Friday, September 30, 2011


Spencer Krug takes time off from his many, many projects for an odd, evocative solo project...he may not be totally happy with the instrumentation, but I think it works.

Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped

Spencer Krug first tried out the Moonface concept – and name – a couple of years ago, for a 20-minute, one-track EP called Dreamland: Marimba and Shit-Drums, an odd, intermittently striking combination of polyrhythmic tonal percussion, lo-fi drumming and Krug’s fluttery, indie-evocative voice. His second entry in the Moonface catalog is, in many ways, a far more conventional experiment, substituting (to his evident chagrin, per the title) the more customary accompaniments of organ and programmed beats for malleted percussion.

This is a significant shift. While you can, at times, hear the organ’s repeated, staccato riffs as drummed melody, the overall effect is far more melodic and sustained. “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor,” for instance, begins in a clipped pointillism of organ sounds that might as well be played on a vibraphone as a keyboard. Yet only a minute or so goes by before richer, more fluid tones creep in, slathering over the plink and chirp and tweet with mysterious undertones.


"Fast Peter"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hess Is More

Disco is everywhere these days, almost as omnipresent as Animal Collective wannabes and I can’t say either trend is a good thing. I’d like to have back the half hour I spent listening to the new Toro Y Moi EP (disco), for instance, and also the five minutes it took me to decide that Gauntlet Hair was as clunkily meaningless as their name (AC). However, exceptions prove the rule, as they say…and I’m kind of liking the very disco/soul/new wave-ish Hess is More album, Creation Keeps the Devil Away (coming 10/11 on Nublu Records). Mikkel Hess is a Danish composer who has done a lot of incidental music for film, theater and dance. In Hess is More he works with composer/producer Rasmus Bille Bahncke, also a Dane, also entrenched in the film industry.

The Village Voice calls the record, “an expansive feast, like Arthur Russell dragged through the blippy poptronica '00s”, which is actually pretty dead-on. They also become somewhat obsessed with early single “Burn,” and interview Hess for the backstory. You can read about it (and download the song)here.

My favorite, though, the title track, “Creation Keeps the Devil Away”
Creation Keeps The Devil Away by Hess Is More

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Twin Sister

I saw Twin Sister about a year ago with Morning Benders -- and kind of liked the show. The new album is really pretty good, much funkier and less dreamy than the first.

Here's my Dusted review.

Twin Sister
In Heaven

Twin Sister works at the conjunction of indie pop and disco-funk, with singer Andrea Estrella at the whispery center of things. She insinuates, coaxes, glides along on a narcotic cloud through bright arrangements of synthesizer, drum machine, bass and the occasional glockenspiel. Her voice, clear but childishly unmannered, is a vanilla ice cream kind of pleasure: soft, smooth, sweet and unchallenging, if a bit chilly. Meanwhile the band, led by guitarist and songwriter Eric Cardona, and filled out with Gabel D’Amico, Bryan Ujueta, and Udbhav Gupta, exudes ease and confidence during the dense, diverse arrangements.


"Bad Street"

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gem Club

I just loved this new album from Gem Club...I have to think about top ten pretty soon and make room for it somehow. I missed the review at Dusted yesterday, because I just got up too damned early and they hadn't changed the content yet...but I saw it today.

Gem Club
(Hardly Art)

Gem Club’s songs are dimly lit, interior monologues, at turns spare and lush, elliptical in narrative. Listening feels like following a thread of memory, now clearly delineated, now faded and misty. Even happy recollections turn spectrally thin and melancholy under this kind of treatment. “I heard…the party,” croons Christopher Barnes, in the song of the same name, his hushed voice evoking the time and distance that separates us from our fondest memories.

Gem Club is Barnes and Kristen Drymala, two classically trained musicians out of Boston, with, I would guess, a fascination for the evocative simplicity of Erik Satie. The duo’s playing on these wispy tunes is off-handedly assured, pared down and restrained. Even the French horn in “Twins” seems remarkably unshowy and delicate. The fragility and purity of these songs can remind you of early Low, the Lost Wisdom collaboration between Julie Doiron and Phil Elverum and The xx, though in this latter case, without the sexual heat.



Monday, September 26, 2011

I drop out of a marathon and rediscover emo

Kind of a strange weekend. I had been training, but not very well, for a marathon all summer, but due to a lot of stuff going on, never really got my head into it. I also neglected to buy new shoes when the old ones wore out and was wearing some pretty shot-to-hell footware for the big race on Sunday. So, anyway, I was not feeling good about the race in a lot of ways, but I had already paid so I thought I'd try. It was going all right until about 19 miles and then, very suddenly, I had that marathoner's existential crisis where you not only doubt your ability to finish, but your right to exist on earth...literally, it's like instant depression and it has a lot to do with carbohydrate depletion, so I ate goo and struggled on for a few miles. It happened again at 22 and by then my hip was hurting like hell (new shoes would have helped), so there I lost momentum and dropped out.

Anyway, it was a pretty long run. There's that.

I also bought a bunch of books and one record the day before in an uncharacteristic spree of consumerism.

Vladmir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading
Katherine Dunn's Geek Love
Michael Kammen's Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture

Drive Like Jehu's Yank Crime

Which is pretty fucking great...see here

Friday, September 23, 2011

Next Stop Horizon

Kind of an interesting Swedish band They're from Gothenburg, Sweden, where Jens Lekman insists they don't have VIP lines. (Random aside: have you heard this new Lekman EP, clever but so cloying, had to take it off the iTunes.) They are described, offputtingly, as a soundtrack/circus/vaudeville band, but hold on, don't judge yet. The LP, We Know Exactly Where We Are Going, is theatrical but not affected, eccentric but not willfully odd. They use lots of instruments -- glockenspiel, stand-up bass, pots and pans, piano, melodica and, I think, clarinet -- but with unusual urgency. I've been wading through a big batch of uninspiring promos and this one is kind of fun.

There are some streams at soundcloud, which I am linking here.

Iron Train (Short) by Tapete Records

Next Stop: Horizon - We know exactly where we are going by Tapete Records

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Interesting sidelight on prog here...from Spain in the (rapidly diminishing) shadow of Franco.

Absolute Fusioon

Fusioon emerged in the final years of the Franco dictatorship, when Spain began to unwind a decades-long period of economic and cultural isolation. The last few years of Franco’s reign are sometimes called The Spanish Miracle, so sharply did standards of living rise and modernization take hold. You can sense some of this context in this first album from the little known Catalan quartet. A strong thread of forward-looking optimism runs through Absolute Fusioon. These synth-heavy, prog-complex compositions draw on traditional Spanish culture, but filter it through a space-age aesthetic, so that even old Catalan Christmas carols (“Ya Se Van Los Pastores”) gleam with futuristic possibility.

Fusioon was dominated by piano and synth player Manuel Camp, whose off-kilter, modernistic keyboard riffs define most of these tracks. He was supported by guitarist/synth player Marti Brunet, drummer Santi Arisa and Pacho Chacón on bass, all extremely able musicians, capable of navigating the band’s intricate tempo- and key-shifting arrangements of original compositions, classical works and Spanish traditional songs. There is a bit of Latin syncopation and swing in even the most difficult of these cuts. “Diálogos,” with its skewed synth motifs, its all-hands anthemic choruses and its irregular rhythms nonetheless, has a bit of the slink and slither of Latin ballroom dance. And “Ya Se Van Los Pastores” (which translates roughly as “The Shepherds are Going” i.e. to see baby Jesus) has a smooth-jazz buoyancy and breeziness to it, despite its multiple mood changes.


Here's that Tocata Y Fug

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yeah, I went to see a show again

The write-up's at Blurt today...

Report: Reading Rainbow/Eternal Summers Live

September 15 at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass., it was a post-punk buffet par excellence.

Lots of bands these days are splicing intense post-punk propulsion with sweet, female-sung pop melodies, interjecting a wistful tunefulness into their bristle-y volleys of eighth-note strumming, slathering explosions of drums with twee harmonies. Two that are pretty good at this game - Philadelphia's Reading Rainbow and Roanoke's Eternal Summers - made the trip to Western Mass last week for a double bill that was as abrasive as it was soothing, sometimes right at the same time.

The rest


You all know I like those droning, thumping, working-one-chord-for-20-minutes instrumental bands, right? So, I like Cave, but...decided that they're not Neu! by a good stretch.

Here's the best paragraph from my review of Neverendless, out now on Drag City.

There’s more than a shadow of Neu! hanging over opening salvo “WUJ” in the steady percolation of rhythm, the clipped, diffident lyricism of guitars, the abstract way that melody is subsumed by machine-like forward motion. Drummer Rex McMurry’s cadence has the same dry, snare-accented intensity that Dinger enforced on “Fur Immer,” though guitarist Cooper Crain is less a melodic counterpoint, more a source of additional rhythmic tension, than Rother was. Additional instruments, a pulsing organ motif (keyboardist Rotten Milk), a bumping undertone of bass (Dan Browning), accentuate the track’s restlessness. A blare of guitar sound breaks the tension, briefly, but there is no real space for rest or contemplation. Neu! was able, sometimes, to implant a stillness into the center of its most frantic rants. Cave is either in motion or at rest, but never both at once.

The rest of the review

Adam Roberts

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meg Baird

Another really beautiful solo album from the Espers's called Seasons on Earth and it's out now on Drag City records. I reviewed it for Blurt.

Meg Baird
Seasons on Earth
(Drag City)

Meg Baird always lent an ethereal warmth to Espers. Both her voice and her casually intricate picking are soft, assured and limned with sunshine. Where other singers in her general class dabble in witchy madness or chill with tremulous purity, Baird has always reached out in a friendly, open way towards melody. Here, in her second solo album, Baird moves further into dappled light, navigating sinuous shifts from major to minor key, octave-length melodic jumps and subtle blues-tinged slides with caressing kindness. Seasons on Earth is like a wry, forgiving smile set to music, its pleasures veined with melancholy, its ruefulness buoyed by hope.


"The Finder"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Big Troubles

Charming, not incredibly consequential little album coming from New Jersey's Big Troubles is coming soon on Slumberland, the label where c86 never ended...anyway, I'm not foaming at the mouth for this one (the new Veronica Falls is way, way, way better, IMO), but it's kind of nice if you like very frothy, dreamy, Big-Star-without-the-scratchy-guitar, Teenage-Fanclub-at-their-absolutely-least-abrasive power pop.

On the theory that the prettiest song will be the one with the most downbeat's early single "Misery". Enjoy...if that's the right word.

Big Troubles - Misery by Slumberland Records

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reading Rainbow

So, amazing, I'm going to a show tonight, for the first time in months and months and months.

The bill is Reading Rainbow, whose album Prism Eyes, "I reviewed recently for Dusted"and Eternal Summers, who I know exactly this much about [] (empty brackets).

Here's a couple of videos to get into the spirit.

More later

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gabriel Miller Phillips

Beautifully understated pop from this Massachusetts songwriter, who has a soft, diffident voice but a very sharp way with words ... a la Elliott Smith I guess, though he doesn't really sound like him. Self-released One for the Crow is his first full-length, following the EP Shoot the Moon. He worked with Alex Lipsen of Phosphorescent to record it.

"Star Crossed"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Another big record...which I didn't like nearly as much as PFK (9.3, yikes, that means album of the year), but liked some, especially the big single "Vomit."

Here's my Dusted review:

Father, Son, Holy Ghost
True Panther

Christopher Owens and JR White continue their transition from bedroom recording to fully-fleshed out band on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, adding an extra guitarist (John Anderson), a keyboard player (Dan Eisenberg) and drummer (Darren Weiss) to their regular line-up. Yet, while most of these 11 tracks are dense and redolent of 1970s arena rock, Owens manages to preserve a core of weathered, rueful, inward-looking eccentricity — even when backed by a three-person gospel choir.

You have only to listen to “Vomit,” the album’s clear highlight, to see how Girls have learned to blow out idiosyncratic interior monologues into vast, rock operatic grandeur. This cut is both epic and deeply personal, its vulnerability writ as large as, say, Pink Floyd’s “Hey You.” And hold onto that thought, because when the gospel trio enters, late in the track, the lead female singer pulls off a good facsimile of “Dark Side of the Moon”’s vocal acrobatics. That it’s not ridiculous is kind of a miracle.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Laura Marling’s A Creature I Don’t Know

I didn’t think I’d like this new Laura Marling nearly as much as I did…she may be hip and trendy, but she’s also pretty good. Here’s the review, up at Dusted today.

Laura Marling
A Creature I Don’t Know

Laura Marling digs deep into womanhood on her third full-length album, A Creature I Don’t Know, exploring themes of lust, rage, female godhood, mortality and maternity over the course of 10 songs. Never mind that she’s got a pale ingénue’s look, or that she’s just barely cleared the age of 21 — through her imagination at least, she has tapped into the grittiest elements of the second sex’s experience.

It starts with her voice, which skitters quickly over intricate verbal patterns, flowers into unearthly trills and flourishes, and dips, quickly and intuitively, into the earthy tones of spoken word. It’s a volatile voice, shifting shape as it follows irregular patterns of melody and lyric, now jazzily, torchily sophisticated, now keening and folk-toned, now tipped with blues slurs and slides. You can make connections, over the course of three or four songs, with a whole raft of female singers — Joni Mitchell, Joanna Newsom, Nina Nastasia, Billy Holiday — but in a flickering, ephemeral way. You hear a similarity for no more than a second or two before Marling’s emphasis shifts and she sounds like something else entirely.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Carter Tanton

Carter Tanton is a member of Jana Hunter's Lower Dens, a guitar player in Marissa Nadler's band (who co-wrote a song with her for her recent self-titled album) and a member of Tulsa, now striking out on his own with the solo album Freeclouds on Western Vinyl. Freeclouds is quite good, with more than a whiff of psychedelic folk, but also that expansive, open highways, almost-arena-rock swagger of bands like The War on Drugs. Marissa Nadler sings a little on it, but only in a support role. The real voice to note here is Tanton's own, which is cool, sure and carrying, emotive without being manipulative, and surrounded often by those beautiful clouds of echo that Ariel Pink discovered and everybody uses now.

Here's "Murderous Joy" which sounds especially good blaring out the car window on a sunny late summer day.

Hey, look at this, he's doing some shows with the War on Drugs. Nice match-up. Purling Hiss is pretty excellent, too.
Oct 11 Raleigh NC King's Barcade The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 12 Asheville NC Grey Eagle The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 13 Atlanta GA The Earl The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 14 New Orleans LA Chickie Wah Wah David Vandervelde
Oct 15 Houston TX Fitzgeral's David Vandervelde
Oct 17 Dallas TX Bryan Street Tavern The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 18 Austin TX Emo's The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 20 Tucson AZ Plush The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 21 San Diego CA Soda Bar The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 22 Los Angeles CA The Satellite The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 23 San Francisco CA The Independent The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 25 Portland OR Bunk Bar The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 26 Seattle WA The Tractor Tavern The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 27 Spokane WA A Club The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 28 Nampa ID Flying M The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 29 Salt Lake City UT Kilby Court The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Oct 30 Denver CO Hi-Dive The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Nov 1 Lawrence KS Jackpot Saloon The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Nov 2 Columbia MO Mojo's The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Nov 3 Bloomington IN The Bishop The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Nov 4 Cincinnati OH Mayday Northside The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Nov 5 Cleveland OH Beachland Tavern The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss
Nov 6 Baltimore MD The Talking Head @ Sonar The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss

Friday, September 9, 2011

Keeping up with Doug Gillard

I had a little interview with the extremely overcommitted Doug Gillard a week or so ago...and you can read about him now in Blurt.

From Beefheart and Beatles tributes to collaborations with Sally Crewe, Robert Pollard and My Dad Is Dead, the multitasker also finds time for his own music.


"It's a whirlwind this year. There's just so much going on."

Doug Gillard takes a brief pitstop to take the journalist's phone call. Reached in his hometown of Cleveland, he's currently working with Cobra Verde bassist Ed Sotelo to get ready for a tour with Tommy Keene.

Busy? That's not the half of it. If we could get him to wear a red-striped shirt and a beret, Gillard could easily stage the rock and roll version of Where's Waldo? He's everywhere, all the time, and no, he never gets his gigs mixed up. I asked. He said no.

For instance, if you caught the Captain Beefheart tribute at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City in June, you might have spotted the ex-Guided By Voices, ex-Cobra Verde, ex-too many bands to even list guitarist Gillard holding court with the Bush Tetras, covering the Beef's "Hot Head," "Tropical Hot Dog Night" and "Big Eyed Beans from Venus." If you happened to be in Hamburg last year, at the Indra Club, on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first club dates, you might also have noticed a certain familiar guitarist rocking out with Bambi Kino. Show up at a Nada Surf show lately? Gillard was there, too. Ditto for the recent reunion shows for Homestead Records' My Dad Is Dead. He also found time to record a second Lifeguards album with Robert Pollard. Right now, he's getting ready for a tour with Tommy Keene, where he will play in his own band and back up Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves on guitar.


Doug's got a whole bunch of live tunes up at the Free Music Archive.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arrica Rose again

I posted about this really excellent record, Arrica Rose and the Dot Dot Dots' Let Alone Sea a week or two ago, thinking that I probably wouldn't have the chance to review it. and then things changed, and I was, indeed, reviewing it for Blurt, so here it is. Nine stars, holy shit, I think I only gave it eight and Fred bumped it up.

Arrica Rose and the …s
Let Alone Sea

Warm, natural, casually excellent, the LA songwriter Arrica Rose's third full-length feels as soft and worn-in as an old tee-shirt the first time through. Let Alone Sea is the kind of record that you feel instantly familiar with, as if you'd put it on late at night all your life, whenever you needed to get back to basics or set your head straight.

Rose's dusky alto is sure and true, fluttering a little at the edges, as she sings wisely, knowingly, about sailing away or bending a recalcitrant world to one's will. There's an Americana ease to these melodies, a bit of twang and blues slipped into their clean pop contours, though all that is layered over with a dreamy bit of gauze. When Rose murmurs ruefully that "everybody will burn," in opener "Everybody," her voice is a bittersweet wisp of smoke itself, though surrounded by luminous textures of 4AD-style alt-rock in the arrangements.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Josephine Foster's flamenco album

It's clear the floor time again at Jennifer Kelly headquarters (or at least roll back the edge of the CD tide), and in the process of pitching a whole bunch of CDs I will never listen to, I found this one, Anda Jaleo, which I am liking a whole bunch. It came out in 2010 and represents the collaboration between alt.folk/blues singer Josephine Foster and the Spanish guitarist Victor Herrera. It's kind of like the distaff version of Howe Gelb's band of gypsies project, although, Foster slips more readily into the mix than Gelb did, and they're performing traditional songs, not her own compositions. I'm actually not sure it's flamenco, technically, since Herrara is from the northern end of Spain...but there's a song about Seville and castenets in places, what do I know?

Anyway, good stuff, here's a video of them performing together.

Cut Off Your Hands’ Hollow

Cut Off Your Hands
(French Kiss)

New Zealand’s Cut Off Your Hands splices achingly pretty harmonies and luminous guitar jangles over a vaguely anxious foundation of rhythmic propulsion. They sound very much like the mid-1980s bands that softened and romanticized post-punk (and, incidentally, made it commercially viable): late-period Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs and The Cure.

Consider “Hollowed Out,” for instance, the quasi-title track. It’s a dead ringer for Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” in the way it layers shimmering, chiming gauzes of guitar sound and swoony choruses over the slumberous eighth-note pulse of bass. Singer Nick Johnston, surrounded by echo, takes the stance of a doomed romantic hero looking over into the abyss (without, it must be said, a single hair out of place). He works only the barest trace of yelp or snarl into his smooth vocalizations, adding drama by blowing out the vowels like Morrissey in great sweeping, self-indulgent arcs. And yet, god damn it, it works. The song is pure eyelinered, early-MTV’d sturm und drang, and a total pleasure all the way through.


"Hollowed Out"

And, just for fun, the Echo & the Bunnymen track that "Hollowed Out" most reminds me of...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ganglians' Still Living

Nice weekend? Rained here. We watched The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which was interesting, but kind of incoherent, and an old Saturday Night Live with Jimmy Cliff on it. Oh, and I wrote a couple of reviews, what else is new? Here's one from last week.

Still Living

Ganglians, out of Sacramento, have staked out ground as a sort of lo-fi Beach Boys, splicing the Wilson brothers' way with elaborate harmon and counterpoints to the slacker DIY strummeries of their Woodsist brethren. (This album is on Lefse, but the previous one Monster Head Room was released by Woodsist, home to Woods, Real Estate, etc.) Ryan Grubbs, Ganglians' main singer, has said that he wants the band's music to sound like the choirs of angels heard, sometimes, on good LSD trips. That's a pretty good description, because, like an acid trip, Still Living is intermittently celestial, incoherent, and muddled. It's also childishly joyful, in the vein of Panda Bear, its bright booming melodies limned in primary colors and curving upward like flowers toward the sun.



Monday, September 5, 2011

Explosions in the Sky interview

This feature ran in the spring print issue of Blurt a few months ago, but just recently went up, online, where I can link and share it.

Explosions in the Sky: Speechless
By Jennifer Kelly

"The risk with instrumental music," says Explosions in the Sky drummer Chris Hrasky, "is that it can be background music. We want that sort of feeling that people get when they listen to a pop song."

Explosions in the Sky's fifth album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence Ltd.), is, like all the others, primarily instrumental (there are a few vocals this time). Yet at the same time, the record communicates directly with the emotions, taking listeners through a variety of moods-from anticipation to nostalgia, from joy to melancholy-all without saying a word. Hrasky and guitarist Munaf Rayani both suggest there's no easy way to capture emotion in music. Their process involves constant trial and error and a willingness to throw songs out when they don't achieve their goals.

"We kind of bang our heads against the wall for days that turn into weeks and months and years, and try and try and try to evoke these emotions that we're after," says Rayani. "There's a great amount of discussion that occurs between the four of us, but the actual achieving of the sound is remarkable to us, too. It's almost like a magician did a magic trick in front of us and we're sitting six inches away from us and can't figure out how it was done."


"The Only Moment We Were Alone"

Friday, September 2, 2011

Social Climbers...more weird-ass stuff from Indiana

I've been revisiting my Hoosier roots lately, in the weirdest possible way, through music. Caveat: when I actually lived in Indiana, the only music available was the commercial dreck then in heavy play on top 40 radio stations. But since then, I have learned that all kinds of interesting stuff was going on, then and now, in the margins of, perhaps, the blandest, most fiercely anti-intellectual state in the union. Here are some bands/artists I have discovered in the last few years from Indiana: Zero Boys, John Wilkes Booze Explosion, Happy Thoughts, Apache Dropout, Circuit Des Yeux, Jookabox, John Hiatt, Liz Janes...there may be a few more.

Social Climbers is probably really a New York band, but New York in that classic sense of an outsider from elsewhere finally finding a place to be himself (herself). In this case, that person was Mark Bingham, a sometime Glenn Branca collaborator who founded oddball, disco-punk-lo-fi Social Climbers, whose only recorded output has recently been re-released by Drag City.

My Dusted review ran yesterday and said...

Social Climbers’ sound was, in some ways, classic no-wave post-punk, relying on indifferently tuned, synthetic keyboard sounds for manic, double layers of abrasive bass for its punch. The band used a drum machine most of the time, its uninflected beats giving the music a jerky, robotic feel. Yet unlike, say Devo, who also played with de-humanized, mechanized rhythms, Social Climbers incorporated a good bit of disco funk into their formula. (It was, after all, the age of Studio 54 as much as Lydia Lunch.) “Chicken 80,” for instance, filters tangled funk guitars and twitchy bass through a homegrown, anxiety-addled aesthetic. It is, unquestionably, the most anthemic of the band’s songs, but even so, a bit arch and italicized, a commentary on its post-punk and funk influences, rather than a thing in itself.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alias' Fever Dream

So, yes, I reviewed another Anticon-ish, avant hip hop record, this one by the Portland (ME!) produceer Alias....It ran in yesterday's Blurt.


Fever Dream


Alias' sixth full-length layers gauzy, rainbow colored psychedelia over hard beats, moving in dream-like lucidity over intricate, improbably pretty landscapes. "I wish I could talk in Technicolor," whispers a child-like female (at the beginning of a song named "Talk in Technicolor") and, if the Anticon co-founder hasn't learned to talk in day-glo, he has certainly figured out how to cloak his beats in shimmering, color-shifting auras.

If Sole's last album was all about the clever phrase and Serengeti's about the emotionally-charged short-story, Alias seems primarily concerned with rhythm and texture. These cuts nearly all include some kind of sampled vocal, a phrase snipped from context and repeated, yet the art is nearly all in the arrangements that frame them - the blossoming clusters of bright keyboards, the sharpness of drum fill, the syncopated slush of open high-hat closing shut. Alias' beats simultaneously float and snap, their airy flourishes and wordless tonal fills drifting through like daydreams over an emphatic, very physical series of rhythms. Listen, for instance, to the way that "Wanna Let It Go" unspools, its ululating vocals, its tremolo'd keyboard accents dissolving into soul-slanted atmospheres, its ricocheting drum beat arguing for purpose, direction and forward movement. Consider "Fever Dreamin'" a fever dream, the body's basic processes - breathing, blood-pumping - going on in the rhythm, while the mind slips irresistibly into the stratosphere. Some tracks are more grounded than others; "Dahorses" makes a body-shaking rhythm out of clipped, reconfigured and repeated male voice sounds, while "Lady Lambin'" floats diaphanously, spectrally, disconnectedly over a snare-shot beat - but all layer a surreal sheen over corporeal foundation.


Efren's Rise Up and Melt

Here's a slow burner, the whispery dark, country-psych Rise Up and Melt from Athens, Georgia's Efren. Efren is mainly Scott Low, whose marital troubles form the melancholy backdrop of this album, but he also has an able backing band, not sure who, but good pedal steel and occasional bits of cello, very nice.

I'm liking a lot of things about this album, but let's lead with the long, trippy ruminations of "Mr. Greene," which unspools in a wind-tunnel of longing and regret, space-noises pinging across vast empty spaces, distant campfire strumming, murmured lyrics about fire and destruction and's pretty stunning. I also like "H Bomb" a lot, partly for its lefty sentiments about oil wars and hydrogen-powered cars, but also for its shit-kicking hillbilly rollick.

Here's "Mr. Greene"

"Moonshine" is pretty good, too.