Monthly Archives: August 2009

David Bazan – Curse Your Branches

January 01, 1970



non-Christians, what makes David Bazan’s songs palatable is that he isn’t on a
recruiting mission. Instead, he’s voicing the doubts and dichotomies that comprise
any thinking person’s faith. He’s got a knack for ironic wordplay, graceful
dirges and understated pop hooks, too, and that’s translated into good drama
and songs, overall. Curse Your Branches  is Bazan’s first proper full-length since
shedding his Pedro the Lion skin in favor of an arrangement-expanding solo


It begins
in the Garden (“Hard to Be”) and ends with a pointed address to God about
having bitten off more than he could chew (“In Stitches”). “You knew just what
would happen/And made us just the same/Then you, my Lord, can take the blame,”
he adds on “When We Fell.” Bazan’s characters balance their faith with life’s
messy complications and a creeping sense of preordination: Do those cursed
branches belong to the tree that bore the apple, or our own fucked-up DNA?
Excepting the awful, Phil Collins-percussion-up-front “Bless This Mess,” Bazan
engagingly chronicles the oldest battle of all again.


Standout Tracks: “Curse Your Branches” “When We Fell” JOHN SCHACHT



Robin Guthrie – Carousel

January 01, 1970



Once paired in the Cocteau Twins, and later a much in-demand
producer and arranger, Robin Guthrie has garnered an enviable reputation among
the indie/ambient set.  His own albums,
as well as those in collaboration with pianist Harold Budd, have been rich in
radiance and atmospheric appeal, mood music rather than a sound that’s
marketable for the masses. The same could be said of Carousel, a shimmering, sparkling collection of alluring
instrumentals and cerebral soundscapes.


 Song titles like
“Some Sort of Paradise,” “Sparkle” and “Delight” provide descriptive banners
for the melodies within, providing an eerie ambiance that’s at once both
spectral and sublime.  In truth, these
iridescent offerings would seem best suited for a cinematic soundtrack or as
accompaniment for meditative repose. 
Consequently, Guthrie’s admirers will likely appreciate the effort, but
casual listeners probably won’t be inclined to give Carousel much more than a mere cursory spin.


Standout Tracks: “Some Sort of Paradise,” “Sparkle” LEE ZIMMERMAN



Miracles – Depend On Me: The Early Albums [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Hip-O Select)


Bob Dylan once called Smokey Robinson “America’s
greatest living poet.” Cynics and rock critics without souls (and soul) have said that Dylan was being
facetious. Even allowing for Dylanesque hyperbole it’s obvious from listening
to this great set that those folks were either not paying attention or are
extremely tin-eared.


For many, experience with the Miracles, later Smokey Robinson
and the Miracles, begins with their 1965 hits “The Tracks Of My Tears” and “Ooh
Baby Baby” or with cover versions of those tunes by other artists ranging from
Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt to Dolly Parton and Ella Fitzgerald. Beatles
fans count their version of Smokey’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” to be a
highlight of that band’s early recordings.


But the history of the Miracles goes back to the very
beginnings of the story of Motown Records or Tamla Records as it was called
when it came into being in Detroit
in 1959. The Matadors were the first act signed by Motown founder Berry Gordy.
Their name was changed to the Miracles and when signed, the group included Claudette
Rogers, the sister of original Matador Emerson Rogers – who left the group after
being drafted in 1958 – and songwriter/guitarist Marv Tarplin (who continues to
tour and write with Smokey) who had been accompanist for a group of three
teenaged Detroit girls known as the Primettes. That group later changed their
name to the Supremes and had a hit or two themselves. Claudette Rogers became
Smokey’s first wife and Smokey, on his own and in combination with Tarplin and
fellow Miracles Bobby Rogers (brother of Emerson and cousin of Claudette) Ronnie
White (who discovered Stevie Wonder and brought him to Gordy’s label) and Pete
Moore went on to write some of the best and most recorded songs in pop history.


Their songs were hits for not only the Miracles but for a
staggering list of artists including almost the entire Motown stable: The Temptations;
Mary Wells; Marvin Gaye; The Supremes; The Jackson Five; The Rolling Stones and
those mentioned above. John Lennon was a huge fan and “adapted” a few of the
lyrics to Smokey’s “I’ve Been Good To You” for his song “Sexy Sadie”. George
Harrison, a little less light-fingered – maybe due to his storied troubles with
the battle over the originality of “My Sweet Lord” – paid tribute to Robinson
in the song “Pure Smokey” for his 1976 album “Thirty Three & 1/3” and the
classic “The Tracks Of My Tears” written by Smokey, Stevie Wonder and Motown
producer Hank Cosby even survived a treatment by Phil Collins.


This collection contains five of the Miracles’ first six
albums (their 1953 Christmas LP was not included) and bonus tracks including 2
regionally released versions of “Shop Around” (the Miracles and Motown’s first
million seller).


When Rod Stewart’s solo career was blooming, some compared
his voice to that of Sam Cooke. For many, the connection was hard to make.
Listen to Smokey singing “Way Over There” and the lights come on; he sounds
like the musical bridge between the two. Good luck trying to get past “Way Over
There”, “I’ll Try Something New” or more than half the cuts in this set on just
one play. The music on these albums is sometimes almost painfully exquisite.
Smokey’s alto bordering on soprano voice was not a falsetto like the Four
Season’s Frankie Valli’s or the Temptation’s Eddie Kendrick’s. Unaffected and
comfortably in the higher registers it carries a natural tear that makes
pleading, yearning lyrics like those of his classics like “I’ll Try Something
New” or “Who’s Loving You” deliriously heartbreaking and his treatment of the
Gershwin brothers’ “Embraceable You” is a revelation .


Those hearing this music for the first time or revisiting it
after a few years will be surprised and pleased to find that the group was
originally more of an ensemble than they knew or remembered. The collection
doesn’t give credits for musicians (one of Motown’s most egregious sins) but that’s
Ronnie White taking lead vocals on “A Love That Can Never Be” and Claudette on
“After All” and “He Don’t Care About Me” and in saucy dialogue with Smokey on
their version of Gordy and Janie Bradford’s immortal “Money (That’s What I
Want”). The hugely under-sung Marv Tarplin’s guitar is/was also a huge part of
the character of the group’s sound. Tarplin’s playing, sometimes reminiscent of
Curtis Mayfield’s, is one of the elements that brings into focus the connection
classic pre-soul music vocal groups like the Platters and the Ink Spots have to
Mayfield’s Impressions, the Miracles and The Motown Sound i.e. “The Sound Of
Young America.” There is no more damning truth of the utter worthlessness of the
“honor” of being in the so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than that Smokey
Robinson was not inducted until 1987 and the Miracles as a group not until the
end of the first decade of the 21st century almost fifty years after
“Shop Around” earned them and Motown Records their first certification for a
million selling single.


A personal note: For
someone who grew up in Detroit
during Motown’s glory days, the Miracles, particularly Smokey, as performers
and songwriters, hold godlike status. Every important aspect of young life,
from frustration (“Get A Job”) to celebration (“Going To A Go Go”) to love’s
promise (“More Love”) and love’s loss (pick one) had a song written or recorded
by Smokey and the Miracles to go with it. A first kiss while slow dancing with one’s
first real girlfriend at a party in a friend’s attic or basement becomes even
more entrenched in sense memory for having happened while listening to “More
Love.” An early heartbreak is soothed, though not cured, by playing the 45 of
“The Tracks Of My Tears” over and over on a cheap plastic Westinghouse record
player and, in less maudlin moments, there was the determination to learn that song’s
eternally haunting guitar lick. A new dance is learned from an older sibling or
the cute older girl who lived down the block as “the Temptations’ (not Rare Earth’s) recording of
Robinson’s “Get Ready” plays. Listening to “Cruisin'” while doing just that
along Woodward Avenue, the city’s main drag, during a return visit home after
having moved to some far off place, invokes all those memories -old loves, old
friends, here and gone -in relentless waves of emotion and brings visceral understanding
of the fact that the word “nostalgia” means “bittersweet pain” and is an
amalgamation of Greek words meaning “returning home” and “ache.”


But such a wonderful ache you wouldn’t trade it for all the
tea in China.
Ooh baby, baby; you really got a hold on me.


Standout Tracks: “I’ll Try Something New”; “Way Over There”; “You Never Miss A Good Thing” RICK


DePedro – DePedro

January 01, 1970

(Nat Geo Music)


DePedro is Jairo Zavala, a Spanish artist Blurt readers may know through his work
with Calexico, most notably vocal contributions to Carried to Dust. Zavala recorded this low-key album with Calexico
in Tucson, Arizona, and you clearly hear their contributions seeping through
the richly textured atmosphere.


The instrumental breaks in “Te Sigo Sonando” could pass for
the soundtrack to some great lost Sergio Leone film, the kind that stars Clint
Eastwood squinting in the desert sun. The singer’s Spanish roots are obvious in
ways that go a good deal deeper than the fact that nearly every track is sung
in Spanish, but Calexico has always made the most of Spanish inspirations and
that’s certainly the case here, from the melancholy mariachi horns of the
opening ballad, “Como El Viento,” to the Tex-Mex “Spill the Wine” vibe they
arrive at on “¿Qué Puedo Hacer Por Ti?.” And they
sound great, as expected, joining forces on “Don’t Leave Me Now,” a
breathtaking ballad Zavala wrote for Spanish star Amparanoia that Calexico has
covered live.


Standout Tracks: “Como El Viento,” “¿Qué Puedo Hacer Por Ti?”



Socialist Leisure Party – Tactical POP! for Coffee Cadets

January 01, 1970



The name Andy
Hitchcock might not mean much to most but for fans of the much vaunted
(defunct) Sarah Records label it would mean a whole lot. Hitchcock made his
fame and fortune on the label while recording with his band Action Painting,
who released three singles and several compilation tracks for the label. I’m
not sure what he has done, musically speaking, in between the demise of Action
Painting and this new combo but it seems like he’s lost nothing on his
curveball in the interim.


For the
Socialist leisure Party he’s gathered up his Action Paining bandmate Kevin
House and two other chaps and have released this terrific 8 song record (6
songs on the cd and 2 on the 7″ which all comes together in another one of
Shelflife’s amazing packages (colorful 7″ gatefold sleeve with the cd stuck to
a spindle). Influenced by early 80’s Scotland (Orange Juice, Josef K,)
plus other oddball stuff (Monochrome Set, Television Personalities, etc.) each
of these 8 songs takes on a life of its own. 
Opener “Scented Crowbar” sounds like a lost classic from the 80’s that
you’ve heard before (except you haven’t) while “No Tattoos” crackles with the
kind of energy and excitement not heard since the earliest days of the Wedding
Present (when our man Gedge was but a wee lad). 
Elsewhere, “Down with the Kids” has a punk sneer out on outside while
not forgetting the melody (with Andy spitting “You’re so criminally young!”).
The punk-pop spirit continues until the end and while Dan Treacy may be missing
in action once again, Andy Hitchcock is here to step in and offers up a plate
of musical nuggets. It would be just plain rude to not try one (or eight).


Standout Tracks: “Down with the Kids”, “No Tattoos”,
“Scented Crowbar” TIM HINELY




Lightning Dust – Infinite Light

January 01, 1970



If Amber Webber were to sing the tables of contents of each
volume of Encyclopedia Brittanica  the way she carries Lightning Dust’s sophomore
effort, there’s a decent bet it’d be compelling. Her warbling falsetto lends
every syllable a sense of drama, her enunciation rendering inconsequential
words – like, for example, “boot” – cornerstones in the verbiage of these
songs. Her utterly compelling leadership of these songs has left this critic –
even after repeated listens – mostly unaware, and mostly uncaring, what exactly
she’s singing about, the sound of her voice alone illustrating enough dynamic
movement in the songs’ construction.


Though, just because the spotlight here is possessed
near-entirely by Webber, her command of these ears owes much to the gently
swinging complement of the band’s arrangements. The rhythm section pushes
softly, but insistently like surf over sand, flexing and releasing its pulse
while constant swell and swoon of strings gives an airy cushion over which
Webber’s vocals can move freely. The word “elegant” gets thrown around some,
but doesn’t really capture the casual, humid atmosphere Infinite Light creates. Saying that these songs flutter and flow
and captivate like the swaying hem of a sundress on a pretty girl – well, that
comes closer.


Standout Tracks: “The Times,” “Never Seen” BRYAN REED


Felix Da Housecat – He Was King

January 01, 1970


Chicago-based electro producer Felix Da Housecat describes his latest, He Was King, as his most pop-oriented
album to date. This is an accurate assessment – glitteringly, vacuously,
mirthfully, erotically so. These are just some of the descriptors that can be
applied to Felix’s new record, a dance-floor mixture of throbbing beats and
synthesizer warbles that features guest vocalists on nearly every track. Tunes
like “We All Wanna Be Prince” and “Do We Move Your World” represent the softer,
pop-centric side of Felix’s vision, while the buzzing, blown-out “Kickdrum” and
the alarm-blaring “Elvi$” find him fully immersed in acid and techno regalia.


For the most part, these two sides of the spectrum
compliment each other nicely. There are lesser moments of musical lethargy (see
“Turn Me On a Summer Smile”), but overall, Felix smartly and successfully melds
the slick and the saccharine.


Standout Tracks: “Kickdrum,”


Punk In London + Punk In England + Reggae In A Babylon

January 01, 1970





In the late-’70s, young German filmmaker Wolfgang Buld followed
his passion for the British underground music scene and made three
sharp-shooting documentaries that are finally getting the full DVD treatment
three decades later. The first, Punk in
, took aim at the world of ripped T-shirts, bondage pants, and
three-chord cries of outrage just as it was reaching its apex. In a style he’d
follow with his subsequent films, Buld keeps the production values and
presentation minimal and low-tech, in sympathy with the gritty feel of his
subject matter. Live footage of the expected icons like the Clash shares space
with that of lesser-known names like The Lurkers and The Adverts, achieving a
balance that would be near-impossible if the same film were being assembled
retrospectively today.


A short time later, but a century’s difference in punk years,
Buld delivered the somewhat misleadingly titled Punk in England, documenting the first flowerings of post-punk and
new wave. This isn’t post-punk of the Joy Division-descended variety that
revisionist history identifies as the genre’s be-all and end-all, but rather a
very literal interpretation of the term, very simply the next steps taken by
the kids who were swept up in punk. Stirring onstage scenes from neo-mod
masters like The Jam and Secret Affair lives alongside live footage of ska
scenemakers The Specials and Madness, while also-ran oddities like Spizz Energi
provide some color, and a young Pretenders foreshadow new wave’s commercial
potential (an endearingly clumsy moment comes when the narrator mispronounces
Chrissie Hynde’s last name). An invaluable extra on this disc is the bonus Buld
feature Women in Rock, a half-hour
film featuring the likes of the Slits and Liliput.


The most interesting entry in the trilogy, though, is Reggae In A Babylon, which covers the
British reggae scene of the period. Part of the appeal is that the subject matter
is so comparatively underexposed. Never mind Steel Pulse, where else are you
going to see Dennis Bovell’s band Matumbi on film, much less names lost to time
like reggae girl group 15-16-17, a sort of distaff Musical Youth named for the
ages of the band members? With a minimum amount of flash but a maximum amount
of passion, Buld truly captures what he sticks his camera in front of
throughout this entrancing trilogy.


Special Features: Reggae In A Babylon, none (80 mins); Punk In London, Clash Live in Munich,
Trailers & interview with Wolfgang Buld (45 mins); Punk in England, Women in Rock documentary, The Adverts live
footage, Trailers (90 mins).


39 Clocks – Pain It Dark [reissue]

January 01, 1970



39 Clocks could have hailed from exactly nowhere other than 1981 Germany. If the
post-punk era was all about inverting the revolution of the late ’70s, this duo
saw fit to not only explode tropes about New Wave music, but also sought to
destroy any preconceptions one may have had about German musicians being
stone-faced auteurs. The group’s performances were legendarily confrontational,
drawing upon similar philosophical inspirations as the New York No Wavers by
cramming noise, audience-baiting and garage-rock simplicity down concertgoers’


the tunes on Pain It Dark don’t
muster up quite the same amount of animosity. The duo’s “Psycho Beat”
sound (named, logically enough, after their own song) comes off as more
“beat” than “psycho” in its studio form, and although cuts
like “Radical Student Mob in Satin Boots” and the utterly appropriately
titled “Stupid Art” were likely blistering in a live setting, their
impact is neutered here by era-specific production techniques and, ultimately,
the Clocks’ own minimalist touch.


Standout Tracks: “Psycho
Beat” “Stupid Art” JASON FERGUSON




Damnwells – One Last Century

January 01, 1970

(Poor Man Records)


Treading the terrain that separates traditional Americana
from the headier realms of pure Pop, the Damnwells have consistently mined the
best qualities of each genre.  This third
outing (not counting various earlier EPs) is no exception, although its title
suggests some rumblings concerning their current state of affairs.  Having disbanded their original incarnation
and shedding his major label ties, leader Alex Dezen returned to college to
obtain his MFA, subsequently releasing this disc via a free download in
January. It’s now available in CD form.


Conspiracy theorists could be convinced that One Last Century foretells one final
album, although clearly, Dezen still has plenty of potent melodies brewing at
his disposal.  While most of the songs
bear a contemplative quality – the beautifully beguiling “Midnight” and the
quietly determined “Everything” chief among them – the earnest amble employed
overall makes this as listener friendly as ever.  The emphatic refrain of “Closer Than We Are”
and a surging “55 Pictures” assert that impression as well.  One damn fine band makes another damn fine
album, hopefully signaling many more Damnwells-done efforts to come.


Standout tracks: “Soundtrack,” “Closer Than We Are,” “Bastard of Midnight” LEE ZIMMERMAN