Monthly Archives: July 2013

QUASIMOTO – Yessir Whatever

Album: Yessir Whatever

Artist: Quasimoto

Label: Stones Throw

Release Date: June 18, 2013

Quasimoto

(Stones Throw)

 BY RON HART

 Its been a good eight years since Madlib’s animated alter ego Quasimoto checked in with 2005’s The Further Adventures of Lord Quas.

 But absence has indeed made the hip-hop heart grow fonder for the famed West Coast producer’s pigfaced, helium-voiced nom de plume, so much that even a collection of odds and ends spanning the 20 years of Quas’ existence is cause for applause.

 12 songs clocking in at (TK) minutes, Yessir Whatever maintains the feel of a proper full-length despite its patchwork origins, however.  So much, in fact, that you can barely tell which songs are from 2000 (an early version of The Unseen track “Green Power”), 2002 (“Astronaut”, the title track from a limited edition EP) or 2005 (the rare 2005 b-side “Seasons Change”) as Madlib’s seamless production brings a fluidity that defies time and space even by the astral traveling standards of “the poor man Gorillaz”.

 Not to mention the fact that Yessir continues to place emphasis on the Lord’s obsession with iconic rock album art. This time, it’s the iconic Andy Warhol banana from the Velvet Undergound and Nico LP, reconfigured in the image of Quas himself to reveal the pink innards underneath his yellowy veneer.

 Yessir Whatever may not be as essential as other titles in the extensive Madlib library, but is definitely worth checking out if you dig the id of his art.

 DOWNLOAD: “Seasons Change”, “Planned Attack”

MAJESTIC 12 – The Majestic 12 years 1994-1998

Album: The Majestic 12 years 1994-1998

Artist: Majestic 12

Label: Shelflife

Release Date: July 02, 2013

Majestic

www.shelflife.com

BY TIM HINELY

Majestic 12 were a Southern California band that existed in the mid-90’s (as the title says) and went for a real slow, drowsy sound (think Galaxie 500, Sugar Plant and early Low). Shortly afterwards the band did a complete 180 and left behind the somnambulant sounds (when vocalist Jana Whittren  left to join another Shelflife band, The Arrogants) for something much bouncier and poppier (think of Rocketship’s most ebullient moments).

This 12-song comp features all three of the bands 7” singles and six tracks that were unreleased.  Opening cut “Lost and Found” is a gorgeous swirls of guitars/vocals that drifts into a maelstrom of those same guitars while “Nothing on TV,” one of the bands best songs, picks up the beat a bit and slips in a snappy melody and “Your Are the One” adds some cheery jangle. A few of the songs get lost in their own trail of gauze (“Heaven”, etc.), but most of this comp is strong and you’ll wonder why the band never got bigger. Leader Scott Schultz went on to greater fame as co-creator of popular children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba.

Take a slow dive in and stare straight up.

DOWNLOAD: “Lost and Found,” “Nothing on TV,” “You Are the One,” “The Day”

SURF PUNKS – Locals Only

Album: Locals Only

Artist: Surf Punks

Label: Real Gone Music

Release Date: June 04, 2013

Surf Punks

www.realgonemusic.com

BY TIM HINELY

Wow, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to see this one again. Me and my surfing pals in South Jersey listened to this band quite a bit circa 1982-’83.  Knowing full well that they were a goofy novelty act but hey, they were funny, kitschy and some of the songs were really good.  This is the band’s sophomore effort form 1982 (the band’s debut, My Beach, was released by Epic in 1980 though the band released it independently the year before and is the better one of the two).

The band was essentially the work of two sun-bleached dudes from Southern California, Drew Steele and Dennis Dragon (brother of Daryl Dragon form the Captain and Tennille fame) though on this record the band expanded to a six piece with other folks adding guitars and keyboards.  The music is a mix of new wave, no wave and Zappa-inspired lunacy with odd guitar solos nudging up against synth swirls. While songs like “No Fat Chicks”  and “I’m a Valley” might appeal to the junior high stoner in you, other songs like the opening title track,  the driving “Water Sports” and the reggae-ish “Hey, Mr. Lifeguard” show that the band’s got chops and really are musicians.

This reissue is remastered, has two bonus cuts and includes liner notes from Mr. Dennis Dragon himself. Tune in, turn on and drop in.

DOWNLOAD: “Locals Only,”  “Shark Attack,” “Water Sports,” “Hey Mr. Lifeguard”

HERB ALPERT – Fandango

Album: Fandango

Artist: Herb Alpert

Label: Shout Factory

Release Date: March 19, 2013

Herb Alpert Fandango

www.shoutfactory.com

 BY MIKE SHANLEY

 Although Herb Alpert has never attempted to play serious jazz, his music shares one common trait with the best jazz musicians: he’s always moved forward, never sticking with one thing for too long. Even when he was cranking out albums with the Tijuana Brass, the best ones contained enough variety to distinguish them from one another.

By 1982, the Brass was a distant memory. Alpert hadn’t slowed down, bringing his discography count up to 27, with his most recent hit being the genuinely funky Rise (1979), one of the biggest singles of his career. With Fandango, album 28, he wanted to revisit the Latin influence that had factored into “The Lonely Bull” and his first run of hits. He recorded it in Mexico City, with half the 11 songs written by Spanish composer Juan Carlos Calderon. The album was released simultaneously by the trumpeter’s A&M label and its Latin imprint AyM Discos.

 But while going for the Latin vibe, times had changed. This was an era when studios were making the crack of a snare drum sound more like boozh. The word “lite” was popping up everywhere, and was even infiltrating the funk of a bassist like Abraham Laboriel. And if orchestral strings weren’t sappy enough, even they were starting to be replaced by keyboards that tried to replicate them.

 It was a slick, polished setting, a far cry from the 12-string guitar/marimba textures that made albums like Going Places so unique. All of it would be nothing more than a dated time piece if not for one thing: Alpert himself. That trumpet, with its Mariachi brashness and the clarity of a classical player, adds a plucky spark to the music, and keeps at least a few songs from becoming Latin muzak. The title track opens the album with a jagged trumpet melody and stop-start rhythm that gets a boost from some percussion and a quick break by Laboriel. “Highway 101” breezes along like a jaunt down that road, its melody sticking with you in the process. The same can be said for “Sugarloaf,” which has the most credible Latin accompaniment.

 Still, a few things were bad ideas then and now. Somehow Alpert — the king of “Ameriachi” — never learned to speak Spanish. So when he sang “Quiéreme Tal Como Soy (Love Me the Way I Am)” phonetically, it came across that way. Even the sincerity of his plain voice can’t save the performance, or the song itself, which keeps threatening to turn into Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” Throughout the album it’s honestly hard to tell whether the obtrusive strings are the real things or the synthetic ones, but either way, they detract from the arrangements. Too much of the album tries to create a smooth setting, when it would have been better off leaving in some rough edges add some extra vitality to the music.

 DOWNLOAD: “Fandango,” “Highway 101.”

 

 

Shugo Tokumaru 7/11/13, NYC

Dates: July 11, 2013

Location: Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Shugo

BY MARK JENKINS

Japanese toy-pop visionary Shugo Tokumaru plays nearly all the parts on his elaborately layered recordings, which poses an obvious problem in concert. Several problems, actually. Should Tokumaru perform with pre-recorded backing tracks, risking the sterility of so much contemporary mechano-music? Or should he employ a Brian Wilson-sized backup ensemble that can reproduce every timbre of the studio work? And could he even afford to travel with such a group?

Tokumaru quickly, and splendidly, revealed his strategy at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, where he and a backing quintet played the only East Coast show of a five-date U.S. tour. Passages were elongated or abbreviated, established tempos were slowed or accelerated and instruments highlighted in the recordings were replaced with different ones. “Shirase,” the upbeat epic from Tokumaru’s latest album, In Focus?, became gentler in concert, while the lilting “Parachute” (from 2008’s Exit) turned more boisterous.

The effect was lively and engaging, and true to the spirit of the original versions. The alterations kept the music frisky and surprising, just like the musician’s immaculate yet never prissy albums. Tokumaru spoke about as many English words as he uses in his lyrics, but the pleasure he took in making this music — and from the unexpectedly small but utterly devoted audience — was apparent.

It came late in the hour-long set, when his approach had already been thrillingly demonstrated, but Tokumaru’s cover of “Video Killed the Radio Star” was characteristic. The band leader switched from guitar to ukulele for a stripped-down version that lost none of the Buggles’ arch energy. He interjected the tune’s synth hook on a kazoo, which was funny, charming and altogether apt.

It’s hard to imagine how these songs sounded at Tokumaru’s European shows in May, which featured just two backing players, drummer Yoshinari Kishida and multi-instrumentalist Yumiko Hishinuma (who records her own albums under the name Mesomeso). Both were present for this show, in rather different roles. Kishida never left his drums, although sometimes the kit didn’t seem large enough to contain his enthusiasm. Hishinuma alternated among — a partial list — accordion, trumpet, flute, whistle, melodica, and toy xylophone. Sometimes she sang a tiny but crucial hook, doing so once while making a hand puppet punch its fists in time to the music.

Kei Tanaka played mostly bass, although he sometimes sawed it with a bow, and once switched to ukulele. Itoken handled percussion and keyboards, while Chanson Sigeru employed as many noisemakers as Hishinuma, but without the accordion or wind instruments.

It’s telling that four of the five musicians often played percussion. When performing music as chimey, clangy and clattery as Tokumaru’s, there can never be enough bells, cymbals, gongs and hand claps. But the show’s crucial ingredients were whimsy, spontaneity and joy.

ELEPHANT STONE – Elephant Stone

Album: Elephant Stone

Artist: Elephant Stone

Label: Hidden Pony

Release Date: February 12, 2013

Elephant Stone

www.hiddenpony.ca

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 Jump into a time warp. And set the controls for the heart of the sun. Elephant Stone’s latest, the Montreal quartet’s third opus to date, brings to mind the keyboard-driven prog of now obscure outfits like Quatermass, Van Der Graf Generator, and other adventurous Brit bands circa the late ‘60s, those whose penchant for heavy slabs of Hammond organ, Eastern indulgence, freeform psychedelia and eerie atmospherics set a decidedly celestial tone. Cosmic concoctions of this sort are all too rare these days, so it’s rather refreshing to hear this sound revisited, particularly with the added investment in melody that Elephant Stone tends to allow.

 Even so, the lysergic suggestion borne by “A Silent Moment,” “Sally Go Round the Sun” and “The Sea of Your Mind” gives pause for reflection, meditation and wide-eyed wonderment. Those who prefer more terrestrial terrain might be best off opting for “Setting Sun” and “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin,” which find the band in more rousing and robust mode. All those interested would be best advised to dust off the strobe lights, light some incense and whatever else desired, and proceed to inhale. Just not too deep.

 DOWNLOAD “Setting Sun,” “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin,” “The Sea of Your Mind”

HAYDEN – Us Alone

Album: Us Alone

Artist: Hayden

Label: Arts & Crafts

Release Date: February 05, 2013

Hayden

www.arts-crafts.ca

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Hayden Desser, or Hayden as he’s known to his admirers, has had as low-cast a career as his unassuming songs would suggest. For the better part of the past 15 years, he’s pursued a singular muse, releasing an array of singles and EPs without regard for mainstream success. After disappearing entirely for a few years, he finally inked a deal with a real record label and upped the ante from his stripped-down soirees to more fully realized soundscapes. #Us Alone# is evidence that Hayden’s succeeded, at least in terms of creating songs that mesmerize through sheer depth and dimension.

 On the surface, the material may appear as unassuming as always – note the lowered gaze and dry delivery of “Motel,” the tenuous approach of “Instructions” and the offhanded attitude of “Just Give Me a Name” – but the affirmative backbeat and steady thump of tracks like “Blurry Nights” and “Rainy Saturday” suggest that Hayden’s capable of more than mere shoe gaze. Subtlety and finesse are the watchwords here, two elements that deliver artistic intrigue. Hayden tempts his listeners to probe well below the surface, wrapping his melodies in layers and textures too sumptuous to resist.

DOWNLOAD: “Motel,” “”Instructions,” “Blurry Nights”

JENN GRANT – The Beautiful Wild

Album: The Beautiful Wild

Artist: Jenn Grant

Label: Six Shooter

Release Date: January 22, 2013

Jenn Grant

www.sixshooterrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

The Beautiful Wild, the fourth album from Canadian chanteuse Jenn Grant, is filled with elusive charms and a bounty of unexpected twists and turns. Anyone who takes the time to give a closer listen will find it yielding rich rewards — the pair of incredibly catchy choruses accompanying “I’ve Got Your Fire” and “I Want You Back,” a wholly unexpected take on Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” that deconstructs the original with an alluring expression of dreams and desire, and a voice at the helm that’s sensuous, seductive and unfailingly suggestive.

Yet, it also can prove confounding. Is this a live album or is it not? The swirling concert intro suggests that it is, but the absence of any audience reaction seems to dispel that notion as well. A curious homegrown recording of the traditional “Green Grow the Roses,” circa 1958, adds further curiosity with origins unknown. But the most bewildering aspect of all is the intimacy that’s implied; despite a cast of thousands — okay, maybe a couple dozen — songs like “Michael,” “AIda” and “Hollywood” are marked by a measured pace and vocals that practically purr in the ear. For Grant, subtlety is key, but the payoff is plentiful.

DOWNLOAD: “I’ve Got Your Fire,” “I Want You Back,” “Hollywood”

BIG DEAL – June Gloom

Album: June Gloom

Artist: Big Deal

Label: Mute

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Big Deal

www.mute.com

 BY MISCHA PEARLMAN

 Big Deal’s 2011 debut album, Lights Out, was a collection of songs so fragile and delicate that it sounded like they would fall apart were it physically possible to touch them. Trading vocals, heartaches and fading romantic visions of youth with each other, KC Underwood and Alice Costelloe—who’s only now just 19 years of age—created a work of beautiful, tender melancholy.

 Musically, these twelve songs have a slightly stronger constitution—especially the fierce feedbacked fuzz that underpins “Teradactol”—but that overwhelming sense of existential loss and wasted youth is as salient as ever. The difference is that here, the pair are more defiant about succumbing to the inevitable. “Don’t wanna fall asleep knowing I never did my best,” they harmonize on opener “Golden Light”, setting the tone of the rest of the album.

 Because this is a band who are still lost, who are still looking for the answers to life and who are still working out exactly what love is – and whether the loss that follows it is worthwhile. Unlike before, however, they’ve realized that it’s okay to be lost, and they’ve embraced that confusion. And so, “In Your Car” is a soul-searching road trip that balances an ever-so-slightly-grungey tune with a catchy chorus of upbeat optimism, reveling in the revelation of carpe diem that “I wanna be wherever you are…”.

 Similarly, “Swapping Spit” embraces the fact that “We got nowhere else to go” with jangling, driven vitality. Elsewhere, the simple, majestic strumming of “Pristine” is full of unfulfilled longing and desire, while the near six-minutes of “Close Your Eyes” ends the album with a lugubrious lament in which Underwood and Costelloe take turns ruminating on the past to a plaintive guitar before the song bursts in a beautiful wash of melancholy noise. It’s a definitive, apocalyptic ending—“Not everything that lives can grow”, they mourn forlornly—but, despite the finality of whatever has passed passing, it’s also strangely hopeful. Because it’s a reminder that there are people out there constantly trying to find those ineluctable answers, that there are people still trying to make sense of the world and capture the beauty they find within it, however fleeting it may be. This album balances that joy and sadness perfectly and powerfully.

 DOWNLOAD: “Close Your Eyes”, “In Your Car” 

RICHARD PINHAS – Desolation Row

Album: Desolation Row

Artist: Richard Pinhas

Label: Cuneiform

Release Date: May 21, 2013

Richard Pinhas

www.cuneiformrecords.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Richard Pinhas has been a provocateur since the 1960s, building shifting, shivering, monuments of noise with treated guitars, synthesizers, drums and a collection of like-minded souls. First with Heldon, later as a solo artist, more recently as a collaborator with Merzbow and Pascal Comelade, Pinhas has layered guitar texture on guitar texture in vast oceanic swells of sound. Movement in his pieces seems to rise up from the depths, pulsing through iridescent sprays and squalls like some elaborately muscled, violent beast. For Desolation Row, Pinhas’ 16th solo record, the artist is flanked by noise experimenters Oren Ambarchi, Lasse Marhaug, Etienne Jaumet and Nowl Akchote, who bend guitar and pedal sounds into massive, free-form shapes. Drummer Erick Borelva keeps these extended feedback and overtone symphonies in motion, pummeling rainbow shimmering auras into kraut-y propulsion.

“Moog,” the album’s sprawling centerpiece, pulses and vibrates like an electric aura, its keyboard line ardent and full of purpose, its surrounding sounds flaring and fading like fire you breathe on. Pinhas considers cardinal compass points (“North,” “South”), geometric shapes (“Square,” “Circle”) and varieties of sonic experience (“Moog” and “Drone 1”) in this abstracted firestorm, the tracks crackling with sparks that jump from one sound to the next. I like best the tracks that have the clearest rhythmic through-line, like the rushing, roaring second half of “South”, techno-pulsing “North,” but there is something heady in the cuts that spread out in every direction, a la “Drone 1”, blanketing silence with a striated, ever-shifting mesh of loosely collated sound.

DOWNLOAD: “Moog”, “South”