Endgame Rise Against
DGC

Author:
Kyle Forrest

The tradition of criticizing bands for getting old and getting soft when they sell a lot of records is almost as old as the tradition of getting old and getting soft when after selling a lot of records; this review will forego punker-than-thou posturing and admit, up front, that Rise Against was, from the start, a pop band in wolf's clothing, and should be judged as such.

As pop music goes, "Endgame" is absolutely unflinching. Chugging rhythm guitar and blast beat drum fills are expertly off set by squealing hooks and vocals that flit frenetically between mid-range harmonies and outright shouting. It's a sound that was perfected on "Revolutions per Minute" and has largely stayed true to its roots in '90s skater punk melodic hardcore a la NoFX, Sick of It All, et al. And as on most previous releases, the record was recorded and produced by OSHC guru Bill Stevenson (Descendants, All). Some fans will tell you that "Endgame" continues the slippage, witnessed on "Appeal to Reason" into spinelessness, but scratch the surface a bit and mostly those complaints are motivated by a distaste for Rise Against's politics.

And the politics of this album do warrant some comment: much has been made of the queer-ally statement of "Make it Stop (September's Children)" in which singer Tim McIlrath decries the bigotry that has pushed a wave of homosexual youth to suicide. While, like most of Rise Against's lyrical themes, the sentiment is admirable, it is a stretch to think that it is either original or effective. Homophobia, inside and outside of punk rock, has ears of lead: they don't care what the words mean if they can mosh to it. The point was made, in a more frank and startling manner way back in 1996 when Propagandhi sang, on "Less Talk, More Rock," : "And all the fists in the world can't save you now. / Cuz if you dance to this / then you drink to me and my sexuality. / With your hands down my pants by transitive property."

No, despite critiques that amount to thinly veiled hate-speach, the problem with Rise Against's politics isn't that it dilutes their supposedly hardcore sound, but that we should be dubious that any such politics are intelligible from a stage at Warped Tour or Cochella. In the instance of "Endgame" the band was, if anything, so concerned about being called "too-poppy" that most of the politics can't be discerned through the guitar distortion.

Regardless, if you are a huge fan or, like me, only listen to them in secret (along with old Propagandhi and AFI discs), you'll want to add "Endgame" to the collection.

Single of the Week: "Architects"

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Crosscurrents Come Sunday
Independent

Author:
Karen Elliot

In Crosscurrents, the Chicago septet Come Sunday  show their mastery of jazz form and gospel.   The album is primarily comprised of classic spirituals but Come Sunday venture out into the waters of pop and jazz.  Wading into the “crosscurrents” is an apt metaphor for a album that flows from gospel into the secular and that includes many songs with water imagery such as “Jesus Gave Me Water," “Down by the Riverside," “Wade in the Water," and “Deep River."  A notable exception to these gospel themes is their cover of group’s namesake: “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington. 

The album strikes a nice balance between the traditionally uplifting feel of gospel and innovative and surprising jazz arrangements.  Their motto might be “gospel swings.”  The flow from religious to secular resonates with the group’s focus on songs popular in the Civil Rights Movement such as “Keep Your Hand on the Plow" and “I'm on My Way to Canaan Land."  Singing was the emotional core of Civil Rights freedom struggles and these tunes show the power that religious music has when it emerges from the cloistered church into the worldly realms of social relations and politics.  

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Hits (2 Disc Set) George Jones
Bandit / Welk / Sony

Author:
KFM

One would think that two CDs would be enough room to collect the hits of most any artist. Of course, most artists haven't haven't had the benefit of a back catalogue that stretches 55 years into the past. George Jones does: he went platinum in 1959 with "White Lightning," a song doubly stamped with history: it made Jones's drinking famous and was one of the last songs penned by The Big Bopper before he died alongside Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in that infamous plane crash.

"Hits" brings together a large number of Jones great songs—songs that he wrote and songs that were written for his distinct voice—beginning in the Opry era of "White Lightning" and running all through the wild years and the less wild years since with tracks such as "I Always Get Lucky With You." Additionally, two tracks are included: the characteristically impertinent "I should have called," and the iron-willed "I Ain't Ever Slowin' Down." Both songs are written by Eddie Raven for Jones to preform with a stellar Nashville backing band.

The only complaint that might be issued about this remarkable compilation is that, despite its length, some of my favorite songs are neglected. "Tall, tall Trees," is a forgivable oversight—though co-written with the great Roger Miller, it was never a hit for Jones or Miller. But the duets with Tammy Wynette and Barbara Mandrell? "Golden Ring" and "(I Was Country) When Country Wasn't Cool"? Where are those? Still, "Hits" marks a step up for fans who want access to more than the eight or ten well-worn favorites included on most of the previous "greatest hits" releases of the Possum's life's work.

Editor's Note: Nothing but universal comfort in the lyrics, and the warm, lolling charm of George Jones.

Single of the Week: "Yesterday's Wine" (with Merle Haggard)

Best Album of the Week


 

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The Tragic Tantrum Mirror, mirror
Independent

Author:
KE

So, Kurt Weil and Peter Murphy had a monster baby, Eraserhead Style.  The baby would not stop wailing for thirty days and thirty nights, and never before had anyone heard such mournful, angry cries, so, of course they named it “The Tragic Tantrum.”  Zoe Tantrum, the singing head on the monster baby, has great pipes and does a mean Lotte Lenya. (For the kids: Lotte Lenya was a German singer who got became a defining vocal stylist through her role as Pirate Jenny in Threepenny Opera, a Weimar-era communist musical by Kurt Weill).  The song “Beautiful” switches gears into a punk-goth-anthem mode. Here, Tantrum goes from channeling Lenya to Patti Smith (The kids don’t need a primer on Patti Smith do they?). 

My main criticism of Mirror, Mirror is that the album is costumey-- not really dark, more the vibe of pouty pre-teens playing at being goth.  I can imagine another version of this “dark cabaret” genre, that was a little less campy and really brought the listener into a dark world.  But my complaint is also a complement.  Mirror, mirror is fun goth, a place to dress-up and play vampire-zombie.  It brings you in and sinks its big fake plastic fangs right into you.

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Greatest Hits The Doors
Elektra

Author:
KFM

Rebellion doesn't survive grade school in late capitalist America without a copy of this on vinyl, cassette or compact disc. In the five or six short years preceeding Jim Morrison's death, the Doors completely transformed not only what counted as cool but what counted as political and what counted as music as well. Drug addled, belligerent, caustic and supremely self-serious, Morrison's contempt for our lowly world drips from these tracks, despite decades of attempts by Elektra's best engineers to tone down the nastiness.

Of course, the truly weird and nasty stuff never made the "Greatest Hits" record. The acid rambling tirades of the "The Lizard King" and the cryptically riotous "Five to One," aren't on this short collection. (Incidentally, it's that nasty bass line from "Five to One" that Kanye plugged into Jay-Z's indomitable dis-song "Takeover"—it still rattles cages and makes asses shake).

But if you've somehow avoided owning a collection of Doors hits this long, and overplaying of this very compilation in your college dormitory hasn't made you allergic to electric organs, you should probably buy this record immediately. Just don't listen to "Touch Me"; nothing can excuse that drivel.

Editor's Note: Supreme example of poetry in motion.

Single of the Week: "L.A. Woman"

Late But Great!

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Several Shades of Why J Mascis
Sub Pop

Author:
KFM

J Mascis has enough coolness points left over from the '90s to last several lifetimes, and the guy donates most of his proceeds to the various foundations of his guru Mata Amritanandamayi, so if he releases an album of acoustic ditties, you gotta know its for the love of the music.

And there's a lot to love. From start to finish this is rambling, beach-shanty mysticism album of epic stoniness. It offers, at equal turns, moments of casually lovely lyricism and utterly cosmic meditations on the transcendent potentialities of reverb. If you liked where he went on "J and Friends Sing And Chant for Amma" or you love the odd acoustic recordings between Dinosaur Jr. tours, you'll love this. Alternately, if you have a big thing for Little Wings, Will Oldham and the better moments of Band of Horses, but have always associated the name "J Mascis" with the Sonic Youth inspired era of Dinosaur Jr, then you owe it to yourself to give this a listen.

I love it, and I though that I couldn't possibly listen to any more pretty windblown California singer-songwritery stuff.

Editor's Note: A pastoral about death and the power to overcome it.

Artist to Watch

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Lights Ellie Goulding
Cherry Tree / Interscope / UMG

Author:
KE

In the future, there will be no gender, no class, no race, no work as we now know it.  We will have seized the technologies that oppress us and use them for our liberation from scarcity and oppression.  Even the supposed natural, anatomical differences between men and women will no longer be used to support patriarchy.  What does this rant/manifesto have to do with Ellie Goulding, you may ask?  Well, it has to do with her extreme popularization of a genre I have heard called “femtronica.”  For a long time I have believed that Bjork’s experimental techno manifestos have furthered the cause begun by Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” using to liberate women from the shackles of a patriarchal humanism. 

Ellie Goulding is a popularized, more catchy version of the Bjork phenomenon, harnessing a heartfelt folkie femminess to dance-synth-spangle.  The song “Starry Eyed,” comes the closest to femtronica revolution, it’s a soaring, jubilant dance tune that creates just enough derangement of the senses to blur dance floor ecstasy with the revolution of everyday life.  But this heightened level of femtronica is not consistent through the album.  I know I have high standards, but I have to agree with an inverted version of the famous phrase by Emma Goldman: If I can't revolt, I don't want to be part of your dance revolution.   Harsh, I know.  But then I heard her heart melting cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” and all was forgiven. 

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Surtur Rising (2 Disc Set) Amon Amarth
Metal Blade

Author:
KFM

Swedish death metal giants Amon Amarth broke barriers with their 2008 release "Twilight of the Thunder God," by selling so many copies internationally that the record debuted at 50 on Billboard's top 200 list. Not that blood-thirsty viking guitar gods or their fans are supposed to care about record sales, but it is an impressive feat, given that we're talking about a band that consistently cranks out buzz-saw riffs behind war-cry lyrics about Tolkien themed ancient mythic battles. Even the most obstinate metal fan will admit that its hard to imagine most Americans picking this up over The Jonas Brothers or Lil Wayne, who dominated the charts that month. AA was helped, a bit, by guest appearances from cello-metal pioneers Apocalyptica and Children of Bodom frontman Roope Latava, but the record was a hit under its own merits, and rapidly became the standard bearer of the widefire that has been "Viking Metal" and "Melo Death."

After such a record there are two obvious ways to falter: the band could have brought in even more guest appearances to ensure an even wider reception this time around, or they could have phoned in a release of updated recordings of their significant back catalog of songs—many of which could use some polishing, anyway. AA slipped in neither direction with "Surtur Rising." This is a record that is jammed to the gills with original material from a band that has not only perfected the genre, but constructed a cosmos.

Long term fans will be pleased that AA sticks to their guns in offering only the darkest, most melancholic remittances from the chugging brutality. New listeners will first be floored by the fact that muscle bound, axe wielding, shirtless pagans can produce such a tight and sophisticated sound, and then be brought fully into the circle by the shouting, anthemic choruses. Buy it now, before the band returns to middle earth, and takes all evidence of their time in our realm with them.

Mighty Mighty!

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Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell Rory Block
Stony Plain

Author:
KFM

The idea of a woman playing the blues is a compelling one. Sure, women are allowed to sing, and what would roots music look like without Etta James or Janis Joplin? But the guitar greats is mostly a boys club, one whose walls are continually reinforced by the persistent themes of the blues: lonely masculinity, betrayal by women, and hard labor.

The boys club phenomenon is just part of what makes guitar legend Rory Block so fascinating. The other part is her straight up chops and evocative voice. With "Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell" she's back, continuing a concept that has roots in her early biography but emerged in full with the 2006 release of "The Lady and Mr. Johnson." There she provides note-for-note reproduction of the great songs of Robert Johnson. Block further worked out the recipe on a collection of interpreting the works of Son House, and here she gives similar treatment to Fred McDowell.

Block has long been known for her live and recorded covers of such classic bluesmen. With "Shake 'Em Down" however, she succeeds in pushing the envelope via some original songs written dedicated to McDowell. The best of these is "Mississippi Man," wherein McDowell provides a sexually charged account of her first meeting with McDowell. Keep in mind that this was 1965, that Block was a fifteen year old white girl from New York, meeting one of her idols in libertine Berkeley on the eve of the Sexual Liberation movement. And then keep in mind that McDowell was sixty-something, African American, and known for his swagger. The song takes on an idiosyncratic life of its own, even as it quotes openly from McDowell's phrasing. Best, Block claims back her young, admittedly impressionable, sexuality in bold strokes and with a voice that carves out a blues for women that simultaneously acknowledges the contributions of previous ladies of roots music AND declares a decisive end to the boys club.

Editor's Note: An album by the one and only Rory Block addressing what is man's inhumanity to man—indifference.

Single of the Week: "The Breadline"
 

Let the Good Times Roll

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S/T Richard Ashcroft & The United Nations of Sound
Razor & Tie

Author:
KE

Sometimes in writing as in life one gets blocked, and must consult a source of divination in order to go on.  Since the Han Dynasty, the Chinese have used the I Ching, the book of changes, for this purpose.  In the case of writing album reviews I find that the lyrics of Tenacious D. are a strong source of inspiration and guidance.  Thus, when I got stuck in my review of Richard Ashcroft’s United Nations of Soul I consulted the oracle, which answered thus: It doesn't matter if it is good,/It only matters if it rocks. /The main thing that we do is to rock your socks off.

These wise, wise words helped me to find my way to a generous reading of United Nations of Soul.  This solo album by former Verve frontman is an album by a rocker about rocking.  It is primal, rock-centric with lots of na-na-na-na refrains, songs with titles like “Are You Ready?” “Born Again” “Good Lovin’”, “She Brings Me the Music,” “Glory” and lyrics like "this is the universal language, this is music!" "One life! One nation! Music! Dedication!" "All together now."

An ungenerous reading could interpret these anthemic, direct lyrics as trite, but a generous reading sees the purity of the album, the great realization of Tenacious D-- Rock is about itself.  Some feel that the point of rock is to live.  Others feel that the point of life is to rock.  Ashcroft’s rock for rock’s sake, blues for blues sake points to this second world view.  One that Jack Black and I give a hearty stamp of approval. 

Single of the Week: "This Thing Called Life"

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Factory Man Eric Hanke
Ten Foot Texan

Author:
KFM

When Eric Hanke opens his mouth what comes out isn't complicated or ornamental, but it's honest and it's intelligent. His guitarmanship is similarly straight-forward. He's not one of these guitarists who makes you think he came out of the womb finger-pickin, and he dismisses outright the trend toward breezy, lackadaisical riffs that so often stand in for musicianship these days. No, with his voice and his playing Hanke lets you know that writing songs and singing them for folks is a job; he's a hard workin' guy.

Usually, hearing an artist struggle for his or her sound will leave me feeling flat. Shit, I'll think: they're out there, practicing and playing and they still kinda suck— and what am I doing? Watching YouTube videos of squirrel monkies again?

But with Erik Hanke that struggle is in keeping, perfectly, with the record's themes of working class blues and the labor of love. Nowhere does Hanke make you feel like he's the next country-pop sensation outta Austin, but everywhere he makes you feel like he'd be a good friend and a great guy to hear belt it out in some dive bar or other. In the end it seems like that might be just what Hanke is shooting for; and in that sense, hard work sure can pay off.

Editor's Note: Freight train momentum.

Political Album of the Week

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Water Bound Shannon Whitworth
Thirty Tigers

Author:
KE

Shannon Whitworth’s second album Water Bound is going for that liquid languid feeling you get from the right mellow, deep voiced country singer.  And she largely succeeds in this emotional, floaty album.  Her voice is easy on the ears as is especially apparent in her seductive bar band songs,  “Can’t look in your Eyes” and “Fly Away.”

But my friend Maya won’t let me finish this review without discussing the cover.  Here, Ms. Whitworth appears in a posture that is half “come hither” and half “I’m just hanging out on my stained hardwood floor waiting for the kids to get home from school.”  She’s wearing a loose, drapey flesh-toned sweater that is so loosely knit that her extremely well maintained cougar form is on near full display.  This casual MILF/Cougar posture is evident in the sound of the album as well.  Songs like “Mermaid’s Song” and “Taking It Hard” and  seductive, mature, and well, like her over-done make-up, sometimes a bit tacky.   But what is tacky is also what makes the album sexy.  Not that the world revolves around male desire, but most guys I know would take a slightly tacky MILF over a tasteful, perfect sexpot any time.  Purity is for a frozen eternity. Imperfection is for the slightly drunken, 2am, sentimental now.

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Birds & Drums The Bewitched Hands
Look Mum No Hands / Sony

Author:
KFM

Mesmerizing. Like if you were laying in the sand, someplace bright but not that warm, and you think you see some flying floating impossible something. Trying to peer directly at it, you're increasingly blinded by the sun, and can only view it from the side of your eye. Was it a trick of the light? Secret spacecraft? Unknown beach organism? Mesmerizing like that is The Bewitched Hands.

Comparisons and hypotheses bubble up from the blogosphere like a keg party in a chicken bus, but these should be taken largely as indicative of the excitement that this band plants in people. Comparisons are as easy as they are inadequate. Surely a debt is owed to the Animal Collective—in terms of exuberant playfulness if nothing else. Equally Bon Iver's passion for harmonies, Flaming Lips' wall of guitar tone, and the Arcade Fire's layering complexities. But they're probably better than all that, and though it's hard to know what they'll do from moment to moment, one gets the sense that they'll be around for the long haul.

Produced by Yuksek, whose recent work with Phoenix and Lady Gaga has pushed him to the front of Europe's burgoening electro scene, this French sextet are as sophisticated in their symphonic songwriting as they are unpretentious in their appearance and attitudes. The truly staggering moments are when the multi-part harmonies flow from looping rounds of sound into a solid choral rope that is impossible to avoid singing along with. They seem to only come to the states for SXSW and select gigs in NYC, but google their videos today and look for their tour dates tomorrow.

Single of the Week: "Hard To Cry"

Debut Album of the Week

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Letters in the Deep Cadillac Sky
Dualtone

Author:
Karen Eliot

Okay, I present you with the coffee klatch conversation topic of the day: In Letters from the Deep, Cadillac Sky, a self described bluegrass quintet, deliver an album that is and/or isn’t bluegrass.  Discuss.  Mildred, who takes her coffee black, argues that this is indeed a bluegrass album because it exhibits classic bluegrass influences throughout.  Songs like “Hangman” feature Matt Menefees traditional and impassioned banjo picking, and in general the instrumentation and vibe constantly return to bluegrass modalities.   Blanche, who likes her coffee with ample cream and sugar argues that the album is too diverse to be boiled down to a bluegrass band as the band ventures far into blues, folk and jazz terrain.  Carole, who likes her coffee just right, says that the genre doesn’t matter. Letters in the Deep is tied together more by a plaintive, longing emotional landscape than by any generic category. 

I agree with all the ladies and enjoyed this eclectic mix.  The album was recorded in one five-day session, produced in a simple straightforward manner by singer Dan Auerbach.  A stand out tune is “Bathsheba”, a frenetic accusatory dressing down of an ex-lover.  “Break my Heart Again” shows the desire and self-hatred at work when you want to sleep with an ex-lover, and know you shouldn’t.  In general, the album is notable for its raw display of male vulnerability.  It’s one thing to write songs about a broken heart, but its more risky to convey how much being deserted by a lover makes you doubt your own self worth.  The ladies of the coffee klatch agree, whatever the genre, Letters in the Deep is a heart melting tear jerker. 

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Ten Jason Moran
Blue Note

Author:
KE

Jason Moran’s Ten is an eerily beautiful, haunted house, permeated by the ghosts of jazz past and jazz future.  Here, the influence of  Jaki Byard, Leonard Bernstein, Theloneus Monk, mingle with contemporary sounds-- rap, hip hop, jazz, funk and soul.  In “Feedback Pt. 2,” a Jimi Hendrix sample wisps through an ethereal chamber of sound. 

Moran troops through this house fearlessly, taking on difficult pieces and risky interpretations, as in his deft navigation of varying tempos in “Study No. 6” and his swinging version of stride piano classics “Nobody” and “To Bob Vatel of Paris.” In the end of this ghost story  we find that the spirits have not been exorcized nor have the humans been scared away.  Rather, in the final piece aptly named “Old Babies,” the two join in a stately, slightly macabre dance, a carnival of jazz souls. 

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S/T (2 Disc Set) Burns & Poe
Blue Streel

Author:
KFM

Everything that can be known about Burns & Poe is summed up by contrasting the chorus from one song on this record with the chorus on another:

"Take Your Stuff, Load it up; Call your friend with the pick-up truck." versus,

"I ain't a rich man, that's alright, I don't need that much; little bit of gas, little bit of mud; I got a big truck."

Burns & Poe are a his and her duo, but one in which venus and mars rotate around the same F-250. Theirs is a world populated exclusively by first loves, second chances, big trucks and long roads. It's a world called America.

In the world called America (pronounced 'Merica, course), there's little need to fixate on anything more complex than a bad break-up and a two-part harmony, and, frankly, to do so would be more snobbish than it would be rude. In the world called America Burns & Poe are the next Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (as they unabashedly imply by covering "Islands In the Stream" as a bonus track medley that closes with "I Got You Babe"). Like the originals, Burns & Poe are the epitomy of smoldering stubble and buxom blonde, respectively. Unlike the originals, the planet America that is constructed here falls short on both pop-sensibility and winking sophistication.

If you'd like to visit Planet America, this debut double album from Burns & Poe will trasport you there for a little less than an hour (the ten minute live medeley just barely justifies splitting the songs into two discs). When you come back, email me, and let me know where they put my truck keys.


 

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House On Fire Brian Wright
Entropy Collective / Sugar Hill

Author:
KFM

There's lots of songs on this disc with lots to offer, but it wasn't until I gave a full eared listen to "Maria Sugarcane" that I was fully convinced. Here's a song that starts by laying claim to the rich mythic territory of old west anti-heros and remorseful violence, and ends with the myths transformed into a new kind of truth for a 21st century moralism. "Maria Sugarcane" is the story of a man who discovers that he must kill his brother to protect the woman that they both love from his drunken abuse. When Wright's voice stumbles and cracks at the dramatic moments it's without camp or melodrama. In a few sparse verses, alone with his guitar, Wright manages to grab the themes of "Long Black Veil" and "Highway Patrolman" (surely the song title here is a knowing acknowledgement of the riff on Springsteen's song) and weave them into something markedly new and seemingly ancient.

Wright has been playing such songs, songs of Americana and country-folk-blues what-have-you for a couple decades now in Austin, Dallas and LA from what I can tell, but this is his first release as a solo-artist per se. But most of these songs forego the singer-songwriter open mic thing and offer up a whole slough of instrumentation. While most of this record is characterized by traditionalist, if somewhat breezy compositions, Wright indicates an appetite for breadth on tracks such as "Had Enough" and "The Good Dr." that make clever nods to the Talking Heads. Played and recorded by Wright himself in a one room recording studio in LA's fabled Laurel Canyon. It's a labor of love in the sense that every inch of it has been cut, sanded and combed clean by Wright's even hand and sharp wit.

Editor's Note: An S.O.S. from the heart of darkness.

Single of the Week: "Friend"

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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Dreaming Little Things Elmwood
Independent

Author:
KE

In my other job as a Marxist literary critic the question I always ask myself about art is this:  How does this work do the work of cognitive mapping?  How does it show the contradictions, impasses and utopian desires that we feel as people trying to navigate life in an age of chaos and insecurity, with no real road signs or maps.  So, just as practice let me ask this of the album “Dreaming Little Things” by Elmwood.  Like so many albums I’ve encountered lately, it is difficult to locate this album.  It can’t be traced to a single genre or locale. 

If I had to nail it down, I could say Elmwood is a mix of progressive rock (an already deeply hybrid genre), grunge, neo-folk and anthemic stadium rock.  Yet the album cover-- a black and white shot of the four simply dressed, young, good looking band members standing on the eroded front porch of a rustic cabin-- is clearly trying to convey a kind of authenticity, modesty and folksiness    This folksy theme pervades the album, as in the folk ballad “Jesse James,” delivered in an amped up hard rock style.  The title song, “Dreaming Little Things”  is a big, driving stadium rock number  with complex dynamics, kind of Kansas meets King Crimson meets Vetiver, all of them singing about wanting more and not being able to get it. 

So, to get back to my initial question.   What kind of cognitive mapping is this doing?  How is the eclecticism of the album itself a form of location?  What utopian dreams are behind it?  The album shows a love of decades of music—folk, hard rock, progressive, grunge—signifying Elmwood’s attempt to work out the problem of rock in a moment that lacks an organic culture and a resulting organic art.  We no longer identify or shape our lives around one particular genre or social experience.  The desire for the residual, the past, is the desire for a lost collectivity, lost identification, fleeting forms of organic meaning making.  And yet, the experience of freedom from historical determinism is also liberating.  We are not tied to a given, organic form of art, we can bricolate, combine and choose the elements with which to tinker with our own future.    Elmwood clearly enjoys the process of this bricolage.  But maybe I’m over thinking this.  Maybe Elmwood just rocks. 

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Gangbusters! Turner Cody
Boy Scout

Author:
KE

Gangbusters!  is Cody's third studio album with Herman Dune and shows a movement to a more accomplished, mature performance, helped along by Jon Natchez and Kelly Pratt’s melodic horn arrangements and the contributions of members of  Beirut and Arcade Fire. 

Cody is often associated with the anti-folk genre but the orchestral touches on  Gangbusters! give this album a poppy feel.   The songs all feel casual, laid back and simple, but they keep pulling details and catchy riffs out of their hat, keeping the audience on the edge of our seats.  My favorite songs mix a sweet simplicity with a Leonard-Cohenesque baroque lyrical ability, as in the song “Lost as Lost Can Be” with its elaborate medieval battle imagery used to describe how the speaker is really lonely and misses his girlfriend.  It may be a bit twee, but Gangbusters! is sweetly charming and I am a lady who likes to be sweetly charmed. 

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The Sea Corrine Bailey Rae
Capitol / EMI

Author:
KFM

This record, two years late in being released due to personal tragedy in the life of its leading lady, hit the shelves over a year ago. That we are just reviewing it now is a small tragedy of its own, but of very small proportions.

Small proportions are an appropriate subject for this record: much has been made about the melancholy quality of this, Corrine Bailey Rae's second album. That personal tragedy I mentioned—the death by "misadventure" of Rae's husband, who was in treatment for heroine addiction—has likely overdetermined such interpretations. Which isn't to say that there isn't any sadness in these eleven songs. There is, but it is proportionally small, understated, given the scale of the personal disaster that confronted the lovely English songstress in the midst of her recording sessions.

There are many other qualities wrapped up in small proportions in this record: Rae is witty then angry then hopeful then proud in turns. If fans wish to hear mostly melancholia, it may say most about the fans. Up until this point, Rae has been marketed at junior high school girls with an eye for fashion— the next Nelly Furtado, if you will. Such audiences might not be accustomed to the variety and complexity that Bailey Rae has brought to bear on this album. So much the better: the record retains the irresistible pop-pretty of her debut release, and can hardly fail to please the pre-teen crowd. But "The Sea" might also turn those young ears to some unexpected influences (there are hint of jazz and blues throughout, and more than a small dose of indie-hubris a la Chan Marshall).

Of course, all that was probably obvious a year ago when "The Sea" came out. What hasn't been obvious, since then, is that Rae has been able to connect with audiences beyond the teenie bopper set that adore her inclusion on romantic comedy soundtracks. The overly smooth production of her records—weighed down, as they are, by the soulless expertise of so many studio musicians—deserves most of the blame for that. Rae has returned from hiatus following her husband's death. She shows on all counts that she is smart and talented and can take charge of her life, despite setbacks; now if she can only wrest control of her records from the labels, she might succeed in taking charge of her music.

If You Like Music, You'll Love This!

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