Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Crazy glam rock and spooky whispers

Here are two reviews of albums that could not be more different...well, maybe they could, but they're pretty different. Loud stuff first, quiet stuff later.

From Dusted:

Starlight Desperation
Take It Personally

Take It Personally is the Starlite Desperation’s third full-length, and their first formal outing since Violate a Sundaewas released by Capitol’s Cold Sweat imprint in 2004. The songs, apparently, had a long gestation period. You can hear a couple of them on a WFMU radio show from 2004, DJ’d by Dusted contributor Mike Lupica. Three of the best cuts – "We Don’t Do Time", "My Violin" and "I Lost My Bees" – made their first appearance on a tour-only CD called We Don’t Do Time.

Despite the evident time lag, there’s nothing stale about this CD. It’s fresh, taut and ferocious, its garage rock primitivism in uneasy equilibrium with glam-tinged flash and posing. Consider the riff on "I Lost My Bees," the bass muttering, the guitars off the rails like "Peter Gunn" gone mad. The sense of darkness, the echo, the drama all remind me of the Wipers, but there’s a lush theatricality in these tunes at odds with post-punk’s minimal aesthetic. For a good 30 seconds, on the 12/8 blues, "I Love This!!," singer Dante Adrian sounds exactly like Freddy Mercury, all flourish and preen above gritty guitar vamps.

The rest

Here's that radio show

And speaking of WFMU, why not tune in this afternoon and listen to Stephen Stapleton of Nurse with Wound? How? When? Info here.

And a video of "Spirit Army" live in Columbus last Halloween.

And on a completely different note...here's the new one from Boduf Songs, a hushed, acoustic folk (sort of) solo project from Mat Sweet. (Not Matthew Sweet, BTW.) He's got a new one out on Kranky, reviewed in today's PopMatters.

Boduf Songs
How Shadows Change the Balance
US release date: 30 September 2008
UK release date: Available as import

by Jennifer Kelly

And even when we fall, we sigh, we sigh, we sigh

"All of my heros died in one day, all of them fallen away,” whispers Mat Sweet, the sole proprietor of Boduf Songs, as his third album opens, keeping slow time on acoustic guitar. “Swinging from nooses, wrists open wide.” It’s a shocking image, a violent, inexplicable verse, yet couched in such gentle sonic terms—a strum, a sigh, a wash of cymbals—that you may not hear it for what it is at first. There’s a thread of unease running through these eight minimalist reveries, a hint of supernatural dread, and yet also serenity and loveliness. They are so quiet that you really have to listen—no car CD, this one—but once you do, you are drawn in to a mysterious other space.

The rest of the review

There are a bunch of Boduf Songs, packaged up in a zip file .

Monday, September 29, 2008

Not the Fall, but who is?

OK, first a word about my marathon. I did a 3:50, which would be fairly disgraceful if I were 25, but is not so, so bad when I am 47. I felt pretty good afterwards. I listened to tunes the whole way, on random, and decided that...

1. BRMC's "American X" may not be a great song overall, but it is a fantastic song for running long distance to. It goes on and on, and envelopes you in a dark, echoey cave. If you listen to it twice in a row, you can get 2 miles out of the way just like that.

2. Glenn Mercer's "Wheels in Motion" is quite possibly a great song, but its languid beat and insistence that there is no hurry about ANYTHING is simply not helpful.

3. It is good to have friends along. When Dustdevil's version of "Hip Priest" came on, it was like having a good buddy cheering from the sidelines...when Dave DeCastro's "All that Remains" followed, I felt like the god of random shuffling was looking out for me.

4. You can't really listen to music after about 21 miles. You hear it. You can't process it. You also can't count to ten.

Oh, and I have a review up today, of a band that sort of, kind of sounds like the FAll, but I forgive them because I don't think they actually meant to copy.

XX Teens
Welcome to Goon Island
US release date: 30 September 2008
UK release date: 28 July 2008

by Jennifer Kelly

Another Prole Art Threat

The Fall would have to rank high on anybody’s list of bands impossible to imitate. Even if you got the right rumbly-clanking bass line, even if the drums were suitably claustrophobic and robotic, even if you found an arresting but meaningless phrase to repeat over and over, the fact remains: you are not Mark E. Smith. End of story. So, when I say that XX Teens come close, that’s not nothing. It’s a fairly remarkable accomplishment. It’s even more impressive since it may not be what they’re aiming for.

Welcome to Goon Island is the first full-length for this London-based, art-school-credentialed quintet, a barrage of stuttering, bass-buzzing beats; oblique, sometimes surreally funny lyrics; and stinging, minimalist guitars. That’s the basic recipe, but there is no shortage of added ingredients. You will also hear, at various intervals, a full-brass band, a 2 Tone saxophone, steel drums, syrupy harp arpeggios and a long monologue with peace activist Brian Haws. The phrase “anything goes” comes to mind.

Read the rest here


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pray for me...

Tommorow's the big day. I'm running the Clarence De Mar marathon for, I don't know, the 6th or 7th time. (So it's not THAT big of a day.)

Anyway, today, I picked up my number, bought some goo, loaded up my shuffle and ate a chocolate covered donut, so if I'm not ready tomorrow, it's not for lack of preparation.

Wish me luck. I'll be out there between 8 and (hopefully a little before) 12 EDT.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm interviewing Isobel Campbell today...

...about her collaboration with Mark Lanegan, Sundays at Devil Dirt.

It's been out for a while, I think, but V2 just picked it up for the US market.

Couple of videos, first "Revolver"

"Why Does My Head Hurt So?"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I review a huge, fascinating Chekhov DVD set...

I thought this turned out fairly well, this review of the BBC's complete set of Chekhov plays, which ran today in PopMatters.

The Anton Chekhov Collection
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Rex Harrison, Ian Holm, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins, Janet Suzeman, Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud
US release date: 2 August 2008 (BBC)
by Jennifer Kelly

In all Chekhov plays, you can be certain of three things: a doctor will be one of the sympathetic characters, there will be an extended meditation on the value of hard work, and the scene where the characters first walk on the stage will be the one where they are as happy as they will ever be.

This new compendium of BBC-produced Chekhov plays contains over 1,000 minutes of material, acted by a who’s who of British theater. It includes all four of the great classics (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard), as well as a smattering of early materials, radio plays, short-story adaptations and readings, and a very interesting piece on the current Moscow Arts Theater’s workshops with English student and professional actors.

The six-DVD set is exhaustive (and, if you view too much of it in one go, exhausting) but provides a real depth of insight into these plays and their possibilities. For instance, there are two interpretations of The Cherry Orchard, one a black-and-white film adaption by John Gielgud from the 1960s, the other a 1981 play-for-television version. What’s interesting—and what points to the continuing fascination of Chekhov for some of the world’s best actors—is that Dame Judi Dench appears in both. In the earlier version, she plays the effervescent teenager Anya, hair pulled back in a braid, eyes sparkling and ready to fall in love. Twenty years later, she is the spendthrift aristocrat Madame Ranevskaya, worn out by life and about to lose her cherry orchard. The acting styles in the two productions could not be more different, the older version broader, more theatrical, and revealing a certain sexual heat between the boorish Lopatkin and Madame Ranevskaya (Peggy Ashcroft in this version). The newer one, on the other hand, is more closely shot and subtler, adapted obviously for the small screen, yet it would be very hard to say which is better.

The rest

A non-DVD performance of “The Seagull”

And, “The Three Sisters”

And look, here’s a very young Judi Dench in “The Cherry Orchard”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apse...Galloping through ominous landscapes

Very impressive drone-kraut-experimental full-length from Apse, a band now based on Cape Cod...good stuff if you're into bands like Bardo Pond, JOMF, Oneida, etc.

Here's the PopMatters review:

US release date: 19 August 2008
UK release date: 7 July 2008

by Jennifer Kelly

A galloping beat runs nearly all the way through Apse’s Spirits, the debut full-length released late in 2006 then reissued this summer by All Tomorrow’s Parties. It starts in “From the North,” with founder Ezer Lichtenstein (since departed from the band) pounding out a hurtling, headlong rhythm of toms and snares. He creates a physical sense of forward motion, driving the tunes over the ominous, nocturnal spaces established by guitarist and singer Robert Toher. Yet there is also an otherworldly spirituality in these cuts. Heavily processed “la la la las” float in disembodied mirages, both in this cut and the “Legions” that follows it. On wonderful, “Shade of the Moore,” a sleepy waltz, a music box melody is allowed to flower briefly before it implodes into urgent, driving rhythms. Subterranean low-end, insinuated among drum crashes by guitarist turned and bassist Aaron Piccirillo, reinforces the sense of movement through darkness in this cut. You can almost feel the wind in your hair.

One bit of still tranquility breaks this album’s powerful rush. That comes with “Wind Through Walls,” a serene and sunny interval of psychedelia. Here, piano chords and wordless voices echoing through empty halls, in an expansive, trippy atmosphere that is still wholly rooted in melody. If you have been thinking Amon Düüland Can up to now (and perhaps, on the basis of the vocals only, Radiohead), you will suddenly find your mind slipping to Pink Floyd. Yet it is a temporary lull in the restless race to the end, the epic title track. Here mystery and calm co-exist somehow with rampant motion, an eye in the storm, a zen stillness amidst all-consuming effort.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm an amateur again

Yesterday Philadelphia Weekly axed all their freelancers, eliminating my third and only remaining paid music gig...so I guess I'm just a blogger now like everybody else, and what I do has no monetary value at all.

So cheers, whatever, nice to know where you stand.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cultural notes from all over

Had a nice slacker weekend…three movies, a trip to the Borders to read the music magazines and listen to big hipster records and my last significant run before my marathon (which is next Sunday). Here are some random observations…

Okkervil River’s The Stand-Ins…just not as exciting as Stage Names, on the basis of one partial play in the car.

Black Kids…oh my god, how dreadful, what the hell is wrong with the world? First Vampire Weekend now this, blech, ptui, I spit it out.

Baby Mama…would have been funnier if they’d let Tina Fey write it, instead of just acting in it. Not bad, but nothing on the movie was as entertaining as the 30 Rock trailer at the beginning.

Tropic Thunder…do you have a teenaged boy around the house? You should really take him to see this movie. Tee-hee…yuck…tee-hee.

Burn After Reading…Who knew that Brad Pitt was funny? The scene with him in the car trying to blackmail the Malkovich character is worth the whole ticket price.

Also, on Friday, I set a new record…four Dusted reviews in a week. I have, obviously, nothing in the pipeline there now, so better get back to work. But first Kath Bloom, she’s sort of amazing, in a fragile, folky-warm kind of way…

Kath Bloom
Sing the Children Over & Sand In My Shoe / Terror
(Chapter Music)

As an artist, Kath Bloom is best known for her early 1980s work with experimental guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors. It was a collaboration that worked because of differences as much as common ground. Their timbres – Bloom’s high fragile soprano, Connors’ eerie altered blues licks – seemed to exist in a shared parallel universe, wavering, indefinite and haunting.

Still, there’s no denying that Bloom’s approach to singing was far more conventional than Connors’ approach to guitar. This year’s reissues of the pair’s Sing the Children Over from 1982 and Sand in My Shoe a year later, testify to the power of their odd blend – Bloom warm, humane and deeply attached to folk and blues tradition, Connors breaking loose from field blues licks for otherworldly overtones and dissonances.

Read more here.

A kinda strange origami video of “It’s So Hard to Come Home” (with Loren Connors)

Live on public access TV

“Come Here” in Before Sunrise

Friday, September 19, 2008

Short, rushed and enthusiastic…two from PW

Reviewing stuff for Philadelphia Weekly is a lot of fun. You pitch records on Wednesday or Thursday, find out Friday if you got any of them, and then spend Friday evening and Saturday trying to get the damn downloads, and Sunday trying to have some sort of opinion on them…by Monday, you’re on the hook for 100 words each, and by Monday night it’s over like it never happened. And, weirdly, the people who bug you about reviewing their records are completely satisfied with this. They even seem to prefer PW reviews to the long, hard-thought-over, 700-1000 word opuses that go into Dusted or PopMatters.

Did I mention I get paid for these?

Strange world, but entertaining…anyway, here are two from this week’s PW. Tomorrow, with any luck, the whole thing starts again.

Blitzen Trapper

Furr (Sub Pop)

Rating: Excellent, like John Oates’ mustache.

Lots of ideas, not much cohesiveness. That’s been the knock on Blitzen Trapper for their first three albums, but with Furr this Portland-based pop-country-jam outfit has KO’d the carpers. From the organ-heavy falsetto-crooning Beatles pop of “Sleepytime in the Western World” through the Grateful Dead shuffle of “Black River Killer” through the surprisingly spare, affecting “Lady on the Water,” Furr packs surprises but not oddities, interesting byways but not pointless wanderings. It’s an album this time, not a collection of hare-brained experiments. Furr transforms Blitzen Trapper’s promise into payoff. (Jennifer Kelly)


Why Are We Not Perfect? (Hydrahead)

Rating: Excellent, like John Oates’ mustache.

After inventing grindcore with Napalm Death and setting metal on its studded ear with Godflesh, Justin Broadrick has lately taken a turn toward serenity. Here’s more of the beautiful, fuzz-coated noise he explored in Conqueror, though paced this time by a drum machine rather than an ex-Swan. The title track balances the clarity of keyboards and synthetic percussion against a weighty mass of blurred distortion. Obsessives already have two of these tracks from Jesu’s vinyl only split with Eluvium, but not the alternate takes. Of them “Farewell” reveals the greatest depth. (J.K.)

A video

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not going to ATP?

Me neither.

But do not despair. Uber-cool WFMU is broadcasting a whole slew of ATP shows this weekend. It's possible they won't have the MBV set that everyone is gaga about, but lots of other good stuff. Check the schedule and tune in.

More guitars! Louder

Two today, both very guitar-centric. First Mogwai's The Hawk Is Howling as reviewed today in Dusted:

The Hawk Is Howling

Mogwai is synonomous with dynamic shifts in the same way that My Bloody Valentine has been equated with guitar distortion or Sonic Youth with alternate tunings. It’s the reliable element, the brand, the one thing that everybody knows about Mogwai: if it’s soft now, it’ll be loud later and vice versa. It’s not a bad schtick, and they’ve turned lots of people on to the power of the big surge. Chris Martin of Kinski once told me that his band only really started fooling around with dynamic shifts after touring with Mogwai - and they are not the only ones to have been influenced.

But, let’s face it: to be defined is to be boxed in. Even if you’re defined by being sonically unpredictable - for spinning out grand cinematic meditations one minute and blitzing the guitars the next - people always expect you to be a wild card in the same way. At some point, you must get sick of delivering the goods. All of which is a roundabout way to say that there are not as many ripple-to-a-tidal-wave moments on this sixth Mogwai album. There are soft songs. There are loud songs. The shifts mostly come between tracks, not within them.


"The Sun Smells Too Loud"

And while we're doing the huge guitar bands, here's a review of a new record by Black Sun Ensemble, which ran at PopMatters yesterday.

Black Sun Ensemble
Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden
Camera Obscura

Jesus Acedo's Black Sun Ensemble has been recording since the late 1980s, employing a changing mix of musicians and a varied ethnic palette of sounds. After a long hiatus in the 1990s, due to Acedo's own struggles with drugs and mental illness, the band re-emerged in 1999 with Sky Pilot (from which this disc's 13-minute instrumental suite is drawn) and has gone on to record three additional full-lengths and a two-disc live album in the 00s. Acedo has hinted that this latest, Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden, may be his last Black Sun Ensemble, and if so, it is a marvelous cap to a long and obstacle strewn career. Across the Sea of Id revisits the Black Sun Ensemble's catalogue, resurrecting not just "Sky Pilot Suite," and "Blues from Rainer" from Sky Pilot but also "St. Cecilia" and and "Baphomet's Curse" from 2006's Bolt of Apollo. But where earlier Black Sun Ensemble materials relied heavily on electric guitar, these cuts are softer, warmer and more acoustic. "St. Cecilia" lopes easily along, strummed acoustic chords intersecting with rich tones of bass, a saxophone blaring bright bits of emphasis. "Baphomet's Curse" layers radiant, slow guitar tones over drum kit and hand percussion. The mood is sunny, hopeful, glowing with positivity. "Blues for Rainer" stretches slow-shifting guitar notes and feathery violin strokes from horizon to horizon, unwinding a measured, meditative melody. These songs are melodic and easy to listen to, though not by any stretch "easy listening". Indeed, "Sky Pilot Suite" is nothing if not challenging, as it plays off droning feedback against a lambent sitar melody and morphs from slow march to urgent freakout. Yet it's never a strain, just a steady unfolding of ideas, easily followed. The newer material is also quite inviting. For the title track, Acedo hauls out his sitar, plucking a wavery, otherworldly melody in "Across the Sea of Id." Other new songs, "Eden Spirit" and "Perelandra" return to the acoustic guitar, the notes clear and warm and welcoming. If some psych conjures the cold endless purity of space, Black Sun Ensemble seems to reside in a friendly forest, light shading down between branches, birds singing.

"Angel de la Guardia"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two from Dusted

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:

Giant Sand

Yep Roc

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
Thrill Jockey

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.


“Shell Skull”

“White Mice”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Her Space Holiday…or Emma Blowgun rides again

Spent the morning on a first go-through of Her Space Holiday’s XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival, which is very fine, mildly psychedelic pop. My only beef, and it’s not really a beef when you think about it, is that it sounds so much like Heartstrings-era Beulah. But what the hell, I like Beulah, and I’m enjoying this. Try it yourself, okay?

“Sleepy Tigers”

Also having a very superficial flirtation with Dead Confederate, whose Dixie rocking, psych-tripping album Wrecking Ball comes out today on The Artists Organization.

Here’s “The Rat" which I like a lot.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The theme of sickness pervades...

So I've been home all day with my son, who is sick for the first time in I don't know how long, and it's been fine...He's a sweet boy, even sick, and I don't have much to do. (I may not have much to do for a while, given what's happening on Wall Street right now, at least not much to do for material gain.) But I snuck downstairs for listen to Terre T's show for inspiration, and as usual, found some cool stuff. Maybe the best that's not familiar to me is The Cute Lepers, a kind of trashy, glam-leaning, rocking punk band whose leader goes by the name Steve E. Nicks.

Anyway, here's a media player on their own website:

The MySpace page, also with a player

And a video

Better days ahead, I hope?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Silver Jews, Oneida and Espvall Batoh

Yesterday was jackpot day at blurt-online.com...with a whole bunch of miscellania, some of it pretty vintage, showing up on the site. The big thing, though, and the piece most likely to get missed by everyone, is this review of last week's Silver Jews show.

Silver Jews + Mike Flood 9-4-08
Iron Horse · Northampton, MA


Tonight's the night when traditional forms -- folk, country, protest, blues -- get truly weird. Silver Jews' David Berman says he gets nervous when he songs seem a little too straightforward and right away has to do something to twist them around a little. Opener Mike Flood probably never has that problem. His stuff starts out left of center and goes over the hills and far away from there.

Flood is onstage when I arrive, a skinny, close-shorn guy in a camo hat, looking a little like Ed Harris gone feral. He's a local fixture from back in the days when Northampton was supposed to be the next Seattle. The final track on Sebadoh's Bubble & Scrape bears his name, and when he admits that his first attempts at songwriting were mostly to "figure out what Gaff" was up to, he's talking about Erik Gaffney. He also does a fairly wicked imitation of Lou Barlow mid-set, taking his Guthrie-vintage staccato strum way up high and dissonant, so that his guitar all the sudden sounds like something off an old Shrimper cassette. Inside humor, but funny.

Go to Blurt.com for the rest

"Strange Victory, Strange Defeat"

And a couple of short-ish reviews, also from Blurt.

Preteen Weaponry


Oneida's last two albums, The Wedding and Happy New Year, were unusually subdued and song structured, a far cry from the band's pummeling, mind-bending live show. Now with Preteen Weaponry, reportedly the first of three linked records, Oneida lets its krautrocking, freak flags fly with three extended meditations on rhythm, repetition and drone. "Part One" dives deep into cool tones, its rattling, clattering drums subordinate to Tortoise-y, laid back guitar. "Part Two," the only cut with vocals, is classic long-form Oneida, Kid Millions hammering out slow, ritual drums against firestorms of feedback, ghostly chants buried under undulating walls of tone. All three cuts circle relentlessly around reiterated ideas, intermittently transforming repetition into revelation.

The problem: though repetition occasionally leads to satori, there are times when you just want it to stop. As such, Preteen Weaponry is far too difficult to expand the circle of O-lovers much, but still essential for the hardcore fellow travelers.

Standout tracks: "Part Two", "Part One" JENNIFER KELLY

"Preteen Weaponry"

Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh
Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh
(Drag City)


Folk music is normally shaped, even defined, by sense of place. So, what to make of this geographically indeterminant collaboration of Espers' Helena Espvall and Ghost's Masaki Batoh, which draws from traditions as distinct as Scandinavian sea songs, Japanese traditional music, American blues, Celtic laments and free-jazz improvisation? Beginning in "Polska"'s throbbing, cymbal-clashing skirl, and winding through mournful modal melodies and sorrowful baroque flourishes, these songs seem to exist outside time and place, in a misty, mythical world. Espvall presides over the Nordic melodies of her girlhood, while Masaki adds Ghost-ly experimentation and effects. The one for the mix tape, though, is "Death Letter," a Son House cover lent otherworldly sheen with wild swathes of cello and weirdly reverbed vocals.

A member of the No Neck Blues Band once insisted to me that every country, every culture has a blues, whether it follows the standard 12-bar progressions or not. This sounds like the blues of a place that maybe only existed in imagination, at least until it was laid to tape here.

Standout Tracks: "Death Letter," "Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa" JENNIFER KELLY

Here they are at Terrastock 7

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Ear Bleeding Ecstasies of All the Saints

I've been having a pretty good couple of weeks, music-wise, mostly stuff I expect to be good (Calexico, Giant Sand, Mogwai), but also one very cool surprise.

All the Saints
Fire on Corridor X
(Killer Pimp)
US release date: 27 May 2008
UK release date: 16 June 2008
by Jennifer Kelly

Atlanta's All the Saints may start in a shivery atmosphere of Mogwai-ish guitar, piano and drums (the brief, evocative "Shadow Shadow"), but they quickly move to obliterating churn and drone. They may name two songs after historic synth pop ("Sheffield") and post-punk ("Leeds") capitals, but they are firmly grounded in the Manchester aesthetic of guitar distortion. Yet unlike label mates-and fellow feedback aficionados-A Place to Bury Strangers, All the Saints embedded a near metallic splendor into their fierce drones. You can hear bits of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in their shimmering sheets of sound, alongside echoes of all the usual Northern UK suspects, Stone Roses, Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine...as well as their American followers in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Fire on Corridor X
is the All the Saints' first full-length album, following on a seven-song EP. The band-guitarist Matt Lambert, bassist/singer Titus Brown and drummer Jim Crook-all grew up together in Alabama, but only formed a band a few years ago when they all met up in Atlanta. Yet for an early effort, Fire on Corridor X is remarkably cohesive and varied, its more pensive interludes ("Shadow, Shadow", "Hornett") leading inexorably into pounding, riff-bending onslaughts ("Sheffield", "Papering Fix"). "Leeds" is even a sort of folky, acoustic campfire song, yet it fits without a glitch between Sabbathy "Papering Fix" and the epic, slo-mo title track. The songs elide into one another, with the cut breaks often fairly arbitrary, a slow drone ending one song and introducing another. As a result, despite the variety of songs, the album has a very coherent shape and progression to it. It feels like a well-thought-out live performance, or even a long composition with movements.

More of the review


"Fire on Corridor X"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two great rock and roll bands, one pretty good bedroom pop artist

Big week over at Philly Weekly, not one, not two, but three little write-ups. Even better, they’re all sort of exciting, one way or another, as music.


Boomtown Gems (Birdman)

Rating: Excellent, like John Oates’ mustache.

Apache from San Francisco crank the kind of trashy, swaggering garage glam that Johnny Thunders invented, adding a bit of psychedelia into the guitar breaks, and a spot of power pop into the handclapped choruses. It’s a sound that balances Queen’s taunt and preen with the muscular onslaught of the Stooges, and more than that, it’s funny and utterly un-P.C. For instance, every band’s got a bad-girl song, but Apache’s “Nazi Knife” diva is a weapon-wielding member of Aryan Nation. “Apache Ride” is even goofier—Tonto whoops and tom-tom beats cutting through waves of echoplex. Super fun, super rocking. (Jennifer Kelly)

“Bullet Train”

Mon., Sept. 15, 9pm. $8. With Gods and Queens + Hot Guts. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. www.johnnybrendas.com

Lars Finberg’s Intelligence sounds a lot like the Fall in an abandoned bomb shelter, or the Swell Maps in metal flak jackets. Sure, it’s post-punk, but post-punk for a post-industrial wasteland, its cavernous beats clattering off cement walls, its shout-along melodies like the big chorus from a robot opera. There’s a pop sensibility buried in the blistering distortion, even a sense of fun, but don’t expect to get too comfortable. In the best Intelligence video on YouTube, someone unauthorized has spliced “Deuteronomy” to footage of a Japanese cubicle jockey going postal—a near- perfect distillation of the band’s ordered march to chaos. (Jennifer Kelly)

“Secret Signals”

That crazy “Deuteronomy” video

Miracle Fortress
Sun., Sept. 14. 8pm. $10. M Room, 15 W. Girard Ave. 215.739.5577. www.themanhattanroom.com.

Miracle Fortress is one of those lightly veiled one-man projects, its recorded output solely the product of Montreal’s Graham Van Pelt. Yet there’s nothing austere about Five Roses, the Fortress’ first album, no intimations of solitude or introspection. Van Pelt has evidently spent a lot of time thinking about the masters of large-scale pop—Brian Wilson and Phil Spector in particular. That means instead of a songwriter’s reedy self-love, we get masses of harmonies, dense instrumentation and a sense of communal joy. Things will likely get even friendlier live, as Van Pelt’s four-person band brings these songs to full exuberance. (J.K.)


Video of “Have You Seen in Your Dreams”

And “Hold Your Secrets to Your Heart”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There go the Miracles...

Steve Wynn has now been out of Dream Syndicate for longer than he in it, recording a run of three excellent garage rocking albums with the Miracle 3 in the 00s. His bass player, Dave DeCastro, is sort of a friend of mine, and Dave just had a baby a couple of years ago. So maybe that's why Steve is recording by himself...but lord knows why he's recording in Slovenia, as he did for his latest Crossing Dragon Bridge. But regardless, it's a good one. Here's the review in PopMatters, which ran today.

"Steve Wynn lived in Slovenia for several months while he was recording Crossing Dragon Bridge, without his long-time band the Miracle 3, in a place where he had few ties and relationships. There's a long, interesting description of his daily life in Ljubljana on his website, which, aside from a productive interaction with producer Chris Eckman, seems to have been a kind of time out of time for Wynn.

The two "Slovenian Rhapsody" tracks that bookend this album refer most directly to his experience. Both sound distinctly Midde European, swaying in a minor key gypsy waltz, the first melancholy with whistling, the second embellished with a plaintive clarinet, and both bracketed by the mutter of radio broadcasts in a foreign language. However, only the closing track makes the mood explicit with words. Surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds, Wynn finds himself "drowning in my own rhapsody."

(More here)

"Manhattan Faultline" from Crossing Dragon Bridge

And one of his more rocking, band-oriented tunes. It's "Wild Mercury"

And one more, Steve Wynn and his band at SXSW in 2006

Monday, September 8, 2008

Tough and vulnerable

A very nice traditionally tinged, but mostly rocking second album from Canadian singer Angela Desveaux comes out this Tuesday...the review went up today at PopMatters.

Angela Desveaux & the Mighty Ship
Angela Desveaux & the Mighty Ship
(Thrill Jockey)
US release date: 9 September 2008
UK release date: 8 September 2008
by Jennifer Kelly

Move over Neko

Angela Desveaux, the Montrealean songwriter with roots in rural Cape Breton, has a rich country-tinged voice and a fondness for traditional instruments. Still, her second album, Angela Desveaux & the Mighty Ship, is mostly a rock record, with strident beats and clean, simple guitar solos. Her band-guitarist Mike Feuerstack of the Wooden Stars, bassist Eric Digras, and drummer Gilles Castilloux-is much the same as on debut Wandering Eyes, but they've developed a knack for emphatic beats and clear, well-structured instrumental breaks. Feuerstack has some particularly good, well-thought-out guitar solos, on the rock side in "Other Side" and "Hide from You", and in a more country-blues idiom on "Shape You". Sure, there are occasional twangs of pedal steel, now-and-then delicate, vibrato vocal flourishes, and a couple of songs in country waltz-time to show her traditional roots. But for the most part she sounds strong and sure and indie-rocking, a latter-day Juliana Hatfield or Kristin Hersh.


"Sure Enough"

Friday, September 5, 2008

Not exactly southern boogie...but southern

My review in today's PopMatters of the debut album by the Weeks, a deep south based band that shares a label with Colour Revolt.

The Weeks, Comeback Cadillac (Esperanza Plantation)

The Weeks, out of Mississippi, aren’t your father’s southern rock band. You can catch bits of boogie, shards of blues-y vamps in the corners of this hard-charging debut, but infused with a desperate, angsty energy that’s almost punk. Consider the title track, track, a staccato barrage of shouts and dual guitar riffs. There’s a manic, terrified edge to singer Cyle Barnes’ voice, as he yelps and sprays the words, a wreckless surge forward in the drums battered about by his brother Cain Barnes. Guitar riffs start and kickback like machine guns, two of them, locked in combat (Sammy D on lead, Chaz Lindsay on rhythm). It’s an impressive show of force, and when the whole thing judders to a halt with the observation “Girl she was gone and my heart stopped beating,” you feel like you’ve been through a wringer.

The tension abates considerably in the ballads—“Teary Eyed Woman” and “Dog Days”—where Barnes chews and slurs the words until he begins to sound like Adam Durwitz of the Counting Crows. But even sensitive songs can catch fire, as when “Buttons”’s refrain of “I shake, I shake, I can never see, how good young love can be,” blossoms from a confession to a thundering rock chorus. The first half of the record is better than the second, with a good deal of meandering near the end. But it’s hard to resist the crowd-rallying swagger of “The House That We Grew Up In” with its chorus “Oh-oh, let the band play.” Who’s going to stop them anyway?


"Altar Girl"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Alan Sparhawke speaks...Mogwai takes a whiz

Ian Mathers at PopMatters interviewed Alan Sparhawke about his Retribution Gospel Choir project, one of my favorites for 2008...and since I don't have anything of my own to talk about, and since the record is so good and so under the radar, I thought I'd give you a pointer to this very interesting piece.

"My Head Is Filled With Fire": A Conversation With Retribution Gospel Choir's Alan Sparhawk

[4 September 2008]

Alan Sparhawk gives back what he's taken, but that's not to say he's not holding onto his hope and wit.by Ian Mathers

"Ben [Watt] from Everything But the Girl once told me that he thinks there is no such thing as a definitive version of a song. At the time, that went against everything I believed about songwriting, but since then I've slowly found that he may be right. Having some songs overlap perhaps defines the difference more than the similarity. The tone and dynamics (and volume) of Retribution Gospel Choir certainly make certain songs jump out a certain way. I'm singing about the same stuff I've always sung about, but through a different filter, or language. It's hard to explain. The less I think about it, the more the music just finds its place." (For more)

Also, a fairly entertaining "leak" of upcoming reviews from the Mogwai site...tongue in cheek, I believe. (All kinds of things in cheek, actually.)

I'm trying to review the record myself, but there's no way I'll be able to top a quote like, "This music is so good, I want to piss in its mouth.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sunny pop and ghostly folk

Couple of live previews in this week's Philly Weekly flogging the sunny, California pop of the Donkeys, as well as the darker, broodier folk of Matt Bauer.

The Donkeys
Tues., Sept. 9, 8pm. With You, Me and T. Rex. M Room, 15 W. Girard Ave. 215.739.5577. www.themanhattanroom.com
If albums were drinks the Donkeys’ Living on the Other Side would be a mint julep: cool, refreshing, sweet and, after several repetitions, a hard kick in the head. Like SoCal psychedelicists Beachwood Sparks, these neo-traditionalists spin influences like the Byrds, the Band and Neil Young into hazy, mildly trance-inducing grooves. Close harmonies, slow shuffles and country jangling guitars lull you into quietude, while melodic hooks close the deal with your subconscious. Ideally, they’d have hammocks at this show—so summery, so sleepily peaceful are these songs. (Jennifer Kelly)

"Walk Through a Cloud"

"Nice Train"

Matt Bauer
Thurs., Sept. 4, 9pm. $10. With Birdie Busch. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. www.johnnybrendas.com
Matt Bauer plays a ghostly sort of folk, wreathed in delicate webs of banjo and whispered with a lightness Sam Beam might envy. His latest album The Island Moved in the Storm weaves oblique narratives around the story of a girl found dead in rural Kentucky in 1968 who remained unidentified for 30 years. The subject is macabre, but the songs are lovely, serene and surprisingly unsentimental. In “As She Came Out of the Water” Bauer observes the world with a naturalist’s precision, pausing to listen to the crunch of shells under boots as he approaches a drowned corpse. (J.K.)

"As She Came Out of the Water"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Happy new year...

Just reviewed the latest New Year album at Dusted, their third...very good stuff if you let it sink in a little. They are, you might remember, essentially the two Kadane brothers from Bedhead, plus Chris Brokaw on drums and Mike D'Onofrio on bass.

Here's the review:

The New Year
The New Year
Touch and Go

It’s been four years since The End Is Near, the last New Year album, long enough for all the trendy fly-by-night bands to have turned over (er, Kaiser Chiefs? Bloc Party?), long enough for musical fashions to have shifted significantly (out with the post-punk, in with the afro-beat!). Still, here are the two Kadane brothers, doing what they have always done, what has never, except maybe during the brief flourishing of slo-core, been especially fashionable. Here are radiant textures of interwoven guitars, mordant and weary lyrics slipped down into the mix, languid but difficult rhythms in non-standard time signatures. The New Year is a bit more strident and rock-oriented in parts than its predecessor, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been presaged by Bedhead’s "Felo de Se.” It has a few more piano songs. But really, this is a band and sound that exists on its own terms, its fuzzed guitar and buried vocals surviving intact in a sort of time capsule, unaffected by blog-chatter or the search for the next new thing.

Like all the New Year albums – and most of Bedhead’s material, for that matter – this one is a long-distance collaboration between Bubba Kadane, still in Dallas, and Matt Kadane, now teaching at a college in upstate New York. Each writes material, works it up to a certain stage, then sends it on to the other for further work. The time it takes for two self-described perfectionists to get things right amid the pull of other fairly serious obligations accounts for the space between albums. Yet, it also maybe contributes to the lucid beauty of these songs, the simultaneous sense of effortlessness and complexity. These songs are as elegant as solved equations, their difficulty evident but the answer sublimely simple. (more)

“The Company I Can Get”