Monthly Archives: June 2013

THE THREE O’CLOCK – The Hidden World Revealed

Album: The Hidden World Revealed

Artist: Three O'Clock

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Three O'Clock

www.omnivorerecordings.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The Three O’Clock was, in many ways, the junior partner in the Paisley Underground (despite bandleader Michael Quercio giving the loose affiliation of likeminded pals its name). With its twinkly synthesizers,  upbeat poppy melodies and Quercio’s distinctively fey singing, a lot of folks assumed the band was a latecomer to the 80s new wave party.

While there’s certainly some truth to that (check out the Haircut One Hundred-channeling “When Lightning Starts”), the psychedelic strain that powered most of the Underground runs deep in the Three O’Clock, as The Hidden World Revealed, a compilation of hits and rarities, proves. Alternating between lysergic lyrics and acid pop melodies, “Stupid Einstein,” “Around the World,”  the anthemic “Jet Fighter” and “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend” (possibly the quintessential T O’C track) boast irresistible hooks, sparkling production and just enough weirdness to make you think “Huh?” as you sing along. Demos of “Sound Surround” and “The Girl With the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah)” show the band with a fully-developed vision, and alternate versions of “In My Own Time” (originally recorded by the Bee Gees, no less), “I Go Wild,” “On My Own” and “A Day in Erotica” neither add to nor subtract from the power of the originals. In this context, covers of the Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” seem like gilding the lily.

The setlist draws mainly from Baroque Hoedown and Sixteen Tambourines – generally considered the band’s best work – and gives later LPs Arrive Without Travelling and Ever After shorter shrift than they deserve. (The underrated, Prince-patronized Vermillion is ignored completely.) Unusually for the 80s era, the keyboards and nods to then-current trends keep the tracks fresh – this was a band making modern music inspired by the past, rather than mired in it. That’s a fair description of the Paisley Underground in general, which just goes to show that the Three O’Clock deserves its place in the pantheon. 

DOWNLOAD: “Jet Fighter,” “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend,” “In My Own Time”

 

IRMA THOMAS – In Between Tears

Album: In Between Tears

Artist: Irma Thomas

Label: Alive Naturalsound

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Irma Thomas

www.alive-totalenergy.com

 BY CARL HANNI

 This long lost classic of Southern soul gets the reissue treatment from Alive Naturalsound, with two extra tracks added to the original eight. First released in 1973 on Swamp Dogg’s Fungus Records imprint, it saw a remarkable return for Thomas, the original queen of New Orleans soul, who had left Louisiana for Los Angeles in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969.

 Produced and arranged by the gifted singer/songwriter/producer/arranger and major character Jerry Williams, Jr., aka Swamp Dogg, In Between Tears is another high-water mark of Southern soul under Dogg’s direction. William’s took Thomas to Macon, GA, and recorded In Between Tears at Capricorn Studios with a crackerjack band, including guitar player Jesse Carr, bass player Robert Popwell, organ player Paul Hornsby and drummer Squirm, with Williams on piano and occasional contributions from Duane Allman on guitar. This combo cooks up a seamless blend of Southern soul, occasionally shading towards country soul, all beautifully produced and arranged by Williams. As with the case of many Southern soul recordings of that era, the sound is a pinnacle of analog recording; warm, inviting, vital and with fabulous separation in the mix. The reissue is worth picking up for the sound alone, but fortunately In Between Tears is stacked with excellent performances and material, as well.

 Check out the gospel tinged title track, the cheatin’ soul ballad “She’ll Never Be Your Wife,” the country-soul “What’s So Wrong With You Loving me” or the upbeat “You’re The Dog (I Do The Barking Myself”). Even better is the lovely “These Four Walls” and the almost-psych soul “We Won’t Be In Your Way Anymore.” And then there’s Thomas’ long, extended put-down monologue “Coming From Behind,” taking men to task for general cluelessness, that breathtakingly swings into “Wish Someone Would Care” and just carries your soul away.

 Thomas is in absolutely top form throughout, belting, crooning and talking her way through ten tracks that tack from weary and hurt to defiant and uplifting, her strong, smoky voice sounding as good as it ever did.

 Swamp Dogg, as usual, contributes cheeky, off the cuff liner notes, in this case containing possibly way more than we want to know about his and his band mates voyeuristic tendencies in the studio. It’s weird and a little creepy, but definitely entertaining.

 DOWNLOAD: “In Between Tears,” “These Four Walls,” “What’s So Wrong With You Loving Me,” “We Won’t Be In Your Way Anymore.”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1978-1987

Album: Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1978-1987

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Strut

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Celluloid

www.strut-records.com

 BY CARL HANNI

 Launched in Paris in the insanely artistically fertile late 1970s by Frenchman Jean Karakos, Celluloid Records produced a fat, multifaceted catalogue to rival any independent label of the era. He soon began hop-scotching between Paris and New York, and the label quickly became a playa in the DIY, experimental and avant garde music world of both cities. With a selection that jumped from early hip hop to deconstructed European disco, and from downtown NYC experimental head-trips to early fusions of world music with funk, jazz and art damaged punk, Celluloid was truly a harbinger of things to come.

 Things really picked up for the label early on when bass player, producer and multi-tasking visionary Bill Laswell got pulled into the fold. Laswell’s foot prints (and funk/dub bass) are all over huge chunks of the catalogue, and really shaped the direction of the label for most of its duration. LPs, EPs, 7 inch singles and all sorts of insane collaborations flowed, as Celluloid consistently worked ahead of the curve. Ever vigilant, the archivist alchemists at Strut Records are set to release a long over due overview of the label: Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987, featuring 26 tracks by 25 acts, spread over two CDs. 

 Winding your way through so much unbridled creativity is like stumbling into an avant garde toy box filled with outrageous oddities, many of them sprouting dangerous, sharp edges. Having bought every Celluloid record I found for decades, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the label’s catalogue, but there’s an impressive amount of stuff here I’ve never heard or heard of. 

 So we get a set that starts out with a low brow guitar freakout version of “Day Tripper” by axe-mangler Eugene Chadbourne’s early combo Shockabilly and ends, 2 1/2 hours later, with the righteous Black rhythmic rage of The Last Poets’ “Mean Machine.” The first disc is the more squirrelly of the two, featuring such non-chart toppers as “Living in Vain” by Residents’ cohort Snakefinger, the lascivious R&B of one-time Jimi Hendrix compadre Lightin’ Rod (“Sport”),  classic dub by Winston Edwards and Dennis Bovell, aka Blackbeard (“Downing Street Rock”), early Laswell with the avant rock Massacre, and international oddities like the very punk rock “Tele, Apres La Meteo” by the French act Ferdinand, and punk disco “Disco Rough” by the equally French Mathematiques Modernes. Disc one also has two genuine old skool B-boy classics in the one-two punch of “The Wildstyle” by Time Zone and “The Escapades of Futura 2000” by Futura 2000 (featuring The Clash), as well as a look at what’s to come with tracks by Toure Kunda, Bobongo Stars and the early Celluloid world-fusion super group Deadline and their classic hypno groove “Makossa Rock.”

 Disc two features more old skool hip hop from Fab 5 Freddy (“Change The Beat”), Grandmixer D.ST. (“Home of Hip Hop”), the French rapper B Side and Bernard Fowler (“Odeon Dance”) and a second Time Zone track, “World Destruction,” with Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon going apocalyptically toe to toe. It also features more epic World/dub/funk fusions tracks from Manu Dibango, Mandingo, Ginger Baker and Sapho, and well as Richard Hell and the Voidoids “Destiny Street” and some arty French electro from Nini Raviolette (“Suis-Je Normale”), as well as the afore-mentioned Last Poets track. And Laswell and Michael Beinhorn’s long running, Internationalist mix and match collective Material represents with one track, the suitably funky “I’m The One,” featuring the considerable talents of Chic mainstays Nile Rodgers and Bernard Fowler.

 Any hardcore fan of the label might be inclined to want the inclusion of one of their favorites; I’ll just say it would have been nice to have a track by Anton Fier’s shape-shifting combo The Golden Palominos, and leave it at that. 

 Blessed by being in the right place(s) at the right time, and having the smarts to take advantage of the considerable opportunities that came their way, Celluloid Records sits comfortably in the file of independent labels that got it right from start to finish. Upstart labels take note: perhaps 2013 will be the new 1978. Play it right, and they’ll be talking about you in 2035.

 DOWNLOAD: “Makossa Rock,” “The Wildstyle,” “I’m The One,” “Odeon Dance,” “Tele, Apres La Meteo,” “Downing Street Rock.”    

LOVELIESCRUSHING – Ghost Colored Halo

Album: Ghost Colored Halo

Artist: Loveliescrushing

Label: Projekt

Release Date: April 16, 2013

Loveliescrushing

www.projekt.com

 BY MICHAEL TOLAND

 It’s been a decade since guitarist Scott Cortez and singer Melissa Arpin-Duimstra last recorded together as Loveliescrushing, but Ghost Colored Halo shows they haven’t lost a step. Indeed, if anything, the band’s tenth album indicates an evolution in sound.

 After years of being the dreamiest of dream-poppers, Loveliescrushing moves from the outer edges of the mist deep into the fog itself. Eschewing verses, choruses, hooks and lyrics, the duo dives straight into the ethereal, channeling the purest of sonic impulses through its amp and microphone. Cortez wields no weapon but his guitar, allowing echoing loops and ambient washes to color the oxygen. Arpin-Duimstra responds with phantom keening, often floating so high in the atmosphere it’s impossible to distinguish her larynx from Cortez’s six strings.

 With Ghost Colored Halo, Loveliescrushing passes from dream pop directly into the dream.

 DOWNLOAD: “The Wounds That Won’t Heal,” “The Tiger Hunts Alone,” “Ghost Colored”

ROCKET TO MEMPHIS – Do the Crawl

Album: Do the Crawl

Artist: Rocket to Memphis

Label: Off the Hip

Release Date: May 07, 2013

Rocket to Memphis

http://www.offthehip.com.au

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

For a group like Rocket to Memphis, it’s easy to think “heard one, heard ‘em all.” After all, the Australian band works the exact same jump blues/rockabilly/swing groove on its third LP Do the Crawl it shook its hips to on its previous album Jungle Juice.  But when the quartet is as good as that blend as RtM, what difference does it make whether or not it’s progressed? The sly pledge of fidelity in “Swamp Guy,” the sultry seduction of “In Black & White” and “Make You Mine” and the buzzing calls to arms of “Turn It On,” “Slap Back” and the title track don’t need evolution to be effective. As long as Razor Jack Memphis keeps the licks flowing, Voodoo Viv and Shotgun Pete keep the rhythms hopping and Betty Bombshell croons her way into your pleasure center, Rocket to Memphis can make the same record over and over as long as it wants. Hey, it worked for the Ramones.

DOWNLOAD: “Turn It On,” “In Black & White,” “Slap Back”

JAMES WALLACE & THE NAKED LIGHT – More Strange News From Another Star

Album: More Strange News From Another Star

Artist: James Wallace & the Naked Light

Label: Dialog Records

Release Date: May 14, 2013

James Wallace

www.dialog records.com

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 Its clear Nashville musician James Wallace has a jones for Paul Simon and Daniel Johnston, but the influences start to get a little harder to pin down after those two. Yes, there’s a strong, and appealing, folk vibe that flows throughout, but Wallace and his band also toss in snatches of gospel, pop and indie rock to their eclectic mix.

 More Strange News From Another Star is not instantly accessible. While there are some songs that grab you right away (like “Colored Lights” and “Worse Things Have Happened”) others have a feel of being a little too earnest and a tad contrived. But with repeated listens the record ultimately pays off. Wallace’s falsetto actually becomes endearing after you get used to it and you begin to appreciate the mix of clarinet and brass.

 The album was originally planned as a monthly cassette release by a Chinese label, but the project fell through before ultimately finding a home with Virginia-based Dialog Records which just released the effort on vinyl and digital.     

 DOWNLOAD: “Colored Lights,” “Worse Things Have Happened” and “Chopping Bock”

TEA LEAF GREEN – In the Wake

Album: In The Wake

Artist: Tea Leaf Green

Label: Greenhouse

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Tea Leaf Green

www.tealeafgreen.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Even after 17 years and nearly as many live and studio releases, Tea Leaf Green remains an ambiguous entity that’s hard to define. With elements of prog, funk, psychedelia, alt and Americana fused to a loose jam band sensibility, any definitive grasp on the band’s MO remains well out of reach. In the Wake consolidates Tea Leaf Green’s style to a certain extent, but even so, there’s enough extraneous indulgence to toss the novice for a loop.

The attractive cover painting – courtesy once again of band member Josh Clark – houses a set of songs that can be edgy one moment, hushed and atmospheric the next. Happily then, the accessibility factor is amped up enough to encourage interest, with the earnest “Someday” (think the Lumineers, Low Anthem and Okkervil River in terms of easy reference), the celebratory “In the Wake,” the heartfelt, horn-infused “One Condition’s Enough” and a surging “Don’t Go” helping fuel the finesse. Given the stutter and shuffle that mark their erratic designs, it may be best to tackle Tea Leaf Green one modest sip at a time

DOWNLOAD: “Someday,” “One Condition’s Enough,” “”Don’t Go”

PEDALJETS – What’s In Between

Album: What's In Between

Artist: Pedaljets

Label: Electric Moth

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Pedaljets

www.electricmoth.com

JENNIFER KELLY

Pedaljets arose in the mid-1980s out of the same rough-housing Kansas indie scene that birthed The Embarrassment (whose Bill Goffrier came east to co-found the great Big Dipper). The band was, at one time, a raucous r ‘n r contender in the hunt for the next ‘Mats, Husker or Meat Puppets. They shared stages with all these bands.  Yet Pedaljets made just two albums in its heyday, the grungy, rackety debut Today Today in 1988 and the rushed and less satisfying S-T in 1989. They split a year after the second record, worn out with touring and disappointed with their showing. The Pedaljets’ sophomore effort apparently rankled so much that the band actually reformed to re-record it in 2006.

 By 2006, naturally, the music industry was already well into its retro-obsession with short-lived post-punk legends, having raised the middle-aged ghosts of Mission of Burma, the Pixies, Gang of Four and countless other bands that could be your life (if you didn’t already have a life). So, Pedaljets kept going, playing local shows, recording and finally, in 2012, releasing their first new material in 23 years, a single of “Terra Nova” backed with “Riverview”.  

The two songs lead off What’s In Between, the Pedaljets quarter-century-gapped third album (another version of “Terra Nova” also closes out the album). And, let’s be clear, they have more than a whiff of the 1980s in them. “Terra Nova” comes from the land where the Pixies meet Devo with its menacing, new wave bassline, its twitchy staccato guitar. “Riverview” leans more towards Americana, a boot-stomping road-house vamp under close R.E.M.-into-Jayhawks harmonies.  “Conversations,” one of the best of the new songs, splits the difference between Paisley Pop and sloppy Mats-style mayhem, a Brit-pop melody scuzzed over with beer-sticky American rock bravado. Even so, the song that popped first for me was a quiet one, the radiant but also simmering “Goodbye to All of That.” It’s the song that wraps a young man’s chiming guitar dreams in an older man’s ruefulness. It stays low to the ground but also somehow soars. Its criss-crossing shouts of “Goodbye to that” pierce the strum and clatter with a close-to-tragic resonance.

If you go back as far as the Pedaljets do, you’ve said goodbye to a lot of things, some you miss more than others.  Let’s all be glad that these guys are also saying “hello again” to a worthy if not quite star-making band.

DOWNLOAD: “Goodbye to All of That” “Terra Nova” “Conversations”

FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS – More Than Just a Dream

Album: More Than Just a Dream

Artist: Fitz and the Tantrums

Label: Elektra

Release Date: May 07, 2013

Fitz

www.elektra.com

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 Who stole the soul?

 When LA indie pop band Fitz & the Tantrum put out their debut in 2010, they managed to catch the attention of many thanks to their original take on neo-Soul and R&B. The record earned them praise from Rolling Stone on down to the basement bloggers and led to bookings on a number of late night talk shows, not to mention an invitation to join Elektra’s roster.

 But something funny happened on the way to the studio for their second effort. Someone swiped the soul and, frankly, the biggest appeal of the group’s music.  More Than Just a Dream is a perfectly ok record that can even boast one or two above-average songs, but ultimately the result is pretty underwhelming, rendering the band just another pop group with a major label record deal.   

 DOWNLOAD: “Break the Walls,” “Keeping Our Eyes Out” and “The End”

MOOD RINGS – VPI Harmony

Album: VPI Harmony

Artist: Mood Rings

Label: Mexican Summer

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Mood Rings

www.mexicansummer.com

 

BY JENNIFER  KELLY

 

Mood Rings, a five-piece out of Atlanta, concocts airy, dreamy, wholly imaginary landscapes out reverbed guitar, synthesizer and blur-edged vocals. Though sometimes tagged with the “shoegazer” label, the band lands at the very softest end of that spectrum, nearer Slowdive than Ride and far distant from the gauze-overlaid roar of My Bloody Valentine. But really, Mood Rings sounds more like last year’s slacker pop (Real Estate, Wild Nothing) or chillwave (Washed Out) than anything historical. These are whispery, wispy bits of romantic melancholia, the fey vulnerability of the vocals backed by surging crescendos of guitar and synthesizer.

 

Mood Rings songs are translucent, pastel washes of sound that swath the listener in misty wistfulness. They reach for grandeur once or twice, most notably in “Pathos & Lagrimas,” the best song on the disc, with its Cure-like epic moodiness. Elsewhere, their indefinite prettiness sometimes fades to wallpaper. It needs a sharp edge or two – like the guitar slashes of “Minor Slaloms” – to stop it from disappearing like morning fog. “Exorcised Painting” takes the aggressive guitars further into the foreground, a startling foray into rock halfway through the album. But mostly, the record oscillates between dream and electro-pop. The twitchy beat of “The Line”, another standout, grounds the track just enough to keep its sweeping, swooning vocal line from drifting off into space.

 

VPI Harmony is quite a pleasant album, though not exactly arresting. It’s the kind of record that slips by while you’re not paying attention, leaving a hazy aura of good feeling, though you can’t quite remember any of the songs.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Pathos & Lagrimas”, “The Line”