Outer Peace: Quick like silver

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Credit where credit is due and Chaz Bundick earns his by leaving us flabbergasted to what he
will do.

His interests are blistering—percolating on the thermometer’s edge—he rushes, thrushes, brushes past electric cool jazz, lo-fi rock, DIY funk and now nu-disco in torrid pace. But listen to any Toro y Moi predecessor to Outer Peace and the melodies would never strike the anvil hot, but instead water it down, down, downtempo. Neither too does this make the material solid; he puts the Hg in Mercury, producing an ever changing chillwave that conforms to the container he desires as if elemental, as if he is right in the petri dish and alchemists are left scratching their heads. On Outer Peace, Toro y Moi shifts quick—it’s not so much a record as a thirty minute DJ set—nothing makes it past four minutes, everything ephemeral, a slinking sleuthing swirling spinning series of singles that lock together like a jigsaw puzzle yet flow like a stutter-step butterfly flight. Nervous but happy, neurotic but beautiful, replete with fluttering, fleeting moments.

Like the wow-wow Owen Wilson synthesizers on “Laws of the Universe” which recalls for a fun tropical house, a hammed up eighties production crossing Wham’s “Club Tropicana” by Mr. Fingerisms from all angles. Or like the space flute synthesizer kazoo solo on “Freelance” which provides a great harmonic companion to Bundick’s vocoder vocal effect and adds a counterpoint to the boot-and-cats, boom-and-snap beat fills to tick-tock the track—with a little autocorrecting double click—all while interpolating Ugly Casanova’s “Hotcha Girls” into disco-step club territory. Or like WET’s feature on “Monte Carlo” which qualifies the track for best low-and-slow simmer cut, an experiment in chemical dvsn and an attempt to subtract those clothes via melancholia. It’s the ephemeral epitome of the records fleeting run time and is quickly missed, but between you and me most slow tracks need a shorter runtime by rule of thumb lest they drag on by all ten fingers, pulling hair-and-nails. So, when that glowing keyboard melody just disappears, the ears do naught but grow fonder.

 

And amid this relatively convenient house music, Chaz Bear still finds time to philosophize between the sheeny production, dictating dichotomies on curated image-building before shrugging off the Instagram moments for some actual substance, singing “Who cares about the party?/ I came to see the band play” on “Who I Am” or erring “er-er-ah-ah-oh-kay” vocalizations that mimic the stammering bassline on “Freelance” and bring the whole cut to an awkward satisfaction, flipping the table under cheap rapping tricks like the overpriced knick-knacks that they are. Where some cite Versace, Chaz Bear goes incognito:

Cloud hidden and my whereabouts unknown
Cazadero got me wearing all camo
Decked in Patagonia, head to toe”
-“Who I Am”

But you gotta listen quick because the record revolves and resolves fast, fast and faster than most—so fast you might think it’s a 78 going at 236 BPM. The experience is fleeting as the record’s namesake (Outer Peace) and leading single (“Ordinary Pleasure”). An efficacy that may strike as soulless if Bundick weren’t so damn good with that bass and those samples. He extracts every ounce of pleasure possible and then sells it by the pound. The instrumentation is a crossfire section of house tropes and nu-disco kitsch; a sort of hodgpodge approach; a plethora of cowbells, güiros, congas and xylophones gathered and sampled from an elementary-school music room and then evoked in downtempo electronica. It’s hit or miss depending on the cut, mostly foundering in the middle. Yet without fail, the bass is always there, a guttural, low growl, evermore hungry for high-register flourishes and paired with a guest star, light-and-cheeky chuck guitar. In the end the rhythm sections just comes up like chillwave Chic, a transitive influence from the surreal Daft Punk style of this record, and the LP is saved by Bundick’s ability to back-up the fresh with the vintage.

Further, there are only two enduring moods in a house record: happy and hopping or sad and swaying. Bundick does manage to mix in some sombriety but it still sways. It’s the lyricism which actually covers the most personal-philosophical ground. Otherwise, the moods are cut and dry and fully immersed in the musicality. Thus, if nothing else, this record should cement Bundick’s reputation as a producer. It’s just an absolute masterclass in lesson on how to make smart-efficient-innocuous dance records with basic world instruments. It’s similar in ambition to dvsn’s Morning After but with a tad more soul and a little less rap-and-beats. The lyricism is still hip-hop-like, but not trying so hard as to emulate that hip hotline bling from Toronto. And so too does this alternative dance and synthy R&B rarely (unless your name is Nicolas Jaar) attempt to wax with weight the philosophical. Bundick largely steers clear of that but still does find moments to insert pointed statements amid the seductive stanzas.

The short long-player does fall into some pitfalls, riding some moods too hard in the middle section of ten-feet deep cuts before relaxing back into that hips-deep and easy charm it opens up with. But at beginning and end the record gets it done—the only real stone cold disappointment is “50-50” which leaves Outer Peace on such a down-mood that you’ll want to restart the record just to get up with “Fading” again. The Mulder in me wants to believe the conspiracy—maybe it’s supposed to do that so you’ll never change the record (Oh. My. God.)—but in reality it’s just a harsh come down on the sine-wave rhythm. Still, flipping the record wouldn’t hurt. It’s a tried and true case of so nice, you gotta play it twice.

Album Artist: Toro y Moi aka Chaz Bundick aka Chaz Bear
Producer: Sef-Produced
Label: Carpark
Genre: Alternative R&B, Chillwave
Tracklist:

    1. Fading”

    2. Ordinary Pleasure”

    3. Laws of the Universe”

    4. Miss Me (feat. ABRA)”

    5. New House”

    6. Baby Drive It Down”

    7. Freelance”

    8. Who I Am”

    9. Monte Carlo (feat. WET)

    10. 50-50 (feat. Instupendo)”

MassEducation: Low like a candle, still hot like a wick

MassEducation by St. Vincent Review

But if they only knew the real version of me
Only you know the secrets, the swamp, and the fear
What happened to blood? Our family?
Annie, how could you do this to me?”
-“Happy Birthday, Johnny”

How the fuck did this happen? How could nothing but a piano and a voice take a record this far? How could such a spur-of-the-moment concept be so flawless? How could such a world abuzz with post-satire rock and mass media white noise be cut to size by such a sparse record? How could Annie Clark and Thomas Barlett top a record that already topped best-of-2017-lists left and right?

With an equally sparse equation that’s how. Just three steps: add piano, add vocals and subtract all else. Bartlett, the artist also known as Doveman, reworks and reduces synthesizers and riffs to a flourishing left hand on He hangs a heavy right hand across chords and the baritone end, providing tonal counterpoint to Clark’s voice on “Masseduction” and “Slow Dance.” And then, after toying on either side of the keys, he does both for “Savior,” “Sugarboy” and “Los Ageless.” Clark herself reaches for notes just as high if not higher than on MASSEDUCTION without any of the studio trickery and excess instrumentation to fill in the gaps. On “Savior” and “New York” and “Young Lover” and “Happy Birthday Johnny,” the St. Vincent mystique is stripped naked and raw, even breaking in endearment while it pleads for sweet release. Bartlett’s hands largely step back to give Clark even more space in a New York City studio that creates an acoustic more poignant than what was achieved on the preceding record and allows the poetry of her lyrics to hit harder than Mayweather hook—verses such as outro for “Slow Disco,” the ultimate question on “Happy Birthday Johnny,” and the erstwhile muddled “Young Lover” chorus are given space and rhythm to knock motherfuckers out, left and right:

Young lover, I’m begging you please to wake up
Young lover, I wish that I was your drug
Young lover, I miss the taste of your tongue
Young lover, I wish love was enough, enough, enough.”
-“Young Lover”

And while she doesn’t use all of that white space, the recordings are mastered so well that she never needs to. Her voice roams the dead middle to the top of the stereo, while Barlett’s piano filters under, left, right and behind, crafting a solid bed of sound to support Clark’s vocal warbles and power notes, while still leaving enough unsaid for listeners to imagine a threadbare setting which sounds as if it lived life once as an underground jazz bar in the Forties. Hell, sometimes Clark even smokes like a hipster’s cigarette, but the resulting record might as well have been recorded in a high-rise apartment overlooking metropolitan madness, it’s so removed from any background racket. All the traffic needed is contained in Bartlett’s smooth tempo changes, timing the intersection lights like a road magician speeding up, slowing down, leaving space and then guarding it for expected emergency stops. MassEducation may be a little leadfooted at times, but still never as savage as her biochemical cousin.

Because MASSEDUCTION was an acidic affair; a lovechild between late-nineties P.J. Harvey and Thin White Duke Bowie, a toxic relationship on the level of getting freaky with a planetwide collective consciousness, a commentary intertwining the personal with the sociopolitical on a level where asking for just what the hell St. Vincent might be referring to isn’t frowned upon, but required. Because in the multiple-choice test, the MASSEDUCTION lyrics were a run of: value systems, addiction, sexuality and fame, gender norms, all of the above, mental health, sexuality, sexuality again, all of the above again, sexuality and addiction, mental health once more and then all of the above tying off the record like a little cute red ribbon that wraps together the everything-all-at-once clusterfuck of feelings that anyone under-40 knows all too intimately. Forget your millennial conditions, it’s called being young and confused; it’s that anarchic wont for freedom bristling under the calm, cruel smile of social norms and mores. And St. Vincent’s consequent fifth long-player in the solo canon veered between both tones and emotions, switching from icy to hot faster than Shaquille O’Neal can sell it and flailing from elation to depression quicker than Ronald Weasley can believe it. You could have sat there and done fuck-all but close your eyes and listened, dissolved right into that weird extradimensional eyelid space, descended into the album concept like Juliet falls for Romeo, not moved an inch and then: you would feel like you’ve ridden the most insane roller-coaster possible. Headphones not recommended, but required. The end result was you sitting there, forty-summat minutes later with insides flipped upside down and out. MASSEDUCTION was just that addictive, just that wild, just that seductive, just that good.

And MassEducation does it one better. Because the former requires more alert ears, more involvement for the ounces of enjoyment from the fuzzy coating whereas the latter plays a more accessible angle; gently gliding from the digital phonogram to eardrum and spirit. Bartlett’s New York parlor piano recalls the dining room setting of Carole King’s Tapestry while Clark’s vocals and lyrics squirm in the dark subject manner of a Tori Amos cover. Hell, Kurt Cobain once described Amos’ cover of “Smells Like Teenage Spirit” the perfect breakfast music: relaxed but weighted, something that once given the nudge, pushes momentum into the morning. MassEducation does exactly that. The result is a long-player that is more mature, more earnest and more honest in its aspirations while still containing the same dynamic range without all the violent emotional steering. MassEducation doesn’t take the hand and wring its owner like a rag doll child from place to place to place. There’s enjoyment to be had in the build-up taking its time—the record is one track shorter but three minutes longer—and unlike MASSEDUCTION, there’s no unknown force driving someone to repeat listen, no lyric hidden by post-production malarkey that needs be deciphered. You can simply put it on your sleepy Saturday and let it run over and over and over again just because it sounds that pleasant but serious, just because it is that relaxed but profound, just because it is that easy but no less gripping.

It may not explain for others why this record earns such esteem above its cousin, but it boils down to just because it goes well with a glass of wine and a book. What else would I need at that point? To listen again, again, again to this drug of a record is enough, enough, enough.

Don’t it beat a slow dance to death?”
-“Slow Disco”

Album Artist: St. Vincent

Producer: St. Vincent with Thomas Bartlett

Label: Loma Vista

Producer: Piano Rock

Tracklist:

  1. Slow Disco”
  2. Savior”
  3. Masseduction”
  4. Sugarboy”
  5. Fear the Future”
  6. Smoking Section”
  7. Los Ageless”
  8. New York”
  9. Young Lover”
  10. Happy Birthday, Johnny”
  11. Pills”
  12. Hang on Me”

IC-01 Hanoi: Unknown Jazz Orchestra

a3833672389_10Earlier this year, I named Mr. Ruban Nielson a whacko-artiste, a man with bizarre compositional tastes and seriously aspirational wackiness.

Not just any normal, bargain-bin, hidden-cache-in-a-garden-shed wackiness but the committed insanity of the funked-in-the head artisan: a Prince-type foam-at-the-mouth sexual beast encased in stained, smoky, lo-fi glass musicality kind of wackiness—like a voyeur booth warming up on a brisk December morning in the Amsterdam, really. All the XXX bits are tastefully covered by circumstance and a thin layer of condensation. But why December? Well,why not? At the very least, something is hot and bothered in that brothel. And that’s the lo-fi way of things; a musicality that works on giving listeners a sense that the rock is rolling and that a guitar is shredding but never dissecting it clean for the office or the supermarket; instead the cuts are done dirty and fettered ragged by a rusted dildo found in, oh I dunno, a back-alley sex-shop.

Makes sense then, that Mr. Nielson and his Unknown Mortal Orchestra released their latest record from Vietnam. Yes, IC-01 Hanoi is as tatted-up as the maestro himself, and even more tattered; a fuzzed-out, low-end fusion of jazz, krautrock and Vietnamese folk instrumentation recorded in the heart of a Southeast Asian sweat box metropolis. The seven tracks on this record may hint at 2018’s trend of the year (Kanye, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Kid Cuzi, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I mean who’s next?) but never in a million years would the precedents play like they were recorded and mastered anywhere near Hanoi. And much less does “Hanoi-1” through “7” sound like it was recorded with intent for audio fidelity. Neither do they sound like they were put to spindry in the whirly-dirly mastering machines but rather were left to dangle and sunbake between the tenements. Just one clothesline amongst many as the eyes scale the height of the apartment buildings. It’s with great skill too, as the line wiggles through scaffolding on each cut made of the native materials, bamboo wood and palm cords, and looks like it has hardly been used—a crisis of labor, really. Because given the time and attention, rock ‘n’ roll could do wonders with forays into the world of Asian folk music.

Big problem, though: because this lo-fi LP makes its name on being self-admittedly unrefined, it takes some tracks to actually pick up on the ethnic tunes. Namely two and namely the first two commit this artistic sin. It’s all a murky mise-en-scène—a neo-impressionist pêle-mêle of paint, tint and shades. It’s all very dark and very muddled. All background and little foreground. They took a brilliantly white, clean pure canvas, and then drenched it en boue, in muddy bulbous layers of grey, black and brown. Not some full chestnut marron or sloppy tortilla tan, either, but a sickly ginger brown. The opener, the creatively named “Hanoi-1,” make clear of this point by recalling the manic krautrock screech of “American Guilt” but without all the pointed punkisms. Instead it lurches in a sequined post-bop Jazz get-up.

Then, with a clunk, the record shifts down to a moody blue and imbalanced thought piece, with a slow, plodding guitar that uses all that reverb to fuzz and faff about. The scruffy, five o’clock shade instrumentation fails to do the long-player any favours—listeners would be stuck wondering where the hell this is all taking place if the record wasn’t named with such utilitarian starkness. But by “Hanoi 3,” the record is saved—and it’s Minh Nguyen’s sáo trúc, a Vietnamese sow flute made from bamboo, that does the saving. It’s not a particularly striking piece, but it does allow for the long-player to take a step back from its head-heavy flavours and actually examine what it wants to groove to in a Southeast Asian graveyard of public opinion. Injecting a little bit of that Multi-Love-era funk is just the ticket, and so on “Hanoi 4” the album reasserts itself with jungle stomp for a tropical romp and is thus the one lo-fi funk rock track on record that doesn’t wet rice noodle and squirm in the jazzy broth. But then that jazzy broth starts to pick up with spice as well—come “Hanoi 5,” Chris Nielson (forever more known as Papa Nielson) comes in with the flugelhorn to work a solo across a warbling guitar line and Brother Kody Nielson’s pitter-patter tom-tom foolery. With a flip of a switch, the record just glues itself together.

If there was a long-game to be played on this record, this was it—toying with a Miles Davis line of seemingly nonsensical sonic experimentation until finding that miracle place of otherworldly sound and space. As if this were never meant to be electric jazz fusion played in Hanoi, but rather on Olympus Mons. On the rusted backdrop, we begin to see Ruban Nielson paint a scrawling impressionist portrait of a developing metropolis where tradition still clashes with futurism on a regular basis. The guitar is that background drench of black fuzz and atmospheric chirrup. That fast moving images are tinted and pressed by the family Nielson’s prodigious playing. Papa Nielson’s saxophone mimics every movement whether by fluttering, screeching, or bellowing, picks up on the mania of rush hour traffic in a city dominated by legions of mopeds and blistering humidity, falls into the throes of the muck and the grime and the stenches and the cacophonies that make the urban jungle alive. Throw in Brother Nielson’s crunching, off-beat drums and we hear the rumble of speeding bikes, tumbling building materials, the ominous roar of feet hitting pavement, the all out-of-rhythm rhythm of a sweat-soaked cityscape. The climax of “Hanoi 6” is to jazz as Hanoi is to big cities: a heaping mass of sound and action that somehow translates into a comprehensive ball of free-jazz productivity. It’s all hustle and bustle, but with no sense of singular direction, it wants to do anything and everything and goddamn it, it does. And from there one can derive a piece of linear narrative if they want, but that’s not the point.

We’re supposed to get lost in it.

And “Hanoi 6” does a damn sight better job at communicating this then the album openers, which leave listeners having just landed and asking “what in the fuck is going on?” Too busy fiddling with the currency, toying with map and negotiating with the cabbie among a storm of sound, desperately trying to remember on what road the hotel beckons. Once they meander their way there and put down all the cumbersome culture shock and packed bag shit away, they can actually begin to enjoy themselves from “Hanoi 3” to album’s end. The only misfire is how the album under-employs flautist Nguyen—his is the single hint of a native culture swamped in modernized music trends and for a record that sells itself on being a sessionwork from Hanoi, all the billed native flavour is just… gone. Perhaps this dearth of nativity comes across as an elegy for the minority cultures lost at sea in the globalized gish-gallop of rock ‘n’ roll, or perhaps I’m just reading too much into an album that really amounts to just a glorified jam sesh with interesting thoughts, but no overarching, detail-oriented themes. The music really just goes with the motions of the setting.

It gets lost in it.

And it cacaphones it up like the late-sixties Miles Davis efforts simply because the sonic is not meant to be directed, but given a sense of livewire electricity. That the music could short out at any time should bring about a palpable excitement—a sense that the musicality is right on the edge between working and not working, yet somehow errs on working. Like a phone charging cable on it’s last limbs of life. Nefertiti, Sorcerer or Filles de Kilimanjaro, none of them are absolute masterpieces and neither is IC-01 Hanoi, but they’re not meant to be—they are merely adventurers of a sonic not yet fleshed out conventionally. There are only two differences: one, the former records are much better than IC-01 Hanoi by nature of this latter being such a veritable and undeniable jam sesh. Two, the former records-tableaux precipitated the musical masterpiece of a Dali painting that is Bitches Brew. Over the course of IC-01 Hanoi, we are only treated to the varying sketches of a family of understudies, a collection of amateur fusionists; only Papa Nielson sounds the most at home in this lo-fi funk and jazz fusion school. Both Maestro Nielson and Brother Nielson still sound like they’re caught at this jam sesh with little clue on how to play jazz and are doomed to just wing it like Jerry Garcia and John Kahn on Side Trips Voume One (key point, there is no volume two). So while these seven tracks aspire to paint on the same level as Davis, there is a clear and massive amount of work that need be done before the family Nielson merit such an honor: to have made a new-millennium jazz fusion that matches if not far outstrips a man who was miles ahead. But perhaps, the honest truth of this record impression is that my nose presses too closely to the town plan, my eyes stick too much to the road names like the white of the rice and my mind grapples with diagramming the perfect projected route of how and where this vacation trip is headed. All things vain and petty and impossible to calculate on a paltry map.

En gros, maybe the best advice I have for myself when I turn on this record is simply: “get lost it in, man.”

Album Artist: Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Producer: Self-Produced with Old Man Gung-Ho
Label: Jagjagjagjaguwar
Year: 2018
Genres: lo-fi, Jazz fusion, acid funk

Tracklist:

  1. Hanoi 1”
  2. Hanoi 2”
  3. Hanoi 3”
  4. Hanoi 4”
  5. Hanoi 5”
  6. Hanoi 6”
  7. Hanoi 7”

Band of Joy: Something Comes From Nothing

band-of-joyTry as one might, Wikipedia is a hard nut to crack—cracking its shell to find an article about oneself or something one is involved in means that the recorded thing was widely known enough to merit it.

For that reason, Band of Joy is a well-documented group, a supremely well-documented group simply because it was one of the original containers of Robert Plant and John Bonham, two Black Country boys that would come to form half of the nucleus of Led Zeppelin. There are current bands that tear up the local scenes, yet a band that did nothing—not like the Monkees level of nothing, mind you, they actually did some things like albums and T.V. shows, regular celebrity things, despite being a band about nothing, nothing but the weirdness of White America in the 1960’s and in that way, they’re kind of like the Kardashians of sixities pop, but I digress—a band that did nothing has blurbs more than the most successful independent music acts .

Sometimes the power of the Zeppelin brand confuses and astounds me.

Because that band that did as much nothing as Band of Joy now has a name worn like hand-me-down Nepalese sweaters, sure it’s comfortable to say that Robert Plant and Buddy Miller wear the thing well—they do more with it in than Chris Brown or Paul Lockey or Kevyn Gammond ever did. The only reason Robert Plant never participated in the two 70’s reunion records—Gammond and Lockey’s affair with basic bitch Dadrock—he was in the biggest show in town in ’78 and by the ‘80’s he was tired of plucking the roots-rock hairs from his chest, tryna find a reason to sing about how a basic bitch ruined his déjà-blue ass. To really explain how Band of Joy (’78) sound, think of Captain Beyond’s last album (Dawn Explosion) and realize that it is a gem of basic bitch Dadrock, a Coachella girl worth remembering—easy conversation, shared hobbies, a penchant for Santana—it can’t get much better than that. Those are solid interest blocks to start an out-of-festival relationship (read: friends—maybe with benefits) and watch where it goes. And if that album hasn’t rung between your ears, well then goddamn go and listen to it because Band of Joy ’78 wishes it could be as good as that album—and that album is totally non-essential to the Captain Beyond record collection. A collection of only three studio records, two live ones and a demo compilation. It’s not the record ever but it’s Band of Joy’s best shot at relevancy.

 

 

That is, until Band of Joy saw sweet daylight again in 2010, released by Robert Plant and his Band of Joy. Chris Brown, Paul Lockey and Kevyn Gammond had no part in the release of Plant’s first solo record off the Es Paranza label. Instead, it’s branded with the cattlestamp of Rounder or Decca (whichever was closer to the US or UK, I s’ppose) and herded together after Plant’s time in Nashville and Los Angeles with Allison Krauss. Thirty years after the fact, Plant was content to pluck the reedy folk whiskers from his chin. But instead of Welsh blackgrass stubble, he’s tugging up the lanky, windy bluegrass, with his Band of Joy. Not anyone else’s—well, maybe Buddy Miller’s but that’s just because Planty’s too busy up on stage groovin’ like only a sexagenarian with a hip still left can. He ain’t go no time to band lead, hence Miller.

A Nashville blues, country and folk virtuoso, Miller once lent a hand for Raising Sand and  came back to round off the production of Band of Joy (’10) with ease—using baritone, Mando and good ol’ electric guitars to echo the dull, heavy, whetstone rhythms found on Dreamland, Mighty ReArranger and Raising Sand and keep the somber pulse going. That’s not the really new bit—what is new is the autumnal dance that Plant’s lower register has managed to perfect since Dreamland. It’s firmly added a spring to its step from Side Two of Raising Sand and it’s nice to hear Plant jumping at the bits to swing or to swoon with it. The vocals of  “Angel Dance,” “Central Two-O-Nine,” and “You Can’t Buy My Love,” all twinkle and groove to varying tempos in earnest, of “Falling in Love Again,” “The Only Sound That Matters” they slow down and whisper full and rich into the ear, of “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” they dote on domesday and fate to each steely note while of “Monkey” they find themselves a temporarily embarrassed Goth at a folk festival. And even still, it sounds like a b-side from Dreamland, a fate better than most Goth-folk can hope for, yet funny that it’s considered his first faire, when Dreamland’s done it all before.

 

As is tradition for the new Plant records of the mid-2000’s the vast majority of the tracklist includes covers and traditional rearrangements (read: everything but “Central Two-O-Nine”), reworking songs from Los Lobos, Low, Townes Van Zandt, Theodore Tilton, the Babineaux brothers and Townes van Zandt. By now, it should be clear that Might ReArranger was a clear outlier of the Plant discography from 1994 to 2014—surrounded on all sides by records stuffed with reworks and reinterpretations until lullaby… And the Ceaseless Roar broke the levy and flooded the discography with some long-awaited original material. Band of Joy (’10) is very much a standard Plant record of his turn-of-the-millennium era, he’s just changed out his band for the record. And while Darrell Scott may wax his lap steel guitar to its most opaque or Byron House may whack his bass guitar into didgeridoo-type drones or Marco Giovino inhabits each cut with on-beat percussion or Patty Griffin and Bekkah Bramlett may sing like spectres on the end of Plant’s lower register or Buddy Miller may manage to wrap it all into nice package with a cute li’l bow n’ all, it still sounds like this is the re-reburnishing of a car marque for a car that’s not quite all figured out yet.

Even the internal mechanics are still figuring out how well each part will work together out in the field. The band is all good parts trying to figure a rhythm together. How fast are the pistons going to pump? How quick will the transmission transition between gears? How cool will the engine stay with the radiator? How solidly will the chassis rest on the suspension? Hmmph, regulations would probably stop that car from ever setting a tire on the road, but the metaphor remains: this band hadn’t quite figured itself out yet on the recording.

And yet what’s worse is that the business folded as soon as it opened. Four years later Plant will return to England, restart his Strange Sensation and get cookin’. Band of Joy was closer than ever at becoming more than some rusty badge, and now it might never get the chance to actually be something greater ever again. And lest I sound like a fanboy for a Band of Jacksquat, let it be known that Band of Joy was an opportunity folded on. Both lullaby and Carry Fire incorporate elements of this record, no doubt about it, but they work that trip-hop, alt-rock, worldbeat angle more than Band of Joy ever did or probably could. Conversely, Band of Joy remains one of only two albums wherein Plant runs the folk hillsides like a Bacchae, oblivious to the rest of his musical interests as he consumes American Appalachia from the root to the fruit.

And he sounds pretty happy about it, Wikipedia chronicles be damned.

Band of Joy by Robert Plant and the Band of Joy

Label: Rounder, Decca

Producer: Robert Plant, Buddy Miller

Tracklist:

  1. “Angel Dance”
  2. “House of Cards”
  3. “Central Two-O-Nine”
  4. “Silver Rider”
  5. “You Can’t Buy My Love”
  6. “Falling in Love Again”
  7. “The Only Sound That Matters”
  8. “Monkey”
  9. “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday”
  10. “Harm’s Swift Way”
  11. “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down”
  12. “Even This Shall Pass Away”

Raising Sand: A bloated effort, but an important one

The first side of this record sucks so bad it ruins the entire album.

“Rich Woman” lurches with each pulsing bass note, as if hunting in a folk “Maneater” fashion, Robert Plant and Krauss drawl with dark-sarcasm, snide remarks and tongues that warble like a Theremin. Even if the music is different, who can deny Plant’s dour mood as of late? The dude’s been down in the dumps, crawling through the muck with his Strange Sensation of fuzzing, lowtone, heavy vibes of worldbeat and folk-rock and mud is usually on the sheet music. On “Rich Woman” it’s all dialed up to Applachia. Plant and Allison Krauss’ spin webs of fate, true Charlottes of Doric drama, and the lead guitar surges and retreats on its solo, a low-fuel lamp flame, sniffing its last vapors of oil before snuff-out, and and did I mention that the bass is still pulsing all the way through?

It’s momentum cannot be stopped unless someone really tried to kill the blues. Well, flip over to the next and it reads “Killing the Blues.” Goddamnit.

And they  tear down any momentum that this record had built in that first cut—by midway, the purported bluegrass singing is imperceptible and uninteresting to a shoegaze level—and if bluegaze is the future than right now the future sucks. Bluegaze for the loss. “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” can’t even save you now, despite Krauss regaining form and carouselling her hands across a creole-fiddle rhythm like a crystal ball in a N’awlin’s bauble shop. The music is slow and nobody likes slow after a buzzkill. Good music ruined by terrible pacing. And then “Polly Comes Home” to drive the point home—not a terrible slow song—but as the fourth cut on the new record? Usually there’s one by now—but this is three for four of slowburn bluegrass songs before the halfway point!—the record chokes on its on own quickly coagulating veins. Like pumping blood to the heart has become a struggle. It’s dark if it’s playing to an audience and it’s boring for any other reason. The most likely reason this record slogs so hard by track four? ‘Cuz. And there ain’t nothing I can do about ‘cuz. It’s music (not even good music) killed by pacing.

But here and now, a promise will be made: under no circumstances hitherto or hereafter wherein I have been captured and submitted to tortures varying from physical to psychological to musical to chemical to metaphysical or even, God forbid, zoological, will I utter the words “I” and “like” and “Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On).” Surely, it is a bluegrass banger, a square-dance swinger, a foxtrotting four-beat and a quibbling quickstep. Wiggling and waving its way across the hopping hickory hardwood floor where grassroots can dance under the mountaintop carnival tents. It’s pure, it’s solid and it knows how to cha-cha-cha. The guitarwork bounces on the trampoline strings, loosely strung for more give and jump. But the singing is flat—not a problem when the tunes feature instrumentation of some caliber, but when the guitars are mixed are so low, it brings out the imperfections in Krauss’ and Plant’s warbling, cracking attempts at a higher register, so much so it feels like they’re mailing it in by the end of the cut. Does it hurt that the cut is also a cover of the Everly Brothers? No. Does it hurt that their interpretation drags it a little too much towards country pop? No, it’s good music ruined by terrible mastering.

By “Through the Morning, Through the Night,” Plant, Krauss and T-Bone Burnett hear the desperate prayers, the pleading yelps, the cries for mercy and thus decide to shake it up by slowing it the fuck down again. It is at this point that my head thuds on to my desk. A slump of defeat that this disc cannot be won against.

 

This record can be better—but as it stands, the first six tracks are a pêle-mêle mess in quarter time. Nearly everything on Side 1 is just awash with poor decisions from the pace to the mixing. But then the needle stops, raises, and slides back to wait for the flip—“fwoomph”—a woosh of the wind and Side 2 is there: a breath of fresh air—even if it doesn’t seem so. “Please Read the Letter” is just what was needed; a slow song—done right. It takes that thumping bass of “Rich Woman” and slows the kickbeat down, allowing the violin to take in the ambience and fill out the lyrics better than an earlier rendition with Jimmy Page from Walking into Clarksdale (the second Plant + Page record that…uh…well we don’t talk about Walking into Clarksdale). The stage drama story is worthy of a soap—but still a soap that will keep eyes glued to the screen, and it works because Robert Plant and Krauss finally find their harmonies together. However they quash the momentum with “Trampled Rose,” a cover that would drain even Tom Waits of blood. An eerie ghost song, a sonic that calls in the same way Loma’s self-titled debut or Sampha’s Process calls: a slow, moribund dirge—except that by now the dearth of music has grated the ears to numbness. And Tom Waits is only pale now because this rendition is just plain boring. Perhaps this record is a testament to the Blues: an utter disappointment in place of grand elation. This is Robert Plant, damnit! Krauss should be gliding her violin to that honeytrickle voice he’s found. But no, the melodies are rock hard, or simply gone. Cobweb musicality for the most of the record makes the heart sour and the spirit shrivel.

With “Fortune Teller,” the bouncing guitar of “Rich Woman” is back for a Delta blues shakedown, but after starting the record in such a bad way, it’s no use. The guitars can twinkle on “Stick with Me Baby,” they can shred on “Nothin’,” they can swing on “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson” and jangle on “Your Long Journey.” And Krauss can be there every step of the way vocally and with fiddle—but no matter how crisp and clean Side Two sounds, its vinyl face should be every bit worn as Side One’s would be a clean sheet of black. The only solace between these grooves should be found in Plant’s bluegrass reinvigoration. No mere thing to sneer at (it’s actually one of his three most important records—including Now & Zen and No Quarter): without this record, he might have indulged too hard on the trip-hop John Baggot keyboards he fancies so much. But in order to fix the record, I suggest taking “Rich Woman,” replacing “Trampled Rose” with “Sister Rosetta” and remastering “Gone Gone Gone” and then sticking them on a tighter and far more effective nine-song package (snipping out “Killing the Blues,” “Poly Come Home,” and “Though the Morning,” too).

As it stands, however, the Raising Sand released by Rounder Records is as bloated as its Grammy accolades—and could’ve done with some reorganization before mass distribution.

Robert Plant and Allison Krauss – Raising Sand

Album Artist: Robert Plant & Allison Krauss

Producer: T-Bone Burnett

Label: Rounder

Year: 2007

Genre: Bluegrass, Folk Rock

Tracklist:

  1. “Rich Woman”
  2. “Killing the Blues”
  3. “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”
  4. “Polly Come Home”
  5. “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)”
  6. “Through the Morning, Through the Night”
  7. “Please Read the Letter”
  8. “Trampled Rose”
  9. “Fortune Teller”
  10. “Stick with Me Baby”
  11. “Nothin’”
  12. “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson”
  13. “Your Long Journey”

 

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by the Cure

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“Kiss me” read red lips, flashing across the cover.

Like a dare that won’t stop there, they repeat: Three times. Three strikes. Three bullets: raining sleep-depriving, teeth-grinding, acid-eying lust. Asking nicely is for suckers and squares, these red lips want more than a passing flirt—It’s a full-bore Gothic seduction dripping blood from cat-scratched, psychedelic fingertips or nothing at all. Blushing through the pale makeup and pawing with scarlet stumps slick over Lovecat keys past, this record mewls and hisses so merciless. Give it an ear and hear it bite back. Seconds stumble into minutes as those red lips suckle for a crimson congeal. No gray and black Disintegration, no pink and purple Pornography, just red riot lipstick cooing for some licks: a lick for “The Kiss,” a lick of “Torture,” licks in “The Snakepit,” licking “Like Cockatoos” and licking to “Fight.” It licks until it screams: “lock tight thy thighs and clutch thy Porls!”

Thompson couldn’t agree more—whether on saxophone or guitar: sink your claws and hold on. Red hot from top to bottom, he plays no opaque imperfections for a take, just branding, burning pearls. Robert Smith may vacillate cut to cut like the vermilion vespers on his cheeks, but not the white hot Porls.

Never the Porls. They’re always there, those Porls.

Perhaps accompanied by a Tolhurst—abundant acronym his name may become—Lol’s keyboard textures like sinking to the floor of the mix. Balancing the bass and bending the backboards as drums bounce and reverb in the space of the attic. From there the Porls laugh or scream or howl or throw their arms around each cut’s neck. It’s amazing the Porls even go from here to there for 17 tracks and back. By albums end it feels like some must have rolled away on the floor, rolling on and on, lost with a “Shiver and Shake” and lost for “A Thousand Hours,” they’re lost on “One More Time.” Not spit like a sunflower shell from the mouths of sick clams but lost because they meandered too far from those clutch-claw hands.

Too bad—what’s left is still a poor man’s fortune. Coloured with hues so different, scratched and sharp; shining with sapphire or rouging with ruby, these cuts coax with all the tinsel but chomp down you’ll only find gold. They trip on exhaustion-ridden riddles of sitars synthesized from guitars on “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” they funk like brash lashing brass sections on “Hot Hot Hot!!!” and they pop those pipedream promises all over “How Beautiful You Are.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” red lips sneer and click and spit with no sarcasm: “did you mistake me for someone else—someone nice?”

The cuts stacked in a card house cruelty— and they’ll seduce you to think that’s just alright with them, baby. To think that those were the initials “J.B.” you see on “Hot Hot Hot !!!” jacketbacks or the jangle of tangled Bangles you heard on the wrists of “The Perfect Girl.”

To dream these Nabokov scenes—it would make a man ribald!

Not a worry: lullaby bed-time stories tumble off Smith’s tongue time to time (“The Catch”) or he’ll twist tales of envy and sick admiration (“Why Can’t I Be Like You?) but these widower’s tales tell nothing about the hallucinatory happiness that cross-eyed and little-listening critics could crucify themselves on. Chumps drowning themselves like fools, thinking the rest is “Just Like Heaven” too. To believe or not to believe this paradise through-and-through is up to you, but “All I Want” will still hammer the nails right through your hands and you. Caught feasting on an apple of Eden, the cut is banished under a guitarwork of bestial burden and rage: “All I want,” Smith pauses, “is to hold you like a dog.” Run ragged, it sounds more like poor he wants the proverbial you like a small girl wants her doll. But not just any doll, no—no baby-blue Barbie or creepy Cabbage Patch Kid. No, red lips want you like a stuffed puppy dog.

Taxidermy dead, posed however the highest bidder likes, placed above bed where only they can reach, this album is the dom, and you are the bitch. So clutch your goddamn Porls and cry: those red lips ready to languish long with no safe word and no reason why. Filled with pleasure at the sound of all this freaky fun, those red lips glisten and question: “One More Time” and will it be done? No, it’s just manners and a kerchief to wipe clean the tongue. Biting down so hard and for so long, no new flavor hides in taste of blood.

Red lips just want to drain you dry and bathe in your youth and splendor. Keyboard gothica plays from the speakers and whatever black power forces eyes open to watch the end of the macabre. As they lie with hands on each side of tub glass-eyed listening “Like Cockatoos,” craning to croon again to keyboards or needing the pure cold sax of “Icing Sugar.” Play time for those red lips has been over by “A Thousand Hours.” The acid is in piss puddles, the psilocybin’s stopped and the album blasted off a while ago. But those red lips still gorge on their fucked-up fun. Soaking for youth and drowning in emotion, red lips detach themselves no matter how much the soul begs for another scream, another riff run, another song to yell “Fight!” But fight’s just another word for kiss—three hollers, three strikes, three bullets. “Fight, fight, fight!” they scream. “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me” they mean.

Label: Elektra
Producers: Dave Allen and Robert Smith
Genres: Goth Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Tracklist:

  1. “The Kiss”
  2. “Catch”
  3. “Torture”
  4. “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”
  5. “Why Can’t I Be You?”
  6. “How Beautiful You Are”
  7. “The Snakepit”
  8. “Just Like Heaven”
  9. “All I Want”
  10. “Hot Hot Hot!!!”
  11. “One More Time”
  12. “Like Cockatoos”
  13. “Icing Sugar”
  14. “The Perfect Girl”
  15. “A Thousand Hours”
  16. “Shiver and Shake”
  17. “Fight”

Carry Fire: Just as golden as it glitters

Robert Plant is an incredible talent magnet.

Almost every album features a lineup of respectable musicians maybe not as esteemed as his former Zeppelin bandmates but even better: Plant bring the A-game outta every-freakin’-musician he finds. He’s picked up the uncanny ability to assemble skilled bands at will and change out parts as his next album needs, a farcry from the stability of Led Zeppelin.

Does this mean the baker’s bread carousel keeps turning? Yes, but the bread never goes stale, either. Recently, however, the carousel has stopped with his backing band of Sensational Space Shifters. And the bread has matured into something scrumptious. Carry Fire confirms it—late career Robert Plant is aged and exquisite. His vocal power is geothermal, replete with the warmth of earth, sprouting from the fertile rootsy arrangements planted in the richness of Appalachian, Moroccan and Celtic folksoil and tilled until sublime.

Hinting of all but being none.

Not only Robert Plant ages well, though, as his Sensational Space Shifters’ brand of spices snaps like a whip and unleashes their skills on this sophomoric essay. No single cut strikes me as being entirely inspired by a single angle. Plant’s last album, lullaby… And The Ceaseless Roar could seduce sleep and induce energy. The cuts winded with the garden path—switching back between the Celtic, the Appalachian and the Moroccan. They may have charged through a rock wall one-by-one but that just made it easier to see where they were charging from. Moreover, almost every track was worthy of the pricetag.

This phenomenon continues throughout Carry Fire. Some coals burn hotter than others, but none flameout. Instead, they move through the skin with the comfort of a warm winter treat, a hot chocolate for the soul.

Carry Fire sits heads and shoulders above the twisting lullaby, glowing confidently through all the well-wrought and emerald foliage of its music. Plant’s voice takes the hand and leads from “The May Queen” all the way to “Heaven Sent.” Unlike his previous Peter Rabbit adventures, he never wanders too far into one vegetable patch or another.  Instead he stays on the path, rarely straying, and finding exactly what he needs.

His lyrics are a lush rush of scarlet imagery, belying passionate traveler’s observations of a carved-up world:

The Russians, the Americans, the British and the French/
They’re carving up the world again, it’s getting kind of tense/
A whole lotta posture and very little sense/
It’s no surprise they hide behind a wall and not a fence.

He doesn’t soar on high notes, he’s gliding in register. Instead of Plant’s voice working the emotional grindstone, it’s his guitarist Liam “Skin” Tyson, who pushes the heartrock to the summit. Plant’s empowered soft vocals provide a sensitivity and warmth of the hearth while Tyson’s plucky guitars still invoke emotional majesty. Tyson’s riffwork caputres moods like lightning in a bottle—his fingers sail the fretboard, modulating the riding waves of the strings. From the melancholic “Dance With You Tonight,” to the daring “Carving Up The World Again,” to the inspiring “Bluebirds over the Mountain,” really, damn near the whole album invites listeners to become a fan.

The musical rapport between Plant and him is perhaps the greatest evidence of Plant’s stadium rock past, too. Plant knows how to work with a guitarist, better still, Tyson knows how to reciprocate. And it’s not just with Plant that Tyson shines, as the stringsman trades changes with the moog of John Baggott on “Dance With You Tonight” and works to make sure the cut’s first and last words come from a fireside synthesizer.

The result? Every bit as romantic as ecstatic.

When guitars and synthesizers need a break, the album lets Redi Hasa’s cello and Baggott’s piano find “A Way With Words” before giving way to Justin Adam’s spinetingling oud on the dramatic “Carry Fire.” It’s Plant au Maroc.

This record doesn’t contain a cut run of good tracks, it is one, peppered with different garden spices, each one just as fresh as the next and never falling off until “Heaven Sent,” which fades gently. It’s no crime, but it’s no strength either. I feel bad for those who dislike spicy food, though. They’ll be obliged work through spices foreign and unpleasant to the taste buds. I, however, will gladly toast Carry Fire as Plant’s crowning solo achievement.

Since the millennium’s turn, Plant’s musical Odyssey picked up on the leftover threads of the Iliadic Now and Zen. After sailing the Mediterranean, losing himself in America and beaching once again on Welsh shores, Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters stir it all together into a fluid, 48 minutes of earthy musicality under the influencing West, East and South winds. And really, Plant’s ability to improve with damn near each solo effort deserves every bit of commendation. Where Jimmy Page imprisoned himself within the Trojan vaults of Led Zeppelin, Plant took the chance for freedom and ran with it. In 1980, Plant went on musical sabbatical in search of post-Zeppelin meaning. In 1994, Plant found a worldbeat muse worth pursuing while returning to roots on No Quarter. And in 2017 he vindicated that muse with Carry Fire.

A record every bit as powerful and mercurial as its wizened Baldr of a benefactor, every bit as rootsy as his career and every bit as golden as it glitters.

Robert Plant and the Sensation Space Shifters – Carry Fire

Label: Nonesuch/Warner

Producer: Robert Plant

Tracklist:

  1. “The May Queen”
  2. “New World…”
  3. “Season’s Song”
  4. “Dance With You Tonight”
  5. “Carving Up the World Again… a wall and not a fence”
  6. “A Way With Words”
  7. “Carry Fire”
  8. “Bones of Saints”
  9. “Keep It Hid”
  10. “Bluebirds Over the Mountain”
  11. “Heaven Sent”

Sex + Food: UMO, kinda like Prince

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « sex and food unknown mortal orchestra album art amazon »Ruban Nielson is like no other artist in recent memory. No other artist moves through ideas and projects with such forceful calibration and inhabitation in the independent psychedelic arena as Nielson, I’m convinced of it. Alright, I’ll concede Kevin Parker, but where Parker is content to follow Beatle-esque lines into futurist trajectories, Nielson is kinda like a lo-fi prince. Not just any prince, mind you, I’m talking the gigolo of funk, the spiney-backed Minneapolitan enigma, the true king of the Eighties prince: capital-P Prince.

An explanation is due: it was in anticipation of Sex & Food that I discovered Nielson’s Side B series; a collection of five pieces measuring from 10 to 30 minutes each, explorations of textural fabrics along electronic threads and shreds of guitar. In a showcase of progressive musical techniques, these five pieces would stand as an exhibit to the evolution of music: an analog-electronic mock mooging its way as a rhythm section and becoming of the object of interplay with the guitarist, if not derived from his hands in the first place.

The Side-B project is his proof of concept—side projects exploring his analog creations on synthetic settings and pushing the technical boundaries of his lo-fi rock, popular indie, psychedelic funk into such synthetic stylings, draping them in anything and everything step, dub, techno or downtempo and melding them into equally electronic elegies. Replaying melodies, stripping them of lo-fi warmth and assimilating them into shining, sparkling, keyboard orchestras or as I like to call them: keyboarchestras. Nielson creates Symphonies of Tomorrow meant to further demonstrate the power in the personal computer fuckery of today. His has become the cyberpunk piano, the acronym’d accompaniment machine, the ambient box.

Computers confection sugar-buzz frequencies and lolly-sweet melodies while guitars sling loosened strings and scratchy tones. For Nielson the only two good things left in this life are Sex and Food and accordingly the long-player dabbles healthily in both: Side One changes between cuddle-puddles and rough hair-pulls while Side Two brims with smorgasbord cuts for chewing on. The record bounces between styles, jumping from along acoustic string squelches and squeals recalling II, launching voltaic volleys from Side B’s past, touring the Balkan heights with a vial and then grooving to that Multi-Love funk. Nielson hops from style to style with sure-feet; he may goo and ooze and tone or mumble along basslines or even slap his percussion together with a clapping Timbaland aftershock—but he knows his way around a genre and can combine their tricks: funk horns and distortion guitars and candy synthesizers and tropical drum machines all flying together in sequence.

When it came to recording “SB-05” and Sex & Food, the art came first. A throwing callback to matching plastic Starship Troopers made over in modern day camp and a dash of graphic design. It’s the Jetson’s Martian cousin busting a move, Mork’s extended family finally coming to visit, a Flash Gordon sidekick all pretty in pink—and that was enough to trigger an album number four; a bizarre display of general sci-fi quackery, Captain Nemo moments four thousand leagues into the lo-fi sea and recorded across the world in eighty drones, warbles and pops. Ruban Nielson said of his debut album cover that he aimed to write in the same vein as the quirky futuristic monuments for the people on Balkan mountaintops, crafting music drawn from the past but inspired for the future, but it’s on Sex & Food that this idea comes most alive in character shots of the world; artifacts of time spent in Seoul, Hanoi, Auckland, Portland, Mexico City and Reykjavík and inserted on a random-yet-comprehensive record. Yet what does all this good-with-the-cyber-and-the-guitar mumbo-jumbo mean? In short: don’t be surprised if the record takes longer to like.

On Sex & Food, the brief, flirting riffs and movements of “SB-05” are engraved in wax and given fully realized moments to speak, but jump at them like talking head sharks waiting for a space to attack. On Side 1 all tracks queue up ready to ruin the acoustics of the one in front, new sound “Major League Chemicals” loosens heads for banging then “Ministry of Alienation” pulls listeners in with a Multi-Love radio whisper before “Hunnybee” floats and whisks on taut yet flowery violin melodies and yet that too is disappeared on the acoustic squelching of “Chronos Feasts on His Children,” which then gives way to the distortive rumble of “American Guilt.”  Not until my fingers flip the record over does it seem to content with a sidelong groove to rest itself in.

This is by no means the earmark of a bad record—in fact, it’s good enough for me to seriously consider Nielson’s musical sensibilities to Prince. (Do I think he plays guitar as well as Prince? Not even slightly—this is not a member-measuring contest by any means.) With Sex & Food Nielson proves he can take a listener across genres, geographies and jams with ease on his guitar. Maybe the execution doesn’t totally allow for a smooth record listen and maybe that doesn’t tickle me quite where I like it but irrespective of where long-player four ranks in the chronology, (“solidly next to II but just under Multi-Love if you don’t mind,” butts in my brain)  it still grinds down musical tastes into nutrient powders and then mixes them with water for each cut. A ready-made protein-album ready to go.

Rhodes pianos, electric sitars, tape transports, drones, organs, they all find a home here on a record that doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. Disarmingly sweet disco or punishingly hard garage rock, Nielson finds a way to make the instruments work in either scenario. I may sway forever to Naomi Win’s cha-cha-cha fiddling (“Hunnybee”) but I can also detach head from spine to Nielson’s political guitar slams (“American Guilt”) and groove to Portrait’s sexbass woos and coos across the record.

And forgive me for being so brusque, but it’s exactly that sexbot synthesizer on Side Two that seduces me so willingly as the warm colitas catch me dreaming. The opening notes on “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” say only as much, after the insane kaleidoscope fractals that are Side One, I just need my smoking totem to keep me sane. The haunted acoustics of II and smoking funk of Multi-Love carry the majority of Side Two, now upgraded with a bionic Hammond arm and strong enough to overcome the guitar squeaks of “This Doomsday” jumping into the synth hop of “How Many Zeros.”

Put it down to the Rhodes piano, which admittedly meanders from the middle of Side One, but then settles in nicely on Side Two by fully taking command of the low frequencies, providing ample and able support to the synthesizers on the top half of the Hertz meters. It works the switchback momentum of “Hunnybee,” playing the low end of Nielson’s guitar croons while Portrait’s bass boogies from note-to-note. It pushes “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” into a smooth psychosis. And by “Not in Love We’re Just High” it spreads over the rough edges with marmalade changes, gooey and sticky, tastily mucky and oozing between the tape cracks. The result is a sandwich that tastes better as you bite closer to the middle, with hulking globules of gelatinous flavour.

At this point, it’s amusing to think how this album may be slightly underwhelming to Unknown Mortal Orchestra fans or observers, yet still confirms how radical Nielson is within the field of pop-psych. The “SB-05” track is a better listen than this so-so record, but even a so-so record from UMO is more diverse and exploratory than the genre-types of Real Estate, Tennis, Beach Fossils or DIIV, hell, even Ariel Pink as of late, who can fall into the classic traps of emotionless vocals and curated bells-and-whistles. To be fair, emotively lacking vocals is a clearcut genre concession; yet Nielson makes it sounds more like a true design choice—a committed aesthetic as it follows from lyrics of alienation and social discomfort all wrapped in tape-recorder distortion and tell-tale fuzzy difference from the reverb-heavy, ornately polished effects of contemporaries.

Further, Nielson involves himself in sounds so frequently not associated with pop-psych: funk, soul and R&B. He reclaims a part of rock forgotten after 1982, the roots, and then infuses them all like an essential oil back into the fold of pop-psych or chops them up like an incense stick against a box fan. No matter where he lies on the spectrum, though, he will sweet-talk you with hi-fi synthesizers or sour you dour with lo-fi guitars. Good or bad, no matter what he does for pop-pysch, he does it with a punk-funk attitude, Side-B or otherwise.

Kinda like Prince.

Album Artist: UMO
Producer: Ruban Nielson
Label: Jagjaguwar
Year: 2018
Genres: Alternative, indie rock, alternative-funk

Tracklist:

  1. “A God Called Hubris”
  2. “Major League Chemicals”
  3. “Ministry of Alienation”
  4. “Hunnybee”
  5. “Chronos Feast on His Children”
  6. “American Guilt”
  7. “The Internet of Love (That Way)”
  8. “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays”
  9. “This Doomsday”
  10. “How Many Zeros”
  11. “Not In Love We’re Just High”
  12. “If You’re Going to Break Yourself”

Multi-Love: Y’know, that funk band, UMO

Third albums are the tricky ones, the records that prove an ability to pick up a genre and play with it, mess with it and then mold something from it.

The third album can break a band: it turned Artic Monkey fans in revolt; underwhelmed critical enthusiasm for the Killers; transformed Coldplay into a bona-fide punchline; embarrassed Slowdive into a belly flop; paralyzed the xx from making one for almost half-a-decade. Among legendary ranks, the third album confused critics about Cream; soured Pearl Jam on fame like a lemon slice on a gash, cut the cables on the 13th Floor Elevators; bottled Led Zeppelin’s venom into poison for the media; replaced Patti Smith’s blood for punk revolution with punk pollution and was one of 10,000 things that killed Kurt Cobain.

The third album is a pain in the ass, an asshole, a bastard. It broke the Mint Chicks and sent Ruben Nielson scurrying to Portland, Oregon to cache himself in graphic design and commercial art. Hiding in plain sight amongst the hipsters and the kale-tipped bushes—a Sean Spicer hiding from no polito-cultural commentator-reporters in particular—just himself. However, the foxhole he ended up in was a basement studio filled with all the gadgets and toys a growing musician needs:

A fender first, then maybe an amp, a bass and an effects pedal or two. Or three. Track machines begin to line the walls with a big fucking mixer and a drum machine plopped by-and-by. What feeds the drum machine? Why a kick-drum on its side, of course, faced with drum sticks hidden, keyboards sit on the opposite counter. Under the wall-hugging desk arrangement more gear lays in boxes, I don’t blame him, that’s where all my computer shit sits. But this is truly a cave, more than just a man cave—more of a trophy cave if anything. A duet of prior records hang on each other’s framecoat pockets. Funky gear and curios sit on the top shelf beside and another tape-reel machine lays inert under. Some books on the shelf for culture and some skulls, crystal or bone or plaster, atop the lab equipment for spooks complete the picture, all bathed in neon pink as if a chroma-key for the next evolutionary step of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

What’s that old saying? Pictures and a thousand words? Oh, well, I don’t think I could write a thousand words about a photograph—that’s not my major, merci. I could about this record, though. The cover is a horror-lab in drag; a little shop of funkers; a snapshot taken by la quatrième du ménage. Nielson has his loves: music and family, order unimportant but the former clear and the latter unclear if you were to guess just from the cover. But for the sake of artistic experimentation, he also had a younger familiar in his life. Well, he and his wife had a younger familiar in their life and the situation obsessed this long-player. If you want to read more about such photosynthesis of this muse into record, I suggest sharing nuts with Pitchfork’s resident squirrels, because I’m only here to look at this tree and remark how the bark is painted in pink, how the tops are bushed in dandelion whiskers and how Nielson is the shadow-eyed Seuss of modern indie psychedelic.

What should be instantly familiar are the wind whispers along treetop leaves on a lo-fi tape recorder and the lines of the barkskin—they eddy and pulse and funk up and down this record. If you listen closely you can hear them mumble the secret: it’s all about that bass. Nielson may wax Loraxian, attempting to reach the same mountain-top notes of Stevie Wonder’s marimba vocals and his synthesizers may fill your cup with syrup-sweet sap-slap melodies on tap, but he laces his voice with the haunted silk of George Clinton and vibrates with the P-Funk mothership while chucking his rhythm guitar with cheeky Chic-ness. The lyrics even touch on Risque! Forbidden lovers and wanted loves bite tongues and stick on lips as precautionary tales to “Necessary Evil” and “Ur Life One Night.” Text messages replies remain unread as he struggles to get work done on “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.”

I can’t blame him, it’s hard enough to write when that track murmurs in ear “dance, dance, dance and the music will write itself!” No, it won’t you cheeky Lorax bastard.

But once again, it’s all about that pulsing, hulking, bassline. That deep breath in, an ohm and that deeper breath out—a refuge to the manic movements around him: quivering guitars mimicking string-sections here, innocent key changes skipping like kids with smooth stones there, they hit the water flat with three hi-hat smacks and a cymbal splash. The form may be disagreeable but at this point it’s a lo-fi artifact for an intentional aesthetic: these songs are melodic sugar cookie memories lined with diet-breaking regrets and horny thoughts about just friends. “Yeah, I shouldn’t,” you say but you still did.

The brass is all provided by papa Chris Nielson, signaling smoldering trumpets of flaming J.B.’s past and when the percussion isn’t flat drum loops on “Multi-Love” and “Like Acid Rain,” it’s snap-and-clap disco beats shoved through a filter and browned in Adobe After Effects. Far-removed from the wubbing dubstep and freque-phrenic synthesizers and scratches of the modern club, this music is a throwback to late seventies with UMO’s signature lo-fi spice. Boule Noires, Bee Gees and KC’s can all listen to this record and smile: no longer are they tossed on the dynamite for destruction by self-righteous mouth-breathing delinquents who give punks a bad name and can’t handle a little difference between genres. Now it’s saved for, sold to and dug out from independent record stores chronicling the metamorphosis from R&B and soul towards deep house and dance. All uncovered like artifacts by independent hands like Ruban Nelson’s.

The shift is heard on “Ur Life One Night,” when the psych-rock specter tracks coalesce into full-on phantoms of the discoball. They get right down to the possession business, compelling you to groove with a wah-wah guitar, a clap-beat drum loop and solo squeeze of distortion. It’s a herky-jerky head-bang boogie bezerky cut leaving no room to fret: just move with it. To follow, papa Nielson blows his horn before the bells and claps of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” give away to sonny Nielson’s light falsetto and guitar that hops on each note before bumpa-bumpa-bumpin’ it’s way to the top of mix. One melody later and all Nielson’s guitar can do is follow the chorus in two stutter-step breaths in and two stutter-step breaths out:

“I-I ca-a’nt—keep checkin’—my pho-oo-one
No-oo-o”

I take it back: he can harmonize with the Stevie Wonders of this Seventies dreamland throwback track. However, we’re not done yet: yeah, that might sound like a singing summit but instrumentally, he hasn’t reached his peak, not even close. Nielson points over yonder at the pagan mountaintop shelters of II before motioning towards the Wrightian architecture of the one you sit upon: “The World is Crowded.” The bass may set the post-modern mood but the piano amps it in Rhodes fashion: crushing cerebral effects chew and crawl like worms along the cerebral cortex, causing hair to flair on end and heartbeats to palpitate with a soft shush and hush. Before long, Nielson’s done with his lyrical chuchote and chicanery and lets his guitar nibble on your ear. It’s oozey-woozey goodness, asking for permission to cover you like honey.

On “Necessary Evil” you may think you see the Petrova Gora in the distance, but really, it’s just a valley of eerie similarity: the rhythm guitar is a debut artifact, brought back from “Though Ballune” and made anew. It’s locked together with the bass in a three-note harmony, playing support for the synthesizer instrumental break. The track may taste like blueberries, but it’s all huckleberries up here—and that triplet berry-blast pops with a trill tart on the last note, but the flavors still blend with Jamba Juice lyrics about bad choices for good diets.

In between these harvest peaks, however, lies the little valleys where you can still hear the yodels echo from II. “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty,” “Stage or Screen” and “Puzzles” all remark on riddles with smudged clues and political struggles (interpersonal or international, you choose) with dusty borders. Recalling a bitter alienation in the acoustic and electric noodle, they do however feature moments of sweet deliverance. A trumpet solo on “Extreme Wealth” that coaxes pearly romance from a clam’s shell and an acoustic outro on “Puzzles” that soothes the purple heart bruises of smashed dishes and bloody kitchens. Only “Stage or Screen” manages to bore itself silly, requiring a bong-rip outro to push down the hill with some motivation. Nonetheless, there’s not a single moment where this album doesn’t vibe with itself and I say that knowing this:

Vibe is a touch overused in today’s common parlance but fuck me standing if this album doesn’t oscillate and hum with a low-key trickster giddiness of a Puckish-plan well executed. You would think that Nielson had gotten away with Baldr’s murder as he cleverly moves away from the acoustic and electric noodling of II drawn from “Jello and Juggernauts,” and “Nerve Damage!” towards the bass-heavy funk and disco quick sketched in “How Can You Luv Me” and “Little Blu House,” injecting it with wax pastel images of social awareness like a study of this isle’s political Grande Jatte. Finally, he eschews expectations of impressionary tints of blue and orange, instead painting with the expressions of funky neon magentas and goldenrods and summoning tints of darkness to colour the magnificent, cohesive brilliance that is Multi-Love.

It’s just that good of a record, the third or otherwise.

Album Artist: UMO
Producer: Ruban Nielson
Label: Jagjaguwar
Year: 2015
Genre: Indie rock, psychedelic rock, alternative funk

Tracklist:

  1. “Multi-Love”
  2. “Like Acid Rain”
  3. “Ur Life One Night”
  4. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
  5. “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”
  6. “The World is Crowded”
  7. “Stage or Screen”
  8. “Necessary Evil”
  9. “Puzzles”

II: UMO’s very next day

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « II UMO »Enough of the flower, let’s just cut to the bud: this the second album from a band that’s always lived life on Mars. At least this time, it chose a cover to reflect it. The record jacket should rust the hand that traces over it, fingers wondering how it could glow so bright for a colour scheme that’s so mute. A pagan picture bleached in Martian hues, a wiccan image of devotion soaked in eerie red of the blackroom. This cover was exposed and in its damaged state, it’s proven better than any normal picture of a sword-witch poised for battle in nothing more than a see-through gown.

All told, it’s a better visual aid to a rush of blood to the head than A Rush of Blood to the Head. At the very, least it seems for a band which dabbled in cyan and steel last long-player, this record would be all draped in blood-orange. I reckon if I had been thrown back into the rock n’ roll routine with such a sudden feeling of ejection, that I too would be seeing shades of scarlet.

Life for Nielson before the debut was a leisurely flight, a hobby voyage. But II sounds like he’s trying to land safely with a damaged parachute. This does not sound like a pleasant trip. We may have been too carried away last record not to notice that the now-known Mortal behind the Orchestra didn’t particularly enjoy being high as a kite on a mountainside all the time. Perhaps we forgot why it’s called a daytrip and why we take them. Abnormal days require special cool-down times.

But even I will admit, two-years is a quite pedestrian interval between records. It also an unspoken industry standard broken very rarely by the very ambitious or unusually rambunctious.  However, this was still the band that revealed me to a modern psychedelic dream wider and better than any best-of 2015 meme and for God’s sake, it was released 2013 and the Australian New Zealand Artists Corp (ANZAC) invasion was already in full swing; the chromatic bullets already fired in full rainbow spray. Kevin Parker was producing albums, Pond was backing him and the very ambitious King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard was dreaming them by the dozen. My Eskimo Joes and Powderfingers and Crowded Houses of pop-rock were gone and replaced. Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra now stood in their space.

“How is it even possible that UMO would be a one-hit wonder?” was a sticky question in my head. And thank the bespectacled heavens II proved that they are so wonderfully not. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the Beatles and use them as reasons for why a band isn’t great, harder still is not to compare UMO to Tame Impala. Because what sounds more alike to bands sonically linked to the Beatles? Other bands sonically linked to the Beatles. What’s great in this obvious arena however is that Tame Impala and UMO are not sonically linked in the same sense. What’s even better? I don’t hear as much of the Beatles anymore.

No, this record ran with away with the 13th Floor Elevators, Love, Rick Wright and Syd Barrett after a morning coffee. Everything is so pleasingly deeper cut into the dense genre of psychedelia. Because even when tripping, there’s still concrete pavement and brick walls that get dug into, drilled and jackhammered, mined for the detritus. And sometimes there are basement walls that just need staring at. Why?

“Well, do I really need to answer that question, officer?”

Mercifully, the police are not at my house, so, I can keep staring at this wall in peace.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to noodle on my guitar and make some funny noises, thank you very much.”

Such is the brain space I imagine Ruban Nielson entered when making this record. Yeah, he ran off with the 13th Floor Elevators, Love, Rick Wright and a now-zonked Syd Barrett. But he still took a James Taylor album too, just to make sure he wouldn’t get locked out the ward for being too insane. That’d be crazy. Because for all the dense mind-fuckery this album plays on its Side 2, the butter-soft tone and smooth-spread vocals on a healthy dose of these tracks is something that should be believed. “From The Sun,” “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark),” and “So Good At Being in Trouble” revel in their selected range. They noodle, they whisper, they dawdle, they bop and they pop. Nielson opens the record like the little green man in your crystalline fruit of Amazonia. “It’s going to be ok,” he whispers in your ear before whizzing with a jet and a: “just take my hand and come with meeeeeeeeeeeeee” before this little green Martian apparates you to the next cut.

“So Good At Being Trouble” itself is proof that the dance-standard of simple choruses and meticulous repetition makes for a track relatable no matter the context. It’s pop and it’s doesn’t give a damn. You can actually hear Nielson sing! And what lines to chant in summer anthem:

“he was
So good at being in trouble
So bad at being in love

To be blunt, I’m just thankful I can hear the bastard. Last time, I could barely hear shit. But it wasn’t until this fourth or fifth spin with tiny-Tim the alien that I realized had Ray Davies curls in his hair and this was not any proto-punk Kink long-player—there’s a soft-record to stay true to!—rather, the whole damn product reminds me of a Sixties “Sunny Afternoon.” The guitars are simple, mayhap even mistaken for acoustic, and the vocals talk you through a tale of recent drunkenness and misery. Percussion is a convenience, maybe you’ll hear it, maybe you won’t. But what you will hear is Nielson all wrapped in a catchy gloom, a mental illness that is hooked and contagious.

To say that one cut defines a whole album by a completely different band is to lay it on thick, however. There’s too much bonechewing guitar on this record to dismiss it as “mellow” or “dense.” Certainly, it is those things, but it’s not an Animal Collective album, which plays like a repeating hard-drive click of death, constantly stabbing itself in time and in oscillation with such calmness for such calamity. Both “The Opposite of Afternoon” and “No Need for a Leader” feature something that is so often missed in a pop-psych record: the jam.

Even when Nielson is too enamoured with a saucerful of secret guitar-wahs and -drips on “Monki,” slowing down the album to a crawl, he’s still taking the music seriously; he’s looking for a psychedelic record that only he can make. His music may look at concrete and granite for seven minutes, but it isn’t a rock-hard stale piece of bread, and definitely sees some stars. I may lay down to it, but I won’t nap to it. Not as hard I’ve napped to Beach House, at least. No, “Monki” is a psychedelic tangent that needed to happen as a bridge between “The Opposite of Afternoon” and “No Need for a Leader,” not as some third harrowing trial of the soul.

Thankfully “Dawn” cures the crawl before launching us into “Faded in the Morning.” If one thing has remained a constant through Nielson’s travail, it is that low-key funk-bass. How it grooves to this entire album just as well as the debut before shaking off the veil and jamming with no mercy but a fade towards “Secret Xtians” is just delightful but I must ask why this outro of all outros couldn’t be extended? I must ask! It had all the makings of a Prince rhythm ready to take us on an extended ride! Damnit!

Nay, we must come full circle. Back to that blooming acoustic noodle that began at “From the Sun.” The bass is still fresh though and raring to go and it plods a plot like a champion gardener. It’s just a shame the album had to end just when Nielson was putting the patches back together rather than just gawking at one corner with a bit of dribble. Then again, somehow watching this intense high-noon staredown of anything and everything mundane, like garden plots or basement walls, was fulfilling as fuck.

Because he’s not just staring at the pores in his bunker, he’s studying the sanctuary-turned-sanctified-hell the walls come to represent as his mind. This record was a retreat from the rock lifestyle, an examination of the isolation that he yearns for yet slowly kills him too. I was about to write this is what “true artistry” looks like, but let’s be honest. It’s just talent and for the good us all, he’s able to flex it and for the love of music I’m able to enjoy it.

I’m able to enjoy how he encodes himself in art, puts it on wax and lets us buy it for many a spin. It’s an invitation to a headspace and it’s records like these why I enjoy writing about music, even when the music isn’t exactly my card and bouquet.

Album Artist: UMO
Producer: Ruban Nielson
Label: Jagjaguwar
Year: 2013
Genre: Indie rock, psychedelic rock

Tracklist:

  1. “From The Sun”
  2. “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)”
  3. “So Good At Being in Trouble”
  4. “One at a Time”
  5. “The Opposite of Afternoon”
  6. “No Need for a Leader”
  7. “Monki”
  8. “Dawn”
  9. “Faded in the Morning”
  10. “Secret Xtians”