Monthly Archives: February 2010

Puerto Muerto – Drumming for Pistols

January 01, 1970



With a record as quixotic as Drumming for Pistols, it’s hard to pin down the precise moment this
Chicago-based married duo makes its Great Leap Forward, but by the time it has
cast 13 strange and different spells, you just know it’s happened.


Maybe it’s during the second cut, the dirty-gospel flavored rocker
“Tamar,” when the classically trained mezzo-soprano Christa Meyer belts out the
freighted chorus “Oh, Daddy, oh, Daddy, why’d you do those things to me?” and
sends a shiver of pleasure and discomfort down your spine. Or maybe it happens
during the Werner Herzog-inspired chamber piece, “The Bell Ringer,” when the handbells
and strings (courtesy Bright Eyes/Head of Femur contributor Tiffany Kowalski) augment
a wistful Eastern European theme perfectly suited to Meyer’s operatic voice. Perhaps
it’s the new-and-improved garage-rock stomper “Tanze,” in which Meyer’s wicked
bilingual delivery recalls Thee Headcoatees, or the disorienting swirl of the
carnival waltz “Beautiful Women With Shining Black Hair.” Other candidates
could include hubbie Tim Kelley’s turns on “Hurting Now,” a simple
piano-and-guitar sad-ballad reminiscent of Jon Langford’s mellower Mekons fare,
and the organ-washed weeper “Settle Down Belinda,” which sounds like Richard
Hawley on a Southwestern bender.


But just when you think any one of these could be The
Moment, the duo closes with a gorgeous one-two punch. First, the ain’t-no-redemption
song “Seven Sinners,” in which Meyer’s doo-wop “shoop-de-doos” give Kelley’s
guitar and traditional-sounding verses a surreal, David Lynch twist. Then comes
the coda, the Spanish guitar-flavored “Goodbye to the End,” which captures the
band’s narrative sophistication in cinematic fashion when Meyer sings, “And the
drums will play/A tune like madness/The streets are dark now/the asphalt’s
warm/we are walking the streets until midnight/we are craving a life undone.”


Early Puerto Muerto records tended to ramble all over the
map, a lack of focus highlighting the band’s shortcomings as often as their
strengths, and there are a couple of over-reaches here, especially the
prog-rock misstep “Arcadia.” But with time, they’ve zeroed in on what works
best for them, and made a sentiment like “undone” mostly a narrative conceit


Standout Tracks: “Seven Sinners” “Tamar” “Settle Down Belinda” JOHN SCHACHT


Field Music – Field Music (Measure)

January 01, 1970


Field Music has been on a three-year hiatus, with brothers Peter and David
Brewis working on individual solo albums and touring with their other project,
The Week That Was. Their full-scale rock band is back, however, with a 20-song
behemoth of an album that manages to keep things interesting the whole way
through, nary an ounce of filler to be found.


Field Music was initially lumped into the British pogo-pop
revival along with bands like The Futureheads and Maximo Park
(with whom the band has shared members). But the band has veered more into prog
rock and classic rock territory, never more so than on their latest effort.
Yes, a track like “Them That Do Nothing” delights in XTC-styled vocals and
bright blasts of acoustic guitar, but the Zeppelin guitar riffs of “Each Time
Is A New Time” are the norm, not the exception here. Dueling guitars, bass,
drums, and sometimes strings wind and curl around each other precisely and
economically. Many notes are played, flicks of the wrist and fingers allow
grace notes and arpeggios to embellish the band’s melodies, but it all falls
logically into place. In other words, Field Music’s musical accoutrements
aren’t for show – they make the songs. The one oddity during the album’s
70-minutes or so is “Let’s Write a Book,” which is built around what sounds
curiously like the Super Mario Brothers video game theme music. Still, if that’s
the case, it never sounded quite so good, even with the occasional wah-wah
guitar solo shredding overhead.


In all honesty, the album wouldn’t suffer from losing a
track or two. But the cinematic, nine-minute, orchestral closing track, “It’s
About Time,” sums it up in theme and title, marking an epic end to an equally
monumental and always interesting new album.


Standout Tracks: “Clear
Water,” “All You’d Ever Need To Say” JONAH


Jack Rose – Luck in the Valley

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)


Jack Rose, who died last December at the age of 38, was one
of America’s leading acoustic guitar players, an heir to the finger-picking
genius of John Fahey, the mystical orchestrations of Robbie Basho. His career,
though short, was far from unproductive. He released more than 20 full-length
albums over a two-decade period, both as a solo artist and in collaboration with
others. Luck in the Valley (Thrill
Jockey) is his last recording, recorded just months before his death.  


Rose was fascinated with the sounds of pre-war blues,
gospel, ragtime and folk. Alongside lyrical raga-blues-flamenco odes like his
lovely “Cathedral et Chartes” he would juxtapose jaunty old-time cake-walk
tunes. He could astonish you with the pure luminous beauty of a guitar flurry
left to hang in the air, but he could also make you tap your foot in time to a
strong but archaic sense of swing. On this album, the third in his
self-deprecatingly named Ditch Trilogy,
recorded live and quickly with friends, Rose drew upon his arcane knowledge of
early 20th century blues. He resurrected classics like Dennis
Crumpton and Robert Summers’ “Everybody Ought to Pray Sometimes” and W.C.
Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”. He composed new songs imbued with the rough country
swagger, dedicating the gorgeous opener to “bones” player Percy Danforth, and
distilling the backwoods like 40 proof liquor into “Lick Mountain Ramble.” He
brought friends – Fahey scholar and guitar player Glenn Jones, old-time picker
Micah Blue Smalldone, Harmonica Dan and his frequent abetters the Black Twig
Pickers – in to supplement his dazzling skill. As a result, Luck in the Valley has a lived-in,
friendly feel, despite its considerable technical accomplishments.   Whether coaxing oil-slicked rainbows of
ambiguous overtone, as on solo cuts like “Tree in the Valley” and “Blues for
Percy Danforth”, or bouncing along over all-hands hoe-downs like “Lick Mountain
Ramble”, Rose made the difficulty disappear into a texture of transporting


Jack Rose died far too young, in the very midst of turning
into one of our best guitarists. His last record cannot help but be tinged by
melancholy. And yet there’s a joy here, too, that comes from hearing an
extraordinarily gifted musician working over his craft, surrounded by
well-loved fellow-travellers, and making the complex and difficult sound
casually, unpremeditatedly wonderful.




Standout tracks: “Tree in the Valley” “Blues for Percy Danforth” “St. Louis Blues” JENNIFER KELLY






Hot Rats – Turn Ons

January 01, 1970

(Fat Possum)



The Hot Rats are
two members of Supergrass – guitarist Gaz Coombes and drummer Danny Goffey –
and Turn Ons is an album of covers
ranging from The Cure to Roxy Music to Pink Floyd. Although any of the twelve
cuts here could have easily slid onto a Supergrass album, they apparently felt they
should be recorded outside the canon of their main band. (Coombes and Goffey
are not new to these side excursions, having slipped off in the past to play
some clandestine gigs billed as The Diamond Hoo Hah Men.)



Despite the
limited instrumentation, the versatility on the album separates The Hot Rats from
the pack of bands flailing to surf the wake of The White Stripes. Simplicity merely
repeated gets monotonous, but The Hot Rats wisely employed Radiohead producer Nigel
Goodrich to add his brush to their canvas, and the result is an exciting and
surprising collaboration. At its core it’s brimming with the exuberance and
fearlessness of a garage band, and with twelve tracks in just over half an
hour, one is left wanting more.



Most of the arrangements
are fairly faithful to the original songs, albeit with a layer of Goodrich’s
sonic slathering. David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” retains its ringing
chords but is sweetened by violins, while the majestic approach production of
“The Crystal Ship” breathes such life into the Doors track that even
Morrison haters will nod their approval. The original choir echoes in “Big
Sky” are replicated along with Ray Davies’ spoken word verses, but it’s an
inspired choice from the Kinks catalogue. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that
two of the best songs on the album are not only sonic cousins to each other but
perfect candidates for The Hot Rats’ primal beat approach. Lou Reed’s “I
Can’t Stand It” could have been recorded in an alley, while “Pump It
Up” manages to capture all the intensity of Elvis Costello’s original with
only half the manpower.



The acoustic
thunder and clean piano chords underneath “E.M.I.” turn the Sex
Pistols’ bitter diatribe into a dance party anthem (not to mention making one
pine for the Pistols to record an Unplugged album), while Squeeze’s “Up
The Junction” remains wordy even when delicately presented at half speed (as
if the words themselves were too fragile to rush through). But jaws will drop
with “You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party,” a mind-blowing; acoustic
falsetto version that sounds like an early Who outtake.



Although an
album of covers won’t get many points for originality, Turn Ons scores big for enthusiasm and inventive execution. It
sounds like it was a lot of fun to make, and it’s definitely one of the more
joyous albums you will play this year.



Standout Tracks: “Pump It Up,” “Queen Bitch,” “E.M.I.”


Rocky Votolato – True Devotion

January 01, 1970



In listening to Rocky Votolato’s mournful ruminations, it’s
hard to imagine that his music has its origins in the punk anarchy of several
earlier outfits.  Yet in a sense,
Votolato is still the disenfranchised misanthrope he was early on, only
nowadays, his method of choice finds him purveying withered narratives stoked
by little more than an acoustic guitar. 
Nevertheless, there’s something so achingly affecting about his
plaintive melodies, that the resilient effect is equally indelible.


provides the latest in a series of confessional
reflections, a series of songs that place an entire emphasis on his desperate
moan and solitary strum.  Dimly embellished
by bare-bone arrangements and twilight desperation, Votolato meanders from
remorse to rebuke, casting himself on either side of that divide with “What
Waited For Me” and “Where We Started,” respectively.  The dichotomy is often defined simply on the
basis of tempo, be it the faltering pace of “Don’t Be Angry” or the more
emphatic stance of “Sun Devil” and “Eyes Like Static.”  Ultimately, those become only minor
discrepancies. In conveying his True
, Votolato shows unwavering allegiance to life’s darker designs.


“Sparklers,” “Don’t Be Angry” LEE ZIMMERMAN



Veil Veil Vanish – Change in the Neon Light

January 01, 1970



Lush. Dreamy. Serene. Chilling. Those are just some of the words that come to
mind when trying to describe Change in
the Neon Light
, the phenomenal and striking debut album by Veil Veil
Vanish—San Francisco’s
latest dark gem to rise from the music underground. It’s no shock that this
band will be compared to The Cure. For starters, lead man Keven Tecon’s vocals
definitely echo Robert Smith, only more powerful and less whimpery. It’s a fair
and totally legit comparison, not to mention a compliment, only The Cure hasn’t
made an album this good since the mid ‘80s.


title track “Change in the Neon Light” sets the tone with saturated guitars,
beautiful synths, and mesmerizing walls of sound. It’s one of those songs that
immediately sweeps you off your feet and has you drifting into bliss. It’s not
often that albums open up with mellow tracks, but ones produced as well as this
captivate you and pack a subtle punch and set the mood for what’s to come. And
what does come is something that borders perfection.


supersonic “Anthem For a Doomed Youth” kicks things into high gear with its
catchy chorus killer guitar. “Exile City”
is equally infectious with a melody that will get trapped in your head for
days, but it’s the pulse-pounding “Modern Lust” that injects a little bit of a
dark wave influence. It’s insanely catchy, dancy, menacing and has these wicked
layers of synths that soar and teleport you back to an ‘80s club dance floor.
The band would be crazy to not make this a single.


come to a close with the chilling and eerie “The Wilderness”—a track that’s
like hybrid of The Cure’s “A Forest” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Land’s End.” A gorgeous yet haunting number you want to
turn off the lights to, it’s the perfect closer and bookend track to its
opener. By the time you get to the halfway point of the album, you have a
realization that this album is some sort of masterpiece. It’s equally strong
from beginning to end and never disjointed. At just 9 tracks and just shy of 39
minutes, the album’s only flaw is that it ends too soon and leaves your senses
craving for more. It’s a dreamy and atmospheric album that’s never
over-produced and trying to be something that it’s not. Sure, the band may
musically resemble The Cure, early The Ocean Blue (“Between Something and
Nothing”), Slowdive and even The Killers is some ways, but they are no cheap
imitation—in fact, they may even be destined to be greater than those bands.
Veil Veil Vanish is certainly a band to keep a close eye on. 


Standout Tracks: “Change in the Neon Light,”
“Anthem For a Doomed Youth,” “Exile
City,” Modern Lust,” “The
Wilderness” GIL MACIAS


Shout Out Louds – Work

January 01, 1970



After two fine
records,  2003’s debut Howl Howl Gaff Gaff and 2007’s Our Ill Wills this Swedish bunch decided
to take a bit of a break and see the world. Leader Adam Olenius took some time
to live in Melbourne, Australia for a time. When the band
reconvened they felt fresh and ready to record. And where else might that
happen but in Seattle
with producer Phil Ek (Shins, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Mudhoney, etc.). Work is a nice middle ground between the
debut record’s sprightly tones and the sophomore effort’s more restrained


The simple yet
effective opener, “1999” is a strong opening statement, perfectly setting the
tone for the rest of the record while “Fall Hard” begins with supreme melody
and Olenius’ soaring vocals with the sublime chorus, “If you fall hard, I fall
harder.” Later the low-key “The Candle Burned Out” starts with a lower register
rhythm section and never quite breaks out of the gate even thought you think it
will on a few occasions and the record’s best track “Throwing Stones” sits
squarely in the middle of it all. A few of the tunes on Work are a bit too breezeless (“Play the Games”, “Paper Moon”) but
on most of this they have put their (near) best foot forward. Still, having
said that, I think this band has a classic in them and none of the three
records, while all very good, have hit that mark yet. I’ll bet record number
four will take over small countries.


Standout Tracks: “1999”, “Fall Hard”, “Throwing Stones”,
“Show Me Something New” TIM HINELY


Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music

January 01, 1970

(Faber and Faber Inc.)





One part memoir, two parts cultural history book, Marisa
Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties
Revolution in Music
(published earlier this month by Faber and Faber) traces
the prominence of women in popular music from the riot grrrls to the Spice
Girls to all-girl rock and roll camps for tweens, ruminating along the way on
the effectiveness of the message of female empowerment inherent within (or at
least claimed by) each music and cultural phenomenon.


Although admittedly an avid fan of many of the acts she
writes about, Meltzer – who previously co-authored the 2007 book How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to
the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time
– manages to contemplate the
cultural relevance of all of her subjects with fairness and objectivity. For
instance, she considers that the riot grrrl bands that boycotted the media may
have been a little too idealistic. While being more open may have risked the
media further misconstruing the point of the movement, more press would have at
least meant that more girls – especially in the Midwest and other pop
culturally dry places in the pre-Internet age – were exposed to the themes of
self-empowerment and sisterhood that riot grrrls embraced. For, while the “girl
power” promoted by the Spice Girls lacked much substance and emphasized
consumerism, at least its ubiquity meant that a message of female pride reached
the masses. And Meltzer cites scientific findings indicating that even the
Spice Girls’ watered down version of girl power had some positive impact on the
group’s young female fans. Along with the riot grrrls and Spice Girls, Meltzer
examines the trends of women’s (or womyn’s) music festivals in the 1990s,
female singer songwriters and the rise of sexy pop tarts like Britney Spears.


The author acknowledges that her portrait of the era is
biased toward her own tastes. “This book will have a narrow and highly selective
focus by design,” she writes in the preface. “It’s a discussion and an analysis
as viewed through the lens of personal experience.” Fortunately, the memories
she weaves in – like when she felt she was the only long-haired teenage girl in
the crowd of a close-cropped Bikini Kill fans – help the academic analysis from
becoming too dry and, more importantly, drive home the message that what women
do on the musical stage can have a profound effect on the girls in the mosh pit
– even after they go home.






Suzi Ragsdale – Best Regards/less of the same

January 01, 1970

(Stark Raven)


Suzi Ragsdale – daughter of country star Ray
Stevens – is a singer/songwriter, performer, Yoga and cooking
student/instructor and Lord knows what else. She has a marvelous voice and a
funky style that informs the 12 bluesy/jazzy tracks with a country tinge on
this double CD release. There are only six songs on each disc so they’re pretty
lengthy. But they are consistently well arranged, orchestrated and. The only
hitch is Ragsdale’s Daily Planner approach to lyrics on the “Best Regards” disc. Sure, there are
about a million blues songs that start with “I woke up this morning” and some
of Bruce Springsteen’s early lyrics read like diary pages and that’s how
Ragsdale’s lyrics tend to run on “Best Regards“.
When they don’t, Ragsdale’s humor and intelligence and her passion (“Two On A Tightrope”)
show through. And sometimes, when the music is funky enough (“Wishbone”) you
can overlook the fragmentary nature of some of her narratives.


There’s certainly nothing wrong with the music
Suzi Ragsdale writes or the way it’s played. In fact there’s some exceptional
stuff from producer Tim Lauer on all kinds of instruments on both discs, particularly
percussion on “Wishbone” and drums, bass and guitar on ‘Wake Up!” on the “Best
Regards” disc. Those elements and Ragsdale’s strong expressive voice usually
make up for the loosely structured lyrics.


The other disc, “less of the same,” has more of a country flavor and is more
immediately satisfying than “Best Regards”. Starting out with the
Springsteen-ish (there he is again) “Fall Light”(written by Darrell Scott) and
moving into a beautiful country ballad original, “My One & Only Valentine” then
into the snaky rhythmic title cut, “less
of the same
” benefits from being just that when compared to “Best Regards.”
It’s less indulgent and frankly, it’s more entertaining; “Troublemaker” the
duet with Rodney Crowell, is a real treat. There is every chance that “Best Regards” will grow on you and you
might want to have it on hand. But if you have to choose, “less of the same” Is the way to go.


Standout Tracks: “My One & Only
Valentine”; “Troublemaker” RICK ALLEN


Eluvium – Similes

January 01, 1970

(Temporary Residence Limited)




Though they’re nearly obscured by grand melodies
and motionless textures, Matthew Cooper’s vocals have finally appeared on an
Eluvium recording. Cooper has used this pseudonym for years to issue his
instrumental ambient music — an always affecting, venturesome wash of brass,
strings, and piano as well as effects-strewn guitar and synths. On Similes, the Portland, Oregon-based artist
tracked his vocals for the first time, topping-off most of the album’s eight
compositions with somber verses.



In a hesitant baritone that mirrors The
National’s Matt Berninger’s, Matthew Cooper guides his once-shapeless forms
into unsurprisingly stunning songs on Similes.
The choruses are ushered to the fore with enhancements by way of more
reverberating piano, reluctant swells, and even drums. While the latter is also
a first for an Eluvium record, piano is just as prominent a fixture on the
song-driven Similes as it is on
2007’s Copia. The productions aren’t
as sweepingly symphonic as those three years back; they evolve in trickling,
indistinct loops and processed synthesizer tones for the most part. Lengthy
adjournments such as those in album closer “Cease to Know” are
devastating regardless, swirling out of focus with speaker-panning atmospherics
over a pattern of soothing drones. Adversely, the serene and compact
“Weird Creatures” could linger for hours, but Cooper clips its tail
just as it begins to really take hold. Even amid this spaciousness and
alterations to what’s usually a mild, solitary chord progression, the vocals
just-about slip away unnoticed.



The sentiments aren’t easily comprehensible on Similes because they’re mixed
comparatively low, and Matthew Cooper’s words, likely crafted with as much
meticulousness as all of the resonant instrumental peaks are, fade almost into
the ether. While a balance is executed masterfully in places, Similes would up the ante even more, had
the verbal contribution that’s taken years to share finally materialize less
like another flourish than one of the most important elements at work.



Standout Tracks: “Cease to
Know,” “Weird Creatures” DOMINIC UMILE