Skyscraper Magazine » 2011 » July
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For those unfortunates who missed early decade live performances by Dave Hahn and Dub Is A Weapon, heading to recorded artifacts makes sense. But on stage is when and where this band needs to be experienced.

Coming out of a New York ska scene decimated by pop culture and its main press outlets, Hahn, the group’s guitarist, collected around him performers snatched from the likes of Mephiskapheles and the Scofflaws (they’ve got everything you need: a black suit and a bag of weed). Added in was Larry McDonald, a Jamaican percussionist sporting a shockingly broad backlog of recorded works. With the troupe assembled, Dub Is A Weapon headed out on a number of tours pushing into the country’s heartland, issuing instrumental compositions influenced equally by the Jamaican players McDonald had worked with as by 1970s guitar groups.

As the ensemble’s orchestrator, Hahn pushed his instrument out front on self-released CDs. Something like five years later, Dub is a Weapon churns out a more relaxed session for Vaporized, even as Hahn loses his nut during “Curva Peligrosa.” Yeah, it’s an oppressively vacuous title for an album, even if any number of stoners are going to be sitting around listening while burnin’ one. Hahn knows his audience, though.

Understanding stoned reggae fans imbibe extended instrumental tracks with the same frequency as leafy green inspiration, Vaporized comprises nine tracks with only one falling short of the five minute mark. “Asheville,” a decent representation of the album as a whole, finds its melody defined through Dub Is A Weapon’s horn section as opposed to guitar, something Hahn was wont to do in days gone by. Making the composition better fodder for live performance than exploration through recordings are the few open passages during which Hahn goes and twiddles knobs, pulling in and dropping out various instruments, making the act of dubbing tantamount to having another player in the studio. Amidst any one of these airy passages, drum and bass become the song’s focus with smatterings of McDonald’s hand drums incorporating a nyabinghi feel while the saxophone improvises around the bubbling up of digitally augmented guitar sounds. Endless variations are possible, just not on a CD.

A few of the songs on Vaporized move to a quicker pace. “Forwarding Home” goes so far as to include a substantial vocal, even if it kinda fails. But what the album should point out to auld tyme fans is that the band’s far more engaging live. For those new to these sounds, though, Vaporized should provide a substantial reason for catching Dub Is A Weapon on the road.

From the moment The Everly Brothers added close-knit country harmonies to the expanding palette of 1950s rock’n’roll, the two-piece has been one of pop’s most recognizable archetypes. From The Carpenters to The Chemical Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel to The Pet Shop Boys, the duo has come in many forms, each with its own distinctive take on this most compelling of line-ups.

More experimental than the likes of The Black Keys and The White Stripes, No Age are busy reinventing the two-piece for the modern age. Formed out of the ashes of California noise-pop outfit Wives, the band set out to produce music with no restrictions, no boundaries, and no looking back. Starting with an idealistic concept to make songs that sounded like they were recorded on top of each other, drummer Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall have repeatedly delivered explosive pysch-punk laden with avant-pop references. Latest album Everything In Between (Sub Pop, 2010) is an abstract blast of upfront noise-pop that is wonderfully attuned to the twin possibilities of punk and electronica.

Having grown up in shitty Los Angeles suburbs where music meant everything, No Age are eager to fully realize the artistic possibilities of their band. Keen to distill their music to its most potent form, Spunt and Randall revel in the freedom that being a two-piece allows. With a simple goal to communicate with their community, No Age are a band of the people for whom rock’n’roll is a lifestyle choice rather than a profession. Skyscraper recently caught up with Dean Spunt to discuss the band’s latest disc and the vision behind their music.

Skyscraper: Last fall you released your third album, Everything In Between. Tell me about writing and recording it.

Dean Spunt: We spent a lot of 2009 touring. We would write in between tours, in between shows. When we had breaks, we would have blocks of practice every day for a week and just write, make samples, record stuff, et cetera. We booked three small sessions at Infrasonic. This record was more about short spurts of time working over a long period. Then, in the end, we were able to sew it all together.

Skyscraper: How have the audiences been reacting to your new material?

DS: They have been reacting nicely. More like convulsing than moshing. Maybe the visuals and the third member [sample/effects controller William Kai Stangeland-Menchaca] are too much for their senses. It has been nice and loud.

Skyscraper: It was mostly written in LA. How do you think your hometown has shaped the sound of your music?

DS: Los Angeles really isn’t about a sound. It never has been about a sound. It is such a sparse place that things get tied together in an interesting way. SST didn’t put out bands that sounded like anything. But there was a spirit. Same with The Smell; when we started playing there in 2001 with Wives there was no sound, it was about not sounding like your friends’ bands. Being creative, looking outside for inspiration. If anything, the LA underground has been more about the way things are presented, the aesthetic rather than the sound.

Skyscraper: Tell me about the origins of No Age.

DS: Our old band ended in disaster. We pulled the plug and continued in a new way. We got to start from scratch and fix the things that went too far. No Age was about trying new things. I had never played drums in a band really, besides one-off bands. I wanted to be the opposite of the Wives drumming style, and try my hand at singing. [Grant Hart of] Husker Du and Adam Stonehouse from The Hospitals were inspiring. It seemed like the thing you should not do, something that kinda made no sense. Randy had been experimenting with a single guitar style since the early days of Wives. Half the set I played bass and sang, the other half Randy would use a splitter and plug into the bass amp and I would just sing. We had a little jumping off point. We were just experimenting with everything in No Age. Recording, samples, noise. Trying to make mistakes, learn and create music that wasn’t there, but that we heard in our heads.

Skyscraper: Why did you decide to limit yourselves to drums, vocals, guitars, and effects/samples?

DS: There are only two of us, what else can we do? We only have four hands. We were both triggering samples with our feet when we would play live. We didn’t come from a conventional place you need to understand. In our heads, anything can be a band. The Smell taught us that simple rule. Solo guy, two-piece, pre-recorded sounds with dance… I mean, it never entered our head that we were doing anything out of the ordinary. Just making art. We wanted to strip it down to be more creative with sound, make up that low end with noise, and also to be more economical.

Skyscraper: The album draws on some pretty diverse styles: punk, power-pop, lo-fi, avant-garde. What were your biggest influences on this album?

DS: Punk is in our DNA. Randy was getting more and more into power-pop guitar styling, for sure. I was also getting more into electronic and ambient music. I never listened to ambient music before; we always tried to create that sound without ever being aware of it. Instinctively, though, as I was leaning more towards pretty sounds than harsh noise, so were other LA friends that played straight up noise. There must have been something in the air. We were listening to diverse things like Nick Lowe, Disco Inferno, Gas, Infest. All over, finding the common thread, which most the time was DIY.

Skyscraper: You’ve said you wanted to make two-minute pop songs and give them eight minutes to breathe. Tell me more about that.

DS: When we started, the idea of the mangled pop songs climbing out of these soundscapes of noise and beautiful tones really got us going. That idea still gets us going. We are still working towards that, it seems like. Breathing room is awesome, helps you appreciate each other.

Skyscraper: How have you become attuned to broader realm of possibilities of making sounds with the equipment at your disposal?

DS: We use what we got. That is a general rule for our lives it seems.

Skyscraper: You like to juxtapose modern sampling equipment with vintage amps. Why is mixing the old and the new so important to you?

DS: It is more about sound. Old amps usually sound better. If new amps sounded like old ones, we would use those – they sure would be easier to fix. Same with drums. Most new drums don’t feel right. Sampling has always been interesting; it is not new by any means, though. We used sampling in Wives, too.

Skyscraper: You’ve added an extra member for live shows, William Kai Stangeland-Menchaca of Silver Daggers. Tell me about that decision.

DS: Third person to trigger samples so we don’t have to any more. Fill out the sound, et cetera. It has been awesome. Change feels good, even if it’s not what people want – especially if it is not what people want.

Skyscraper: What are your plans for the future?

DS: We don’t plan for the future. One day at a time. Live for now.

Photos: Todd Cole

Pointed to the right records at the right time by their parents, London’s The Savage Nomads are a mash-up of every half-interesting genre to emerge from England’s capital in the last 35 years. Drawing on punk, dub, psychedelia, and Britpop, their debut album, Coloured Clutter (Alaska Sounds, 2011), challenges the common perception of what four kids with guitars can and should sound like. Lifting their moniker from a notorious New York street gang, the youthful four-piece walk the walk of The Clash, The Libertines, and Arctic Monkeys. No wonder Mick Jones loves them.

Bearing the influence of everyone from Megadeth to Modest Mouse, Coloured Clutter is an extraordinary album. As indebted to the poetry of Eliott, Ginsberg, Pound, and Whitman as it is to the rap, hip-hop, and grime sounds of inner city London, it’s Sandinista for the blog age – an album perfectly in tune with the times. As singer Cole Salewicz recently explained to the UK press, The Savage Nomads have always been interested in everything. Opposed to genres or the concept of classifying music, the four-piece have crafted an album that defies pigeon-holing.

Formed when Salewicz left short-lived electro-pop outfit Sailor No Youth (whose line-up also included Mick Jones’ daughter Lauren), The Savage Nomads have been making music together since their teens. With management on board since the beginning, they’ve stuck to their beliefs and refused to compromise. And it shows. In a cultural climate that mirrors the late 1970s, The Savage Nomads are a streetwise indie-punk outfit for the download generation. As Jones said when he booked the band to support the recently reformed Big Audio Dynamite, “I can’t think of anyone better than The Savage Nomads to rock the whole world.” Skyscraper caught up with Salewicz to discuss the band’s origins and the recent recording of their debut album.

Skyscraper: Firstly, how are things going?

Cole Salewicz: Splendid, thank you.

Skyscraper: Tell me about The Savage Nomads. How did you get together?

CS: Billy [Boone, drums] and I had our “mid-teen crisis” band that I think everyone who plays music seriously can relate to. It was the most important part of our lives at the time, and when it disbanded I was pretty forlorn but very determined to continue playing. Billy and I kept jamming and went through a lot of guitar players in South London. We met Josh [Miles, bass] through Lauren Jones and formed a three-piece before we finally met Joe [Gillick, guitar], after he answered an Internet ad. We stuck at it for a few months and it soon clicked.

Skyscraper: You’re named after a Bronx street gang that’s been around since the 1960s. Would you say you have a gang mentality when it comes to being a band?

CS: Sure. The music we make certainly (and intentionally) sets us apart from any guitar-based group. We’re not exactly hostile people but when you’re playing together you’ve gotta stick together, as at times you can feel pretty isolated. You gotta compromise and respect each other’s wishes, too.

Skyscraper: The Clash always presented themselves as “the last gang in town.” How big an influence have they been on you?

CS: We’re all fans of their music, but the element of The Clash that inspires us the most is their never-say-die attitude and their refusal to compromise. They were also completely unafraid to branch out into any genre of music, and that fearlessness and audacity reflects the diverse nature of our debut album, Coloured Clutter. If you don’t get it, then you don’t get it.

Skyscraper: What’s it been like to get such vocal support from Mick Jones so early in your career?

CS: Of course it’s been terrific. Mick’s a very caring individual, and it certainly is an indication of the kind of guy he is to support us from the off. He’s stuck to his principles all throughout his career and it’s extremely admirable.

Skyscraper: What was playing with B.A.D. like?

CS: Those shows were the highlight of our musical journey so far. The whole experience was wild and we revelled in it. There’s nothing like playing on a stage that size, and it was certainly something we could get used to. I learned that our songs are meant to be played on a bigger scale.

Skyscraper: You’ve said that you’re opposed to using genres and labels to classify music. Do you feel the whole idea of pigeonholing bands is defunct nowadays?

CS: Not particularly, no. Ignorant labeling of music is more apparent than ever, especially in the mainstream. It’s a shame and it can turn people off a band before they’ve even heard them because of how they’ve been compartmentalized by the music press.

Skyscraper: How would you pigeonhole The Savage Nomads if you had to?

CS: I’d roll my eyes and say “alternative rock” or “post-punk,” but it would do our music no justice.

Skyscraper: Tell me about the album. What were the sessions like?

CS: It was a really great experience. We loved working at Alaska Studio in Waterloo [London]; it became like a second home for us and we’re looking forward to recording and writing there more. We got on extremely well with Bob Earland ,who produced the majority of the record. He listened to all our ideas and implemented his own perfectly. It was also a pleasure to have Dave Coulter [Patrick Wolf, Gorillaz] and Terry Edwards [PJ Harvey] come in and play.

Skyscraper: How did you approach writing and recording?

CS: I generally write the words in my own time and we jam out a few ideas when we’re rehearsing. As well as being an exceptional guitarist, Joe’s got a special talent for arrangement and he structures a lot of the songs, which normally mutate as we get used to playing them. Once we’re comfortable, we’ll record a demo song on Logic and then probably go back and change it again.

Skyscraper: There are references to all kinds of genres on there. Was it a conscious effort to make it as diverse as possible?

CS: The record is reflective of all the music we listen to, but we never said to one another that this record had to be an assorted mix of sounds. It occurred organically.

Skyscraper: You’ve been pretty vocal about sticking to your beliefs and refusing to compromise. To what extent does the album reflect that?

CS: It’s a bit of a cliché but we didn’t really make it for anyone else but ourselves. I don’t think any of us are particularly interested or enthused by what we hear in British guitar music today, so we weren’t conscious of how it would sit amongst other acts. Our label [Alaska Sounds] pretty much gave us freedom to write whatever we wanted. We wouldn’t be interested otherwise.

Skyscraper: Where did the album title come from?

CS: Joe and I came up with the title and it reflects the listening process. It’s runs like a tribute mixtape to all our favourite genres, and for me, the varied tones remind me of the colour spectrum.

Skyscraper: What are your plans for the future?

CS: To promote this record but also to keep writing and playing challenging music. We’re hoping to get out on the road in the autumn.

Photos Courtesy: The Savage Nomads

Washed Out is the dreamy, lo-fi, groove-oriented music project of Ernest Greene, a good ol’ boy from Perry, Georgia. Within and Without is his much-anticipated first full-length album. Along with Washed Out, recent acts like Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi – all of whom use 1970s and 1980s synthesizers, funky or down-tempo dance beats, and mellow vocals to produce hazy, languid, sometime blissed-out music – have been corralled into a novel genre, chillwave, self-consciously invented and scrutinized by music bloggers and critics. The chillwave aesthetic encircles ethereal, groovy music played on lush synthesizers and beat boxes, perhaps as heard on an old, much-loved, overdubbed cassette tape that has suffered data rot over the decades. Warmth, fluidity, and nostalgia are oft desired traits, and some of chillwave’s well-known songs, including Greene’s, have relied heavily on samples for their structure and riffs.

Apropos to the cassette tape aesthetic, Greene released a cassette-only EP on micro-indie label Mirror Universe Tapes, the underground hit High Times (2009). The Life of Leisure 12″ (Mexican Summer, 2009) also made an impact on the scene. Washed Out took a low-key approach to promotion and was basically discovered and ballyhooed by music bloggers, his fame spreading via the Internet and word of mouth. The nine selections on Within and Without therefore represent Greene’s jump to the big time, having inked a deal with the famous Sub Pop Records. The album is also seemingly a test to see whether his approach can withstand the medium shift from lo-fi to major-distribution indie CD production values. It is also a test to see whether he can write material without heavily relying on sampled material from the past (which can be difficult and/or expensive to clear).

Although 1980s synth-pop, ambient, and even disco influence Greene’s music (like that of Dan Snaith, who records as Caribou and previously Manitoba), shoegaze hovers in the background as a seminal genre that opened up possibilities for soundscapes and atmosphere in indie and DIY music. The dreamy, mellow vocal style of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell of 1990s English shoegazers Slowdive, twining slow, sustained harmonies, and the band’s famous dynamic guitar washes, aided by banks of effects pedals, all seem to have deeply affected Greene. Slowdive’s ambient 5 EP (Creation, 1993) and its companion, In Mind Remixes EP (Creation, 1993), as well as the Souvlaki (Creation, 1993) and Pygmalion (Creation, 1995) albums, seem particularly close to Greene. Washed Out, like another shoegaze-sans-guitars act, M83, simply could not have existed without the precedent of shoegazing. This is most evident on the stunning opener “Eyes Be Closed.” Another standout track, “Far Away,” uses strings (perhaps cello) to create texture and affect, recalling Ride’s classic single “Vapor Trail” a bit. “Far Away” creates a pensive but expansive feeling and an image of color-sound waves rippling through a vast cathedral. Greene is fascinated by huge swaths of sound, like broad, sun-faded canvas sails rippling against a cloudless blue sky.

Odd, transcendent moments from the history of pop, such as the rising swells of sound in the midst of the hit single “I’m Not Alone” by 10CC, seem to have been taken to heart by Greene. The warm, fuzzy synth-popper “Amor Fati” sounds like a stoned Howard Jones remixed by Neil Halstead. “You and I” is a dreamy dirge in the now-signature Washed Out style, and for some reason I could hear it on the soundtrack to a lost episode of Miami Vice. The melancholy and atmospheric closer “A Dedication” uses piano and echoed vocals before introducing a hip-hop beat, recalling Doves or Thom Yorke solo.

Within and Without is a very good, very well-crafted album. It spins glistening cocoons of sound that envelope the listener. Moreover, it is at times surprisingly understated and personal. Greene seems to be making the music he wants to and is by no means pandering to any particular audience. I feel that Washed Out has suffered to a small extent from the weight of critical discussion and buildup that resulted after Greene’s music was discovered on the underground level. Also, the fact that this album is produced by Ben H. Allen, who not only co-produced Animal Collective’s acclaimed breakout album Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino, 2009), but also produced Cee-Lo Green and Gnarls Barkley, also stirs the imagination to dream of sonic possibilities that aren’t always realized. If Within and Without doesn’t totally meet hyperbolic, admittedly subjective expectations, it is an appealing, open-feeling, and often transporting debut album.

On their third album, Vivian Girls stretch out a little bit and take a few risks, ultimately delivering a slightly more mature, ever-so-slightly more mellow record than their eponymous debut (Mauled By Tigers/In the Red, 2008) or its follow-up Everything Goes Wrong (In the Red, 2009). Doing so seems a smart move, since so many other bands that have come along in the past few years have drawn or branched from the Brooklyn band’s sound/style with success (Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls, et al). It makes sense for the trio to keep moving on and avoid being pigeonholed.

In some ways, Share the Joy can be compared to another third album by an all-woman band from California, Talk Show (I.R.S., 1984) by The Go-Go’s, a band who had roots in the 1978 Los Angeles punk scene before smoothing out their sound and recording enduring and still-appealing hits like “Our Lips Are Sealed” (1981). Both Talk Show and Share the Joy offer more thoughtful mid-tempo material and explore more serious emotional territory, including themes of betrayal and self-doubt, than their respective predecessor LPs. Neither album, however, sacrifices the rock nor eschews catchy pop songs. Vivian Girls — who are named for the seven sister heroines who rebel against enslaving oppressors in outsider artist Henry Darger’s once-hidden, voluminous graphic novel In the Realms of the Unreal — have the advantage of support from their respected new label Polyvinyl and the opportunity to develop their own sound. On the other hand, The Go-Go’s, pressured to move “product,” were told by their producer all of their drum beats would be looped from perfectly played measures, minimizing human error in timekeeping, to the horror of drummer Gina Schock.

Moving from the 1980s to the 1990s, Share the Joy’s economical, melodic guitar riffs, simple solos, and fuzzy chord patterns and appealing vocal harmonies also recall another all-woman band, this time from London: the much-missed Lush. Vivian Girls still draw from early- and mid-1960s pop-rock, girl group, jangly indie-pop, and garage-rock styles but with a bit more individuality than previously. In other words, Vivian Girls sound more like themselves than ever before.

Share the Joy is a bit of a “grower” album in that not every single track on the record evinces the same immediate accessibility as much of the earlier material. It’s not as though hooks are absent, however, as the catchy “Sixteen Ways” and the lovely, appealing “I Heard You Say” prove.  “Take It As It Comes” is in the classic girl group mode with a cute, self-aware spoken-word introduction and interludes. “Light In Your Eyes” is a wonderfully dynamic closer that builds and creates tension much like the later work of The Buzzcocks. The song is a fitting bookend to the album, balancing the other six-plus-minute tune, the opener “The Other Girls.” Six minutes is downright epochal for the Vivian Girls’ usual standards, it might be noted, suggesting their development as a band. “The Other Girls” features a longish guitar solo with a passage that sounds slightly atonal and wandering before moving on to a more melodic resolution, then into a satisfying coda with thick vocal harmonies. The moment of doubt, of skating on thin ice, that precedes the resolution makes it so much sweeter when it arrives.

Hopefully, Vivian Girls will continue to evolve and avoid the pitfalls that made Talk Show The Go-Go’s final album (barring one forgotten reunion album from 2001).

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.

The Warlocks’ debut album Rise and Fall, originally released in 2001, is a contemporary space-rock gem. This reissue includes their very good eponymous EP from the previous year, plus eight previously unreleased tracks that merit release. Drawing primarily from the mid-to-late 1960s and late 1980s/early 1990s periods, The Warlocks forge a thick, formidable wall of psychedelic sound. At the time, this always large band encompassed 10 souls, which one can imagine would have made it hard to play small clubs. Like their West Coast forbears The Grateful Dead (who were previously known as The Warlocks, hmmm…) they use multiple drummers and embark upon percussive jams. The sleeve notes even list one Anton Newcombe, leader of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, as a stick-wielder. Early BJM is probably the closest contemporary to The Warlocks in terms of style; both Lab Partners and The Black Angels even more so, seeing as they all work in similar trippy territory. Multiple percussionists at various points provide a thunderous, driving, or shifting base onto which resonant bass, feedback, sustained guitar chords, and jangly riffs (played by at least three guitarists) are overlaid. In their widescreen vision and mind-expanding intent, several similarities can be seen between each of these modern bands, though Warlocks stand out as perhaps the very best.

I thought reviewing Rise and Fall would be a cinch, since I had already written up their debut for Skyscraper when Bomp! released it a decade ago. Consulting my old review, I was dismayed to find that the potency of The Warlocks’ opiate had reduced my mind to quivering jelly, so the review was mostly gibberish… I mean, avant-garde prose. Such is the potency of this barnstorming band. But it’s not all thunderbolts and raging seas; “Motorcycles,” a lilting waltz, presents their softer side. It recalls a lovely B-Side, “Then We’ll Rise,” by a first-wave shoegaze band that seems to have been influential, Chapterhouse. A band that influenced both Chapterhouse and The Warlocks is the iconic Spacemen 3 (which spawned Spiritualized and Spectrum, in turn). Spacemen 3 classic platters The Perfect Prescription (Glass, 1987) and Playing with Fire (Fire, 1989), with their use of minimalist drone alternating with maximalist hypnotic effects, are clearly signposts for The Warlocks. Likewise, so are the heavy distortion, simple chord structures, and disaffected vocals of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Other possible 1980s influences might include Love and Rockets (see “Cocaine Blues”), Butthole Surfers, and Loop. Going back further, a band that influenced all of these, The Velvet Underground (with or without Nico) is a huge touchstone both musically and in the image of the band.  “Song for Nico,” from the EP, is kind of a big clue; it recalls not only VU but also Chapterhouse’s “If You Want Me” and early BJM. A love of the Rolling Stones and stoned grooves links The Warlocks with Primal Scream and their game-changing Screamadelica album (Creation, 1991). Along with VU and The Stones, another classic band, Pink Floyd, both of the Syd Barrett era in which they would freak out London audiences in 1966 and ‘67 with their tempestuous, unpredictable sonic explorations, and to a lesser extent, the smoother Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol, 1973) period, is clearly influential.

Led by Bobby Hecksher, The Warlocks are much more than the sum of their influences, however, and they aren’t a retro act. They have their own contemporary brand of swagger, decadence, irony, and dark humor.  The Warlocks have released four albums since Rise and Fall, but their debut remains one of their best, and this reissue plus bonus disc is most welcome.

Talahomi Way is one of The High Llamas’ most gentle albums, which is saying something. Their ninth studio album, it is meticulously crafted and orchestrated to realize their vision, informed by a rich knowledge of pop history. That The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan finds great inspiration from Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys is axiomatic, but this particular record seems to focus on (among other influences, including Brazilian ones) the quirky and understated 1968 soft-pop album Friends (Capitol, 1968), which was a commercial failure at the time of its release, deemed irrelevant by many amidst assassinations and anti-war protests.  This emphasis on Friends is blended with the long-running influence of the much more well-known classic Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966) and material from the unfinished Smile album.  A few of Talahomi Way’s tracks are reminiscent of The High Llamas’ fantastic Hawaii album (V2, 1996), a fan favorite.

Opener “Berry Adams,” with its harpsichord, analogue synth, vibraphone, a familiar string arrangement, and light male vocals, is a winning slice of retro soft-pop.  “Wander, Jack Wander” is a pleasant retro-lounge instrumental with vibraphone, mellow organ, and strings.  “The Ring of Gold” entrances with repeating figures and rapid alternating notes executed by the strings. Brian Wilson’s collaborator Van Dyke Parks, the Curt Boettcher-produced projects Sagittarius and The Millennium, Harper’s Bizarre, The Association, and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band are some names that 1960s pop and soft-psych aficionados may think of while listening to the lovely Talahomi Way.

With this sunshine sound, The High Llamas blend little touches of 1950s lounge or exotica artists such as Martin Denny. The Boo Radleys’ quietest moments and the pastoral solo album by their singer Sice using the handle Eggman, First Fruits (Creation, 1996), may come to mind, along with studio-wizard classic rockers Steely Dan. The jaunty “Fly, Baby, Fly” evokes an image of The Four Seasons produced by Brian Wilson, while the brief, space-age “Angel Connector” recalls their remix album Lollo Rosso (V2, 1998). “A Rock in May” is a colorful slice of Van Dyke Parks-style Americana, while “Take My Hand” and “Woven and Rolled” incorporate elements of classic Brazilian pop and bossa nova.

Really the only conceivable complaint about Talahomi Way might be that it has been four years since the last High Llamas album, and we may desire more than 33-minutes of new Llamas, even if there are 11 tracks.  Every minute of this record, however, is carefully crafted and produced, and it’s better to leave the listener wanting more than feeling over-satiated. Talahomi Way is very nice, clearly an aesthetic success, and intriguing in its use of pastiche and carefully arranged sonic details.

As a disclaimer, I’m normally not a fan of concert films or live albums, having suffered through the likes of Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same (Warner Bros., 1976) as a kid when they were my favorite band, or more recently, The Stone Roses’ Blackpool Live (Windsong, 1991). The former was chock full of all the rock’n’roll clichés exposed so well in Spinal Tap, while the latter exposed what all of us kind of knew, namely, that Ian Brown just cannot sing! I am, however, intrigued by the recent spate of bands performing classic albums in a live setting (All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Don’t Look Back series, et al), so after waxing poetic over the 20th Anniversary edition of Screamadelica (one of my all-time favorite albums) recently for Skyscraper, I jumped at the chance to review Screamadelica Live.

Filmed on November 26, 2010, at London’s Olympia Theatre, Screamadelica Live finds Bobby Gillespie and company in stellar form. Complete with a super tight horn section, a phenomenal gospel choir, a spectacular light show, and looking sharp in black suits, white shirts, and black ties, this was obviously a fantastic night out for the packed audience. Directed by George Scott, the cinematography is great; lots of really good close-ups of the band and not too many clichéd audience shots, apart from the occasional guy/girl breaking the cardinal rule of not wearing the concert t-shirt at the concert!

Although billed as a performance of Screamadelica in its entirety, the set list deviates slightly from the original album. But the sequencing makes sense here, with two blocks of upbeat material sandwiching the ballads. The concert opens with the same trio of tunes that kickstarts Screamadelica. “Movin’ On Up” sounds great with Martin Duffy’s honky tonk piano, the twin Rolling Stones-fueled guitars of Andrew Innes and Barry Cadogan, and the pristine horn section and choir stealing the show. Gillespie’s vocals here and elsewhere aren’t always up to par with his band’s performance, but the lead singer’s voice is greatly aided by the choir who tend to hit most of the high notes. That said, Gillespie does stand out on some of the ballads in the middle of the set, especially the bluesy “Damaged.” “Slip Inside This House” follows, and it is highlighted by some amazing psychedelic lighting effects. “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” keeps the party going with Mary Pierce taking on the lead vocals (Denise Johnson performed on the album). After that the band takes it down a notch, as the aforementioned “Damaged,” the spacey “I’m Coming Down,” “Shine Light Stars,” and the trippy instrumental “Inner Flight” provide some breathing room before the spectacular finale.

The concluding three tracks of the set are worth the price of the DVD alone. Because Screamadelica contains two versions of “Higher Than the Sun” (the single version and The Orb’s dub rendition), it was unclea how Primal Scream would approach it on stage. They manage to combine the two and then some, as the band delivers a stellar rendition of the standard version before bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield sets off on a captivating dub journey, spiced with some electrifying guitar work. The trio builds to a crushing finale that rivals the power of Mani’s old band, The Stone Roses, on “I Am The Resurrection” and “Fool’s Gold.” “Loaded” is even better, as a “Sympathy For The Devil”-like groove and the famous Peter Fonda samples drive the crowd into a frenzy. The concluding “Come Together” is fittingly the highlight of the set. As with “Higher Than the Sun” the group opts to combine the best elements of the Andrew Weatherall-produced sample-heavy version that is on the initial UK (and 20th Anniversary) edition with the more conventional Terry Farley mix from the US version of the album, which features extensive Gillespie vocals. Personally, I actually prefer the latter version for its uplifting lyrical message, as well as the fact that it features one of Gillespie’s finest recorded vocal moments, which he nails pretty well here too.

As a bonus, Screamadelica Live also contains a 40-minute “rock and roll” set which the band played earlier that evening. The eight songs here are all pretty amazing, especially the hard psych meets techno fury of Vanishing Point and Xtrmntr standouts “Accelerator,” “Burning Wheel,” “Swastika Eyes,” and “Shoot Speed/Kill Light.”

Adam Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep is one of those rare books that, as soon as people hear about it or see it, it immediately grabs their attention. And it was no different for my household and me. I read it between checking the mail and leaving for work (pretty much on the walk from my front door to the slots where we organize the mail) and put it on our downstairs record shelf to display its cover for housemates and visitors. Once it was visible, I took pleasure in seeing and hearing people notice it for the first time. Invariably, there’s a statement along the lines of “What the fuck is that?” followed by quiet reading and laughing, or sometimes reading aloud while laughing.

The book is presented in a fashion that I’ve colloquially been describing as “children’s books for adults who grew up with children’s book,” a category that I would also group McSweeney’s “Baby Be of Use” books into, including Baby Mix Me a Drink and Baby Do My Banking. And I just discovered once again how unoriginal I am, or that I’ve heard that phrase before somewhere else, because upon looking Go the Fuck to Sleep up on Wikipedia just now, it says, “Go the Fuck to Sleep is written as a ‘children’s book for adults’.” Eh. Written in an ABCB rhyme scheme and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés in a fashion typical of children’s books, it calls back to classic bedtime stories such as Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon while at the same time presenting adult themes, in this case profanity and parents’ exasperated frustration over their fucking kids who won’t go the fuck to sleep.

I have no children of my own, but I know the difficulty of getting young kids to go to sleep from my experiences babysitting as a teenager. There was one family for whom I babysat whose children would promptly stand up at 8:00 or 9:00 PM and say, “Well, we should probably start getting ready for bed.” It kind of startled me every time, my thoughts being, “What, you’re not going to try to convince me to play Nerf Wars for another hour, or lock yourself in the bathroom, or start bawling and saying it’s unfair, or call you parents, or run away, or any of the ridiculous shit that other kids I’ve babysat try to pull right at bedtime?” So although I have no current personal frame of reference for this battle, I do know from past experience how this goes.

Along that same line of thinking, I’m not familiar with what it’s like to raise kids in this time period of the every-softening treatment of children. Even when I was growing up, although the trend towards viewing our offspring as extra-special had already begun, it has definitely reached a point of parody by now. Macy Halford’s review of this book in The New Yorker draws attention to this factor by saying that whereas parents in the past would just leave their kids pleading in bed, parents these days attempt to coax their children to sleep through attention and patience. I feel like I come from an era in between these two approaches; although my parents would talk to me before bed or read to me as a child, I also seem to remember staring at the clock for long hours into the night.

She also points out that the book, which reached the number two bestseller spot on Amazon before galley copies had even been distributed and, according to the press release held the number one spot for as consecutive week (and counting) a month before publication, started as a result of the positive feedback Mansbach received from a Facebook post about trying to get his daughter to fall asleep. Coincidentally enough, I was inspired to respond to the press release with a request for a galley copy by a Facebook post from my brother’s wife regarding trying to get their six-month-old baby to sleep. (I just tried to find if but it’s too far back.) To paraphrase, though, the introduction text said something along the lines of, “After rocking and singing to her for an hour, turns out this is what worked.” Then there was a video showing Emily in her crib asleep with a noisy sound which pans over to show the hair dryer on, sitting on a cribside table.

After a lengthy wait of four years, this Austin, Texas, instrumental band returns with six compositions of dynamic grandeur. While this new full-length album is not likely to shock listeners familiar with Explosions In the Sky’s previous work, its quiet spaces can be challenging, even avant-garde. Overall, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is an engrossing and impressive collection of songs that at once highlights the band’s strengths and emotional depth, while also revealing an exploratory spirit.

The opener, “Last Known Surroundings,” an atmospheric mid-tempo rock song drenched in feedback and delay, is simply gorgeous. Like the other longer tracks on the album, it comprises different sections that enable the band to move through dynamic moods. Its eventual motif of three descending notes repeated in a spacious shoegaze context is oddly reminiscent of Don Henley’s 1980s classic “Boys of Summer.” The influence of beloved 1990s English shoegaze band Slowdive is in evidence here, too: the use of delay pedal is deft, creating ornate curtains of melody. The second half of the contemplative “Human Qualities” moves into an up-tempo rhythm with notes in rapid succession, recalling the cadences of the hammered dulcimer. “Trembling Hands” uses an insistent single-note loop of staccato human-sounding “ah” vocalism, which is unusual for the Explosions. The effect recalls the ethereal-but-rocking post-punk bands of Britain in the 1980s, such as The Sound and Comsat Angels. Beginning with quiet and pretty guitar phrases, “Be Comfortable, Creature” is a compassionate composition eventually employing lovely legato tones via the EBow (a gadget you hold up to the strings to produce an arco or bowed effect, a favorite of Galaxie 500 and Luna guitarist Dean Wareham and, before him, Robert Fripp). “Postcard From 1952” is true to its title, not that it sounds like fluffy Eisenhower-era pop but rather it nostalgically evokes a golden era, one of bliss and beauty and light. The melodiousness of the guitars recalls the fetching arpeggios of The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. It employs a shimmering melody, evoking the more wistful moments of The Smiths’ Louder than Bombs (Rough Trade, 1987), and builds to a powerful, stunning conclusion.

That Explosions In the Sky is able to create the potent range of affects and atmospheres that they do here is a major accomplishment. The band truly works together as an ensemble to pursue a common emotional or aesthetic goal. It is truly assuring this band exists and that they make the engaging, beautiful music that they do and that they have had a forum to explore and create and reach me and you.