Category Archives: music

review – Blurry Blue Mountain

Another album and another winner, whatever musical incarnation Howe Gelb currently resides within. Giant Sand just keeps on truckin’, and with Blurry Blue Mountain Gelb and Co. have produced an album that’s surprisingly superlative.

Though firmly rooted in the band’s crispy Arizona desert sound, Gelb keeps pushing on from the edges of finality, seamlessly integrating his often brooding voice, often jarring guitar with a thoughtful and introspective piano tune.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an alt-country release that’s so heavily influenced by the jazz of Thelonius Monk, though still retaining a cohesive feel up and on down the line, as Gelb would murmur.

The record begins an introspection, an aging persona almost casually contemplating not only the loss of his heroes more importantly the mystery of its suddenness. The feeling of loss is pervasive, saved only by the tiny diamond discovered by his beloved who sees it as him, he a self-described chunk of coal.

Finding this tiny bit of redemption, the record picks up its emotional momentum, as the narrator regains his mojo from such disparate legends and influences as Thelonius Monk and the Molly Maguires, perhaps not so incidentally retracing Gelb’s own footsteps “from the Pennsylvania coal to the Arizona copper sun”.  What follows is the narrator’s newly found identity, a crafty, cheeky though contemplative musical self-sacrifice, which pays off handsomely. Listen closely enough and you might find a story cycle hidden just beneath the dust alongside the rail tracks.

The tracks are tight as a drum, with little deviation.  Fields of Green, Chunk of Coal, Ride the Rail, Erosion, Love a Loser, and Love Letters (bonus song) are the big standouts.  As usual, the guitar work, piano and percussion is dustily immaculate, if a bit too subtle at times. And like Marie Frank in previous GS works, Lonna Kelly provides provides some real sultry shivers on several tracks, nicely complementing Gelb’s droll. The problem is that Gelb is musically understated and/or too tongue-in-cheek, so one typically has to turn the volume up to get a better overall feel.  If anything, Blurry Blue Mountain is a grand upstanding album, while at the same time just another another teaser for Gelb’s future experimentation.

Frothcoming – Cee-lo Green

And what better way to prepare for his new album‘s release than with Bill Shatner?

A must-have for both free speech enthusiasts and library collections worldwide. As if the two are mutually exclusive.

 

review – the suburbs

Confronting the ever-impending threat of death, Arcade Fire has never lacked angst or even outright anger in its music.  “Funeral” is a very literal reaction by the band after experiencing the deaths of relatives while recording.  “Neon Bible” apocalyptically outlined an emergent generation’s fears of demise of their nation or greater society. With their latest release The Suburbs, the trend continues with an equally yet more localized destruction, this time focusing on crumbling pockets of isolated community.  But rather than another version of accepting death, The Suburbs is more a declaration of war on dual fronts.

On the one hand, it is a not very subtle declaration against certain waning generational forces, namely the baby-boomer generation (as my wife BiancaNDM will strenuously assert, I must add).  Songs like “City With No Children” describe the anger against millionaires rotting in their decaying private prisons, “Sprawl” visualizing endless mountains of illuminated shopping malls, where we are urged to “quit our pretentious things and just punch the clock”, the insignificance of buildings built in the 70s that crumble without anyone caring, or worse, even noticing.

A double edged sword, the album is also a declaration of war on our internal forces.  Generation X has now grown up, and has to face not only the excess of the boomers but perhaps the lack of our willingness to overcome the boredom of the suburbs and mature beyond ourselves. Indeed, in the title track, Win Butler sings of a desperation to avoid something worse than death, not only growing old but having a family as a “grown up”.  Furthermore, the songs touch upon a future unable to be prepared for: losing friends to adulthood, remembering the glory and perfection of our wasted time in youth, realizing it may have been better to remain a kid on a bus longing to be free than to be an adult and dealing with the all-encompassing sprawl. It has a definite ‘80s nostalgia but with a 21st century gut-wrenching epiphany of excess.

Musically, this is the tightest release yet by Arcade Fire. The vocals from Win Butler seem a little more constrained than Neon Bible, perhaps to rest his voice, but also to follow the psychological tension of the album.  Regine Chassagne has expanded her backup singing and really perfects the vulnerability in Sprawl II.  Admittedly, this is less Americana than previous albums, as the effervescent violin and volatile percussion is distinctly muted, nevertheless achieving its suburban atmosphere. There are too many excellent songs to list, but my favorites include “Wasted Hours”, “We Used to Wait”, “Modern Man” and the title track.  The Suburbs is a really powerful album, a quietly desperate Brian De Palma suburban gunfight erupting within indiscriminate cul-de-sacs across the country, perhaps right now in your neighborhood.

review – trans-continental hustle

It’s hard to continually raise the bar on a genre that you create for yourself and yet still remain fresh or creative.  That said, there’s something missing on Trans-Continental Hustle that was so eye-opening on Gogol Bordello‘s Gypsy Punks, so explosive on Super Taranta! that it’s hard to pinpoint.  The energy is here, Hutz is still Hutz, the pace is frenetically balanced between traditional punk, gypsy, and Carnaval atmosphere, with the immigrant-centric worldliness still representing the core of the band.  And despite the difficult task of incorporating a more discernible Latin sound tied to punk, there’s still something missing.

Many have noted the now infamous photo of the band wearing matching garb promoting the release of the TCH, a ominous sign of something completely antithetical to the core of GB and punk itself, a band comprised of wildly diverse elements too unrestrained to be coerced into uniformity. It could point to the more polished nature of the album as a whole.  For since this album is under the purview of mega-producer Rick Rubin, I suspect that GB’s talents, and perhaps its greatest asset, raw unpredictability, may be sacrificed for family-friendly airplay.  Take the songs Uma Memina, Last One Goes The Hope, Rebellious Love and To Rise Above, for example. The backup singers sound distinctly bored with their restrained wailing. Gone is the occasional though necessary explicit lyric, and less prevalent is the evocative gypsy violin from Sergey Ryabtsev in favor of the strumming of acoustic guitar.

That’s not to say there are unworthy tracks here.  Rebellious Love, My Companjera, In the Meantime in Pernambuco, and the epically momentum building When Universes Collide are all worthy of addition to the elite GB songs.   GB’s songwriting has always been intelligent, fun and belligerent, and it doesn’t deviate much on TCH.  In fact, the lyrics are probably as tight as they have been on previous albums; the fever to which they’re musically set simply isn’t as wild or spontaneous.

For the handful of standouts in this album, for me it doesn’t match the intensity of Super Taranta! and Gypsy Punks.  I don’t blame the band for going in a more polished direction; it was bound to happen that someone influential with the promise of a big payday would try to latch onto GB.  I’m thankful that it didn’t detract too much from Trans-Continental Hustle, and that it happened after two supremely powerful releases.  Trans-Continental Hustle is a fine, if perhaps too well-produced album that while not as overwhelmingly definitive, continues Gogol Bordello’s recognition in the realm of worldly punk.

tom waits…

genius.

new music – the veils

veilsPerhaps not as glistening as their most recent release Sun Gangs, Nux Vomica by the upstart band The Veils is worthy of mention.  Though it’s perhaps less polished than Sun Gangs, the songs contained within possess more raw power, energy and even consistency than their newer offering.

Skipper of the group Finn Andrews possesses a voice that trembles, wails and screams with a feverish emotion that at times channels the likes of Nick Cave, The Cure’s Robert Smith, and even Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin.  Though it is more than his voice which carries the record, as his skilled accompaniment makes a bit more accessible what would amount to an otherwise be a fatiguing listening experience. Like Modest Mouse, The Veils have rotated members routinely, though it doesn’t show as this group, like MM, play so tightly together that from album to album they make it work effortlessly, surprisingly so since much of the songs are up tempo.

Nux Vomica is a fairly dark album.  Songs like Jesus for The Jugular, Not Yet, Nux Vomica, A Birthday Present, and  bonus track Night Thoughts of a Tired Surgeon exude a barely contained, simmering rage from Andrews, singing of frenzy and powerlessness.  Though deflated by slower paced and introspective songs like Under the Folding Branches, this album is a jarring work that demands attention and further listening.

review – the atlantic ocean

swiftIt’s hard to take Richard Swift seriously at face value.  He looks kinda like Jack Black and has a similar cheekiness in his music. Also like Black, once you hear how adept he is as a musician you’re likely to be surprised.  Unlike Black, Swift is a bit more mellow in sound, his voice sounding like an amalgam of Bob Dylan and Frankie Valli. His surround sound bears a combined similarity to what one would hear on a Wilco album and your local oldies station, all mixed under the purview of Gnarles Barkley’s Danger Mouse.

With The Atlantic Ocean, Swift continues his surprisingly catchy oeuvre after the subtle yet very quality Dressed Up For the Letdown. The Atlantic Ocean is a bit more up-tempo, comprised of a weird yet intriguing inclusion of electronica weaving in between an omnipresent piano, lonely horn section, crunchy guitar and banjo ensemble.

For me, the album starts out as any typical alt-rock album would but slowly morphs into a 70ish guitar driven contemplation, to finally an echoing Motown dirge.  And Swift, with all his weirdness, pulls it off.  Favorite tracks include the immaculate The Original Thought, R.I.P., Bat Coma Motown, The End of an Age, A Song for Milton Feher, and the ultra funky Lady Luck.

The Atlantic Ocean is one of those albums that sticks in your head long after the headset is removed. It may not win many awards, but Swift proves he has a lot of originality to offer. Those taking a chance on Swift will be amply rewarded.

new music – hold time

mwardM. Ward’s latest release, Hold Time, continues his trend of revisiting and perhaps reinventing the good-old-time sound of none other than the good-old-times.  An ever-present countrified guitar, mixed with his usual lo-fi and low-key raspy voice, and a really well-conceived set of songs makes makes this his most thorough release evah.

A little more rock ‘n roll than his typical folkish sound, Ward keeps a good balance of electric vs. acoustic guitarmanship, with a subtle string section thrown in for good measure.  Add an impossibly haunting duet with Lucinda Williams and a beautiful complement of background vocals from Zooey Deschanel, and you’re left with an album that, like the throwback nostalgia Ward encapsulates, will stand on it own for repeated listening.

Among the many, standout tracks include One Hundred Million Years, Blake’s View, Jailbird, Stars of Leo, and Oh Lonesome Me.

review – yours truly, the commuter

lytle Jason Lytle will admit through his lyrics that this is not a triumphant return, but his reemergence back to the indie, alt-country, southwestern music scene is certainly redeeming.   Rather than further eulogizing the dissolution of Grandaddy, Jason has reified his talent through his new solo album Yours Truly, The Commuter.  Not only is it a lo-fi production continuing the Grandaddy vision of natural wonder surrounded with crunchy guitars and ethereal overtones, but it’s also a statement.  Lytle, in his pursuit of serenity, is here for the long-haul, not as a rock star, but as an artist.

The overall theme of the album is somewhat a continuation of Grandaddy’s What Happened to the Fambly Cat, where Lytle is not subtle about never being able to return to his Shangri-La, geographical or otherwise. The Commuter, however, stresses the classic idea of having the destination matter less than the actual journey, and it is in this journey that Lytle realizes the heroism of the ability to keep pushing on rather than cling to fleeting paradise.

As the album progresses the landscape changes from the typical earthy Grandaddy sound of intertwined guitar, synth and subtle percussion to the takeoff of ethereal chords and extended, up-close confessionals.  Plenty of standout tracks on this one; mine include Brand New Sun, Ghost of My Old Dog, Rollin’ Home Alone, Flying Thru Canyons and Here for Good.   It’s an album that gathers an emotional momentum, but soon dissipates, for it’s typical of Lytle: all his intention is to make an honest sound, watch it fly around, and then be on his way.