Monthly Archives: January 2010

Scout Niblett – The Calcination of Scout Niblett

January 01, 1970

(Drag City)


Calcination, if you’re not a chemistry whiz, means heating
substances to just below their melting point, in order to flush out impurities.
It’s hard to imagine Scout Niblett, the British-born, grunge-influenced
songwriter having any impurities left after the searing, disintegrating
processes hinted at in this, her fifth full-length album. “Welcome…to my
self-made sweatbox,” she murmurs in the title track, the snaky blues melody
sung in a voice that is nearly supine with exhaustion, yet ready to break into
a defiant, triumphant wail. Struggle, strength, despair and triumph vie for
supremacy in these bare tunes. The album seems, at times, like a form of primal
scream therapy.


Niblett worked again with Steve Albini for Calcination, and he manages to surround
even the loudest cuts with three-dimensional silence. From this deep well of
sonic spaces, she jolts and confronts with just voice, drums and electric
guitar. Her singing is raw, slurred with blues slides, often quiet but prone to
electric crescendos that come out of nowhere. Her guitar playing, though, is
what separates this album from the common run of blues folk revivalists. On the
one hand, she plays sparsely, sparely, with simple riffs that leave ample space
for reflection. On the other hand, her guitar can turn astonishingly loud and
distorted and rock. The solo that closes out “Cherry Cheek Bomb” has the weight
of Led Zeppelin, the untethered aggression of Bleach-era Nirvana. As on previous albums, she also plays drums in
battering, off-kilter flourishes that are more catharsis than rhythmic


The songs on Calcination are deceptively simple sounding, constructed out of repetitive, minimal melodic
lines and impressionistic images, but that simplicity is where they get their
power. “Lucy Lucifer”, accompanied just with drums, has the primitive clarity
of a hex laid down by firelight, while the wonderfully uneasy “I.B.D.” follows
a thread of Appalachian picking through the darkest thickets of self-doubt.
There’s something ritual about these songs, an aura of hard, necessary healing
through pain. It’s not an easy listen, but Calcination will stay with you for a long time.


“The Calcination of Scout Niblett”, “I.B.D.”, “Cherry Cheek


TAB The Band – Zoo Noises

January 01, 1970

(North Street)



There’s reasons to be both cheerful and apprehensive about
TAB The Band’s new long-player, and while lazy reviewers inevitably preface
their commentary on the group by bringing up its musical lineage – guitar/bass
wielding brothers Tony and Adrian Perry’s pop is Aerosmith’s Joe Perry –
neither category seems particularly pertinent to the discussion here. By the
time you release your third album you pretty much live or die by your own axe (even
though if you come from a famous family you can still get your cock sucked
pretty quickly in L.A. or NYC).


Besides, the Boston-area band has been forging an intriguing
rock ‘n’ roll pedigree since coming together in 2006. Their early,
home-recorded EPs as a trio were the sound of a punk-bred outfit, and they
found themselves amassing enough indie cred to tour with fellow volume dealer
Dinosaur Jr; as they became more comfortable in the studio (to this day they
are self-produced), their sound got progressively slicker – they expanded to a
quartet in 2008 – and alarm bells went off among certain segments of their
fanbase when they went out on tour with Stone Temple Pilots that same year.


For Zoo Noises,
however, they’ve not yet jumped the
musical shark, and thankfully so. Though indie, TAB’s hardly indie rock in the
vernacular sense; Vampire Weekend fans may recoil, but lovers of, say, vintage
Faces, Stones and Led Zeppelin will discover kindred spirits in the brothers
Perry, drummer Ben Tileson and guitarist/keyboardist Lou Jannetty. After a
slightly humorous acoustic guitar/hummed vocals opening, TAB kicks into the fuzz-laden
crunch of “Be My Valentine,” powered by Tileson’s Bonzo-like percussion. That’s
followed by a pair of equally heavy rockers: the Cheap Trick boogie of “Bought
and Sold,” with Adrian uncannily channeling Robin Zander; and the
glammyriffysexy “I’ll Be Waiting,” a marriage of Rolling Stones and T. Rex, right
down to the English accented singing.


Other songs, likewise, summon images of rock icons past, and
convincingly so. Speaking of the Stones, “She Said No (I Love You)” tears a
page out of the Beggars Banquet/Let It
songbook, from the acoustic guitars and bongo percussion to the
Jaggeresque lead drawl and the Keef-styled high-pitched backing vocals. “Old
Folks Home” tips a bowler hat to the Gary Glitter school of glam, what with its
whomping, bassline, and massed-chorus vocals; for all you trainspotters, the
guitar figure nods more in the direction of Norman Greenbaum’s fuzz-centric
“Spirit in the Sky” than Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 2).” And “A Girl Like
You,” an uptempo slice of acoustic folk arranged for mandolin, dulcimer and
guitar, recalls the way folks like Plant and Page, Richard Thompson and Ronnie Lane toted Appalachia to Britannia.


It’s when TAB The Band revisits what are presumably its
formative roots though, that Zoo Noises flounders. There’s Sunset Strip hair metal in the swaggering bubblegum metal of
“Left For Dead In Hilton Head,” the much-loathed Stone Temple Pilots in the
macho wallop of “On Course,” Oasis in the tepid jangle-pop anthemism of “Run
Away” and Black Crowes in the faux-Southern twang-rock of “I Don’t Mind If You
Cry.” And while having trans-generational influences is generally healthy for
any band, these track-by-track juxtapositions of style become jarring to the
point of off-putting over the course of 16 songs.


In a review it may seem damning an artist with faint praise
to suggest that listeners should download this or that track and ignore others,
but for Zoo Noises it’s likely you’ll
come down on either a ‘60s/’70s side or a late ‘80s/early ‘90s side of the
fence when deciding what you like and don’t like about the band. Just the same,
there’s tons of potential here. It’s not necessarily what’s in the DNA that counts; it’s what you do with it.


Standout Tracks: “She
Said No (I Love You)”, “Old Folks Home” FRED MILLS




Boy Genius – Staggering

January 01, 1970



The inclusion of power pop maestro Mitch Easter on the
credits of any new album all but assures the kind of endorsement that can
elevate a fledgling band above the competition. Consequently, the fact that
Easter not only produced, but also recorded and mixed this effort by Boy Genius
is… well… a touch of genius as far as garnering the group some instant


For their part, Boy Genius holds up their side of the
equation, at least in terms of their unabashed, seemingly unrelentingly
propulsive momentum, manifest in an insistent thrust that affirms their
commitment to keeping the energy and enthusiasm at a near fevered pitch.  Happily, they don’t sacrifice their affable
melodies in the process; “Scatterbrain,” “Blame Me” and “The Hardest Part” all
demonstrate an affinity for ringing refrains and soaring harmonies.  The closest they come to contemplation can be
found in the title track, a song imbued with a more subdued sound that serves
to shatter the overall mold.


That said, those looking for some variation in the pacing
may have to contend with the fact that most of these tracks boast an ongoing
similarity which does little to differentiate one song from another.  That’s a shame too, because that lapse aside,
Boy Genius demonstrates that they have the pop smarts to mature into formidable


“Scatterbrain,” “Blame Me,” “The Hardest Part” LEE ZIMMERMAN



Sleep Whale – Houseboat

January 01, 1970

(Western Vinyl)

From the opening strings and airy snare drum cracks of the first instrumental
track on Sleep Whale’s new album, “Green Echo,” to the entrance of reverb-soaked
vocals on the pretty, spacious “Cotton Curls,” it becomes evident that the band
may have learned a thing or two from late-’90-s indie rock – specifically, Red
Stars Theory. The echoing, slightly lo-fi production, the gorgeous mixture of
guitars, bass, and drums with drawn-out violins and swirling electronics…
shades of the Pacific NW are definitely present here. But the Denton,
Texas-based band isn’t mimicking its forefathers, it’s just giving its own take
on the formula. And it does so very successfully.


Houseboat is all
about atmosphere. As one song bleeds into another, the band’s skillful
arrangements and ability to make airy but never wandering music engages the
listener in what could otherwise easily be background music. Even a song like
“Roof Sailing,” built on a simple descending pattern of picked acoustic guitar
notes and cellos following suit doesn’t outstay its welcome. The band never
lets its use of loops, minimal as it may be, overshadow the real meat and
potatoes here – the delicate interplay of instrument and, sometimes, vocals. No
gimmicks here, friends, just bewitching songwriting setting an understated and
languorous mood.


Many of the members of Sleep Whale are busy working on solo
projects as well, but let’s hope that doesn’t distract them too much from
performing together. Houseboat is a
moody and satisfying success.


Standout Tracks: “Cotton
Curls,” “Still Drumming” JONAH FLICKER


Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy – Unseen Music Unheard Words

January 01, 1970

(Second Motion)


With a solo career as fruitful as his trajectory with his
band The Church, Steve Kilbey’s never been reticent about venturing into new
territories in his efforts to extend his signature.  As the band’s bassist and vocalist, he’s had
a major role in shaping the Church’s sound and though he’s teamed with fellow
practitioner Martin Kennedy (of Australian downtempo outfit All India Radio)
here, it’s his eerie ambiance that still shapes the template overall.


In truth, it takes the same tack as his individual outings,
which in turn, have deviated little from the group’s endeavors, a scenario
that’s bound to please devotees but will likely leave newcomers somewhat
befuddled. The majority of the songs maintain a mellow drift, more of a cosmic
drone as opposed to tangible melodies. 
Aside from occasional distinctive touches – the twitchy pulse of “Maybe
Soon,” the steadfast drive of “Uh I Dunno,” the half-spoken narrative found in
“My Will Be Yours” – there’s little that distinguishes one celestial sound-bite
from another.  Consequently, as its title
seems to suggest, Unseen Music Unheard
seems best suited for a psychedelic soundtrack, one that demands
little more than the listener being seduced by its spell.


“My Will Be Yours,” “Maybe Soon” LEE ZIMMERMAN



Darlings – Yeah I Know

January 01, 1970

(Famous Class)


Normally, there would be cause to chastise any outfit that
dared tag themselves with a name like Darlings, but with the ebullient sounds
exhibited on Yeah I Know, the bubbly
sentiment isn’t exactly out of sync. 
Imagine a power pop summit in which the Beach Boys play host to the
Buzzcocks, with the Turtles looking on from the sidelines, and the Darlings’ MO
crystallizes definitively. 


Part of the Darlings’ charm derives from the fact that their
debut is an obvious no-frills, homegrown effort, from the fuzzy and nostalgic
black and white photos pictured on the oversized sleeve to the straight
forward, unadorned production values that help define their sound.  It’s so basic in fact, that initial reviews
from the New York press could scrape up few adjectives beyond the basic “local
garage band” or a simple label of “young.” 
Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bode much promise, but then again the idyllic
innocence of “TV” and the chirpy indulgence of “Teenage Girl” don’t aspire to
anything more than a momentary rave-up. 
With songs so effortlessly quick and quirky, Darlings can easily earn
some affection.


“TV,” “Teenage Girl” LEE ZIMMERMAN


Beach House – Teen Dream

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)


Bob Dylan set the scene back when he stowed away at The
Band’s Big Pink in Saugerties following his infamous motorcycle wipeout and
recorded some of the best music of his career while laid up.


While it’s not confirmed if it’s the soil, the serenity or
the spaciousness of New York’s Ulster County, but there is something about
those rural routes and quaint villages that pepper the region that really
brings the earthy best out of a recording artist’s sound. And the new album
from Baltimore’s
Beach House is even further proof of this phenomenon. Taking refuge at
Dreamland Studios in West Hurley, a converted historic church where such a
diverse array of names as 10,000 Maniacs, The Breeders, Herbie Hancock, Nas and
Ace Frehley have all recorded among many others, the platonic sonic duo of
Victoria Lengrad and Alex Scally created the album of their careers in their
brilliant third album and Sub Pop debut.


Already positioned to be the first breakout LP of the new
decade if you believe anything the critics are saying, Teen Dream contains the fullest and richest material Lengrad and
Scally have ever made, as the combination of Chris Coady’s crystalline
production and the gorgeous acoustics of Dreamland’s cathedral ceilings provide
the perfect foil for the duo’s ghostly gauze pop. A more diverse array of
instruments, including guitar, bass and an arsenal of keyboards, add a new
sense of fullness to songs like “Zebra” and “Silver Soul”, which also benefit
from the husky beauty of Lengrad’s voice, a combination of Bare Trees-era
Christine McVie and Marianne Faithfull that just fits the floating beauty of Teen Dream like a Totes glove.


The album also includes a DVD that features videos created
for all 10 songs on the album. My personal favorite is the one for “Walk in the
Park”, which depicts a dog-faced boy who gets revenge on a quartet of bullies
who terrorize him by offering them poison sandwiches he pulled out of his chest
cavity. Pretty strange stuff to say the least, and that’s one of the more
normal-looking vids in the collection.


With Teen Dream,
Beach House transplant the woozy pop haze of the vintage West Coast and
transplant it beneath the shadows of the Shawangunk Mountains, crafting the
masterpiece many of their fans knew they had in them all along and proving that
Ulster County, NY is indeed one of the great promised lands of artistic


“Zebra”, “Silver Soul”, “Walk in the Park”, “Real Love” RON





Retribution Gospel Choir – 2

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

When Alan Sparhawk switches between Low and Retribution
Gospel Choir, does he have to change in a phone booth?  It’s a fair question, because RGC’s louder,
wilder sound stands in roughly the same relation to Low as Superman to Clark
Kent. It’s not that the cape and the lack of glasses will totally fool you
either, since there’s plenty of Low’s suppressed intensity tucked into the
crevices. Yet there’s a superpowered kick to this second in the series. Sparhawk
and company (that’s Steve Garrington on bass and Eric Pollard on drums) are
leaping over tall stacks of Marshalls,
and if they are not faster than speeding bullets, they are awfully damned


The first Retribution Gospel Choir seemed more like a side
project, recasting two songs that had previously appeared on Drums and Guns in home-wrecking
amplified Neil Young style. 2, by
contrast, offers ten new songs, all created with this ultimate vehicle in mind.
It’s a stretch to imagine cuts like “Hide It Away,” “White Wolf” and,
especially, “Working Hard” in acoustic terms. They seem to have sprung, fully
formed, out of the hard rock idiom.


There’s a bit of commercial metal sheen, in fact, to some of
these songs, a slick anthemic-ness that gives off a faint whiff of 1970s arena
rockers like Def Leppard. You hear it loudest in the album’s first handful of
tracks, everything from “Hide It Away” to “Working Hard,” not exactly as a
negative, but as something that might bother you if it got any more pronounced.
And then things turn chaotic, disheveled, gloriously, passionately dissonant in
“Poor Man’s Daughter,” which has the raw force of belief that characterizes all
the best Low songs – plus a maelstrom of guitar battering. “Electric Guitar”,
the disc’s longest song, is ever better, starting in a smoulder and gradually
gaining force and momentum. The guitar chords have an almost physical heft to
them, the drums a battering resonance. Sparhawk’s vocals echo and hang in an
enormous, viscerally-felt sonic space. The whole thing feels grander, bigger,
more urgent than a rock song should be. Turn it up because quiet isn’t the new
loud anymore. Loud is.


Standout Tracks: “Hide It Away,” “Electric Guitar” “Poor Man’s Daughter” JENNIFER KELLY    



January 01, 1970




closest thing to an AFCGT bio offered by Sub Pop states that the band
of five people (three guitars, bass, drums) and that their initials
might be
“convenient vernacular for ‘A Frames’ and ‘Climax Golden Twins.'” Even
latter might be the work of a bemused publicist, although for the
record, AFCGT
comprises A Frames members Min Yee (bass) and Erin Sullivan (guitar),
Golden Twins’ Robert Millis (guitar) and Jeffrey Taylor (guitar), plus
Thommy Northcut.


detuned, garbled sounds on this album bring back memories of the equally
damaged art punk of Thinking Fellers Union 282, without the digression
standard songform or even vocals to break the mood. For ten
minutes, the band beats the snot out of two chords in “Two Legged
Dog.” This produces a dark and lovely hypnosis that never wavers,
through a tremolo guitar that
enters after three minutes and a sloppy version of a David Gilmour solo
supplants it and rides the song out into a climax of feedback and metal
They don’t top that accomplishment, but they prove they can rock hard
bridge the gap between no wave abrasions and post-rock noodling on slide


it can be purchased for digital download, the physical version of
Pop debut is only available on vinyl. That makes sense. Sounds like this
something if you can’t watch the record spin to serve as a reminder
you’re not


Standout Tracks: “Two
Legged Dog,” “Reasonably Nautical.” MIKE SHANLEY


Cluster & Family – Reissues

January 01, 1970

(Bureau B)




Cluster: Curiosum (10 stars)

Moebius-Plank-Neumeier: Zero Set (8)

Roedelius: Wenn Der Südwind Weht (9)

Moebius: Tonspuren (8)


Much ado is made about the ‘70s output of German electronic
music pioneers Cluster. And as it should, given the wealth of adventure and
innovation Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius presented to avant-garde
music fans over the course of that entire decade, both on their own and in
collaboration with the likes of Brian Eno and Can’s Holger Cuzkay as well as
Michael Rother from Neu! as part of the Krautrock supergroup Harmonia.


However, as the excellent Bureau B label continues to
deliver the goods with their reissue series of the Cluster family’s Sky Records
catalog, it should be well noted that the dynamic duo’s ‘80s output is well
worth one’s attention, too. 1981’s Curiosum was Roedelius and Moebius’s final team release before an eight year hiatus kept
the Cluster brand name on the shelf for most of the decade. However, while the
cover art might suggest some kind of a trendy new wave turn, the seven
compositions featured on this record actually hark back to the more
experimental style of the group’s earliest work as Kluster, cumulating in some
of the most out-there material in their collective canon.


Following their temporary split, both Roedelius and Moebius
managed to keep mighty busy as solo artists as well. Released the same year as Curiosum, Roedelius’ seventh album under
his own guise, Wenn Der Südwind Weht (translated When The South Wind Is
), finds him relishing in mellow, icy arrangements for piano and
electric organ augmented by the occasional computer manipulated blip and
processed tape hiss, creating a gorgeous tapestry that interweaves electronic
sound and classical composition.


Meanwhile, Moebius highlighted the early ‘80s with his very
first pair of ventures as a solo artist. Both his 1983 debut, Tonspuren, as well as Zero Set, his collaborative LP with Guru
Guru drummer Mani Neumeier and longtime Cluster producer Conny Plank also
released that same year, found Moebius exploring darker, more rhythmic patterns
and denser electric sounds more in line with industrial than ambient. It has
been further speculated that Zero Set,
with its My Life in the Bush of Ghosts-esque
hybrid of Krautrock and African-inspired polyrhythms, even serves as a
precursor to German techno.


While many of their contemporaries veered off course during
the 1980s, venturing into the realms of New Age and bad club music, this
quartet of titles proves that the members of Cluster, both as a unit and as
separate entities, remained true to their inhibitions of exploring new terrain
and expanding the boundaries of their own unique vision of pop music.


“Proantipro”, “Tristan In Der Bar”, “Ufer”; Zero Set – “Load”, “Pitch Control”,
“Recall”; Wenn Der Südwind Weht
“Mein Freund Farouk”, “Freudentanz”, “Saumpfad”; Tonspuren – “Rattenwiesel”, “B 36”, “Sinister” RON HART