Monthly Archives: January 2011

Gang of Four – Content

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)

 

www.yeproc.com

 

Iconic, politically strident post-punk entity Gang of Four
reformed in 2004, then revamped its rhythm section after making waves at All
Tomorrow’s Parties in ‘06. Content,
its first original full-length since this third (in its history) resurfacing, is
raising antennae in many circles (GOF has been cited for influencing a plethora
of musicians including The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Fugazi). It
certainly evidences the courage demanded of the band’s original members (Andy
Gill/guitar; Jon King/vox) when pumping out anything new: Comparisons with the
brilliance of their’79 opus, Entertainment,
are inevitable. Those enamored of the somewhat less angst-riddled but still
ferocious tracks characterized by Songs
of the Free
(’82), may also arrive with expectations.

 

Gill’s scatter-shot guitar, replete with his signature
echoes and cascading dissolves, is as intuitively employed as ever on Content. Likewise, King’s vocals carry nearly
the urgency of those transmitting GOF’s most effective material. The lyrics handily
weave the rhyming and assonance used in much popular and rock music with the socio-politically
observant turns for which King and Gill are known. For anyone who was “there” (1977-‘83),
listening to the new album could be somewhat disorienting. The startling originality
of feedback peels and kinetic beats that threw the band into the spotlight feels
simultaneously retro and fresh on tracks like “YouDon’t Have to Be Mad” and
“Never Pay for the Farm.” Lovers of seminal GOF like “I Love a Man in a
Uniform” can get a fix with “I Can’t Forget Your Lonely Face,” “I Party All the
Time,” and “You Don’t Have to be Mad.”

 

Content is a
solid, respectable comeback. As if to make up for not being able to reverse
time/recreate the conditions and environment that fostered battle cries like “Damaged
Goods” and “I Found That Essence Rare,” GOF is including “a vial of ‘Gang of
Four’ blood” with the Deluxe Can edition of the album. What punk – aging or
otherwise – could scream for more?

 

DOWNLOAD: “She
Said,” “Who Am I,” “You Don’t Have to be Mad,” “I Party All the Time” MARY
LEARY

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

January 01, 1970

(Warner Bros.)

 

www.warnerbrosrecords.com

 

Musicians, in interviews, constantly talk about artistic
growth, trying new things, getting better. With all the bravado scattered about,
it’s no wonder fans are disappointed when bands and solo artists don’t up their
games with every album. But there are those that can, and do, improve every
time they set foot in the studio. Even when you think she/he/it has reached an
apex, they surprise you.

 

Iron & Wine seemed to have hit a career-defining peak on
its last album The Sheperd’s Dog. The
combination of leader Sam Beam’s literate, melodic folk-pop songs with
arrangements that incorporated African rhythms and busy but not cluttered
arrangements took I&W to a new level, pushing it far beyond the intimate
indie folk for which it had become known. It’s a landmark work that raised the
stakes in an already acclaimed career. Surely, one could be forgiven for
thinking Beam would never make a better record.

 

But Kiss Each Other
Clean
is, in fact, a superior LP. Expanding on the developments of The Sheperd’s Dog, Beam and stalwart
producer Brian Deck construct another intricate, engaging backdrop for a
ridiculously strong set of tunes. Beam’s love of ‘70s California rock/pop remains intact, and his
flirtation with African rhythms continues apace. But Beam, Deck and their
musicians plunder music history further, from ‘70s funk and soul to ‘00s
electronic indie pop, subsuming everything into serving the song at hand. On
“Rabbit Will Run,” for example, the musicians layer a 6/8 melody over African
grooves, peppering the track with flute, muted trumpet and distorted organ
solos. The vibraphone-inflected “Glad Man Singing” explores spacey pop not
unlike Air, if that duo had grown up in the American South instead of France. The
band spices the enigmatic “Monkeys Uptown” with clavinet and electronic
percussion, while “Big Burned Hand” goes straight for the acid funk jugular,
like an unusually contemplative theme for a ‘70s black action flick. The
seething, odd “Yr City is a Sucker” blends soul guitar, Afrobeat groove, meaty
baritone saxophone, Euro disco atmosphere and a noisy coda into an epic that
sounds like Giorgio Moroder producing Fela Kuti.

 

For longtime fans, the pair is smart enough to include plenty
of more traditional (i.e. more easily accessible) I&W pieces. The folk
popping “Tree By the River” boasts a Simon & Garfunkel vibe, while “Half
Moon” wouldn’t sound out of place on an Emitt Rhodes record. “Walking Far From
Home” may have a distorted edge on the guitars, but it’s a singalong piece of
folk rock that’s a natural single. The almost impossibly lovely “Godless
Brother in Love” breaks hearts as surely as it soothes brows, like Leonard
Cohen donating a ballad to the Beatles for Abbey Road.
Beam also drops his lyrical smart bombs with casual aplomb, like “He’s an
emancipated punk and he can dance” from “Me and Lazarus” or “Those monkeys
uptown told you not to fuck around” from “Monkeys Uptown.” And, of course,
Beam’s breathy vocals remain a constant no matter what the setting. 

 

If it almost sounds like ambition run wild, rest assured
that Beam and Deck keep firm control of the proceedings, never letting any
arrangement get out of hand. The song always rules, no matter how dizzying the
musical filigrees, and these tunes are some of Beam’s strongest. The marriage
here of song and sonic is heady and addictive, the sound of an artist using
both old and new tools to evolve beyond his prior achievements. There aren’t
many musical artists that can be counted on to get better with every record.
With Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron
& Wine firmly, confidently, beautifully steps into that rarified pantheon.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Walking
Far From Home,” “Big Burned Hand,” “Godless Brother in Love,” “Yr City is a
Sucker” MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil

January 01, 1970

(Polyvinyl)

 

www.polyvinylrecords.com

 

 

Deerhoof is sixteen years old and
infinitely young; their having finally taken off from the band’s birthplace of
San Francisco, it would be a cinch to then figure this new album as a
departure, the merry band of four all scurrying off with polka-dot bindles to
where? – the East coast? Superstardom? Truth is, I don’t see that they’ve
changed much. To say that these new songs are more “structured” than before is
like saying the Met is more structured than the Weisman. They contain fewer
sonic surprises than, say, 2004’s Milk
Man
, and allow one to nod along with relative confidence as to where the
next beat is going to come from; but wherever Deerhoof are unpredictable, it comes from precision. How did they know to
put an Addams Family-like organ riff here? And to descend into funk jamming
over there? How did they know?

 

So when that just-knowing is fed into songs with such catchy grandeur as ‘Super Duper
Rescue Heads!’, you can only imagine the emotional carnage to be wreaked on a
humble fangirl’s soul. It opens with a synth line which tumbles, crystalline,
through minor into major, condenses into hard and artless guitar chords, then
to its bassy core for Satomi’s vocals: “me to the rescue / me to the rescue /
hello hello / you lucky so-and-so”. No matter how it shapeshifts, flumes and
recedes behind her, the song loses no momentum; it’s heavy, heady pop wrapped
up in a featherweight 2 minutes 36.

 

And throughout these twelve tracks you can
still hear that meticulous construction. The cacophony of different timbres on
first song ‘Qui Dorm, Només Somia’ (sung in Catalan), opens out from its
central melody with a thousand tiny picks and chisels, cataloguing all the
tropical, muddling, exuberant sounds of a Dirty Projectors record in one mad dash.
Sometime tour-mates Flaming Lips are also in the mix, in the wholesome
strumming and astral electronics of ‘Behold a Marvel in the Darkness’, and the
yet-spacier ‘The Merry Barracks’. The extraterrestrial feeling is pushed over
the edge with the inclusion of ‘Let’s Dance the Jet’ – a Mikis Theodorakis
cover from 1967 movie The Day the Fish
Came Out
– faithfully flush with psychedelic organ and fuzzy, stomping
guitars. But this kitsch, B-movie funtime feeling is always counterweighted by
Deerhoof’s trademark hot, iron angularity, and what’s more – beauty.

 

Yup, beauty holds its own against fun like
never before on Deerhoof vs. Evil, and their power for once seems
matched. Despite some typically playful melodies, there are no odes to pandas
or basketball here; and there are some real graceful creatures to be found in
the Latin waltz of ‘No One Asked to Dance’, or the tangled boy/girl vox in
‘Must Fight Current’, fervent little “snow magic snow magic”s overlapped by
‘spinning round / stop and look / hit the ground.”

 

Every song’s a winner, and every limb and
molecule of each song is itself a winner. The match-up in the album title is a
no-brainer. I can’t think of a single band I’d rather summon in the battle vs.
evil than Deerhoof – a Deerhoof Ninja Zord, armed with five-pointed throwing
stars, of whose symbolism we could yell in our badly-dubbed voices: the five
forces of Fun! Beauty! Art! Space! and maybe Cowbell!

 

DOWNLOAD: ‘The Merry Barracks’, ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads!’, ‘I Did Crimes
For You’ MERYL TRUSSLER

Amos Lee – Mission Bell

January 01, 1970

(Blue Note)

 

www.bluenote.com

 

Amos Lee’s mix of soulful nuances
with folk and Americana
can be warming as a tumbler of hot, spiked cider. “Colors,” from his debut, is
still in rotation in this household – nothing wrong with a contemporary
troubadour echoing James Taylor and Bill Withers, along with being something of
a thinking (wo)man’s John Mayer.

 

Anticipation of Lee’s
fourth album, Mission Bell, has been
heightened by the involvement of Calexico (Joey Burns also produces), Lucinda
Williams, Willie Nelson, Sam Beam, and other luminaries. While there may be
more tones and textures, and some bird’s-eye-view expansion, to these ears the
new album isn’t more than a stone’s throw or so from Lee’s ’08 release, Last Days at the Lodge. Rhythms are often contemplative. There
are some tweaks and embellishments to Lee’s increasingly backwoodsy ambience, but
listeners who want more of his engaging, sincere-feeling vibe should be sated
by this offering.

 

One of the more successful
marriages of Lee’s intimacy with the voices and influences of his playmates is
in “El Camino,” which would nestle as well next to Willie Nelson’s work as a bowl
of yams with a fresh-from-the-oven roast. And if the tune seems familiar, the
English major’s lyrics add flavor to what could seem an overly facile vista.
“Flower” instantly brings The Commodores’ “Easy” to mind.  But the lyrics (“My heart is a flower/that
blooms every hour”) ring with the pastoral simplicity of 18th century
poet John Clare, or Shakespeare, when so inclined. Lee’s soulful, somewhat-less-thick
(than Aaron Neville’s) delivery is the hook.

 

Whether or not it sounds
like something(s) we’ve heard before, “Windows are Rolled Down,” which
contracts and expands with pedal steel drawls and the little petals of piano
familiar to Calexico fans, would easily fit an early-morning exodus. The brief
electric guitar growl at the beginning of “Violin” would startle if it weren’t
so quiet and so quick to recede. Energy picks up with the gospel-tinged,
backing-vocal-fringed “Cup of Sorrow.” And it may go without saying that Willie
Nelson’s participation on the finale, “Behind Me Now/El Camino” shows just how
riveting “mellow” can be.

 

It’s even more bracing
when the rosy haze is punctured by the passionate cries of “Jesus” and the more
aggressive R&B coloring “Hello Again.” Lee’s showcased at his most
confident – indeed, present — on relatively bare-bones formats like this. On
“Stay with Me,” Lee’s poignancy cuts through, and dances nicely with a
well-chosen sonic panorama. That’s something that hasn’t changed: at his most naked,
or when carefully dressed, Lee’s most absorbing.

 

DOWNLOAD: “El Camino,” Hello Again,” “Windows are Rolled Down,” “Stay with Me” MARY LEARY

 

Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming

January 01, 1970

(Daptone/Dunham
Records)

 

www.daptonerecords.com ; www.dunhamrecords.com

 

Brooklyn-based
soul man Charles Bradley had to wait until he was in his 50s and walk a long,
hard road to get to his debut full length record No Time For Dreaming, but all of the cumulative life experience it took to get here make for one hell
of a compelling record. In a record top heavy with anxiety, pain, heart-ache
and loss (songs titles include “The World (Is Going Up in Flames),” “Why Is It
So Hard?,” “Trouble In The Land,” and “Heartaches and Pain”) Bradley lays out a
life story that is long on hurt but makes for great soul (baring) music. 

 

A
discovery of Daptone Records major domo Gabriel Roth, Bradley dropped a single
on Daptone and a number on Sugarman 3’s classic Pure Cane Sugar LP a few
years back. Bradley then hooked up with guitar player Thomas Brenneck of The
Budos Band, Dap Kings and Menahan Street Band. Brenneck, Roth and the Daptone
Records’ extended family of modern soul and R&B players are the perfect fit
for Bradley, who must be feeling blessed with a turn for the better right about
now. 

 

Brenneck
and Bradley worked out all the tracks on No Time For Dreaming with the Menahan
Street Band, and it’s a sweet pairing. The group provides dead-on, sympathetic
back-up for Bradley’s material, always finding the perfect groove and mood for
Bradley to emote with. Brenneck’s production is sexy, clean and full of small
flourishes. Indeed, from an audio perspective, this is one of Daptone’s most
satisfying releases, which is saying a lot considering that this is the label
that has released sensational records from Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Budos
Band, Sugarman 3, The Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Menahan Street Band and
more. 

 

Much
like Bettye LaVette (another soul talent finally getting her due) did on
“Before the Money Came,” Charles Bradley lays out a bit of his life story on
“Why Is It So Hard (To Get Ahead in America?”). There are also classic
love and loss soul numbers like “In You (I Found a Love),”  “The Telephone
Song” and “I Believe In Your Love,” and a couple of social commentary numbers, “The
World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Golden Rule.” It’s also not all down: “No
Time For Dreaming” joyfully funks it up and there are couple of neat
instrumentals, “Trouble In The Land” and “Since Our Last Goodbye.”

 

Bradley’s
voice is big, rough and deeply soulful. It’s not a pretty soul voice – no Otis
Redding, Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder here – but it perfectly fits and
embodies his original material. Combined with the music of Brenneck and
company, it makes for the first great R&B record of 2011 and hopefully
bodes well for Charles Bradley’s future. He’s earned it. 

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “The World (Is Going Up In Flames),” “The
Telephone Song,” “No Time For Dreaming,” “How Long,” “Golden Rule,” “Why Is It
So Hard?” CARL HANNI

 

Fujiya & Miyagi – Ventriloquizzing

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)

 

www.yeproc.com

 

Ventriloquizzing continues down the mellow path of albums
past with its slow, rhythmic reverberations that blend dance, rock and pop with
British quartet Fujiya & Miyagi’s charmingly inane lyrics. And though they
remain true to their laid-back approach to dance music, the delivery of the songs
has metamorphosed into one that strays from the lively beats, balancing the relaxed
melodies and introducing a darker undertone.

 

Gone are the
semi-funk grooves of Transparent Things’ “Photocopier” and the upbeat, plucky beats of Light Bulbs’ “Pterodactyls” that perfectly complemented David
Best’s vocals. What remains is an album layered with dark, methodically muted compositions
for Best’s whispers to float between. By far the strongest track is the single “Sixteen
Shades of Black and Blue,” while “Yo Yo” slightly picks up the pace mid-album
and the heavy bass riff at the latter end of “Tinsel and Glitter” subsequently
injects a jolt of adrenaline in Ventriloquizzing.

 

The crucial
component that has made Fujiya & Miyagi an enticing band to follow has
somewhat faded. Though there are a few tracks that successfully balance their
signature of unconventional lyrics and quiet harmonies with dance and rock,
it’s not quite enough to spark a dance party. Ventriloquizzing (their first non-self produced) is characterized
by a new, melancholic direction, and to some the darkness may be interpreted as
dreary.  

 

DOWNLOAD: “Sixteen Shades of Black and Blue,” “Tinsel
and Glitter” APRIL S. ENGRAM

Berlin – A Concert for the People

January 01, 1970

(Eagle Vision)

 

www.eaglerockent.com

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

A band whose legacy has been all but lost to the ages,
Barclay James Harvest is in fact an outfit worth a recall. Prog rock in the
classic sense, they came of age in the late ‘60s, a time when others of their
ilk flourished and won the hearts and turntables of FM deejays everywhere. Sadly,
their cult following was confined to only a small circle of ardent admirers,
precious few of whom were spawned on this side of the Atlantic.
The band parodied their status on their signature song, “Poor Man’s Moody
Blues,” but in truth, their longing laments, swirling keyboards, grandiose
arrangements and lofty intents failed to secure them their own individual
niche.

 

Still, despite their relative obscurity, Barclay James
Harvest produced a consistent catalogue bolstered by beautiful melodies and
effusive sentiments. The relative indifference of the world at large aside,
they managed to find an appreciative audience in some sectors, Germany in particular. Consequently, the massive free
concert documented in this DVD, filmed before an estimated 250,000 appreciative
fans in 1980 (well before the Berlin Wall came down), provides a remarkable
document of both historical and musical proportions.

 

That said, there’s little in the way of a back story – only
a scant few glimpses backstage before the extravaganza begins – but once
onstage, the band literally looks like it’s suspended in space. Scattered
scenes of the crowd sprawled in front of the Reichstag, the imposing German
parliament building, intermingled with close-up shots of the band going through
its paces and extraneous nature views provide the scenic set-up, but it’s the
vibrant repertoire, sweeping in its grandeur and rife with platitudes, that
creates the most indelible impression. Only nine songs from the actual concert
are included – a miniscule representation of their expansive catalog -but the
rollicking “Loving Is Easy,” a jocular “Sip of Wine” and the ethereal anthems
“Child of the Universe,” “Hymn” and “Nova Lepidoptera” convey their distinctive
sense of drama and spectacle.

 

Five bonus videos taken from their landmark mid ‘70s album Time Honoured Tales provide worthy
add-ons, with the clever – and moving – “Titles” being chief among them. A
paean to the Beatles, it strings together the names of some of the foursome’s
most beloved songs – “Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be,” Lady Madonna” etc. –
and creates a sincere tribute as inspiring as anything in either band’s
collective catalogues. Like the rest of this sumptuous offering, this song in
particular offers all the evidence necessary that Barclay James Harvest are due
a new refrain .

Tyler Ramsey – A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea

January 01, 1970

(Brown/Fat Possum)

 

www.fatpossum.com

 

Ed. note: the
following review originally appeared in the January ‘08 issue of BLURT
predecessor
Harp magazine. The album
was first released on the Asheville-based Echo
Mountain label (Echo Mountain
is also a well-known NC recording studio) and has just been reissued this month
via Fat Possum. We loved it then and we still love it – if you haven’t yet
picked it up, run, don’t walk, to your nearest record emporium.

 

Tyler Ramsey is just about the luckiest singer-songwriter in
America.
The Asheville, NC, singer-songwriter is suddenly a loud
blip on the indie-rock radar, having joined Band of Horses. With his debut
album just out, the match-up is well-timed. Ramsey’s velvety vocals pull you in
immediately on “Ships,” a sweetly-sad fingerpicked lullaby. “No One Goes Out
Anymore” evokes a melancholy CSNY with close-knit, ‘60s inspired harmonies. A
vivid dream about swimming underwater sets the tone for Ramsey’s debut. The
result is a collection of songs that have a consistently floating, weightless
feel, and brim with water imagery.

 

Maybe it’s the beards and long hair, but the mellow/moody
Band of Horses lilt and Ramsey’s solo work are definitely in the same
reverb-heavy, vocal-driven vein. Never underestimate the value of bonding over
booze. Ramsey’s induction into Band of Horses started during a beach trip with
frontman Ben Bridwell and Ramsey’s longtime friend, BoH bassist Bill Reynolds.
(“We were just out drinking tequila at this little bar and they asked me to
open up for [a] tour,” explained Ramsey.) When BoH guitarist Robin Perringer
decided to quit, Ramsey was asked to join.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Ships,” “No One Goes Out Anymore” ALLIE GOOLRICK

Braids – Native Speaker

January 01, 1970

(Kanine)

 

www.kaninerecords.com

 

Raphaelle Standell-Preston, the frontwoman
for Montreal’s
premier pop experimentalists Braids, has a hot, dirty mouth and she’s not
afraid to let you hear it. “Have you fucked all the stray kids yet?” she asks brazenly
on “Lemonade”, the opening track to Native
Speaker,
the debut album from this quartet of childhood friends before
ultimately surmising, “What I’ve found is that we are all just sleeping around.”

 

Truer words have never been spoken by a member of Generation Y, a
demographic who takes casual sex to a frivolity that makes their free loving
hippie grandparents seem like puritans by comparison. [Yeah, but back in the day we didn’t have to stress out over having to
slide on a jimmy cap before having casual sex, so we felt pretty darn frivolous
at the time. – Free loving Ed.
] But what makes Preston’s come-ons stand out
from her filthy minded cosmic sisters presently dominating North American radio
in Ke$ha, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga is her quixotic delivery – a unique,
mesmerizing timbre that sounds like the reckless daughter of Panda Bear and
Sugarcubes-era Bjork. And when you pair up those pipes across seven lengthy
mini-epics of progressively inclined grooves that equally recall Prefuse 73, classic
Kate Bush and The Sea and Cake, you have yourself one of the most invigoratingly
singular pop tones racing across the blogosphere today. Not bad for a group of
recent high school graduates who decided to stave off going to college to
pursue their rock ‘n’ roll dreams.   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Lemonade”,
“Glass Deers”, “Same Mum” RON HART

Sidi Touré and Friends – Sahel Folk

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)

 

www.thrilljockey.com

 

A swiveling, downward guitar lick begins “Bon Koum” from Sahel Folk, the second disc from Songhai bluesman Sidi Touré. Its contours are geometrically
precise and sharply delineated against deep silence.  Yet listen harder and the contours begin to bend
and shimmer in the desert heat. Open spaces appear amid carefully plotted
phrases, and antic falsetto runs skitter across the free spaces. Touré’s voice,
quietly resonant and full of shadows, booms up out of the picking, a
counterpart that rises where the guitar riff falls.  The music is full of taut contradictions,
disciplined rhythms and wild flights of fancy, deep serenity and palpable
longing, the heat of rapid picking alongside unhurried, contemplative cool.

 

Sidi Touré comes from the same North Malian tradition as
Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré (the two are apparently not closely related), a
tradition based on voice, various kinds of acoustic guitars and hand percussion
which sounds, at least to the non-expert, like a cousin to Delta blues. Raised
in an aristocratic family, he pursued music despite his family’s objections,
making his own guitars and singing on the sly. He joined the Songhai Stars, a
regional orchestra, as a teenager and toured with them extensively, gradually
making a regional, then national, name for himself. He was one of the first to
sing in his native Songhai language and to tour Songhai homelands in northern Mali and Niger.

 

Touré has been successful enough in Mali that he almost
certainly had access to professional studio production, but he decided against
it for Sahel Folk, which was recorded
very simply in Touré’s sister’s home, a two-day session bringing together Touré
 and a half dozen of his Songhai Stars
compatriots. The songs are stripped down to the barest essentials, usually just
one or two acoustic guitars and a variety of voices.  The playing is effortless, light and joyful,
tethered to rhythms that are felt rather than pounded out, but no less
insistent for it.

 

In the long “Taray Kongo” for instance, two guitars – one
Touré’s and conventional the other, a kutigui and played by Jambala Maiga –
engage in intricate exchanges of ideas at near bluegrass speed (the kutigui
sounds a bit like a banjo), yet nonetheless stay tethered to a strong beat. There’s
a musical fillip at the end of every long vocal phrase that slots exactly into
its space, like a nail driving in to close the measure.  

 

And yet for all that regularity, there’s a wildness embedded
in these songs, whether in Jiba Touré’s ululating vocal counterpart in lucid,
lovely “Adema,” or the skittery, flamenco-speed improvisation at the beginning
of “Sinji.” The careful foundation makes these flights of bravado possible,
gives them a spot to leap off from and ensures a safe and lovely place to land
when they return.

 

One of the real conundrums of this disc is how anything that
sounds this warm and casual and relaxed could also be so exacting. Yet there it
is. It’s both and all the better for it.

 

DOWNLOAD:  “Bon Koum” “Taray Kongo” JENNIFER KELLY