Friday, May 29, 2009

The Crocodiles

Summer of Hate (04.09, Fat Possum)

Byline: Summer beach party at the Manson Ranch!

For: Jesus & the Mary Chain, No Age, Black Lips, A Place to Bury Strangers

When I was in high school a friends dad loaned me a copy of Psychocandy by Jesus & the Mary Chain. Instead of being immediately smitten I became confused, frustrated and ultimately disappointed with the entire experience. I thought something was wrong with my stereo, I kept on adjusting the bass and treble levels trying to eliminate what I thought was the static of a poor recording. Eventually I gave up and when I returned it to him he looked at me with a wise smile and said, "you'll get it some day". Well, I am 24 now and let's say I get it. We can blame it on the immaturity of my ears or my adolescent attention span that didn't allow me to get through the aural onslaught of ear shredding noise to get to the 60's inspired pop gems that were glowing beneath the surface. All I saw were two skinny dudes with weird hair making a racket. Fast forward to 2009 and the same strategy is alive and well, The Crocodiles are a young duo from San Diego that wrap their fractured pop songs in a black cloak of vicious feedback and squalor. The late sixties are alive and well on this album, the sense of foreboding and dissatisfaction that bubbled beneath every three chord pop song mirror our own time of an inherited risk environmental and economic collapse. Where The Crocodiles stand out from the class of 2008-2009 lo-fi revolutionaries is not their borrowed inspiration but their interpretation of the sixties. The Crocodiles could challenge the Black Angels for role as third-wave psychedelia dark arts champions. Shimmering synthesizers abound on "Flash of Light" and "Young Drugs" and give the tracks a buzzing sense of depth that is usually thrown out the windows of their contemporaries. The stand out track with it's killer guitar licks and church organ chugging along, is "I Wanna Kill" your new anthem for this apparent summer of hate?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rhys Chatham

From the Vault: A Crimson Grail (for 400 Electric Guitars) 

Byline: Shimmering. Colossal. Unyielding. Unrecordable?

For: Phillip Jeck, Glenn Branca, Thurston Moore

So, here is the story. In 1992 minimalist composer with huge ideas compiled 400 guitarists to play a 12 hour living, breathing testament to sound by playing on the bascilla of the Sacre-Couer in Paris, France. We have the pleasure of  having on record an hour of this beautiful landmark of sound. For how incredible this sounds in headphones it must have been a life changing experience to see and hear it live. As amazing as it is, however, I feel like the recording suffers from the Watchman complex. Something as intense and complex as the Watchmen fails in all of its recreated forms, a.k.a you Zak Snyder. I don't want to say "you weren't there, you don't know", but you know...whatever. What we do have recorded is pure magic, buzzing droning guitars cram sound into every known centimeter of space available in your ears. Like a glacier, the most powerful earth shaking moves come from the most minute movements. Although the sound can be overwhelming the smallest movements of tone come slowly and envelop you in a buzzing avalanche of beauty. I listened to this while walking through a forrest on a hike up Mt. Olympus. A fitting landscape for sure but the most amazing thing was when I took out the headphones, it was silence. Pure silence. Try it sometime.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sister Suvi

Now I Am Champion (04.09, Common Cloud)

Byline: Yeah! Surprise hit of 2009!

For: Tuneyards, Islands, Menomena, These Are Powers

Sister Suvi had a few things going for it before I gave it the first go around. First, I had never heard of them and they were recommended by a very musically inclined friend. Second, after a little bit of research I found out they shared members with the Islands (another point in their favor). Third, they are from Montreal, the next Seattle, creative nexus of North America, blah bah blah. Fourth, their album name is something I repeat to myself on an hourly basis at work when I smugly gain the upper hand when talking with my boss. If these non-music factors contributed to it scoring an immediate 5 points on my scale out of 10, the actual music scored +6. Now on to the music, where to begin? Like their contemporaries listed above Sister Suvi take a post-modern milieu of disparate musical styles and layer them on top of each other until the independent clauses that are supposed to keep each sub-genre contained escape from their cages to form one very long run on sentence! Seriously, Sister Suvi takes the cake for experimenting with different musical styles and nailing them, then moving on to the next, a feat most former frat kids probably brag about to their co-workers. I am not kidding when I say reggae and post rock exist on the same album. Now I am Champion opens with heavy post-rock teaser that recalls Montreal's not too distant past intro before charging into the reggae-hip-hop inspired "American". Add some distorted guitars instead of the intricately picked ukulele and guitars on "Agua" and you have a  prototypical grunge song. I am totally in love with Sister Suvi! This is endlessly enjoyable. I could not stop gushing about this album to my wife this morning and I doubt it will stop any time soon. Surprise hit of 2009!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peter Walker

Long Lost Tapes 1970 (04.09, Tompkins Square)

Byline: Totally blissed out Eastern leaning guitar ragas. See album cover.

For: John Fahey, Ravi Shankar, Chaz Prymek, James Blackshaw

"Oh, to experience cosmic bliss through the transcendency of the soul expanding act of striking universal chords through the corporeal body of the guitar." I am sure that is what Peter Walker was thinking as he sat cross legged, stocking footed, with a look of ecstatic joy on his face as he picked away on his guitar. If any album cover gave an indication of what was contained therein it is this one, and maybe Slayer's Reign in Blood. Just look how content he is! Peter Walker, the famed guitarist, ran in many important circles in the bohemian days of  the folk scene in New York, he worked with Timothy Leary, studied at the feet of Indian sitarists, and traveled upstate to record with the Band's Levon Helm, these six tracks of pure acoustic sweetness. Unfortunately, these tracks slept for almost 40 years only to be brought to the light of day in an oversaturated market of John Fahey covers contest. Looking back, however, these tracks are much more fleshed out and forward thinking than your typical new age bookstore employee with acrylic nails and a penchant for 8 + minute songs without slight variations in key or tone. No, Peter Walker wanderslust is apparent in each track as he travels from Indian ragas to new age freak outs complete with bongo drums, chimes, flutes and an assortment of crystals and other such paraphernalia. The result is less Shankar and more Niagara Falls-like expansive dreaminess. The musical technicality is Peter Walker on top of his game, from the exhausting guitar work of "city pulse" to the tranquil and evocative "Missing You", Peter Walker shows that solo guitar albums don't have to be studies in boredom for those of us without P.H.D's in music or the ability to totally zone out while listening to music.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Thermals

Now We Can See (04.09, Kill Rock Stars)

Byline: Very much art. Hardly Garbage. Four on the floor, two in the air anthems of human de-evolution.

For: a harder Retribution Gospel Choir, Times New Viking, Quicksand - er, straight up rock and roll

I don't know what it is about The Thermals that command such relentless devotion from me. I am an unabashed Thermals fan, they are perhaps in my top 10 favorites of all time. I think what this scrappy Portland threesome does for me is to remind me of how much I love rock and roll. Everything about their sound is stripped down the essentials. A guitar, a voice, a bass guitar, a drum set, and sense of resounding urgency in every chord. In a world of bands aping this strategy of three chords, sing along choruses, and simple lyrics, while under the gauze of basement quality analog recording, The Thermals stand head and shoulders above their piers by playing straight ahead rock and roll with a sense of world ending urgency, all while sounding exquisitely clean but not too polished. It is hard to call Now We Can See a step forward in any way besides a steady line of incredibly catchy albums with smart lyrics and heavy themes. The heaviness of the themes, however, never even threaten the overwhelming pop catchiness of each song, each fully formed anthem maintains a sense of hope and buoyancy that should coexist in every rock and roll song. Following up their apocalyptic opus against reactionary neo-con religious pandering, The Body, The Blood, and the Machine had some of the most hopeful, beautifully written songs I have heard in a long time. However you may think I may misinterpret the song; "Returning to the Fold" remains a mantra of mine. Now We Can See follows a similar vein as the main themes deal with the desire for human de-evolution to escape the coming environmental catastrophe. The songs are written as if a dead narrator were recounting the desires and circumstances of his desire to swim with the fishes. The Thermals do rock and roll right, simple songs with beguilingly simple lyrics that are metaphorically rich and display a sense of fatalistic urgency that should match our own.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Silver Antlers

Black Blood of the Earth (05.09, Magic Goat/American West Freedom Society

Byline: This is what I am talking about when I say Salt Lake has amazing music.

For: "Obolus" by Thrones, Terakaft, Niagara Falls, Gang Gang Dance

When I moved to Seattle I tried to impress on all my hip new friends that Salt Lake City was where the real music was happening. I tried to explain that the wave of creativity that swelled in Seattle in the nineties had crested and had crashed against the mighty Wasatch Front and had collected into a great inland sea known as the Great Salt Lake. A relatively young generation of artists like Stag Hare, Chaz Prymek, Wylde Wyzards and Silver Antlers (a.k.a Skyler Hitchcox) have been drinking from this deep pool of creative waters since birth and have now individually released their manifestations of the magic of Salt Lake City. Silver Antlers is the newest incarnation of the shape-shifting solo music output of Skyler Hitchcox and is quite frankly some of the best stuff I have heard in quite awhile. Salt Lake City is an interesting place, a haven for American Moses, mystics and magi, aging hippies and new agers, not to mention the deep conservative undercurrent that sparks so much creativity. Silver Antlers embodies all of the mysticism, grandeur of the beautiful and weird surroundings and all of the strange complexities of life in the Great Salt Lake. I have ordered the For section as a sort of guide through this 50 minute + opus. The album opens with the eerie pitchshifted vocals of the epic 40 min + Thrones track Obolus, then it wanders into some equally trippy krautrock-meets-new-age bookstore drones of Niagara Falls or Stag Hare. Out of the haze comes an incredible string section that sounds like Warren Ellis of the Dirty Three. We move onto some trippy guitar drones that recall the Eastern influences of the Algerian desert rock band Terakaft, around minute 18 things start getting real and the middle-eastern dance party via Gang Gang Dance's Native American drum-circle-meets D.F.A Brooklyn funkiness really start to get down. Black Blood of the Earth is as vast as the great salt planes and as impressive and grand as the Wasatch Front. It is all very magical and very mysterious, if this is the trajectory in which this new breed of talented SLC punks is headed then I welcome this movement as a statement to the vitality and creativity of Salt Lake City, long live Silver Antlers and the Magic Goat Collective!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Veils

Sun Gangs (04.09, Beggars Group)

Byline: A half-backed follow up of a surprise 2006 hit.

For: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Walkmen, Kid Dakota

I am not really sure how to write about albums that don't really strike me. Most of my posts thus far have been gushing reviews of music that either rocked my world or left me with a pleasant feeling of satisfaction. I am not saying that Sun Gangs does not do that to some degree, the problem is that it is too few and far between. I guess I can start off with my list of complaints: First, the song writing has some beautiful moments, "born from the night and the roaring wind/cast out of the shadows by an unknown hand/warmed by the light of it's falling limbs/drunk on the sadness of a universe unmanned". But that is about it, a majority are hackneyed lines rhyming "remember" with "last december", something about "three sisters burning", and "following the light from long dead stars". Finn Andrew's barely controlled post-punk snottiness, which is all up in your face and par for the times in 2006, sounds wearied and done before in 2009. Like the latest reincarnation of the Sex Pistols, it sounds like John Lydon going through the motions. Where Andrews finds his strength is in the stirring ballads like "Sit Down by the Fire" and "Sun Gangs". His Aussie-by-way-of-London baritone is a worthy predecessor to the almighty Nick Cave. Like Cave his ballads are beautiful, baroque pieces but unlike Cave when Andrews wants to get messy and eff things up it sounds like a bad Les Savy Fav cover band. For all his ramshackle folk, post-punk posturing he fails to scare and all he riled up was my itchy skip track finger. Next time The Veils! Don't give up! Nux Vomica shook me up when I first heard it! 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Niagara Falls

Sequence of Prophets (03.09, Honeymoon)

Byline: Trance inducing psychedelia from the very serious city of brotherly love and business associates.

For: Tangerine Dream, Stag Hare, Can

From only spending a handful of weeks on the east coast after living my entire life on the west I have a few misconceptions about Easterners. One is that they are all business all the time. I think of handshakes closing business deals, eating leftover take out at midnight after coming home from the office, gray suits and coffee. Everything about it seems claustrophobic. The nineties movies of Oliver Stone and Jonathan Demme have clearly skewed my perception of the east coast because Niagara Falls are about as expansive and free flowing as the Utah desert and Boulder hippies. Niagara Falls embodies all that is right with psychedelic music, the pulsating rhythms of trance inducing percussion, waves of ambient synth washes and electronic manipulation of collective noise.  The groove heavy dynamic keeps the songs on the ground as the endless overlays of synths and distorted guitar keep our gaze heaven bound. Having gone through a phase of listening to nothing but hazy looped guitar drones it is nice to have taken a step back, only to have something as spot on as Niagara Falls pull me right back in. I never really get tired of krautrock, there is so much to discover, and Niagara Falls is a direct extension of the discovery and creativity that I find so appealing about good Psychedelic music. The shape shifting nature of Sequence of Prophets  guarantees that it never gets old and the sound is just so spacey that I often have to remind myself that I am listening to music, it is easy to get in a trance while listening to Sequence of Prophets. Do yourself a favor and pick this up for hours of repeat listening. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Julie Doiron

I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day (03.09, Jagjaguwar)

Byline: French-Canadian troubadour wakes herself up and drops the most uplifting, endearing album of her career.

For: Mary Timony, Laura Gibson, Cat Power

Most of Julie Doiron's post-Eric Trip's output has been a pretty somewhat somber affair. Her intimate little songs have always exhibited a sense of emotionally fragility. This, of course, is not a weakness in the realm of singer songwriters, but it is a dangerous line to toe; the line between melodrama and earnestness is a razors edge. A few things help Julie Doiron's case: First, her adorable French-Canadian accent and the fact that she releases quite a few french only tracks, suggest a vintage Edith Piath quality. Second, her output is varied enough from album to album that the blue albums suggest an actual spell of melancholy and not a schtick. Just in time for Spring, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day takes her signature simple song structure and replaces gentle finger picking with power chords. All of the songs are perfect for driving around at night with the windows rolled down (as cliched as that is). The upturn in music signals an upturn in lyrical content, her lyrics are simple reflections on relationships, crushes, the nice feeling of relaxing after a hard days work, and bike riding. The songs work because the songwriting is so approachable, proving that the human experience does not need to be couched in vague metaphors and cryptic non-sequiters, a simple love poem can work, even when your 36. Ms. Doiron has quite the track record, from recording splits (as well as laudable admiration) from indie-rock luminaries such as Okkervil River, Phil Elverum (Mount Eeire), Herman Dune...and a speculated team up with Chad Vangaalen! Heres hoping that goes through. If this album doesn't make it into my end of best of list, it's album art sure will. CUUUUUUUTTTE!!!! 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It Hugs Back

Inside Your Guitar (04.09, 4AD, Beggars Group)

Byline: Cure for: the blues, 90's slowcore nostalgia.

For: Yo La Tengo, American Analog Set, Beach House

A few things that I don't like: walking to school in the rain with a hole in my shoe, being asked if I am over 18 by a librarian, music that has no heart. The cure: listening to It Hugs Back. I remember thinking a few weeks back after listening to the American Analog Set or Low or Hayden or Idaho some magnificently crafted nineties slowcore band "they really don't make it like they used to". I say this as someone who discovered nineties indie rock in the middle of my high school career, circa 2001. Like the sheen that only comes from watching a movie on VHS, in my mind the nineties music is wrapped in a sense of aural warmness that I sense whenever I listen to Yo La Tengo, Codeine, American Analog Set, etc... It only took nine years for the slowcore revival to take place. I don't know if I am making this so-called revival up, but if I am I am putting It Hugs Back along with Beach House as leaders in vanguard of warm guitars, restrained percussion, laid back bass lines, and mumbled, aw-shucks whispered vocals that recall Ira Kaplan and Andrew Kenney to a T. Not to forget that these bands also rocked, It Hugs Back mind the squalor of their feedback worshipping elders. Perhaps it only took these young Brits from across the pond to remind us Americans of our musical heritage. I have been waiting along time for an album to come out that pays homage to my favorite era of music. Inside Your Guitar is like the equivalent of watching Season One of the X Files, Friends, and Twin Peaks. Oh yeah, and Northern Exposure and Wings.