Monthly Archives: March 2012

Mike Wexler – Disposession

January 01, 1970

(Mexican Summer)

 

www.mexicansummer.com

 

 Mike Wexler’s voice
drifts out across a mesh of electric piano and guitar like the scent of some
exotic flower at night, unhurried, subtly sweet and wreathed in darkness. Little
fragments of vocal melody twine in unexpected, chord-shifting patterns, and
blossom in soft, sighing crescendos. Wexler’s voice is often the last thing
you’ll hear at the end of a phrase, drifting out over the melody and
dissipating finally in the clear space beyond the verse. There is no hurry in
Wexler’s voice, nor in the billowing drones of organ, synthesizer and string
that embellish his phrases. Only the guitar, picked in regular, folk-infused
patterns, and the drums move these songs forward, and even so, there is a sense
of stillness, of meditation, of quiet at the heart of Wexler’s work.

 

Like Tunng’s Sam Genders, whom he sometimes resembles
vocally, Wexler comes at folk music only glancingly, filtered through a
shifting, interleaved set of other influences. Hints of the Incredible String
Band’s ethnically-tinged finger picking hover at the margins of these serene
and slow-moving songs, but so, too, do bits of small-ensemble jazz, shimmery
CSN-guitar tones, soft-focus Krautrock and pop. There’s a dense and wonderfully
chaotic break at the end of “Glyph” that piles stringed dissonance atop the
clarity of piano, and sounds more like late 20th century classical
music than anything from freak folk nation.   

 

Dispossession works
as a whole, rather than a collection of songs, its soft, steady progress
culminating in “Liminal,” which blows up out of the quiet into a circling
crescendo of organ whines and cymbal clashes and pianos into something like
fury, yet somehow also remains, at its heart, unruffled. Here is an album that
makes space for itself in the clutter and confusion of ordinary life, radiating
serenity from its center and casting a beautiful calm light on everything it
touches.   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Lens”
“Prime,” “Liminal” JENNIFER KELLY

My Best Fiend – In Ghostlike Fading

January 01, 1970

(Warp)

 

www.warprecords.com

 

Warp Records
continues to build up a successful roster of rock-rooted acts with the recent
signing of Brooklyn’s My Best Fiend.

 

Nicking its name
from Werner Herzog’s 1999 documentary on his longtime leading man Klaus Kinski,
this Bushwick-born quintet originated as a duo consisting of singer/guitarist
Frederick Coldwell and Fender Rhodes scholar Kris Lindblade. The group
eventually expanded its boundaries with the addition of second keyboardist Paul
Jenkins, drummer Joseph Noll and bassist Damian Genuardi, formerly of the
defunct Boston
hardcore band The Explosion.  And with
this newly formed five-piece lineup in place, MBF surely go to places they had
never dreamed possible as a two-man act with the release of full-length debut In
Ghostlike Fading
.

 

Recorded at the
East Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based studio Vacation Island with in-demand indie
producer Matt Boyton (Gang Gang Dance, MGMT, Beirut), the album boasts soaring
atmospherics in key tracks “Higher Palms,” “Jesus Christ”
and “Cracking Eggs,” additionally suggesting deep roots in such seminal
‘90s LPs as Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and
Stoned and Dethroned by The Jesus and Mary Chain, perhaps even a touch
of Cerulean from The Ocean Blue. And when channeled through the group’s
tapestry of effects pedals, treated amplifiers and editing programs, the
textures of this material will transport its listener in ways that few albums
of its ilk have achieved in recent memory, implementing the hallowed harmonies
embedded in the Sunday mornings of Coldwell’s Catholic upbringing to a new
level of impassioned cohesion.

 

By the time you
get to the epic album closer “On the Shores of the Infinite,” it just
might be enough to renew your own faith in the church of rock ‘n’ roll.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Higher Palms,” “Jesus
Christ,” “Cracking Eggs,” “On the Shores of the
Infinite” RON HART

 

 

Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

January 01, 1970

(Bloodshot)

 

www.bloodshot.com

 

Justin Townes Earle has
had a wonderful career thus far and it’s only getting better.  He has recorded three stellar albums (The Good Life, Midnight at the Movies and
Harlem River Blues) where he has shuffled across
sawdust covered dance floors, waded through lonely honky tonks and roamed dark,
forgotten city streets, all the while changing his style like a crazy country
music chameleon.  In the process, he is
edging ever closer to the genius songwriting of his father, Steve Earle.

 

On Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, Justin is
nearly there.  The young Mr. Earle
spreads his wings on Nothing’s and
uses the typical country approach of fiddle and lap steel sparingly. Instead,
he welcomes a nice horn section (a nod to the South’s jazz history and the
great Memphis Horns) and ambiance that makes the songs more powerful and lets
the listener know that this young man fully understands the music he creates.

 

The opening line of Nothing’s speaks volumes.  On  “Am
I That Lonely Tonight?”  Earle says, “I
hear my father on the radio”: now, depending on how you take his vocal
delivery, he could be talking either about his actual father or about his
musical father, Bruce Springsteen.  Like
Springsteen, Justin tells complex stories, builds characters, shows his
feelings and most importantly, embraces the things that have made him who he
is.  He has had a well-documented wild
life; he’s known the hell of loss, alcoholism and drug abuse, and all of these
things show up in the rough edges of his voice and the strength of his
lyrics.  Yet like most great songwriters,
his experiences provide inspiration in such gems as  “Am I That Lonely Tonight?”, “Look the Other
Way” and the uptempo “Memphis in The Rain.”  Earle has proven that he can embrace the
past, look forward to the future and find peace through his music.

 

Now, all I’m waiting for
is for him to record his Nebraska, then
he can complete his inevitable transformation into the next classic storyteller.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Memphis in the Rain”  “Look The Other Way DANNY R. PHILLIPS

Cowboy Junkies – The Wilderness

January 01, 1970

(Latent/Razor & Tie)

 

www.razorandtie.com

 

Billed as the fourth entry in Cowboy Junkies’ so-called The
Nomad Series
, a song cycle inspired by chief Junkie Michael Timms and his
family’s pilgrimage to China, The Wilderness could just as easily have been
the series’ first. For that matter, it’s also all but indistinguishable from
any of the other previous outings this narcoleptic
combo has released over the past 20 years. The fact is, plain and simple, that
the Cowboy Junkies have been procuring these dreamy designs over the course of
their entire career, rarely rising above a whisper in deference to that twilight
intent established early on.

 

Here, however, there’s a theme, and a high-minded one at
that, one that details the dilemma of being lost at certain points in life,
worried regarding age, relationships, parenthood – in fact, any of those
moments where meaning and decisions necessarily converge. Given the context,
there is opportunity for the songs to resonate a bit more obtrusively, whether
it’s through the cushion of comfort that underscores “Unanswered Letter (for
JB),” “We Are the Selfish Ones” and “Staring Man” or the measured pronouncement
of “Idle Tales,” “Damaged from the Start,” and “Fairytale,” the latter of which
sounds for all the world like Tom Waits seeking the heart of Saturday night.

 

Still, any sense of assurance is ultimately muted, not
only by the hushed circumstances but by an overcast perspective that’s often
unsettled. Consider this music a salve for the soul – restful, resigned, pretty
and pensive… and yet as fragile as it is fleeting.

 

DOWNLOAD:
“Unanswered Letter (for JB),” “We Are the Selfish Ones,” “Fairytale” LEE
ZIMMERMAN

Hellsongs – Long Live Lounge

January 01, 1970

(Tapete)

 

www.tapeterecords.de

 

Hellsongs’ version of the Metallica song, “Seek and Destroy”
is almost comically unlike the original, sprightly where the Kill “Em All juggernaut is brutal,
substituting playful fillips on a grand piano for Kirk Hammett’s alarm-siren
guitar riffs and masses of lush chamber orchestra strings for the chugging
turmoil of gear-grinding bass.   Welcome
to Gothenburg’s lite FM re-imagination of heavy metal’s most bruising hits – from
bands like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath  — all de-amplified, de-amphetaminized and
de-constructed into songs your mom might hum along to in the break between NPR
segments.    

 

This CD documents a night’s live performance where core
Hellsongs members brought in the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra to help. So
there’s a swell of cello bowing under the chorus to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not
Going to Take It”, a plaintive oboe wandering through Ozzy Osbourne’s “I Just
Want You.” It’s too tongue-in-cheek to be the muzak it sounds like, but it is
definitely not metal anymore, either.

 

What Hellsongs does best is to uncover the melody and
structure under some of rock’s most boisterous songs. Who knew that Sabbath’s
“War Pigs” even had a tune, let alone the contrapuntal complexities that
Hellsongs find in it? Where did the breathless optimism,
the first-day-of-summer anticipation in Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” come from?
 A nihilist anthem, an inevitable soundtrack
for all kinds of destructive behavior, turns downright positive in this string
and flute and piano loaded reinterpretation. Even Alice’s tongue-clotted “I can’t even think of
a word that rhymes” line sounds less like stupidity, more enthusiasm rushing
ahead of articulation here.

 

Scandinavians seem to have a penchant for softening and
prettifying metal tunes, and, to my mind, the standard is still Susanna and the
Magical Orchestra’s haunting cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top.” Hellsongs
works similar magic on Iron Maiden’s “Run for the Hills,” finding the
melancholy, melodic core of an abrasive song. I could do without the too-peppy
swing of “Skeletons of Society,” though, or smile-y, overbright shuffle of
Hellsongs’ take on TNT’s “10000 Lovers (in One).”  It’s probably enough to turn these songs into
soft rock. No one wants to hear them performed by Up with People.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Run
for the Hills,” “Seek and Destroy” JENNIFER
KELLY

 

Memoryhouse – The Slideshow Effect

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

The coping of a relationship’s end through the camera’s eye
punctuates the thematic arc of The
Slideshow Effect
, the first full-length effort from Ontario dream pop duo
Memoryhouse.

 

A quantum leap from their debut EP The Years, the ten songs that make up this haunting LP are as
textured and panoramic as the photography of singer Denise Nouvion, who tempers
emotionally weighted songs like “All Our Wonder” and “Pale Blue” with the same
atmospheric delicacy she utilizes behind the aperture of her lens. Meanwhile,
composer/producer Evan Abeele, with the assistance of new bassist Barzin
Hassani Rad, evolves the Memoryhouse sound into Souvlaki-era Slowdive with a dash of The Sundays’ understated1992
classic Blind, evoking a softness
that recalls a more streamlined strain of the magic conjured by fellow Sub Pop
signees Beach House.

 

But the real draw of this Slideshow is the supple lyricism of Nouvion, whose need to protect
herself from devastating heartbreak through stillness and quiet is achingly
palpable in lines like “It’s not enough to live your past through photographs”
on the lovely “Punctum”. It is a notion that anyone from the elderly widower
fighting back tears through every turn of an old vacation scrapbook to the
teenager lamenting his or her first breakup through the photo stream of the
ex’s Flickr account can appreciate.

 

And while Memoryhouse might be demographically marketed to
the youngsters, there’s something in the retro-alternative beauty of The Slideshow Effect that aging Gen-Xers
raised on the golden age of college radio might appreciate a little more.

 

DOWNLOAD: “All
Our Wonder”, “The Kids Were Wrong”, “Pale Blue”, “Punctum” RON
HART

 

 

Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance – Industrial Post Punk EBM Classics & Rarities ‘80-’88

January 01, 1970

(Strut)

 

www.strutrecords.com

 

Another
brilliantly archived compilation from Strut Records, Metal Dance: Industrial
Post Punk EBM Classic & Rarities ‘80-88
is a motherlode of extremely
hard to find, marginal rarities and a few left-field club classics long past
their heyday on global dance floors. Coming right after the Factory Records
comp Fac: Dance, and not far removed from terrific collections of
classic material from ZE Records, producer/remixer Walter Gibbons, legendary
Brit DJ Norman Jay, New York producer Bob Blank and collections of vintage
material from Fania Records, Afrobeat master Ebo Taylor and Ethio Jazz pioneer
Mulatu Astatke, Strut is a current standard bearer for high-yield archival
compilations. 

 

Compiled
by UK
DJ/producer Trevor Jackson (Output Recordings, Playgroup), Metal Dance features exactly what it says in the title, a combination classics and
rarities. Resolutely non-commercial, Metal Dance throws some light on an
insular collection of overlapping subcultures of the 1980s, where industrial
music, sound collage, dub, Krautrock influenced electronic music,  jittery
post punk dance grooves and the birth of club culture all collided in a
distinctly unholy critical mass. Ice cold electronic beats and dub-influenced
production techniques were the foundation; all the acts’ other signature
sounds, sonic assaults and all-important image were layered on top.

 

This
was an interesting transitional period, when experimental, often abrasive and
intensely dark industrial music moved towards a new hybrid of dance music,
thereby saving itself from the annihilation that’s the almost-inevitable end of
a nihilistic stance, musical or otherwise. Krautrock and club culture sort of
saved the day for lots of folks that otherwise might have found themselves at a
dead end, altho the uncompromising music and strident stance of this sprawling,
loose-knit crowd of synth beat provocateurs would definitely make some of the
raver crowd uncomfortable. No happy hippy house music here. 

 

With
twenty-eight tracks spread over two discs, Metal Dance is a lot to get
your head around, but taken either in small pieces or in a single dose it’s an
incredibly immersive experience. Some of the bigger names in the scene are well
represented, such as vintage Cabaret Voltaire (“Seconds To Late”), Alien Sex
Fiend (“Under The Thunder”), Yello’s “You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess,”
Pete Shelley with a Martin Rushent produced dub version of “Witness The Change”
and the fabulous minimal dance hit “Control I’m Here” by Nitzer Ebb. Disc one
weighs in with the robotic, fashion runway disco of “Dream Games” by Shock, the
crazy, post punk bummer disko of “The Bus” by Executive Slacks, the dark dance
title track by SPK and a number by Fini Tribe, as well as an early, proto-house
hit “Brothers” by DAF. Also: Jah Wobble’s world dub classic “Invaders of the
Heart,” dubby industrial pop from The Bubblemen and 400 Blows and other tracks
from Neon, Analysis, Stanton Miranda and the the club dub of “Divided” by
Portion Control. 

 

Disc
two ups the intensity ante with the hardcore Martin Rushent produced “Je Suis
Passee” by Hard Corps, the club dub dance floor filler “Do What You Wanna Do”
by The Cage w/Nona Hendryx, dubby post-punk funk by Schlaflose Nachte (“Move”),
and the orgasmic “Golpe De Amistad” by Diseno Corbusier.  Especially
lively is the rolling madhouse German funk of “Amok!” by Ledernacken. Even
better is Italio DJ Mario Boncaldo’s reedit of John Carpenter and Alan
Howarth’s 12 inch version of the soundtrack classic “The Duke Arrives” (from Escape
From New York)
, a genuinely tense and nerve wracking slice of minimalist
synth funk that gets in your head and just won’t leave. Other tracks by Naked
Lunch, Secession, Severed Heads and Nash The Slash all do their thing(s). The
set ends with the funky, shape-shifting “Coup” by 23 Skidoo.

 

Jackson clearly has a taste for
dub and alternative versions of tracks, and Metal Dance is loaded with
B-Sides, remixes and dub versions of numerous numbers. This gives the whole set
an even more experimental, less commercial slant than it would with the
original tracks, and also ups the rarities factor.  It comes with an
appropriately stripped down, black & white booklet that details all the
tracks and artists featured.

 

Quibbles:
Where the heck is The Fall? And no Psychic TV? Are they to acid house? But
that’s it. Otherwise, this is the merde, and essential for anyone interested in
the history of alternative dance and 80s electronic and industrial
musics. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Amok!,” “The Duke
Arrives,” “Control I’m Here,” “The Bus,” “Golpe De Amistad,” “Do What You Wanna
Do” CARL HANNI

Dr. Dog – Be the Void

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

 

www.anti.com

 

Six record into it, psychedelic Philly rockers Dr. Dog have
found their groove and damn it sounds fine. Be
the Void
opens with the lazy syncopated rhythm of “Lonesome” that gets into
your head for days, and continues to churn out one solid track after another of
back porch strum-along, sing-along rock ditties like a cross between The Black
Crowes and The Band.

 

They pick it up at times with more raucous numbers like
“These Days” and with The Fugees-worthy funk of “Do the Trick” (featuring the
best cowbell cameo of the year). Guitarist Scott McMicken described the
recording process as “these fearless weirdoes in the basement…” and he pretty
much nailed it there. Unpretentious with little concern for what will resonate
with indie kids or car commercial audiences (‘cause let’s face it, that’s the
MTV of 2012), Dr. Dog put to wax a dozen rock tunes that simply sound like a
band caught up in an epic jam session. Who else could come up with a lyric like
“You’re as tempting and savage as
Marcellus shale” (“Vampire”)?   

 

There’s not an obvious departure from their last few
releases, but there doesn’t need to be as the band has settled comfortably into
their sound.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Lonesome,”
“Get Away,” “Vampire”   JOHN B. MOORE

 

Good Old War – Come Back As Rain

January 01, 1970

(Sargent House)

 

www.sargenthouse.com

 

The Philly trio Good Old War has finally made the transition
from a group of kids running away from their Pop Punk past to being one of the
most underrated Indie Folk bands playing in the northeast.

 

And nowhere is that more evident than on Come Back As Rain, their third full
length and strongest collection by far. Two thirds of the band came out of the
group Days Away, one of the dozens of bands that got caught up in the record
label grab for all things Emo and Pop Punk about 10 years ago. And while they
were one of the stronger groups to come out of that genre, their singles never
foreshadowed their obvious strength for songwriting and harmonies that are
showcased beautifully on Come Back As
Rain
.

 

Though comprised of only three members, the band has an
expansive sound reminiscent of everyone from The Band to Buffalo Springfield.
The latest album starts out a bit slow with a couple of decent, but not
necessarily stand out tracks, but by the third song, the achingly beautiful
“Amazing Eyes,” Good Old War fires off a succession of one great
Folk/Bluegrass-tinged song after another ending with the optimistic, sun-drenched “Present For the End of the
World”.  

 

I guess the kids will be alright after all.      

 

DOWNLOAD: “Amazing
Eyes,” “Better Weather” and “Can’t Go Home”   JOHN B. MOORE

 

Fred Eaglesmith – 6 Volts

January 01, 1970

(Sweetwater Music)

 

www.fredeaglesmith.com

 

 

The music on Fred Eaglesmith’s new album “Six
Volts” is an acquired taste.

 

If you prefer music full of pop hooks and catchy lyrics – and
there’s no reason why you shouldn’t – move along. Fred Eaglesmith isn’t your
kind of music man.

 

We always hear about musicians that mix and match influences
to create their own sounds. Eaglesmith does that, too. Not to stretch a point
too far, but comparing his sound with those of what some say are similar
artists is akin to comparing a wine from the extraordinary Opus One with, well,
not Two-Buck Chuck but you get the idea.

 

Eaglesmith’s music is a true sensory experience because of
his life experience, and that doesn’t mean age. It means a Baby Boomer that was
on such a quest to understand life that he spent part of his teenage years
hopping freight trains through his native Canada. Although Eaglesmith
presumably doesn’t hop trains anymore, his lyrics clearly show he’s a true
student of life. The result is a catalog that speaks to listeners’ hearts as it
melds the sonic flavors of bluegrass, folk and rock.

 

While many music journalists compare him to Neil Young, I
think John Mellencamp (post his “Jack and Diane” period) and John
Hiatt are his musical soul mates.

 

But that’s not important.

 

What is important is that you realize that Six Volts is yet another in a long line
of musical triumphs for Eaglesmith and those about whom he writes.

 

Of the 11 songs on this album, “Johnny Cash” is
truly a stand out track. That’s the one where Eaglesmith calls out all the (get
ready for it) Johnnies Come Lately  to
Cash’s music in lyrics that include:

 

“Where were you were in 1989/when it looked like Johnny
was on the decline/

His career was fading, His shows weren’t selling/You were
listening to heavy metal/but you sure do like Johnny Cash now

 

You sure do like Johnny Cash now/ Now that they’ve put him
in the ground/The radio station plays him all the time/too bad they never
played him when he was alive/but you sure do like Johnny Cash now.”

 

Another don’t miss song is the title track that has a simple
elegance in its guitar and simple percussion, much like the done-me-wrong
ballad “Katie.”

 

Eaglesmith recorded the album with a live band and one
(seriously) microphone. Can’t get much more down home than that. But as
Eaglesmith’s music proves, sometimes the back-to-basics approach is truly the
most beautiful.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Johnny Cash,” “Katie” – NANCY DUNHAM