erasing clouds

8 Music Reviews

Acid House Kings, Do What You Wanna Do EP (Twentyseven)

Swedish pop band Acid House Kings plays a pristine, wonderfully breezy style of pop, with handclaps, orchestration, and melodies perfect for singing along to. So perfect, in fact, that one edition of their last album came with a DVD with a karaoke version of the whole album. I understand, I can't stop humming and singing and feeling giddy about many of the songs on this EP Do what You Wanna Do, including the splendid title track that kicks the affair off. Even their saddest songs exude a sense of joy, and many of them are quite sad underneath the snappy surfaces. The light "This Heart Is a Stone" is built around real emotional confusion, the ways the heart can pull you in a different direction from you logically know to be right. The EP's final track, the Loveninjas cover "Keep Your Love", is a rather stern kiss-off, yet also the EP's most jubilant, catchiest, and most undeniably fun song. It's a classic pop single, a Motown-inspired number that could make the whole world sing, turn the globe into one big happy karaoke party. – dave heaton

The Capstan Shafts, Euridice Proudhon (Kittridge)

Do songs pop into Dean Wells' head like thoughts? It certainly seems so, considering how often he releases new Capstan Shafts recordings. It seems like there's one every time I turn around, which is great because they're all fantastic. Each is filled with catchy, jangly pop-rock songs, played loosely, loaded with great melodies and harmonies, the lyrics making each one seem like a cross between a puzzle, a joke, a love letter, a surrealist poem, and a pick-up line. His new album Euridice Proudhon - giving GBV a run for their money with 22 songs in a total of 24 minutes – is in the vein of other recent Capstan Shafts cds, meaning it has a cleaner sound and the melodies are more in the forefront. It's mostly Wells' ragged, aching voice and guitar, plus some rough drums, rambling through brilliant little tunes which in another form could be big rock n' roll rave-ups and overblown country-rock ballads but here are simple, humble, intimate. They often seem like they capture the song in its simplest form, just what you need, plus the immediacy of a good, raw performance. The songs' fleetingness doesn't limit their specialness, and might accentuate it. They tell stories in under a minute, incomplete but better for it. With recurring images and descriptions (of a "moonchild," for one) Euridice also seems to tell one bigger story, albeit in a rough, vague sort of way. Perhaps it's a new telling of the Eurydice and Orpheus myth: a drunk rural Vermonter's version of it, a version that includes anarchists, one-night-stands, and a visit to a shoe store. In any case, these short stories are full of intrigue, romance ("darling see your eyes are changing colors with the dawn"), sadness, and ideas. Lyrics like "we lived in the last genuine time" and "most cultures were wrong" suggest some sort of larger cultural analysis going on, but like everything with the Capstan Shafts it's more riddle than theory, evoking and vanishing, leaving a tangible sense of enchantment in the air. – dave heaton

The Glass Family, Sleep Inside This Wheel (I Eat Records)

The Glass Family's Sleep Inside This Wheel has sweeping, widescreen view of an album. It begins with an opening theme, which fades in to set the scene with dramatic, slightly warped orchestral music that feels both old and new. From there the album proceeds with a big-picture, textured-rock scope which evokes Radiohead, as does the overall concentration on the difficulties of human communication and interaction in modern society. The Glass Family's sound seems at first huge and somewhat distanced, but in fact is quite intimate and warm. The music works in layers and movements, with occasionally Beatles-esque guitars aided by strings, horns, piano, and more. It can be gentle and sharp, and rather sensitive in tone even as many of the songs sets up scenes of pain for its characters, where everyone feels adrift in life, unsure of where they stand. Nothing here is simple, everything is complicated. On "Bad News," "eyes that looked for greater good now see for themselves"…but that sentiment isn't just finger-pointing. Instead, everyone's trapped in this predicament, and even more complicated, "we are trapped because we're free." These philosophical questions about human behavior, and our place in the universe, are probed in the course of a rock album that often seems direct and forceful, and often seems space-bound and unrestrained. The latter is especially true of the album's second half. After a reprise of the intro theme, the title track takes the album in a sci-fi, 2001 direction, the music spinning in tranquility while the lyrics offer psychology. The forceful "This Is Impossible" takes up free will, regrets, and fate, eventually exploding like a rocket. The album-ending "There's a Red Light Waiting for You" is built around the line "this is not my life", bringing up memories of wrong-man crime stories and amnesia tales, which wrap together well with the album's attention to destinies and life paths and feelings of aimlessness and confusion. Ultimately Sleep Inside This Wheel stands as some sort of sci-fi rock opera that also feels like a small, personal, very human story. It's all woven through with grand and glorious melodies too, melodies that within their molecules contain big ideas and mysteries. – dave heaton

Javelins, Terrific Times and Unrehearsed Crimes (Melodrama)

Swedish foursome Javelins play their melodies quick and dirty, with a DIY punk edge meeting a melancholy pop demeanor. They'll take a sad, bittersweet tune and play it aggressively, like they're riding a rollercoaster and don't care who they run over. They're the sensitive rebels, shouting but not just for the sake of hearing their own voices. The 18-song collection Terrific Times and Unrehearsed Crimes is the perfect introduction to their world, compiling their first four EPs with some other tracks. Every song is a timebomb that at the same time is sweet and humane and lovely. Their worldview is that of everyday people just getting their way through life, handling hardships and finding solace in music (a track titled "My Best Friend" is of course about a stereo system). The fantastic "Four Letter Word" is a working class anthem about why working shouldn't be glamorized: witness the chorus "work is just a four letter word", supported by lyrics like "I've heard that the working man is a hero / but I guarantee you I'm just as happy as a zero". Every track exudes raw energy and devotion to what they're doing, whether they're singing about heartbreak or telling their fast-driving friend to slow down before he kills someone (cause he's no Steve McQueen). Javelins' music is 100% fun – they do Ramones-like 1-2-3-4 count-offs, the guitarist yells "solo" before playing one, and their lyrics have a wry sense of humor. They're a rolling ball of fire, yet they play music like it isn't just for kicks, but something they, and we, need to stay alive. – dave heaton

Jon Langford, Gold Brick (ROIR)

"In every treaty that is signed / the seeds are sown for slaughter", Jon Langford sings on Gold Brick's first track. That legacy of violence, greed and power-thirst runs along beneath all of the songs on Gold Brick, just as runs along the foundations of our country. The lengthy album-closer "Lost in America", written for a This American Life episode, makes these points most explicitly, via a rolling narrative that starts with Columbus and brings him into our modern era. Conquest is the backstory, also, of the song "Tall Ships", while a greed-induced apocalypse lurks behind "Buy It Now", "Dreams of Leaving," and "Gorilla & the Maiden." Langford's way of singing about these issues is direct but also not preachy, not reminiscent in any way of the stiff tone of so much "political" music. A legendary figure in punk and country-rock, Langford has the demeanor of a gruff, everyday man's thinker, not someone using politics to demonstrate his superiority. The album offers the clear feeling that these are matters of everyday life, not theoretical. That everyday feeling exudes as well from the music itself, which has a sort of bar-band familiarity to it which tends to dull the songs down. It's a conventional, occasionally country-flavored, often piano-and-mandolin tinged album which at times is quite lovely for its lack of dramatic flair (ballads like "Buy It Now"), once or twice rocks up enough to perk your ears up, but often just kind of rolls along in a rather predictable way, with no surprises. That approach doesn't really detract from the concise, quite cutting way in which Langford handles important social matters through song, but it doesn't make the album fun to listen to, either. - dave heaton

Roots Manuva, Alternately Deep (Big Dada)

When Rodney Smith aka Roots Manuva set to work on his Awfully Deep album, he didn’t expect he would have recorded more tracks than he would have ever needed. After including 14 songs in the final cut of his album, Roots Manuva was left with many more excellent tracks that were later either released as downloads or B-sides. Big Dada/Banana Klan are now putting out a mid-price collection that features all these additional tracks. Entitled Alternately Deep, the collection opens with ‘No Love’, the sort of song that you can use as a political statement or as a party song. A dark remix of the hit ‘Seat Yourself’ follows, together with ‘Double Drat’, the latter featuring a meandering bassline that blesses the track with a reggae edge. Undoubtedly, the best tracks on this album are ‘Mean Street’, that features some looped metallic sonorities, minimalist percussions and a somewhat bhangra vibe to hallucinatory effect, and ‘Grown Man’, a track populated by kaleidoscopic sounds and a pleasant jazzy soundscape. Among the collaborators on this album you’ll find again Jammer, Lotek, Colossus, Easy Access Orchestra and Roots Manuva’s live vocal partner Ricky Ranking. If you thought Awfully Deep was Roots Manuva at his best, after listening to Alternately Deep, you’ll finally realise Rodney Smith is utterly incapable of writing mediocre songs. – anna battista

Spank Rock, Rick Rubin (Big Dada)

Many of you might remember the name Rick Rubin in conjunction with LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, or as the man who brought together Run DMC and Aerosmith for the hit song ‘Walk This Way’. In the late ‘80s Rubin was indeed one of the coolest producers around, the man who merged rock and roll, heavy metal and hip hop, creating a new style and a new way of making music. Naeem Hanks aka Spank Rock, born in Baltimore, resident of Philadelphia, pays with this single his personal tribute to Rubin. Spank Rock’s ‘Rick Rubin’ is a sort of minefield of sampledelic soundbombs, electronic bleeps and beats that merge with distorted tones and convolutions, while dancey microbeats explode in your ears. The single includes the radio edit version of ‘Rick Rubin’, two remixes of the same track (one by President Evil and the other by XXXchange) and the bonus track ‘Girls And Boys’. A well-deserved tribute to a true innovator. – anna battista

Spank Rock, YoYoYoYoYo (Big Dada)

Spank Rock’s debut album draws on the best hip hop, reinventing it. After opening with ‘Backyard Betty’, a ear-pummelling bass hits over which Naeem Juwan aka MC Spank Rock lays out the story of Betty and her many suitors, YoYoYoYoYo unravels with the frantic, complex rhythms of the experimental ‘IMC’, followed by the tribute ‘Rick Rubin’, and the stomper ‘Bump’, which somehow echoes the Beastie Boys’s early stuff and features rapstress Amanda Blank. If on tracks such as ‘Coke & Wet’ and ‘Competition’, the influence of classic hip hop is tangible, ‘Sweet Talk’, one of the best tracks of the whole album, is a pure explosion of the best funk. It crackles and pops with samples, scrapings and pluckings of guitar, submerged noises and an irresistible chorus by the Typical Girls, while ‘Far Left’ with the relentless refrain “I don’t give a fuck” will mesmerise you, thanks to its metallic sonorities, smooth waves of sound and cool atmospheres. Spank Rock’s YoYoYoYoYo reconfigures the universe of making music, with good intuitions, innovative rhythms and a fearless approach to music. – anna battista

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