Artless Critiques: Javelin, Lacy James, More

Lacy James – Circles of Swallows (Mereminne Productions)
Based alternately in both Philly and New York, this oldschool-DIY lady is an earnestly expressive new-age hack, dabbling in ethereal chill-dance back in the early 90s and even now.  Matter of fact, she may go back even further than that – her old stuff is absolutely 80s-dancepop in every way, including the cheeseball INXS "boobadoo!" drum sounds.  She’s actually a sort of standalone all-inclusive art package, experimenting with interpretive dance in creative ways via her own studio troupe; some of that stuff’s interesting to watch.  But before I go off on a tangent on her weirdly writhing 20something cohorts, I should mention that the new album here is sort of what would happen if Kate Bush, Bon Iver and Massive Attack met up in a bar and killed a bottle of good tequila: ambient chill-tech, lazy guitar streams, and untrained vocals never sounded so… so… acceptable.
Grade: B-

The Scenics – Dead Man Walks Down Bayview (Dream Tower Records)
Every city has its hero-band for every era.  In late-70s Toronto, the world was all about Talking Heads and Television, and local scenesters were about this band, who were an amalgam of basically everything that was going on at the time, including the let’s-spazz-around-like-kindergarteners Pere Ubu part.  This is their first album in 20 years, inspired in part by their first tour in even longer a span, and whattaya know, it’s got a throwback sound, not just to the dino-punks of their heyday but to more recent tuneage, namely Pavement and Versus, if we can get real here.  Opening tune "Dark Cave" is more a rockabilly fakeout, though, sounding like David Byrne jamming with Bo Diddley, but after that it’s a mixture of the aforementioned old and new, with some ideas sounding antiquated, a positive or negative depending on your mood/tolerance. The jangly "Miami" is outright Byrds, which should meet the approval standards of the current Board of Hipness, or was that last year?
Grade: B

Beka Gochiashvili – Beka Gochiashvili (Exitus Entertainment)

When you think of the prototypical piano prodigy from a weird little country, you most likely imagine some sort of musical Rain Man pounding away at classical pieces no one else has the guts to take a shot at.  In his debut LP, Gochiashvili, a 16-year-old from Tbilisi in Georgia, isn’t a freaky sideshow at all, unless you find it impossible to wrap your head around complicated, highly technical runs being thrown into familiar formats, such as the subdued dinner-jazz in "Un Gran Abrazo" (the opener here) and the department-store-overhead ambiance of "For Keith."  But we need to stop right here and note that Stanley Clarke is the acoustic bassist here, as is his Return To Forever rhythm-section battery-mate, drummer Lenny White; Clarke’s gone on record stating that this kid is the biggest new jazz fixture since Miles Davis.  You can really see why he’d say such a thing – again, the technicality is mind-blowing, as is the curveball, "Herio Bichebo," wherein White all but reinvents the brushing technique underneath the melancholy Kit Kat Klub vocal of Natalia Kutateladze.
Grade: A+

Wormed – Exodromos (Willowtip Records)
Touted as a “prog-metal” band, this Spanish crew is at least familiar with Neil Peart-style conceptual bloviation: this LP constitutes their second foray into “futuristic science concepts and chaotic visions of the last human left in cosmos, Krighsu.” The music doesn’t support such big-forehead posturing, however, not when most of it sounds like cutting-room-floor Dillinger Escape Plan/Cannibal Corpse and almost none of it kicks ass. If I could have found something nice to say about this, I would have, but I’m hard-pressed even to give it a second listen, not when the singer uses this weird throat-windy technique, consisting of two tones, on every song. It’s freaking stupid.  You could speed up a Pelican album and listen to it with your car window open while driving on the highway and get the same effect. When are all these wankers going to just surrender and take a few voice lessons, at least to experiment with new booger-monster growls?
Grade: C

Javelin – Hi Beams (Luaka Bop Records)
Probably should have seen this one coming, even if my faith in this generation’s capacity to make real art from available tools nearly died when Autotune took over.  The band is supported by ex-Talking Heads David Byrne, who owns the Luaka Bop label and whose quirkiness was, as you probably know, the standard for art-pop during the 1980s. What he’s discovered in Javelin is a pair of guys who squeeze every resistor for every bit of worth on the technical end, but my God, someone took some advanced voice lessons — the vocals at startup tune “Light Out” could be mistaken for Yes’s Jon Anderson’s sweet unobtrusive falsetto, a long-overdue counter to all the un-pro Beach Boys crap you kids have been getting pushed on you since 2006. There’s a tropical element at work here, as some critics have noted, but not the same angle Vampire Weekend fires from (except for “l’Ocean,” which is actually better than anything I’ve ever heard from VW) (no, I’m not kidding) — if these guys owe anyone a few bucks for general sound licensing it’d be Battles, what with the click-whirr droid attitude.  Social-media-scolder “Friending” buries a joyous hook toward the end of its friendly diatribe. This will be a Record of the Year contender pretty much everywhere.
Grade: C

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

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