I Love the Fall and Lots of New Music
I'm happy to say that I've been taking in a TON of new music this fall. I owe alot of the inspiration to Sirius Radio's Left of Center channel. Although LOC's programming can just as often annoy the living bejeezus out of me (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Regina Spektor, Death Cab for Cutie) and the snarky hipster attitude of some of the DJs makes me want to go on a shooting rampage, lately the channel's been turning me on to some of my favorite new bands.
I also must credit the arrival of a very nice publishing check for enabling a massive music-buying spree on Amazon.com. Here are some thoughts on my new acquisitions:
The Futureheads News and Tributes
About every five years, the music press start spouting off about the latest "Second Coming of the British Invasion." Of all the UK guitar rock bands that have been tossed into the latest round-up of would-be heirs to the Beatles/Who/Kinks throne (Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, etc), the Futureheads are by far my favorite. Why? Because I'm very confident that I will still be listening to this in ten years. There's nothing exactly groundbreaking about The Futureheads (parts of News and Tributes could have been written by a young Joe Jackson or Billy Bragg) but the songs are so damn strong and played so well that it hardly matters. Smart, strident and balls-out, the Futureheads sound like now but feel like they've been here all along.
Sonic Youth Sonic Nurse
A few weeks ago, I had a near-transcendent Sonic Youth experience. They were playing in my neighborhood at the McCarren Pool and although I didn't have tickets, I suggested to my friend Alison that we take a walk up to the open air venue and see if we could hear anything. It was a Friday evening, dusk, and the air was clear as a bell, and cool. The sun was close to setting and the clouds were fiery, orange and grey/blue. Spectacular.
As we got up closer to the venue, we started to hear sporadic snatches of Sonic Youth: floating eddies of sound and noise ricocheting around the buildings and streets of Williamsburg. By the time we got to the source, the music filled the air. We walked around the perimeter of the pool and peeked in occasionally. Couldn't see the band, but could hear them loud and clear. Sounded incredible. I've never seen SY live and I've never been a big follower (a casual fan, perhaps) but at that moment, in that setting, they were the best thing ever. As we continued on toward the water, the sound looped around us in surreal waves of natural echo; it was like the music was coming out of the sky.
A couple weeks later, one of my students brought in Sonic Nurse so we could learn the 7-minute epic "Stones," which I'd never heard before. I loved the song immediately and bought the record. This one was released in 2004, when they still had Jim O'Rourke in the band. As far as I can tell, it's a pretty inspired album. I like it. I can't say that I always follow Thurston Moore's random-associated poetry/lyrics, but I like his laconic singing style and I always perk up when Kim Gordon opens her mouth. I've always loved Sonic Youth's mix of chiming guitar textures and foamy, roiling currents of noise; they somehow combine power and fragility into one unique entity. Hard to describe. But I'm happy to be listening to this band again.
CSS Cansei de ser Sexy
This six-piece, co-ed, electro-garage band from Brazil (five girls, one guy) only annoy me when they remind me of Bis (on songs like "Patins"). But when they tone down the brattiness and ride cool, sexy grooves (see "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" and the brilliant "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above"), all is forgiven. Besides, they open the album with a song called "CSS Suxx" -- it's hard not to warm up to that (a little hat-tip to KMFDM, perhaps?).
They were alot of fun when they opened the show for Ladytron at Webster Hall last week; the musicianship was charmingly amateurish but CSS's pure, utterly unaffected jubilance and onstage energy made you realize how infrequently you actually see it in other bands. After their set they tore down their own gear.
Curve Come Clean
I've been a fan of this band since 1992 but for some reason I never bought this, their third album. Well, guess what? Now I've got it. It's bloody well about time, innit?! Anyway, I don't love Come Clean as much as their first album or their last album but Curve always sound fantastic. And the completist in me can now rest easy.
Ladytron Witching Hour
D. Bosler, the idiot who penned a blurb on Ladytron in the Village Voice Choices last week not only wrote off the band as a relic of the (now terribly, terribly unhip) electroclash movement, but he reported that the band were in town to support Light and Magic, the album they released four years ago. You really, really don't need to know anything to be a rock critic. Isn't that something?
Anyway, Ladytron's fantastic new album Witching Hour is the least "electro" thing they've done to date; yes, the songs are built largely on richly layered synth lines, but the album also sports a wonderfully live drum sound and a spacious, almost gothy ambience. The impassive, echo-drenched vocals of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo are just as perfect as ever, imbuing gems like "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "Last One Standing" with ethereal detachment.
Onstage at Webster Hall last week, Ladytron were black-clad and deadpan, wreathed in smoke. In contrast to their openers CSS, Ladytron bathed the crowd in atmosphere rather than energy.
Send D. Bosler your complaints here. I did.
Suicide self titled and Ghost Riders
I've been hearing whispers about Suicide for a long time; adjectives like "influential," "underrated," "difficult" get bandied around quite a bit. Curious, I picked up Ghost Riders first, not knowing it was a live album. Still, it hooked me in and compelled me to dig up more of their stuff and read up on the band.
This decidedly unorthodox New York duo cut their teeth for most of the 1970s before finally releasing their first album in '77. As "punk" as anything else out there, Suicide eschew volume, noise and bombast in favor of cheap-sounding synth-drum loops and super-repetitive, eerily subdued electric keyboard patterns. Over this hypnotic sonic foundation (provided by Martin Rev), vocalist Alan Vega unleashes streams of harrowing verbiage and primal scream therapy. Vega's tortured narratives are as evocative of pre-80s New York as anything by Lou Reed, I'd wager. Check out "Frankie Teardrop" -- yikes.
Suicide's first two albums (both eponymous, as far as I can tell) are packaged on a single compact disc. The first one is better, in my opinion; the band's nightmare evocation of urban decay is best viewed under the harsh white light of a naked bulb, and the debut is as stark and raw and unadorned as can be. But the second album, produced by Ric Ocasek, oddly sounds, in some ways, more bizarre than the first. More conventional-sounding (although nowhere near commercial), Ocasek's production job couches Suicide's desperate worldview in smoothe, schmaltzy, chintzy sonics. It is so weird. In some ways it's more subversive -- halfway between pleasant and unbearable. I still haven't got my head around it but it's fascinating to hear.
The live disc Ghost Riders captures a live performance from 1981 (originally released on cassette-only ROIR) and gets much closer to the vibe of that unsettling debut. I can't imagine how confused the audiences must have been...
Lansing-Dreiden The Dividing Island
This enimgatic trio from Florida (but based in NYC) caught my ear when I heard their stunning single "A Line You Can Cross" on satellite radio; it was more than enough to justify buying the album. It turns out that Lansing-Dreiden's music falls somewhere between sixties psychedelia, shoegazer and languid 80's synthpop (sometimes they remind me of China Crisis). Then, as if that weren't enough, they come off like some kind of European black metal band on the closing song, "Dethroning the Optimyth."
Cursive Happy Hollow
From the fabled midwestern gene pool that birthed Bright Eyes and The Faint, Omaha's Cursive sometimes sound more like a DC band to me. What I like about them is they rock hard but never sound like "hard rock." Plus, for an indie band, their sound is really big and they never come across as precious. The lyrics, smart and conversational, attack heady subjects like religion and politics, but make it all personal and anecdotal rather than preachy. They throw some new wave and even the occasional bit of ska in the mix, but none of these ingredients is ever presented in a rote way; it all sounds like their own thing.
Bireli Lagrene & Friends Live Jazz a Vienne (dvd)
I don't know whether to thank Dave Adler for turning me onto this gypsy jazz genius or be mad at him -- watching this dvd has made almost want to give up playing guitar. I defy any six-stringer to take in this blinding display of virtuosity and not come away with the same reaction. Viloinist Florin Niculescu is almost as mind-blowing in his own right. Django has a worthy heir in Lagrene. The rest of us have a lot of work to do. Ouch.
Gene Loves Jezebel Immigrant, Promise and Discover (deluxe reissues)
I've gushed at length about Gene Loves Jezebel's classic first three albums, Promise, Immigrant and Discover already here. And I could not resist splurging on the recently-reissued versions of said albums. Remastered and repackaged with great liner notes from the band, photos and a bonus disc of extras for each album, this trilogy of re-releases is a veritable treasure trove of GLJ oddities, demos and lost b-sides (like the ultra-rare "Shaving My Neck," from the Promise days). These things make me very happy.
The Knife Silent Shout
This shadowy, bemasked duo from Sweden make creepy, quirky, ice-choked electro distinguished by synthesizer and electronic drum sounds straight outta 1981 and voices almost exclusively treated with vocoders and other processing. Silent Shout is great night-time or cloudy day listening.
Dresden Dolls Yes, Virginia
I just love it when bands have their entire presentation -- music, image, packaging, etc -- honed to this degree. The Dresden Dolls, consisting of pianist/lead vocalist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, channel the sound and spirit of pre-WW2 German cabaret and make it edgy and current. I know those last two adjectives are lame, but I don't want to give the impression that the Dresden Dolls are on some kind of sepia-toned retro/nostalgia trip. These songs are incredibly fresh and powerful and the lyrics are deadly -- as lascerating as anything by Nellie Mckay. I'm floored.
Basement Jaxx Crazy Itch Radio
I have to say I am disappointed with Basement Jaxx's fourth album. Crazy Itch Radio is brilliantly produced, as usual, and bears plenty of the English duo's sonic trademarks, but it lacks the loopy dynamic range of Kish Kash or the monster hooks of Rooty. The vocalists all sound similar (a big let-down, considering that the last record featured talents as diverse as Meshell Ndegeocello, Dizzee Rascall and Siouxsie Sioux). I've listened to it four times already and I still don't know how it goes. Oh well, maybe next time. Three brilliant records is still more than you get from most artists these days.
Motorhead Kiss of Death
Speaking of disappointment...well, I'm not exactly disappointed with Motorhead's eighteenth (I think) studio album. It's certainly good. I just don't like it as much as the last one, Inferno. But let's face it: a Motorhead album will never suck. At worst, it will just sound like another Motorhead record.
One thing about latter day Motorhead (which is to say, the Motorhead of the nineties and beyond) that bugs me a bit is how proficient they've become. Ever since Mikkey Dee's been on the drum throne, the band has gotten disconcertingly tight. Can you imagine?! I tend to prefer the shambling, drunken sloppiness of the Philthy Phil/Fast Eddie era. But what can you do? People get better, sometimes, whether they want to or not. This album is loud and fast and Lemmy's lyrics are sharp as always. I'm still listening. It could grow on me.
The Sisters Three self titled
I was down in Dewey Beach, Delaware last weekend for the annual music fest they have there. My band had been invited to play and we couldn't do it but I went down anyway to hang out with my old friends Sal and Pam for a few days. A relaxing weekend away from the city in an off-season beach town seemed like a good idea.
So on Friday afternoon I was sitting out on the back porch of our condo, reading, and this beautiful singing wafted toward me from next door. Three-part harmonies, the kind of blend that only siblings have. There was acoustic guitar, some electric keyboard and simple hand percussion. Really pretty -- the stuff was folky, but with a little Jeff Buckley, a little Patsy Kline. I assumed they were rehearsing for a performance. I didn't really know who was scheduled to play at this conference and wasn't all that interested, honestly, but I decided that whoever lived next door was already my favorite act of the weekend.
A few hours later, my friends and I wandered into happy hour at one of the venues and immediately, I heard those angelic female voices -- they were onstage. What luck! While most everyone else in the room chattered away at eachother about "the industry" and swallowed as much free food and beer as humanly possible, I sat down in front of the band. Then I quietly melted in my seat. The three sisters sang their songs together and smiled and radiated such heartbreaking innocence and pure love for music...and the lead singer was absolutely stunning to watch. Her voice slayed me. I was smitten.
I instantly made friends with the Sisters Three (Anna Christie, Cassandra and Beatrice), their hippie/manager dad and younger brother Max. They were all so cool. We hung out alot for the rest of the weekend; we drank together and I watched them rehearse. I went to see them perform again on Saturday night and melted all over. I bought their CD and it's one of my favorite new records.
Click here to check out the Sisters Three on myspace.
The Glove Blue Sunshine (deluxe reissue)
Here's another album I've already yakked about on this blog. But now it's out, remastered, with bonus disc, with new liner notes and new pictures, and of course now I must buy it again.
I love Blue Sunshine and the remaster is terrific but one thing bothers me. Ok, for those of you who don't know, this record, made in 1983, was the one-off side project for Steve Severin (The Banshees) and Robert Smith (the Cure), operating under the moniker The Glove.
The lead singer on most of Blue Sunshine's tracks was an obscure lady called Jeanette Landray. But on this bonus disc of the remaster, "original demos" of all the tunes appear with Robert Smith on lead vocals (this is a big selling point for the deluxe reissue, as you might imagine).
What bugs me is this: the Smith vocals don't sound like the Robert Smith of 1983, they sound like they were sung by the Robert Smith of TODAY (I've listened to everything the man's done, and I think my ear is pretty well tuned to All Things Smith at this point). Which makes me wonder if they didn't overdub new vocal tracks on these old demos just for the occasion, and pass them off as "original." Hmmmmm....I swear, I can't get it out of my head. Will we ever know for sure??
Lady Sovereign Vertically Challenged
Pint-sized British rapper Lady Soverign may be my favorite hip hop artist since Eminem. She brings it back to the basics, dispensing with all the overproduced R&B-isms that poison so much current rap. The grooves are fat and simple, the hooks are large and she's witty and self-deprecating. A breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant genre.
Nina Hagen Band self titled
Lil' Nina Hagen's very first album. The teenaged operatic punk priestess was still getting her sound together here (understandably) and the music sounds like a relic of the 70s, but her completely unique singing style and bizarro/eccentric persona are as clearly defined as ever. There's no one else like Nina. Appropriately, I picked this one up in Berlin in late August. All German lyrics, vinyl.
Love/Hate I'm Not Happy
After getting turned on Love/Hate's sophomore albumWasted in America in 1992, I've been fascinated by these angry, mangy, misunderstood LA metal castaways. I'm Not Happy, Love/Hate's out-of-print fourth album, paints a rather grim portrait of a band on its last legs. Long gone is the nasty confidence that flowed through Blackout In the Red Room or the sharp, humorous misanthropy of Wasted; in their place are desperation and pure bitterness. A handful of strong tracks recall the old panache ("Superfragilistic," "Hey Man" and "Ola Mola") but the material is undermined by flimsy production values, courtesy of the band itself. Overall, not a barrel of monkeys but kind of compelling anyway.
Lily Allen various
This cheeky lass from England is a real firecracker, with a voracious musical appetite and an abundance of sheer talent. Fearlessly throwing punk, britpop, ska, glam and whatever else strikes her fancy into the musical pot, Allen cooks up a brew that doesn't taste quite like anything else. Her melodies bounce all over the place and the lyrics are witty and at times biting. Sometimes the ironic marriage of her vindictive messages (usually pointed at unfortunate ex-boyfriends) and cutesy pop comes off a little too clever for its own good but you can't deny how much this precocious pup has her act together. It's damn impressive. Thanks to my roomie John for hooking me up with this collection of singles. The proper album is called Alright, Still.
Death from Above 1979 You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
They've got one of the coolest names around and thank god the music is just as cool. There are alot of bass-less bands out there today, championing minimalist garage aesthetics and the magic of midrange (The White Stripes, The Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, etc) and I can't say that's a bad thing. But DFA '79 take this less-is-more spirit in the opposite direction, courtesy of a singing drummer named Sebastian Grainger and a resourceful fellow named Jesse Keeler who alternates between crunchy synths and processed, super-compressed bass. Grainger pummels the skins with punky (but controlled) abandon and delivers scratchy, two- and three-note melodies. There are no chords, no solos and very little layering of any kind. It works. It works well.
Please enjoy the autumn of 2006 and listen to lots and lots of great music.