March 17, 2009
I imagine a good joke to play on an audiophile friend would be to play the new album by Wavves, which has deliberate distortion throughout, and say, “Well, it plays perfectly on my system.” Wavvves is the follow up to the self-titled debut album by Wavves aka Nathan Williams, a San Diego based one man band (at least on his recordings to date) who combines surf punk with noise rock. Underneath the buzz and the drone, you’ll hear Williams’ knack for a catchy pop melody or a good guitar or synthesizer riff, the result sounding as if the Beach Boys had joined forces with Dick Dale and proceeded to drop the brown acid together. Sonically, Wavvves challenges listener notions of what good music sounds like, but the static and the noise are just another musical layer, like listening to someone’s tantalizingly good songs on a radio station left of the dial, with permanently poor reception. If Williams hadn’t put anything worthwhile for listeners to find underneath all that noise and distortion, Wavvves wouldn’t work, but he has, and the album does. Standout cuts: “Beach Demon,” “To The Dregs,” “So Bored” and “Weed Demon.”
October 22, 2008
“Lamping is the name of a rather dreadful hunting technique where, hunters go into the forest at night, flood an area in light, then shoot,or capture,the animals as they panic and run from their hiding places.
this album is my attempt at doing this to my proverbial skeletons. i haven’t yet decided if i should shoot or just capture them though.” – Kevin Barnes, lead singer and songwriter for Of Montreal
The latest release from Of Montreal is a concept album about a self-described middle aged “black she-male” named Georgie Fruit, veteran of a 70’s funk band as well as multiple sex changes. Skeletal Lamping, with its subject matter coupled with Barnes’ mission statement for the album, quoted in part above, is the most ambitious, deliberately challenging and even confrontational album Of Montreal has released to date. It takes a lot of risks, and while not all of them pay off, the album is nevertheless compelling throughout because though Barnes and the band set out to confound listener expectations with Skeletal Lamping, they’ve still made an entertaining, frequently delightful set of music, liberally dosed with funk and a little disco to boot. Describing Of Montreal’s sound as “psychedelic pop” seems woefully inadequate at this point, since the densely layered music on Skeletal Lamping restlessly jumps from style to style multiple times, sometimes even within the context of a single song, effectively mimicking a fractured, fragmented consciousness. The lyrics are sexually frank, sometimes strange, sometimes disturbing and repellent, other times witty and joyous, expressing the profound ambivalence of the album’s main character and perhaps of Barnes himself, who has described himself as spending most of his time “in a state of mild confusion and pensiveness.” Skeletal Lamping is a fascinating, provocative, flawed, sometimes incoherent but utterly alive piece of work. You may love it or you may hate it, but if you’re a fan of indie rock and pop, you should give it at least a listen. Standout cuts: “Nonpareil Of Favor,” “Wicked Wisdom,” “An Eluardian Instance” and “Id Engager.”
October 9, 2008
The latest album from San Francisco Bay Area based band Deerhoof kicks off with “The Tears And Music Of Love,” which has a pretty irresistible classic rock-style guitar riff. There’s nothing else quite like it on the rest of the album, though as a rocker, “Eaguro Guro” comes close. The rest of the album mixes up experimental pop, New Wave, punk, rock and jazz into a typically heady mix. I ended up dividing this album into thirds: The first third I counted as the first three tracks, the second third being tracks four through eight, and the last third comprising tracks nine through fourteen. (Time-wise, however, what I’m thinking of as the last third is probably half the album.) I liked the first third and the last third the best. The middle third consists of a series of songs that are, save for “My Purple Past,” two minutes or less, and often felt more like sketches of songs than complete songs, though that said, I did like the guitar work on the title track, “Offend Maggie.” I turned off to the album a bit during those tracks, at any rate, but “Family Of Others,” with its lovely harmonies, pulled me in again. From that point on, I really liked the rest of the album, including the song “Fresh Born,” which the band invited fans to do cover versions of some months back. What I appreciated throughout the album, even on the tracks I wasn’t as interested in, was the meticulous fashion in which the band put their songs together, how each element of each song was placed alongside each other to either complement the other or to contrast or flat out oppose it, creating compelling harmonies and tensions that may go undiscovered on first listens. Offend Maggie is brainy, eclectic indie pop music carefully crafted by a first rate group of artists. It’s also a lot of fun to listen to. Bonus! Standout cuts: “The Tears And Music Of Love,” “Family Of Others,” “Fresh Born” and “Jagged Fruit.”
May 11, 2008
Second album from Los Angeles based band No Age is a potent mixture of punk, noise rock and pop, and a bit of shoegaze and dream pop, sometimes all mixed into a single song. It took me a few listens to really get a bead on the album as it seemed to run together the first couple of listens, but as it’s only half an hour long, repeat listens were no problem. Once I got a handle on it, I really started to enjoy it and appreciate the switches in style throughout the 12 tracks. There are only two members of No Age, but the impressive wall of sound and noise they throw up sometimes belies that. Nouns is like Guided By Voices, the Pixies and My Bloody Valentine crossed with Sonic Youth at their most dissonant and experimental, and if that sounds good, No Age is the band for you. Standout cuts: “Teen Creeps,” “Cappo,” “Sleeper Hold” and “Brain Burner.”
April 22, 2008
For their first album in four years, Los Angeles based band Phantom Planet fuses all of the musical phases their ten year history has seen them go through, from Beach Boys inspired power pop to jagged garage and punk inspired rock, into one immensely satisfying whole on Raise The Dead. The record leans more to the noisy guitar rock of “Big Brat” than the dreamy pop of songs like “California” and “Lonely Day,” but they haven’t lost their knack for hooks, as the first four cuts will attest, which start the album out with a bang and constitute some of the best songs. “Demon Daughters” and “Leave Yourself For Someone Else” are highlights from the second half of the album, which fortunately never runs out of gas throughout its 12 track, 43 minute running time. It’s a solid return for a band that’s never quite figured out what it wants to do, so it continues to try out a bit of everything. Time will tell if Phantom Planet will settle on a single sound, but it’s fun hearing them work it out in the meantime. Standout cuts: “Raise The Dead,” “Dropped,” “Leader” and “Do The Panic.”
April 8, 2008
First release in six years from the Breeders (Kelley Deal, Kim Deal, Jose Medeles and Mando Lopez) has the majority of its strongest material weighted towards the first half of the 11 song, 36 minute album, basically tracks 2 through 5: “Bang On,” “Night Of Joy,” “We’re Gonna Rise” and “German Studies.” Though there are some spirited noise pop tracks, “Bang On” and “German Studies” in particular, longtime listeners looking to hear something along the lines of “Cannonball,” the Last Splash tune that established them as a major band in the 90’s, are probably going to be disappointed. Most of the album feels very low key, moody and atmospheric, and while there’s some good stuff to be found here, some moments of real beauty and invention, I also felt there was a certain level of uniformity that afflicted the album, especially during the second half. I wanted Mountain Battles to rock out a bit more, if not like “Cannonball” then maybe like “Huffer” on Title TK, but then it’s maybe unwise to judge an album based on what I’d prefer it to be, rather than what it is and on its own merits. So I will recommend this album, especially to Breeders fans, with the observation that Mountain Battles is much more quiet than loud.
Richly textured, intensely personal fusion of dream and noise pop from Atlas Sound, a side project of Bradford Cox, otherwise a member of Deerhunter. The intensely personal part you may or may not get at first, if ever without an explanation (available online, fortunately), since some of the lyrics are so personal as to be abstract, but then those lyrics are often lost in the mix, obscured by instrumentation, static or droning sounds, anyway. Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel can be seen as an album akin to David Bowie’s Low, where the feeling one gets from the music presented is as important than anything said (or sung) directly. That said, the music here is by turns beautiful and unsettling, and for a record that’s so highly experimental for the most part, it’s also highly listenable. Worth checking out for fans of adventrous pop. Standout cuts: “Recent Bedroom,” “River Card,” “Cold As Ice” and “Ativan.”
NOTE: Many thanks to Danny Wilbon, who wrote in and pointed out some incorrect information I’d read concerning Cox’s other band and then repeated for this review. It’s since been corrected.