Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Gift For Your Dreams - (2007)

WILL-O-THE WISP is a Greek outfit that was formed in Athens in 1997, initially consisting of Takis Barbagalas (guitars), Kostas Pagonas (bass), Dina Nassi (keyboards), Nikos Manousopoulus (drums), Nikos Chalikias (flute) and Angelos Gerakitis (vocals). Their self-titled debut album was issued in 1999, and saw the band blend vintage sounding art rock with distinct psychedelic elements; resulting in dreamy music with a sound pretty close to early Eloy at times. And for this first creation they created a pattern the band is still following to this day lyrically: English lyrics telling tales that mix fantasy with reality. In 2001 their next full length album is issued, named "Second Sight". Following this release, the band starts setting up their own record company alongside creating new music, and in 2003 "Ceremony of Innocence" becomes the first production from their own label. In 2005 line-up changes are in store for the band, and of the founding members Barbagalas, Gerakitis and Pagonas remain, while Kostas Kostopoulos (drums) joins to become the last member of this reduced, revamped line-up. And two years later, in 2007, the first disc from this new formation see the light of day, "A Gift for Your Dreams".

Dodovoodoo - (2008)

Elephant9 are a Norwegian power trio whose music may look back a bit, but is firmly rooted in the 21st century. Comprised of keyboard player Ståle Storløkken (from vanguard electronic jazz mavens Supersilent), bassist Nikolai Eilertsen (National Bank), and drummer Torstein Lofthus (Shining), Elephant9 have come up with something that simultaneously references Brian Auger's early Oblivion Express, the 1973 Dark Magus/Agharta period of Miles Davis, the more free-form side of Weather Report's Live in Tokyo, and the Deep Purple of "Hush," all with three players and none of them a guitarist. More righteous still is that this trio record from Rune Grammofon, a label that in 2008 has come into its own, has a particular sound, and puts all manner of combinations together in creating a "supergroup" atmosphere. But Elephant9 are totally different. The set was recorded live in the studio, to analog tape. Storløkken stays away from synths for the most part and concentrates on organs (Hammond B-3, church, and Wurlitzer) and Rhodes piano. The grooves here are voluminous, yet they do not remotely sound like the Blue Note/Prestige soul-jazz organ trios of the mid-'60s. Instead, they come from the fringes, from the spaced-out side of electric jazz. They may touch on prog, but that's all; instead, the music is more darkly psychedelic, funky, ruinously loose jazz that pulses with an insistent overdriven energy that puts them in a league of their own. The tense dark ambience that pervades Rune Grammofon's releases is all but completely absent on Dodovoodoo. There are seven cuts here, ranging in length from two and a half minutes to over 13 minutes, though most fall in the five- to seven-minute range. The shorter pieces are drenched in grooves that allow the listener to hold on and ride in a free and easy head state. The longer ones are explorations into some beyond we haven't seen yet, with top-notch instrumentation and insane intensity. Check "Skink" for some of the most amazing drumming this side of death metal; that said, the organ solo is one-fourth the time signature and the bass blasts through the middle trying to keep time with the drum kit. Storløkken has no choice in his solo but to try to match his bandmembers. The finish is thrilling and breathlessly exciting. Even more compelling are Elephant9's readings of two of the late Joe Zawinul's best-known compositions: "Doctor Honoris Causa," written while he was with Cannonball Adderley's sextet; and "Directions," written for the 1970 edition of the Miles Davis group. "Dr. Honoris Causa" begins quietly -- just a cymbal and a bassline, a ghostly piano chord here and there -- à la the shimmering drum part of "Shhh/Peaceful" from In a Silent Way. The groove slowly evolves, and Elephant9 rely on their skeletal backbeat for the beginning of improvisation on the melody. The Rhodes allows an analog synth to enter halfway through, Lofthus' drums begin to triple time, and Eilertsen's electric bassline gets restless, while keeping that groove. When Storløkken begins to really solo, the listener notices how high the intensity level really is, and at that point it gets downright funky! "Directions" begins as a free-form improv that gets its wings at two minutes and turns into pure dark funk. For those who choose to encounter it, Dodovoodoo will offer many surprises, all of them timeless and engaging. It is not only one of the best recordings of the year, it may be one of the best in the first decade of the 21st century. Keep an eye out for Elephant9 -- they're amazing. (

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Bribe - (1998)

John Zorn's Bribe is a continuation and extension of his album Spillane. Like its predecessor, this album features almost the same lineup of extraordinary NYC improvisers including pianist Anthony Coleman, drummer Bobby Previte, organist Wayne Horvitz, turntablist Christian Marclay, and harpists Zeena Parkins and Carol Emanuel. Unlike the fast-spliced pace of Spillane, which functioned as its own narrative, the music on Bribe is allowed to stretch and develop because it was composed as a background for the dialogue in three 30-minute radio plays by Terry O'Reilly (it was later adapted to a stage production). O'Reilly described his creation as "low art; " along the lines of little respected categories such as pulp fiction and B-movies. Zorn then constructed appropriate music, continually switching styles and filling it with pop references. The overall mood of Bribe is also different from Spillane and much of Zorn's work (excluding Film Works, Vol. 7), in that it maintains a light-hearted approach, weaving music box chimes and carnival sounds into the music. A nicer mood pervades this release, yet given its kaleidoscopic and slightly demented tone, it certainly can't be described as relaxed. Then again, maybe "relaxed" isn't too far off, after all -- perhaps by playing a supporting role to the production's cast instead of driving the concept, the musicians were able to enjoy themselves a little more. (

"Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack - (1992)

Composer Angelo Badalamenti, who wrote the music for the television series for which this movie served as a "prequel," presents another low-key score mixing after-midnight jazz with ambient sounds, never taken at more than a medium tempo. The mood is dark and languid, appropriate to the unusual tone of the TV show and movie. Jimmy Scott and Julee Cruise contribute eerie vocals to songs with lyrics by director David Lynch.

Horn - (2008)

In the realm of musical tributes, you don't get more arcane than jazz-themed renditions of Jesus Lizard screeds. While Horn might have become a one-note novelty in less steady hands, the Jazzus Lizard cultivates a new avenue of appreciation for its inspiration. The Austin quartet recasts the harrowing, scattershot dynamic of its subject as a low-budget film-noir score cut under the influence of sax-fueled power trio Morphine. Despite cool, quiet arrangements, Horn is recorded hot, which accentuates the music's lurid wobble even in the absence of David Yow. Saxophonist Tom Kimzey and keyboardist Ezra Reynolds take turns riding the melodies of "Fly on the Wall" and "Then Comes Dudley" with the wizened acumen of burlesque-club bandleaders, while bassist Adam Kahan and drummer Snoopy Melvin provide the requisite locomotion. Scorching takes on Scratch Acid's "Owner's Lament" and the Dicks' "Wheelchair Epidemic," which the original Lizard covered, bring the local pedigree full circle. Big thanks to Shiney Grey Monotone for turning me on to this one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tennessee And Other Stories - (2010)

Until now, Hans Chew has been best known as a sideman. He’s played exuberant barroom piano on the last couple Jack Rose albums and contributed keyboards and vocals to D. Charles Speer & The Helix, a country-tinged combo lead by No Neck Blues Band’s Dave Shuford. Tennessee & Other Stories, his debut LP, gives a more complete accounting of Chew’s skills as a singer, writer and multi-instrumentalist. On the face of things, it’s an anachronistic effort. His gospel-steeped piano and organ playing makes no references to anything that’s happened musically since Nixon stepped down, and you won’t hear a studio effect less than 35 years old. Chew’s writing is steeped in a Gothic American tradition of murder ballads like “Pretty Polly” and hung-over repentances like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” with an occasional detour through the back roads of classic rock — “Magnet Moon” may be all about coming back to where you started, but its melody bears a more than passing resemblance to Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.” But a peek at the writing credits shows that he’s not totally stuck in the past. The sole cover is Tim Rose’s “Long Time Man”; Chew also credits Nick Cave and Mick Harvey, who remade it with the Bad Seeds, and the cues he takes from Cave’s version amp up the song’s stewing mix of hatred developed both in and out. Chew writes with a matter-of-factness about psychological impairment and pathology — he even drops the latter word on “Queen Of The Damned Blues” — that feels very much part of a present in which people can watch cable series about their favorite disorder. On “I Wish There Was A Train,” the narrator puts his old corporate job on the same level as his grandparents’ sharecropping, as if to say we were fucked then and we’re fucked now. He may yearn for the past, but he’s not making any pretence that the past is better than the present. But a peek at the writing credits shows that he’s not totally stuck in the past. The sole cover is Tim Rose’s “Long Time Man”; Chew also credits Nick Cave and Mick Harvey, who remade it with the Bad Seeds, and the cues he takes from Cave’s version amp up the song’s stewing mix of hatred developed both in and out. Chew writes with a matter-of-factness about psychological impairment and pathology — he even drops the latter word on “Queen Of The Damned Blues” — that feels very much part of a present in which people can watch cable series about their favorite disorder. On “I Wish There Was A Train,” the narrator puts his old corporate job on the same level as his grandparents’ sharecropping, as if to say we were fucked then and we’re fucked now. He may yearn for the past, but he’s not making any pretence that the past is better than the present. In fact, in Chew’s songs, the past is pretty tense; parents die, people make mistakes they can’t transcend, fate sets you up for the knockout punch coming down the road. But that’s not stopping Chew from making a record that sounds like a thing of the past, and since he played most of the instruments himself, you know he wanted it to sound that way. Just because the past holds the root of his problems, he seems to be saying, that doesn’t mean the music didn’t sound better.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fantomas - (1999)

The first project Mike Patton worked on after the April 1998 breakup of Faith No More was the all-star Fantomas. Heavy metal fans everywhere salivated at the lineup of Patton on vocals, the Melvins' Buzz Osborne on guitar, ex-Slayer Dave Lombardo on drums, and Mr. Bungle's Trevor Dunn on bass. But as longtime fans have come to learn long ago, always expect the unexpected with Patton-related projects. The band's self-titled debut (the first for Patton's record label, Ipecac) is far from your conventional rock; composed and produced entirely by the singer, the songs serve as a soundtrack to a comic book's story line. At nearly 43-minutes in length, Fantomas is comprised of 30 chronologically numbered "pages"' instead of songs. While it's an unconventional album, it's also a completely original one, especially when compared to the blah and predictable alt-rock of the late '90s. Patton uses his voice as an instrument with often amazing results (singing nonsensical syllables instead of words); few singers have the talent or know-how to pull off such highlights as "Page 1," "Page 19," "Page 21," and "Page 29." If you're expecting an album comparable to either Faith No More or Mr. Bungle, you may be confused and disappointed. But if you're looking for something completely original and cutting edge, Fantomas is highly recommended. (

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari - (1989)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) is generally considered the first completely realized German Expressionist film. The screenplay, written by Carl Meyer and Hans Janowitz, combined dream imagery with a STRONG anti-authoritarian message, an outgrowth of their experiences during WWI. Their screenplay had the movie end with Caligari in a straitjacket and raving mad. Fritz Lang, who had been brought in to fix the movie, is responsible for framing the screenplay with footage which suggests that the whole story is a nightmare invented by the patient, who had just been saved by the good doctor. But the fact that the sets remain distorted to the very end, suggest that despite his antiseptic appearance, all is not right with the world. The Club Foot Orchestra premiered Richard Marriott's score for this film at the Mill Valley Film Festival October 17, 1987. The film sold out San Francisco's Roxie Theatre for seven shows in February 1988 and was subsequently performed at New Music America '89. In 1991 Orchestra performed the score during the Smithsonian Institution's "Exhibit of Degenerate Art", a re-enactment of the 1937 Berlin exhibit of art deemed degenerate by the Nazis. In 1996 the Orchestra performed the score at Lincoln Center.

Visioneers - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - (2008)

First-time feature filmmaker Jared Drake makes his directorial debut with this quirky black comedy set in the near future, and concerning a curious spike in cases of spontaneous human combustion. The Jeffers Corporation is the largest business in the history of humankind, and they got that way thanks to their strict philosophy of happiness through mindless productivity. But when people begin literally exploding due to unhappiness, Jeffers Corporation Level Three Visioneer George Washington Winsterhammerman (Zach Galifianakis) begins to fear that his time will come sooner rather than later. George lives a comfortable yet completely uneventful life, and when he starts having dreams in which he's the first President of the United States, his doctor informs him that they could be signs of impending explosion. Later, as the dreams become more frequent and his co-workers continue to detonate, George is prompted to reevaluate his mundane existence. Judy Greer, Missi Pyle, and James LeGros co-star in an existential black comedy featuring music by Tim DeLaughter of the Polyphonic Spree.

Dellamorte Dellamore - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - (1995)

Achingly romantic and creepy-funny, this funereal fantasy from the director of La Chiesa (1989) is unlike any Italian film in memory. Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, a lonely cemetery caretaker who just wants to get out of his small town of Buffalora. His assistant and sole companion, Gnaghi (played by famed French musician Francois Hadji-Lazaro) is an overweight cretin who speaks only in grunts, and the dead people outside are rising from their graves as zombies and trying to have him for breakfast. This situation, coupled with all his other problems, gives Francesco a real complex. His troubles are compounded when he meets a series of mysterious women (all played by the beautiful Anna Falchi) whom he loves before they die tragically. Soavi's film is based on a graphic-novel, Dylan Dog by Tiziano Sclavi, but Soavi's more obvious influences range from Jean Rollin's La Rose de Fer (1973) to Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990). Barbara Cupisti (of Soavi's Deliria) has a small role, and the film also benefits from Manuel de Sica's memorable score and excellent pacing by editor Franco Fraticelli. This is a film to savor and it will go down as one of the most striking Italian genre efforts of the decade, despite some weak effects work by the normally reliable Sergio Stivaletti.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pre-Millennium Tension - (1996)

Maxinquaye was an unexpected hit in England, launching a wave of similar-sounding artists, who incorporated Tricky's innovations into safer pop territory. Tricky responded by travelling to Jamaica to record Pre-Millennium Tension, a nervy, claustrophobic record that thrives in its own paranoia. Scaling back the clattering hooks of Maxinquaye and slowing the beat down, Tricky has created a hallucinatory soundscape, where the rhythms, samples, and guitars intertwine into a crawling procession of menacing sounds and disembodied lyrical threats. Its tone is set by the backward guitar loops of "Vent," and continued through the shifting "Christiansands," and the tense, lyrically dense "Tricky Kid," easily Tricky's best straight rap to date. Occasionally, the gloom is broken, such as when the shimmering piano chords of "Makes Me Want to Die" ring out, but nearly as often, it becomes bogged down in its own murk, as in the long ragga rant "Ghetto Youth." While the lyrics are often quite effective in conveying dope-addled paranoia, what ties the album together is its layered rhythms and soundscapes. Though it might not sound that way immediately, Pre-Millennium Tension is as much Tricky reaching back to his hardcore rap roots as it is a sonic exploration. As such, it stands as a transition record for Tricky, but its overall effect is only slightly less powerful than Maxinquaye or Nearly God. (

Faustmusik - (1996)

One of the more curious works in Einstürzende Neubauten's long and varied career, 1996's Faustmusik is a close relative of 1991's Die Hamletmaschine, their score for an avant-garde reinterpretation of Shakespeare's play. This play, by Werner Schwab, is more of an oratorio than an opera, with the focus entirely on the recitation and singing of Schwab's German verse by Einstürzende Neubauten's lead singer, Blixa Bargeld (as Mephistopheles, appropriately enough!) and other actors. Einstürzende Neubauten's musical contribution is entirely incidental, and sounds at times like they're merely playing rehearsal tapes for a low-key, nearly ambient album behind the actors. Those who aren't fans of experimental European theater, don't speak German, and are interested primarily in hearing Einstürzende Neubauten's familiar industrial power should look elsewhere, but there's a certain creepy beauty to much of this album, particularly the nightmarish "Das Orchestrion," a slowly building cacophony of voices and drones.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The House That Dirt Built - (2009)

Bands that look to the '60s and '70s for inspiration are nothing new in the realm of rock music -- it seems every year, a new group appears that sounds like they thoroughly studied and regurgitated their parents' album collection. But when you find a band that manages to recall vintage sounds of the past and also put its own unique spin on the proceedings, then you've found something special. And that's exactly what the Heavy accomplish on their sophomore full-length, 2009's House That Dirt Built. Borrowing equally from garage rock and soul sounds from yesteryear (as well as merging in hip-hop beats, to boot), House That Dirt Built is one mightily impressive musical magic carpet ride. Singer Kelvin Swaby has the whole Rob Tyner/soul thang down pat (as evidenced by such ditties as "Love Like That"), and his bandmates keep pace throughout, with explosive rockers ("Oh No! Not You Again!"), Jack White-meets-James Brown grooves ("How You Like Me Now"), and a lush sonic sign-off ("Stuck"). Vintage rock revival done right.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Best Of The Complete Savoy And Dial Studio Recordings - (2002)

This compilation whittles Charlie Parker's output on the Savoy and Dial labels down to 20 essential tracks. The booklet is certainly impressive for a best-of item; producer Orrin Keepnews offers a complete sessionography, richly informative track-by-track annotation, and an introductory essay. Interestingly, he includes several originally unissued takes as representative of Parker's best and elects to scrap the 1946 Dial session that yielded a notoriously smacked-out reading of "Lover Man" and ended with Parker being institutionalized. Listeners who can't be bothered with endless alternate takes won't find any here, but devotees will want to seek out the full set, The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings 1944-1948, also brought forth by Savoy in 2002. (

Pattern + Grid World EP - (2010)

While Cosmogramma is a monolithic convergence of 20th and 21st century musical forms, high in concept and wide in musical collaboration, Pattern+Grid World pulls the focus back to Steven Ellison and his machines. These machines are speaking (and possibly looking as well, judging by the EP's cover) from the go, as "Clay" introduces itself in a fog of synth and vocoder and gives way to one of the many surprises here, the schizophrenic ping-ponging electro of "Kill Your Co-Workers". Drenched in alternating melodies, it's a synthetic counterpart to the grand string and harp arrangements of Cosmogramma, making acclaimed illustrator Theo Ellsworth's subtly psychedelic cover image of vision-through-noise all the more intimate. When Flying Lotus records hit their stride, all buttons labeled "pause" and "stop" disappear, and this one is no different. "Pie Face" is led by icy keys that could almost be mistaken for classic grime, before the stoned plastic marching band steps in. "Time Vampires" amazingly lands somewhere between vintage DJ Premier and Lee Hazelwood, while the stripped back bass and drum explorations of "Jurassic Notion/M Theory" are as shamanic and ceremonial as anything you're likely to hear come out of California. If "Camera Day" brings to mind a certain crew of dungeon-dwelling ATLiens, it won't come as much of a surprise that Killer Mike found its syrupy bounce recently inspiring.

Metal Machine Music - (1975)

One would be hard-pressed to name a major artist who ever released an album as thoroughly alienating as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music; at a time when noise rock and punk had yet to make their presence known, Reed released this 64-minute aural assault that offered up a densely layered soundscape constructed from feedback, distortion, and atonal guitar runs sped up or slowed down until they were all but unrecognizable. Metal Machine Music seems a bit less startling today, now that bands like Sonic Youth and the Boredoms have created some sort of context for it, but it hasn't gotten any more user friendly with time -- while Thurston Moore may go nuts on his guitar like this for three or four minutes at a stretch, Metal Machine Music goes on and on and on for over an hour, pausing only for side breaks with no rhythms, melodies, or formal structures to buffer the onslaught. If you're brave enough to listen to the whole thing, it's hard not to marvel at the scope of Reed's obsession; it's obvious he spent a lot of time on these layered sheets of noise, and enthusiasts of the violent guitar freakout may find it pleasing in short bursts. But confronting Metal Machine Music from front to back in one sitting is an experience that's both brutal and numbing. It's hard to say what Lou Reed had in mind when he made Metal Machine Music, and Reed has done little to clarify the issue over the years, though he summed it up quite pointedly in an interview in which he said, "Well, anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am." (

In-A-Gadda-Da-Nash - (2008)

Elegantly tuxedoed like Cary Grant in George Cukor’s Holiday and hideously bandaged like Claude Rains in James Whale’s The Invisible Man, the revered and reviled serial sonic psychotron known as Nash The Slash has been number one in a field of one ever since he first began creating his own insidious sound of music from deep within secreted studio walls located somewhere inside of an abandoned subway station miles beneath the filthy sidewalks of Toronto. Armed only with a Strickfaden array of hyper-amped violins, mandolins, synths and drum machines, Nash proceeded to unleash upon an unsuspecting society a senses-shattering series of aural album assaults whose titles said it all: Bedside Companion. Dreams And Nightmares. Decomposing. Children Of The Night. These unreasonably unrelenting records led to Nash being smuggled into Europe to work with the likes of Gary Numan and Bill Nelson, only to be abruptly expelled from the continent by the EU as "a deviant influence not only on humanity but on all life itself" after angry villagers caught a rare glimpse of his grisly ungauzed visage late one night in an iniquitous den of ill repute on the Rue Morgue. Safely ensconced back home in his underground lair, Nash donned his stained leather apron and threw himself into his work with a renewed vengeance born of righteous anger that would ultimately be made manifest in the records which were to follow: the corrupt social commentary on And You Thought You Were Normal; the modern urban brutality of Thrash; the silent cinema soundtrack to Nosferatu; and his first ever album of cover versions, American BandAges. Now the Slasher strikes again with an even greater new record of covers that extends from the obvious (Baba O’Riley and Astronomy Domine) to the obscure (Follow The Leaders and Constantinople) to the omnipresent (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald). So don’t be an angry villager....check it out now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Long Hair In Three Stages - (1995)

U.S. Maple's debut album is nothing short of stunning, combining angular guitar attacks, odd skronks, jazzy tones, and a generally deconstructive approach to music into a sound of unparalleled idiosyncrasy. The record's finest moments come when the slanted attack and fractured composition converge to simulate something approaching a conventional song ("Letter to ZZ Top," with lyrics like "Give my bones to Billy Gibbons," pretty much rules out any notion of normality). Between these off-kilter constructions and the group's even more off-kilter deconstructions, a truly amazing record is created, one that combines hard-edged, "whiskey, no chaser" rock with exceptionally intelligent slants and fractures.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Drukqs - (2001)

Despite threatening retirement several times, in 2001 Richard D. James finally released another Aphex Twin record. But for all this record tells listeners, he may still be in retirement. Spreading 30 tracks (most with unpronounceable titles) across two discs, Drukqs sounds less like a major new statement from electronica's best producer than the results of a Sunday afternoon's trawl through his hard drive for files he hasn't released before. Many songs here evoke the feel of recordings long since past, from the quiet ambient techno of his breakthrough, Selected Ambient Works 85-92, to the demonically extroverted programming of Richard D. James Album and the Come to Daddy EP. Stylistically, the record leans toward the later recordings, with many tracks here reprising the off-key melodies and overloaded drum programming of "Come to Daddy" or "Windowlicker." There's also little rhyme or reason to the program; James veers directly from a drill'n'bass firestorm ("Cock/Ver 10") to a delicate piano piece à la Erik Satie ("Avril 14th") to an acid-techno burner ("Mt. Saint Michel Mix") with barely a glance backward for transition. Of course, aside from all the criticism, the previously unreleased musings of Aphex Twin are still far more intriguing and solid than most producers' best releases. The opener, "Jynweythek Ylow," and "Ruglen Holon" are brilliant, inscrutable pieces reminiscent of a rusty, bygone music box or the gamelan music of Indonesia. And a few of the second-disc highlights, "Meltphace 6" and "Taking Control," chart a middle ground between the emotional ambience of early Aphex Twin and the wracked hysteria of his later work. Drukqs is a sprawling album that defies listeners to understand or enjoy it as a whole, and would've worked much better as a fan-only release than the long-awaited return of the techno vanguard's favorite producer. (

Disc 1

Disc 2

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sleep Forever - (2010)

Crocodiles' sophomore album, Sleep Forever, finds them honing in on melodies. With Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford (who also produced albums by the Klaxons, the Arctic Monkeys, and Peaches) behind the boards, the duo’s music is glossier and more digitized -- yet Ford manages to retain the sense of grit that put them on the noise pop map. With the wall of static dialed back a notch, the songs breathe more, allowing for Welchez and Rowell to construct some of their most immediate material. “Sleep Forever” and “Mirrors” are particularly strong singles, and “Hearts of Love” has a chorus that’s as skull-crushing as bubblegum gets. Lyrically, Crocs still have a warped, comically dark view of the world. “All My Hate and My Hexes Are for You” seethes like the words from a goth teen’s journal, and picks right up where “I Wanna Kill” and “Summer of Hate” left off.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Night On Earth - (1992)

Tom Waits brings an appropriately international flavor to his mostly instrumental score for Jim Jarmusch's globetrotting taxicab movie. As in all his music of the time, Waits' chief influence is Kurt Weill, and using horns and accordion among other instruments, he re-creates Weill's creepy, catchy style in 16 short tracks running almost 53 minutes. He and Kathleen Brennan contribute three songs with lyrics, which Waits performs in a calmer, more melodic way than those on some of his recent albums. Still, this soundtrack is very much in the style of Waits' Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Franks Wild Years albums.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Manual Of Errors - (1982)

Philip Lithman led a schizophrenic career, trying to make his way out of obscurity into the light of mainstream success, but then found a living as a valued sideman to the most obscure pop group of the '70s and '80s: the Residents. His dramatic, slanted runs up the fretboard have its antecedents in the British blues scene and art rock, most particularly Robert Fripp and Fred Frith (the latter also lending guitar to Residents recordings); his fingerwork earned him the nickname "Snakefinger." In the end, he died (suddenly, of a heart attack) while in limbo: not weird enough for the Residents, not normal enough for chart success or critical recognition. (

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Summertime In Heaven - (2010)

You don't realize how much you love the wall of sound until you haven't heard it in a bit. Indeed, this is how I felt when I heard Ghost Animal (and I did notice the frequent use of "ghost" and "animal" band names). Another is the linage of bands that bridges the space between shoegaze and garage rock, Ghost Animal reflects the current trends just as previous groups like the Raveonettes showed the more poppy garage rock sound of the earlier part of the decade. Shoegaze for fans of the Moonhearts, Ty Segall, Bare Wires or Tyvek is a good way to think of it. It is loud, fuzzed out and lo-fi while keeping the droning background that makes shoegaze so fantastic. Although I know I am prone to hyperbole, and hey, why get down on musicians that make something genuine? Nonetheless, Ghost Animal has made a real fucking amazing album with Summertime In Heaven. Holy Moses you need to get off your duff, or stay right on it, and get this album and hear it now. (

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Blue Lines - (1991)

The first masterpiece of what was only termed trip-hop much later, Blue Lines filtered American hip-hop through the lens of British club culture, a stylish, nocturnal sense of scene that encompassed music from rare groove to dub to dance. The album balances dark, diva-led club jams along the lines of Soul II Soul with some of the best British rap (vocals and production) heard up to that point, occasionally on the same track. The opener "Safe From Harm" is the best example, with diva vocalist Shara Nelson trading off lines with the group's own monotone (yet effective) rapping. Even more than hip-hop or dance, however, dub is the big touchstone on Blue Lines. Most of the productions aren't quite as earthy as you'd expect, but the influence is palpable in the atmospherics of the songs, like the faraway electric piano on "One Love" (with beautiful vocals from the near-legendary Horace Andy). One track, "Five Man Army," makes the dub inspiration explicit, with a clattering percussion line, moderate reverb on the guitar and drums, and Andy's exquisite falsetto flitting over the chorus. Blue Lines isn't all darkness, either -- "Be Thankful for What You've Got" is quite close to the smooth soul tune conjured by its title, and "Unfinished Sympathy" -- the group's first classic production -- is a tremendously moving fusion of up-tempo hip-hop and dancefloor jam with slow-moving, syrupy strings. Flaunting both their range and their tremendously evocative productions, Massive Attack recorded one of the best dance albums of all time.

Grey Oceans - (2010)

Sierra and Bianca Casady's songwriting and approach matured in the three years between these songs and The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn; even though it still sounds like Ouija boards and wax cylinders are vital pieces of equipment for them, Grey Oceans has a more expansive and polished sound than any of the sisters’ previous albums, and they don’t try to fill each song to the brim with sonic doodles. “Trinity’s Crying” begins the album by proving that CocoRosie sound as witchy as ever with its mix of odd samples and acoustic instruments, but as its coolly hypnotic vibe unfolds, it’s clear that it was made in a more professional setting than, say, a Paris apartment. “R.I.P. Burn Face” also shows how far the duo have come since Ghosthorse and Stillborn, fusing warbling synths, wandering beats, and a delicate melody into a song that is equally sophisticated and ethereal. Grey Oceans' arrangements and instrumentation are also among CocoRosie's finest. “Lemonade,” for example, captures summer’s idyllic beauty by melding a melody that sounds like it could be from a long-lost Broadway musical with trip-hop-tinged beats, electro synths, and brass. Not all of the album’s daring combinations work as well, though -- for every inspired turn like “Fairy Paradise,” which fashions static into a ghostly but persistent beat, there’s a song like “The Moon Asked the Crow,” which, with its mix of gamelan, classical piano, hip-hop beats, and a train whistle, puts too many ideas into play at once. More importantly, the whimsy that sounded charming on the Casadys’ previous albums ends up holding them back here. “Hopscotch”'s switch from rinky-dink pianos to jungle-inspired breakbeats is daring but jarring, and the keening, Joanna Newsom/Björk quality to the sisters’ vocals sounds grating. Meanwhile, “Here I Come”'s pitch-shifted recitation of phrases like “A hollycaust/A pussy wussy willow” is plain off-putting. At their best, the Casady sisters’ music borrows from folk, electronic, pop, world, jazz, and whatever else suits their fancies with innovative boldness. Not all of Grey Oceans' experiments and changes succeed, but enough of them do to suggest that CocoRosie can gain a wider audience without sacrificing their essence. While they have many good ideas, sometimes they have too many good ideas at once and end up gilding the lily (or putting a blue fake fur mustache on it, as the case may be). (

Summer Tour EP - (2005)

The most important thing to know about the trio Retribution Gospel Choir is that they are likely the most physically fit band on Earth. Drummer Eric Pollard is a distance swimmer, and Ultimate Frisbee champion with state basketball credentials. Bassist Steve Garrington also dazzles on the court, but it’s his long-distance running skills that mark him a champion. Alan Sparhawk, who plays guitar and sings, has extensive experience in American football, has been scouted for coaching work and stays fit as a distance trail runner and member of the band Low. Certainly, this trio would destroy any other band in a 10k race, and then still do the gig. This posting features the first ever release from the band. It is an EP that was sold on their 2005 summer tour that includes three songs from RGC and one from Pollards other band No No Wait.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Live At Eindhoven EP - (2010)

On January 22, 2009, veteran post-rock band Low played a set at the St. Catherina Church in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. That performance was recorded and has been subsequently released as the free Live At Eindhoven EP. It boasts a more grandiose setup than the average Low show; its four tracks feature a five-person chorus, an extra keyboard player, and two musicians backing the band on percussion and vibraphone. The album succeeds in capturing the tangible and intangible qualities alike that make Low such a lovely, wrenching live band. Typically, members Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker, and Steve Garrington travel light and expand fiercely. Their live shows reveal that Low’s so-called “minimal” moments and its noisier outbursts are one and the same, or at least grow from the same tautness and precision. Low’s collaborators at Eindhoven must appreciate this, because they are gentle about finding their places within these songs. They color in the grandeur that already exists, rather than try to tack on extra. The chorus does not steer “Silver Rider” into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”-style, where-did-that-church-choir-come-from overkill. In fact, for much of “Silver Rider,” it doesn't impede upon the vocal chemistry between Sparhawk’s steadiness and Parker’s tremolo. When the other singers kick in fully for the big “la-la” chorus, it expands the duo’s core harmonies, while still leaving a broad center lane for Sparhawk’s voice to pierce through. There’s another great exchange on “Silver Rider” between Garrington’s bass and Dominik Blum’s piano. They trade, and sometimes seem to lead each other into, delicate fills between the lines of the verses. They don’t pull off anything tricky or distracting, yet their interplay alone makes the song fuller than the version on The Great Destroyer. The other Great Destroyer track here, “Monkey,” gets a treatment that has the opposite effect. It’s still an ominous song — "tonight the monkey dies," after all — but here Blum’s organ and the interjecting harmonies in the chorus spread the tension around. It doesn’t blur the effect so much as pull back a layer, letting it sound more like a song about desperation and exhaustion. The track “July” pairs a second round of plush “la-la” vocal harmonies that with the aforementioned vibraphone. “July,” originally from Things We Lost In The Fire, is the kind of pretty song that teases you with just a hint of darkness. During the song’s last two minutes, the vibes and the vocals begin to chime in the background before ballooning to the fore in a wave of suspenseful restraint. Anyone who finds the full Eindhoven concert recording floating around on the Internet will hear more compelling arrangements between Low and its European pals. The track where the added musicians take the biggest risk, “Belarus,” features the chorus pulsing back and forth in a polished reproduction of the scarred-analog feel of Drums and Guns. Long version or short version, the Eindhoven recordings preserve one of the most incredible things about Low’s concerts: how the band manages to repeatedly reach epic crescendos without ever seeming pompous. “Laser Beam” helps the EP condense that effect into its short run time. Parker’s voice is alone in the church except for understated guitar and minimal harmonizing from Sparhawk and the chorus. As free souvenirs go, Live At Eindhoven is pretty damn rewarding. The unusual setting highlights what makes the band works so well: always supporting, never crowding. (

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