Lots of stuff going up in various places this week…here are a couple of records that I’ve really been into lately, reviewed in Dusted yesterday and today:
Howe Gelb’s last record Sno Angel Like You enlisted the gospel choir, the Voices of Praise, to fill out his sound, his cracked and wandering voice set against harmonies and counterpoints. It was, many people thought, a career highlight. With Provisions, he is back to a more minimalist sound, relying primarily on his ‘00s band – drummer Peter Dombernowsky, guitarist Anders Pederson and bassist Thoger Lund – to craft dark and open-ended grooves. Not surprisingly, given Gelb’s history of rampant collaboration, a few guests appear: M. Ward trades rockabilly licks with Gelb on the Cash-like "Can Do”; a brass band materializes once or twice; and Isobel Campbell and Neko Case add a soft balm to feverish cuts.
And yet, it’s mostly the band – brought together for Gelb’s 2002 solo effort The Listener and reconvened for Giant Sand’s 2004 Is All Over the Map – that defines Provisions. Their interaction – loose and shambling rather than rigidly controlled, oblique and implicative rather than overtly melodic – makes the record seem less like a manifesto and more like a rumination.
Consider "Increments of Love,” with its backslider’s brushes-on-snares shuffle, abrupt flares of blues guitar and deep wells of negative space. You never lose sight, during this song or most of the record’s first half, that the band started with a blank canvas and added sparingly, listening to one another as they went, and perhaps, subtracting as often as they built. This is as close to a single as Provisions has, and yet, it’s subtle, soft-spoken and very loosely put together. The most structured normal-sounding song on the CD is, not surprisingly, a PJ Harvey cover ("The Desperate Kingdom of Love”).
“Increments of Love”
Sun on Sun
Kale, Pontiak’s split with Arbouretum last summer was most people’s first taste of this band’s country tinged, trance-rock, but it was also, chronologically, its latest work. Pontiak’s second album Sun on Sun is getting wide release roughly two months later, and if the debut Valley of Cats reappears after that, the whole backwards movie will be complete. For now, listeners are in the unusual position of getting to know Pontiak the way they get to know most of their friends: starting with the present and working backwards to understand where they came from.
It does turn the idea of context on its head, though. Normally, you study the album you’ve just received (the "new" one) in light of all the others you’ve heard. Where did it come from? What were they working on before, and how did it turn into what you’ve got here? This time, the process is reversed. You’re looking for seeds that might have sprouted into what you know...and that’s harder. Acorns are so much smaller than oak trees. Still if the split with Arbouretum was bounded by polar opposites - the desert rock dirge of "Dome Under the Sky,” the light and playful John Cale cover ("Believe Me Mr. Wilson") - you can find inklings of that wide focus in Sun on Sun.