Monthly Archives: August 2011

Yellow Ostrich – The Mistress

January 01, 1970



In “WHALE,” Alex Schaaf’s reedy tenor weaves up and around
itself, layered in harmonies, offset by intricate counterparts, punctuated by
raucous, celebratory bursts of percussion and offhand scribbles of guitar. The
best moments of The Mistress,
“WHALE” included, are like this – driven by complicated, multiply-overdubbed
melodies that are both home-tape rough and baroquely ornate.


Schaaf is a native of Wisconsin currently residing in
Brooklyn, who wrote and arranged the songs for this debut album in his bedroom.
More recently, though, he’s augmented his Yellow Ostrich project with Fool’s
Gold percussionist (and ex-We Are Scientists’ drummer) Michael Tapper, and Beirut
multi-instrumentalist John Natchez. Actually, Beirut is a decent reference
point for Schaaf’s creaky yet evocative vocal style, and when he breaks free of
the elaborate arrangements, he sounds like a happier, less ethnically curious
Zach Condon. Still, as a pure indie pop singer, as for instance in the
laid-back “I’ll Run”, there’s nothing very remarkable about Schaaf. It’s only
in the album’s busiest, most multi-layered arrangements that his songs take off.


Consider “Campaign,” which begins in a hail of
all-over-the-kit drumming and coalesces around a wordless vocal fillip
constructed entirely of staccato “ohs” and “ahs”. There’s a bass (or maybe a
guitar) slipped into the texture, and Schaaf slathers a legato melody over the
top, but for the most part, the song is pure giddy rhythm, a pounding and
galloping and yelping euphoria, intricately arranged, but jubilantly played. “Whale,”
too, is an ecstatic rampage, its thump and click drum cadence echoed in a
barber-shop chorus gone Fauve (which is to say, wildly colorful in a not
entirely natural way).


Elaborate vocal arrangements have been part of the indie rock territory for the
last several years, starting maybe with the success of Grizzly Bear and
filtering through the Fleet Foxes and Bon Ivers. But while these bands’
beauties turn, occasionally static and, let’s be honest, a little boring,
Yellow Ostrich has just enough rough-and-tumble to ward off the preciousness. It
also doesn’t hurt that Schaaf’s lyrics are goofily naïve, the kind of
bright-eyed, bushy-tailed inanities that are impossible to take too seriously.  Opener, “I Think U Are Great,” (whose lyrics
are those five words), is this year’s best combination of vocal complexity and
lyrical banality. How can you resist a guy who arranges a text message into
three part harmonies? 


DOWNLOAD: “Campaign,”

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

Jim Jones Revue – Burning Your House Down

January 01, 1970

(Punk Rock Blues/Burnside)


Burning Your House
, the third disk from the Jim Jones Revue, is not only the best record
by the band (including last year’s self-titler), but the best record the
titular hero has released in his long career. Jones has made plenty of solid
albums with his prior acts Thee Hypnotics and Black Moses, and has always been
Mr. Excitement on stage. But, just as the JJR finally fits together all the
pieces of the rock & roll puzzles Jones loves, so does Burning Your House Down near-perfectly encapsulate what the band is
all about.


To oversimplify, the Revue combines the wildest impulses of
the original wave of rock & roll in the ‘0s with the Detroit/New York power
rock that (should have) ruled in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, while never forgetting
the music’s R&B roots. (A good alternate name for this band would be Little
Richard & the Stooges.) Melding riffs, muscle and roaring sexuality into a
powerhouse package that doesn’t shirt on brains or agility, the band rips
through the songs with feral grace, like a tiger taking down a kill. Drummer
Nick Jones and bassist Gavin Jay keep a swing in their step, even when kicking
down the door, and pianist Elliot Mortimer breathes old-fashioned boogie-woogie
wind into the storm. Jim Jones and Rupert Orton splatter six-string paint all
over the walls, but it’s not indiscriminate mortar fire – there’s a precision
to every lick and solo.


Of course, the music really belongs to Jones and his gritty,
soulful blare – if there’s a vocalist more emblematic of the spirit of rock
& roll right now, we haven’t heard him. (Wayne Kramer should give him a
call next time he tours the DTK-MC5.) Producer Jim Scalvunos of the Bad Seeds
organizes the chaos just enough to be accessible, without compromising an ounce
of the band’s tornado energy.


Jones’ tunes will never be mistaken for the work of a Bob
Dylan or Elvis Costello acolyte, of course. But there’s a lyrical acumen not
unlike the winking wit of Lemmy Kilmister driving the libretto of “Killin’
Spree,” “Dishonest John” and the title track. And with catchy-as-hell hooks
like the ones powering “Shoot First,” “High Horse” and “Elemental,” it’s hard
to give much of a shit about the words anyway.


Mind you, this record isn’t the equal of a JJR show – this
is possibly the greatest live rock & roll band currently invading stages.
But Burning Your House Down is still
a corker of a rock record and more than worth your time and attention.



First,” “Elemental,” “Killin’ Spree” MICHAEL

The Great Book of John – The Great Book of John

January 01, 1970



This little
known Birmingham, Alabama quartet is led by Taylor Shaw. He used
to be in a band called Wild Sweet Orange but they broke up and he picked a
better band name.  This is The Great Book
of John’s sophomore effort and while the debut was mostly acoustic, this
release is a different affair altogether. Full of layered, swirling guitars and
some truly woozy atmospherics, the band has taken a huge leap forward. However
if that description sounds like a psychedelic mess, think otherwise. Shaw has
the chops (and the songs) to back up his grandiose tunes. Bringing to mind the
swirling majesty of bands like Radiohead and New Zealand’s Straightjacket Fits.


Opening tune
“Robin Hood” begins with some great stun guitar that jars you to attention
while Shaw drawls out the lyrics and singing as if he’s telling you every
secret you have ever wanted to hear while “Brown Frown” is choppier and more
moody as the piano bangs in the background but Shaw’s vocals still create a
dizzying effect. A Radiohead influence seeps in on “Let Me Slide” as the
mountain that the band is climbing is getting steeper and steeper and the
balance is off everywhere but one listen to the gorgeous, stripped-down “Ashes
Over Manhattan” shows a completely different side of other band (same with
“10,000 Miles”). A few tunes drag a bit (among them, “Black Heart”) but most of
this is very good.


Maybe they’re
not the “it” band at the right moment, but all that could change in an instant
for The Great Book of John. Even if not, we’re still left with a very strong
record that deserves lots of listeners.


DOWNLOAD: “Robin Hood”, “Brown Frown”, “Ashes
Over Manhattan” TIM HINELY


Zach Williams and the Reformation – A Southern Offering

January 01, 1970



There are, of course, certain staples in pop music,
blueprints that transcend each and every era. Zach Williams and the Reformation
base their stock and trade on that assumption, and their resurrection of a
blueprint Southern style informs their approach and makes no apologies for it.
Williams himself sounds like a dead ringer for Paul Rogers and the crossover
into a heavy blues-based motif on songs like “Moving On” and “Wishing Well,”
(both of which borrow their titles, somewhat suspiciously, from Bad Company and
Free songs, respectively), as well as 
“Rock ‘N’ Roll Me” and “PO Box and a Postcard” bring the comparisons
even closer.


Make no mistake — Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and early
Allman Brothers still provide the overall template, and despite the band taking
a more active role in the songwriting, that direction seems unlikely to change.
Yet even with the added input, Williams’ hoary, blustery vocals dominate the
proceedings, with the group’s sprawling boogie-fueled delivery plowing the path
beneath. Lest there be any doubt, the title seems to say it all.


DOWNLOAD: “Rock ‘N’ Roll Me,” “Moving On” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

January 01, 1970

(Fat Possum)


Unknown Mortal Orchestra is the brainchild of New
Zealand-born, Portland, Oregon-based musician Ruban Nielson, conspired from his
bedroom in the late ‘00s on a steady diet of funky break beats and lo-fi
psych-garage pop. It is a flavorful fusion as unique as the Yugoslavian
Spomenik that graces the cover of his eponymous full-length debut on Fat Possum – and one that stands apart from the
seemingly endless barrage of home-recorded acts who have posted their wares on
Blogger, Bandcamp and Tumblr these days.


Opening cut “Ffunny Ffriends” blasts right out the
gate with a trebly, trembly go-go groove that really sets the precedence for
this half-hour-long journey. From there, Nielson delves further into the
formula he’s concocted to comprise the UMO sound. And its that perfect melding
of “Taxman” shimmy, RZA-fied headsnap, Can-like steadiness and just
the right amount of Flying Nun Records weirdness which makes songs like
“Bicycle”, “Thought Ballune” and “Nerve Damage”
some of the most unique and intriguing rock music to come out of this young
century thus far. It’s no wonder why future-minded cats like El-P and ?uestlove
are rapt with praise on their Twitter feeds.


DOWNLOAD: “Ffunny Ffriends”, “Bicycle”, “Thought Ballune” RON HART

Diskjokke – Sagara

January 01, 1970



Oslo electronic act Joachim
Dyrdahl, who records an epic strain of dance music hailed as “space disco”
under the moniker Disjokke (get it?), takes a drastic left hand turn into
experimental territory on his latest album.


Sagara was initially commissioned by the Norway government as a one-off
project for their Øya
, who provided Dyrdahl with the startup funds for creating the
record, giving him a budget that allowed him to head anywhere in the civilized
world to collaborate with whomever he wanted. And with that unfettered carte
blanche, Disjokke headed to Indonesia,
where he absorbed the music of Gamelan in Bandung,
Java, by collaborating with a local group called Sambasunda while using his
free time to capture field recordings of the busy city streets and calm
mountain environs of the region. From there, Joachim traveled to Bali, spending a week soaking in the rhythms of the
island culture, dispersed on this mini-LP’s closing track “Panutup”.


These inspirational treks can be
heard throughout the context of Sagara,
inspiring Joachim’s decision to redirect the creative tide away from any kind
of dance idiom in favor of moody beds of tone-based ambience, of which the
vibes contracted from the Indonesia
trip could be better conveyed.


With Sagara, Disjokke splits the difference between late-period Cluster
and Alan Lomax, offering a most unique world view on 21st Century
Nordic festival music from one of that nation’s most open-minded visionaries.


DOWNLOAD: “Mandena”, “Sengon”, “Panutup” RON HART

Anna Egge – Bad Blood

January 01, 1970

(Ammal Records)

Despite some critical kudos and high profile touring connections – Lucinda
Williams allegedly labeled her “The Nina Simone of Folk” — Anna Egge has had a
fairly inauspicious career so far. She’s released a string of appealing albums
in a sturdy Americana
vein, but has so far failed to attract more than a small if devoted following.
Recruiting Steve Earle to helm her latest project should help boost her profile
and at least bring some new fans to her fold, if, for no other reason, than the
endorsement that comes with Earle’s name and notoriety.


Yet in spite of his ability to elevate the arrangements into
a more emphatic terrain, the subject matter may give some pause. Egge delves
into darker circumstance, topics dealing with mental disease and the family
issues that accompany that miasma. Not to worry though; Egge’s high pitched
vocals and a steady infusion of banjo and fiddle diffuse the turgid scenarios
and even add a lilt to songs such as “Hole in Your Halo,” “Walking with the
Wolves” and “Evil.” Nevertheless, the two tracks that sandwich the set prove
most intriguing – the semi-rumba that frames “Driving with No Hands” and the
echoes of Patsy Cline which come to mind on “There Won’t Be Anymore.”


Unfortunately, Egge’s insistence on singing in a uniformly
higher register tends to diffuse the overall impact, and, despite the
occasional stomp stirred by Earle’s urgings, a sense of sameness blunts the
rougher edges. Ultimately Bad Blood creates a good impression, but doesn’t quite become the enduring effort that
was clearly within reach.


“Evil,” “There Won’t Be Anymore” LEE ZIMMERMAN


Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good

January 01, 1970

(Da Capo Press)




If nothing 
else, Corey Taylor – front man for hard rockers Slipknot and Stone Sour
– should be commended for forgoing the clichéd “look how many groupies I banged
and, by the way, I did shitloads of drugs” rock star quickie bio that seems
almost a requirement nowadays. Those are included in his book, by the way, but
in a much subtler way.


In Seven Deadly Sins, his ambitious if not
quite fulfilled thesis, Taylor
sets out to tackle the Bible’s Seven Deadly Sins and expose the church and
society’s hypocrisy in the process. Not exactly earth-shattering, but pretty
refreshing coming from a global rock star best known for wearing masks on stage
(as well as being, quite possibly, the only band from Iowa that has played
Madison Square Garden). Taylor
digs deep into his past and opens some pretty big wounds about being a teen
drug addict, raised by a neglectful mom, also reliving abuse and molestation in
the process. All heavy topics wrapped in Taylor’s
seen-it-all pop psychology.


“Not only are we all guilty of just being
ourselves, we were never guilty in the first place,” writes Taylor. “The only problem comes when we
become caricatures of these deadly whims, like the politician who extols family
values yet is forced to resign because of a dirty little fuckfest with a hooker
in a truck stop bathroom, or the movie star who believes himself above the
great unwashed just because his cheek bones are pronounced and angular. The
people are not sinners: They are just
shitty people.”


Taylor’s ramblings, though entertaining at first, start to grate
by the time you hit gluttony. A decent enough effort, that doesn’t exactly
fulfill its promise. Two hundred and seventy pages later, I’m wondering if Taylor is guiltier of
vanity or greed for thinking his peachiness on society’s ills is worth shelling
out $25 in hardcover.


Herpes – Symptome Und Beschwerden

January 01, 1970



OK, they hail
from Berlin, Germany, the singer rants at times
like Mark E. Smiths and you really want to tell him to shut the hell up (or
punch in the face) and the name of the band is Herpes for godsakes. They’re going for something here though I’m
not sure exactly what and, well, I have to admit, the first time I played this
I wanted to toss it out the window while hittin’ 60 on the freeway. I nearly
did. And besides, I can’t understand what the hell he’s saying anyway (I slept
through German class).


Upon further
listens some of the stuff is, dare I say, infectious (though it gets a bit
samey at times). Said vocalist, Florian Puhs (he used to be in a band called
Surf Nazis Must Die) is a motormouth who never shuts up while the band cranks
out a rabid, jerky, early-Devo-meets-Gang of Four backdrop. Cuts like “Das
Leben Ist Schnell” “Das Karnickel Im Hut”, “Zaster” and “Ruckzuck” go straight
for the jugular and jackhammer away until your senses are shot, your mind
pummeled and a stiff drink is what you really need (they’ve done their job).


So yeah, I took
a liking to the songs and Florian’s vocals, but I still never want to meet the


“Das Allerletzte Zu Erst”, “Das Karnickel Im Hut”, “Zaster”, “Verflucht”