Monthly Archives: October 2012

NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE – Psychedelic Pill

January 01, 1970

(Reprise)

 

www.warnerbrosrecords.com

 

Was Americana a
feint or a misstep? Released scant months ago, the Neil Young/Crazy Horse
offering of 11 more-or-less roots/folk/gospel/patriotic standards (term used
loosely; included was “God Save the Queen” – not overtly a seminal slice of
“Americana” unless you extrapolate its role in the origins of “My Country, ‘Tis
of Thee”) that worked better on paper than on record. Well intentioned or not, and
regardless of its deployment of original arrangements and forgotten lyrics to
lend authenticity, it was a sloppy affair featuring half-assed singing and
self-conscious playing; that Neil and the gang more or less abandoned it as the
subsequent tour unfolded in favor of newer, unreleased songs speaks volumes
about the musicians’ own collective post-mortem. (Guitarist Frank Sampedro admitted
as much, telling an interviewer how with the exception
of “Jesus’ Chariot,” the material “just didn’t fit in… our soul and our hearts
aren’t in them.”)

 

Maybe the album was both. Because now we have Psychedelic Pill, a two-CD or pricey
triple-LP set boasting nearly an hour-and-a-half of new material, much of it
lengthy, jam-based numbers that left fans open-mouthed and slack-jawed during
the tour. And while Pill probably isn’t
destined to be held in the same regard as such stone ‘70s classics as Zuma or Rust Never Sleeps (and its concert counterpart Live Rust), it’s easily as tunefully unhinged as 1990’s Ragged Glory and as sonically immediate
as 1994’s Sleeps With Angels; it’s as
pure a distillation of the band as one could hope for in 2012. To heck with Americana; Neil
Young & Crazy Horse are, by
definition, “Americana.”

 

The record begins oddly. For the first minute or so,
“Driftin’ Back” seems like it’s going to play out like an acoustic opening
track, setting the listener up for what’s to come, only to abruptly segue – with itself – into an electric riffer
that subsequently runs for nearly a half hour. The effect is like walking from
the front room of a club where a singer-songwriter is performing to the larger
room in the rear where a band is jamming. From there, Psychedelic Pill is essentially a full-on affair: the droning,
druggy, brutally phased title track; the heavy elegance of the “Cortez The
Killer”-like “Ramada Inn”; the soaring, “Like a Hurricane”-esque twang that
powers “She’s Always Dancing”; the 16-minute lumbering maelstrom of “Walk Like
A Giant,” which also channels Young ghosts from the past (among them,
“Tonight’s The Night,” “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “My My Hey Hey”) while
boasting a singular urgency in its acknowledgement that life, though fleeting,
should be celebrated in the here and now (it also details Young’s grudging realization that a lot of the ideals he held close in the ’60s are dead). The latter track, in fact, is
casually magnificent, joining the roster of patented NY&CH anthems that
fans live for.

 

It must be noted, that even though Young appears to have
recharged his rock mojo by diving back into his Crazy Horseman huddle – if
you’ve ever seen the combo in concert, you know what the Young-Sampedro-Billy Talbot
“huddle” in front of Ralph Molina’s drums looks like – he remains lyrically
becalmed. More than one pundit has commented on the songwriter’s downward slide
into mawkish sentimentality and just plain awkward phrasing that’s marked much
of his material starting around the turn of the millennium with Silver & Gold, and Psychedelic Pill is only intermittently
redeemed (e.g., the existential “Walk Like A Giant”). “Twisted Road,” for
example, despite its good intentions as a tribute to some of Young’s heroes
(Dylan, Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, the Grateful Dead) is undercut by it clichéd
literalness: “Walkin’ with the Devil on a
twisted road/ Listenin’ to the Dead on the radio/ That old time music used to
soothe my soul/ If I ever get home I’m gonna let the good times roll.”
Lines like that might be okay for a C-list blues band on a Saturday night after
about 10 beers, but not for the man who wrote “After the Gold Rush.” Ditto with
“Driftin’ Back,” which unless you are partial to phrases like “I used to dig
Picasso,” “blockin’ out my anger” and “gonna get a hip-hop haircut” and take them
as grand irony instead of cranky complaining, succeeds purely on the extended,
trance-inducing riffage the band serves up during the marathon number.

 

Which, to be honest, is also the reason Psychedelic Pill succeeds: sonically speaking, it’s a monster,
coursing with primal ferocity and sending wave upon wave of le noise directly at your gut. When Neil
Young gets together with Crazy Horse, a chemical reaction takes place that many
would-be junior alchemists have tried to replicate but consistently failed at. It’s
one of the most satisfying sounds in rock ‘n’ roll, something Young obviously
tuned into very early on and continues to cherish to this day – as much a feeling as a sound, in fact. Dr. Young and his staff have your prescription ready to refill, kids. Take a dose, get plenty
of rest, and you’ll feel a lot better in the morning.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Walk
Like A Giant,” “Psychedelic Pill,” “Ramada Inn” -FRED MILLS

MENAHAN STREET BAND – The Crossing

January 01, 1970

(Dunham)

 

 www.daptonerecords.com

 

It’s been five years since the
Menahan Street Band’s debut CD Make The Road by Walking, much of it
taken up backing up veteran soul man Charles Bradley on his breakout record No
Time For Dreaming
. Essential MSB reference point: all five MSB members are
current and/or former members of the Dap Kings/Budos Band/Antibalas/El Michaels
Affair extended family of modern soul/funk/afrobeat/hip hop true believers.

 

Overtly cinematic, The
Crossing
is all about atmosphere and vibe, and lead MSB guy Thomas Brenneck
has crafted ten seamlessly funky and beautifully played and arranged
instrumental tracks in search of a film. Numerous keyboards, synths, punchy
horns, occasional strings, a plucked ukulele and a
whatever-was-lying-around-the-studio feel adds essential sweetening and depth to the usual instrumentation on these crafty,
darkly tinged numbers like “Three Faces,” “Slight of Hand,” “Everyday a Dream,”
the spaghetti western-ish “Seven Is The Wind” and the title track. More Isaac
Hayes than James Brown, The Crossing beautifully plumbs the
beating heart of urban noir.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Seven
Is The Wind,” “Three Faces” -CARL HANNI

 

MATTHEW FRIEDBERGER – Matricidal Sons of Bitches

January 01, 1970

(Thrill
Jockey)

 

www.thrilljockey.com

 

Various
selections from the Fiery Furnaces’ massive artful discography have a tendency
to sound a bit…well, abrasive. This is coming from someone who enjoyed Rehearsing My Choir, the album Matthew
and Eleanor Friedberger recorded with their grandmother. After a series of solo
albums, each built around one different instrument, brother Matthew has further
pushed the patience envelope with Matricidal
Sons of Bitches
.

 

The
62-minute album consists of 45 tracks that serve as a soundtrack to an
imaginary horror movie, inspired by old films that used “synchronization
services” when production companies couldn’t afford to pay soundtrack
royalties. Translation: Friedberger sits at his keyboard noodling around on
little motifs with slight variation here and there, which do evoke cinematic
cues. But without the images on the silver screen, it becomes the music of
buttons being pushed which gets old quickly. Unless you derive amusement from
the voice on the keyboard that replicates an operatic tenor vocalist, or the occasional
sample that combines beats and dead air.

 

DOWNLOAD: “‘Can I Tell You
Something?'” “‘What Will You Say?’” –MIKE SHANLEY

 

CODY CHESNUTT – Landing on a Hundred

January 01, 1970

(One Little
Indian)

 

www.indian.co.uk

 

Soul
singer/songwriter Cody ChesnuTT endeared himself to hipsters a decade ago with
a lo-fi home recording modestly titled The
Headphone Masterpiece
. Like a lot of double LPs made without outside
supervision, it had a lot of good songs, cool ideas left undeveloped and junk. Landing on a Hundred, however, is
another story. Recorded live on the floor with his band, ChesnuTT’s second
album cuts the fat away for a lean, no-bullshit sweet soul program that
hearkens back to the heyday of the O’Jays and Al Green. (No surprise, given
that it was recorded in Memphis’
Royal Studios, birthplace of various recordings by Green and Ike & Tina
Turner.)

 

ChesnuTT
delivers his messages – about fidelity (“Love is More Than a Wedding Day”),
welfare (“Under the Spell of the Handout”), style without substance (“What Kind
of Cool [Will We Think of Next]”), peace on earth (“Scroll Call”) – via
hip-rolling grooves and lush melodies, with production that remains
gimmick-free, except when a bit of
spacey echo can enhance the mystical aspect of his spiritual worldview (“Don’t
Wanna Go the Other Way,” “I’ve Been Life”). Ultimately, ChesnuTT’s musical
pronouncements address Life in Our Age – “Everybody’s Brother,” “Chips Down (In
No Landfill)” and “Don’t Follow Me” don’t stint preaching the gospel of
climbing out of the crap via a tight grip on one’s bootstraps. Buy into his
messages or don’t, but you won’t be able to deny ChesnuTT’s mastery of ‘70s
soul sorcery.

 

DOWNLOAD: “I’ve Been Life,” “Love is More Than a
Wedding Day,” “Don’t Wanna Go the Other Way” -MICHAEL TOLAND

 

JASON LYTLE – Dept. of Disappearance

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

 

www.anti.com

 

Like Grandaddy, the rather amorphous outfit he once led, Jason
Lytle’s solo excursions express a bewildering mix of emotions. Dept.
of Disappearance
, his sophomore set, muddies the waters as much as before,
the forlorn sentiments bundled with atmospheric effects and electronica creating
a contradictory statement of intent. Then again, Lytle was always a reluctant
leader, never confident in the role of rock star, an introspective individual
more at home in the hinterlands than stalking the stage.

 

Dept. of Disappearance reflects
those tangled emotions, and though the cerebral sensibilities and celestial
trappings up the ante on ambiance, Lytle’s high lonesome vocals convey the
yearning and desire of a man hoping to reconcile his ambitions. At times
however, the album’s confessional tone morphs into a message of self-assurance.
“Everything’s going to be fine/You can do it/Everything’s going to be alright,”
he croons on “Get Up and Go,” one of the album’s more emotional entreaties.
Likewise, “Last Problem of the Alps” and
“Young Saints” soar on the strength of their searing refrains, each an anthem
that creates an epic effect. That may be Lytle’s chief distinction, the ability
to meld conviction with contemplation.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Get
Up and Go,” “Last Problem of the Alps,” “Young
Saints” -LEE ZIMMERMAN

MISS TESS – Sweet Talk

January 01, 1970

(Signature Sounds)

 

www.signaturesounds.com

 

Through its Lake Street Dive releases, Signature Sounds has
shown its fondness for vintage jazz, and for 
rhythm and blues. In the case of LSD, the label’s been supporting a band
with an uncommonly fresh synthesis of light jazz, R&B, rock, and pop with
adept songwriting. Miss Tess’ work
is of a more purist, retro bent; exemplified by her vintage archtop guitar
contributions. Although Sweet Talk is
her first album with Signature, she’s been around for awhile, having released
five previous albums.   

 

Miss Tess plays with a crack combo, the Talkbacks (Will
Graefe/guitar, Larry Cook/upright bass, Matt Meyer/drums). Sweet Talk also features Danny Weller/upright bass, Raphael
McGregor/ lap steel, Thomas Bryan Eaton/pedal steel, and Sam Kassirer/piano.

 

Fans of Les Paul and of Jeff Beck’s retro guitar work are
likely to be delighted by the album’s well-studied plethora of classic tones.
And Miss Tess has a pleasant, clear soprano. The ensemble sparkles on
“Everybody’s Darling,” a crisp, pop country track that would nestle comfortably
next to anything by Patsy Cline. The shuffling beat of “New Orleans” helps keep the Dixieland form
alive. But a cover of the sumptuous
“I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” doesn’t just lack soul when played next
to the Ink Spots’ version. It’s endemic of the generally textbook ambiance of Sweet Talk. Miss Tess and her band’s
rich, round tones probably provide a fine accompaniment to cocktails in a
nightclub setting. The songwriting, however, is too derivative of vintage light
country, light jazz, and light rock standards to make a lasting impression.
Common threads are provided by the band’s spirited playing, and Miss Tess’s
lone vocals. But her voice grows tiresome over the course of 11 songs; lacking the
richness and nuances of contemporary jazz-spiced chanteuses such as Romy Kaye,
Nena Anderson, and LSD’s Rachael Price.

 

Happily, this assessment isn’t all about clouds – there’s
hope, which I certainly hope will be received well. ‘50s country stylings seems
more suited to MT’s voice. She sounds suddenly overqualified on “Save Me St.
Peter,” which features some lovely vocal textures that meld especially well
with the song’s steel guitar wails. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Everybody’s Darling,” “Save Me St. Peter” -MARY
LEARY

THE WHIGS – Enjoy the Company

January 01, 1970

(New West)

 

www.newwestrecords.com

 

It must bug the shit out of bands when reviewers toss around clichés like
“maturing sound,” “evolving music,” blah, blah, blah… but it’s hard to ignore
the changes in The Whigs’ sound since their 2005 debut. Listening to the band’s
fourth effort and first for Americana indie New
West, you realize some of their rougher edges have been smoothed out a bit, but
that is far from being a bad thing as these Athens, GA
boys turn in their finest album so far.

 

Enjoy the Company, with its addition of horns,
pedal steel and cello, shows a band growing up, but not settling down. The trio
has sharpened its writing skills-lyrically, these songs show a band in its
prime-and cast a much wider net of influences, finally shaking that garage band
label, bringing in folk, country and some damn fine bar room rock.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Staying Alive,” “Waiting” –JOHN B. MOORE

 

DEERHOOF – Breakup Song

January 01, 1970

(Polyvinyl)

 

www.polyvinylrecords.com

 

In many ways, Breakup
Song
is trademark Deerhoof. Infectious and celebratory in its
claustrophobic cacophony, the songs jump from varying rhythms and soundscapes
deftly and quickly. From the opening crunch and danceable stomp of the title
track the band marches delightfully forward, laying back and grooving tightly
on “There’s That Grin”, hurtling towards album’s midpoint-where it takes a
wonderfully satisfying turn. The haunting “Mothball the Fleet” is by far the
highlight of the album. Chiming guitar trills enter, soon giving way to tense
verses where Satomi Matsuzaki gradually builds her voice into a beautifully
airy chorus.

 

The inundation of sounds soon returns, as a wall of noise
soon rises in the form of “To Fly or Not to Fly,” followed by the brassy jaunt
of “The Trouble with Candyhands” and the dexterous bounce of “We Do Parties.” Breakup Song is an electric, ultra-fun,
frenetic carnival, but it is most satisfying in its quieter, more spacious
moments.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Mothball the Fleet,” “Flower” -NICK
D’AMORE

SOFT PACK – Strapped

January 01, 1970

(Mexican Summer)

 

www.mexicansummer.com

 

Two years in production, with 12 songs gleaned
from the 30 recorded, The Soft Pack were pushing for a new sound, new
directions for this, their second release. Their dismantled-pop sound has an embraceable strangeness about it, defying
genres and making them challenging to pigeonhole, not unlike how The Buzzcocks
or Butthole Surfers are singular sounding. Strapped is a marked maturation from their San Diego start five years ago as the
slightly inflammatorily-named band The Muslims.

 

Songs like driving opener “Saratoga” and
upbeat rockers like “Second Look,” “China Town,” and “Ray’s Mistake,” while
musically treading where they’ve been before, are more beefed up and complex
than earlier efforts. The instrumental “Oxford Avenue” is a Beefheartian
noise-jam accompanied by a funky backbeat with dueling saxophonic squawking in
an echo chamber, along with synth keyboards recalling the Psychedelic Furs. Other
tunes like “Tallboy” and “Captain Ace” fit in backing horns with Farfissa organ
and old school New Wave.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Oxford Avenue,” “Captain Ace” -BARRY
ST. VITUS

 

 

R.E.M. – Document

January 01, 1970

(Capitol/I.R.S.)

 

www.emicap.com

 

While we mourn their loss and await the inevitable reunion
down the road, it’s worth being reminded of R.E.M.’s fifth album from 1987,
which marked a huge turning point for the band – this was their last album for
an indie (I.R.S.) as well as their first Top 10 album and first platinum title,
which makes this their “breakout” record as such.

 

Though this was their most confident record until then (if
not the stunning hook-fests their next two albums would be), it was also
enigmatic and gloomy in many places too, especially with an aviary
preoccupation on “King of Birds” and “Disturbance at the Heron House.” To
compensate, Stipe gave up his early mush-mouth inclinations to get political
(“Exhuming McCarthy”) and explicitly social (the hilarious fast-paced cultural
checklist “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”) and even
match one of their post-punk heroes with a great cover of Wire’s
“Strange.” 

 

And of course, there’s their first top 10 single, the
ridiculously catchy and ridiculously misunderstood non-love song “The One I
Love.” For fans and newbies, a raw-sounding Dutch concert from ’87 included on
an extra disc is worthy bait.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Finest Worksong,” “The One I Love” -JASON
GROSS