Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wilco – The Whole Love

January 01, 1970

(dBpm)

 

www.wilcoworld.net

 

While a “Welcome back, Wilco!” would play unduly snarky,
there’s no denying Jeff Tweedy’s group’s last two efforts – 2007’s Sky Blue Sky and 2009’s Wilco (The Album) – were derisively
viewed by many of the faithful. “Dad Rock” was the pejorative typically cast at
both records for the ‘70s mellow rock vibe that characterized each
release. 

 

Some of that rancor stemmed from the fact that both records
felt like a repudiation of Wilco’s recent past (just as Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born alienated A.M. and Being There fans). If that’s the
case, then The Whole Love should make
long-running Wilco-ites ecstatic since this is the best and most adventurous
set of Wilco songs in nearly a decade.

 

Skittering, Radiohead-like processed beats, burbling keys,
and backward-looped guitar bits emerge from synthesizer haze on the 7-minute
opener “Art of Almost” to announce the change in direction immediately; the
3-minute-outro of Nels Cline guitar shredding over a Krautrock pulse only
confirm that we’re not in Wilco (The
Album)
-land anymore. The jaunty pop bounce of “I Might” follows, Cline’s
guitar squiggles and John Stirratt’s bass-fuzz augmenting Farfisa-powered
“doo-doo-doo” choruses and recalling Summerteeth‘s
late-night mad-scientist mixes. Tweedy even drops one of those spit-take lines
here – “you won’t set the kids on fire/but I might,” like “she begs me not
to hit her” from “She’s a Jar” – that generates controversy by blurring the
songwriter/narrator line.

 

As with other tracks here (notably the Abbey Road-flavored “Sunloathe” and syncopated pop rock of “Born
Alone”), you can’t help but picture the late Jay Bennett doodling over the
control board during his years with the band. Some of the thickest production
even feels like a memorial to the Bennett era documented — sometimes painfully
— in Sam Jones’ documentary I Am Trying
to Breaking Your Heart
.

 

But the echoes of earlier Wilco don’t end there. “Dawned on
Me” is the bubbliest pop track the band’s written since Foxtrot‘s “War on War,” and the Band-like country gospel shuffle “Capitol City” could be a Being There cut. For those who go even further back, the melancholy
“Black Dawn” even sounds like it borrows its structure from Tweedy’s “Black
Eye” (on Uncle Tupelo’s March 16-20),
but then illuminates its textures with strings, bowed-cello low-end, and
tasteful slide guitar accents.

 

It’s key to note, though, that these aren’t mere Xeroxes of
previous Wilco eras. Everything about the band on The Whole Love is tucked tight in the pocket: the songwriting feels
laser-focused; the playing is professional and evocative; the arrangements and accents compelling, judicious and – with
the exception of that outro on “Art of Almost,” which feels tacked on – always
in service of the song. “Rising Red Lung” may be a simple country shuffle
underneath (it has a dash of A.M.‘s
“Dash 7” in it as well as some of Ghost‘s
“Muzzle of Bees”), but its experimental touches — distant guitar flourishes
and synth swirls, the noises alluded to in the line “Come listen to this/it’s
buried under the hiss/and it glows” – are the expert accents of a band brimming
with confidence.

 

The album’s full-of-grace finale, “One Sunday Morning (Song
for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” wouldn’t justify its 12-minute run-time without
every flourish being in the right place – particularly Mikael Jorgenson’s
beautiful piano phrases, which wind around Tweedy’s smoky vocals and the simple
acoustic guitar riff  like a trellis of
blossoming vines. Written after a discussion with the author Smiley’s boyfriend
about his strict father’s edicts, the initial relief his death brought, and the
guilt and eventual acceptance that followed, the song recalls Tweedy’s gorgeous
casting of Woody’s Guthrie’s “Remember the Mountain Bed” from the Mermaid Avenue-era. And as the song’s
outro drifts off into the ether inviting reflection, it feels very much like
Wilco has brought the curtain down on its best record.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Whole
Love” “I Might” “Dawned on Me” “Rising Red Lung” JOHN SCHACHT

 

Mogwai – Earth Division EP

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

This is a case wherein open minds – and some patience – are
likely to be rewarded. Listeners seeking an infectious stomper like “San Pedro”
(from Mogwai’s last full-length), or anything else with the controlled
cacophony for which the band is known, 
may wonder if another artist’s recording ended up in the Earth Division pak. The mood here is
quite contemplative. “Get to France,”
“Hound of Winter,” and “Does This Always Happen? could provide audio – the kind
filmgoers are likely to seek out, after the film – for a Sundance festival
contender. At five minutes, 29 seconds, the longest cut, “Drunk and Crazy,”
includes more aggressive progressions along with evocative strings. Lovers of
the “other” Mogwai may adjudge this the set’s lone keeper.

 

Whatever its direction, I never feel the need for a
simultaneous translator with Mogwai.  On
this EP that lucidity is well complemented by compositions so winning, I’d
welcome a longer Earth Division. For
anyone who responds to this rainy-day interlude, the set’s brevity may prove
its only rub.

 

DOWNLOAD:  All or nothing. MARY LEARY

Tinariwen – Tassili+10:1

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

www.anti.com

 

Known as masters of the indigenous North African genre
called “Touareg,” Tinariwen may have found inroads only to the most adventurous
western ears had it not been for an endorsement by Robert Plant, an artist
whose fondness for world music has had an especially pervasive influence on his
own outings. And given the group’s willingness to breach a wider audience, pick
up western instruments and invite some players with hip credentials to join
their ranks, at least on record (TV on the Radio, Nels Cline of Wilco and the
Dirty Dozen Brass Band all make an appearance here), a few concessions were all
but inevitable.

 

Still, Tassili +10:1 isn’t a homogenized take on Third World folk traditions. Playing off some spare
native instrumentation, trademark chants, and songs sung in their native
tongue, it’s still an exotic aural adventure, albeit one that’s often hypnotic
and intoxicating as well. The mournful pall of “Tenere Taqhim Tossam” (“Jealous
Desert”) and “Ya Messenagh” (“Oh, Lord”) are, for all their longing and
solemnity, surprisingly captivating, and when the group is in full throttle, as
on “Imidiwan Ma Tenam” (“What Have You Got To Say My Friends?”) and “Imidiwan
Win Sahara” (“My Friends From the Sahara”), it’s nearly impossible to resist
the temptation to move to the groove.

 

The instrumental nuances make for a vibrant whole, but often
times, less works best. That’s particularly true of songs like “Walla Illa” and
“Tamiditin Tan Ufrawan” (“My Secretive Girlfriend”), which, with their lone
acoustic guitars, sound every bit as plaintive and persuasive as dusty
Americana ballads. As a result, it’s rare to find a record that’s both so
charming and challenging all at the same time.

DOWNLOAD: “Walla Illa,” “Imidiwan Ma
Tenam,” “Imidiwan Win Sahara” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

Male Bonding – Endless Now

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

For their second Sub Pop LP in the span of a year, Male
Bonding showcase some serious growth spurts as a creative entity. The noise pop
trio from London’s artsy Dalton district showcased a strong cognizance
for ‘90s alternative rock beneath the din of DIY dissonance that informed their
blistering debut, Endless Now. Now,
the Males streamline the wild nature of their UK
jive by taking their jones for all things 120
Minutes
across the Atlantic and setting up
shop at one of the true meccas of the era.

 

Dreamland Recording, the famed converted church located in
beautiful Ulster County, NY, was the palace where such band faves as
Dinosaur Jr’s Where You Been and The
Connells’ Ring. So it should come as
no surprise to learn that guitarist/frontman John Arthur Webb, bassist Kevin
Hendrick and drummer Robin Silas Christian, with the help of white hot indie
producer John Agnello, did their damndest to channel all that retro mojo into
the fabric of Endless Now’s 12
tracks. This artistic upgrade from their previous work is further enhanced by a
significant expansion of their sonic arsenal, including piano, cello, Mellotron
and female backing vocals courtesy of Crystal Stilts/Dum Dum Girls/Vivian Girls
drummer Frankie Rose. And as songs such as the buoyant “Tame The
Sun”, the SMiLE-esque
“Can’t Dream” and the Alley Cats-indebted “What’s That
Scene” signify, Endless Now is a
far greater album for it–allowing this immensely talented triad to soar in
ways they never dreamed of when they first started out. Dig the new face of
Britpop, kids.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Tame The Sun”, “Can’t Dream”,
“What’s That Scene” RON HART

 

Speed the Plough – Shine

January 01, 1970

(Dromedary)

 

www.dromedary-records.com

 

On the scene for
over two decades, New Jersey’s Speed the
Plough (or S.T.P. as they are called) [Er,
you sure you don’t mean Stone Temple
Pilots? -grunge Ed.]
are
led by enigmatic songwriter John Baumgartner and have had more than a few
Feelies in its ranks at one time or another (Feelies’ bassist, Brenda Sauter,
contributes vocals on a few songs here). 
This record is more of a family affair as John and Toni Baumgartner’s
son Mike plays guitar on Shine while
other guitarist Marc Francia, has his two sons, Daniel and Ian, on bass and
drums respectively.

 

The record
itself it bit uneven, opening cut “In My Book has some wiry, jittery guitar
mixed with straighter vocals giving it an off-kilter feel (and not in a good
way) while the lovely piano ballad, “Inbetween Dreams”  (with vocals by Sauter) is exquisite. The
Feelies-ish “Madeleine” goes on for too long but they tackle a Lee Hazelwood
cover, “Pour Man”, and handle it perfectly, turning it into a classic pub
singalong.  The sultrier “Honey Be” adds
some cool trumpet to an otherwise bland song but “Lucky You” is one of the best
songs on the record: a near perfect driving pop tune with Toni’s swirling
woodwinds out in front and “(Love Is) the Best Revenge”  sounds like something New Zealand’s Flying
Nun label might have released a few decades ago.

 

While Shine isn’t S.T.P.’s best record,
sounding a bit clunky in parts, there are some quality songs on it that could
definitely make a best-of CD whenever that may be.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Inbetween Dreams”, “Pour Man”, “Lucky
You”, “(Love Is) the Best Revenge.” TIM HINELY

 

JJ Grey and Mofro – Brighter Days: The Film and Live Concert Album

January 01, 1970

(Alligator)

 

www.alligator.com

 

JJ Grey and Mofro, a dynamic combination of swamp rock,
soul, blues and funk, might just be the most important band to come out of the
American South in the 21st century so far. And like other legendary artists
of the South, such as Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd,
they have to be heard live to fully understand their power.

 

Brighter Days is a
combination DVD/CD that records the band’s appearance at the Atlanta Variety
Playhouse in January 2011. The DVD, which is over two hours long, is shot in
classic “rockumentary” style and features not just the stage performance but
interspaced interviews with the band. The CD is 98 minutes long and while it
might not be Otis Redding at Monterey,
The Allmans at the Fillmore or Skynyrd at the Fox, it is damn close and a
classic live album in its own right, capturing a band that has become road
warriors in the last decade.

 

To understand Grey you have to know the American South, the
region that served as incubator for America’s greatest cultural gift to
the world. Drive down the rural highways of Mississippi and you can feel the blues
rising up through the hot earth like cotton. Whether the Stax sound of Memphis,
the horns of Muscle Shoals, the country sound of George Jones or the swamp rock
of Florida and Georgia, the music is infused with
a passion and truth and that truth is the blues. Grey comes from Northern Florida, which also gave us Skynyrd.

 

Brighter Days shows
exactly why this is a great band. Grey has a knack for writing songs with
infectious hooks that are perfect for singing or dancing along. Grey’s songs
often start with a whisper and build to a roar. And the DVD perfectly displays
the revival meeting passion Grey and Mofro bring to their live shows, as Grey
prowls the stage, playing his guitar and working the crowd like a preacher. And
the songs have a serious message. They capture the beauty and sadness of the
rural south. Grey preaches the backwoods wisdom and blue collar values in a
world where globalization and corporate capitalism are destroying those values
day by day. He sings on “Brighter Days”: “But I belong in the South/ That was where I’s born a po’ boy/Livin’ life
like there’s no end in sight/Brighter days where did they go?” And the
answer is that they are gone, gone, gone and that way of life is fucked
forever. But this is the blues, so we’ll keep singing and dancing.  

 

Nowhere is this more evident here than on an eleven minute
and twenty second powerhouse of a song called “Lochloosa” about Grey’s home
between Jacksonville and Ocala. It stars quietly with Grey’s spoken word plea
for his “home…a place where you can leave the bullshit behind for a few
minutes.” He says nobody will want to build a condo there because it is too far
out but adds the cautionary “yet” which shows that he knows development is
coming. At about eight minutes in, Grey unleashes a searing guitar solo. Like
Skynyrd’s classic “All I Can Do Is Write About It,” this is a transcendent
tribute to the South: part celebration, part blues, an American elegy.

 

Brighter Days is
that rarest of albums; one that is not only great musically but actually has
something important to say. From the hard rocking rhythm of a song like “War”
to the sax solo on “Air” that is right out of jazz to the funky horn jam of “On
Fire” the is both a CD and DVD that never misses. Congratulations to Alligator
Records for having the vision to sign an artist like JJ Grey and Mofro; a band
that pushes the boundaries of the blues. If you buy one live album this year,
do yourself a favor and make it Brighter
Days.
This is one of the best albums of the year. 

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Country
Ghetto” “Brighter Days” “War” “Lochloosa” “The Sun is Shining Down”  TOM
CALLAHAN 

 

 

On Tour: A Documentary

January 01, 1970

(Caldo Verde; 116 mins.)

www.caldoverderecords.com

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

It’s noted on the back cover of this DVD that Mark Kozelek
— he of the Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon and his own somber solo efforts
— is “an artist often thought of as taciturn.” Really? Ya think? Given his
penchant for brooding melancholia and low-cast meanderings, that statement is
as much an understatement as suggesting things aren’t exactly peachy in the
nation’s capitol.

 

Notably, there’s little here that discredits that notion,
owing to the fact that this two-hour travelogue – which candidly captures
Kozelek on the road, in hotel rooms, at the airport, in sound checks and even
occasionally onstage – is shot exclusively in black and white, allowing
darkness to supercede the light. (View the trailer here.) Although some of the
locales, particularly in Europe, are incredibly spectacular, there’s a shadowy,
overcast feel to the proceedings, one that remains unbroken throughout the
mostly solitary, unspoken scenes of Kozelek surveying his surroundings,
attending to his belongings or simply playing his guitar. In fact, the film
only affirms what one might sense after being immersed in Kozelek’s music (his
songs become constant companions to whatever’s happening onscreen, whether he’s
performing or not)… that he’s as moody and morose as his albums almost always
suggest. At one point, he explains his dark demeanor is the result of jetlag
and drastic time differences encountered when traveling from one part of the
world to another. “Most of the time, I feel so out of it,” he wearily concedes.

 

Whether or not that’s the true cause for his deadpan
disposition is up for grabs, but clearly Kozelek’s sad, surreal melodies
suggest that he bears certain preoccupations he excises only thorough his art.
Despite the beauty his songs convey – and indeed, they are ideal as meditative
musings – and even his occasional fits of laughter, the loneliness and longing
that comes through this often scattershot montage of settings and scenarios
portrays the isolation that Paul Simon once sang of so eloquently in songs like
“The Boxer” and “Homeward Bound.” The series of numbing images convey what
appears to be an endless commitment to the road, from one destination to the
next, each place seemingly the same as the last, life as an ongoing series of
airplanes, highways, hotels and venues.

 

At one point, Kozelek marvels at the apparent elegance of
his hotel room, with its sparkling marble floors and a bidet he’s not quite
used to, claiming that he mistakenly peed into it in the middle of the night.
Surprisingly, that offhand comment, as slight as it may seem, is actually the
main revelation this film actually offers. And sadly, that’s an incidental
disclosure indeed.

Myrick/Peacock – Myrick/Peacock

January 01, 1970

(self-released)

 

www.MyrickPeacock.com

 

Danny Myrick and Alice Peacock subscribe to the old adage
that two heads are better than one, or, in this case, two voices… even though Peacock
in particular has maintained a solid solo career, one that’s reaped four albums
and a burgeoning fan following. Yet, that’s not the only traditional tack they
take, given a collaboration that hews a reliable country rock approach. The
duo’s debut doesn’t particularly expand any parameters in terms of its rootsy
template, but the urgency and emotion they instill in these songs affirms its
sturdy resilience.

 

The pair performs well in tandem, trading vocals via call
and response in “Great Big Love” and buffeting the tale of the two runaway
lovers of “Brave New World” as if relaying it from first hand experience.
There’s an agile blend of tenderness and tenacity at play here, from the raw
backwoods blues of “Distant Thunder” and the insolent rapid-fire rhymes of
“Sooner or Later,” to the heavenly gaze of “In All Things,” a song graced with
an inspiring refrain (“Hallelujah to the Lord above/Hallelujah for the Savior’s
love…”) Myrick/Peacock are indeed a compatible couple, and their partnership is
never more effective than when they pair their conviction and finesse.

 

DOWNLOAD: “In
All Things,” “Sooner of Later,” “Brave New World” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy

January 01, 1970

(Slumberland)

 

www.slumberlandrecords.com

 

After a low-key
debut (Worry, released in 2010) this
New Jersey quartet decided to go big time. Well, bigger time, anyway. They
enlisted the help of Mitch Easter (REM, Pavement and, of course, his own Let’s
Active) to co-produce (along with the band) and where the debut was fuzzier  and not completely cohesive, Romantic Comedy ties all of the loose
ends together for a swingin’ pop record with a fresh sound and sturdy
songwriting. Songwriters Ian Drennan and Alex Craig seem to have upped their
confidence and with a  more-than-able
rhythm section  in Sam Franklin and Luka
Usmiani ,the band seems to be firing on all cylinders.

 

“She Smiles for
Pictures” starts thing off quite smashingly with some classic ringing guitar
and sweet vocals while “Misery”, seemingly taking inspiration from ‘90s studs
like Pavement and the Boo Radleys. “Make It Worse’ could be a single with more
of that classic jangle pop but they decided on the next song, “Sad Girls” to
make the first single with its cascading guitar n’ breathy vocals. “Minor Keys”
kicks it up a notch and sounds like early Primal Scream (think Sonic Flower Groove) while “Softer Than
Science” is nearly as speedy, a bit dreamier and just as delectable. While
obviously studying their heroes with a fine tooth comb, Big Troubles has done a
perfect job of combining past and present guitar pop into one 30 minute stew.
It’s nearly impossible not to like. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “She Smiles For Pictures”, “Misery”,
“Sad Girls”, “Minor Keys”, “Softer Than Science” TIM HINELY

 

 

 

 

Various Artists – ¡Chicas! Spanish Female Singers 1962-1974

January 01, 1970

(Vampi
Soul)

 

www.vampisoul.com

 

In a
musical world increasingly populated with innovative and well-conceived record
labels dedicated to re-issuing classic music from here, there and everywhere,
Vampi Soul remains one of the true standard-bearers, an imprint of unassailable
cool and quality. Their latest release does nothing but bolster their status as
a virtual can’t-miss proposition for the more musically adventurous.

 

The title
of their latest collection, ¡Chicas! Spanish Female Singers 1962-1974, spells out the parameters of what to expect, but in no way prepares you for the
wealth of  material spread over 24
exceptionally well chosen numbers. They cover a lot of stylistic territory,
from big beat, pop and rock & roll to Latin soul, psychedelia &
R&B, most of it more or less under the loose umbrella of the European naive
pop music movement ye yé. Yes, this is definitely pop, all of it more or
less radio ready, indicative of the diversity that the 1960s and early 1970s
radio offered.

 

So. Where
to even start? Well, there’s the covers of some of the hits of the day,
including Sonia’s garage-rocking version of the Stones “Get Off My Cloud”
(“Aqui En Mi Nube”), Fresia Soto’s fabulous Latin R&B version
of  “Unchain My Heart” (“Desencadena Mi
Corazon”), Los Stop’s Lation soul version of the Four Tops Motown classic
“Reach Out I’ll be There” (“Extiende Tus Brazos”) and Laura Casale’s sassy take
on the 60s pop hit “The More I See You.” It also features pop-psych numbers
like Los Que Vivimos’ super-charged “Contrapunto,” Los Hippy-Loyas’ cinematic
psychedelic oddity “Love, Love, Love” and the amazing “Le Maquina Infernal” by
the duo Vainica Doble. Straight up pop is well represented by numbers from
Tania Velia, Las Chic, Los 3 Sudamericanos and others, as are more upbeat, big
beat and rock numbers by Margarita Sierra, Pili y Mili, Marta Baizan, Lorella
con Los Shakers and more.

 

¡Chicas! comes complete with a booklet of notes and photos for each
of the acts, putting them all in a collective perspective. It also fills in the
big picture a bit as far as the challenges that faced every one of these acts
in the politically repressive era of Franco-era
Spain that they
were recorded in. These were not easy times in Spain; the absolute, unrestrained
joy and vitality that bursts off of every track is even more remarkable given
the generally repressed culture that produced them. But that’s perfect, isn’t
it: a cadre of incredibly vital, talented and attractive women singers working
their way around the margins of a virtual police state while Johnny Law stood
by flummoxed by pop and youth culture, hearing the beginning of the end for
them pouring out of radio and beaming in on TV. No doubt some of these same
coppers and soldiers were fans and proud of the local girls making good. Who’s
to say that some of the music in this collection didn’t help turn the tide and
pave the way for the incredibly vital culture of Spain to reassert itself in the
modern world? If you are a believer in the possibility of music as a harbinger
of social change, here’s a wealth of material to both bolster the argument and
simply enjoy.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Aqui En Mi Nube,” “La Maquina Infernal,” “Johnny,” “No Te
Acuerdas De Mi,” “Desencadena Mi Corazon,” 19 more. CARL HANNI