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Reviews:

2011 Record Reviews

Azita Disturbing the Air review

AZITA
Disturbing the Air
[Drag City]

The twelve songs on Disturbing the Air probably won’t get stuck in your head. Having been freed from Azita’s mind, they aren't likely to be confined ever again. What may linger, however, is the melancholy feeling and dark mood created by her sparse piano ballads. I don't know that Azita creates outsider art, but she definitely works on the outside of conventional music. She always has, despite her training in classical piano. From her time in no wave bands, Scissor Girls and Bride of No No, Azita has always brought a challenge to the turntable. What was once loud, abrasive and impossible to ignore has become equally challenging and confrontational on a different emotional level. With just her voice and simple, at times atonal, piano lines, Azita creates haunting songs of emptiness and loneliness that won’t quickly fade from your psyche.

PC Jones

 

Bachelorette album review

Bachelorette
S/T
[Drag City]

Annabel Alpers is Bachelorette and as such she creates spacy, dreamy soundscapes that seem to transcend her earthly bindings. Alpers, who is from Auckland, New Zealand (down under and over), wrote and recorded the music for this record while on tour across several continents. Whatever geographic location gave inception to the songs, they seem to float untethered to any natural or imaginary borders. Alpers fuses together organic and electronic elements to create her music, which might technically be called techno or synth pop, but the strongest instrument is her own hypnotic voice. Overall, a completely digable album that cleverly sneaks into the brain where it hides and lies dormant until the most unsuspecting moments.

Bad Cop I Can't Slow Down Digital EP review

Bad Cop
I Can't Slow Down Digital EP
[Jeffrey Drag]

Bad Cop are some young dudes from Nashville who do a pretty dang good bang-up job of playing garage rock. They seem to pay as much attention to the fuzz as to the hook and the chorus and the song as a whole—not always the case in the genre. This 3 song, 2 video EP is not just adrenaline pumping (there’s certainly that), but it's got substance too. Lead off track “Animal” exemplifies that previous point, reminding one of Screaming Trees, who also paid homage with tips of the hat. “Maniac" is in the middle and a smidge more manic. "Gloom Bank," is gloomy, sure, but still suitable for buggin’ out. Videos for "Gloom Bank" and "Maniac" comprise the difference. They're low budget, low brow and bloody, just how you like 'em. And it’s free to download, so download it freely here.

Jubson Jones

Birds & Arrows We’re Gonna Run review

Birds and Arrows
We’re Gonna Run

[Knox]

Birds & Arrows are a husband and wife (Andrea & Pete Connolly) duo that's recently expanded into a trio with the addition of cellist, Josh Starmer. B&A play a whimsical brand of folk music which includes, but is not limited to ballads of love and songs of yearning. Based out of Chapel Hill, NC, the group has been gaining press nods recently and with good reason. They create catchy tunes with sweet vocal harmonies that pontificate on universal themes and feelings that are sure to strike a chord in hopeless romantics everywhere. I know it makes me want to get married... again.

Warren Jeffs

Blasted Diplomats self-titled cassette review

Blasted Diplomats
self-titled
[Plus Tapes]

There's something instantly familiar about the Blasted Diplomats, which makes sense—all four members are long-time record store employees. Osmosis alone would mean these guys have absorbed thousands of hours of rock music and peeped plenty of album art. So at their heart, the Blast Mats are a product of that music overload. What comes through most evidently on this self-titled debut cassette is their affinity for the indie guitar rock of the early to mid 1990s and bands like Grifters, Archers of Loaf and Gaunt. The tape is comprised of ten songs—a mix of tracks recorded both live and in the studio. The studio tracks are pretty raw and stripped down while the live tracks show the Blast Mats working their boozy charm on a party crowd thus reinforcing the unpretentious attitude of the studio songs. Given its look to the previous decade for inspiration it's only fitting then that a cassette is the chosen format for this release. Fine by me, time to get blasted.

READ: An Blasted Diplomats interview

P.C. Jones

The Cynics Spinning Wheel Motel review

The Cynics
Spinning Wheel Motel

[Get Hip]

Were I more fluent in the language and history of garage rock, I would spout off a litany of ancient band names and sacred recordings from which the Cynics undoubtedly draw inspiration. However, I'm not, so I won't. What I can say is that the Cynics have been playing Nuggets-inspired garage rock psychedelia for so long, you can hardly call it revivalism. At this point, it's beyond retro. The result has been a half dozen albums and a whole mess of singles over three decades--it's no wonder then that The Cynics are so good at this stuff. From the jangly rockin' opener of "I Need More" to slower, more reflective tunes like "Bells and Trains" and the title track "Spinning Wheel Motel," The Cynics seemed to have cracked the code for making classic-sounding records no matter what decade they find themselves in.

Jubson Jones

The Eternals Approaching the Energy Field review

The Eternals
Approaching the Energy Field
[Addenda]

I've always imagined The Eternals to be a bit of a spiritual incarnation of the Clash—like they started with side seven of Sandinista and just kept going from there. They are definitely adept at genre blending, experimenting with effects, pushing the boundaries and sometimes they feel like funkin' it up. They're also not necessarily as concerned with pleasing the public as they are with charting their own course. Unlike the Clash, yet very like Wayne and Damon's previous band Trenchmouth, The Eternals may be one of the most underrated and overlooked bands putting out records today (and yes this is a real vinyl record). Kinda hard to figure. Their blend of hip hop, dub and rock produces beats that, while might not play well in the clubs, I would think would have appeal to the hip hop kids, especially those more politically attuned and left of center. Approaching the Energy Field is an album in the true sense and it needs to be listened to as such. There's a continuity to it, it's sequenced to flow and, as far as I can tell, there's some narrative continuity to it lyrically as well. It's a friggin' good record by a band that just keeps getting better because they never stop trying to be better. The Etenals may not be well known in Chicago or even the States, but Brazillians of people appreciate them in South America at least.

Chris Auman

Followed by Static Bacon Bear review

Followed by Static
Bacon Bear
[Fuzz Pop]

Austin, Texas band, Followed by Static, play a brand a lo-fi guitar rock that contains more than a hint of psychedelicness. The four songs on the Bacon Bear EP harkens my brain back to an earlier time of Oklahoma and the young, dosed Flaming Lips circa Here it Is. But the sound actually goes back farther than that. There's a 60s garage rock influence evident on "Bacon Bear" and "Cop Gloves," which also benefit from a bouncy countrified beat. "Trash" jumps a decade forward sounding like a 70s slow churning rock monster and the eerie "Hey Skeleton," like Austin itself, just gets weird.

Chris Auman

The Girls Remote View b/w Lord Auch 7" review

The Girls
Remote View b/w Lord Auch 7"
[HoZac]

"Remote View" opens with a nasty, descending guitar chord progression before blasting into chunks of alienating scuzzed out punk. I like chunks of that shit in my punk rock. "Lord Auch" delivers more of all that but also features a killer chorus in it's rabid attack. It's paranoid, it's skitzoid, it's Seattleoid.

Joey T. Germ

Heidecker & Wood Starting from Nowhere review

Heidecker and Wood
Starting from Nowhere

[Little Record Company]

Let's get this out of the way first: Tim Heidecker is the co-creator of Adult Swim's Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Davin Wood is a composer on that show as well. If you're familiar with the Awesome Show then it's really hard to listen to record as a serious musical effort. Watching the Awesome Show is like watching someone get punked over and over again and that someone is you. So, how do you take a song like "Cross Country Skiing" seriously given the background of these guys? It ain't easy. It's hard to find that thin line if you're looking for it. For example, "Weatherman" was a song that started out as a composition for the show, but was expanded upon by the duo and here it is on this LP.

Keeping the satiric and ironic nature of the two separate in your brain proves difficult and maybe even pointless, especially considering songs like "The Grandest Canyon," "Wedding Song," and "Cross Country Skiing". Just where is that thin line between irony and sincerity? Remember after 9/11 when they told us this single tragic event would be the end of irony as we knew it (and action movies, and really tall buildings, etc.)? Well, Heidecker and Wood may truly single that end. Maybe the jokes on me. Maybe there is no joke. In fact, there probably isn't. This may simply be the duo's chance to unleash their 70s AM radio influences on a built-in audience. The end result is eleven songs and one bonus track of breezy yacht rock. Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, even Elvis Costello get thrown into the slow-jam stew, but I can't help feeling like I just got punked when I listen to this record. You can come out now, Kutcher!

PC Jones

The High Llamas Talahomi Way review

The High Llamas
Talahomi Way
[Drag City]

It’s interesting that we should receive this album the same week as Heidecker & Wood's Starting from Nowhere. They’re very similar in their approach to pop music. The High Llamas have been at it for a lot longer of course and it’s hard to determine exactly where Heidecker & Wood are coming from. The Llamas, led by founder Sean O'Hagan, have been at it since 1992 releasing nine records in that near twenty year span. I have not heard any of the band's preceding eight efforts, nor am I familiar with O'Hagan's previous bands Fatima Mansions or Microdisney. I can only assume that he, like many artists with any sort of career longevity, started at one point and arrived at another. Beach Boy comparisons have been a theme throughout the Llama's career and O'Hagan has professed a love of Burt Bacharach, so the lush and orchestrated music on Talahomi Way is no surprise. And is that a harp I hear? Probably. I can picture this record playing softly at a Yonkers as people shop for shoes. That's not to say that it's cheesy or the work of hacks. Quite contrary, it's very well crafted. Every note seems to have been meticulously plotted and every arrangement painstakingly planned. Lead off track "Berry Adams" is the standout tune for me, although "To the Abbey" is its rival with a catchy, breezy hook. If there's one single thing that The Llamas do especially well is create music that has a timeless quality to it, yet stills seems very specific to a certain time.

Chris Auman

The Mediums Shiny Void Blues review

The Mediums
Shiny Void Blues

[E.V.P./I.T.C]

Chicago garage psych masters, The Mediums, come heavy with the blues-based freakouts. Seems like the Mediums have moved on from the straight-up 60s garage rock sound and into a more blues-based concept. Easily recognizable riffs pop up only to veer left or right at the last minute. Side two is when the sonic fury really comes to bear with frenzied guitar riffage breaking out hither and yon and then back hither.

Read an interview with The Mediums.

Joey T. Germ

Michael Yonkers with The Blind Shake Period review

Michael Yonkers with The Blind Shake
Period

[SS Records]

Michael Yonkers is the kind of musical figure that music geeks really like to geek out over (no offense to geeks): he’s obscure, he’s got an unfortunate back story, he suffers from an unfortunate back injury and he's got a back catalog that stretches back over five decades.

Yonker’s tale of failure in the mainstream music industry was the shelving of his Microminiature Love record by Sire in the late 60s. Now considered a psychedelic masterpiece by more than a few aficionados of the genre, it has since been released by both De Stilj Records and Sub Pop. Yonkers wrote a series of bleak folk albums after Microminiature Love which have also seen re-release on various small labels, but his work with Blind Shake is his return to form in terms of heavy, challenging pysch rock. Which brings us to their latest collaboration, Period. This eleven song album of heavy, metallic blues and crushing noise guitar is a terminal punctuation point with Yonker's deadpan vocal delivery cutting through the chaos to make us feel just a little more alienated. Not that we need any help driving in that direction. Hopefully, this period doesn't mark the end of Yonker's output but refers rather to a particular section of time. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into that title. Probably.

Jubson Jones

Mike Mountain Hiding in the Rock review

Mike Mountain
Hiding in the Rock

[no label]

Mike Mountain (Mike Mtn. for short) is a four-piece rock band from New Bedford, MA. They play your basic blues-based rock music. Nothing new there. However, what makes this band unique from say, any number of bands jamming and drinking in garages, basements and practice spaces all across the universe right now (and there are millions) is the bizarre quality of the lyrics. Let me give you a taste from the lead-off track “Acid at the Funeral”: Cut my feet on glass/Eighth-grade mustache The natives in my head/have a banquet and some cash

These are either cut & paste, stream of conscious or both. The record continues in this thematic lyrical vein with "Las Vegas Waltz" which sounds like it's about Lyme disease but isn't, nor is it a waltz; "Freebird 33-1/3 " does not sound like Skynyrd on vinyl played at long-player speed; "Two Little Bossmen" is demented Dylan and "Put 'Em on Ice" name checks Slick Rick, of all people. So, if you're getting the impression that Mike Mountain is a little off, then I've done my job.

Jubson Jones

Pterodactyl Spills Out review

Pterodactyl
Spills Out

[Brah/Jagjaguwar]

Pterodactyl take the falsetto vocals of early Who, Beatles and Beach Boys, bring it to a boil in Brooklyn, then bake it in the studio for days on end before serving it to an unsuspecting public. The result is a delicious blend of shimmering pop tunes with plenty of hooks and almost more sounds than a soft squishy brain can absorb in one sitting. That’s understandable, the record is layered with vocals and guitar tracks, organs, megaphones and toy keyboards which has the tendency to send songs into the realm of otherworldliness—they seem to want to scatter and veer off into every different direction at once. Surprisingly, however, they are secured by some sort of invisible fence that keeps it all together... might be the rhythm section doing that anchoring but it's tough to tell. It's something that I'd rather appreciate without thinking too much about.

Jubson Jones

The Sentinels Music of the Pleistocene review

The Sentinels
Music of the Pleistocene

[Imperius Rex]

I prefer the music of the Holocene Epoch myself, but I guess they were really just building on what was already going on in the Pleistocene Epoch, creatively speaking. At any rate, Music of the Pleistocene is a strong debut from the Chicago four piece, The Sentinels. The instrumental core of the band is comprised of a few local rock veterans you may remember as being The Tuffets a few years back. The Sentinels sound nothing like that proto metalling trio. No, this band comes at you from a straight rock angle, employing the requisite riffs and rhythms to allow vocalist Liz Elle to work it out on the mic. Which she does by trafficking in such human emotions as love, loss and lusting after girls (you read that right). The record sounds great, the songs are well-thought out, the choruses are as catchy as they should be, which leads me to the conclusion that The Sentinels are, in fact, Guardians of Rock.

Chris Auman

TORTURED TONGUES  "Let Me Down" b/w "Feed the Flys" + "To Death"

Tortured Tongues
"Let Me Down" b/w "Feed the Flys" + "To Death" (HoZac)

If it were possible for Tortured Tongues to reach a level where they cared less about what anybody thought of their music, then I'm sure they would try to get there in a hurry. I'm showing my age here (eighty-five next week) but The Tongues remind me of the ultimate bad time band, Flipper and their brand of bummer rock. There's a similar unsettling effect with whatever is going on here. You've got to turn up the Loud and turn up the Angry if you're going to listen this record, and really bad ditchweed would only enhance the experience.

Muggsy McMurphy

GENTLEMAN JESSE & HIS MEN  " You’ve Got the Wrong Man" b/w "Stuborn Ghost"

Gentleman Jesse and His Men
"You’ve Got the Wrong Man" b/w "Stuborn Ghost" (HoZac)

Georgian and Organ Donor (and Gentlman) Jesse Smith digs poppy, jangly 60s pop music. I know this because of the two songs on this record. The one hundred and fifty-five pound, six foot one, Gentle J. and the additional en rock and roll out two tuneful nuggets here that you can surely get the hand-clap machine going on if you got an inkling that way. Be sure to wish Jesse a happy birthday on May 17th. I believe he'll be thirty-one this year.

P.C. Jones

HEAVY TIMES "No Plans" b/w "Ice Age" review

Heavy Times
"No Plans" b/w "Ice Age"
[HoZac]

"No Plans" is a bouncy little number with a sixties pop guitar lick. "Ice Age" is similarily so and it flies by much quicker than you would expect an Ice Age to. This record is so lo-fi, it sounds like it was recorded in a parking lot in Paw Paw, Michigan. As it turns out, however, it was recorded in a parking lot in Ypsilanti.

Paw Paw Pete

Tom Comerford Archive + Spiral review

Tom Comerford
Archive + Spiral

[Spacesuit Records]

Tom Comerford, he of the long-running Chicago outfit, Kaspar Hauser, has brought forth a solo record unto the world. Using a different cast of musician friends and peers, Tom and Company recorded the eight songs of Archive + Spiral at a place called the Glamour Hole. Despite that studio's name, the resulting record is more ragged glory than razzle dazzle. While the record sounds undoubtedly like a Kaspar Hauser album, with its well-worn Americana sound and Tom's distinctive vocal delivery, Archive + Spiral might just be a little more laid back and a touch more melancholy.

The songs themselves sound more subdued than his previous work. There certainly seems to be a wider variety of instrumentation: mandolin, 12-string and baritone guitars, piano, organ, even handclaps fill out the arrangements. Traces of Tom's long-time influences: early REM and the Velvet Underground become evident at a listen, (there's even a countrified version of "Sunday Morning)" and the song "Dear Stephen Hauser" sounds like an American version of an 80s Robyn Hitchcock song. Archive + Spiral fits nicely into the Comerford/Kaspar Hauser canon of releases that sound both old and new, familiar yet unique.

Chris Auman

Vernon Selavy Apple Seeds 7” review

Vernon Selavy
Apple Seeds 7”

[Shit Music for Shit People]

Vernon Sélavy is Vincenzo Marando (Movie Star Junkies) and Roberto Grosso Sategna (Ten Dogs) from San Salvario in Turin, Italy. Yes Italy, but listening to this record, you wouldn't necessarily know that these guys didn't live down the street from the Black Lips or The Black Keys. They don't just sing in English, they play in American. This seven inch features three tunes saturated in the sound of the American South: gospel, rhythm and blues, maybe a hint of soul and a touch of folk. These musical influences are still as sacred today as they ever were and apparently that's not a sentiment limited to these shores. Limited edition of 300 copies. Features a pretty cool two-color woodcut print by artist and fellow musician, Mojomatt Bordin.

Shroudy O'Turin

Wooden Shjips Remixes 12" review

Wooden Shjips
Remixes 12"
(Thrill Jockey)

1Fans of the San Fran band, Wooden Shjips, as well as fans of vinyl and 12” remixes, will be happy with this new Thrill Jockey release—as will fans of stuff that's limited edition, as well as fans of droning, spacey stoner music. The Remixes EP features three songs utilizing the mixing and production talents of Andrew Weatherall, Sonic Boom (Pete Kember of Spacemen 3) and Kandodo (aka Simon Price of The Heads). In Weatherall’s hands, the first track “Crossing” (from last year's West LP) slows down the pace of the original, strips out the guitar, ups the bass and adds some synth to the mix, thus creating a more electronic edge than previously present. Pete Kember, who helped master the West album, took it upon his ownself to cook up "Wiking Stew (aka Red Krayola-ing)" as a mashup of tunes from that record. For "Ursus Maritimus (Last Bear’s Lament)" The Shjip’s Ripley Johnson laid down the main structure for Kandodo, who added various instrumentation to create a droning, twelve minute collage that is haunting in its stark chain-gang clang—like breaking rocks, not in the hot sun, but under a black moon. You feel me?

Jubson Jones

Wooden Shjips West review

Wooden Shjips
West

[Thrill Jockey]

Wooden Shjips (pronounced Shjips) are not afraid to sail out into a stoner rock squall. Aye, these four shjipmates are likely to throw up a jib and stretch out leeward or aft for the better part of ten minutes if they get a taste for it. Not in a jam band sorta way, mind you, but with more of a trance-like, hypnotic repetition that harkens back across time and the ocean to Brit band Loop or maybe even Monster Magnet circa Tab...25 back east stateside.

“Black Smoke Rise” kicks off this seven song set with fuzzed out guitar, followed by reverb-soaked keys and vocals. That's the Shjip's template for the most part; those elements winding and wafting their way through a hazy tour of intermittent guitar solos, guitar washes and assorted studio effects. There are some slight zigs and the occasional zag of departure: “Lazy Bones” ironically enough, steps up the tempo; “Home” flirts coyly with a classic rock riff; “Looking Out” is downright bouncy like a midnight carnival on psychedelics (or quality REM sleep) and “Rising” just flips the script by being all backwards. When taken together, it all combines to make West the perfect destination for when you want to go somewhere but just don't feel like getting out your chair. [Wooden Shjips]

Chris Auman

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