with engaging harmonies, a simple but universal plotline, and overwhelmingly
beautiful wall-o-sound production. “Round & Round” rocks harder,
with a punkish intensity, roaring riff-heavy guitars, and guttercrash drumbeats.

 

The best bet on Saint
Valentine’s Day Massacre
, however, is the title track. Penned by producer
Little Steven (Van Zandt), the song’s combination of ’60s pop vulnerability and
leather jacket tuffness is bolstered by delicious vocals and harmonies, a
haunting melody, swells of genius keyboards, and a broken-hearted lyrical undercurrent
that will have you reminiscing about your first love. If there was even a shred
of justice in this cold, cold world then this song would be a mondo-huge radio
hit, the album would sell multiple truckloads, and the Cocktail Slippers would
be the toast of the town.

 

Standout Tracks: “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre,” “You Do Run,” “Gotta
Crush” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

      

 

Dan Deacon – Bromst

January 01, 1970

(Car Park) 

 

www.carparkrecords.com

 

Instead of hiding behind a computer screen, Dan Deacon gets
right in the thick of things. He isn’t afraid to let the crowd’s sweat dampen
his effects pedals and various gizmos. On his latest, he adds backing musicians
to the mix, and the results are pretty damn impressive.

 

The album kicks off with “Build Voices” – an accurate
description of Deacon’s M.O. A sampled vocal loops and builds as lyrics float
in overhead, before hyperactive drums and sweeping chord changes get things
moving. “Paddling Ghost” is a mélange of marimbas and ‘80s synth-rock, while
“Wet Wings” could be Deacon’s deconstructed answer to Moby’s Play – the three-minute song overlaps what
sounds like a sample of an Appalachian folk song until it hypnotically blends
into white noise.

 

On Bromst, Deacon
makes neither pure electronic music nor experimental noise rock. But his
ability to reference both of these niches without being completely at home in
either is what keeps his work so interesting.

 

Standout Tracks: “Paddling
Ghost,” “Woof Woof” JONAH FLICKER

 

Tinted Windows – Tinted Windows

January 01, 1970

(S-Curve)

 

www.s-curverecords.com

 

Tinted Windows are a power pop supergroup featuring
Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, Hanson’s
Taylor Hanson and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos. So it’s no surprise that much of
their debut album sounds like a slightly heavier, slightly glammier version of
Fountains of Wayne. Schlesinger turns up his guitar a little more, Hanson does
his best Robin Zander and the band harmonizes on hook after hook.

 

In 1978, this album could have been a hit. But in this day
and age, it will appeal to a very specific audience: namely, music nerds (like
many of us at Blurt) who swoon over a
well-crafted chorus. And those people will find a lot to love. Anyone
disappointed by FOW’s latest or wondering why they don’t make albums like Cheap Trick In Color anymore needs to
own this. Others will find it catchy and enjoyable, but hardly essential.

 

Standout Tracks: “Kind of a Girl” “Take Me Back” HAL BIENSTOCK

 

Ali Marcus – The Great Migration

January 01, 1970

(Turtle Rock)

 

www.turtlerockrecords.com

 

Seattle
thrush Ali Marcus is a different kind of bird – and sure, that’s an obvious (if
not downright awful) pun to make. But at a point in time where the indie world
is glutted with that flighty species known as “singer/songwriter,” precious few
of them offering much beyond mundane morning musings on the first cup of java,
we probably need talents like Marcus now more than ever.

 

The Great Migration is Marcus’ fifth album in as many years; it follows 2007’s The Other Side, which was dominated by her voice,
acoustic guitar and harmonica (2008 also brought an EP, Mostly Piano). This new release, however, comprises primarily full-band
performances featuring members of Spoonshine, the Whisky Swillers and Angels of
Sin backing Marcus up. The record kicks off with a perky little
ramblin’-down-the-highway ditty, “Virginia Road,” its good-time shuffle
arranged for bass, drums, banjo, harp and brusque ukulele-like fretboard strums.
“Bare Feet Clean” follows, an early peak on the album: with the ensemble
rumbling restlessly behind her, Marcus takes a look around, notes all our
troubles and worries, and serves up a message of optimism that doubles as a
metaphor for cleansing the collective psyche: “There’s a long dark cloud over
you, can’t you see/ If you believe, this ol’ tune will set you free/ Take me
down to the river bed and wash your bare feet clean/ Take me down to the river
bed/ I’ll show you what I mean.”

 

Other highlights: the jaunty “Recession Blues,” which in a
stroke of prescience was apparently penned long before the financial meltdown;
the downcast “Andromeda,” haunting with wraithlike banjo twang; “Minnesota,” a
straight acoustic folk number featuring a chorus taken from a speech Obama made
on the campaign trail while visiting the North Star State last year; and blues
strut “Hangin’ On A Wire,” in which a girl-done-wrong, though scarred, still
manages to get the last word in (“I will throw a party/ And you are not
invited” deadpans the narrator, with barely disguised glee). Throughout, Marcus
warbles delightfully in a voice that brings to mind, variously, Jolie Holland,
Jenny Lewis and Shawn Colvin, and it’s a supple instrument indeed, injecting
turn-on-a-dime p.o.v. shifts via tiny gulps and slurs and the occasional
sliding swoop into a sweet falsetto.

 

Marcus is kicking off an east coast tour this week (dates at
her MySpace page: www.myspace.com/alimarcus),
so if she’s anywhere near your area, don’t miss her. She’s the real deal, and
she just might make you a believer in singer/songwriter-dom all over again.

 

Standout Tracks: “Hangin’
On A Wire,” “Minnesota,”
“Bare Feet Clean” FRED MILLS

 

Tim Easton – Porcupine

January 01, 1970

(New West)

www.NewWestRecords.com

 

It’s a versatile artist who feels he’s no longer confined to
any one particular style and subsequently allows himself to infuse more
disparate elements into his sound.  So
give credit to Tim Easton with breaking the Americana mold on this, his fifth album, and
expanding his parameters into realms of Blues, R&B and other traditional
templates. Whether or not its title was intended to reflect the temperament
remains a matter of conjecture, but suffice it to say this is a somewhat, um,
prickly outlay in terms of tone and treatment. 
“Burgundy Red,” the crazed rockabilly rave-up that jumpstarts the album,
suggests something’s askew early on, and with the cool cat shuffle of “Stormy,”
the dark, descending chords of “Get What I Got” and the swampy bluesy snarl
that shades “The Young Girls,” Easton’s
manic attitude is vented in full view. 

 

That’s not to say Easton
doesn’t seize on sentiment.  His parched
vocals leave an indelible impression on “Broke My Heart” (“There’s only two
things left in this world/Love and the lack thereof”), while the easy saunter
of “7th Wheel” and “Baltimore” indicate he hasn’t abandoned his
heartland instincts altogether. 
Ultimately, it’s the bittersweet aftertaste of “Goodbye Amsterdam” that
mellows the mood and mitigates some of those edgier elements that created such
a commotion.

Standout Tracks: “Broke My Heart,”
“7th Wheel” LEE ZIMMERMAN