Feat: Black Mountain, Dub Trio, Dengue Fever, Patty Larkin

The Shotgun is a monthly series of shotgun album reviews by Glide contributor Eric Saeger.

Black Mountain, In the Future (Jagjaguwar Records)

Indie pseudo-stoner bands are forever treating your average suburban Zep/Sabbath/GNR listener the way Lucy treats Charlie Brown, pulling the football away just when the potential record buyer is about to take the plunge.  There are enough attention-starved critics around who’ll listen to In the Future and feel compelled to snark long and hard about the super-creativity of its Pavement-meets-early-Foghat-ness, and the beat will go on without anyone gaining anything, as in listeners getting a worthwhile album and/or Black Mountain beating the pants off of Wolfmother. 

The first two songs are rope-ins comprising the music-product equivalent of a mind-blowing trailer for a woefully written popcorn blockbuster action flick:  the psychedelitrippy “Angels” is like Darker My Love on Zoloft; “Stormy High” opens with a hint of the “Hells Bells” intro before straddling a riff that could have come from Blue Oyster Cult’s first album and riding off into the sunset with lofty mellotron tones and Stephen McBean’s dully versatile alt-rock singing along for the ride.  Then comes the changeup, “Tyrants,” a badly done, sleep-inducing attempt to fit Brian Jonestown, old Floyd and Dinosaur Jr (who, despite their embarrassing posturing these days, have this idea down much better) into the same round hole.  Many, many bands are doing this lately, serving chicken fettuccini at the chop suey joint, but I suppose it’s their money, which, thankfully, isn’t bubbling up from bottomless pits.

Dub Trio, Another Sound Is Dying (Ipecac Recordings)

The brazen title for this mostly instrumental album could be interpreted as a tolling of the bell for many genres, not dub in particular (or barely even in passing, really; if anyone should be hearing a call-out it’s the Melvins, not Satori).  The songs are genre-shish-kebabs that would in less competent hands be written off as cut-paste nonsense, particularly given the mud-metal undercurrent that runs throughout.  I’ve whined before about all the heavy bands out there that base everything they do on rigid, politically correct reverence for their direct ancestors; this is a shot in the arm if you’ve been feeling similar pain.  Metal this is, but dub elements – as opposed to dub music per se – pop up everywhere, including power-spray white noise, cheesebag reverb and momentary reggae riddims.  These and other dub features form a coating over a constantly shifting but lucidly drawn series of exercises – Ride the Lightning-era Metallica giving way to math-metal jazzercise, Ramones 4-chord bliss, Primus-esque skullduggery, ska, Rastafarian bounce.  Again, just as a caveat, this is mainly instrumental – the band trusts only Mike Patton when it comes to appropriate singers and he’s only around for one tune.

Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth (M80 Records)

World-music albums come and go, but virtually none get handed a fluke editor’s choice pick on Amazon.com and explode the way Dengue Fever did, winning over many bored critics in the U.S. hipster community in a similarly inexplicable series of events.  The band’s first album and Venus, their third, differ only in that the backing band – a diverse assemblage of scary-hairy slackers from LA – no longer have to rely on Sinn Sisamouth’s back catalog of 1960s Cambodian pop songs to keep them in business, as they’re writing their own stuff now.  The story here, see, is that one of these average white LA cats went to Cambodia and decided to start a Cambodian pop band.  They hired female singer Chhom Nimol and the rest is history – a growing arsenal of songs, most sounding like demos from the bar band in War of the Gargantuas.  To Western ears, Nimol’s voice is alien – high-pitched, trilly, you know the routine, and I have to assume that it is indeed routine if you’re visiting from Phnom Penh.  What’s cool about this is the slight tear in the fabric of American pop culture; the band does challenge listeners to move beyond canned anime-cartoon j-pop – this is roots jazz in comparison, I suppose.

Insane Clown Posse, Jugganauts: The Best of ICP (Island Records)

Try as you might, you may not have the right stuff to become a Juggalo, ie a card-carrying Insane Clown Posse fan capable of displaying the proper head-trauma behavior.  ICP connoisseurs won’t give this best-of the time of day because it’s comprised only of songs featured in the three Island Records releases, and in fact “real” Juggalos smell a corporate conspiracy – The Man is trying to hijack ICP – but seeing anti-rebel conspiracy in something as corporate as ICP is what Juggalos do.  It’s like saying the Big n Tasty is a plot by McDonalds to swindle people who like the taste of real hamburgers.

If you like your rap served metallic and underdone-Beastie Boys style, the poor, downtrodden ICP is for you.  In a warped way they’re the KISS of rap – simple, stupid, constantly complaining about not getting on the cover of Rolling Stone even while racking up gold record awards, stuff like that.  “F— the World” is a good case in point.  Everything can just eff off, man, okay, except of course for repetitive, one-idea emcees (who are sort of corporate, if my Hipness Cabal subscription is still current) and any repetitive gangsta-rapper who might have actually held a firearm once. 

Meantime, if you want misogyny on the level of River’s Edge, try “B*tches” (guest-babbled by Ol’ Dirty Bastard).  Somewhere out there is a badly wired jumbo-sized nimrod who got cut from the football team, and he has a skinny little girlfriend cowering next to him in the cab of his truck.  When the inevitable happens, there will be a brief public outcry that will end abruptly when a sober-faced ICP guy blames it on steroids in milk.

Fight, The War of Words: Demos (Metal God Entertainment)

Cynics the world over have long viewed Rob Halford’s predeliction for leather, studs and long-haired androgynous guitar boys as proof that there’s something snidely comical up his sleeve, that he chortles (and/or lusts) in private over the rough, tough, forked-finger-saluting Sweathogs that comprise his audience.  Whether or not that’s true, sometimes the coolest things come from jokes, though, and anyone who’s ever cranked a Judas Priest album in a car knows that adrenaline boosts don’t have to come out of Monster Energy Drink cans.  Halford has held the patent on melodically correct maniacal screaming since his Exciter days, and he did indeed deliver on his promise to push the envelope right over the edge with his post-Priest crew, Fight, a conflagration of Defenders of the Faith-level face-melt and — you know, whatever a baby demon sounds like.

He’s got brass ones, too, tell you what.  The level of fortitude required for someone to offer up a set of rough demos ("rough" being the debatable part; most indie metal bands would gladly sacrifice nonessential appendages for some of these sounds) as a regulation album would seriously have to come from someone who makes a living by exhorting Hells Angels people to get crazy angry.  The best thing about this, though, is that it offers the new generation of rivetheads several angles of sound engineering to try out, automatically making it far more compelling a choice than what your typical Avenged Sevenfold wannabe tends to barf into the void.

Various Artists, Well Deep: Ten Years of Big Dada Records (Big Dada Records)
It’s not absolutely essential to have reams of information uploaded to your skull in order to get a handle on indie hip-hop, but over the years Big Dada has been home to the most bizarre trips and aliases in the underground.  Albeit a British label, the Ninja Tune-owned company has provided workout space for stateside slam-preacher Saul Williams and MF Doom, the latter working under his Monsta Island Czars alias King Geedorah and teamed up with Mr. Fantastik in the arid, opium-den-rap classic “Anti-Matter.”  It’s misleading to infer that this album actually has all ten years covered; the first release on the label (Misanthropic’s Alpha Prhyme 12) isn’t accounted for, and the earliest nugget on board is of 1999 vintage (“Movements,” a dub-splashed tune from Dada’s bread-and-butter act Roots Manuva).  Nitpicking gets us nowhere, however, in the face of all this top-drawer, easily accessible stuff, such as “Night Night Theme” (the denouement track from Gun Hill Road, a saving-Brooklyn-from-bad-jiggyness fantasy LP from Infesticons) and Lotek HiFi’s “Percolator.”

ASG, Win Us Over (Volcom Entertainment)
It may indeed be that modern math-metal is ignored by most people, who favor instead old Zep and whatnot, but the truth is that today’s bands are “better” than their ancestors simply because they have to be.  It’s part of evolutionary design.  Even people who fancy themselves progressively minded write off things that are highly advanced and filled with more pure content because their paradigms are challenged.  You have to laugh at the old-school football broadcasters, denying that the 2007 New England Patriots aren’t as good as the early-70s Steelers – just watch some vintage reels and it’s quickly evident that Tom Brady would eat Terry Bradshaw’s lunch, dinner and midnight snack too if the twain ever met.  Not saying that faster is better – without melody it’s nothing – but the new breed is taking in everything and making some notable changes.

ASG, now four albums deep into their career, aren’t speed freaks.  They have, however, transcended their “stoner metal” categorization by adding new-school elements while somehow avoiding outright thrash.  Win Us Over is evidence that they constantly absorb not just their immediate surroundings (they’ve toured with The Sword, and there’s plenty of post-Molly Hatchet cowboy-metal to prove it) but the underlying essence of their generation.  The emo part of their equation – negligible, yes, but it does show – comes from Taking Back Sunday, as good a choice as you’d ever get, but they’ve apparently dug Offspring and Tool in the past and even ghouled up a few old Riot albums. 

Now, that’s all well and good, but keeping everything fresh, interesting and ripping for 13 or so songs is something bands don’t accomplish often.  A glass ceiling does remain, however;  the final challenge facing ASG (or Planes Mistaken For Stars, or End Of Level Boss, etc. etc.) is to pull young hard-rock fans away from 40-year-old albums, but of course if that were an easy thing to accomplish there’d be no reason for Hot Topic to continue hawking Zep tee shirts.

Lisa Loeb, The Purple Tape (Furious Rose Productions)

90’s geek-pixie Lisa Loeb kills a few birds by including a full CD’s worth of softball NPR-style interviews along with the first-ever digital release of The Purple Tape.  One: yes, even she looks back in horror at the white dress with cowboy boots ensembles; second, back in the day, she didn’t know what the word “stultify” meant and she still kind of doesn’t; and three, no, a lot of the time she has no idea what she was singing about either.

But that’s okay; either way she did (barely) survive the collapse of all things grunge with the help of a formula that cauterizes bummer situations with simple girlish wistfulness, not to mention a knack for marketing that almost single-handedly made four-eyed chicks painfully sexyPurple Tape was where it all started for her, a 10-song demo of unplugged material she sweated heavily over in order to give clubgoers something to remember her by.  The big hit here was/is “Do You Sleep” (this is the raw version, a precursor to what appeared on the Tails album), though nearly every song was well-representative of her Ani DiFranco for Dummies approach, which she couldn’t (and still can’t) help; DiFranco didn’t have a gastroenterologist dad put her through Brown University and couldn’t afford to be as scatterbrained as Loeb, thus one woman is for the heavy thinkers and one is for the roller-rinks.  But then again, one couldn’t survive without the other, could they?

Various Artists, Monterey Jazz Festival: 50th Anniversary All-Stars (Monterey Jazz Fest Records)

Outside the fringes of pop culture dwell many artists whose existence is news to you regardless of their high-level accomplishments, a phenomenon suffered by jazz players more commonly than anyone else.  With no small degree of casualness we tick off the list of career highlights accomplished by the individual members of the jazz super-group that came together to celebrate the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival and post up this live tour-de-force – trumpet whiz Terence Blanchard’s Best Jazz Album Grammy award in 2005; reedman James Moody’s Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts; singer Nnenna Freelon’s Eubie Blake Award.   The jam captured here was simply too good for a one-off, thus right now the troupe is about a quarter of the way through a national. Highlights on this CD are many, attesting to the fun spirit that materializes from the group dynamic – Moody trying to goof up Freelon as she mimics a wah-wah-muted trumpet during a scat clinic, Blanchard’s wing-and-prayer runs in “Monterey Mist,” and the incorrigible brightness the band finds in “Misty.”  In a nutshell, three generations of jazz greats are here, all tuned into the same fascinated, explorative, fully collaborative mindset.

Patty Larkin, Watch the Sky (Vanguard Records)

Senior citizen Patty Larkin once wrote a song called “Not Bad for a Broad” to poke fun at the Guitar Player nerds who fawn over her talent, but the Berklee grad’s songwriting – nay, album-writing – sense far overshadows her technical ability.  What a rare thing that is, and what a velvety, dense, inescapably good LP she’s submitted in her 56th year.  Roll-out track “Phone Message” is a come-hither from the looking glass, a subtle, unplugged guitar hooked up with a sitar to lay down the dharma; a whirlpool opens and you slip in, Larkin’s humble croon serving as both guide and inquisitor.  Cut to “Cover Me,” where the eddy’s slowed to a still lake decorated with a single fascinating arpeggio, narrated in turn by long-held notes that feel custom-tailored, the words “cautious skin/so cool this place I’m in” somehow finding solace in the terrifying dichotomy of desire.  This comes with its own self-hypnosis routine, too, in the form of “Beautiful,” the word repeated over and over while white puffy chords fold into each other. 

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.  Email [email protected]

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