The latest round of TNB Music Staff Picks. Dig it, baby…
Stunningly complex atmospherics from an unlikely legend
When Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo recently talked to TNB Music about his three-piece side project Philm (with guitarist/vocalist Gerry Nestler and bassist Pancho Tomaselli), he gamely addressed the various sounds the band have incorporated into their forthcoming debut: “heavy,” “bluesy” and “diverse.” Having finally sat down with that record, Harmonic, we realize that words cannot begin to approach the spectacular brew of genius, madness, terror and ecstasy that fuel one of the more fascinating releases of 2012. Harmonic is a relentless 15-song campaign that storms through the fields of Coltrane, Santana, Gilmour and Hanneman, and while attempting to identify a singular sound is a fool’s errand, punk vocals, jazzy dissonance and of course, masterful drumming appear in ample doses.
Slayer fans looking for a poor man’s version of Reign in Blood will be bitterly disappointed. There might be hints of his day job here and there, but Harmonic boasts considerably more depth than any Slayer album. Which is not a dig at Slayer—even Lombardo will cop to his primary band’s ruthless adherence to their thrashy blueprint. Harmonic is much more. It is the soundtrack to a spy film; it is what goes through the head of a man writing a conspiracy-riddled manifesto; it is the muffled suction of a syringe delivering its warm, narcotic payload; and it is the velocity of a hundred thousand bullets strifing a long stretch of highway. Opener “Vitriolize” suggests black metal pierced with jazz, yet a melodic undercurrent breathes vibrant life into its explosive finish. This same melodic sensibility not only unifies the remaining songs but elevates Philm from the dreaded “experimental” label.” The title track is a gorgeous back hole of bluesy atmospherics with barely any drums at all—a testament to the strength of the collaboration. This is no vanity project for Lombaro—Nestler and Tomaselli enjoy acres of space to riff and improvise, with the songs ebbing and flowing with an organic ease, breathtaking in the range of emotions explored. Like Sigur Ros and Mogwai records, separating the songs into discrete experiences is a terrible disservice to both the listener and the music—the album must be heard in toto to reap the full experience. Resplendent in subtleties and accents, Harmonic will thoroughly enthrall the listener who sets aside expectations and who opens their mind to a new sonic experience. –Joe Daly
Revisiting the glory of the twelve inch
Musically speaking, the crowning achievement of the 1980s had to be the 12-inch single. Yes, the lowly 12-inch single. Though it started out in the late 70s as the format of choice for disco, it blossomed into something quite special in the following decade. Nobody explored or exploited the possibilities of the 12-inch quite like Trevor Horn and his ZTT label, using it for political manifestos, philosophical musings, and seemingly endless variations on just about every single they released.
For this second volume of The Art of the 12, an impressive roster of 80s veterans like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Art of Noise, Propaganda, Act, and 808 State all put in their expected appearances―but ZTT widen their scope to include mixes that follow the ZTT aesthetic. Specifically, we also get an Art of Noise remix of Paul McCartney’s “Spies Like Us”, extended versions of Godley & Creme’s “Cry” and OMD’s “Julia’s Song”, and Gary Langan’s B-side remix of Scritti Politti’s “Absolute”―all presented in the stellar sound quality for which ZTT are also famous.
If that isn’t incentive enough for you to rush to your nearest record shop, consider this: 20 of the 27 tracks here appear on CD for the first time… –Kevin O’Conner
Insurgent country isn’t dead—it’s just hungover
If the early Nineties marked the rise of grunge and the mid-Nineties gave way to the amorphous “Alternative” movement, then the end of the Nineties will be known for rise of “Alt-country,” that fertile patch between old school country and 70s punk. Uncle Tupelo are generally credited as the forefathers of this genre, with its members splitting out into Wilco and Son Volt, but not before inspiring the births of thousands of “insurgent country” acts across the US. Musicians raised on punk, garage and even metal revisited the old standards of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and the Louvin brothers, injecting them with the distorted guitars, snarled vocals and machine-gun percussion. This new genre was anything but ironic—the sound was a sincere and often well-executed tribute to the country roots of modern rock and roll.
While the dive bar trendiness of alt-country came and went by the dawn of the new millennium, the genre continues to enjoy voracious support from its diehard fans and from a new legion of acts. Notable among these are the tongue-in-cheek-named Joecephus and The George Jonestown Massacre—a tip of the hat to country icon George Jones and the psychedelic warriors, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The Memphis band’s latest effort, Arockalypse Now, is a 15 song assortment of energetic and relentlessly irreverent foot stompers. Unlike the Reverend Horton Heat, who endured justifiable accusations of one trick pony-ism, the GJM gleefully spin through country, punk, rock and even ska without losing a sense of coherence. “Love Song #666,” “Dope Smokin Song,” and “Pepper Spray” deliver precisely what the band’s name implies—amped-up, toe-tapping country on trucker speed. While this flavor persists throughout the record, ample doses of punk, garage and electric blues add enough depth to merit repeat listens. “Just Another Day” is vintage punk and “Pimpworth” is blistering biker blues that could easily appear in a Sons of Anarchy riding montage. The production could use some tweaking–the vocals come in too high on several tracks, suggesting that these songs are designed for the live show–but overall, Arockalypse Now deserves a spin for managing to celebrate the fundamentals of a number of genres without turning into a cliche. -JD
Doubt as beautiful as the stars
Living on the water clearly agrees with Katiejane Garside. The third Ruby Throat album, mostly recorded on a boat with bandmate Chris Whittingham, still surrounds her voice (oh, her voice!), with dreamy, noir-ish, folk-influenced soundscapes―but the overall mood is much lighter, in contrast to the American Gothic stories of The Ventriloquist, or the darker moods of Out of a Black Cloud Came a Bird.
This time around, the songs are more impressionistic than story-like, giving them an added layer of mystery. They’re very calming however, even where the lyrics would seem to suggest otherwise. There’s a sort of comfort-in-darkness, or even Sunday-morning-over-coffee, feel to the music that draws you into its world. However you might put it, o’ doubt o’ stars is a compelling album, one of those increasingly rare discs that rewards repeated listening. Chances are you won’t want to listen to anything else for quite some while.
The album is currently available (from katiejanegarside.com/shop.html) in a beautiful, hand-assembled limited edition of 500. If the established pattern holds, you can expect a less expensive “standard” edition a few months down the road.
In the meantime, “Stone Dress”, is available as a digital download from the usual outlets. –KO
Tune in, turn inward, release
Eight years since the last R-Three release, Rhett Redelings is back with a new EP—the six-song Songs from the First Half. Doing a Jackson Browne in reverse, Redelings has shifted his focus inward; instead of politics and the state of the world, he focuses on his experiences of “growing up and trying to make sense of it all.”
In the process, Redelings has stripped away much of the dense, cinematic R-Three sound in favor of sparser arrangements that support rather than overwhelm his voice, creating a more intimate setting that fits the material quite nicely. He’s also skillfully channeled his inner Thomas Dolby and Prefab Sprout to great effect, particularly in the vocal department. (That’s a compliment.)
The opening song, “Audrey”, concerns itself with shattered hopes and broken dreams, while “Sweet Sister of Sleep” describes a dream-encounter with Death (it’s almost hard not to picture Jessica Lange in All That Jazz); together with an excellent cover of Aimee Mann’s “It’s Not”, these are the highlights of the EP. One hopes Mr. Redelings will be back with more very soon. –KO
Listen to The Voice
Thousands of words have already been written about Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen’s first album of new songs since 2004. The album has been dissected and deconstructed, its themes of love, sex, and mortality identified and analyzed, and its lyrics quoted. Moreover, let’s agree to simply acknowledge his advanced age and leave the dead horse beating to others. We do feel compelled to underscore this rather salient point regarding his latest record: Old Ideas may be Leonard Cohen’s best album since I’m Your Man.
The synthesizers that have anchored Cohen’s last few albums have been scaled back in favor of more acoustic arrangements, creating a warmth which richly complements The Voice. And that’s really what makes the album. Cohen may joke about “the four notes [he] can sing”, but his facility with The Voice―in all its gravelly, oddly soothing glory―gives it expressiveness far beyond its ostensibly limited range. To his credit, Cohen allows The Voice to sit front and center, dominating, but not overpowering the mix, or the songs.
Stacked with resonant, high-caliber cuts from start to finish, the album’s standouts include “Going Home”, “Darkness”, “Anyhow”, and the lovely, hymn-like “Come Healing”. In short, not bad for “a lazy bastard living in a suit.” -KO
Confounding expectations since 1958
David Sylvian has spent his entire career confounding expectations. His band Japan started slightly out of step with everyone else, suddenly executing such a dramatic transformation that they jumped slightly ahead of the curve (the New Romantics had to catch up with them)―eventually calling it quits just as they’d achieved real popularity.
Sylvian has tread his own path ever since (often to his audience’s chagrin), which A Victim of Stars documents quite nicely.
Disc one sticks primarily to singles, from Japan’s “Ghosts” (in its 2000 remix) through 1992’s Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration, “Heartbeat”, with Sylvian gradually shedding the trappings of his old band along the way, even when they reunited for the one-off Rain Tree Crow.
Though “Jean the Birdman” and songs from Dead Bees on a Cake are present, disc two largely spotlights Sylvian’s more “difficult” material; nearly two-thirds of the songs come from Blemish, Manafon, and Died in the Wool, plus the more conventional Nine Horses disc Snow Borne Sorrow.
The obligatory new song, the stunning “Where’s Your Gravity?”, manages to capture in its five-and-a-half minutes the essence of Sylvian’s solo career to date. Does it signal a new direction? To be determined… –KO
Intergalactic punk rock hip hop deluxe
These days, Clint Mansell is a respected film composer. Twenty years ago, he was still Clint Poppie, of UK miscreants Pop Will Eat Itself, and Cure For Sanity was their second album for RCA.
While its predecessor (This is the Day…This is the Hour…This is This!) may have been more popular, Cure For Sanity was PWEI’s crowning achievement. Containing four UK hits―“Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina”, “92º F”, “X Y & Zee”, and “Another Man’s Rhubarb”―the album came out at a time (1990/91) when it was still possible to use a plethora of samples without getting sued; though PWEI never achieved Bomb Squad levels of sample density, they managed to sample just about everything from “Christine” to “The Flintstones”.
This expanded, wonderfully mastered, 2-disc edition from Cherry Red restores the album’s original running order (RCA had issued a second edition that replaced LP versions with singles), and adds more than a disc’s worth of remixes, b-sides, and previously unreleased mixes. The only notable omissions are the “Electric Sunshine Style” and “Intergalactic” mixes of “X Y & Zee.” Highly recommended. –KO
Move along; this is not the Gaga you’re looking for
The promotional materials describe Class Actress’s Rapprocher as “an 11-song journey through the push and pull of a tumultuous love affair.” Based on song titles such as “Let Me Love You,” “Need to Know,” “Hanging On” and “Let Me In,” this sounds entirely likely.
Unfortunately, while vocalist Elizabeth Harper’s voice is thoroughly decent, and although cohorts Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal provide an intriguing, ’80s-informed musical backdrop of analog synths and disco-ready beats, the arrangements and production tend to overpower the songs. Additionally, the overall sound is very midrangey, with clipping and mild distortion evident throughout. As a result, every song sounds more or less the same―a generic blend of Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga, but without the variety. That said, the chorus of “Limousine” has a melody line reminiscent of the “diggin’ the scene with a gangster lean” line from the great William DeVaughn’s ’70s classic “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got.”
Rapprocher could be what Simon LeBon once called “a good old disco stomper,” but the production and mastering ultimately let it down. For mp3 players only. —KO