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Recent Releases Round-UP: King Krule, Valerie June, Crocodiles, Julianna Barwick, Medicine, David Lynch

September 13, 2013

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More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

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King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath The Moon

I first ran across Archy Marshall when he was still going by Zoo Kid. Really, it was just a photo that I ran across on Flickr that reminded me of a cross between the characters Baby Boom and Wizard in Julian Temple‘s 1986 film Absolute Beginners. But possibly trans. Anyway, I was all like “Fuck, yeah! Who’s this? Zoo Kid? He’s got a video? Let’s hit this shit up!” That’s what I was all like.

Then when I heard his jazzy Mark E. Smith meets art-damaged Billy Bragg meets punk-thug Morrissey, well, I was hooked. Kid could do no wrong in my book. Except I couldn’t find any Zoo Kid product and his Bandcamp songs were only streaming. Hey, kid, I just wanna give you my money. Anyway, I pre-ordered his first EP as King Krule as soon as it was announced. It was, admittedly, a bit of a letdown. But I wasn’t remotely deterred. So I’m probably not really a reliable witness when I say 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is everything I hoped it would be and is the hands-down album of the year. For whatever reason this stuff is just on a Kamikaze trajectory zeroing-in on my heart and soul. Marshall is an original,  the real deal, a true post-modern wizard of song.

Apparently Jana Hunter, on the other hand, thinks differently.

5 Mealy-mouthed troubadours out of 5 Misfit balladeers in smoke-filled diners

Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone

I’d have been impressed if Valerie June had been good at any of the half-dozen styles she attempts on Pushin’ Against A Stone, but the fact she’s a master of bluegrass, trad-folk, indie-folk, soul, and blues is just kind of sickening. And the way the album opener “Workin’ Woman Blues” seamlessly blends bluegrass and West African funk, it’s perhaps the most successful attempt at world-fusion I’ve ever heard. On top of all that, she’s pretty easy on the eyes. God damn.

One-upping albums by the likes of Gillian Welch or Sharon Jones—fantastic as they are, they tend to be a tad samey-samey—Pushin’ Against a Stone album plays like a really well curated mix-tape from someone with a record collect consisting only of deep cuts. I took issue with Dan Auerbach‘s production on Hanni El Khatib‘s latest album but he knocks it out of the park here. Or, I suspect, June does the heavy lifting and he just pressed “record”, sat back and let her work her magic. It’s not polished, sanitized, Nashville magic either. There’s a gritty, outsider feel to the proceedings. Something like the underlying hint of danger in Tom Waits’ music before be went the full Beefheart.

The only flaw with the album is the songs themselves are all only really good. There’s nothing to rival the classics they might bring to mind like “Jolene“, “Fever” or “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay“. But since there doesn’t really seem to be  anyone writing songs of that caliber anymore, she’s still ahead of the pack.

4.5 Versatile down home divas out 5 Complete histories of popular American song

Braids: Flourish//Perish

Only one track in as of yet, but the Björk influence that was an ingredient on Braids debut is in full effect, taking over the recipe. Not just in the fragile, lisy-whispy vocals, but in the skittery ambient electronics of the backing tracks.  By track four (“Hossak“) the Björkiness isn’t lessening. Not sure it’s getting more prevalent, but an innate Braidsiness isn’t coming to the fore either.

So, taken as a Björk album, how does it fare? Very well, actually.

It falls somewhere post-Post and pre-Medúlla. That is to say, it’s pretty much exactly Vespertine. That’s not precisely true, there are moments which are very Thom Yorke circa The Eraser (especially the merping synth bass and clacking drum stick rhythms on “Juniper“). But anyway, now that I’m at the end, I feel confident saying Flourish//Perish should please Björk fans (like myself) who’ve been waiting for another Vespertine. But I’m still waiting for Braids follow up to Native Speaker.

4 Elfin chanteuses out of 5 Vespertines

Destruction Unit: Deep Trip

It might be awfully callous to say music got a lot better after Jay Reatard died in 2010, but in the case of  Destruction Trip‘s music, it’s very specifically true. Beginning with their 2011 album, Sonoran, the unit went from boring “psych” punk to wild desert punk-psych (with no qualifying quote marks). The aptly titled Deep Trip finds them suitably at home on Sacred Bones alongside the likes of Human EyePop. 1280 and Religious Knives. Droney, grungy, fuzzy, swirly and spacey like Hawkwind during their wildest, most Motorheadish early live bootlegs or if The Stooges were a krautrock band… that kinda thing.

4.25 Sacrificial desert fuzz rituals out of 5 Deep cosmic trips (with slam dancing)

Crocodiles: Crimes of Passion

Since their second album, Sleep Forever (2010), Crocodiles have consistently been at the head of the reverb-heavy retro-psych/noise-pop pack. Their hooks are more genuinely Brian Wilson / Phil Spector solid than their contemporaries (DrumsCrystal StiltsRaveonettes, etc) and they’ve known exactly how much noise to spread over the mix to keep their records from being as cloyingly saccharine as the songs they’ve written yet not to obscure the melodies. Something like if Jesus and Mary Chain only did covers of songs like “Build Me Up Buttercup” and Jackson 5‘s  “I Want You Back“.

Crimes of Passion is no exception, though is perhaps veering towards too much embellishment and polish (next record will tell). It would have been the summer surf/power-pop hit if it hadn’t been released just weeks short of September. I guess it’s the back to school jam for people too old to be going back to school.

4.5 Spector and Wilson Chains our of 5 My Bloody Ronettes

Julianna Barwick: Nepenthe

Have you heard a Jullianna Barwick album before? Then you’ve heard Nepenthe. Maybe this time out it’s a little more fully realized, a little lusher, a little more perfect. But basically the same. If you haven’t heard one of her albums, they’re like Enya without the cheesy ’80s pop aspect and the song structures. Perhaps not as candle-shop new age corny, a more genuinely euphoric take on medieval choral music à la Hildegard Von Bingen, edging towards some of Lisa Gerrard‘s more ambient soundtrack work.

It was produced by Alex Somers in Iceland so there’s a bit of that Sigur Rôs flavour this time out too. If I sound down on the album, it’s only because Barwick delivers exactly what we ordered. And very well. No surprises, perfectly executed. But no surprises. So it’s hard to get truly excited per se… But I am dying to put some candles on, run a bath and bliss out to this some evening.

4.5 Glimpses of heaven our of 5 Walking towards the lights

Medicine: To The Happy Few

By happenstance I reviewed The Buried Life (1993) the week this came out. I think if I hadn’t been listening to that album pretty carefully so recently, I’d have found more to love in To The Happy Few. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still one of Medicine‘s top four albums, but it’s not quite their best as some reviews have suggested. I’d place it somewhere between the sheer brilliance of Buried Life and the faltering Her Highness (1995). The sound is closer to the metal machine tones of Buried Life, but the songwriting is much more Lennon/McCartney and Brian Wilson than classic Medicine. Those writers, or the like, have always been an obvious influence on Medicine’s tunes but this time it almost sounds like classic psych-pop covers with a little extra distortion overlayed in the mix.

Not every song is an homage or a ’60s throwback though, and it’s a satisfying, if unexpected, return (more like MBV than that godawful new Pixies EP). Ultimately, I’d count myself in with the happy few, but I can already tell that when I need a dose of Medicine I’m going to reach for one of the first two albums instead.

3.875 Psychedelic pop classics out of 5 fuzzy-wuzzy shoegazing psychedelic comebacks

David Lynch: The Big Dream

More consistent than 2011’s Crazy Clown Time but the highs aren’t as high. Naturally, the lows are also as low. This time David Lynch steers clear of his previous album’s dodgy techno experiments that just weren’t suited to him as a performer. Since not too many people have ever been able to pull off this type of nightmarish post-Beefheart blues convincingly, it’s understandable if you’re inclined to give The Big Dream more of a pass than it might deserve. In some ways it’s not tunes like “Cold Wind Blowin‘” where the inevitable Twin Peaks comparison is most appropriate, but that the album is bizarre, surreal, creepy, clearly brilliant and… maybe just a little bit crappy?

Like with his films, it’s hard to judge the objective quality and just have to go with your gut.

3.5 Nightmares at the diner out of 5 Noir blues masterpieces

Kim Lenz and The Jaguars: Follow Me

Clearly fans and traditionalists, Kim Lenz’s backing band, The Jaguars, create some pretty convincing rockabilly revival. Or, perhaps, rockabilly revival revival as they look on average about 50 in their pictures and that places them roughly in the age-bracket to be The Stray Cats and The Blasters fans more than Gene Vincent and Johnny Burnette. And (ignoring the Wanda Jackson comparisons always leveled at Lenz, supposedly because that’s the only rockabilly chanteuse anyone can think of—the two really aren’t much alike) Follow Me is closest to Brian Setzer‘s revisionist take on rockabilly than anyone’s with it’s horn-fulled jump blues and distilled sense of rock’n’roll mythology. Yet the album isn’t as sanitized and schmaltzy as Setzer’s latter-day work.

Still, Follow Me could use (along with a title that isn’t so staggeringly boring) a little more fire and fury. But not so much as was found on late collaborator Nick Curran‘s final album which too authentically replicated the lo-fi distortion of a ferocious Jerry Lee Lewis live bootleg. Something just a little in between would be perfect.

3.875 Stray kitten struts out 5 Juke joint Jezebels

Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes: Baby Caught The Bus

Another rockabilly/blues revival diva doing a sort of grittier, more authentically in-the-red, juke-joint version of Amy Winehouse‘s Back To Black album. Or a modern revival of classic rock’n’soul ravers like Sugar Pie DeSanto. Or a meeting of minds somewhere between Stray Cats first coupla platters and Peggy Lee doing “Fever“. Anyway, I can listen to this kind of thing from sundown Friday to sunup Monday.

4.25 Stray kitten struts out 5 Back-beaten saxophone growls

Pop. 1280: Imps of Perversion

Vicious, trash-can rock sounding not unlike the Aussie Scientists/Birthday Party/Venom P. Stinger school of thought. “Nailhouse” is an especially delicious bludgeoning. Not a homogeneous homage to swampy no-wave aggression, the album also veers towards art-house industrial and straight(er) ahead American noise-punk of the David Yow variety. In short every damn thing I like about rock’n’roll wrapped-up like half-gnawed body parts in one messy little package.

4.5 Perverted imps out of 5 Giant rock’n’roll perversions

Part Time: PDA

These bands that have been borrowing elements of the ’80s new romantic movement have got me back listening to my ABC, Haircut 100 and Spandau Ballet discs lately. And listening to those old albums has me wondering if I need to be listening to these new ones. PDA by Part Time is a pretty good set of indie-pop songs. But only pretty good. Each song has only about half a hook. I find myself half-bobbing my head and half-tapping a foot and half forgetting the record is even playing. The guitar does have a nice touch of Johnny Marr about it, but the vocals sound utterly disinterested. Sounding like there’s zero fucks being given can be a valid artistic stance so long as you can kind of tell there were actually a lot of fucks even behind the aloof performance—and you have something concrete and interesting to say. I’m hearing no fucks at all. It sort of comes off like half-finished Psychedelic Furs demos sung by your friend’s roommate.

PDA is really the kind of album that needed a big shot producer to come in and pull it all together; to push Part Time out of their comfort zone and really bring out the hits floating just beneath the surface of these songs. But, of course, with the way the music business is now, young bands can’t afford to (or don’t think they need to) use record producers any more.

2.75 New romantic indie rockers out of 5 Nothing really bad about its but also nothing really great about its

Gauntlet Hair: Stills

This could be the CD that stops me from buying new indie-rock / indie-pop in 2013. Not that it’s very bad, it’s not. Like a lot of current bands, Gauntlet Hair are very good at creating a sound, or combination of sounds, I really dig. There’s been an abnormal amount great sounding records to come out in the past few years. But most eventually leave me with this curmudgeonly feeling of “They just don’t write ’em like they used to, eh?” Which makes me feel old. And who wants to feel old?

Of course, the ratio of cool-sounding also-rans to truly great song-writers in the new wave (or post-punk, grunge, shoegaze, brit-pop, or whatever floated you boat) era was about the same. I’m just too old for this digging for gold shit. I’m done with indie-pop. I’m packing it in. Anyway, apparently Guantlet Hair packed it in this week as well.

Probably something like 3 or 3.5 Noise pops of today out of 5 Noise pops of yesteryear, sonny

Drowner: You’re Beautiful, I Forgive You

You know how I’ve been hard on indie-pop bands lately for recycling the sounds of my youth in old and unoriginal ways? How I’ve been lamenting, despite nailing the sound, how there’s the dearth of great songwriting (specially lack of real melodies paired with vague, yet cool-seeming, but ultimately meaningless lyrics)? All that goes for Drowner as much as Part Time or Wild Nothing, but when it’s a shoegaze/dreampop revival band, I find myself giving the record a pass despite it’s failings. My only real criticism of You’re Beautiful, I Forgive You (aside from the trendy pseudo-profundity-via-banality of the title) is there’s a squick of a “rockist” feel beneath the classic 4AD haze.

At first blush it sounds like the chemical wedding of Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, but deeper listening suggests not so much MBV as later, post-shoegaze, Americana-influenced Ride records or even Suede (Drowner are from Houston, TX, so that makes sense). I guess that kinda means it sounds like Lush. Yeah, it’s pretty much a Lush record without the hooks.

Thing is, unlike indie-pop, hooks aren’t as important to shoegaze as mood and atmosphere—which Drowner delivers. On a second, closer listen, the song “Shallow” actually has a proper hook and an unexpected Jane Siberry feel—a texture I now hear running throughout the whole album—that adds an interesting depth to the usual stew of sheogaze influences.

4 Spooky galas out of 5 Loveless garlands

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