Simian Mobile Disco, Simian Mobile Disco Is Fixed (Defend Music)
This first proper US release from the UK DJ duo is a mix saluting the Fixed night, the diverse weekly party at New York’s Tribeca Grand Hotel. Listener reviews of the pair’s work are usually quite mixed, giving the impression that SMD’s attention is as deficient as that of a kid trying to study calculus after he just got dumped by his girlfriend. But for the first 6 songs here – past the Kraftwerkian intro of Brain Machine’s “Eternal Night” – there’s clearly a common thread, that being fractal hypnosis, from the beauty of Conrad Schnitzler’s “Ballet Statique” to Etienne Jaumet’s glo-fi-tinted “For Falling Asleep.” Anyway, yes, rackety Justice-worshipping sounds are still the rage on SoundCloud, so the noise patrol drops in with Andre Walter’s “Malphas” (not that I have any problem with the squalling baby sample, being that it single-handedly made Foetus’s Thaw album unforgettable) and takes over from there, moving into SMD’s own woozy rub of “U Can Dance” from DJ Hell, a guy I can always live without. Slowly everything melts into madness: android-loving electro-house from Paul Woolford (“False Prophet”), some chimp-running-through-the-jungle silliness in Phillip Sherbourne’s “Salt and Vinegar,” and so on, highlighted by the pair’s own crazily trippy “Nerve Salad.” What ultimately strikes me is how brilliantly this would work at a velvet-rope joint and how poorly it would serve as commuter background.
Goose, Symrise (K7 Records)
Being that this Belgian electro-rock quartet’s 2006 debut album Bring It On had plenty-enough comparisons to Depeche Mode, it’s a mystery why they decided to force-feed themselves Speak & Spell every morning on the commute to the sessions for this album. But then again, like everything else from everyone else over the past 2-3 (cripes, how long has it been now?) years, BIO ‘s raspy synths were just another drop in the Justice bucket (not that the crush of overamped Ableton isn’t the face of next-gen heavy metal or something, but that’s another argument for someone who cares). They wanted things to be more 70s and organic for this 2nd joint, and ended up in the direction of Datarock’s first record, at least in the enthusiasm department; all the Gahan steez in the world, nor a guest spot from Peaches (adding some ooh-ooh-oohs to the Giorgio Moroder-fractal title track) can’t save them from being quintessential cartoon Belgians with keytars. “Can’t Stop Me Now” is like Boyz II Men redoing Zep’s “The Wanton Song,” and soon enough we’re into well-trod electro territory generally reserved for disposable mall-goths (“Like You”). Sometimes guys think they’ve invented something brand new, what can you say.
Boom Boom Satellites, Over and Over (Sony Records)
To Westerners, Japan is sugar-rush spazz central, bursting with frenetic android babes like 5678s and all sorts of metal. DJ duo Boom Boom Satellites fall into this pack by myna-birding Prodigy; with the pair’s crashy guitars and cybernetic predelictions they’re to hard post-punk what Pendulum is to metal: an improvement. This best-of ensconces stuff that’s been heard in the US but, more importantly, stuff that never was, like "Kick It Out," a no-brain old-school rocker that’s equal parts Iggy, ELO and Justice, in other words Prodigy trying to fight off the Misfits, in other words a perfect iPod commercial soundtrack, which points up the difficult, completely avoided dialectic on whether modern commercial is rockin’ stuff or a huge cultural disservice. When stuff rocks like this, though, the "just shut off your brain and dig it" argument isn’t a total waste of breath.
Sameer Gupta, Namaskar (Motema Music)
It’s not for me to judge how difficult Indian tabla drums are to play, or if any given John Bonham wannabe could blow Sameer Gupta away on the things. The setup is 2 bongo-looking drums, each played with a separate hand. They don’t look too difficult to me, but I thought the same thing about women at one point. Despite what anyone in their right mind would assume (keep in mind he studied under famed tabla master Anindo Chatterjee), this Harlem-based drum pro isn’t trying to fill a narrow world-music niche here. His goal is crossover appeal, and so he plays a lot of regulation drum kit as well, on boppy things, modal things, Bollywood-ish things (his band is small but the coverage is huge) and traditional Indian ragas. Everything is inflected with Gupta’s inherent ethnicity, which is a neat trick – all very NPR, yes, and by now you have a very, very firm grasp on whether you want to hear it or not. Regardless, I’m required by law to give the LP a high mark, being that in its own way it’s as ambitious a world release as Dengue Fever or whatnot.
Sarah Sample, Someday, Someday (Groundloop Records)
Nice Americana collection from the Utah-by-way-of-California transplant. In the main her voice is a Jewel clone, but this album’s no mawkish mess, particularly when her small battalion of plugged guitarists takes over and threaten to go completely Allman Brothers on the stuff ("Staying Behind," "I’m Ready"). "Calling Your Name" is a countrified flirtation with Sheryl Crow’s "Strong Enough," while "Shades of Song" goes even deeper into the desert night in a Patsy Cline-ish duet with one of her backgrounders. As you see, the primary tone of the palette is country, but on the other hand, melancholy slowbie "One Mistake" floats into Weepies territory, leaving this as well-rounded a folk-chill album as one could possibly want.
Echo Revolution, Counterfeit Sunshine (Open Arms Records)
Another Cali-alt-rock thingamajig that’s done famous things of which you’re blissfully unaware (snippets of their stuff have appeared on Jersey Shore and Real World). The synopsis is that San Diego band Echo Revolution are pretty much a next-gen Smiths, unafraid to throw in xylophone and all the modernity such “curveballs” bring (we’re so doomed). Some ingredients on their 2008 LP A Safe Place to Start, which I haven’t heard, inspired one or two critical comparisons to U2, but I imagine it was the band’s Nick Cave boisterousness that had the reviewers thinking in terms of harder stuff. In the end these guys are creampuffs of an 80s stripe, sometimes politely crazed in the vein of Brian Eno, sometimes Versus-like (thanks to the chick singers in the slow-mid-tempo snooze-rocking title track), sometimes playing with guitar-flange as if it were a normal Freudian stage ("Open Your Eyes"). Individual fans of Wilco, The Call and Decembrists alike could feel this equally, strange but true.
Danbert Nobacon & The Bad Things, Woebegone (Verbal Burlesque Records)
If I recall correctly, I took one look at the the turn-of-the-century flying-machine on the cover of Nobacon’s 2007 album Library Book of the World and labeled the stuff steampunk. He did keyboards for accordion-anarcho-poppers Chumbawamba, which is one big curveball in itself, and his musical (and sometimes real-life) agitprop could, I suppose, be looked upon as a ren-geek sideshow sort of deal, especially now, with this album, in which he’s turned on a dime and twisted his vocal into a very appropriate Clint Ruin grimace, almost like Tom Waits as a zydeco weirdo on opener “Other Country Blues.” The turns from his chick accomplice, Funi McLaughlin, are amateurish enough to evoke images of bodices on unfit bodies, and the emphasis here is grungy, unplugged, old-world fun – sea shanties, banjo-plucked dustbowl gloom, things like that – so whether he’d dig it or not I believe I’m going to stick with the steampunk diagnosis. Yes, I shall.
Jerome Sabbagh, I Will Follow You (Bee Jazz Records)
It’s easy to see – once you suspend all disbelief that improvised jazz can be anything more useful than the noise of 2-year-olds bashing away at Yo Gabba Gabba toys – how this Brooklyn-based French saxman has a few big awards swinging from his pelt. Most of the genre’s output is like reality TV, a bunch of half-familiar strangers looking at each other and hoping that the next few bars aren’t going to sound like crap, but of course they do, but since college diplomas (hard-earned or not) were once handed out to the players, we’re supposed to puff on our Meerschaums and mumble “yass yass” as discordant wheels are tediously reinvented. Sabbagh’s mercurial portraits are more life-like, more realistic, much more listenable, mixing the fully expected Mingus-flailings with Metallica doom (his longtime guitar fixture Ben Monder is an instant chameleon wherever things lead) and signing off on a totally unexpected chill-pop note (“I Should Care”). Obviously a “sure, why not” with full caveats for eclectic tastes, but essential for anyone thinking of trying improv at home.
Holy Sons, Survivalist Tales (Partisan Records)
A pioneer of laptop-bedroom DIY, Emil Amos has been water-against-stoning at this project for 2 decades now, when not busy drumming for the experimental bands Om and Grails. Actually the songwriting count for this project is at the 4-digit mark, meaning many, many ideas died so that this could exist, a magnum-opus of no-BS underground-alt. I’m not Pitchfork, thankfully, and therefore don’t have to pretend I’ve heard every note of this project’s oeuvre; what I can tell you is that it makes me want to babble things about the Eels and Neil Young in the same breath. Amos’s voice is like a young Mark Oliver Everett’s, and the dragging drone of “from Home” is like “Needle and the Damage Done,” sort of, is what I’m saying. But that’s a first indelible impression is all; there’s an odd epic sweep to the proceedings here, like a choral marriage of Pavement and Postal service with everyone wearing horned Viking helmets. He’s opened for Devendra Banhart, if that helps make up your mind, not that a one-armed juggling midget would be the strangest thing at those gigs.
James Apollo, Til Your Feet Bleed (Orchard Music)
Bletch. “Too much clarinet” shouldn’t even be on the list of possible complaints one could have about a non-jazz record. Okay, this being rubber-stamped as an Americana record, pretty much anything organic can pop up in the recipe book (except fricking clarinet, come on), and I don’t envy the road Apollo took to his artistic epiphany, a bad car accident that left him unable to walk for many months. I should add also that there are certain types, probably not you, who live for rickety crypto-folk that owes any cred it ever gets to The Eels, fans of stuff like this, droopy people in the subway you wouldn’t want to hang with anyway for fear that you would really truly die of boredom. Apollo’s voice is a lazy Thom Yorke, not that the paltry excuses for melodies in these compositions warrant Pavarotti – there’s no soul, no tunefulness, just a motley heap of whimpering wimp-alt.