Skyscraper Magazine » 2011 » May
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Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor have been on the steady climb to an inevitable “mersh” plateau since its inception nearly a decade ago. “Mersh,” of course, was tongue-in-cheek Minutemen-coined lingo for commercial exploits (see the monumental Pedro punk trio’s Project: Mersh (SST, 1985), and the core members of P & L, electronics masher/singer Dan Friel and bassist/beardo co-vocalist B.J. Warshaw, gave credence to that comical ethos (and it’s anti-war cry) with their synth-scrunching cover of “King of the Hill” on Mapmaker (Jagjaguwar, 2007).

By the time the rad popness sprawl of Receivers (Jagjaguwar, 2008) came out, the fireballing drum-basher/ace journalist Christopher Weingarten departed P & L, replaced by the meticulously restrained stylings of Joe Wong. In addition, drone goddess Sarah Lipstate (Noveller) was added for her guitar snarl. Ultimately, Lipsate was another (amicable) lineup casualty and P & L was reduced to trio form once again in time for this year’s Constant Future, their closest stab at a radio-friendly unit shifter and their most cohesive and melodic-fueled effort, to boot.

Recorded by Mogwai, Low, and Flaming Lips knob-twiddling bigwig Dave Fridmann for production value-heft, Constant Future certainly is spoiled by the special treatment. Prior to the Fridmann/P & L marriage, the trio already had their formula down pat: sonic fist-pumpers bathed in cheap electronic-shred and a delicious mother lode of hooks topped by the ecstatic, soul-draining singing of Friel and Warshaw. These dudes would have #1 hits blasting from car radios if there was a popular station for experimental anthemic rock and Constant Future were placed in heavy rotation. Alas, Fridmann has sharpened the edges, trimmed the fat, and made P & L sound effin’ arena-ready-huge. Warshaw’s low-end is Earth-rumbling (check out “Rest”), Friel’s keys streak melodically across (hear “Fake Names”), Wong’s beats rival Foo Fighters’ mega-drums crush (sample “Skin and Bones” and “Echo Chamber”) and the wordage is still world-weary but, in the end, it all still sounds like, well, Parts & Labor in full-on rock mode.

Sydney, Australia’s The Black Ryder are a fantastic duo consisting of Aimee Nash and Scott Von Ryper, both former members of the highly regarded Aussie pysch-rock outfit The Morning After Girls. Though formed in 2007, The Black Ryder didn’t release their excellent debut album, Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, until the tail end of 2009 (the US release of which only saw the light of day last September on Mexican Summer Records). Von Ryper explains that “the genesis of the band came really quickly after Morning After Girls, since Aimee and I had played in a band together before.” However, he adds, “We had some ideas, but felt no sense of urgency getting the record out. You hear stories of people knocking out albums in 10 days, but in our case it was the complete opposite. It was very much a studio project.”

The album ended up taking 18 months to complete, but the process was quite unique. Immediately after leaving Morning After Girls, Nash and Von Ryper set up a MySpace page and started posting songs in various states of completion. “Unlike other bands who only post finished product, we would put up unfinished songs and add more as the album progressed,” Von Ryper reports. “It’s pretty amazing: we could post a song at two in the afternoon and three hours later someone from Paris could email and tell us how much they love it.”

In addition to gaining a large Internet fan base, as more and more people tuned in to listen to the works in progress, taking their time recording enabled The Black Ryder to draw a virtual who’s who of contemporary psych rock and shoegaze artists into their studio, as bands came to Australia for tours. Some of the celebrated guests who contributed to Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride include Rick Maymi from Brian Jonestown Massacre, Peter Hayes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Graham Bonnar from the reunited Swervedriver. Von Ryper downplays this as a  case of “happy luck,” since they had already known BJM and BRMC from playing shows with each group as members of Morning After Girls. That latter band, in fact, was somewhat responsible for kick starting the live version of The Black Ryder. “BRMC was in Australia and asked us to play some dates with them on their tour, and so we had to throw a band together really quickly,” Von Ryper says.

That tour led to further Australian dates with BJM, The Raveonettes, and The Charlatans, all without a record deal. When it was time to strike a deal with EMI Australia, the stakes were in The Black Ryder’s favor. With the album virtually finished, Nash and Von Ryper were able to iron out a situation in which they were able to record for their own imprint, The Anti-Music Machine, which was set up as a subsidiary to EMI Australia. This deal garners them greater independence and more royalties. As someone who grew up falling in love with visionary indie labels such as Creation, 4AD, and Rough Trade, where owners loved the music they put out, it’s interesting to hear Von Ryper comment on today’s record industry as an almost strict business relationship. “Labels were always used as banks, because bands couldn’t afford to record in studios,” he begins. “Now bands can buy their own equipment and record so cheaply, the situation has changed. We still need a label to help with distribution and publicity, which are hard things to do on our own.”

As for the album itself, Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride is a mesmerizing cocktail of psych rock, shoegaze, and dark country. Highlights include “Let It Go,” which cruises like a lost cousin of Ride with its druggy yet infectious vibe. The opener “To Never Know You” is reminiscent of BJM’s best work, while “Grass” displays some potent Led Zeppelin-like riffs not unlike “The Immigrant Song.” Nash handles the lion’s share of lead vocals on the record and displays a much wider range of talents than other female-fronted groups of the genre, who have tended to be cutesy and peppy (Lush) or ethereal (Slowdive). Nash has the ability to belt out the blues with the best of them, as well as soothe you to sleep. Her talents are especially evident on the much-too-short “Sweet Come Down,” a beautiful duet with Von Ryper. The song’s video was directed by Michael Spiccia, who has worked with the likes of Jet. It is striking as one watches Nash walk through the desert in cowboy boots (the imagery is very No Country For Old Men), past the dead bodies of her band mates, whom she has presumably killed. Getting “Sweet Come Down” was one thing, but the video almost didn’t happen. “Michael Spiccia was a fan of the band and wanted to work with us, but we just couldn’t afford him and had to say no. Michael came back to us and we ended up working it out,” Von Ryper remembers. More happy luck.

Along the way, Von Ryper professes a love for old country and blues records, which one can easily hear on the album. “I think the best description of the band we have ever had was when someone dubbed our sound ‘Rhinestone Drone,’” Von Ryper proudly exclaims. “’Sweet Come Down’ was a really important track for us. While it’s nice to get compared to some of our favorite bands, like My Bloody Valentine and Jonestown, it’s important to strike our own identity. We really want to appeal to fans outside of our genre.” They would get that chance on two tours supporting hard-rock juggernauts The Cult – of all bands – first in Australia and, most recently, in America. “Touring with The Cult in Australia was one thing because we know a lot of people and we were playing to friends,” Von Ryper posits, “but we had low expectations for America. However, I can honestly say we didn’t have any bad experiences there. So many people would come up to us and tell us that they checked out our music beforehand and made sure to come early to see us play. It’s eye opening when a 350-pound guy in overalls sees your band and tells you how much he loved you and that he had never seen a band with girls in it before.”

Every second of The Only She Chapters reeks of composerly ambition.

Beginning his recording career as Prefuse 73 a decade back, Scott Herren’s dedicated his work to the advancement of hip-hop production. While his far-reaching efforts haven’t always been embraced by grill-wearing, neighborhood toughs, the six proper long-player’s he’s issued dice up the genre and splice it back together with the sort of intelligence only an astute student of the game might muster.

The Only She Chapters should immediately sound detached from earlier efforts, not necessarily in tone or intent, but structure. Compared to 2009’s Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (Warp), which surprisingly approached kraut territories on occasion, The Only She Chapters runs together forming a 50-minute procession of subtle production techniques. Making the album such a unique entry in Herren’s catalog is simply the fact that none of the tracks included here seem to have been conceived for the purpose of an emcee rhyming over top it all. There’s really no correlation to Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp, 2001), the producer’s long-playing debut, which sported verses from DOOM, Aesop Rock, and Mikah 9. And that’s a surprise.

Supplanting rappers on The Only She Chapters, Herren decided to feature a spate of femme-vocalists. Thing is, there aren’t too many lyrics, per se, just a bunch of distant moaning meant as an additional layer for each track. Occasionally, it works. Occasionally, it doesn’t – Faidherbe’s contribution on “The Only Contact She’s Willing To Give” goes so far as to detract from what sounds like a sample from some free-improv dumped into the mix. What’s astounding about Herren’s latest effort is its similarity of intent to Odd Nosdam’s Level Live Wires (Anticon, 2007). The East Bay producer went and approached composing as an exersize in ambiance, drawing as much from minimalism as from Chill Rob G.

With such high praise, Herren’s successful efforts, like the slowly paced, eerie “The Only Valentine’s Day Failure,” are mitigated by sprinkling in all those crooners. Balancing ambition and placating an audience hasn’t ever been the easiest task. And while some longtime fans are going to remain appreciative of Herren’s wide-eyed approach to adapting the medium, The Only She Chapters might just as likely end up in the used bin at your local record emporium. Of course, those passing the exploration of ideas set forth here are most likely the same folks touting Eminen’s verbosity. And that’s nonsense – unless we’re talking about his appearance on that High & Mighty disc.

As the name implies, Moon Duo are indeed a duo consisting of Ripley Johnson from Wooden Shjips on guitar and vocals and Sanae Yamada on organ. Formed in 2009, the group has been quite prolific, issuing several 12” singles and EPs and now their first full-length, Mazes, which is as good as anything I’ve heard this year. While Moon Duo explore a similar spacey terrain as Wooden Shjips, sonically they’re closer to The Stooges, Suicide, and Spacemen 3. Like the aforementioned groups, the Duo’s sound is deceptively primitive in structure with basic two chord jams, monotone vocals, and, in Moon Duo’s case, simple keyboard riffs set to the precise rhythms of a drum machine. Yet, there is a genius to their simplicity.

Mazes is a definite leap forward from the group’s excellent earlier material; much more song-oriented in its approach yet somehow retaining all of the hypnotic space-rock qualities that made early efforts, such as “Motorcycle, I Love You,” so special. The premise of most songs is simply to start with an insanely catchy riff, and take the ball and run with it. A perfect example is the lengthy opener “Seer,” which initially treads similar ground as Spacemen 3’s “Losing Touch With My Mind” before kicking into even higher gear. A few minutes into the piece, Johnson dazzles listeners with a guitar solo straight out of Ron Asheton’s playbook. “When You Cut” is another standout with its dark, claustrophobic rhythms that bring to mind the tension of Joy Division, Johnson repeating “I feel the walls closing in on me.” “Fallout” is just that, an explosion of pulverizing punk rock power chords, coming across as a darker Buzzcocks or Magazine. Elsewhere one hears a krautrock influence on the chilly “Scars,” when the drum machine and Yamada’s Martin Rev-like keyboard sound take center stage. The title track is perhaps the most unique composition on Mazes, mixing a guitar sound which approximates the Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” with a vocal melody bringing to mind Sisters of Mercy’s cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Emma.” Maybe I’ve been listening to too many of those old Sisters of Mercy singles lately, but other reviewers have hinted at a goth influence in Moon Duo’s work too.

In any case, as much as I dig Johnson’s day job in the Shjips, Moon Duo are even better. An old friend of mine, who’s a Spacemen 3 junkie, has already proclaimed Mazes the album of the year. I can’t really argue against that.

From the Archives: this review first appeared on the old Skyscraper Magazine site. It is being republished here for your reading pleasure.

With the 40th anniversary of their inception, the death of their founding frontman Syd Barrett, and the brief but enthusiastically received reconciliation at Live 8 all still recent memories, the time’s ripe for another in-depth look at Pink Floyd: one of the world’s most heard, but least understood rock bands.

The first portion of Mark Blake’s Comfortably Numb deals with the swinging-London Pink Floyd, who, amidst the drugs and superficial madness of the era, successfully evolved from boundary-pushing psychedelic jammers into chilly mega-selling musos. The second half of the book details the painstaking recording and subsequent adoring reception of Dark Side of the Moon (40 million copies sold and counting), followed by the group’s pinnacle of success and stagnant semi-retirement. Sadly, their watershed album also marked the beginning of the creative end to Pink Floyd. Increasingly trapped by technology, the grandiose concepts of their ideas-man, Roger Waters, and the onset of chronic one-upsmanship and squabbling, the band’s mood turned from tense to tyrannical in quick succession.

Not surprisingly, Roger Waters comes out looking like the biggest villain in Comfortably Numb. While the domineering bully role is one he relishes, it’s hard not to side with him on some business and legacy issues. Along for the ride are drummer Dave Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright, who get brow-beaten by the imposing bassist, but shoot themselves in the collective foot by coasting along without contributing much to the mix. David Gilmour has been the man behind the “lumbering great behemoth” since Waters’ departure and has taken great pains to preserve Floyd’s heritage, mostly by rebuffing reunion proposals.

In regards to Syd, Blake does a good job of keeping Floyd’s one-time leader in the story by retelling bizarre accounts of real or fabricated events. While certainly not helped by his drug intake – described as everything from heavy to astounding – Barrett’s descent into mental illness simply came at a young age and an unfortunate time, professionally speaking.

As for those who carried on the Pink Floyd name without him, after four hundred (and 1!) pages, we still don’t really feel too much for them. It’s not Blake’s fault, he does an admirable job tracking down important figures in this musical saga even as the band’s reticence to embrace the press, their ability to remain out of the spotlight, continued turmoil and power struggles lead people to think on Pink Floyd as an entity rather than a band.

As Gilmour says, “The fact is, our individual names mean virtually nothing in terms of the great record and ticket-buying public.” However, Comfortably Numb is a hell of a read. Just remember the biggest acts in the world are business enterprises as much as they are gangs of music lovers. And after reading Blake’s thorough biography, you can’t forget it.

Almost everything about The Illusionist, an animated feature by Sylvain Chomet (the animator and director most famous for The Triplets of Belleville) and loosely based on writings by Jacques Tati, has worked against its success. First shown at Cannes during 2008, the production didn’t see widespread Stateside distribution until late last year. Even then, the film only played major markets, leaving huge swaths of the nation unfulfilled in terms of providing cartoon comedy’s aimed at adults.

Tati, though, hasn’t ever been a huge name in this country, his lineage stretching back to miming and clowning – Jean-Gaspard Deburau wasn’t ever this clever. The Marx Brothers were, but most of those guys spoke. Harpo, who unlike Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin transitioned from stage to silent film to talkies, ranks as Tati’s American cousin, but isn’t usually granted his proper place among comedic geniuses, or even his brothers. Sure, Groucho was quick witted, Chico was mischievous, and Zeppo…Well, Zeppo was family, and not too hard on the eyes, so they kept him around. It was Harpo’s combination of the absurd with his musical talents and habit of falling in love every five minutes that made his characters so relatable, even if he hasn’t become a transcendent figure in the same way as Groucho and his mustache. Watching the silent character enter the 1929 sound-picture The Coconauts finds Harpo showing up just in time to play some ill advised darts and jam on clarinet for a while. Chico’s piano playing might have received more of a spotlight, but who plays the harp as a pastime? Harpo didn’t need to verbalize punch-lines. He had the physical ability, not to mention an elastic face, necessary to get laughs. Endlessly lifting his leg and placing it in the arms of unaware woman might not seem humorous in a time when dick and fart jokes reign supreme (nothing against either), but there’s a sweetness inherent in Harpo’s shtick, those big round eyes and his wig hanging down just far enough to be funny.

Duck Soup, the Brother’s last film with its classic lineup, was released in 1933, 16 years before Tati would star in his first feature. Creating a silent character so deep into the sound era must have caused the writer, director, and actor some problems. Tati’s success on the stage, however, translated to the filmic arena. Never garnering the biggest box office results, his career was marked by persistence and perfection, sometimes spending his own money on features – constructing an entire office building for his final work, Trafic (1971). What transpires in Tati’s films – modernity, family and affection run amok – should be happening. The trappings of modern life are meant to improve how we live, not complicate matters. That’s how the man who created the bicycle riding Hulot saw things, at least. His films stretch from a time when cars were a novelty to when they were commonplace. Tati’s first film, 1949’s Jour de fête, even featured a bike riding mailman.

The Illusionist, based on an un-filmed script Tati left behind at the time of his death in 1982, careens towards the emotional even as the entire thing reeks of sadness and melancholy not commonly found in comedy. Supposedly a lament on the distant relationship Tati had with his daughter, the actor and writer crafted a narrative that pairs an aging magician, not one for the glitz and glamor of televised stars, with some lost child. The two, surely an unlikely match, wind up living together for a time in Scotland, as the performer’s forced to take on a succession of unrewarding gigs while watching the entertainment industry change dramatically – kinda like the shift from two wheels to four.

Opening for a fey-Brit Invasion band, Tatischeff – the thinly veiled Tati character – comes to the realization that his time’s past. The Illusionist’s broad topic reflects any number of Tati’s own works as his Hulot character stands in the middle of torrential change. Here, the magician does the same. He’s just joined by a rabbit and a runaway. Focusing on pleasing the stray he’s picked up – the girl, not the rabbit – Tatischeff winds up shuttling from one gig to the next, eventually spending so much time apart from the girl he’d grown fond of as to estrange the two, making the film’s conclusion unsurprising, but painful to watch all the same. Maybe there aren’t magician’s anymore. Maybe they weren’t ever real. But Chomet was able to distil the collected works of a film-world rarity during 80 minutes of animation – good thing The Illusionist wasn’t 3D.

It’d be hard to quantify, all those low-rent imprints issuing work. But after Bob Marley, Lee Perry might be the most widely disseminated Jamaican musician in history. There seem to be just about as many compilations of the producer and singer’s work as proper studio albums. JA’s music business has always been a weird animal – sometimes it’s even hard to get records from the island onto turntables due to the center hole being an odd shape. No fear, productions from Perry’s Black Ark are more sturdy than the vinyl it was first issued on. With the endless flow of discographical additions to Perry’s catalog, the 75-year-old’s still recording new music. And with his lofty historical importance, he’s been able to wrangle some pretty high profile players for Rise Again.

Released through M.O.D. Technologies, Bill Laswell’s imprint, this new studio album from Perry includes contributions from Bernie Worrell, Sly Dunbar, and Hamid Drake, among others. With this sort of music – a continuation of Perry’s latter 1970s sides on which he chants occasionally lucid thoughts atop sparse accompaniment – bringing in players associated with jazz and funk isn’t a necessity, but a marketing ploy. Maybe it’s a good one, but paying off the Version City Crew might have resulted in the same end product.

Either way, what’s revealed over Rise Again‘s 11 tracks is that Perry, so late in his career, needs only to reference older works to get over. Repeating the phrase, “You keep knockin’, but you can’t come in,” is an obvious throwback. Laid over a sturdy horn line and a touch of indulgent synthesizer, the vocal bit allows Perry to ride a rhythm indistinguishable from something worked up a few decades back. Just cheesier.

Engaging with the producer’s newer work, while providing for Perry’s continued worldwide stardom, doesn’t do much else but account for the continued flow of re-framed compilation albums. It’s a product. Pressure Sounds, the venerable UK imprint attempting to serve listeners obscure works dating to 1960s and 1970s JA, have released a number of important artifacts from Tommy McCook, Dennis Bovell, Derrick Harriott, and Santic. With its latest foray into Scratch related ephemera, the label’s gone and issued The Return of Sound System Scratch as a follow-up to last year’s Sound System Scratch: Lee Perry’s Dub Plate Mixes 1973 to 1979.

Whereas that earlier anthology dealt in unique mixes (which this new volume does as well), there are a few unreleased tracks on Return bearing significant attention. Leading the disc off with Aleas Jube’s unheard “Righteous Land” and following that composition with Perry’s version allows for listeners to revel in Perry’s process while elucidating the scrap heap of material still available. Sporting the wet echo fans have come to expect, “Righteous Rocking” is all simple melody with just enough variation – a few stray horn or guitar notes – to hook just about anyone in ear shot. Further along, a Junior Murvin rarity crops up along with other unique dubbed versions of relatively well-known rhythms. “Jah Jah Ah Natty Dread,” from the genre defining Return of the Super Ape (Lion of Judah, 1977) finds itself given new life with another mix, despite being reissued as a double-disc with its similarly titled predecessor within the last few years.

To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what’s on The Return of Sound System Scratch or Rise Again. If one’s familiar with Perry, it’s easy to know what eras of his work best suit your desires. Neither disc demarcates a sensible place to begin a personal excavation of his work, but rank as suitable items to gorge on after The Return of Django (Trojan, 1969) gets tired.

DAN DIDIER

DRUMMERS: Totally obvious. I can’t help it. It doesn’t matter what band I see, my eyes are always fixed on the drummer. I am mentally taking notes to attempt to decode the decisions that he or she is making at each part of the song. “Why did they do that?” “That didn’t really work.” “Whoa, that was amazing!” Now, I am certainly not a tech geek and I am not one to “talk shop” at shows (I have been using the same drum kit for 15 years), but I do appreciate the techniques and style of someone else’s play. I find inspiration in that.

MY FAMILY: My wife and two daughters are everything to me. My wife keeps me honest, for sure, and I cannot appreciate that enough. She is a wealth of good ideas, and bouncing stuff off of her always yields positive results. Now, my daughters, they love to sing and dance, which keeps this curmudgeon from steeping in too much darkness. All the singing they do yields some amazing melodies that get stuck in my head for days and our impromptu dance parties in the kitchen always end with us laughing hysterically. Their vibrancy resonates with me when I play on stage.

MILWUAKEE: There is soooo much to love about this city, and it is not because it is where I have lived my whole life. I have toured the world extensively and this city has always been a pleasure to come home to. There is always enough stuff going on to never feel bored, but it also isn’t too hectic that you get worn out or overwhelmed. This is a Do It Yourself town that has an immense wealth of talent. If artists, musicians, or filmmakers have commercial success or not they are still going to do what they do and do it well, and I love being around that.

 

DAVEY VON BOHLEN

EERIE QUIET OF WALKING IN WINTER AT NIGHT: Maybe it is being born and raised in the upper Midwest, but I rarely feel the mysteries of life as strongly as I do when I’m outside by myself, the snow acting as sound proof, and most everyone hidden inside. As an urbanite, we rarely see these times, and it takes the harsh conditions of mid-winter to awaken this clarity. It also conjures so many feelings from younger times, when so much less was going on that you had time to look around you and take every little bit of everything in.

BASKETBALL: I am almost never as happy as when I am holding a basketball. I think that I am maybe a total drug casualty in wait, as soon as they are able to mimic the endorphin high of exercise. Further, I don’t really have the complete focus that I see in others, so I am almost never released from things that weigh on me. The only two ways I’ve found to release myself from that is to play music and play sports. I think it is deeper than that though, as well. My wife used to refer to it as my “sports goggles,” as I would be completely disconnected when a game is on. There is something about the strategic struggle that thrills me absolutely.

PARENTHOOD: I never really knew growing up how I would react to being someone’s dad, but it is so unpredictable, challenging, and rewarding that I am really happy I’ve been lucky enough to be given the opportunity. Their successes and defeats are so much more intense than my own, that everyday life is fraught with intense fear and joy. I am constantly caught between wanting to freeze them at their current age and dying of excitement to find out who they’ll become.

CARPET: While I love the way hard wood floors look and feel, I’ve lived in 3 or 4 houses over the last 15 years with no carpeting at all. Last summer, my family moved into a home that has a family room facing the backyard that is a large open room that is carpeted. We spend about 95% of our waking hours here, wrestling, playing sports and games, watching TV, reading. It is the space we start and end our day as a family, where we play, eat, break, and repair. It is a barefooted, lay on the floor with the dogs, watch the kids in the backyard while I strum my guitar sort of room.

 

JUSTIN KLUG

INDEPENDENT NEWS WEBSITES: Sites like ProPublica, Democracy Now!, and Truthdig are dedicated to in depth, fact based reporting in an age where sensationalism reigns. They’re an invaluable resource for those who crave more from their media than opinionated sound bites, celebrity gossip, and corporate/state sponsorship. I admire their passion for fact and their drive to get their message out there. They seem to me something akin to modern day pamphleteers.

SECOND HAND ITEMS: I’ve always liked things that have been used. From cars and clothing to hardware and homes, there’s just something that appeals to me about things that have been around a while. I’m not necessarily talking about antiques, though I’m fond of those too, but more specifically, things like wood and clothes just look better weathered and worn.  An old guitar will always feel better to me than a new one. I feel like keeping a balance of new and old items in my life keeps me connected to the past in a way, so as to not get lost in the hum of technological advancement.

GOING TO THE MOVIES ALONE: There’s definitely something to be said for enjoying a movie, in a theatre, without company. I love the solitude. It’s a casual retreat from the world where, for about two hours, you’re able to let all your concerns slip away in the dark and focus solely on the story unfolding on the screen. It’s an occasional respite from the noise of everyday life.

 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based indie-pop group Maritime are Davey von Bohlen (vocals, guitar), Dan Didier (drums), Justin Klug (bass), and Dan Hinz (guitar). They released Human Hearts, their fourth album and first for Dangerbird Records, back in April.

Photo Courtesy: Dangerbird Records (pictured from left to right: Hinz, Klug, Didier, von Bohlen)

Break-ups are a funny thing. When a human couple splits, there’s always the he-said/she-said gambit, but one can take small consolation in that there are but two versions of the tale. The dissolution of the average band ups that ante considerably. Tales of any ensemble are rife with revisionist history, especially if the splits are acrimonious, as is the norm. Add an excessive number of members and getting the real story can be a nightmare. Memphis writer Andrew Earles encountered an even worse eventuality with his book: the member who chooses not to participate. This could be worked around in some bands, but when your subject is Hüsker Dü and the man demuring is Bob Mould, the absence could be a death sentence for a project.

Hüsker Dü: The Story Of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock rose from the ashes of a rejected 33 1/3 pitch from Earles, a contributor to Magnet, Spin, and numerous other web and print publications. Undaunted, the writer posted his proposal on his website and a few months later found himself the recipient of an offer from the good folks at Voyageur Press to re-work his proposal into a full-length book. Voyageur are best known for their regional books, and claim this focus makes them distinct from other publishers. That’s easily said, but the fact that one of their recent releases was the exceptional oral history of The Replacements, All Over But the Shouting, makes it easier to accept the proposal from the self-proclaimed leading publisher on railroads and farm tractors.

Once duly commissioned, Earles approached ex-members of the seminal trio for his project and soon had bassist/singer Grant Hart and drummer Greg Norton on board. Things looked promising until co-singer/guitarist Bob Mould declined to participate for a number of reasons, one of the most paramount being the soon-to-be released autobiography he was then writing with Our Band Could Be Your Life scribe Michael Azerrad. The absence of such an important figure from the project was difficult enough, but the subsequent number of people who declined in the wake of the guitarist’s decision proved an even larger stumbling block. Earles is a regular contributor to sacred-cow slaughterhouse Chunklet, a publication whose content revolves around exploring topics like “The 100 Biggest Assholes In Rock.” The affiliation is a double-edged sword: while Chunklet is brilliant and widely accepted as such, throwing in with that lot could foster a host of misconceptions, most erroneous being that Earles is aspiring towards a station as the underground Albert Goldman with a cut-job à la Smiths biographer Johnny Rogan.

Not that it must not have been tempting. Hüsker Dü is a respectful retelling of the band’s story, but digging up the dirt and slinging some mud had to be an alluring proposition. Exclusive of having two of the best songwriters in 1980s independent music and releasing an avalanche of material eclipsing any other band of the time, Hüsker also happened to be two-thirds openly gay, sported serious drug problems, and suffered little for shortage of interpersonal drama in their eight year run. Plus, everybody really didn’t stay all that friendly afterward. All the aforementioned figures are addressed in respectful fashion and Earles does a fine job with people who did participate in Hüsker Dü. Mould is certainly conspicuous in his absence, as is SST proprietor Greg Ginn and all of the Black Flag crew, save for Bill Stevenson. The presence of Mike Watt speaks volumes (literally and figuratively), but while their participation would have fleshed out the story and perhaps offered rebuttals to various opinions herein, Hüsker Dü: The Story Of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock is an impressive retelling of the arc of the Twin Cities hardcore punk pioneers.

On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ve been reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.

Nice work, Belle and Sebastian.  I really like your smart, peppy new album – it’s one of your very best. Sorry it took me so long to review it.  “I’m Not Living in the Real World” is especially great, and surprising with its mad freak-beat pop reminiscent of vintage Television Personalities – way to go. I had feared I would be let down for some reason, or maybe it was because I had glutted myself on your band’s output at a few points over the years and at some level didn’t exactly ache to the core of my soul to hear your (brill) new platter, and subconsciously delayed listening to it.  Though I must say, I have always liked you precious, precocious Glaswegians since picking up the US promo single of “Like Dylan in the Movies” for 50-cents at Cheapo Discs in Boulder during late 1996, after having read about you in the NME or Melody Maker (RIP). Well, I confess, I was wrong to delay letting this sweet music flow into my opened eardrums, since frankly it gives me considerable pleasure and deftly deploys a variety of moods and styles.

The use of various retro synthesizer textures in some songs is an especially cool addition to the indie guitar strum and jangle. I was prepared for the possibility of being let down and having to write a lukewarm review, but this album is very good, unusually pretty, and full of life instead of despair. Stuart Murdoch’s melancholic or winsome vocals are ace, as usual, and are complemented prettily by Sarah Martin’s harmonies on some songs (such as the lovely ballad “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”). Throw on your comfy vintage cardigan sweater, don spectacles, sip your coffee, and surround yourself with books for maximum effect. The pop stylings and arrangements of the 1960s and 1970s appear to be a big influence for Murdoch and company. Not a big surprise. “Ghost of Rockschool” is classic mid-tempo B&S material, but it begins like the Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain” – not at all a bad thing in my mind. The production on the drums, for example, is very 1970s sounding, with muted tom-toms for that retro studio perfection. The slight surprise is the higher proportion of upbeat or even perky pop songs (such as “I Want the World to Stop,” an instant-classic B&S tune), which comes without sacrificing the more downbeat, wistful material characterizing much of their early output. I am sometimes reminded of The Beautiful South, Donovan, and especially this time, Prefab Sprout.

This is totally classic Belle and Sebastian with a bit more energy or pep in their step (see the come-on-get-happy title track single or “Come on Sister” with its chirpy, synthesizers). Write About Love consolidates this Scottish band’s strengths with verve, wit, and an extra dose of caffeine.