embryonic

After releasing three albums in a row that were variously considering masterpieces, beginning with 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, and continuing on with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War with the Mystics, Oklahoma based band the Flaming Lips close out the first decade of the 21st century with Embryonic, a sprawling, some may even say meandering, set of music that some will hail as yet another masterpiece, but may alienate and/or test the patience of others. It’s their most experimental, more dissonant sounding record in years: Some songs feature a deliberately distorted guitar and drum sound, snippets of seemingly random monologues taken from math lectures and conversations, and odd sounding vocals, all frequently set to sweeping psychedelic tinged soundscapes that are sometimes welcoming and sometimes somewhat menacing, and sometimes both. It’s also their most cohesive album, probably ever, really, as on repeat listens, it’s not hard to imagine the 18 tracks being individual parts of one strange, beautiful and frequently difficult whole. Embryonic is a challenging record for sure, but one that creates genuine excitement and wonder about it, and offers up a bit of fun to boot. Standout cuts: “Convinced Of The Hex,” “Powerless,” “Silver Trembling Hands” and “Watching The Planets.”

P.S.: Including a cartoonish sounding whooping “warrior Indian” on a list for “I Can Be A Frog” that otherwise includes “creatures,” insects, a vehicle and a destructive force of nature is puzzling at best, somewhat dehumanizing and offensive at worst. The lyrical gaffe mars an otherwise sweet song.

http://www.myspace.com/flaminglips

The Clean – Mister Pop

September 19, 2009

theclean“I’m not here for a long time / I’m just here for a good time…”

New Zealand band the Clean has been around, on and off, since 1978, but their current record has influences that stretch back a decade or so earlier than that. With songs entitled “Are You Really on Drugs?,” “In the Dream Life U Need a Rubber Soul” and “Moonjumper,” the observant track listing reader may guess there’s a least a modicum of psychedelic influence on the proceedings, and as it turns out, there’s quite a lot. Mister Pop fuses breezy, charming pop, often Kinks inspired, to a dreamy, almost hallucingenic like music, with dreamy vocals and a distinctly Eastern influence on some tracks. It’s inspired stuff, and it’s great fun to listen to, the kind of music that one won’t fully appreciate with just a single listen. Recommended for fans of experimental and psychedelic infused pop. Standout cuts: “Loog,” “Are You Really on Drugs?,” “In the Dream Life U Need a Rubber Soul” and “Simple Fix.”

http://www.mergerecords.com/artists/clean

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

September 13, 2009

popularsongsI suppose there’s no typical way an album from Hoboken based band Yo La Tengo sounds like at this point, even 25 years into their career. Perhaps the one question a longtime Yo La Tengo listener may ask is, “Well, are there any long songs?” And why, yes, there are, three of them, in fact, that comprise the last three tracks on the record and account for over half of the 70 minute plus total running time. The first of these long songs, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” is a lovely ballad that pairs its male and female vocals with a distorted guitar line that runs through the entirety of its 9 minute plus length. The other two tracks are mostly instrumental, the final track ending the album with a nearly 16 minute acid rock guitar jam. So that’s over half the album, time-wise. What about the first 9 tracks? They’re a blend of indie, psychedelic and garage rock, with some 60’s inspired pop and lounge numbers thrown in as well. In other words, it’s similar in approach to their two recent albums, with similarly excellent results, by and large. I could have done with at least one more rocker along the lines of “Nothing To Hide,” and generally speaking, Popular Songs doesn’t quite rise to the delirious heights of 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, but it’s still good stuff. Standout cuts: “Here To Fall,” “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar,” “Nothing To Hide” and “Periodically Double Or Triple.”

http://www.myspace.com/yolatengo

sthelensA band that sounds like equal parts the Velvet Underground, early Sonic Youth and the Brian Jonestown Massacre? I’m in! Australian band St Helens’ new album pulls together a number of familiar influences into something that somehow gels into a dark, seductive but still strangely fun set of music. The general feel of the album, lyrics included, is jaded and somewhat sinister, an overall mood that’s tempered by a wit that makes itself known without being overbearing. Heavy Profession is a pretty cool, confident debut, not without its flaws or missteps, particularly in its second half, but it’s certainly a record full of promise and one that offers up a lot of pleasure in the present. Standout cuts: “Don’t Laugh,” “How To Choose Your Guru Pt 2,” “Coffin Scratch” and “Get Up.”

http://www.myspace.com/sthelens

drugrugFor the first four tracks, Cambridge based band Drug Rug sound strikingly as if Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac had gone back in time and formed a psychedelic folk band with echoes of the Mamas and the Papas; later, they sound like Melanie trying her hand at the psychedelic folk thing. I don’t mean that in any way as a criticism because Drug Rug’s second album, Paint The Fence Invisible, is one of the most pleasing collection of songs I’ve heard all year. There’s such a bittersweet, earnest vibe to the whole enterprise that I bought into it pretty much immediately. I love the harmonies, the inventive arrangements that begin with an acoustic guitar foundation and are layered upon with various psychedelic and pop touches, and I love the savvy blend of folk, blues, rock and pop. It’s a groovy psychedelic pop pleasure from start to finish, and I highly recommend it. Standout cuts: “Haunting You,” “Never Tell,” “Hannah Please” and “Don’t Be Frightened Of The Devil.”

http://www.myspace.com/drugrugdude

portugalthemanForget the numerous album reissues being released in time for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock: Here’s your soundtrack for the Summer of Love circa 2009, Alaska based band Portgual. The Man’s latest record, The Satanic Satanist. It’s a potent blend of rock, psychedelic folk, soul and experimental pop, as evocative of the free spirited, groundbreaking music of the 60’s as any endlessly played and overplayed reissue. The Satanic Satanist is packed with musical ideas, so much so that it seems a longer album than its 35 minute running time would seem to indicate. And despite my retro comparisons, it’s a very modern sounding, forward thinking indie pop record, and one of the most enjoyable, addictive and listenable released so far this year. Standout cuts: “People Say,” “Work All Day,” “The Sun” and “The Woods.”

http://www.myspace.com/portugaltheman

mirandaleerichardslightofxThe Herethereafter, the debut album from Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Miranda Lee Richards, was one of my favorite albums of the early part of this decade. Nearly eight years later, Richards returns with Light Of X, twelve tracks (plus one hidden track) that more than deliver on the promise of that first record. Like its predecessor, Light Of X is a mixture of folk, rock, and psychedelia, though with a little less emphasis on the latter this time out. Richards calls the music found here “Psychedelic Chamber Folk Rock,” the “Chamber” part referring to the lovely string arrangements that appear on some of the songs. Since Richards released her last record, her singing voice and her songwriting abilities have matured: Light Of X represents both a continuation of The Herethereafter and a progression forward. It’s a elegant and lovely work, filled with warmth and compassion, and it’s done with enough intelligence and built in resistance to easy sentimentality that it should appeal to even those listeners for whom the word “folk” is a red flag. It’s enough to give “Pixie Fairy Dust Chick Music” (as Courtney Taylor from the Dandy Warhols teasingly refers to Richards’ music) a good name. Standout cuts: “Breathless,” “Life Boat,” “Early November” and “Last Days Of Summer.”

http://www.myspace.com/mirandaleerichards

mirandaleerichardsIn advance of a long overdue follow-up to her 2001 debut album, The Herethereafter, Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Miranda Lee Richards has released a very promising four track EP called Early November. Richards has described the music on her forthcoming album, Light Of X, as “Psychedelic Chamber Folk Rock,” which is actually a pretty tidy summation of the various influences you’ll find in her music. Her singing is lovely and evocative, and her music is buoyed by warm, compassionate and intelligent lyrics. All the songs are top drawer, with the title track and “Life Boat” being particular highlights, with the spoken word final track, “Oddity,” displaying a more experimental bent. This is good stuff, and should tide over Richards fans and Richards fans-to-be until the February 2009 release of the LP.

http://www.myspace.com/mirandaleerichards

Parts & Labor – Receivers

October 22, 2008

The new album from Brooklyn based band Parts & Labor is a consistently surprising effort, combining noise, prog and psychedelic rock, often with 70’s heavy metal guitar backdrop, into an experimental mix that for the first half of the album often doesn’t even seem like the same band from track to track. They also layer on some electronic flourishes and display a real talent for a pop hook, as with the irresistible “Nowheres Nigh.” Things slow down a bit at the midpoint with “The Ceasing Now,” but pick up again with the somewhat regal sounding ballad “Wedding In A Wasteland” and the prog rock workout “Prefix Now,” both of which have an epic sweep about them. This is a pretty cool record, and having not listened to Parts & Labor in the past, this was an unexpected pleasure. Standout cuts: “Satellites,” “Nowheres Nigh,” “Mount Misery” and “Wedding In A Wasteland.”

http://www.myspace.com/partsandlabor

The new album (and first post-major label release) from Portland based band the Dandy Warhols is as spacey and out there as the title may suggest to some listeners. …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… is also epic in its scope, maybe even a little bombastic and self-indulgent, and resists easy categorization, which is almost certainly intentional. It’s rock, pop, funk, soul, disco, it’s space rock, it’s blissed out psychedelic rock, it’s electronica. It’s got a beat and you can dance to it. (“Welcome To The Third World” is maybe the wildest track here. It sounds like a re-imagining of “Some Girls” by the Rolling Stones as a funk and disco number, with a rap beat by way of the Sugar Hill Gang.) Which album is it most like? Well, all of them put together, maybe playing at the same time. The album is designed to play endlessly, the beginning and the end linked together by a single repeated sound, so you may not notice right away, like me, when the album has actually concluded and restarted. And it never has to, really, if you don’t want it to. …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… is the sort of album you’ll want to listen to over and over, in part because there’s just so much packed in it, but most importantly, because it’s a fun, entertaining and sometimes exhilarating listen. The last track, the nearly 15 minute “Musee D’Nougat,” seemed excessive to me when I first saw its running time, but it turns out it’s a nice way to ease out of the album and then ease back in if you’re so inclined. Standout cuts: “The World The People Together (Come On),” “Wasp In The Lotus,” “Talk Radio” and “The Legend of The Last of the Outlaw Truckers AKA the Ballad of Sherriff Shorty.”

http://www.myspace.com/thedandywarhols

I obtained my copy of …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… by becoming a member of the band’s new subscription service, which I thought sounded like a good deal, and a good way to support a favorite band. For information on the subscription service, you can go to their official site:

http://www.dandywarhols.com/