Monthly Archives: August 2011

Icarus Line – Wildlife

January 01, 1970

(Roar Scratch)


It’s been four years since the Icarus Line released a record
– in today’s climate that’s several lifetimes. But the iconoclastic L.A. quartet has never
gotten the wide attention it deserves – being too weird for the rockers and too
rocking for the weirdoes will do that – so essentially starting over is no big


Wildlife has the
feel of both a consolidation and an introduction, as the band runs every
permutation of the underground guitar rock it loves through the ringer of
singer Joe Cardamone’s singular vision. The Line careens from the Bo
Diddley-meets-the Birthday Party scuzz of “No Lord” and the Bad Seed brood of
“Bad Bloods” to the Stonesy glam rock of “All the Little Things” and the Detroit swagger of “Sin
Man/Sick Blues.” The band also spends some time sampling the mushrooms during
the driving garage crush of “We Want More” and the blazing mantra fuzz of
“Venomous.” The unsavory “Lick a Scab” sounds like the decadent acid glam funk
tune Primal Scream has been attempting for years.


Cardamone’s charismatic moan, like Mick Jagger trying to
sound like Jim Reid, remains the band’s defining characteristic, but without
the support of the acid-seared guitar riffs and nimble rhythm section he’d be
lost. It’s the death dance between chaos and craft that keeps Wildlife in its titular headspace.


Man/Sick Blues,” “All the Little Things,” “No Lord” MICHAEL TOLAND

Alias – Fever Dream

January 01, 1970



Alias’ sixth full-length layers gauzy, rainbow colored
psychedelia over hard beats, moving in dream-like lucidity over intricate,
improbably pretty landscapes. “I wish I could talk in Technicolor,” whispers a
child-like female (at the beginning of a song named “Talk in Technicolor”) and,
if the Anticon co-founder hasn’t learned to talk in day-glo, he has certainly figured out how to cloak his beats in shimmering, color-shifting


If Sole’s last album was all about the clever phrase and
Serengeti’s about the emotionally-charged short-story, Alias seems primarily
concerned with rhythm and texture. These cuts nearly all include some kind of
sampled vocal, a phrase snipped from context and repeated, yet the art is
nearly all in the arrangements that frame them – the blossoming clusters of
bright keyboards, the sharpness of drum fill, the syncopated slush of open
high-hat closing shut. Alias’ beats simultaneously float and snap, their airy
flourishes and wordless tonal fills drifting through like daydreams over an
emphatic, very physical series of rhythms. Listen, for instance, to the way
that “Wanna Let It Go” unspools, its ululating vocals, its tremolo’d keyboard
accents dissolving into soul-slanted atmospheres, its ricocheting drum beat
arguing for purpose, direction and forward movement. Consider “Fever Dreamin'”
a fever dream, the body’s basic processes – breathing, blood-pumping – going on
in the rhythm, while the mind slips irresistibly into the stratosphere. Some
tracks are more grounded than others; “Dahorses” makes a body-shaking rhythm
out of clipped, reconfigured and repeated male voice sounds, while “Lady
Lambin'” floats diaphanously, spectrally, disconnectedly over a snare-shot beat
– but all layer a surreal sheen over corporeal foundation.  


Later album tracks, “Sugarpeeeee” and “Wrap,” splinter a
little, their layers failing to gel, their complexities not quite fitting into
an overall architecture. Still, for much of the album, disparate elements come
together in complicated ways that are cerebral, sensual and spiritual all at
once. Nicely done.


Let It Go” “Fever Dreamin'”‘ JENNIFER

Alana Amram & The Rough Gems – Snow Shadows – Songs of Vince Martin

January 01, 1970

(Kingswood Records) 

Vince Martin’s status in folk music circles ranks well
below the radar when compared to others of his generation, particularly
steadfast troubadours like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson and others of
that ilk. His earliest recorded appearance was alongside the venerable Fred
Neil via an album the two recorded together in the early ‘60s titled Tear Down the Walls. While Neil would go
on to make his mark in the music biz, authoring “Everybody’s Talkin'” for
Nilsson (which later became a hit after its appearance on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack), Martin
soldiered on unobtrusively into the early part of the ‘70s, releasing several
albums for Capitol and making his name as a Florida singer/songwriter long
before Jimmy Buffett even dreamt of offering his ode to margaritas.


Nearly 50 years later, Alana Amram pays the kind of heartfelt homage Martin was
denied the first time around. Happily, she hits her marks, with her honey sweet
vocals and embracing arrangements recalling the idyllic innocence of Martin’s
sun-dappled originals. Indeed, those unfamiliar with Martin’s music get an
ideal introduction via her resolute take on “Fayetteville,” the beautiful and benign
“Catch Me I’m Falling,” and the gentle steel guitar sway of “South Wind” and
“Leaving Song.” “Joe Panther,” an environmental anthem that laments the
destruction done to Martin’s tropical environs is especially effective, its
trudging violins setting up the scenario. “They’re killing the Everglades,” Amram wails softly. “They’re taking my



With Van Dyke Parks and Martin’s former comrade in arms
John Sebastian participating in the proceedings, the air of authenticity gets a
further boost, and Martin himself even makes a cameo on the incidental closing
track, the jaunty “Honest Joe.” Regardless, Amram’s sentiments speak for
themselves and Snow Shadows effectively shines the spotlight on this most reluctant honoree.



DOWNLOAD: “Fayetteville,”
“Joe Panther,” “Leaving Song” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Tommy Keene – Behind the Parade

January 01, 1970

(Second Motion)


If you ever want to make an argument about an inverse
relationship between popular success, with its attendant pressure and expectations,
and artistic quality, just take a look at the career of Tommy Keene. With no
corporate bean-counters or chart-obsessed management looking over his shoulder,
the D.C.-bred/L.A.-based singer/songwriter has made consistently sterling power
pop for nearly three decades now, rarely faltering in quality and garnering a
loyal and passionate following along the way.


It’s unlikely that Behind
the Parade
will be any more popular than his prior work, but Keene doubtless doesn’t
care. Is it an artistic success? It’s almost a clichéd answer at this point – of course it is.


Keene’s almost casual mastery of post-‘60s/postpunk melodies
and hooks, smart, humanist lyrics and janglecrunch guitar wizardry mean his
signature sound is intact on his tenth LP – it would be too predictable if it
didn’t always sound so fresh. At any rate, Behind
the Parade
lobs another handful of Keene
klassiks into the katalogue, including the crackling opener “Deep Six
Saturday,” the lovelorn charmer “Already Made Up Your Mind” and the insistent
narrative “Factory
Town.” “Lies in My Heart”
closes the record with a tune that manages to brood and soar at the same time, a
perfect encapsulation of Keene’s


As is Behind the


Six Saturday,” “Factory
Town,” “Lies in My Heart”

Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl

January 01, 1970

(Ye Olde Records)


Here’s a comparison that probably doesn’t get made very often: Juliana Hatfield
and Lou Reed. Certainly the ’90s indie-popper and the ‘60s modal-rocker started
from very different places, and that doesn’t just mean Boston
versus New York.
But as they aged — no longer a gamine, Hatfield is now a how’d-that-happen 44
— the similarities have increased. The title track of the singer-guitarist’s
latest album is a Reed-like song-essay, wordy and chorus-free, with
conversational near-rhymes punctuated by spiky guitar.

Hatfield has said that “There’s Always Another Girl” was inspired by
Lindsay Lohan, but there’s more than a little autobiography (spiritual, if not
actual) in the text. “People love it when a beautiful woman
self-destructs,” she sings. “But beautiful boys get away with so
much.” The pretty-girl trap and bad-boy misbehavior are longtime Hatfield
themes, but she’s rarely delivered them with such directness and authority.

Admittedly, the song is not altogether typical of the album. Elsewhere,
Hatfield more closely follows the model of her most popular work, with
multi-tracked vocals and hooky arrangements to boost the pop quotient.
“Sex and Drugs” and “Stray Kids” aren’t as catchy as, say,
“Spin the Bottle,” but would have fit comfortably on one of
Hatfield’s early-’90s solo sets. But the most striking material deliberately
cracks the mold to make music that’s less immediately appealing but more
provocative. On the opening “Change the World,” Hatfield sighs,
“I was going to change my ways/But I haven’t changed my ways.” In
fact, her most heartfelt new stuff shows that she has.

DOWNLOAD: “There’s Always
Another Girl,” “Change the World” MARK JENKINS

Beirut – The Rip Tide

January 01, 1970



The fact that 25-year-old Zach Condon is so
often dubbed a “virtuoso” or “wunderkind” is arguably more reflective of critic
than subject. We all wet ourselves over Condon’s borrowed elements of Balkan
folk, Parisian street music, mariachi, etc.; but did we react to genuinely
skilled instrumentation, or the sheer novelty of these exotic sounds amid the
largely insular world of US indie? Debut Gulag
and follow-up The Flying
Club Cup
were dazzling – no arguments here. And 2009’s double-EP release, March of the Zapotec/Realpeople Holland,
sufficiently charmed BLURT that Beirut earned twin Album and Artist Of the Year awards.


 But Condon’s
cultural Frankensteining was more the action of a clever opportunist than an
actual mastermind: a slightly more
sensitive, appreciative version of what Vampire Weekend did (with what Paul
Simon did) with Afropop. It’s boiling down a foreign genre into a syrup. One
generous splash to make a good song great, to excite the listener’s palate –
without their ever having to rifle through junkshop vinyl just to hear a damned
accordion once in a while.


(It should be noted that we also talk up
Condon’s prodigiousness because if he isn’t special, if he’s just an average Joe, that makes the majority of us
twentysomethings feel like sub-Joe, snivelling failures. And no-one enjoys


Now the prevarication has ended, and we
have stopped placing bets on Condon’s next direction – calypso? piobaireachd? ethnic Han? – only to find
our hero wandering between New Mexico and New York. It is not so much that the
band has shrugged off its Latin and European influences; more that these
influences have been assimilated seamlessly into the whole. The Rip Tide retroactively validates its
predecessors: it proves Condon’s purity of purpose. The passion pre-existed the


This album-without-gimmicks is a small and
pompless thing. ‘A Candle’s Fire’ starts the album off with the customary bang,
all crisp snares and clean brass, nevertheless far more contained than “Nantes”
or “Gulag Orkestar”. It leads straight into “Santa Fe”, which begins in the
chipper Casio vein of Condon’s Realpeople period and swiftly evolves into a
stirring, hearty combination of the two styles. The melodies are warm, serene,
and sentimental, not just in this, a song about his hometown, but throughout
the record. It seems contrived to say this least “global” album is also the most
personal, as if one notion precluded the other. So, to make it clear, it does not sound like home because it
sounds like North America. It sounds like home because it sounds like Home:
comfort and recuperation. That already well-beloved line on the dizzying
“Cuixmala” says a lot: “be fair to me / I
may drift awhile
“. You don’t hear many slogans of self-care these days, so
hold on to that one.


And then some of the songs are utter pop –
“The Vagabonds of the Old Town” with its staccato pumps of piano and
tambourine, is for all the world like a Jens Lekman cover, and the tidal rise
and fall of the brass in “The Rip Tide” itself foregrounds an unprecedentedly
strict/structured drumline. More than ever, Condon repeats himself. “East
Harlem” is comprised of three chords and little more than three lines,
resolving over and over in “she’s waiting
for the night to fall / let it fall, I’ll never make it in time
“. Luckily
for Beirut, this is entirely poignant enough.


Generally, those fans who already attested
to Condon’s “genius” will swoon on unchanged; those who snorted in derision
will be unmoved. But he can no longer be accused of musical grifting, selling
old trinkets from Europe for profit. Nope, our precocious songwriter (damn
him!) has a sincere respect for all of his tools, including those more common.
He can write a piano song like “Goshen”, which is beautiful devoid of all bells
and whistles – and that is surely one of the truest tests of the craft.


Rip Tide
is moderate in ambition, and hardly a masterwork,
if such things empirically exist. But it portrays a single, glowing moment, and
it seals over that “world music” pigeonhole. Two birds with one stone, one
album with nine tracks. Few chords, few lines, and few concepts: simplicity is
the ultimate sophistication, right?


(Da Vinci said that, allegedly, so there
has to be some truth to it. He was a virtuoso,


DOWNLOAD: “East Harlem”, “The Rip Tide”, “The Vagabonds of Old Town”,

Bart & Friends – Stories With the Endings Changed

January 01, 1970

(Lost and Lonesome
Recording Co.)


After nearly a
decade away from music Australian songwriter Bart Cummings returned in 2010
with the Make You Blush EP.  Indiepop fans around the world rejoiced as
this was the same Bart Cummings who had massaged those indie poppers sweet
spots in bands like Pencil Tin, Girl of the World, Hydroplane and , most
famously, The Cat’s Miaow. Of the “& Friends”, the most notable would be
addition of two Lucksmiths, Mark Monnone on bass and Louis Richter on guitar,
plus a few different drummers and organ players, Cummings also has Scott
Stevens (Summer Cats) lend his pipes on two songs.


From the sound
of it, nothing much has changed. Cummings continues on with the same cordial
sound and winsome melodies that he’s been known for over the course of a few
decades with a batch of 9 heartfelt songs (all in just under 20 minutes). Though
the tempos and general feel of the songs stay the same during the record, each
tune seems to carve out its own personality with slight subtleties and genuine
warmth. The cozy organ of “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”, that gorgeous
guitar jangle of “Now I Think There’s Something You Can Do For Me”, the
chugging, Modern Lovers-ish “Calling Out My Name” and the hopeful “Tomorrow
Will be Better Than Today.”  If you lend
your ears to each of these songs, your ears will thank you for it.


Further proof
that good things do come in small (and short) packages.


DOWNLOAD: “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”, “Now
I Think There’s Something You Can Do For Me”, “Calling Out My Name” TIM HINELY




Various Artists – The Rock Garage Texas Live Concert Series Volume 1

January 01, 1970

(The Rock Garage)


By 2011, only a music fan doing an ostrich imitation would
still think of Austin, Texas as a music town devoted only to roots music –
blues, outlaw country, etc. The punk and alternative rock scenes have long
poked holes in the Armadillo World Headquarters fantasy, with everyone from
Spoon to Fastball to the Butthole Surfers earning as much (or more) notoriety
as Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan.


So there’s no real thematic punch to the first volume in Austin website The Rock
Garage’s series of recordings from local clubs. But there doesn’t need to be,
either, other than to showcase the down-and-dirty doin’s that hit the River City’s
club scene on any given night. Producer/writer Michael Crawford took his mid-fi
equipment into a variety of joints (listed in the liners, but not specific to
the performances) to capture a diverse group of artists on their home turf.


Hard rock seems to get the most play here, with standout
cuts from the irreverent Honky (“Just a Man”,) the thrashy High Watt
Crucifixers (“Concubine”) and the unabashedly heavy Lions (“Screaming Out”) and
Brutal Juice (“Waxing Gibbons”). But there are plenty of other wares on display
here. The Ugly Beats blast out a perfect piece of garage pop with “I’ll Make
You Happy.” Churchwood does its Captain Beefheartian blues thang on the
ferocious “Vendide Fumar,” while Amplified Heat takes the form into distorted
grunge territory on “Strong Arm ‘Shut Yer Face’.” Pong takes postpunk out in
the alley and beats it up with “Click OK.” The Dirty Charley Band and Pureluck
kick country & western’s ass all around the barroom floor on “Should Killed
My Baby” and “Your Face or Mine,” respectively, while the Texas Sapphires
showcase a (slightly) more traditional spirit on “The New World.” The Pocket
FishRMen and the Hickoids (whose cheerfully smutty spirit seems to saturate the
whole project) give punk rock their own good-natured thrashings on “We Kill
Evil” and “Stop It You’re Killing Me.”


The collection also finds space for a couple of out-of-town
guests, specifically Nashville Pussy (whose drummer got his start in the Austin scene) and its staple “Good Night For a Heart
Attack” and longtime Austin
favorite Dash Rip Rock and its snarky satire “New Orleans Needs Stronger
Dikes.” They may not be from Texas’
capitol, but they both fit right in to the profane, rocked-out scene celebrated
by The Rock Garage. Here’s hoping for volume 2.


Make You Happy,” “Waxing Gibbons,” “Vendide Fumar” MICHAEL TOLAND



The Horrors – Skying

January 01, 1970

(XL Recordings)


The once aptly
named Horrors has returned with Skying,
their third full length release. The UK quartet’s 2007 debut was an
eerie, garage rock affair and we were introduced to their goth looks and
macabre pseudonyms – Faris Rotter, Coffin Joe, and Spider Webb, to name a few. However,
with each album the band has impressively transitioned from the dirty, punk-rock
sounds of Strange House to more lush
arrangements. This fact may sound like a death wish for early Horrors fans but
you need not fear, as Skying merely
rests on a different gauge on the same post-punk spectrum.


Opener “Changing
The Rain” introduces us to the mellow sounds to come but next track “You Said”
is where the album truly takes off. The bass laden, catchy “Still Life” is most
reminiscent to previous release Primary
Yet trickery is the pace of Skying as it is not till the end of a track when the Horrors truly explore their sonic
terrain. “Endless Blue” greets us with a slow intro before exploding with heavy
guitars while the cool choppy keyboard and drums of “Wild Eyed” decrescendo
before resurfacing and accompanied by sound effects and horns.


Skying proves a maturing for the band and unveils a new realm of
sonic possibilities.


DOWNLOAD: “Still Life,” “You Said” APRIL S. ENGRAM

Wagons – Rumble, Shake and Tumble

January 01, 1970

(Thirty Tigers)


fascination with Americana
is well established, thanks in no small part to the efforts of artists like
Kasey Chambers, the Greencards and Home Fires. Indeed, the extent of that
devotion has never been clearer than on Rumble,
Shake and Tumble
, the descriptively titled new album from the Aussie band Wagons.


The seven piece outfit, helmed by namesake singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist
Henry Wagons, finds them fawning over their forebears (“Sometimes I listen to
Elvis/Sometimes I listen to Cash/Sometimes I listen to Waylon/But it all goes
back to the one and only… Willie…” Wagons wails on the adoring “Willie Nelson”),
but given their insurgent stomp, they’re not content to simply offer their
admiration. In fact, theirs is a staunch, defiant sound anchored by a deep
bottom end with an occasional country sway. The rousing “Save Me” encourages
sing-along participation, but the menacing glare of “Mary Lou,” “Life’s Too
Short” and “Love Is Burning” could keep the timid at bay.


While the music sometimes suggests what would happen if
Johnny Cash mixed it up with Nick
Cave, there’s a tip towards
tradition that boasts more than a hint of reverence as well. It seems a down
home demeanor and an arched attitude needn’t be mutually exclusive.


“Willie Nelson,” “Save Me” LEE ZIMMERMAN