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13 More Music Reviews

reviewed by dave heaton

Click on a musician's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

Pulby, The Radio Dept, (The Real) Tuesday Weld, C.C. Sager, Virgil Shaw, Silent Kids, Lee Baby Sims, Sorry About Dresden, Rob Swift, Nobukazu Takemura, Tangiers, Themselves, Thalia Zedek

Pulby, The Soundfreeze EP (Dead Digital)

Pulby create space-age mood music that's grounded as well. The 4 songs on their The Soundfreeze EP are about melody and groove and atmosphere; it's music you can chill out to, yet moments of it might steer you to the dance floor as well. The EP opens with the 7-minte "Seven Days in Space," a low-key reverie to set the mood, before turning to a more funk-based tune with 80s new wave touches ("Highlights"). "Big White" turns up the funk quotient even more, with an infectious repeating bassline, while adding a touch of James Bond suaveness. Where both "Highlights" and "Big White" use repetition to lure you into a trance and maybe get you moving about a bit, the final track, "The End of the Soundfreeze," uses it to lull you back into a state of dreaming. That they do so with unusually sharp tones (somewhere between knives and chimes) says something about the complexity of the song, which also includes nearly-invisible vocals and an alluring synth melody (reminiscent of e*vax or some of the other Audio Dregs groups). By the end Pulby has taken you to space and back again, and then tucked you into bed and soothed you to sleep; all in 22 minutes.--dave heaton

The Radio Dept., Lesser Matters (Shelflife)

Lesser Matters opens like mellow synth pop, with Radio Dept. singer Johan Duncanson warning, "You will have us figured out soon, too soon," and entreating us to stick around. Then fuzzy drums kick in and the band takes off, showing what they do: blend beautiful, introspective pop with a more erratic blend of guitars, keyboards, drums and fuzz. Their music floats like a lullaby while it takes off like a spacecraft. "I never know good experiences could cause a pain like this," Duncanson sings at one point, neatly summing up the mix of hope and hurt that's at the core of their songs. That those words are in a graceful, pretty way run through some sort of distortion effect that evokes both UFOs and junk shops is also a good summary of what The Radio Dept are about. Their songs are mellow and heartfelt, yet in a subtle way they're filled with surprising stylistic touches that keep their music fresh.--dave heaton

(The Real) Tuesday Weld, Bathtime in Clerkenwell (Dreamy)

(The Real) Tuesday Weld's "Bathtime in Clerkenwell" song is a sprightly tune built around a goofy-sounding scat that's looped over a dance beats. It's a club song for eccentrics that manages to project an off-kilter style of blues even as it sounds like a novelty. The song is taken from (The Real) Tuesday Weld's I, Lucifer, Weld/Stephen Coates' follow-up to his splendidly debanoir debut album When Cupid Meets Psyche. The other 2 songs on the promotional Bathtime in Clerkenwell single are also from I, Lucifer--as this single is essentially a radio-directed vehicle to promote the album. Both are pop ballads with light jazz touches, crooned by Coates in his throaty, stylish way. The CD-closing "Someday (Never)" is the prettier and more remarkable of the two, a Lloyd Cole-meets-George Gershwin song that seems taken straight from some sort of long-lost twisted Broadway musical. Which makes sense, since I, Lucifer is a musical version of a written narrative, Glen Duncan's novel of the same name. Judging by these three songs only, Coates' version of that novel is eclectic and sparkling.--dave heaton

C.C. Sager, The Last Second of Normal Time (Creeping Bent)

According to the legend, Pandora's box was a casket crammed full with diseases, vices and crimes sent by Jupiter to humanity to afflict it. Once opened, the casket set free all the sorrows that now afflict the world. But, among the evil spirits, the god had also hidden one kind creature, Hope, whose mission was to heal the wounds inflicted by her fellow prisoners or at least that's how the story goes. Ex-Pop Group, ex-Rip Rig and ex-Panic Gareth Sager's album The Last Second Of Normal Life, released under the name C.C. Sager, feels like opening Pandora's box and finding a new world with no bad vibes included. The album contains twelve amazing musical creatures, gifted with the vocals of Gareth Sager and Susie Hug or simply with no vocals at all but with mesmerising guitars. The very aptly entitled "Sailor Says" includes mermaids-like voices and gives you the illusion of being Ulysses trying to resist the sirens' temptation; "The Johnny Bristol Flu" is already well-known to those of you who bought the Creeping Bent compilation Nouvelle Vague, but you will never get tired of listening to it and to its funny lyrics about getting over someone who's become an illness; "Hanging Lo With The Hi Waisters" sounds like Nectarine No.9 (who are actually mentioned in the special thanks section of the album booklet) who somehow seem to haunt also another track, "Edinburgh 1960", and, if after listening to these tracks you're still looking for something invigoratingly cool, then just skip to "Lost In Translation" and you will find it. Yes, among the evil spirits, Jupiter had also donated men hope. And hope is also what this album oozes, hope that Gareth Sager will always be this great and that there will be no crap music in the world anymore.--dave heaton

Virgil Shaw, Still Falling (Future Farmer)

The open eye on the front cover, lone tree on a mountain on the inside cover and galaxy in the photo on the back are all connected through the songs on Virgil Shaw's Still Falling album: traditional country that bears that genre's groundedness while feeling like mystical queries and existential tales. The universe in a honky-tonk song, eternal human struggles channeled through the sound of a twinkling piano or the slight twang in a singer's voice. Yet Virgil Shaw's not a head-in-the-clouds dreamer; that's what makes Still Falling so powerful. When he sings, "The clock on the wall/it says it all/where the hell have you been?", it's as blunt and heart-wrenching as any punk-rock song. It's just that he has a way of investing each everyday moment, whether it represents pain or revelation, with a universal sort of importance. In objects, images, and tales he sees the world, like an especially insightful poet. Any fan of old-time country knows that it's not poetry-free, that it uses simple words and straight talk to get at real human dilemmas. That's where part of Shaw's genius lies. He understands the existential quandaries found in a Merle Haggard or George Jones song, and knows how to channel them through his own songs by matching his own sharply wrapped human stories to country conventions. Yet he also knows when and how to update the genre or ditch it altogether. At first glance, Still Falling feels like a country album, yet it's more diverse than that suggests, incorporating chimes and flugelhorns for a Sgt. Pepper's-like effect on one song ("Golden Sun"), coming up with a unique form of marching band rock for another ("Wet Splashes"). On Still Falling, Shaw takes us through worlds of human emotion over 8 songs, and then ends with a Merle Haggard cover that in a way sums up the power of the whole affair, spotlighting the places music can take you: "Sing Me Back Home."--dave heaton

Silent Kids, Tomorrow Waits (Two Sheds Music)

Like labelmates Fairburn Royals, Silent Kids take after the great rock bands of the 1990s, which you might have guessed if you recognized their band name as a Pavement reference. Yet they do so without seeming redundant by turning in their own version of 90s college rock, with a style that's both hazy-dreamy and rocking. They use big crunchy guitars, sometimes reminiscent of the Pixies, but also keyboards and weird electronic noises. Their songs have the smart, tightly wrapped melodies of their namesake band but also contain lazy-summer nods towards psychedelia that recall Olivia Tremor Control. And they have a singer who sounds like Billy Corgan before he decided he was a Rock Star (that might be an un-hip reference these days, but Gish was it when it first came out). Most importantly, though, Silent Kids' songs are their own, and they're splendid. They take feelings of loss, that instinct that everything's slipping away, set them to catchy hooks and cover them with fuzz. The recognizable parts of their sound might be comforting, in a nostalgic sort of way, to people who loved 90s rock, yet it's their own personality and songwriting skills that set them apart from the crowd.{}--dave heaton

Lee Baby Simms, The Escapist (Substance Records)

I know very little about Lee Baby Simms the man, which is probably exactly how he likes it. The press materials offer a bunch of far-fetched, likely made-up biographical details which essentially end up saying "this guy wants to be seen as a mystery." Which is fitting, because the music on his album The Escapist is mysterious. Instrumental music that draws equally on synth-funk, noir-jazz and Philip Glass-like minimalist composing, The Escapist's overall mood is relaxed, with a certain strain of unease lurking about. Building up an atmosphere seems to be Lee Baby Simms' forte; each track paints a particular mood, and the tracks together add up to a larger one. Whether he's playing a bluesy lullaby ("Shhh") or conjuring up a weird funk-reggae version of a film-noir movie theme ("The Stopper"), Lee Baby Simms is taking you down a mysterious musical alley, one that's as intoxicating a it is enigmatic.--dave heaton

Sorry About Dresden, Let It Rest (Saddle Creek)

Genre classifications are useless. Everyone knows this, yet we use them anyway. "Indie rock" is as meaningless as any-you don't have to really be on an independent label to be called it anymore, and bands that sound completely different share the title. But at the same time, there is a certain sound, rooted in the early 90s, that I think of when I hear the phrase "indie rock." It's a loud-guitar, energy-filled sound embodied by groups like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk; it's a sound Sorry About Dresden has as their jumping-off point. With pop-rock melodies and a punkish edge, their basic formula involves turning it up and playing like their lives depend on it. Their latest album Let It Rest--their third full-length by my count-keeps that feeling going while diversifying it in ways that heighten the emotion. It's still a "punch-it and go" sort of album, one you can drive fast to or jump around to, but there's places throughout when the band slows down and falls into more of a mid-tempo rock thing (a la Buffalo Tom, say). This was true of their last album, The Convenience of Indecision, but is even truer here, where they vary their approach in a way that expands the emotional breadth. One example is "Sick and Sore," a rough-edged lazy-afternoon expression of longing and disappointment (with tinkling piano, even), that expresses thoughts like "do you dream sometimes of going far away where no one knows your name?" but also acknowledges that those dreams are jut empty wishes that have nothing to with real life. Another is the folk-ish ballad "Relax, Its Tuesday," an impassioned portrait of the working week doldrums. The relation between the disappointments of life and what we can do about them runs through much of the album, through moving ballads like "Frozen in Mid-Gesture" as well as more intense but still heartwrenching rockers like "The Approaching Dusk" (which begins with a faux start mimicking some Replacements song I can't remember). While I would never suggest that sticking to one style of music alone is a road to ruin, on Let It Run Sorry About Dresden do their music a service by stretching their sound out, by taking in slightly different styles to express their feelings. {}--dave heaton

Rob Swift, Under the Influence (Six Degrees)

Rob Swift's Under the Influence mix opens with a batch of old-school soul classics that I'd never heard before, from groups like The Explosions, The Vibrettes, and C.L. Blast. This is house-party soul, songs to shake your body to. Swift scratches them up to a certain extent, but also lets the songs roll on. These are crowd-pleasing songs, and as such have a logical relation to hip-hop, which especially in its early days was audience-oriented party music in the extreme. Under the Influence, a mix of songs that Swift finds inspiration in, makes clear connections between hip-hop and other musical genres of the past, while keeping a celebratory mood going. This is at once a fantastic party album, a collection of the type of songs that hip-hop DJs like Swift are likely to sample, a showcase for underheard music (for few listeners, even record collectors, are likely to have that many of these songs in their collection), and a platform for Swift to show off his mixing skills. The album progresses from soul to reggae-ish soul, to early hip-hop DJ anthems to one of Swift's own songs, and then mellows things out at the end with a pair of Latin-influenced jazz tracks. As a "influences" collection, Under the Influence might not be as important of a creative outlet for Swift as his own two solo albums or the albums he's created with his crew The X-ecutioners, but it's all about selecting disparate pieces of music and making something new out of it…which is what being a DJ is all about.--dave heaton

Nobukazu Takemura, Assembler/Assembler 2 (Thrill Jockey)
Songbook (Bubblecore)

Assembler/Assembler 2, one of at least three CDs that electronic wunderkind Nobukazu Takemura has released so far this year, begins with a gorgeous wash of electronic blips that have been processed into something melodic and blissful. If that 9-minute track makes you expect a CD filled with mesmerizing tones that are instantly pleasing to your ears, the harsh clicks that start off the next track, "USINE," might make you second-guess that. Listen long enough, though, and these seemingly cold and sharp sounds will also sound pretty and sonorous; catchy, even. Taking hard electronic sounds, reminiscent of some sort of electric factory or the cries of a robot in pain, and making them entrancing and lovely is what Assembler/Assembler 2 is all about. With some of the tracks he creates pieces that are immediately captivating; with others you'll be first turned off by what sounds harsh, but then the more you listen the more you'll start hearing it differently. That approach is in its own way a revolutionary one. If listeners give the CD time it could get them to reconsider the loud and abrasive sounds they encounter on a daily basis, get them to think of those "noises" as beautiful music. Songbook, one of Takemura's other new releases (new to the US, at least), is also an encounter between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Here the master of abstract electronics creates more proper songs, but uses the pop song format to explore moods and atmospheres as imaginative as those in his instrumental works. These 19 songs are of the Stereolab-ish, synth-and-repetition variety, yet with an overwhelmingly dreamy tone, almost surreally so, and jazzy textures. The songs have pop hooks and traditionally pop moments-like strings rising up as emotion swells, for example-yet surprises lurk everywhere, from weird background noises to unexpected minor-key shifts evoking fear. The vocals sound like they're from a cartoon character or a small child, and often the album has the aura of a child's dream. This is especially true when the music drops away for the acapella opening of "From the Ocean of Forest," leaving what sounds like a young girl singing to herself. As the song proceeds, the music extrapolates the emotion out from her song and projects it in a different way, adding extra layers of feeling to a very strange song. That in its essence is what Songbook is all about: Takemura captures the expression of feeling that's behind every great pop song, yet sets it against an unconventional yet alluring sonic landscape.--dave heaton

Tangiers, Hot New Spirits (Sonic Unyon)

So much of the "return of rock" rhetoric you hear these days is hollow hyperbole, and so many of the bands touted as the torch-bearers of it are gimmicky and overly imitative. Tangiers are the real deal: Their style of music is as loud, fast and rebellious as you'd want rock and roll to be, but it also retains a sense of mystery and ambiguity, and is loaded with genuine emotion. For example, one song ("Here come the Pieces") has the enigmatic chorus, "Pieces are still stuck in my heart/this is the thing that'll tear us apart/pieces of glass stuck in my veins/this is the thing that'll make our love change." Sadness, loss, fears…all of these feelings run through their songs, but in a pretty impressionistic way for such a direct, brash rock band. There's also a strain of ragged romanticism ("eyes shut/only love 'll get through") to counterbalance the aura of anxiety in the city. Their songs are melodic and edgy, with a sharp, lean guitar/bass/drums-driven sound. Musically, the touchpoints are the usual suspects-think New York punk meets the British Invasion-yet they play with enough verve to make influences and genres the furthest thing from listeners' minds. They play like rock n' roll heroes, and make you believe that they are.--dave heaton

Themselves, Them (Anticon)

Somebody from Goodie Mob once said they wanted to take hip-hop and push it to its outer limits like Radiohead does to rock. Goodie Mob, as great as they were, never had the wherewithal to push things that far out, but Themselves do. They run hip-hop so far to the edge that it's almost hard to refer to it as hip-hop anymore. Their recent The No Music album was as avant garde as hip-hop comes. Their recently reissued debut Them is a little more restrained but still wildly inventive. Dose One, the duo's MC (who also words with cLOUDDEAD, delivers dense, word-heavy rhymes filled with riddles, puzzles, and cerebral surrealism (think Gift of Gab on heavy doses of an exotic drug). On the first proper track, "Joyful Toy of a 1001 Faces," he takes on so many guises that in the end you have no idea who he is: a subversive technique in a genre where matching your name to your personality has always been important. But even more unconventional than the lyrics is the music. The duo's producer, Jel creates tracks that use traditional hip-hop elements-soulful if lowkey beats and bass-yet also loop in weird voices and sounds, and themes from what sounds like the minimalist compositions of Philip Glass. The result is both like hip-hop and very unlike hip-hop. The music both fits the rhymes and seems to go in opposite directions from it. Mood and atmosphere are more important than rocking the house, and occasionally those moods are dark and bizarre. Them, like all Themselves recordings, takes you on a bizarre ride that's fascinating and stimulating.--dave heaton

Thalia Zedek, You're a Big Girl Now (Acuarela/Kimchee Records)

If you're one of those people who believes that the only good cover versions are ones that do something new, that reinvent the original, then you need to hear Thalia Zedek sing the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says." She sings it in a completely straightforward way, but with a relaxed, yet deeply bluesy force that takes your breath away. She hits my favorite part of the song just right--the moment of silence before the "do do wa" section near the song's end-as melancholy viola plays in the back and the song slowly marches into the sunset. Zedek's version of Bob Dylan's "You're a Big Girl Now" might be even better, with a full band helping her create just the right tone, both forlorn and hopeful. These covers, just two of the 6 songs on her You're a Big Girl Now EP, singlehandedly validate the whole existence of covers. The other four songs, all her own, are also excellent, painting the same haunting mood, exuding both disappointment in life and a certain hard-earned optimism.--dave heaton

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