erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Howl (RCA Records)

The cover art for Black Rebel Motorcycle's third album Howl screams 'this is an album, like back in the day: song titles split into sides, enigmatic liner note essays, a fold-out array of black-and-white 'rock n' roll' band photos. It says, there was a time when albums mattered as albums, and that time doesn't have to be gone. That passes over into the music itself, where the band seeks to create an album with one cohesive feeling, one overarching theme. Americans who previously seemed obsessed with taking their British influences and fueling them into a big, propulsive, in-the-moment rock sound, the members of BRMC here are diving headlong into American roots music, into country and blues. The album opens with them taking a sentiment that they formerly might have built layers of sound around - "time won't save our soul" - and turning it into a backwoods country-gospel stomper. Later they vascilate between taking on a style whole-hog (early-Dylan-style folk music, blues-soaked bare-bones rock, the old acoustic-blues sound) and finding a meeting place halfway between their usual musical personality and this 'roots' sound (as on the excellent title track). Some of this style-adopting is convincing; "Devil's Waitin'" in particular is a stirring, stripped-down protest song seething with both hurt and the passion of an old spiritual. But much of it is less so, falling into Aerosmith-style blues aping ("Ain't No Easy Way"), sounding too pedestrian and familiar ("Restless Sinner") or awkwardly trying too hard to make an intimate gospel-blues sound bombastic and larger-than-life ("Gospel Song") . The results of BRMC's stylistic shift are on the whole a bit underwhelming, yet often quite interesting and occasionally outstanding. It'll be interesting, though, to see where this path takes them. I'm hoping it's a springboard for them to make their music more genuinely diverse and experimental, not just a one-off costume that they'll reject forecfully the next time around. Change is good, but that period in between stages can be a little awkward; consider this their early teenage-years album, hopefully a sign of real growth in the future. - dave heaton

The Capstan Shafts, Halaluah Moancoaxer (Beat the Indie Drum)

Available to download for free, the Halaluah Moancoaxer EP is another step in Dean Wells' creation of a Capstan Shafts universe, a creative world filled with a multitude of little homemade recordings that shine like shooting stars: they're beautiful and mysterious, and then they're gone. The brevity of the releases and the songs help give them an exciting fleetingness, feeling very in-the-moment. Its not just the length, though, that creates that feeling of special-ness, that romantic feeling that you're listening to something fresh and alive and unique and refreshingly puzzling. It's the songs themselves - raw, pretty, wickedly clever pop-rock songs inspired by GBV (and by correlation the history of rock), filled with enticing images and word combinations, plus the overriding sense that they're all love letters that might sadly go unread. Guitars dart and dash and rock the house, and fantastic melodies are everywhere. Halaluah Moancoaxer is especially light and airy in tone - less noise, more heart - with an abiding sense of the bittersweet. "There's a hole in my life where the hole in my life used to go", he sings at one point, poignantly but without dwelling on the sadness in any way. Actually, he dwells on nothing for too long, creating and moving on. Elsewhere he sings, oh so appropriately, "Oh, the little worlds we can build!" - dave heaton

The Herbaliser, Na h' Mean, Nah'm' Sayin' (Ninja Tune)

Put this single on and after the first three seconds, some of your friends will tell you that the whole spy-movie-themes-and-breakbeats thing has already been done and ask you to change record. But, if it ever happened to you, please tell the listener to bear with you (and with the record) since they might have a surprise. "Na h' Mean, Nah'm' Sayin'", opening track on Take London, The Herbaliser's seventh album, takes the idea a step further. The track features samples taken from David Shire's score for Joseph Sargent's " The Taking of Pelham One Two Three ", strong lyrics that will have you trembling in awe and fear ("Though I'm encased in a body of cute/I'd probably shoot/Ya mommy for loot"), very decent funky beats, cinematic grooves and, on top of that, Jean Grae's powerful voice rapping, attacking your ears and your soul. The single contains the album version, a radio edit, the intrumental version of the track, a laid-back, stoned remix courtesy of Detroit duo Platinum Pied Pipers, and "Gadget Funk", a very cool track clearly influenced by electronica. Since they started making music, The Herbaliser's Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba have tried to create the perfect balance between hip hop and cinematic grooves, with this single they've managed perfectly. - anna battista

The Long Winters, Ultimatum EP (Barsuk)

Seattle's The Long Winters fit in the same general musical category as their Barsuk labelmates Death Cab for Cutie and Nada Surf - smart, sensitive, catchy pop-rock. Yet they don't have quite as polished a sheen, not enough for me to bet on them as soon-to-be superstars. Their songs aren't as loaded with hooks, and their lyrics aren't literal and direct enough to become the next backdrop for teenage heartbreak. They're an extra level of distance away from accessibility; depending on the song, that can seem like a strength or a weakness, but on their new Utlimatum EP, for the most part it seems like a gift. "The Commander Thinks Aloud," the opening song definitely entices with its somewhat enigmatic, yet very in-the-moment tale of a space landing. "Ultimatum" has a delicate texture to it, nicely augmenting the love song, one which seems open-hearted but at the same time is worded in a way that hints of mythology or classical poetry. "Delicate Hands" is similarly pretty but not facile or simple-minded. John Roderick has a way with weaving humor into his lyrics too; witness memorable lines like, "the weight of this haristyle's making me lazy." "Everything Is Talking" has a certain weariness to its pace and delivery that limits its potency; have patience, though, and you'll find rewards. The same is true, of the live version of "Bride and Bridle", which, along with a live rendition of the title track, rounds out the EP. The Long Winters aren't likely to knock many listeners out with one blow of strength (or one hook), but they're an intriguing band, with songs that are more complex than they may appear on the surface. - dave heaton

Scrabbel, 1909 (Three Ring Records)

The opening track echoes the Byrds, and the album cover bears a train/hobo image. But that train, along with the album and song title "1909", is also apparantly a reference to events of the year 1909 in Korea when Ahn Joong-Gun assasinated Ito Hirobumi in an attempt to ensure Korean independence from Japan. So, things are more complicated here than you might imagine. The song "1909" is also appropriately complicated: starting out folk-like but getting broodier and more electronic. The whole album is like this - filled with the simple pleasures of pop, but also complex. Scrabbel, aka Dan Lee, has a gift for melodies, but also isn't just interested in making you sing a meaningless tune. As often as delivering a perfect melody, full of feeling, he's playing around with mood and texture. The instrumental "Save the Green Planet" is a hip-hop-leaning sound collage with a simple guitar melody over it, and then strings over that. "All the Things We Have" offers a sad mood, but also funky dreams. "Out of Time" has both old-style Americana guitar playing and the sounds of the Bay Area subway system. And then there's a beautiful, moody cover of +-'s "Yo Yo Yo (Please Don't Fall in Love" and a straightforward yet gorgeous rendition of the Kinks' classic "Waterloo Sunset". Those songs fit in perfectly, both with the album's wistful feeling and its emphasis on pop songcraft. 1909 seems like an attempt to explore melody and mood while also getting you to think and feel and sing along. And on every account, it works. - dave heaton

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