Monthly Archives: February 2012

Isidore (Steve Kilbey & Jeffrey Cain) – Life Somewhere Else

January 01, 1970

(Communicating
Vessels)

 

www.communicatingvessels.net

 

“When someone asks me to what extent my
work is autobiographical, I say, ‘Every word is autobiographical, and every
word is fiction.'” –
William S. Burroughs, in conversation with Tennessee
Williams, 1977.

 

Steve
Kilbey – musician, painter, longtime bassist, singer, and lyricist for the Church,
and, in recent years, compulsive blogger, has been cranking out a lot of words
over the years that could be considered simultaneously autobiographical and
fictitious. His songs are typically populated with kings, pharaohs, ancient
armies, reincarnated lovers, and all other manner of creative anachronism, and
yet nearly every verse contains a bit of personal revelation buried amidst the
verbal ornamentation. It doesn’t always work; the label “pretentious”
has frequently, and with some justification, been levied. But when it does work (which is surprisingly often
considering all of the moving pieces at play), the combination of his words and
music stand in pretty effectively for just about any recreational drug you
would want to take.

 

Isidore,
Kilbey’s ongoing collaborative project Isidore, with Jeffrey Cain of the band
Remy Zero, poses a potential problem here: with Kilbey relinquishing all
musical composition duties to Cain and focusing exclusively on the lyrics, can
that crucial, alchemic mix of words and music still be attained? In this case,
the answer is an unequivocal yes, as Cain proves himself a talented composer
deeply sympathetic to Kilbey’s muse. He is so good, in fact, that when Kilbey’s lyrics meander toward the ridiculous, as
they sometimes do in Isidore’s more aggressive numbers, Cain’s music always
keeps the songs driving forward.

 

Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels),
the second full-length Isidore album, improves on its eponymous predecessor in
a number of ways: bigger, more ambitious arrangements; tighter songwriting;
more focused singing; and, crucially, the use of live drums on many key tracks.
Kilbey is still in need of an editor, or at least a “second opinion,”
on some of his material, but overall
the album maintains a base level of “very good” and soars in many
places to “superb.” Stylistically it runs the gamut from delicate
ballads to harsh Iggy and the Stooges-style rockers. The highlight is a
remarkable song cycle beginning with track #2, “Life Somewhere Else,”
and culminating in track 6: “Some Reverse Magic.” The lyrics to these
songs are the most nakedly personal Kilbey has ever penned, shorn of all but
the most necessary poetic language. These mini-narratives address some
difficult subjects: domestic discord, alcohol abuse, self-recrimination, anger
at God (“Someone up there trying to dislocate me / Someone up there must
really fucking hate me” he sings on “Recoil”), all culminating
in perhaps the most surprising song of all, “Some Reverse Magic,” in
which Kilbey addresses Jesus Christ and makes a startling admission: “I
never noticed it before / You’ve walked beside me all the way.” Taken as a
single statement, this unfolding progression of songs is in the running for the
best work of Kilbey’s career and, as previously noted, Kilbey is only half of
it. Cain’s arrangements feature exquisitely blended electric and acoustic
guitars, supple yet unobtrusive bass, a mixture of electronic and organic
percussion (my one criticism here: I feel that the music would be even stronger
if the entire album featured live drums), and keyboard textures that perfectly
cast the other instruments in relief. He values melody above all other
considerations, and as a result the album is crammed full of hooks – offsetting
the sometimes bleak nature of the lyrics.

 

There’s
something about this music, some hard-to-define quality – the way particular
chords go together, perhaps, or the soulful manner in which individual notes are
wrung from their instruments – that feels deeper, more poignant than anything
on the previous Isidore album. A clue comes from the liner notes, which reveal
that Cain’s former bandmate (and childhood friend) Gregory Slay passed away
shortly before the bulk of the album was recorded. Perhaps, then, Cain’s music
here is partly born of grief. Whatever the cause, Jeffrey Cain is the true star
of Isidore II – and considering how strong Kilbey’s contribution is, that’s
really saying something.

 

Any Remy
Zero or Church fan would be well-advised to pick this up. And, for those
listeners of the church who may have previously felt intimidated by the
avalanche of solo/side projects on offer from Kilbey and co., this is a good
place to start. Isidore doesn’t really feel like a “side” anything.
It’s a main event.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Life
Somewhere Else,” “Old Black Spirit,” “Recoil,” “Some Reverse Magic” ROBERT DEAN
LURIE

 

Todd Rundgren – Todd

January 01, 1970

(Rock
Beat)

 

www.tr-i.com

 

Save for a
loyal but rapidly-graying audience, Todd Rundgren is in danger of being lost
amidst a sea of cookie-cutter indie-rockers that don’t possess an ounce of his
individuality, innovative nature, or sheer musical “chutzpah.” As
close to a true renaissance man as rock ‘n’ roll has created, Rundgren – a
talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, video and multi-media
artist, and tech wizard – has pretty much always done it his way, often with
interesting results, exploring the outer limits of pop, rock, prog, and
electronic music both as a solo artist and with his band Utopia.

 

Although
he’s been making music for better than 40 years now, the anything-goes 1970s
were Rundgren’s era, the prolific musician cranking out eleven
critically-acclaimed albums that hit the charts with varying commercial returns
over the ten year period. The double-disc 1972 album Something/Anything? provided Rundgren with a modicum of pop
stardom, a not entirely-welcome status that the artist quickly denied with the
following year’s difficult-albeit-exciting album A Wizard, a True Star. Featuring nearly 56-minutes of music crammed
onto two sides of vinyl…a technological marvel in and of itself for the time… side
one of the album featured a Beatlesque extended medley of proggish rock, side
two a few pop/rock songs surrounding a ten-minute medley of R&B hits.

 

Against
this backdrop, the release of the double-album Todd in February 1974 found the artist’s fans wondering which Todd
Rundgren would show up in the grooves. While Todd ventured further into the musical experimentation that
Rundgren began with A Wizard, a True Star,
especially considering the artist’s growing fascination with synthesizers and
other technological means to shape music, in truth the album also crossed paths
with Todd’s Something/Anything? era
pop-rock cheap thrills and Utopia’s just-over-the-horizon electronic
adventures.

 

Although Todd didn’t set the woods on fire
commercially [It was still a hands-down
fave at the time of at least one future BLURT editor. – Present-day BLURT Ed.
],  the pricey double-LP did climb to 54 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, and
yielded a minor hit (69) in the lofty, ethereal-pop tune “A Dream Goes On
Forever.” Undaunted, Rundgren moved onward and upward with 1975’s
aggressive Initiation, a reckless
synthfest that further pushed the boundaries of vinyl capabilities with better
than 30-minutes of music squeezed onto each side, the album’s electronic-rock soundscape
furthering the artistic sojourn that Rundgren had begun with the release of the
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia album a few
months after Todd.

 

***

 

Whereas Todd Rundgren’s Utopia would initially
best Todd in sales, rising to 34 on
the album chart without the benefit of a hit single, through the years the equally-difficult
Todd has taken on an aura of its own,
the album’s reputation often preceding the actual listening, with gems like the
aforementioned “A Dream Goes On Forever,” rocker “Heavy Metal
Kids,” and Rundgren’s flirtations with Gilbert & Sullivan satisfying
the curious and influencing a generation of like-minded fellow-travelers to
follow in Rundgren’s considerable wake.

 

In 2010,
Rundgren put together a band of various friends, including bassist Kasim Sultan
from Utopia, guitarist Jesse Gress, keyboardist Greg Hawkes (The Cars), drummer
Prairie Prince (The Tubes), and saxophonist Bobby Strickland to perform Todd live, for the first time, in its
entirety. The Philadelphia
show of the special, limited six-date sold-out mini-tour – which also included
a performance of Rundgren’s 1981 album Healing – was recorded and videotaped for subsequent release on CD and DVD. While Healing will be released at a later
date, the live performance of Todd is
more or less a re-creation of that classic album, in spirit if not exactly
musically, minus one song – “In and Out the Chakras We Go.” It’s now
out via Rock Beat Records (www.tr-i.com).

 

While some
of the more technologically-created fantasia from the original album has been
stripped from this live performance, modern electronics allow a lot of the
factory showroom sheen to rise out of songs like “I Think You Know,”
a discordant albeit lovely mid-tempo ballad with shimmering fretwork and
squalls of electronic snowfall. Rundgren’s operatic satire of the music biz,
“An Elpee’s Worth of Toons,” mixes Gilbert & Sullivan with a dash
of Utopia-styled electronica and a pop/rock vibe to deliver its devastating lyrical
message amidst a cacophony of instrumentation and Todd’s best bent vocals.
Changing directions so rapidly that it could give the listener whiplash,
Rundgren and crew slide effortlessly into the ethereal “A Dream Goes On
Forever,” this live version slightly less busy than the studio reading,
but lacking none of the bittersweet melancholy of the original.

 

Rundgren
further indulges in his Gilbert & Sullivan obsession with a spry cover of
“Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song,” evoking memories of Sideshow Bob
from The Simpsons. This performance
is pure delight, Rundgren’s unabashed enthusiasm dripping from his nimble
vocals as Greg Hawkes’ provides the rhythmic backdrop with his chopping piano
play. One of the overlooked gems from the original Todd was the hard rocking “Everybody’s Going to Heaven/King
Kong Reggae” mash-up, the live version pounding at the pavement with
jackhammer ferocity, guitar-drums-bass-keyboards slam-dancing behind Todd’s
strained vocals, the man finally cutting loose with a fire-and-brimstone guitar
solo before breaking down into the monster jam that is “King King
Reggae.”

 

Another
overlooked cut from Todd was the
smooth-as-silk pop song “Izzat Love?” With an undeniable melodic hook
and harmony vocals rising about the swirl of low-key instrumentation, the song sounds
like something from Todd’s early band Runt, updated with a few modern
flourishes but otherwise a lofty example of Rundgren’s 1960s-styled pop/rock
chops. The song ends abruptly,
descending into madness in an electronic storm, leading into the muscular,
blustery “Heavy Metal Kids,” an up-tempo rocker with malevolent
intentions, crashing drumbeats, and tortured guitarplay. Todd ends with the gospel-tinged pop of “Songs of 1984,”
a perfect showcase for both Rundgren’s songwriting skills but also his immensely
diverse musical sense, the mid-tempo verses brought up a notch by the
uplifting, choir-like choruses.   

 

While it’s
unlikely that this live Todd will
gain Rundgren many new fans, it’s certain to appeal to his horde of longtime
followers… but if a couple of young pups are curious after hearing the live
versions of these songs and decide to check out the originals, or other equally-exciting
entries in Rundgren’s large early catalog – many of which have been repackaged
by British archival label Edsel Records as reasonably-priced double CD sets –
all the better!    

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “An Elpee’s Worth of Tunes,” “A
Dream Goes On Forever,” “Heavy Metal Kids,” “Everybody’s
Going To Heaven/King Kong Reggae” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

Grimes – Visions

January 01, 1970

(Arbutus/4AD)

 

www.4ad.com

 

Vancouver’s
Grimes, a/k/a Clair Boucher, is an intriguing mixture of bravado and naïveté,
twinned qualities that have endeared her to both the club crowd and the bedsit
brigades. A one-woman collision of laptop-powered
IDM, chirpy/chant-y singing, performance art, and a healthy dose of face paint,
Grimes manages to come across as impossibly young (she’s barely into her
twenties) and wise beyond her years at the same time. This writer saw the
songwriter play at Moogfest last fall, and her set started off promisingly
enough, awash in pulsing rhythms and catchy Depeche Mode-like melodies plus her
signature cutie-pie vocals. But after a series of gear malfunctions her
outgoing demeanor crumbled and she bolted from the stage after barely 20
minutes, on the verge of tears. Some of those in attendance no doubt wanted to offer
her a reassuring hug, while the hipsters in attendance probably smirked at
seeing this heavily-hyped act fall flat.

 

Visions is her fourth
album in less than two years; 2010 saw her break through with the delightful Halfaxa, while last year’s Darkbloom, a collaboration with D’eon,
contained the YouTube hit “Vanessa,” a mesmerizing foray into Madonna-inspired
electropop with arty visuals. Visions expands upon the part-lush, part-minimalist vibe of
“Vanessa” and is a collection of discrete miniatures managing to be expansive
and intimate all at once. The record’s a showcase both for Boucher’s limber, acrobatic
voice and her otherworldly arrangements – prismic, widescreen assaults of
psychedelia and dancey ‘80s synth-rock that frame those operatic pipes.

 

She’s frequently given to ethereal wordless coos, giddy
squeaks and wounded gasps, deploying them as rhythmic depth
charges, and while some of the sonics also tilt towards the abstract, almost
glitchy or Aphex Twin-like in places, because the melodies stay foregrounded  the accessibility factor is high enough to
give a casual listener the sense of confronting a more mainstream pop album
than might be expected. From the Lykke Li-meets-St. Etienne “Genesis” to the
hypnotic, motorik “Oblivion” (listen
below) to the lush, gospellish “Vowels = Space and Time,” Boucher’s blossoming
star quality shines, her multitracked, soaring/swooning vocals carrying uncanny
echoes of such legendary ‘60s girl groups as the Crystals and Ronettes.

 

Visions is
ultimately an album that weaves its magic precisely because of all the inherent
contradictions enumerated above. Methinks come the end of the year, a lot of
people will have adjudged it a keeper.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Oblivion,” “Genesis,” “Colour Of Moonlight” FRED MILLS

Field Music – Plumb

January 01, 1970

(Memphis
Industries)

www.memphis-industries.com

If time-signature bandits like Slint or Battles had suddenly developed a taste
for XTC, they might make an album that sounds like Field Music’s Plumb. But that formulation only covers
part of what happens on this short (35 minutes) yet bountiful album, the
British band’s fourth. There are also hooks that recall ELO or the poppier side
of Yes, high-harmony chorales that should grab Pet Sounds buffs and instrumental interludes that — if they lasted
another 10 minutes — could be dubbed “ambient house.” Plus, “A
New Town,” which credibly brings the funk.

Musically, Plumb is both rapturous and jumpy. (Drummer Peter Brewis, one of two
Brewises in Field Music’s current four-man lineup, was a founding member of the
antsy Futureheads.) The band’s impatience is expressed not only its shifting
tempos, but also in an abundance of falsetto passages. It’s as if the Brewises
(the other one’s name is David) will settle for nothing less than the highest
possible notes. The choirboy trills also serve to sweeten the band’s fed-up
sentiments: “Choosing Sides” features such lines as, “I want a better
idea of love/That it can be/Which doesn’t involve treating somebody else like
shi-i-i-i-it.”

As doggedly independent as Fugazi, the brothers run their own label, and
reportedly survive on less money than they’d make in a fish-and-chip shop. One
of Plumb‘s several question-posing
titles is “Who’ll Pay the Bills?” Well, nobody in contemporary
alt-rock has the answer to that one. But give the frisky Field Music credit for
not brooding about it.

DOWNLOAD: “A New Town,”
“Choosing Sides,” “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing” MARK
JENKINS

Alex Chilton – Free Again: The “1970” Sessions

January 01, 1970

(Ominvore Recordings)

 

www.ominvorerecordings.com

 

Recorded during the final throes of his tenure with the Box
Tops and during a period of uncertain transition and general discouragement, 1970 proved to be a seminal record that
attracted little notice at the time but would later prove a bearer of
auspicious circumstance. Generally dissatisfied with the manipulative
proposition that the Box Tops had become and anxious to explore his own
ambitions, he convinced Terry Manning, a producer, engineer and songwriter in
his own right – as well as one of the hired hands behind the Box Tops’ studio
success – to help him etch out some of the material he had written on his own.

 

The result was a generally hodgepodge effort recorded
primarily as an exploratory set and to establish Chilton as a solo artist
beyond his Box Tops ties. Much of what resulted still seemed governed by his
former band’s MO, given rote rock retreads like “Come on Honey,” “Something
Deep Inside” and an enthusiastic if unambitious cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Likewise, a frayed and unfortunate take on the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” melded
with James Brown’s “I Got the Feeling'” in a pseudo funky style, would suggest
that Chilton’s stash of individual ideas had quickly run dry.

 

Fortunately, on this reissue (which boasts detailed liner
notes from journalist Bob Mehr) he redeems himself by delving into country rock
noir, applying breezy steel guitar to the better songs like the tellingly
titled “Free Again” and “The Happy Song,” both of which echo the communal
Laurel Canyon sound of the early Eagles, Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and
the New Riders of the Purple Sage. That impression is generally reinforced with
this reissue, where an added batch of alternative mixes offer extra opportunity
to give several songs a second listen. Archivists may be most enticed by a pair
of recently unearthed demos – the pleasant piano pop of “If You Would Marry Me
Babe” and the soothing acoustic strum of “It Isn’t Always That Easy” which,
ironically, turn out to be two of the reconfigured album’s more promising
entries.

 

It would be tempting to suggest that 1970 would portend the emergence of Big Star and subsequent solo
offerings, but that summation would also prove untrue. Big Star was more than
the sum of its parts, and as evidenced here, Chilton was only just beginning to
mine his.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Free
Again,” “It Isn’t Always That Easy,” “The Happy Song” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Michael Rank & Stag – Kin

January 01, 1970

(Louds Hymn)

 

www.michaelrankmusic.com

 

With more vital body fluids spilling from these grooves than
Shoot Out the Lights and Blood on the Tracks combined, the new
solo album from Snatches of Pink frontman Michael Rank makes for an exhausting
ride. Kin, a two-CD set, is a brutal account of a marriage that
crumbled and left permanent scars – part in-the-throes depiction, part
rearview-mirror dissection, with all the bile, bitterness, recrimination,
desperation, self-loathing, backpedaling and grasping at straws that a person
could possibly summon amid the emotional wreckage. The difference between Rank
and the rest of us, of course, is that in the aftermath he had the courage to
confront himself and write about it.

 

Snatches of Pink, of course, is the long-running – if at
times on-and-off and, for a spell, rechristened as Clarissa – Chapel Hill band
that Rank formed in the mid ‘80s, tracing a boozy, brawny Johnny
Thunders-meets-Replacements path into the early ‘90s. (Classic LP: 1988’s Send In the Clowns.) Following a hiatus
during which Rank released a folky solo album, Coral, and also published a book of poetry, Snatches resurfaced in
the new millennium with new members, going on to issue three albums during the
‘00s including 2005’s Stag – hence
the moniker of Rank’s latest combo. Kin,
in fact, features musical contributions from both early and latterday Snatches
players, including drummers Sara Romweber (currently of the Dex Romweber Duo)
and John Howie Jr., and guitarist Marc E. Smith; also on hand are members
of  Trailer Bride, Two Dollar Pistols,
Patty Hurst Shifter and Chatham County Line, with production from Southern
Culture On the Skids mainman Rick Miller and Jesse Huebner of the Small Ponds.
So that “kin” notation, beyond the immediate familial connotations (the album is
dedicated to Rank’s 5-year old son), also signifies how the record is a Tarheel
affair through and through.

 

Disc One commences with “Tenderhook,” a hookish slice of
folk-rock featuring fiddle, mandolin and elegantly wasted electric guitar
wherein Rank is found ruminating darkly, in his signature drawl, on how things
unfolded: “Baby’s on fire now/She’s got everything that that she wants/ Baby’s
grown tired now/ She done burned up all of the road.” The countryish, lap
steel-powered “On the Bleed” follows, wherein Rank, still dazed, begins to take
stock of the damage: “Seems to me, you were already gone/ ‘Ain’t nothing
personal, baby’/ That’s where you’re wrong.” In subsequent songs he charts a litany
of moods, one moment noting that “my heart’s seen better days,” the next
rearing back to declare, firmly, “I don’t think about you much anymore,” and
then the next crumbling as he confesses “I wish I could’ve kissed you for one
last time.” Such moodswings, paralleled by shifts in musical points of view
ranging from the aforementioned country and folk to bluesy-Stonesy twang and
piano/guitar balladry, serve to keep the listener pinned to the metaphorical
seat: it’s` closer to watching a tragedy unfold onscreen than listening to a
rock album.

 

The hushed title track rounds out the first CD, just Rank
accompanied by his acoustic, and if this were Kin‘s actual closing number, one might go away feeling that he had
reached a semblance of closure, particularly in the face of lines like “your
smell is gone from the pillowcase” and “wish I’d never seen your face.” But the
songwriter’s not done yet.

 

If Disc One is the death of a marriage and its subsequent
funeral, then Disc Two is the wake and the existential emptiness
that lingers. It’s also the more pointedly rocking of the pair (in places
resembling vintage Snatches), with careening guitars, woozy-boozy vocal harmonies
and elements of punk and garage finding their way into the mix on several tunes
– notably “Sea Measures,” which features a masterful axe solo in the outro, the
fuzz/distortion-laden “Manservant,” and thrashing final number “Here Comes the
Light” (more on that one in a sec). It’s not precisely a yin/yang scenario,
however, as the second CD also has its own moments of country and folk; the
song “Arrowheads,” with its Alejandro Escovedo-esque fiddle-and-mandolin sway,
is as radio-worthy as any Americana-tilting song you’ll hear all year. Yet by
this point in the evolution of Rank’s narrative, the lyrics have gotten more
pointed and less ambivalent, the shock displayed on the first disc now having given
way to recrimination-lined steeliness and resolve. Consider this series of
snapshots:

 

I didn’t lie, when I
said

‘I still love you’

I always did

I didn’t lie, when I
said

That I hate you

‘Cos God, I did

Please don’t go away
again

Please don’t walk away
with him

Don’t you know you’re
my only friend?
(from “Arrowheads”)

 

My friends say it gets
better

My friends say time does
heal

My friends say I was a
dreamer

To believe you were
sincere

Next time I’ll know
better

Next time I’ll do no
wrong

Next time she won’t be
a crazy fuck

With lies under her
tongue.
(“Tongue”)

 

So that’s how you see
me

So that’s now who I am

Those years that I
loved with you

They don’t mean a damn

The damage that gets
done ‘round you

That damage now is
mine

You and me keep going from
bad to worse

I look in your eyes
how a dream starts to turn

You’re a curse. (“The Eye Teeth”)

 

That word “curse” is spat out like a broken, bloody molar. The
pain here, clearly, isn’t an everyday case of an emotional drive-by; it runs
deep, cripplingly so, and it’s only at the very end that Rank seems to have
clawed his way out of the abyss. “Here Comes the Light” is raging and blazing,
anthemic yet chaotic, with Rank seething, snarling, screaming over dissonant,
in-the-red guitars. It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a devastatingly effective
way to close out the record.

 

Notice how in the first sentence of this review I wrote
“exhausting” but didn’t use the term “wearisome”: the soul-baring and
spleen-venting that’s going on here is ultimately cathartic, particularly if
you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a relationship going south. As classic
breakup albums go, Kin is more than
just effective – it’s utterly inspiring.

 

DOWNLOAD:  “Arrowheads,” “The Goat,” “Pilgrims” FRED
MILLS

 

Abby Travis – IV

January 01, 1970

(Educational Recordings)

 

www.abbytravis.com

 

What could be a more unlikely mash-up than having Sarah
Brightman singing at the helm of Queen? Impossible to imagine, right? Well, not
really… especially given a listen to singer/actress Abby Travis’ latest opus,
dryly titled IV. Indeed, with Travis
tossing in everything other than the proverbial kitchen sink, IV seems much too modest a moniker,
particularly since its singer’s ambitions clearly aspire to a higher rung.

 

The regal references to Queen dominate a good portion of the
set, with Travis’ tendency to wring drama from practically every note imbuing
the proceedings with a kind of Broadway-esque bravado. Add a chorus of swelling
angelic harmonies, and the ringing tones of Brian May-inspired guitar play, and
the Olympian designs clearly reverberate throughout. “Rosetta,” “Mr. Here Right
Now” and “One Hit Wonder” grab instant notice, but in truth, there’s not a
single song here that doesn’t clamor for attention. Travis briefly breaks the
mold with the ‘50s style sway of “Lightning Squared” and the psych-splashed
“Lulu,” but by and large her oversized confidence places her squarely in
diva-type terrain, posturing a-plenty to force eyes and ears to turn her way.
There will certainly be those who say she tries to hard, or that another Gaga
or Lana Del Rey or Florence of the Machine is one more pretender too many. And
yet, Travis is too earnest to deny and too passionate to resist. As calculated
and derivative as it sometimes seems, IV is ultimately an entertaining extravaganza.

 

DOWNLOAD: Rosetta,” “One Hit Wonder,” “Lightning Square” LEE ZIMMERMAN

The Fray – Scars & Stories

January 01, 1970

(Epic)

 

www.epicrecords.com

 

It’s
difficult to understand why the Fray isn’t regarded as highly as Coldplay. The
Grammy-nominated band has proven once again, on their latest album Scars & Stories, that they have all
the needed elements for big-time arena rockers.

 

Soaring
guitars – check.

Power
ballads – check

True-life
tales- check.

Turning
cover songs into their own cool renditions – check

 

Ok,
sorry. It just seems that arena rock is so formulaic it’s tragic because if you
have all the “right” elements, you fit in. But try to add literate
lyrics or share heartfelt yet universal insights and you’re out.

 

Let’s
take the band’s musical prowess as a given. You don’t grab a Grammy nomination
if you don’t have those chops. But what sets the Fray apart, again, are the way
they seek out views of the world – and not just about their own lives — and
share their observations through music. As band members have said during
various interviews, they wrote about 70 songs that were contenders for this
album. Most detail some of the poignant memories they gathered while on tour.

 

Consider
“1961” that is about the Berlin Wall and how two brothers on opposite
sides can reconcile- but not really. Or “Heartbeat,” that was
inspired by the hope Isaac Slade found in people that live in wretched
circumstances in Rwanda.

 

We
could go on, but you get it. Plenty of musicians make it a point to say that
their music is a soundtrack of their lives. What sets the Fray apart is that
they use their music to tell other people’s stories in literate, compelling
ways.

 

Grab
Scars and Stories and prepare to be
wowed.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Heartbeat,” “1961” NANCY DUNHAM

 

 

Howlin’ Rain – The Russian Wilds

January 01, 1970

(Birdman-American/Columbia)

 

www.americanrecordings.com

 

When Ethan Miller formed Howlin’ Rain in 2006, he did so
with the intent of utilizing it as a more soul-driven side project to offset
the seismic cracks in the ground he was breaking as the frontman for Comets On
Fire, a band who set the scene for the robust new school psych rock movement
that lives on in such prolific acolytes as Wooden Shjips, Earthless, Ty Segall
and Sic Alps.

 

But around the time when the Rain came down upon the faces
of underground rock fans, the Comets reached supernova and exploded in the
height of their greatness, leaving Miller to focus on his newly established
outfit on a full-time basis.

 

Six years later, Howlin’ Rain have surpassed the singing
guitarist’s former vessel in just about every way, shape and form. And with The Russian Wilds, this Rain’s aim is to
wash away the corporate-friendly cocktail of ego, hair gel and tribal tattoo
ink that passes itself off as commercial rock in 2012. It is the sound of New Cosmic California ready for its close-up, in essence: the
product of a year-and-a-half of solid wood shedding with Rick Rubin, who played
a crucial role in the creation of Wilds as executive producer,
working alongside Miller and veteran underground impresario Tim Green (Nation of
Ulysses, The Fucking Champs) in shaping the 11 songs that comprise their third
full-length. 
As he has shown with the diverse multitude of artists he has
collaborated with for his American Recordings imprint, be it Slayer or The Geto
Boys or Andrew Dice Clay or Johnny Cash or Donovan, Rubin excels at pushing the
raw honesty out of the acts he chooses to intensively work alongside during the
recording process. And with this Howlin’ Rain LP, he has brought back an
element of his imprint’s distinctive DNA that has been dormant since The Black
Crowes’ Amorica, or perhaps even Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert, the
criminally slept-on sophomore album from Pennsylvania stoner metal greats
Raging Slab, which Rubin also executive produced back in 1993.

 

The vintage AOR just wafts through the air like the
amalgamation of Dragon’s Breath incense and weed smoke in a 1973 man cave the
moment The Russian Wilds kicks into
gear with the epic, eight-minute opening cut “Self Made Man”. From there,
Miller and the current lineup of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell,
multi-instrumentalist Joel Robinow and drummer Raj Ojha project their immense
knowledge of such classic rock nuggets as Humble Pie’s Smokin’, Freeway Madness by
The Pretty Things, Grin’s All Out and even to a lesser degree the first
Badlands album over the course of the record’s 59 minutes, particularly on
songs like “Can’t Satisfy Me Now” and the haunting “Strange Thunder”, perhaps
the most poetically graphic suicide ballad ever written.

 

Though they may hail from San Francisco, Howlin’ Rain is a
band with the frequencies of Scott Muni’s old WNEW broadcasts on the East Coast
coursing through their nervous systems, emphasizing the roll as prominently as
the rock with a soul and grit that is almost entirely lost on a generation of
kids weaned on whatever the Pitchfork Media Complex chews up and regurgitates
into their awaiting mouths. If you fancy yourself too hip for classic rock
radio, don’t even bother trying to understand The Russian Wilds. Stick with Grimes or Perfume Genius or whatever
else the cognoscenti of cool are trying to sell people on with their verbose
carnival barking. This is pure, un-concentrated psychedelic boogie rock rooted
in West Coast mysticism, Stax R&B and Memphis blues without pretext or
pretense. And if you are not down with that, as Eddie Vedder say, this is not
for you.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Self
Made Man”, “Can’t Satisfy Me Now”, “Strange Thunder”, “Cherokee Werewolf” RON HART

 

Dustin Wong – Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)

 

 www.thrilljockey.com

 

While September
21, 2011, may go down in history as the day R.E.M called it quits, it’s equally
noteworthy due to the disbandment of Baltimore
art rockers, Ponytail. Though it’s a major drag that you can no longer
experience the cathartic blitz that was Ponytail live, solace can be obtained
by listening to the euphonic sonic weavings of the band’s erstwhile guitarist,
Dustin Wong. With his solo sophomore LP Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow
Leads
, Wong refines his formula of elaborately crafted guitar structures,
and the result is a shimmering, multi-faceted record suffused with crystalline
instrumental landscapes.

 

On his first solo LP, Infinite Love, Wong showcased
his penchant for crafting intricate melodic webs via an assortment of effects
pedals (namely loop, delay, and an envelope filter) and with DSVCSL, he
builds on that approach, but with a more honed focus on individual tracks. The
opening “Ice Sheets on Feet Prints” sets the mood for the album by beginning
with a simple melody that gradually crescendos and upon reaching its apex is
discarded by Wong as he moves on to another song, never providing full closure. This
is a recurring theme of the album. The only track that clearly resolves is the
closer, “Diagonally Talking Echo,” and its ending seems more of a joke on
conventional song structures than anything else.

 

The album’s centerpiece, “Pink Diamond,” is a hypnotic
distillation of spacey melodies and Nintendo-ish guitar leads
(fitting, considering that Wong has preformed live in front of a projector
screen displaying Mario Cart races). Another album standout is “Tea Tree Leaves
Retreat,” which draws heavily from 70s era Eno/Fripp. While the majority of the
album consists solely of Wong’s guitar, there are fleeting appearances made by
a drum machine and vocals.

 

The influence of John Fahey is obvious in Wong’s playing,
and the former’s statement that “I was playing guitar but I heard an orchestra
in my head,” aptly summarizes Wong’s
approach to songwriting as well. While the intricacies of Dreams Say, View,
Create, Shadow Leads
could be exhausting to a casual listener, those with
attentive ears will be enamored by the myriad sonic nuances present in the
album.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Pink
Diamond,” “Ice Sheets on Feet Prints,” “Tea Tree Leaves Retreat” SAM BALTES