Monday, February 28, 2011

I guess I don’t like the Papercuts anymore

My review from today’s Dusted:

Something has gone very wrong with Jason Quever’s Papercuts over the last couple of albums. The tension in pop hallmark Can’t Go Back was between dreamy dissolution and insistent, guitar-driven forward motion. You could feel actual longing, actual striving in cuts like “Dear Employee,” and “John Brown,” a pulse of life even in their most cloud-gazing intervals. It was a great pop album, hinting at even bigger success to come. But with the follow-up, You Can Have What You Want Quever de-emphasized jangle and strum in favor of oozing atmospheres of sustained keyboard tones. It was easy to get lost in thick miasmas of sound, to lose the thread of the narrative and melody.

Fading Parade brings back the guitars, but continues the slide toward formlessness, with songs that are always pleasant but no longer very compelling. Quever is reaching for Spector’s all-enveloping wall of sound, but forgetting how grounded that sound was in classic rock ‘n’ roll rhythms. It was Spector, after all, who encased that archetypical “boom … ba-boom chick” beat into “Be My Baby;” there was a spine in even his most aura-fogged compositions.


“Do What You Will”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Psychic Paramount

Definitely top ten, probably top five, maybe top one...Psychic Paramount's II is out this week on Important Records.

My review at Blurt ran yesterday

An explosive burst of noise sets this CD in motion, red hot shrapnel of guitar noise flying every way from the center. Only when the shock waves have settled, does the driving, motorik beat kick in. From this point on, whistles keen, guitars scramble, bass pushes continually, frantically forward. The reckless pace continues through seven tersely named, ferociously driven tracks, with only the briefest of lyrical interludes (the end of "Intro/SP" going into "DDB" for instance). This is post-rock kamikaze-style, engines screaming engines, flames enveloping, as the music cuts a brilliant arc through space.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


Geez, I leave town for a couple of days and all this stuff runs. Today it’s my interview with Luyas’ Jessie Stein, who seemed like a very cool, confident but still kinda nice chick…I made her slightly late for yoga class and she didn’t seem to care at all.

Anyway here’s the start of my article, up now at Blurt.

"When we started the Luyas, the concept was that there were no rules about what it had to be or what it had to sound like," says Luyas singer Jessie Stein. "The band was conceived as a band for fun."

The Luyas have been keeping it fun for roughly half a decade now, playing secret shows in and around Montreal, relying on non-traditional rock instruments like French Horn, strings and a 12-string, three-bridged lute called a Moodswinger, and recording two albums. The first, Faker Death came out as a self-release in August 2007 and was reissued the following January on Pome Records. The second, Too Beautiful To Work, arrived this week on the much larger, much more visible Dead Oceans label.


"Too Beautiful to Work"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New David Kilgour

Good news, David Kilgour has another album Left By Soft coming on Merge Records this April. There’s a single available now, called “Diamond Mind,” check it out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Arbouretum’s The Gathering

How's your day going? Mine's in the toilet and circling down from there.

We're in New York, though, and we'll get to see some people we all really like here, so maybe things will get better.

In any case, I've got a review of the new Arbouretum up today at Dusted.

The music, too, begins in recognizable Americana forms and turns disquietingly toward the unreal. Heumann’s guitar solos, for instance, often start by echoing the vocal line, as if having sung the verse, he is now compelled to hear it again through the different timbres of an electric guitar. Yet as these explorations go on, they slip increasingly away from the stately structures of verse and chorus. The notes bend and turn back on themselves, tangling in a curlicued proliferation of ideas. What begins as linear progression turns into something like a kudzu’s flowering: lush, profuse and uncivilized. Only a very strong rhythm section — Brian Carey on drums and Corey Allender on bass — keeps these excursions from running amok. Indeed, on the disc’s last and longest cut, “Song of the Nile,” Heumann’s sludgy, oscillating riff repeats and evolves, caroming off a rock-solid beat, spiraling out into space again, and then plummeting back to the main theme. It’s cathartic, rather than chaotic, because of the strong foundation.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Skull Defekts

My review of what’s going to be one of my favorite records of 2011 runs today at Dusted. (By coincidence, someone else’s review of another one of my favorites is right next to it. Read Mason Jones’ take on Psychic Paramount here, if you like.)

Of Skull Defekts, I said:
Most of the cuts are founded on insistent, repetitive rhythms, hard eighths and quarters that are punched out by drums, but amplified by clanking, menacing guitars. The sound is physically propulsive, enveloping and mildly psychoactive. The beat pounds hard on the most lizardly parts of the brain, bringing a catharsis, a sheer rush of physicality. Add to this Higgs layering dank, ominous and priestly intonations over the galloping drums, and you have an aesthetic that is as engrossing as it is disturbing. You can’t look. You can’t look away.

The rest

“Peer Amid”

I'll be in NYC for a few days this week and may or may not be posting regularly.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A free song from Thomas Truax

Thomas Truax is absolutely mad, but also one of my favorite songwriters. A New Yorker, he makes his own instruments, at least some of them, and has created a fictional universe called Wowtown. (My favorite of his albums is called Full Moon in Wowtown.) If you sign up for his email updates, you'll get a fairly detailed, fairly entertaining account of what's going on in Wowtown, as well as gig notices and so on.

I interviewed him once for Splendid.

Also, he's got a free song up here, so why not give him a spin. (You have to provide an email address to get the song.)

Bambi Kino

A gimmick, but kind of a fun one, Bambi Kino was formed to celebrate (and replicate) the Beatles' first concerts in Hamburg, Germany. The people in the band are medium well-known in other contexts. (I hesitate to say "super group" but maybe "semi-super group" or possibly "well-over-average group".) They include Doug Gillard from GBV (also see yesterday's Lifeguards blog), Mark Rozzo from Maplewood, Ira Elliot from Nada Surf, and Erik Paparazzi of Cat Power's band. The band originally came together for a concert in the summer of 2009, then were invited to Hamburg to the actual Bambi Kino club to re-create the earliest Beatles concerts.

I think everybody knows that I'm more of a Stones person than Beatles, but this is early, early, early Beatles, back when they were doing a lot of covers...and the disc (self-titled, out on Tapete records) has some killer versions of early 60s songs like "Shakin All Over" (Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, but memorably covered by the Who), "Ramrod" (Duane Eddy) and "Soldier of Love" (Arthur Alexander, but also done by Marshall Crenshaw and Pearl Jam, as well as the Beatles).

So yeah, super fun and performed with a great deal of enthusiam, what's not to like?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paradise Is Not So Bad

Here’s the lead single off Waving at Astronauts, from Lifeguards, Robert Pollard’s occasional collaboration with ex-GBV guitarist Doug Gillard…it’s quite good, maybe not as good as Boston Spaceships, but eminently worth listening to.

I reviewed it for Blurt. Read the review here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Out of step again…Mogwai edition

I loved Mogwai’s new one, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will even more than I hated Let England Shake, landing, for the second day in a row, well out of the mainstream. This might be my favorite album so far this year, along with Skull Defekts Peer Amid and Psychic Paramount’s II. Perhaps I am writing for an audience of me, I don’t know, but in my review, up now at Blurt, I said:
With Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai is again aggressively tweaking its formula in ways that will offend purists, but which may be necessary if this band is to continue to satisfy its own curiosity and requirements for growth. The album starts in a shimmer and haze, in light-filled, slow motion "White Noise" which might sound like classic Mogwai if it were not so much brighter. The guitar effects seem less like murk and turmoil, more like the blinding glare off surfaces in sun. There's a transparency here, a sense of space and separation that continues, particularly through the first half of the album. It winds through buzzing, droning, pitch-shifting "Mexican Grand Prix," as close to pop as Mogwai has ever been, and distortion-bleached, drum battered "Rano Pano," and translucently beautiful "Death Rays." Even "George Square Thatcher Death Party" which sounds very much in the fuzz-crusted, over-driven vein of "Batcat" and "Glasgow Megasnake", incorporates the wavery robotics of pitch shifted vocals that bring it back to pop. A sense of play and melody leavens the heaviness in this seventh Mogwai album, especially near the front end, and if that's not what you want out of the band, too bad, that's what they're doing now.

The rest

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thank You live

Did I mention I went to see Thank You last week?

My write-up, which is kinda short and maybe not that inspired, is up now at Blurt.

Fun show.

"1-2-3 Bad" was the first song in the set.

It’s PJ Harvey day!

I’m expecting to be the low score at Metacritic…None of the reviews from today (me, Pitchfork, who knows who else) are up yet there, and we’ll see what they assign me, but I’d be surprised if it’s over 60. (Not that Dusted scores count as much as some of the other publications, in any case.) I pretty much hated the album the first time through and warmed to it only very slightly over repeated listens. Everyone else seems to love it. Pitchfork gave it an 8.8.

Sasha Frere-Jones had seemingly some of the same problems with Let England Shake as I did, though I break from him in liking White Chalk. He wrote a good piece, though it’s more of a career overview than an album review. I love his opening about squinting to see the artist you used to love. You can read his take here.

And finally my review, which concludes:

The juxtaposition of harsh imagery and bouncy tunes feels part of some larger statement, perhaps the complacency with which we tolerate war and cruelty. Still, as music, it just doesn’t work. It leads the listener into blind alleys, manipulates the emotions in odd and unsettling ways, and makes it impossible to get a grip on how you feel about any of these songs. If Harvey was aiming for a slightly nauseated ambivalence, then she should be congratulated. If she wanted to move or enlighten, Let England Shake falls short.

The rest

God, I really hate this song.

Monday, February 14, 2011


There’s a lot of girl-fronted garage pop out there right now, and most of it is kinda weak. (Literally, thin and weak and sweet, like tea with too much milk in it.) In this age of endless Vivian Girls spin-offs, you have to wonder what happened to all the tough girls – like Wendy Case from the Paybacks and Rachel Nagy from the Detroit Cobras – or gutsy, soulful women like Margaret Garrett from Mr. Airplane Man. Did Mia Zapata of the Gits really pave the way for ingratiating, kitten-cute bands like Best Coast?

Well, maybe she did.

But, as usual, it’s the fashionable stuff that’s watered down. Look below the radar and there are still some pretty good girl bands. Case in point: Sandwitches, made up of two former Fresh & Onlys, Heidi Alexander and Grace Cooper, plus drummer Lance Kramer. Their first album, How to Make Ambient Sadcake (out last year on Turn Up records), is damned fine, full of florid, girl-on-girl harmonies, bluesy licks and loosely strung swagger…you can hear little shades of Karen Dalton and Peg Simone in the vocals (though Simone is a better guitar player) and a fine tendency to avoid clichés in the lyrics and musical settings. Plus Cooper and Alexander sound like grown up women, rather than little girls (or women trying to sound like girls), which is refreshing. I like this a lot.

Thanks to Michael for ripping it for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The prolific D. Charles Speer

Sometime NNCK-er, Helix bandleader, collaborator with the late Jack Rose and musical omnivore David Charles Shuford, a.k.a. D. Charles Speer, has a couple of excellent new albums coming out this spring on Thrill Jockey.

Arghiledes, the solo disc, incorporates some really fascinating Greek elements into Shuford’s psych/drone aesthetic. It’s a tribute, at least in part, to the bouzouki master Markos Vamvakaris, and uses Greek traditional instruments including bouzouki, as well as guitar, percussion, electronics, voice and some wonderful stand-up bass on the “Lost Dervish” cut. (“Lost Dervish” is on my new mix, which I intend to get to at some point, but I’ve been busy.)

Shuford worked solo on ARghiledes (though it doesn’t sound like it…he must have spent a long time tracking). He’s with the Helix again for Leaving the Commonwealth, which is more what you’d expect if you spent any time with last year’s Ragged and Right (where he and Jack Rose and some other players channeled Link Wray’s Three Track Shack sessions). “Cumberland,” the most bluegrassy, pedal-steel-y, countrified of these tracks, is an overt tribute to Rose…but what I’m liking the best here is the really wonderful guitar playing on “Days in the Kitchen”, the Cajun fiddle-and-washboard swing of “Le Grand Cochon” and the title track, which is an all-out country rocker, in the style of Neil Young or the Band.

I can’t find any audio or video from the two new albums yet, but here’s D. Charles and the Helix tipping the hat to Jack Rose last December.

I went to see Thank You, the Baltimore noise-jam-tribal-drums outfit last night, first time to a show in ages, and it was quite short, but pretty good. They’ve been adding some vocals to their thing, which is very much in line with Baltimore’s ecstatic freaked aesthetic, and now they kinda sound like the Boredoms. It was also terribly, terribly cold last night, single digits again, so it was good to get out and do anything besides huddle around the woodstove. More on Thank You later.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Soldiers of Fortune

So, I’m not the only one around here who likes Oneida, am I?

If not, there’s a sort of side project you should probably know about. Soldiers of Fortune has got Kid Millions and Pat Sullivan (Oneida, but also Oakley Hall), as well as some fellow travelers from Home and other bands…and it’s really good. I’m extracting a bit from my hard-to-condense review from yesterday’s Dusted.

“Sleeping Sentinel” balances the jittery propulsion, the stark, open-chord vocal harmonies of Anthem of the Moon-era Oneida. It is the shortest, most structured, least jammy song on the disc, and also the best. “Worm,” the 17-minute track which takes up the entire second side of the LP, is the other extreme. The song is built around a four-note riff, pushing upward in a short, piston-like motion over a series of half notes, ramming the top one twice, then circling back for another approach. It’s repeated twice a measure over the whole length of the song, a machine-precise foundation over which pianos hammer and basses rumble and guitars execute free-wheeling screeches and nose-dives and someone (possibly Millions in his heavy rock “Did I Die” voice) shouts indecipherable imprecations. It’s also pretty freaking great.

It might make more sense (not promising anything, mind you) if you read the whole thing.

I can't find any audio or video for this, but the record's out on Mexican Summer.

By the way, I was out yesterday watching my son compete in the NH Div. III state championship for XC skiing. They won. Whoo-hoo. Sean threw up all over the place about half an hour before his race and was really sick the Monday before, but still placed third for his team.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Jon Spencer interview is up at PopMatters

See, I didn’t even say finally

“I think the best rap is really free. That’s incredibly liberating and powerful, when you use it as a way to make or even think about music,” Jon Spencer said.

The subject has come up because of the vastly expanded reissues of Blues Explosion’s landmark third and fifth albums, Orange from 1994 and Acme from 1999. In one sense, both albums are raw and live and stripped down, rooted in early rock and soul. But on the other hand, they are clearly linked to hip-hop, in obvious ways like the use of scratching and heavy, bass-driven beats, and in less obvious ones, like Orange‘s use of remixes.

That’s because if you got in the van with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion any time in the early 1990s, you were likely to hear rap. Public Enemy was on all the time, Spencer remembers. Ice Cube was another favorite. “We have always been influenced by rap music,” Spencer recalled.

Read the rest

Down and out in Westchester County

I've been really enjoying the new record from Phineas and the Lonely Leaves, a bittersweet bit of Americana concerned, to large extent, about living on the wrong side of the have/have not divide. The kicker is that the band is from Westchester County, so their dead-ends abut on some unusal places. You don't hear a lot of country songs about Peekskill, New York, but it's a pretty good one, nonetheless. I suppose that when you really hit the skids (to the point where you're picking up other people's butts and smoking them and wondering why no one will give you a ride), it doesn't help that there's a stockbroker living next door.

Anyway, it's a good one. Here's the title track:

"The Kids We Used to Be"

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Two Koreas “Midnight Brown”

I’ve been really kind of liking this Canadian post-punk band’s third and latest album (the first for me), which is called Science Island and it’s coming out early in March on Last Gang Records.

I still might write about it somewhere, but meanwhile, I’m thinking some of you guys (Simon, are you out there?) might like this bristle-y, abrasive video (which reminds me a little of that Thrill Jockey band, Double Dagger). I haven’t gotten all the way through it, because it takes forever on dial-up. Still the first 15 seconds (which I’ve watched about 30 times) are awesome.

Jane, you ignorant slut

Two perspectives on the new Aurelio album, Laru Beya, up today at Blurt. One of them is mine…I said:

“Martinez's second album, Laru Beya brings in not just the Garifuna influences of Martinez's childhood, but, through guest appearances, a global palette of sounds. Youssou N'Dour, who was assigned to Martinez through the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, sings on some of the tracks, memorably on "Wamada." Senegal's Orchestra Baobob supplies a sinuous swing in others. There's an island-slinky, reggae-esque horn line swaggering through "Nuwaruguma," a butt-shaking samba beat under the West African call and response of "Ereba." The title track juxtaposes back-slanting, upbeat-popping Caribbean rhythms with a melting warmth and ease.

None of that would matter if the songs weren't good, but the fact is that they are. In any case, the songs fit together so well that you can't even tell where one tradition begins and the other ends. If it's all one world, as the cliché goes, and perhaps it's all one song as well.

The remainder of my review

The other guy, who apparently got liner notes and credits (I got an unmarked disc in a paper sleeve) concluded:

Belizean producer Ivan Duran, long experienced in Central American music adds sparkling technique, tastes and sounds to some masterful tunes. His tremolo guitar adds a special glow and extra texture. Beside Aurelio's virtuoso vocals and the wonderful backup singers, the star is the massive percussion. Everything under the sun is here - congas, maracas, shakers, tama drums, Garifuna drums, saber drum, turtle shells, calabash, bongos, conch shells and of course the jawbone of an ass - all artfully recorded and presented. A minor masterpiece has arrived, dedicated to Andy Palacio and presented with love to the Garifuna people.

Lee’s review

“Laru Beya”

“Tio Sam”

Also, Evan Hanlon from Dusted really hates the new White Fence, which I still haven’t heard yet, but it sounds like he wouldn’t have liked the first one either. We both still like the Soft Pack though, I think.

His scathing review.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Shipping News

I’m a bit late on the Shipping News’ One Less Heartless to Fear, which came out last November on Noise Pollution Records. Better late than never, though, because this is exactly the kind of bass-clanking, drum-battering, politically-engaged rant that I like best. Slint and the rest of the Midwestern post-rock contingent are the easy reference here, since the principals all come from Louisville, Kentucky. Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller were in Rodan with Tara Jane O’Neill. Todd Cook, the bass player, used to be in June of 44. You can also hear links to the heaviest, most abrasive sorts of post-punkers – Gang of Four (early on), Volcano Suns and, in a more modern vein, Black Helicopter.

The single, which is called “The Delicate,” is fierce and noisy and uncompromising, maybe the best song on the disc. It’s available on Soundcloud if you want to check it out.

There’s also a live video of “The Antebellum”

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Demdike Stare’s Tryptych

A pretty amazing three-CD compilation from this U.K. electronic duo, Tryptych makes available, in one set, three previous albums Forest of Evil, Liberation Through Hearing and Voices of Dust, plus considerable additional material. Demdike Stare is a collaboration between Sean Canty (of the Finders Keepers label) and Miles Whittaker (aka MLZ and part of Pendle Coven). There’s a dark, chilled, underwater vibe to many of these compositions…which comes clear, really, only on the headphones. (Don’t try this stuff in the car.) I’m never really sure, with this kind of music, whether you’re supposed to appreciate the sounds themselves (painstakingly located through crate-digging) or the way they’re put together (also rather tricky and difficult). The tracks I like best, “Bardo Thodol,” for instance, and “Hashshashin Chant,” are built around very interesting, middle-eastern-sounding source material and given a glaze of electronic modernity.

The two “Forest of Evil” tracks, are also excellent. Dusted’s Bernardo Rondeau described them like this:
Purportedly inspired by library music, Forest of Evil‘s two, side-long suites feels less like a chapter of the Demdike trilogy than its extended overture. From the cavernous gusts rushing through side one, ringing stalactites like wind chimes, the aforementioned “Dusk” solidifies into spacious, echo-drenched syncopations. Meanwhile, the juddering, migraine mandalas and steel-plated monsoons of side two (“Dawn”) makes for its doomdsday, dubstep-paced foil. Between the two, the perimeters of planet Demdike Stare is mapped out in all its terrifying vastness.

Read the rest of his review here.

I haven’t listened to this nearly enough to get to the bottom of it. It’s two hours and forty minutes long, for one thing, and way outside my zone of knowledge, for another. (Also, I’m not sure it has a bottom.) Still it’s been a very interesting diversion over the last couple of weeks, and while I may not know enough to write about Tryptych, I can, in any case, recommend it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

My favorite paragraph from my review of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s Love Is a Stream.
As a founding member of Tarentel, the proprietor of the Roots Strata label and a sometime participant in kraut-ish Alps, Cantu-Ledesma is well versed in the use of drone and repetition. Repetition is a kind of short-hand for eternity; the same small phrase reiterated continually can shed its particulars and reach for the universal. Yet, with Love Is a Stream, Cantu-Ledesma seems to go beyond repetition into a kind of spiritually enlightened stasis. Layers of sound seem to co-exist not sequentially but simultaneously, the prominence of altered vocals, guitar sounds and wavering curtains of tone shifting forward and back. “Where You End and I Begin,” the most compelling of these tracks, juxtaposes a hauntingly distant vocal melody against the tension of guitar static, so that both exist at once, in varying relative strengths, for most of the song’s duration. Listening to the song is like glimpsing a world outside of time, where everything exists at once, eternal and unchanging.

Read the rest at Dusted.

And a non-video of my favorite cut “Where You End and I Begin”

Two feet of snow coming today, oh boy! Break out the shovels. (And the brandy)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scott Tuma

I’ve got a review up at Dusted of Scott Tuma’s Dandelion, a sort of ambient, atmospheric exploration of folk and blues from the Souled American and Boxhead Ensemble guitarist.

Listening to Dandelion is much like wandering through someone else’s subconscious, brushing past fragments of melody, mood and evocation as you move from room to room. Tuma’s trick is to make deeply familiar sounds – a music box, a few guitar chords, the plink of banjo – sound mysterious, meaningful and, perhaps, a bit frightening. The music box that plays gently in “San Luis Free 2E” is fraught with emotion, a scrap of memory that evokes childhood innocence, even while surrounding it with an ominous hiss. Likewise, “Old Woman” submerges the strum of guitar in cloudy overtones, dissonance building a wall between the listener and the resolution he or she seeks. There’s a sense of loss as familiar, well-loved sounds recede into the distance.


Here he is playing some non-album material with a bunch of Chicago luminaries (well, a coupla guys from Califone anyway).