Monthly Archives: April 2013

IGGY & THE STOOGES – Ready to Die

Album: Ready to Die

Artist: Iggy and the Stooges

Label: Fat Possum

Release Date: April 30, 2013

Stooges

www.fatpossum.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Iggy & the Stooges take a big chance by releasing new music. After all, anything written and recorded now is essentially the follow-up to the peerless Raw Power, one of the most influential and – forty years on – still potent rock & roll records ever made. That’s pressure no artist needs. It doesn’t help that the last time the Stooges tried to add to their legacy, the result was The Weirdness, which should be on the shortlist for top 10 most underwhelming comeback albums. None of that bodes well for any further attempts.

But a lot has happened since The Weirdness, most significantly the sudden and tragic passing of guitarist Ron Asheton and the re-recruitment of successor – and Raw Power co-architect – James Williamson, who hadn’t played guitar in nearly 30 years before re-upping membership. A series of well-received shows and tours made a new record inevitable.

Fortunately, Ready to Die lives up to the promise and succeeds where The Weirdness failed. Iggy, Williamson, drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Mike Watt (still the new kid even though he’s been a Stooge for a decade), along with adjunct sax fiend Steve MacKay, reignite the fire that barely smoldered on the previous platter by combining strong songwriting with spit-and-slash attitude for a combination that’s damn near lethal.

The LP kicks off, appropriately enough, with “Burn,” a snarling smash-and-grab that has your ears in its greasy grip with the first riff  – the words “instant classic” get overused and abused but are completely apt in this case. Having proven that the band can still vigorously put the boot to the nearest tuchis, Iggy keeps the adrenaline pumping and the bad attitude flowing. “I’m just a guy with a rockstar attitude,” he brays in the no-hope-‘til-payday anthem “Job,” “I got no belief and I got no gratitude” – and Williamson’s raging riff backs him up. “Gun” puts sneering sarcasm – “If I had a fucking gun I could shoot at anyone” – in service of both irony and one of Williamson’s patented hard rock/punk crossroads licks. The same attitude shows up again in “Dirty Deal,” as Iggy declares “Simple people praise the Lord/Smarter people steal and horde” over blazing punk & roll.

One might get the impression from the libretto that the Ig looks upon the modern world and despairs. Funny thing, though – no matter how dark the lyrics get, the music belies any defeatism with devil-may-care spirt and balls of titanium. “Even love goes for the dough,” Iggy sneers in “Sex and Money,” but the roiling rock behind him smashes his cynicism. Williamson’s six-string fire and Asheton’s strong-arm pummeling kick a hole in any perceived apathy in the title track – “I’m shooting for the sky because I’m ready to die” becomes a war cry instead of a suicide note. This, my friends, is what it means to rage against the dying of the light. Besides, if the power chords don’t do it, there’s always sex, as the in-praise-of-chesticles anthem “DD” (“I’m on my knees for those double D’s/Why tell a lie I am mystified”) makes plain.

Ready to Die doesn’t just slash and burn for thirty minutes. “Unfriendly World” couches its lament at the state of reality – “Hang on to your girl, ‘cuz this is an unfriendly world” –  in slide-driven acoustic guitars and one of Iggy’s lowest-key vocal performances. “Beat That Guy” also revels in non-amplified textures, at least until the Les Paul kicks in. But the best meditative moments come from “The Departed,” the Stooges’ tribute to Ron Asheton, “Yesterday’s a door that’s opening for the departed,” Iggy croons softly, letting his affection for his fallen comrade carry the song’s power, rather than cranked amps. Williamson follows suit by opening and closing the tune with the signature riff from “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

It’s possible that anyone expecting a record as innovative as Raw Power may be disappointed – after all, there aren’t any sounds here that could be called new. But the Stooges have no need to break any new ground – the band practically invented a style that few can replicate with the same fire and spit as the originals. The only thing the Stooges needed to do here was reclaim their mojo, get back in the spirit that seemed to have lain dormant in their last studio outing. And so they have – on Ready to Die, Iggy & the Stooges sound hungry, ready not to expire but to prove something: that rock & roll is not dead and no one does it better. 

DOWNLOAD: “Burn,” “Ready to Die,” “The Departed”

 

HANNI EL KHATIB – Head in the Dirt

Album: Head in the Dirt

Artist: Hanni El Khatib

Label: Innovative Leisure

Release Date: April 30, 2013

Hanni El Khatib

www.innovativeleisure.net

 BY JASON GROSS

Though his background is an obvious news hook, what makes this Palestinian/Filipino skater  special is his palpable commitment to roots rock, where he’s found a good kindred spirit in the form of producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys). HEK’s second album makes him sound more confident, distinct and comfortable in his own skin but thankfully not more fancier than his 2011 debut, which sounds like a warm-up in comparison now. “Family” is rightfully the lead-off single as it’s a crank-the-car-window, blasting rocker and “Penny” is a sweet ‘60s-pop flavored follow-up.

 Most of the rest of the time, he follows Auerbach’s lead with clean, powerful stompers full of dirty guitars, shout-along choruses, rumbling drums and even some dandy hooks to go along (with some occasional soulful keyboards), making for a great formula and a winning sound. Jack White — take note.

DOWNLOAD: “Family,” “Penny”

 

THE BELLE SOUNDS – The Belle Sounds

Album: The Belle Sounds

Artist: The Belle Sounds

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 30, 2013

Belle Sounds

www.thebellesounds.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Singer Noelle Hampton and her husband/musical collaborator Andre Moran may have inspired a new twist in producer Neilson Hubbard’s usual MO. Whereas Hubbard, the proprietor of Nashville’s Mr. Lemon’s Studio, generally opts for darker designs, the duo’s approach is anything but, decidedly upbeat and brimming with bubbly enthusiasm. In some cases it takes the form of a propulsive rhythm, as in the case of “Away Away” or “Should Have Been Me,” while at other times – on the songs “Night Owl,” “Cassiopeia” and “Island” in particular — the pace dwindles down to a quiet shuffle or some other form of alluring expression.

While nothing detracts from their agreeable demeanor, the lithe designs could lead some skeptics to dismiss the Belle Sounds as unapologetic pop pundits. On the other hand, they also deserve credit for their instrumental additives. With an impressive backing band that includes Hubbard on bass and keyboards, Evan Hutchings on drums, and Glen Phillips, Will Sexton and Charlie Faye assisting with the vocals, the duo find no need to sacrifice cred for the sake of affability. Consider this eponymous debut an example of ear candy with a rich, robust center.

DOWNLOAD: “Away Away,” “Cassiopeia,” “Island”

OTIS REDDING – Lonely & Blue-The Deepest Soul Of Otis Redding

Album: Lonely & Blue-The Deepest Soul Of Otis Redding

Artist: Otis Redding

Label: Volt

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Otis Blue_CD Jacket

www.concordmusicgroup.com

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

How does one review a perfect record? Is flowery language in order to convey the eternal beauty of the music held within? Reviewing an album like this is a delicate balance, a complicated razor’s edge to ride between reviewing and the dastardly deed of sickening sweet fawning. With the appearance of Volt Records’ The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding the task of analyzing the perfect record laid squarely on my doorstep.

I have long maintained that Otis Redding, though at times he could, at times, have a limited vocal range, is the greatest soul singer ever to set foot on this or any other planet. Even though he passed away tragically in a plane crash at 26, in his five years of recording, left an undeniable, nearly scandal-proof body of work of such power that it has sustained through the decades. The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding stands as a representation of his finest works and, it is my belief, that it is among the finest soul compilations ever recorded and compiled.

Opening with soul shaking “I Love You More than Words Can Say,” it is clear how Redding got the nickname “Mr. Pitiful.” This is a man pleading for his love to be accepted, her love never to be taken away. Otis’s longing, emotional wrecked voice is giving even more substance but The Bar-Kays, one of the greatest backing sections in the annals of rock, second only to The Memphis Horns. “Gone Again” has a familiar theme that travels throughout Redding’s work: The woman left him, taking his joy away. Hell, the wind don’t blow, kids don’t play. There is nothing in the world without her love.

“Open the Door” is one of Otis’ heartbreaking best. “Open the door before I kick it in,” he begs through a locked door, wanting nothing more than his woman to welcome him home, to welcome him back into her heart and bed. If you can listen to this, “These Arms of Mine” or the classic “I’ve Been Loving You too Long (To Stop Now)” and not feel something in your very core, not get a tear in your eye or be lost in the music, well then you my friend, are an android living a sad, cold, soulless existence.

Lonely & Blue-The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding is an album of the human condition. There’s joy, loss, heartache, longing; Redding’s performances especially on “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” are guttural, powerful examples of what a person can do when they put fear aside and tap into their very soul. Often what results is something that will be haunting until the world stops spinning, the wind stops blowing and the sun ceases to rise.

DOWNLOAD: “Lover’s Prayer” “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” “Open the Door”

PSYCHIC TV – Dreams Less Sweet

Album: Dreams Less Sweet

Artist: Psychic TV

Label: Angry Love Productions

Release Date: February 12, 2013

PTV

www.angryloveproductions

BY A.D. AMOROSI

With memories of Throbbing Gristle still fresh and the Some Bizarre label still young (and yes, bizarre) Genesis P-Orridge, Peter Christopherson and company dropped the second of Psychic TV’s immolating mix of industrial morass, eerily sonorous pop and danceable (well, maybe St. Vitus’ Dance-able) electronic music. As they had since PTV’s 1979 start, Orridge and Christopherson tore into the cut-and-paste mindset of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin to make a claim toward random lyricism on this, their sophomore album.

Their voices, when recognizable in a Syd Barrett-like coo, could be gently droning instruments – cool breezes set upon the hot winds of white noise and densely orchestrated arrangements. Keeping Wild Bill and Brion in mind, Orridge and Christopherson stuck to their T-Gristle guns and creased their gutsy feline soundscapes with creepy found sounds and erotic/exotic instrumentation like Tibetan thighbones. Few artists save for Orridge could make a thighbone seem as ordinary yet extraordinary as organ’s whirr and a guitar’s slash.

This first-ever reissue comes with an additional volume of unissued tracks along with some era-appropriate ephemera. It was pressed in a limited edition of 1000 copies (first 320 on red vinyl), featuring a 12 page booklet with liners from Orridge.

DOWNLOAD: What, you’re asking us?!?

ERKIN KORAY – Elektronik Turkiler; Arap Saci

Album: Elektronik Turkiler; Arap Saci

Artist: Erkin Koray

Label: Pharaway Sounds

Release Date: January 29, 2013

Erkin Koray

www.forcedexposure.com/labels/pharaway.sounds.spain.html

BY JASON GROSS

The accompanying press release calls him the Clapton and Hendrix of Turkey but while this guitarist is also a mesmerizing player, the association isn’t helpful otherwise.  Think of Koray as a legend who was a bridge between traditional music of his country and more modern Western electric music.  Far from being the exotica that some Westerns like to chuckle at, Koray’s music has a richness to it that extends far beyond novelty and across cultural and musical borders.

Though his career stretches back to the ‘50s where he was imitating early rock and roll records, Koray really came into his own in the late ‘60s with his psychedelic phase, with his fusion of local music and Western music which was called ‘Anatolian rock. ‘ A few unique traits stand out about Koray’s music from this time.  The psychedelic influence to it is heard with its cavernous, echoed vocals (usually delivered in a calm croon), stinging guitar solos and drone aesthetic, which to be fair originated from the Middle East before making its presence felt in Western music in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Koray’s guitar playing with its bent-notes may seem strange at first until you recognize its connections to surf music (think Dick Dale) and players like Richard Thompson who loves to add exotic touches to his solos and also melds traditional and rock music and as such, makes a better comparison than Jimi or Slowhand (but doesn’t look as sexy in promo copy).

Outside of his native land, much of Koray’s music that’s made it here to the States and the West has been heard on occasional Turkish music compilations (more on that later) but now we have this unique opportunity to hear it on its own with these two important releases.

The appropriately-titled Elektronik Turkiler (‘Electronic Ballads,’ from 1974) is his technically second album since his first record was a singles collection put out behind his back in ’73 thanks to his previous record label.  ET features Koray leading a power trio with his drummer doubling up on bongos and Turkish percussion, Koray also handling keyboards and a hot-shot gadfly bassist along for the ride and also with a pair of producers and anyone who happened to wander in to offer backing vocals or tea for the assembled. Is it any wonder that the album itself allegedly took up more than 150 hours(!) to produce?

Mostly based on folk songs, the album explodes with the opener “Karlı Daglar” and then moves magnificently into the two-part “Sir” which starts out with a phone ringing, leading into belly-dancing soundtrack music before breaking into psych-guitar madness and then back into hip-shaking havens before ending again with another guitar freak-out. From there, there is gorgeous guitar work to luxuriate in along with tender, catchy chanting (“Hele Yar”), a stately, ghostly organ interlude with gliding guitars swooping overheard (“Korkulu Ruya”), a trippy Krautrock like guitar-fuzz feature (“Inat”) and a nine-minute proto-metal solemn recital featuring a screaming double-reed horn and plates crashing (“Turku“). But undoubtedly, the highlight here is the nearly eight-minute “Cemalım,” which is adopted from a mournful song that pays tribute to a murdered man from a respected family. Koray’s vocal here is gentle and stirring, recalling the best tropicalia music from the same time. The vocal stands in contrast to his extended blazing guitar solos, which offer a different kind of sympathy for the subject, much the same way that Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” does. In all, ET is a psych-rock gem almost on the order of Forever Changes or The Notorious Byrd Brothers.

Arap Saci (originally released in 1976) is a double LP/CD collection of singles and album tracks from around the same time.  Because Turkiler was conceived as a set of related folk songs, it’s a more consistent release but this compilation definitely has its set of great pleasures to enjoy also. Try the alternately sweet/dreamy and acid-rockin’ “Mesafeler ” or the sinewy, eerie atmosphere of “Yagmur” that recalls vintage Arthur Lee/Love or the hilarious, sweaty cover of “Land of 1000 Dances” (which mixes in parts of Can’s Tago Mago) or the fast-paced, roaring instrumental breaks on “Istemem” or the stately Manzarek-like organ and Krieger-like guitar on “Seni Her Gordugumde” or the almost-wholly gorgeous traditional Turk sound of “Saskin” or the lively, swinging strings on “Fesuphanallah.”  And all of that is just on the first record, which admittedly is stronger (and stranger) than the second album, except for the funky groove of “Estarabim,” the dizzying chant of “Komsu Kizi,” the galloping, percussion-heavy “Timbilli” and the pretty waltz of “Senden Ayri” (though the cover of the Moody Blues’ “Thursday Afternoon” is cute too). Arap also rates as a more focused and satisfying view of Koray’s work from the ‘70’s than Sublime Frequency’s collection from the same time, Mechel, which they released two years ago- nevertheless, that also stands as a decent supplement to Arap as there are no tracks that appear on both releases.

If you’re hooked into Koray’s enchanting world of music, there are a number of worthy related compilations of similar Anatolian rock music to sink your ears into, which also feature his music.  Seek out these post-millennium titles and you’ll be glad that you did: Hava Narghile (Dionysus, 2001), Turkish Freakout (Bouzouki Joe, 2010), Love, Peace & Poetry Vol. 9 (Normal, 2005), Turkish Delights (Grey Past, 2001).  They’ll liven up any hipster party that you’re at, guaranteed.

DOWNLOAD:
“Cemalim,” “Karli Dagalar” (from Elektronik Turkiler), “Estarabim,” “Yagmur” (from Arap Saci) JASON GROSS

JOHNNY MARR – The Messenger

Album: The Messenger

Artist: Johnny Marr

Label: Sire

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Johnny Marr

www.sirerecords.com


As the Smiths’ composer, arranger and musical director, Johnny Marr crafted songs that were eclectic yet unfussy, classic yet immediate, punchy yet fluid. After dozens of subsequent collaborations, some more fruitful than others, the pop polymath can still do that. The Messenger is the best album in the Smiths-onian tradition since Morrissey’s 2004 You Are the Quarry, boasting an urgency that seems to stem from the rediscovery of what one song title calls the singer-guitarist’s “European Me.”

Marr relocated to Portland in 2005 to join Modest Mouse. That gig turned out to be temporary, but the musician and his family stayed in Oregon till last year, when he returned to Britain to record what’s billed as his first solo album. Never mind about the decade-old Boomslang, credited to Johnny Marr + the Healers, but built on the same essential model as The Messenger. Blending Brit-pop and Brit-punk, but with echoes of American funk, disco and folk-rock, both albums jangle and strut.

Marr has become a more assured singer, which is one of several ways this album improves on Boomslang. He can’t quite carry the album’s slow-and-solemn ballad, “Say Demesne,” which sounds as if it might have been written for a former collaborator. (Not Morrissey — Bryan Ferry.) But Marr does fine when his voice is paced by the Jam-like strum and multi-tracked chorale of “New Town Velocity” or the cantering guitars of “Sun & Moon” and “Generate! Generate!”

Marr has become something of a protest singer, skeptically contemplating technology, consumer culture and British provincialism. Although The Messenger occasionally sounds like Marr’s imitation of Noel Gallagher’s imitation of Marr, the former cohorts who clearly had the most influence on the album are the spiky, neo-punk Cribs. With storming rockers like “Upstarts,” the 49-year-old Marr recaptures the frustration of a teenage guitar-slinger trapped in a north-of-Britain nowheresville.

DOWNLOAD: “Sun & Moon,” “European Me,” “Upstarts,” “Generate! Generate!” MARK JENKINS

LAND OBSERVATIONS – Land Observations

Album: Land Observations

Artist: Land Observations

Label: Mute

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Land Observations

www.mute.com

 Appliance was one of the great lost Mute acts of the mid-to-late 90s, whose quartet of classic titles for Daniel Miller’s long-running label is in dire need of a revisiting (, especially for the folks who fancy the likes of Animal Collective as quality modern rock these days.

 Since the English post-rock act’s dissolution in 2003, Appliance’s chief creator James Brooks has entrenched himself in the UK art world with his groundbreaking audio-visual exhibitions. But the inventive guitarist returns to Mute with the debut LP from his new solo project Land Observations, which picks up where his old group left off on the seven-minute epic “Derailleur, King of the Mountain” from 2000’s Six Modular Pieces with the kind of exploratory instrumental music of which we only wish Appliance recorded more. 

 Roman Roads IV – XI marks the first time he has melded his two creative worlds together to deliver a masterpiece of cross-conceptualism. The eight compositions at the table were crafted at Brooks’ East London flat with a treated electric guitar and were inspired by the ancient thoroughfares the Roman Empire paved at the height of their powers, many of which lead to England, including Kingsland Road, Chester Road and Watling Street.

 It is a stunning concept where Brooks creates these circular, repetitive loops of layered arpeggios and drone-like harmonics akin to some kind of mind meld between Warm and Cool-era Tom Verlaine and Robert Fripp’s time alongside Brian Eno that channels the psychogeography of each road he studied for this record and delivered with a hypnotic warmth unlike anything you’ve really ever heard before.

 What James Brooks has accomplished as Land Observations should easily make Roman Roads IV – XI a record anyone in tune with the works of such new school guitar giants as Christian Fennesz and Dustin Wong must hear now.

 DOWNLOAD: “Before the Kingsland Road”, “Battle of Watling Street”  —RON HART

 

 

ROGER KNOX AND THE PINE VALLEY COSMONAUTS – Stranger in My Land

Album: Stranger In My Land

Artist: Roger Knox And The Pine Valley Cosmonauts

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Roger Knox

www.bloodshotrecords.com

 “The best music is border music, the sound of cultures colliding. In the late 20th century Black Australians assimilated Country & Western, that whitest of American musical forms, to tell the story of their physical subjugation, spiritual stoicism and eventual political awakening.” That introductory statement, imprinted on the lyric booklet that accompanies Stranger in My Land, lays out the premise for what might otherwise seem an unlikely anomaly. Roger Knox, one of Australia’s indigenous people, the Aborigines, teams with alt insurgents Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts to tell the story of how his people were displaced, subject to prejudice and persecution, and turned into outcasts in their own country.

 Nevertheless, despite this sad premise, Stranger in My Land isn’t fraught with self-pity or petulance. The songs swing with a an honest to goodness down home flair, enhanced by the spark of pedal steel, a generous helping of twang and more than a hint of homespun wisdom. The attitude is genuinely upbeat; “The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards,” “Stranger in My Country,” “Scobie’s Dream” and “Warrior in Chains” relate these turbulent tales with both humility and humanity. Given its mesh of subject and style, Stranger in My Land makes for an enlightening encounter.

 DOWNLOAD: “The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards,” “Stranger in My Country,” “Scobie’s Dream”   –LEE ZIMMERMAN

HOLOPAW – Academy

Album: Academy

Artist: Holopaw

Label: Misra

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Holopaw

www.misrarecords.com

 To their musical credit (and likely career chagrin), Florida’s Holopaw have never been an easy act to pin down. Three previous LPs were lumped in with the country rock or freak folk genres because accents from both —say, a finger-picked acoustic or steel guitar — made cameos in the band’s eclectic,  laid-back oeuvre. That gave desperate rock critics familiar handles to shorthand, but neither was very accurate.

 To boot, the Gainesville band led by singer John Orth sounds about as un-Florida as you could imagine – not a whiff of Petty pop here, let alone Southern rock, punk or metal, the Panhandle’s other staples. That’s never been truer than on their career-best latest, whose wintry melodies and cool, intricate textures suggest northern climes or desolate high deserts.

 That’s ironic, as the LP was recorded in the middle of summer amidst night swims and late-night recording sessions in St. Augustine. Ostensibly a song-cycle about prep school kids spread over an 11 tracks, the close quarters become the sites of devotion, betrayal, communion (or near-communion), and abject loneliness. But relating to that isn’t required to enjoy this rich recording.

 “Oh, the earth shall tremble, the earth shall shake,” Orth sings on the opening track “Academy,” and Holopaw does their best, for a sedate band, to make that happen. Guitar chords crash and set off percussion explosions, until synth strings eventually lift the melody, adorned with glock chimes, above the maelstrom. The song’s only 99 seconds long, and the nine-word refrain (which returns in quieter form on closer “Golden Years”) comprise all the vocals – yet it’s about as an effective an opening as you’ll hear.

 It also segues perfectly into “Golden Sparklers,” whose reverbed guitar lines may first suggest the Clientele’s mellow pastorals before massive press-rolls and kick-drum triplets dial up the tension around Orth’s dramatic vocals. Like most of the record, the hooks here are subtle, singalong choruses rare – yet the melodies come over so crystalline and the dynamics are so well-measured that these intricate songs maintain the illusion of being accessible pop songs.

 Or maybe it’s no illusion at all. “Discotheque,” another track with a refrain that’s echoed elsewhere, suggests a pop song Morrissey might’ve penned if he’d been backed by early Calexico rather than the Smiths. Over a lonesome steel guitar cry, subtle vibes and minor chords that embody melancholia, Orth bemoans “the many reasons to be lonely on this night” when the discotheque is not open, only “testing its lights.” A gentle acoustic ushers in “Diamonds,” but within 90 seconds it bursts into bold primary colors, all thumping beats and cymbal crashes, insistent guitar lines and aggressive keyboard parts. “Even the dramatic guitar rock of “Infidels” feels like it could’ve spun off Radiohead’s The Bends with too much squinting.

 Orth’s voice is unquestionably a major player – imagine James’ Tim Booth or a shier Freddie Mercury fronting Sea and Cake over the shifting tempos and sparkling guitars of the 6-minute “We Are the Virgin Snow.” But if this is a hurdle, get over it – Orth’s vocals fit the band’s luscious songs, whether they’re highlighted in simple arrangements (the chiming acoustic guitar-driven “Bedfellows Farewell”) or majestically cross-hatched as they are on the orchestral version of “The Lights From the Disco.”

 Holopaw’s previous records now seem like they were all headed toward the beauty of these 11 songs, easily the band’s strongest work. Of course, it remains just as unlikely that this LP will emerge atop the Internet masses as it rightfully should. But that doesn’t diminish its beauty one iota.

 DOWNLOAD: “Academy” “Diamonds” “Discotheque.”   –JOHN SCHACHT