Monthly Archives: August 2012

Dan Deacon – America

January 01, 1970



Sometimes it’s hard to
know what to make of Dan Deacon. There’s a youthful, unfettered exuberance throughout
his catalogue that makes itself known via repetitive and chaotic but extremely
tightly composed excursions of percussion and electronic tones. But just what
is it? Is it pop, electronic, punk, post-rock, drone-wave, or maybe all of the
above? Deacon’s occasionally lengthy songs often unfold like post-punk gamelan
compositions, with multiple tones, rhythmic patterns, repeating melody lines,
and vocals clashing and colliding, but resulting in some very listenable experimental
rock. His latest release, America, is
the most fully formed and thought-out of his albums, perfectly joining his
concept of a free-form punk mentality with classically influenced structure and


America is divided into two parts. The first part consists of several individual songs,
the best of which is the lush “True Thrush,” a track formed by whirling guitars
and drum patterns and glued together by Deacon’s actually very well sung
vocals, backed by an epic chorus of “ah’s” and “oh’s.” “Lots” is a harsh and
abrasive tune, awash in fuzz that coats vocals and instruments alike. Deacon
settles down for some appealing, tinkling ambient-style drones on the aptly
titled “Prettyboy,” a track that offers a moment of clarity before the driving
“Crash Jam.” The second part of the album is a song in four movements called “USA,”
which references the band USAISAMONSTER. It is tempting to dismiss this as
grandiose overreaching for undeserved importance, but Deacon has a well-formulated
plan here. The movements segue into each other and range from inspiring horn
and string heralding to electronic dance-floor bumping to meandering blips,
bleeps and static. This section of the album is best listened to as a whole in
order to really get the full picture of Deacon’s unconventional musical vision.


Deacon is clearly full of
ideas jostling around in his bearded head, and America seems to be a fine way to work them all out. At times the
songs drag and seem to over extend their welcome, but those moments are
infrequent. Mostly Deacon knows when to quit and when to change a tempo or add
a new sound to the mix. Though at times his music may be difficult to sink your
teeth into, it only takes a few listens to hear that, despite his unorthodox
approach, Deacon is creating experimental music that is actually based on some
basic pop principles.



Lightning Love – Blonde Album

January 01, 1970

(Quite Scientific)


Lightning Love has hit on a potentially winning mash of
elements. The cracks in singer/songwriter/keyboardist Leah Diehl’s little-girl
voice, and her self-described “neurotic” approach are enough, in themselves, to
compel one towards the 10 short tracks of Blonde
Also arresting is the tense, almost counterpoint-ish polka between
Leah’s keyboards and her brother Aaron’s percussion. It’s such a tightly
appointed room, you nearly want to shout encouragement when Ben Collins
incorporates some tasty George Harrison guitar tones near the end of  Blonde
‘s opener, “Together.”


Lightning Love has generated enough buzz (with its ’08
debut, November Birthday, and a
four-song EP that dropped  last January, Girls Who Look Like Me), to be saddled
by some expectations. Two from the latter are repeated here (“I Know,”
“Deadbeat”).  LL exhibits some chutzpah,
albeit maybe not the best marketing sense, in leaving off the EP’s addictively
quirky standout, “When You Sleep.” So, does Blonde
have anything like “When You Sleep” on it?


Not exactly. But that song’s up-close allure is replaced by
examples of LL advancing, expanding, incorporating. “Awkward,” “Orange Glow,”
“So Easy,” and “Bobby Thompson” are upbeat, impermeably bouncy pop that break
the band’s otherwise nearly theatrical format. The  ultimate show-stopper is a quietly concise,
piano-with-vocals tearjerker, “I’ll Never Love No One Else.” It adds meaning to
the album’s cover photo of expressionless mannequin faces. As does another
mourning song, “Our Love Is All Gone.”


Is Blonde Album (a) entirely cohesive; and/or (b) an Album of the Year contender? Answers: (a) No; (b) Ask me in a month or so. Is it an impressive set of unusually intimate,
idiosyncratic-while-ingratiating, verging-on-brilliant tracks? Yes. And if Lightning Love keeps pumping
inspired songs out at its current rate (after this album, releases are planned
for October and early 2013), I won’t be surprised if “album of the year” ends
up among a number of accolades fueling Leah’s anxious musings.


Never Love No One Else,” “Together,” “Deadbeat,” “Bobby Thompson” MARY LEARY

Antibalas – Antibalas

January 01, 1970



multi-instrumented, multi-ethnic, Brooklynite disciples of Fela Kuti have been
off for half a decade, some of them backing Sharon Jones, others composing and
performing the score for Broadway’s  Fela!, still others participating in
funk-world-soul collaborations with, among others, Ocote Sound System. During
the time off, Afro-beat has become, if anything, less of an exotic hybrid, more
an accepted part of the landscape. These
polyrhythmic, in-the-pocket grooves are not quite as American as tacos or pizza
at this point, but they are also no longer quite so foreign. You don’t have to
trade Nigeria 70 on battered cassette tapes anymore. You can order it on Amazon.


So let’s
set aside, at least for the moment, the worthy role that Antibalas played in
popularizing some of the world’s funkiest, most searing grooves, the way the
band has relentlessly, show-by-show, town-by-town, built up awareness and
appreciation of Nigerian funk. How good is Antibalas the album, the band’s fourth, on its own merits?  The answer is: pretty good, but not as great
as its inspiration.


 “Dirty Money” starts in a fractured friction
of multilayered drums, an organ line (that’s longtime Antibalian Victor Axelrod
on keys) strutting and slinking amid flash-lightning illuminations of brass and
saxophone. The song balances on a knife edge between laid-back ease and
propulsive motion. It leads with the hips, all physical insistence, yet remains
rather cool and contemplative at its core. “The Ratcatcher,” up next, also
melds traditional drum kit with the syncopated tonalities of cowbell, claves,
bongos and horn bursts (the horns are just as percussive as the drums). Seventies
American soul twitches to life in the Shaft-era
guitar work of Marcos Garcia, the space-age funk of the keyboards, but there’s
fusion jazz, too, in the wild keening and blaring of Stuart Bogie’s saxophone. “Sare
Kon Kon” (or “We Are Running”) is, perhaps the most furiously heated of these tracks,
skittering forward on a staccato rhythm of hand drums and overlayed with vocal
howls, moans and exclamations.


Like Fela
himself, Antibalas engages whole-heartedly in politics, making the common man’s
struggles a center of its syncopated, body-moving art. The video for “Dirty
Money” is explicitly tied to the Occupy Movement, making abstract lyrics about
a man drowning and falling off buildings concrete and economically determined. (Though
doing so, in a fairly lighthearted way, and with Muppets.)  “Sáré Kon Kon” is less of a narrative, more a
direct channeling of post-global meltdown anxieties. Its motion is ceaseless
and, oddly, circular, as rhythms hurry this way and that, as saxophones blare,
as people shout and groan…without anyone getting much of anywhere. Afro-beat
has always been protest music, but it’s also an escape hatch, a physically
enveloping, mildly hallucinatory experience that puts harsh realities on hold.


I still
sense a bit of remove, of holding back, of loving tribute rather than full-body
engagement in Antibalas’ work. Heard next to actual Fela, it sounds ever so slightly scholarly and dry. Yet
there’s so much positive in this band’s work – in its devotion to an intricate
aesthetic, its commitment to justice, its sensual, hip-shifting appeal – that
it hardly seems fair to grade it against the source. 


DOWNLOAD: “Dirty Money” “The Ratcatcher” “Sáré Kon Kon” JENNIFER KELLY


Atom™ – Winterreise

January 01, 1970



Señor Coconut, acclaimed German producer AtomTM has taken electronic music to the upper
echelons of Español. With Winterreise,
the artist born Uwe Schmidt’s second LP for the excellent experimental imprint
Raster-Notion, he trades in the tropical climes of the most prolific of his
near-72 different aliases for the teutonic tundra of abstract minimalism.


This 17-track, four-part suite, in actuality, serves as the
soundtrack to a photography series created by Schmidt crafted in the context of
his previous Raster release Liedgut. It is a stark, beautiful set of
pictures, which in 2011 had been exhibited in art galleries in Tokyo
and Frankfurt to rapturous
acclaim. And the icy soundscapes Atom works up on his laptop
provide the perfect complement to the haunting grain of the visual essay it


In this age of being force fed digital downloads from an
industry who thinks it knows better than its constituents, Winterreise is
a stirring exercise in the gravity of the physical product’s unshakable
tangibility to capture the true
greatness of the art. And from a guy who makes music on computers, no less!


DOWNLOAD: “Voralpenthema,”
“Tiefebene” RON HART

Nude Beach – II

January 01, 1970

(Other Music Records)



The three members of Nude Beach grew up
together on Long Island and were in bands together starting in high school;
they’ve piloted Nude Beach for the last 4 years, having jumped to Brooklyn to
be part of that burgeoning music scene. Among their cited influences are Bruce
Springsteen (of whom I’ve never really been a fan) and Tom Petty (of whom I
am), along with the Replacements, the Byrds, the Jam and assorted punk bands; making
it through the whole album I also noticed some resemblance to the Plimsouls and
Sorrows, a New York band in the ‘70s, and similar rama-lama power-popish
flamboyance of both. 


Their music, those influences intact, circles
around a classic rock genre, but without any mediocre redundancy or artificiality. One comment I read about them really struck
true, “They’ve got the songs, they’ve got the sound, and they’ve got the
fuck-all attitude that just can’t be faked.” All that all rises to the top and
will be obvious to the listener pretty quickly, as the album seems to get
better with each subsequent playing. 
Lead guitar and vocalist Chuck Betz has a very likeable and outstanding
singing voice that was made to sing material like this, a little raspy, a
little rockabilly, and a lotta Dwight Twilley. Fellow Nude-ists include bassist
Jim Shelton and skin- beater Ryan Naideau. A pretty slick band overall, and a
well-packed second album that’s filled with likeable, well-composed songs.
“Walkin’ Down the Street” owes a complimentary tip-of-the-hat to Graham Parker.
Their first real pop sensibilities explode out early on “Some Kind of Love.”
This about when you know that you’re probably going to like these guys.


It Cool” is a sleek pop song with an early Beatles flavor, by way of Petty.
“Love Can’t Wait” features that hoarse, strangled-cry vocal style Springsteen
is noted for, yet the music is definitely not Bruce-esque, but rather more
melodic pop than his stadium-rock style. One number that really flies high and
fast, and, is a standout as well as a knockout, “Cathedral Echoes.” It reflects
the sound of many of the bands I cited above.


music next shifts back to late fifties and a cheek-to-cheek slow-dance at the
prom on “Don’t Have To Try.” Dim the lights, please. Betz really exhibits his
vocal abilities next on “Endless Night,” punching out raw and slightly strained
lyrics, accompanied by some nimble ringing guitar work to sweeten up the
anguish. “Loser In The Game” is the last of the ten numbers and, like the
previous number, a strong contender for the Standout Track selections. It’s
another tune strongly flavored by that Twilley-Sorrows sound, a throw-back to
the rock coming out of the ‘70s from the less-than-mainstream bands in the
underground scene then.


I’m confident that Nude Beach is on its way
and if they keep cranking out material like this, they should quickly make a
name for themselves not unlike fellow Brooklynites The Strokes and Clap Your
Hands Say Yeah. A September album support tour has them
covering the most of the West Coast.


DOWNLOAD: “Cathedral Echoes,” “Keep It Cool,” and “You Make It So



 Listen to “Walkin’ Down My
Street” and “Some Kind of Love” on

Wussy – Buckeye

January 01, 1970

(Damnably Records)


Cincinnati’s Wussy falls under the category of a “Best Band You’ve Never
Heard Of” but should make it your business to get acquainted with.  A flicker of recognition may glimmer when the
Ass Ponys are mentioned, as they were acclaimed in the indie-rock scene in
their day. Their music had a country-rock element to it, but they were
alternative all the way.  Chuck Cleaver,
front-man then and now, along with musical, and ex-romantic partner Lisa
Walker, wear their hearts on their sleeves here, dirt is dished, raw nerves
exposed and emotions laid bare in much of their music. (Shades of the Mendosa
Line.) That’s not to say there aren’t some lovely and hauntingly beautiful
melodies to be found in most of the material – there’s plenty. But mostly Wussy
loves to pull out all the stops and crank out a stoney-droney squall that wraps
vine-like around the songs.


Both Cleaver’s quavering warble and Walker’s keening soprano, separately
or co-mingled, are outstanding. Their harmonizing together has an almost
cross-eyed quality to it, sound-wise. Music scholar Robert Christgau has long
pointed to them as the “best band in America,” and added their first two
albums, Funeral Dress and Left For Dead to his Best of the Decade
list. The Washington Post nailed it
with, “Few bands since the Velvet-steeped heyday of The Feelies, Yo La Tengo
and R.E.M. have abandoned themselves so completely to the ebbing, flowing
currents of keening, droning rock.”


More’s the pity that they remained under any music fans’ radar this
long, but Buckeye is your catch-up opportunity, as it is a
‘best of’ collection plucked from their first 5 albums, excluding the
all-acoustic Funeral Dress II.  I personally think it a glaring error to not
include “Yellow Cotton Dress,” “This Will Not End Well” and “Happiness Bleeds”
in the batch, but those can easily be collected later. For a band that exudes
such amazing music and brilliant creativity that draws high critical praise
from the press, it’s a shock to know that Cleaver still must labor as a
stonemason, a job that’s destroying his back after years, and that Walker is
waitressing in a Queen City vegan restaurant.


On the good news side, the band is heading off
for their first tour overseas, sweeping through England and Wales in September
after cutting a swath through the Midwest and South, which finishes in October
upon their return stateside. Their British leg starts and ends in London, which
includes a BBC6 interview and playing a party at Damnably label. This major
push promises to help goose up their recognition as fans will probably drag
their friends to the shows, and more positive press shall ensue. Too many great
bands have withered away over the years never getting the recognition that they
so richly deserve.


Suggesting only 3 standout tracks from this
collection of 17 is a near impossible task; I might as well just pull some song
titles from a hat. Better still, don’t be a wussy and just plunk down the
spondoolies and pick your own faves!


STANDOUT TRACKS: “Maglite,” “Airborne,” and “Pizza King.”  BARRY ST. VITUS



Stevie Jackson – (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson

January 01, 1970



off the sensible cardigan, and try on a feather boa. Forget rainy afternoons
and think decadent, neon-lit nights. (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson,
the first solo album from Belle & Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson, is
more giddy music hall than waifish indie pop. It’s a high kicking, cake walking
collection of songs about film directors (“Just, Just So to the Point” and “Kurosawa”),
1970s soul icons (“Man of God”) and email etiquette (“Press Send”).


might remember that Jackson
wrote (or co-wrote) a handful of jangly, upbeat songs for Belle & Sebastian
in the early 2000s:  “The Wrong Girl,” “Jonathan David” and “Step Into My
Office, Baby.”  His songs were jauntier, jokier and less wistful than
Stuart Murdoch’s offerings (and also just less). His solo album is
equally lighthearted — well-constructed but a bit ephemeral.


lyrics are dense and often quite clever – witness the dense thicket of movie
references in “Just, Just So To the Point,” or the Franco-phile rhymes in
“Where Do All the Good Girls Go?” Yet sometimes the cleverness palls, as on the
too cute pigeon tale “Bird’s Eye View” or the self-consciously jokey “Press


is nothing lo-fi or minimal about these songs. Jackson brings in strings, pianos, a full
rock band and even, in one case, a French accordion, to frame arch lyrics in
elaborate arrangements. Bill Wells sits in on nearly every track, Roy Moller
sings frequently, and Dave MacGowan plays pedal steel.


arrangements are critical, because the best tracks back hyper literacy with
soul – literally. There’s a lovely, half-nostalgic nod to classic R&B on a
handful of these tracks, in the string swoops and bass thump of “Just, Just So
to the Point,” and in the piano and soaring group vocals, of “Man of God,”
(which pays homage to Roberta Flack collaborator Donny Hathaway and the Detroit
Emeralds). Jackson’s
obvious fondness for 1970s soul gives these songs added resonance. They sound
like they matter to him, and so they matter more to us.


course, a decade with Belle & Sebastian might make anyone wary of
self-examination, and no one’s asking Jackson
to bare his soul. Still, there’s a surface-y, writing-exercise quality to many
of these songs. (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson doesn’t really give us much Stevie Jackson, just some clever jottings and puns and tunes he’s
scratched out in a notebook.


“Just, Just So to the Point,” “Man of God”  JENNIFER KELLY




Weep – Alate

January 01, 1970



Doc Hammer was formerly one half of the frequently amazing
gothic folk rock duo Mors Syphilitica; now he’s probably best known as
co-creator of the Jonny Quest parody The Venture Brothers. His return to
music with Weep has showed a lot of promise on the quartet’s past disks; Alate goes a long way to fulfilling that


Though Hammer still obviously hearts 80s British guitar rock
(Echo & the Bunnymen, House of Love, Chameleons), for this record he adds
good old fashioned rock muscle, a la Love-era
Cult. So while the record luxuriates in epic psychedelia like “Cant Be True,”
“This Stolen Moon” and “Drift Towards Home,” it finds its inner arena rocker
with “They All Denied,” “Halved Heart” and “Lies Like Prayers.” If that sounds
like a calculated balance, it certainly doesn’t come off that way – Hammer
merely puts everything he likes into his songwriting machine and
unselfconsciously spits out widescreen winners. Melodic and powerful, Alate finds Weep coming into its own as boisterously
as possible.   



Like Prayers,” “Drift Towards Home,” “This Stolen Moon” MICHAEL TOLAND

Niki and the Dove – Instinct

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)


Pretty much the
majority of the theater chicks I knew in college had a thing for Kate Bush. So
it should not come as a surprise that the queen of English art pop’s latest
acolytes, Sweden’s
Niki and the Dove, met while writing music for the stage.


And Instinct,
the full-length debut for the duo of singer Malin Dahlström and keyboardist
Gustaf Karlöf and the most dance-oriented thing to ever come out on the Sub Pop
label, definitely harbors all the earmarks of a pair who’ve undoubtedly
channeled the many Sunday mornings with both The Kick Inside and Stephen
Sondheim on the hi-fi to inform their distinct brand of “fairytale
pop”. Most of the material on Instinct was plucked from Niki and
the Dove’s small cache of material released since they formed in 2010,
including their debut single for “DJ, Ease My Mind,” their first Sub Pop
7-inch “The Fox” and their seven-song EP The Drummer. However,
for this LP, Karlöf and Dahlström have revamped their music to give it a
heavy coating of club floor sheen comparable to the likes of fellow Swedes
Robyn and Royksopp. But, strangely enough, the unlikely fusion of Niki’s Hounds
of Love
hounding and Eurotrash booty rattling proves to be a winning
formula thanks to the intimidable strength of the couple’s strong proclivity
for penning great pop songs like “Mother Protect” and “Under the


With Instinct,
Niki and the Dove have made an album that will surely resonate with the
American crowds already grooving to the likes of Hot Chip, Passion Pit and Twin
Shadow while providing Sub Pop with a whole new planet of sound to colonize.


DOWNLOAD: “DJ, Ease My Mind,” “The Fox,” “Under the
Bridges” RON HART


Hacienda – Shakedown

January 01, 1970

(Collective Sounds)


Mostly fueled by
unabashed enthusiasm, Hacienda’s sophomore set comes across as a celebratory
investment in pure rock indulgence. A true family affair — the San Antonio
Texas – based band includes brothers Rene, Jaime and Abraham Villanueva on
bass, drums and keyboards respectively, along with their cousin Dante Schweibel
playing guitar — they were given a nod by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who not
only produced this album as well as their last, but also invited them to back
him on his own solo outing.


Auerbach’s influence
resides in the new album’s outward thrust, but in truth,  Shakedown  is less about method and more about attitude.
Hacienda’s obvious admiration for basic rock ‘n’ roll tenants is obvious, given
the propulsive rhythms, the primal beats and the boisterous approach that
churns those rudimentary roots into something quite stirring. Given that
there’s little here to discern one track from another, any starting point is
feasible in order to get the feel of how the set list evolves. Still, those
looking for specific reference points would be best advised to needle drop
tunes like “Veronica,” “Let Me Go” and “You Just Don’t Know” for evidence that indeed,
this Hacienda is still shaking.


DOWNLOAD: “Veronica,” “Let Me Go,” “You Just