Not quite weekly round-up of recent releases: Nick Cave, Breakbot, X-TG, Arborea, Anika

May 2, 2013
More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

Nick Cave Animal X

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away (deluxe version) / Animal X — Probably the best thing about Grinderman was it got all the claustrophobic bombast out of the way. Abattoir Blues left you feeling all the air had been sucked out of the room and with Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! it felt like for the first time Nick Cave had no idea what he wanted to do. Clearly he wanted to strip things back and play rock’n’roll for a few years. So it seems Grinderman was an effective reset button for The Bad Seeds. Sheer beauty aside, Push The Sky Away is the first perfectly focused artistic statement from Cave since No More Shall We Part. And probably the most restrained album of his career. He’s done “gentle” many times, but never with this sense of comfortable ease. Even his quietest ballads always had a histrionic theatricality to them but on Push there’s a genuine tenderness and subtlety to the almost spoken-word delivery. The organic, restrained performances of The Bad Seeds create the perfect, complementary backdrop for his poetry instead of fighting against it as they have in the past (could be because there’s about 5 fewer Seeds on hand this time around). The tracks from the bonus DVD, “Needle Boy” and “Lightning Bolt“, and the Record Store Day single, “Animal X” are slightly different beasts. Purely spoken word performances of Cave’s stream of consciousness poem/stories with minimal but intense and gristly backdrops by The Seeds. They really don’t fit the mood of the album, but they sure whet the appetite for a full-length of this material. Though, in truth, it might get a little exhausting after thirty minutes or so. Combined, these recordings make up the album everyone tried to convince themselves that Scott Walker‘s Bish Bosh actually was (or that Leonard Cohen would make again).

5 Poet laureates of rock out of 5 Master songwriters


Breakbot: By Your Side — Let’s be honest. This is far better than everything you hope the new Daft Punk record is going to be (and perhaps better than anything they’ve done in the past).

4.375 Stardust encrusted AM radios out of 5 Thumping discotheques


X-TG: Desertshore/The Final Report — Confession time. I never cared for Throbbing Gristle. As a reasonably hardcore Coil fan, I always wanted to. I certainly tried. But I could only ever get as far as appreciating their contribution to pop music history. I think it’s because Genesis P-Orridgealways put me off. The only P-Orridge act I ever tolerated was the vaguely acid house related Jack The Tab. Anyway, X-TG is the P-Orridgeless Gristle I was always looking for. In fact, Desertshore/The Final Report is almost closer to a continuation of Coil than anything released under the TG banner. It’s almost as if Chris and Cosey were filling in for the deceased Jhon Balance to help Sleazy make one final Coil album. By the end, of course, they were filling in for him as well since he died before the sessions were completed. This adds a little extra myth and romance to the two discs, but even so they would have been an achievement. The full-album cover of Nico‘s Desertshore is simply breathtaking. It’s a reinterpretation true to the original yet reveals the beauty hidden in Nico’s challenging classic while being as insidiously menacing a recording as anything Sleazy ever produced. He always specialized in producing meditative music for endarkenment. The Final Report is a harsher, more challenging affair in line with Coil’s gloomier moments and the better ones in TG’s catalogue. A fitting tribute to a dark wizard.

4.75 Black suns out of 5 Black swan songs


Barn Owl: V — Another killer album from the [insert genre name here] duo Barn Owl. It’s their 5th supposedly, though I own more than five CDs by them. Maybe the “V” refers to the 80′s sci-fi television show. They’re definitely heading even further from the folky forests of Earth and into the dark, frigid depths of space on this one. The dreamy, percussionless V is somewhat reminiscent of Tangerine Dream before they completely abandoned their guitars. Ambient without being “new age”, true space-rock without being “rock” and cinematic without being clunky “movie soundtrack” music. Sickeningly good.

4.5 Time-displaced astronauts out of 5 Giant cosmic fetuses 


Arborea: Fortress of the Sun — Buck and Shanti Curran seem to be taking as serious a stab at mass-market popularity as freak-folkers possible could hope to with this one. The brilliance of Arborea had always been their balance between mainstream folk and the creepy, acid-folk and experimental textures of the underground scene. Fortress of the Sun only retains a modicum of the freakiness that made them captivating and instead focuses primarily on Shanti’s coy, breathy vocals. True, these vocals (along with Buck’s deft hand on the strings) also helped make them a captivating duo but now Arborea is only painting half the picture they once did. And no matter how expertly rendered, it feels much more like a picture that many others have painted before them. That said, this is still a far more atmospheric, enchanting and interesting folk record than most will be this year—potentially one that could win them the size of audience I always felt they deserved.

3.5 Freaks out of 5 Mainstream folks


Anika: Anika EP — More (and couple of the same) harsh, dystopian, bleak, dark reimaginings of popular songs found on her 2010 (also self-titled) debut album (also produced by Geoff Barrow). Other than the two dub mixes of cuts from the album, things sound slightly less dubby this time around and little more like a post-punk band playing in an abandoned, cement-walled factory in Berlin circa 1981. Actually, “No One’s There” is exactly what those pictures of Nico on stage with Bauhaus sound like in my head. Which is a good thing. Hopefully another long player is on the way.

4.375 No-wave dubs out of 5 Moldy-oldies


The Black Angels: Indigo Meadow — Their previous albums never quite clicked with me. I wanted them to, but they didn’t. Just a little too much Merseybeat peanutbutter or their Spacemen 3 chocolate? Or something? Anyway, something happened (I think they lost a member) and they’re tearing it up in a new, actually psychier, heavier, meatier, acid-rock direction. Not unlike The Doors fuzzed-out on the darkside but with a dude that sounds like Grace Slick (!) singing. Black gold.

4.5  White rabbits out of 5 Doorways to the other side


Transvision Vamp: Velveteen (Expanded reissue) — The truth of the matter is Velveteen (and Transvision Vamp themselves) can only ever be a guilty pleasure. A sort of dirty, deeply nostalgic, embarrassing secret you hide under the mattress of your soul. Which is why it’s a brilliant pop music tour-de-force. Released in 1989, The Vamps managed to pack the entire decade’s worth of decadence into 10 pop songs and one bizarre ten-minute long David Lynch-esque micro-opera. Glitter, gutter, overblown, simple, sleazy, vacuous, profound, bubblegum, pretentious, tongue-in-cheek. The album that is everything and nothing. Sort like BlondieThe Primitives, The Divinyls and The Go-Gos (or any other sexy/punky female-lead new wave band) slightly re-imagined through the shiny, mechanized pop filter of Roxette‘s Look Sharp (or Billy Idol‘s version of “Mony Mony“). There’s very few examples of such a terrible band and album being so freakin’ perfect. Everything that’s shallow, too obvious and corny about it only makes it better. And now there’s a whole second disc of ornate rock’n’roll shallowness. Another 63 minutes of Wendy James‘ sex-kitten cooing, three-chord riffs and synth horns! The entire history of the ’80s at your fingertips!Caveat emptor: If you missed it the first time out, and didn’t wear the cassette out when you were 16, Velveteen might simply be the very worst thing you’ve ever heard.

5 Punk divas out of 5 Absolute 20th-century pop disasters

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