Nels Cline Singers, Initiate (Cryptogramophone Records)
The 4th collaborative set with Scott Amendola and Devin Hoff from the Jazz Times-dubbed “world’s most dangerous guitarist” is a double-disker, one studio (featuring the trio alone, none of whom sing, by the by) and one live (including guest shots from Deerhoof guys), and meanwhile, a Bad Brains dude helped produce the whole thing. Thus your ingredients, some strange bedfellows on face, and what a fricking old slog I had during the initial listen – it’s a hard read the first time through, the aural equivalent of parsing a Simon Schama accounting of Henry V’s Anglicizing of the Norman court. But time invested in the album as a sequential package – things like this don’t produce “singles” or “money” – uncovers a wealth of delightful tinkering, half of it lush, pensive landscaping a la Tales From Topographic Oceans (as in the intro track, dedicated to the memory of Weather Report chief Joe Zawinul’s recent passing, a huge personal loss to Cline), the rest a mixture of time-signature experimentation, slo-mo Tool grinding and various shades of techno-jacked prog-rock puttering. There’s a lot of edge to this stuff, a great choice if you’re looking for modern grooves not foreign to Relayer.
Goldfrapp, Head First (Mute Records)
If you’ve had any interest in this album you’re already quite aware of the Giorgio Moroder/ABBA comparisons that, yes, are correct, but this boy/girl duo remains hesitant to jump into those influences full-cannonball, here content to swan dive as inconspicuously as possible – the pair stays within their ditzy self-enforced parameters, which mandate throwing in some mundane crap because that’s just what’s done these days. One major change is that all this album’s contents belie their fetish for ambient and downtempo, an approach that characterized their first LP Felt Mountain and was supercharged for 2007’s Seventh Tree – but there’s no need to get too pedantic about this, being that Goldfrapp was never about being all that unsellable: it’s always been waif-in-the-woods techno when you boil it down. Thus the Moroder reference fits if you’re thinking Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby,” but only toward the wisp, fog and sparkle – I’ve known loose girls, Alison Goldfrapp, and you’re no loose girl. In the end, these are reflections on an infomercial comp that could be titled Now That’s What I Call Chicks Doing Dance Pop Through the Ages: Madonna’s “Lucky Star” is channeled for “Dreaming,” ABBA is thoroughly nicked in “Head First,” “Shiny and Warm” could have been a Sheena Easton B-side. Nods to Ladytron and their own 2003 LP Black Cherry prevent this from being completely retro.
Crash Test Dummies, Ooh La La (Red General Distribution)
It’s been 18 years since the world was first exposed to the quaintly geek-spooky baritone of Brad Roberts in CTD’s "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," and nearly 10 since they decided to “abandon the mainstream” (which is comparatively similar to Dick Cheney saying he’s decided to go unilateral). He’s weird, this guy, maintaining his Canada-based band remotely from his New Yawk home, where, from what I’m reading, he’s this close to being a destitute squatter; he disappeared for a while after being hospitalized for a car accident, and during his recuperation in Nova Scotia he wound up hiring some local lobstermen as musicians. They’re still around, even if the public-at-large surely isn’t.
A visit to downtown Weirdsville, then, is in order if you’re up for investigating this thing. 6 years in the making, it’s quite like the Eels and/or Postal Service in ways, but symphonic, not as folky as what you may expect (if you’re one of those super-rare people who actually “expect” anything from this band), some languid prettiness (“Songbird”), some Conway Twitty-style bluegrass (“What I’m Famous For”), standard song structures, apparent psychic struggle.
Hyperbubble, Candy Apple Daydreams (Bubblegum Records)
Though incessantly billing themselves as “photogenic,” this lo-tech Atari-punk duo look a bit long in the tooth to take on Fischerspooner and whatnot in the MySpace Music arena, but it could be part of the shtick, who knows. More cheese than a Velveeta factory here, although the somewhat Blondie-like singer, Jess, is into this enough that she pulls it off even in the face of near-fatal production, if you give a crap about that stuff. And Super Mario Cart and blah blah blah –“Chop Shop Cop” works in some Marky Mark honky-rap, while “Moogzilla vs Korgatron” finally delivers the speedy Devo-as-punk irreverence that should have been everywhere on the album. They’ve fooled plenty-enough hipster mags (which isn’t that difficult to accomplish now that I think of it) so who am I to judge too deeply.
The Bynars, Party All Nite (self-released)
Jeez, just kill me with cheese, why don’t you. Chosen at random from the pile of Boston local-band promo CDs on this desk, The Bynars (no one named Bynar is in the band, which just makes total fricking sense – what would be proper onomatopoeia for the sound of projectile vomiting?) are basically OK Go in a state of half-paying-attention – this bouncy, happy-ass crap wants to be heroic in some warped metrosexual-alt-pop way, and the songwriting (particularly “Sunshine” if I have to pick something) is more than adequate. Would that we could move on to the rest of our lives after stating the above, but unfortunately I must play the part of know-nothing pedant local-jokel reviewer for a second and harp on “the production,” something I’m well aware is the demon of very, very small music-reviewer minds. 4-chord Peavey amplifier and hideously cheesy synth is for demos, not MySpace, let alone an “album” where you’d walk around and say “this is my album” to chicks at work and stuff, savvy? Maybe these cats think that the Bowery Ballroom will book them and the crowd will go mental and welcome them as the next Shins, right, but what would happen, were the band to present this sound to non-local fan-prisoners, is that all the vintaged-out kids in the Ballroom would projectile vomit all over their loafers (which I’d like to hear, actually, because I’d then maybe I’d figure out that elusive onomatopoeia. Go Bynars!).
Jes, High Glow (Ultra Records)
It doesn’t bode well when a record immediately gets me thinking of records that are better than it. In Jes’s case that’d be Goldfrapp, Ladytron, people like that, even that one-song Brittany Murphy team-up with Paul Oakenfold. But all is not bad here at all, and mind that I can’t fricking stand the Pink/Stefani-style new-jack over-compressed engineering that makes CDs like this one sound like you’re listening to the radio, ie this album was expensive to make, which will count for something for some people. The back story is worth something also: this girl had a run of guest shots on artist albums from famous DJs of the velvet-rope dance world, including Tiesto and Paul van Dyk, and I do admire that she’s made a run of it on her own instead of contenting herself to fade out of memory as one more faceless Paris Hilton wannabe. Furthermore, the sounds here make a real effort to bridge the gap between Ultra’s beloved trancey Eurotrash house and something with actual low-midrange, resulting in something sexier than Ladytron, more accessible than Gram Rabbit, more fleshed out than all those Euro DJ comps, but not as metal-mullet as Oakenfold can go. And disillusioned bling-snapdance chicks may find God in this thing, who the heck knows.
The Fall, Our Future Your Clutter (Domino Records)
The Fall is the 30-year-old family business of Manchester UK’s Mark E. Smith, whose first antisocial steps came after seeing the Sex Pistols. He’s never looked back, dragging 2 wives into the fold as singers, playing the same brand of pogo-punk (with slight variations in artistic approach, of course; we must mention the artistic side of these cacophonies) since 1976. Here he’s out to teach the Domino Records stable (comprising such miscreants as Clinic and Max Tundra) how to be crazy and, more importantly, how not to be like Franz Ferdinand, who are the For Dummies version of this undiluted, you know, craziness. If you’re dead, you won’t snap your neck to the 2-chord blaster “OFYC Showcase,” but everyone else will; Smith’s trademark oi-bloke-can-you-hear-me-over-the-bar-noise holler-yapping is in shape for the playoffs in a tune that demands loudness as it explores its surroundings, trying here and there to cut its 2 notes finer, then quieter, then more regally (the kind of attack Franz isn’t allowed to try by corporate order, if you’re new to this rock music thing). “Bury” welds Big Black to Al Jourgensen, and although I can barely make out the lyrics to the high-plains-rolling punkster “Cowboy George,” I assume the intelligible snatches “I hate you” and “White House” most likely point to something familiar to sentient creatures.
We Have Band, WHB (Phantasm/Naive Records)
“Piano,” the album intro for this London trio’s debut full-length, gives no credence to the hopped-up NME hype about their being this dancey crazy crew, which they earned by beating into the ground their multi-remixed “Divisive” (a floor-filler, yes, but too much like New Order’s “Round & Round” to have gotten even the British press so ants-in-the-pants). No, “Piano,” with its Depeche Mode-ish call and vanilla indie-falsetto response, is like walking into the middle of a build-up to a smashing coda from Arcade Fire; it’s concept-album type stuff you’ll appreciate if you were down with Decembrists’ Hazards of Love. So, with these things as lead-in, excuse me if I’m floored by the inspired, heart-tugging emotionality of “Buffet,” probably my favorite song of the month: one part Wire and one part Smiths, all with a Deerhoof-ish weirdness hanging over it that never materializes in full to make things unbearable. Great song, that one, as is “Love What Are You Doing,” a blend of New Order rubber-band-bass and steampunk-goth techno cavitation. What a lot of people will like about these guys is their penchant for comic relief – there’s a Deerhoof/Miss Kittin chick making mischief here and there, first and foremost in the LCD Soundsystem-ish “Oh.”
Static of the Gods, Knowledge Machine (delVerano Records)
An ever-present cloud of solemn alienation did a lot of good for Boston’s til Tuesday – or, come to think of it, the entire 80s decade insofar as the dance-rock space is concerned. Those were days of oceans of empty space on the tape reel, as time went on increasingly filled with repetitious overdubs for the sake of overdubs – 50 John Waites all singing the same bubblegum line – an art, for lack of a better word, lost on this generation of bedroom-laptop DIY instant-gratifieds (and good riddance, many would say).
If the city so desires, Boston sort-of has a next-gen til Tuesday in the form of Static of the Gods: singer Jen Johnson’s voice is so similar to Aimee Mann’s that it’s probably a strike against their ability to stand out, and the glorious (and gloriously expensive) empty space is bang-on. The plush cheese-synth fill has been replaced by what sounds like VNV Nation’s Reaktor setup; there’s some Siouxsie vibe and Radiohead lyricism in there along with some deathly melodies that could have come from the first Cult album.
See what I’m doing here, listing a bunch of wisely chosen ingredients? That’s what this band is, for now, lacking the strict radio-slave songwriting that could tie it all together, but that’s the modern schematic for you. A great first effort, if an obvious one.
Pablo Held, Music (Pirouet Records)
This 23-year-old German jazz pianist’s second full-length isn’t a revelation, nor was it intended to be, nor should it be, by rights, being that a piano/bass/drums trio isn’t supposed to make the planet forget the Sex Pistols – people know that piano trios are quiet, puttering things, stuff for dinner backgrounding or quiet club reflection. This German kid groks this and is prepared to live with it, but that doesn’t mean he won’t toss out a few angry, banging passages here and there (the puzzlingly titled opening track “Encore” has a bit that’d work as soundtrack for a clip of a ruined drunk breaking whatever glass is around). The feel of “I Have a Dream” is free-form, a sequence of pausing, teasing and finally pouncing with some tickled chitchat that winds up sounding argumentative before settling on calmness – much of this record is conflicted in that manner, which actually points to a rather show-offish side that’s par for the course given Held’s age. As for the future, well yes, it’s full of potential.
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