Monthly Archives: June 2012

DIIV – Oshin

January 01, 1970

(Captured Tracks)


names in mid-hype is a bold and ballsy move, especially for a band with only a handful
of 7-inch singles to their repertoire. But when your group copped its handle after
a super deep Nirvana track and subsequently reconfigured its nomenclature out
of respect for an obscure Belgian industrial act from the early ‘90s, something
in the mathematics of street credibility assures that Brooklyn’s
DIIV will transition into its new identity with minimal issues.


On debut
LP Oshin, recorded in a cramped
corner of a Bushwick painter’s studio without running water, this creative
quartet – led by Beach Fossils guitarist Zachary Cole Smith – re-channel the
energy of late ‘80s Sub Pop through the romantic haze of Umbrella-era Innocence Mission to create an exciting and distinct
new spin on the dreampop revival that rings harmoniously throughout the album. Regardless
of how Cole and company choose to spell their band’s name, take the suggestion
of the action indicated in its status as an irregular verb and dive into the
glistening turbulence of this big, beautiful Oshin.


DOWNLOAD: “Air Conditioning,”
“Doused” RON HART



This review also appears in
the latest print issue of BLURT.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Throw It to the Universe

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


Rumor has it that Throw
It to the Universe
is the final hurrah for The Soundtrack of Our Lives,
which is apparently proof that good things do indeed come to an end. (Dammit.)
If this record is any indication, this final closing of the doors has nothing
to do with the creative shelves being empty.


The Swedish sextet really explores its psychedelic side
here, with a series of sweeping ballads and thoughtful anthems. “Reality Show,”
“Busy Ride” (with its Beatlesque backing harmonies) and the impossibly lovely
“You Are the Beginning” give lush treatment to some of the band’s most
beautiful melodies, accompanied by some of Ebbot Lundberg’s most reserved but
trenchant singing. “Solar Circus,” “Waiting For the Lawnmowers” and “Free Ride”
dip into the group’s acid-laced folk rock bucket – pretty, enigmatic and
surprisingly soulful. “If Nothing Lasts Forever,” the title track and the
stunning “Faster Than the Speed of Light” favor midtempo grooves but grand
arrangements, shining widescreen across the night sky and giving voice to the
stars. The band brings it home with the cautiously hopeful “Shine On,” another
luscious folk rock ballad in which Lundberg quietly insists, “There’s another
day after tomorrow” – we can only hope he’s right.


The album seethes and broods rather than burns, and a couple
of TSOOL’s patented Big Rock Anthems wouldn’t have hurt. But the band’s
songwriting mojo produces the most consistent tunesmithery it’s had since Behind the Music, which makes argument
difficult. Surprisingly sedate for a final blow-out, Throw It to the Universe sends The Soundtrack of Our Lives down the
road to retirement with beauty, class and grace. 


Than the Speed of Light,” “You Are the Beginning,” “If Nothing Last Forever” MICHAEL


Miike Snow – Happy To You

January 01, 1970



trio Miike Snow changed their sonic landscape, slightly, from their well
received, self-titled debut. Though an important and equally entrancing part of
their musical equation, the focus of Miike Snow is not lead singer Andrew Wyatt
and his falsetto vocals but the well crafted music he, Christian Karlsson and
Pontus Winnberg have fashioned. Fans of the more hard hitting, thumping sounds
of Miike Snow might be initially
jarred by the plucky, steel-drum-like intro of Happy To You with “Enter The Joker’s Lair.” Though, second track
“The Wave” launches into more familiar sounds it may take a few spins on
“repeat” for Happy To You to find its
nook in your auricular pleasure center.


Miike Snow
successfully incorporated more instruments into the production of this release,
pianos and horns find a place in “Devil’s Work” while an electric harp and
bells make the genteel track “God Help This Divorce” shine. Yet danceable,
stand-out numbers are still prevalent with the upbeat “Pretender” and marching
drums of “Bavarian 1” and “The Wave.” A more subdued release, Happy To You is nonetheless quite
mesmerizing in its methodical and complex layers of music.


DOWNLOAD: “Pretender,” “Bavarian 1 (Say You Will)”

Rocket Juice & The Moon – Rocket Juice & The Moon

January 01, 1970



apparently Gorillaz is no more. And from the vibe of the news as of late, looks
like the recently reunited Blur might not be active beyond their performance
at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Games in London and the group’s
massive forthcoming box set celebrating their 21st anniversary.


Damon Albarn is making 2012 his most productive year yet in regards to
expanding his own sonic horizons: producing the comeback album by soul legend
Bobby Womack, scoring an English opera based on the life’s work of renowned Elizabethan
mathematician, astronomer and occultist John Dee and is slated to provide musical
accompaniment for the film adaptation of his sister Jessica’s 2010 children’s
book The Boy in the Oak.


perhaps the most anticipated project to have emerged from this sudden burst of
creative energy has been the eponymous debut of Rocket Juice & The Moon,
the long-gestating collaboration between Albarn, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist
Flea and veteran Fela Kuti drummer and musical director Tony Allen. The origins
of this mind-boggling match-up were hatched back in 2008, when the trio found
themselves on the same plane en route to Lagos as part of the Africa Express, a
collective of African and Western musicians founded by Albarn and scheduled to
embark upon a UK train tour later this year. Though Albarn and Allen have
already worked together as members of The Good, The Bad and The Queen a couple
of years back, the three men immediately bonded over the mutual admiration for
one another’s prior achievements during the trip and by the time they landed
vowed to get together down the road to cut a record. A year later, the trio
finally convened at Albarn’s West London studio to lay down 24 instrumental
tracks before inviting a melting pot of friends and past collaborators from all
corners of the earth, including Erykah Badu, Hank Jones, Youssou N’Dour, young
Ghanaian rap artist M.anifest, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Mark Ernestus of
the renowned Berlin production team Basic Channel among others, to hop aboard.


resulted in the wake of this impromptu world party is an 18-track adventure
into the joyous heart of classic African funk as colorful as the jacket it is
dressed in. At some points the music may get a little too Afro-centric for some
people’s tastes, particularly on tracks like “Follow-Fashion” and “Benko”. But
when RJ&TM ventures beyond the other planes of there, as Albarn does across
his patchwork of keyboards on the Sun Ra-meets-King Sunny Ade workout
“Extinguished,” Flea bouncing between bass and trumpet on the groovy
instrumental number “Rotary Connection” and the trio evoking Taj Mahal and
Malian kora great Toumani Diabaté’s 1999
international blues summit through the ether of Clams Casino’s MPC on
“Fatherless,” they are truly a force with which to be reckoned. And for what
its worth, “Hey, Shooter,” featuring Erykah on vocals, the horns of Hypnotic
Brass and further musical accompaniment by Brainfeeder’s resident jazz virtuoso
Thundercat, is just too funkin’ good to overlook.


However, if Rocket
Juice & The Moon keeps it within the scope of Flea, Allen and Albarn by
focusing more on the interplay between these three incredibly versatile
musicians than inviting everyone and their mother’s mother to join in on the
fray if and when they get together in the studio again, the potential of this
new group’s possibilities are absolutely endless.


DOWNLOAD: “Hey, Shooter,” “Extinguished,” “Rotary Connection,” “Fatherless” RON HART




Chris Smither – Hundred Dollar Valentine

January 01, 1970

(Signature Sounds)


It starts with that elegant guitar tone, that delicate touch
of his fingers across the neck, the way he channels the intricately sweet
finger-picking stylings of his biggest influence Mississippi John Hurt into
something wholly his own. Once heard, Chris Smither’s guitar playing is
instantly identifiable.


Then there are his feet, stomping quietly on a wooden board
placed and carefully mic’ed below him. Sometimes he stomps cross rhythms,
sometimes it’s just an insistent commentary on the beat of the song.


Smither’s vocals are strong and sensitive, sinuous and
stringent. He’s capable of blaring out exuberantly delighted songs or
whispering right into the ears of the saddest moments of our lives. Over the
years, Smither has lost a little precision in his voice, but his instincts
continue to hone in on the presentation of his music.


His career dates back to the 1960s blues revival, with two
albums released in the early 70s which placed him firmly in the ranks of
singer/songwriter icons like Neil Young and Randy Newman (whose songs he
covered), and blues missionaries like Bonnie Raitt (who turned his “Love You
Like a Man” into “Love Me Like a Man,” and kept
royalties coming to Smither throughout the lean years). But, it’s been since
the 1990s that Smither has consistently shown off his skills as a recording
artist and live performer. Hundred Dollar
is his tenth album since 1991, and it can’t be said to be better
or worse than any of the others, as he just doesn’t know how to phone in a


Hundred Dollar
can be said to be the first album of Smither’s career to feature
nothing but his original songwriting. He’s done so many brilliant covers over
the years – Chuck Berry’s “Tulane,” Little Feat’s “Rock & Roll Doctor,” and
Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” come to mind as practically definitive examples –
that this seems moderately disappointing. That is, until you hear the songs
he’s written this time around, and you realize that he’s in a place where his
own words are the perfect ones to tell his current story.


Smither has been philosophical before (“Small Revelations,”
title track of his 1997 album, pops into mind, though it’s as much love song as
think piece) and he’s written perhaps the greatest rebuttal to those who still
believe in creationism (“Origin of Species,” from his 2006 Leave the Light On). The new record is practically a term paper on
the subjects of who we are and where we came from, albeit one entirely more
entertaining than any college student has ever turned in.


The record is full of quotable lines. “They could have told
you, back in the day, / It all comes to pass, it don’t come to stay” (“Place in
Line”). “Don’t spend it on your knees asking someone won’t you please / Give me
a reason, a hint why I am here, / You’re here because this is where you are, /
When you’re not here you won’t wonder what it’s for” (“All We Need to
Know”).  “They say the good die young,
but it ain’t for certain, / I been good all day, and I ain’t hurtin’, / Not in
any way, I’m too old to die young.” (“What They Say”).


Aside from two very sad break-up songs, and a very funny (or
possibly pathetic) song about life stopping during separation from one’s lover,
Smither is tackling the big subjects head on. At 67, he’s thinking about the
shorter time of his life ahead, and resolving to make the most of it by
concerning himself with where he is now, and what makes this time mean
something. He’s rejecting all dreams of a life after this one, and insisting
that this one deserves more attention. He’s worried about climate change and
the disasters which will come, and concerned that religion is helping to
prevent people from looking at what is happening. And he’s trying to figure out
his place in this world without outside meaning, with horrors and sadness and
ignorance and beauty and love and constant variance.


But let’s get back to Smither’s guitar, feet, and vocals for
a second. Of course, when he plays live, that’s all he brings with him. Every
time he releases a new album, the first listen brings up questions of why he
adds other performers to the mix on his recordings. It never takes long to get
used to them, however, and this time is no exception.
Smither plays beautiful and well-designed guitar figures, and provides strong,
focused melodies for his elaborate turns of phrase, full as they are of
internal rhymes and rhythmic complexity. His collaborators merely comment on
what he does, sometimes amping up the emotional meter (particularly the
soulful, bluesy harmonica of Jimmy Fitting, and the gorgeous counter-melodies
of Kris Delmhorst on cello and Ian Kennedy on violin), sometimes bringing witty
musical responses (most especially the work of drummer Billy Conway, who has to
fit in between Smither’s rhythmic interplay among voice, guitar, and feet).


What we have here is another excellent Chris Smither album,
reason enough for celebration, which also happens to churn up a whole lot of
thinking about our place under the sun and how we deal with everyday life in
the face of ultimate nothingness. There aren’t many who could make those ideas
so darn pleasurable, but Chris Smither proved long ago he’s no ordinary human.


Edge,” “What They Say,” “Place in Line.” STEVE PICK

The Strange Case of Alice Cooper: Live 1979 – The Madhouse Rock Tour

Title: The Strange Case of Alice Cooper: Live 1979 – The Madhouse Rock Tour

Director: n/a

Release Date: May 22, 2012





Alice Cooper has a drinking problem, or so says Vincent Furnier — Alice’s real life alter-ego — in the prelude to the video version of the over-the-top tour de force that marked the 1979 Madhouse Rock tour. An exercise in theatrical excess and outrageous spectacle, it goes to show how durable Alice has always been, so durable in fact that he currently has a featured role in the Johnny Depp remake of Dark Shadows, looking every bit as ghastly and ghoulish as he did back in the day. No matter, then, that the character has an abuse problem or a psychopathic disorder; the enduring icon is in peak form in this intriguing period piece, one that finds him and his band
surrounded a variety of loony characters and enough special effects to mount a Broadway extravaganza. Furnier’s ability to mine his muse for nearly four decades has turned Alice’s road show into a handsome paycheck, and unlike Kiss, his closest competition, Alice has never shed his make-up or attempted to suppress the quirkier aspects of his character’s persona.


[jwplayer mediaid=”33496″]


As a result, Alice’s oddities are never more evident than they were here, as the demented star
pleads, cajoles and generally bares his fears and fantasies for an approving audience. Using songs from his then-current album From the Inside to guide the narrative, the 72-minute video takes him from an insane asylum to a stage shared with dancing bottles of booze of an
international variety. He’s accompanied by a ghoulish cast of creepy caretakers and all manner of ghastly accoutrements – among them, disembodied heads, his ever-ready straight jacket and, naturally, Alice’s pet boa constrictor.

And of course, there’s also an ample stash of hits – “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “Only Women Bleed,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “I’m Eighteen” and, naturally, his signature song, “School’s Out,” all sung with typical Cooper cachet. The ageless Alice regales the crowd in full freak frenzy, as strangely stunning as ever.

DVD extras: none

My Cross to Bear – By Gregg Allman

Title: My Cross To Bear

Author: Gregg Allman

Publisher: William Morrow

Publication Date: May 01, 2012

My Cross to Bear




Though his autobiography/memoir has only been on book shelves
for a matter of weeks, it seems Gregg Allman may already have a new chapter to add to the paperback version. Despite detailing
the pitfalls of his six marriages over 400 pages (the one to Cher is given the
most ink, obviously), and explaining precisely why he has finally realized that
he might not be cut out for married life, it was announced last week that the
64-year-old Blues-soaked Southern Rock pioneer is engaged to his 24-year-old
girlfriend. Seventh time’s a charm!


My Cross to Bear is much more than a catalogue of Allman’s
ill-fated love life. The book, so far the most definitive look at the influential
redneck hippie movement that was/is The Allman Brothers, is a warts and all introspection
of Gregg and his older brother Duane’s childhood, their first bands and the
ultimate success they found in starting what would be their legacy and help
jumpstart an entirely new sub-genre of rock. Written with the help of celebrity
journalist Alan Light, Allman’s unique voice comes through clear throughout the
text with his quirky expressions and phrasings jumping out on just about every
page. The book is refreshingly self-effacing for a rock star memoir, frankly honest
and at times painful to read; In particular, the recounting of his brother’s
fatal motorcycle accident and the oddly-timed motorcycle death of bassist Berry
Oakley, just a few days passed the one-year anniversary of Duane’s accident near
to the same intersection. Yes, he also discusses and dismisses the oft-mentioned
band curse.


Though clearly a laid back fellow, Allman unloads plenty of
vitriol on guitarist Dickey Betts, who he claims took on the role of unelected leader
and dictator of the band shortly after the deaths of Duane and Oakley. There are
also plenty of pages devoted to the author’s addictions (alcohol, cocaine and heroin)
and the countless visits to rehab and recovery meetings. He ultimately found
sobriety through his own mix of spirituality and self-styled recovery.


The band still records and tours, though not selling nearly
as many records as they did in the late ‘70s (but who is?). He seems pretty
content with the choices he’s made overall and how his life has turned out.
When you consider how many bands exist nowadays thanks to The Allman Brothers,
it’s a little shocking just how little ego Allman still carries around with
him. Thankfully he still had enough in him to write this memoir.


Rocco DeLuca – Drugs ‘N Hymns

January 01, 1970



Although Cali rocker DeLuca initially came to prominence
during the last decade fronting his band The Burden, it was his subsequent
decision to strip things back as a solo artist and focus on his instinctive
gifts as a resonator guitar player that may ultimately turn out to be his
savviest career move. To that end, Drugs
‘N Hymns
is a near-masterwork of haunted epistles and luminous meditations
that, powered by his high, keening voice and with his National Steel as
ballast, achieves liftoff after liftoff. This ain’t no writerly hyperbole; show
me a subtler, slinkier, more torrid or more focused Americana-tilting effort –
and yes, I’m aware of the inherent contradictions proposed in the foregoing
clause – and I’ll slap a pair of fins in your hand and not ask for any change.



“Amen,” for example, is part field holler, part blooze
trudge and part gospel anthem, a scarifying call to reckoning, while the
kinetic, shuddery, intense “Snake Oil Salesman” leaves a distinctive whiff of
brimstone in its wake. Like Dobro-wielding avant-rockers Chris Whitley and
Rainer Ptacek – both deceased, but hardly forgotten (the latter has a tribute
album out this month) – before him, DeLuca conjures intimacy out of alienation,
dipping into a sonic bag of tricks that includes samples, tape loops, unusual
mic placement, etc. to cast an ambiance that’s as cinematic as it is
cocoon-like. No doubt he learned a lot from Daniel Lanois, who produced 2009’s Mercy, for this is a headphone
fetishist’s delight.


And like those two other fretboard maestros, DeLuca isn’t
afraid to confront a dark night of the soul; it’s what fuels his art. Come to
Jesus, boy.



“Snake Oil Salesman,” “My My” FRED MILLS

Various Artists – Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman

January 01, 1970

(Tompkins Square)


Not long ago, Michael Chapman was a lot of people’s favorite overlooked
folk singer, the gruff voiced, lyrically-fingered veteran of the 1970s folk
revival that never seemed to have gotten his due. Well received reissues of Fully Qualified Survivor and Rainmaker, as well as tours with younger
pickers like Jack Rose (now sadly gone), have righted the balance.  


Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done goes one step further, gathering contemporaries, admirers and bill sharers to
reinterpret Chapman’s songs. It is a lovely tribute, one which allows the
beauty of the songs to shine through multiple lenses and illuminate various
facets of Chapman’s appeal. There is a floor-stomping, string-band-style romp
from Rose’s former band, the Black Twig Pickers, Takoma-style reinvocations of
the man’s guitar skills from William Tyler and Nick Jonah Davis, and a
heart-wrecked and luminous cover of “That Time of Night” from Lucinda Williams
(with Doug Pettibone evoking Chapman’s eerie, haunted guitar work). Chapman’s
own generation of folk revivalists kick in some of the album’s most gorgeous
moments, with Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span finding a shape-note spirituality in
Chapman’s song “The Prospector” and Bridget St. John quietly, understatedly
killing on “Rabbit Hills.”


Some of Chapman’s interpreters hew closely to the original versions –
see William Tyler’s jaunty pretty-much-identical-to-Chapman’s ramble through
“Naked Ladies and Electric Ragtime” – and others, Thurston Moore, for instance,
in “It Didn’t Work Out,” sound exactly, inescapably like themselves. A few,
like the always-welcome Meg Baird (can we just stipulate that Baird can be on
every tribute album from now on?) manage to split the difference, capturing Chapman’s shadowy, introspective melancholy,
but infusing it with her own warmth and sweetness. Her “No Song To Sing” is
among the compilation’s high points.


By accident, I happened to be listening to Oh Michael during the same few weeks as Rainmaker, and the covers album only underlined how good the songs
were, how distinctly they were shaped by Chapman’s personality, but how
open-ended and susceptible to
interpretation they could be. Oh Michael shows us how strong and deep the current of Chapman’s imagination runs, and how
it sets off eddies and rills and streamlets of inspiration in other artists
everywhere it goes.


DOWNLOAD: “No Song to Sing”
“Rabbit Hills” “The Prospector”  JENNIFER KELLY

Kool Keith – Love and Danger

January 01, 1970



It’s easy to read a lot into Kool Keith’s solemn intonation of
“I don’t rap no more/I don’t rap no more,” during “Goodbye
Rap,” the final number on Love and Danger. And a lot of people are,
proclaiming that this, Keith’s 10th or 12th or 18th record (depending on how
you count), is probably his last. But “Goodbye Rap” is, like most of
the rest of the rhymes in Keith’s catalog, as blunt as it is unrevealing. After
all, how can anyone say goodbye to something they were never really a part of?


Kool Keith has never been playing the same rap game as
everyone else. His most successful album, Dr. Octagonecologyst, out-weirded
even the most alternative of “alternative rap.” His stabs at booty
rap (1997’s Sex Style, 2001’s Spankmaster) and
“straightforward” alt-rap (2006’s Mr. Nogatco) were excellent,
if not excellent examples of their respective genres. But the balance of his
catalog is comprised of completely singular and idiosyncratic albums like Love
and Danger
. These are genre-agnostic records that are hip-hop solely by
virtue of Keith’s background. So, in “Goodbye Rap,” Keith seems much
less interested with “retiring” from hip-hop than with pointing out
why lazy observers shouldn’t associate him with a genre that (to him) is so
stale and uninteresting. Ironically (of course), “Goodbye Rap” is one
of the most straight-ahead raps on the entirety of Love and Danger


Even when Keith brings in a fellow legend for a marquee guest
spot on Love and Danger, he goes left-of-center, letting Keith Murray
lay down a scattershot grumble on “Impressions” that’s ultimately
overwhelmed by the track’s bizarro-world production that’s half electro bounce,
half East Coast hardcore. Bizarro-world continues on the track immediately
afterward too, as the guys in Megabone drawl and growl all over the
goth-synth/witch-house rumble of “The Game Is Free.” Sure, Kool Keith
lets some profoundly dumb lyrics loose on Love and Danger, but they all
seem in service of some improvisational rope-a-dope that ultimately finds him
landing a knockout punch. Hopefully, it won’t be his last.


DOWNLOAD: “impressions,” “The Game Is