Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sound ‘Round: Wussy

Odds & sodds & teasers from America’s best rock band. 

Wussy – Duo (Shake It)

wussy - duoA peace offering while they tinker away on a fifth album currently in the works, this Record Store Day exclusive, which functions as a placeholder EP,  turns out to be a keeper in its own a right. Almost every one of these seven acoustic demos is so expertly built and beautifully rendered; you almost wish they’d remain unaltered if featured on any future release. With the droning guitar fuzz they adamantly adhere to gone (and the drummer and bassist away at their day jobs), co-singer/songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker bathe their ever-robust melodies in the warm grip of front porch guitars, brittle piano, lush organ and the sound of chirping birds. And while pulverizing breakup songs have been their stock-in-trade, here topics of discussion include death and religious disillusionment. Too heavy handed? Try the bizarre one about a monkey shitting on Cleaver’s good corduroy’s, or “North Sea Girls,” a closing hymnal so pristine it proves they always see the light at the end of the tunnel.  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “North Sea Girls” / “New American Standard” / “Like It Or Not”

Wussy – Bernice Huff and son, Bill Sings Popular Favorites (Free Download)

wussy - bernice huff and sonsOffered free of charge on their website, this 18-track grab bag is comprised of B-sides, live recordings, radio clips, outtakes, demos, alternate mixes, and the like from their eight years together. That such an assortment of odd n’ ends coalesce so neatly stands as a testament to the band’s sturdy songwriting – as rustic as their Cincinnati hometown. Of the entire potpourri, I keep returning to the live version of “Rigor Mortis,” a killer from their 2007 album, Left for Dead, as well as the acoustic rendition of their best song from their almost-perfect debut, and the demos which flourish delicately despite their austere nature. I also hang around for the radio banter in order to enjoy their twisted humor. Chuck Cleaver on a band he would erase from musical history: “Loverboy. I would’ve tickled their little baby innards and raised them on Pepsi.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Rigor Mortis (Live)” / “Airborne (Acoustic)” / “All The Bugs Are Growing (Demo)


Sound ‘Round: The Who / Otis Redding

Live albums recorded across the pond. 

The Who – Live At Hull 1970 (Geffen, 2012)

the who live at hullRecorded just 24 hours after their legendary performance at Leeds, The Who plowed through what is essentially the same set; a hefty chunk of Tommysandwiched between hits and covers. The tapes were relegated to the vaults, where they gathered dust for four decades before being snuck into the Live At Leeds 40th Anniversary Box Set. This two-disc package serves as a proper standalone release. Of course Hull won’t unseat its predecessor as far as significance or reputation, but for capturing a historic live band at the peak of their powers, it’s still rather noteworthy. Most of the credit goes to Keith Moon, whose animated unpredictability remains pleasurable, playful, and loony. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Substitute” / “Shakin’ All Over” / “Young Man Blues”

Otis Redding – Live In Europe (Atlantic, 1967)

otis redding - live europeHitting stores exactly six months before his untimely passing, this is the only live album released during his brief 26-year existence. Recorded in front of a Paris audience whose enthusiasm wanes on the ballads – Redding’s bread and butter – he tosses in a pair of concessionary Beatles and Stones covers to appease their whiteness and a Temptations cover to appease their appetite for American pop. But when he’s not cozying up to their reserved Euro decorum, he’s working them into a lather on “Fa Fa Fa,” or demanding they stand up and “SHAKE!” to a rendition of Sam Cooke. But, with a voice as heartbroken and as jagged around the edges as his, he leaves it all on the stage for the closing “Try a Little Tenderness,” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” where he throws his voice against a wall of brass, bending it until it almost breaks. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks:I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” / “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” / “Try A Little Tenderness”

Sound ‘Round: Paramore / Fall Out Boy

Comeback albums you never wanted.  

Paramore – Paramore (Fueled By Ramen)

paramore - paramoreHaley Williams’ gender and firecracker dye job were the only elements which separated her and her Nashville clique from the swarming mass that was their undifferentiated emo peers, but that’s appearances only. Just like her fellow Warped Tour clowns, she was never as clever as she thought she was, nor as tuneful as she aspired to be. Her target crowd of diluted high schoolers believed her cheeky one-liners to be profound, but, in all actuality, they were nothing more than hollow rhymes better deserving of a year book quote than an album sleeve. Don’t believe the hype about this comeback somehow being more mature or savvier than the rest of their discography. All I heard was an overlong, overcooked, overdramatic relic full of half-assery and empty noise. Mature? Nah. Just humdrum. Don’t call it a comeback. Really, don’t. GRADE: C

Key Track: Anklebiters

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (Island)

fall out boyPete Wentz’s lack of talent is a blessing for all mankind. If Mr. Tongue-In-Cheek could carry the weight of his egomania by himself, fate – and kids with bad haircuts everywhere – would have made him the most irksome of solo artists (THE HORROR!). Instead, he’s relegated to bass where he disappears in the mix entirely. However, never one to go down swingin’, he lays the irony on thick in the lyrics department – per usual – and calls in Patrick Stump, his trusty emo mouthpiece with a voice as stupid as Wentz’s tattoos, to yelp and hiss his way into the hearts of empty-headed college dropouts around the globe. With guitars removed from the equation, pay no mind to the album title (MORE IRONY! CUZ, GET IT?). Instead they’ve turned their gaze to the sleaze-first songs-later realm of Top 40, and subsequently blast the sonics through the roof and hedge their bets on big, stomping choruses; cue the cascading torrent of adlibs – “Whoa!” “Oh!” “No!” – until the end of time immortal. Simple formula, overwrought execution. Just about par for the course from a band who works in bad taste the way kindergartners work in finger paints. Genuine Rembrandts, I tell ya. GRADE: C 

Key Track: N/A

Sound ‘Round: Kate Nash / Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Stories from the city. Stories from (across) the sea. 

Kate Nash – Girl Talk (Have 10P)

Kate Nash - Girl TalkShe’s a self-avowed feminist? Get it gurrl. She’s ambiguously bisexual? Aren’t most Europeans her age?  She combats big bad gender roles and underwhelming sex with simple analogies and even simpler langue? I prefer it that way, actually. There’s a lot she does right, especially on the droll condemnation of “Rap for Rejection,” where she mockingly asks “If (sexism) doesn’t exist, then what the fuck is this?” However, the album’s track list is too long and unorganized, making it a scattershot affair. Ditto for the music itself which zigzags from bubbly and warm to screechy and sour. Her bold and well-defined themes are strong, but her identity suffers from trying to be too many things at the same time; vulnerable, stoic, alluring, abrasive, sheepish, and confrontational. Growing up and finding yourself is hard, but melody and humor sure go a long way for her. If only they came in bigger dosages.  GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Rap for Rejection” / “Death Proof” / “Are You There Sweetheart

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito (Interscope)

yeah yeah yeahsString each of their previous albums together, and they’ll tell the story of an ever-chameleonic Karen O transforming from a slimy underground she-rocker into a disco queen more in love with the runway than the garage. While each prior release sports its own distinct texture (sludgy, subdued, and sparkly), this fourth release is a sonic amalgam of everything they’ve ever been; jaggedly punk, softly romantic, arty and weird. It’s messy and unkempt but greater than the sum of its parts. The middle third, beginning with the one where she calls herself a slave and ending with the Dr. Octagon cameo, is a sticky swamp of dullness that’s a chore to slog through. But push on to the closing trio of songs, and you’ll find three keepers that rival everything on It’s Blitz! Two are for her newlywed husband; one is a love letter for despair personified. Prefer her in her more cartoonish element? Dig the gospel-tinged opener where she calls in a choir to assist her in the yelping and yowling department, or the title track which is literally about the blood-sucking insect. Who needs irony? GRADE: A-

GRADE: “Wedding Song” / “Mosquito” / “Sacrilege

Sound ‘Round: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba / Brad Paisley

Maestros of the world, for the world.  

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba: Jama Ko (Out Here)

bassekouRecorded in Mali during a military coup which saw the nation’s democratically elected president supplanted by a strict Sharia law which forbids the very hymns Kouyate has made a career from, this is more a love letter to an oppressed people than it is a report from the frontlines. Reflecting the album’s title, which roughly translates to “big gathering of people,” the lyrics (all in a foreign tongue) are celebratory and passionate, praying for peace and tolerance, while the music is refreshingly direct and warm. Each song flows on an intricate web of percussion, and is bolstered by Kouyate’s incomparable skill on the ngoni – an African equivalent to the lute – which he attacks with quick, biting flourishes, subtly speaking to the torment brought into his homeland. Guest vocalist also join in the nonviolent protest, including Zoumana Tereta – who howls wondrously on “Mali Koori,” and Taj Mahal, whose grunts and gravely guitar adds aridness to this Malian’s brand of desert rock. Journalistic, veracious, authentic, inspired, and with malice towards none, this is the only kind of protest album that matters. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Sinlay” / “Mali Koori” / “Jama Ko

Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse (Arista Nashville)

Brad Paisley - WheelhouseYes, “Accidental Racist” is an ill-conceived, if completely well-meaning, failure. However the real crime against culture isn’t Paisley’s unabashed idealism, but the baseless charge of racial animosity made by those who portray the West Virginian as a good ol’ apologist for the Confederacy. I’d bet my imaginary tractor such buffoons have yet to hear “Camouflage,” where the country vet takes a pot shot at the Stars N’ Bars, or the title track to his 2009 opus American Saturday Night, which not so subtly celebrates the ascendancy of Barack Obama. A class act whose goodwill for humanity knows no bounds, this ninth release follows his recent template of progressive traditionalism; songs about bonfires, beer, church, and fishing sandwiched by tunes that tackle racism, chauvinism and narrow-mindedness. He delivers quintessential Paisley from the get go on the cosmopolitan “Southern Comfort Zone,” which name checks Paris, Rome, The Andy Griffith Show and NASCAR before turning the rebel anthem “Dixie” on its head. He gets witty with “Those Crazy Christians,” praising the unsung missionary while deriding corrupt televangelists, and goes to self-defense class on “Karate,” where domestic abuse is disabused. Yet, for someone who has cranked out some of the best marriage songs of any genre over the last decade, many of the ballads here bemoan a lost love and sag as a result. Funny enough, the best wedding song is cleverly disguised as an elegy. Even on his most inconsistently good album, he still relies on his biggest asset, his humor. Fuck the haters. GRADE: A- 

Key Tracks: Southern Comfort Zone” / “Officially Alive” / “Karate”

Sound ‘Round: Charles Bradley / Waxahatchee

Crying for love – or in his case, screaming for it. 

Charles Bradley – Victim of Love (Daptone)

charles bradley - victim of loveIt’s hard to call this Florida-born soul man from New York a nostalgia act seeing as he released his first album at the age of 62. If anything, he’s late to the party. And while I get the sense a certain percentage of his following consists of hipsters and Dad-rock enthusiasts who appreciate the legacy of Stax more than the actual merit of Bradley’s music, let it be said there is merit here nonetheless. His aching howl, well-aged and robust, bares the weight of several lost decades spent in obscure poverty, and his loose arrangements, reliant on beats and brass rather than rigid structure, are brisk enough to avoid boredom. I prefer him more when he bemoans his lonesome heart and quits with the socially conscience bits – the sappy eco-peril of “Hurricane” is rife with empty metaphors and the psychedelic twirl of “Confusion” is directionless. He takes his eye off the streets in the first half, where he keeps it close to home with a pair of upbeat openers concerning Mrs. Right, two down-and-out ballads where she becomes Mrs. Wrong, a brief foray into funk, and a well-placed instrumental which allows room for his expert backing band room to flex. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: You Put the Flame on It” / “Victim of Love” / “Strictly Reserved For You

Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni)

Waxahatchee - Cerulean SaltKatie Crutchfield’s second effort under the Waxahatchee moniker is every bit as minimal as last year’s debut. But where she was privy to unpolished and creaky confessionals, here her ruminations on love are more finalized, her songwriting more assured and her simple voice left unhindered by silly distortion tricks. Still too hung up on austerity and the lone hum of a single guitar, even the most succinct songs tend to drag. When she mixes in drums and amps, it mucks up the pace rather than advancing it. And though she trips herself up in her own simplicity at times, her understated lyrics see her through to the end. Start with the soft charm of “Tangled Envisioning,” so poetic it almost disguises its morbid subject matter, get acclimated, and then proceed from the beginning, where she tells the world about a romantic reconciliation through heavy breathing behind hollow bedroom walls. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Tangled Envisioning” / “Hollow Bedroom” / “Lips and Limbs

Sound ‘Round: Justin Timberlake / The Strokes

Tribute albums

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (RCA)

justin timberlake - 20-20 experienceThe first album he releases in his thirties relies more on auras, moods and scenery as opposed to standard pop structures or hooks. Stretching to 70 minutes on a measly 10 songs, this is tribal R&B focused on J.T.’s preoccupation with pussy and various metaphors in between. Channeling the cock-thrusting swagger of Prince, Al Green and R. Kelly, and meshing it with the posh-prog grandeur of Kanye’s Dark Fantasy, this comeback aims for the top shelf but comes up short in the song department. Too many of these eight-minute suites stagnate under the weight of their own ambition, and Timberlake’s boyish falsetto come-ons aren’t as sweat-inducing as he thinks they are. Yet, ever the playfully suave professional, he knocks out three songs with his meticulous cool; the opener, the one about doing it on the moon that’s so unapologetically silly it’s almost intrepid, and the obvious wink to Michael Jackson. His long time producer Timbaland throws plenty of color, funk, groove, brass and muscle into the music, but can’t prop up Timberlake’s sappy Suit & Tie shtick – which renders too many of these songs soupy, and too reliant on other artists’ influences to have their own identity. GRADE: B

Key Track: Pusher Love Girl” / “Spaceship Coupe” / “Let the Groove In

The Strokes – Comedown Machine (RCA)

the strokes - comedown machineSay what you want about their dysfunctional nature and steep creative drop off, but they ain’t no dummies. To answer Rob Sheffield’s question he most assuredly knows the answer to, The Strokes keep making albums because they’ll sell better than a Julian Casablancas solo effort. Both band and singer require each other as a means to an end – that being the bottom line. But where 2011’s Angles was a compromise record pieced together through a purposefully segregated effort (Casablancas added vocals to completed instrumentals recorded at sessions he never attended) this one reeks of the front man’s love for ‘80s new wave, which effectively neuters his bandmates’ potency. The band’s deceptively biting guitars are supplanted by limp-dick synths, the drums sound like soggy phonebooks, and the once raucous bass of “Reptilia” is all but invisible. Yet, Casablancas, the worst offender to be found, can only muster a single hook – that being lead single “All the Time.” Otherwise, he simply apes the worst tendencies of a bygone genre – self-indulgence. Is this it? Hope so. GRADE: C

Key Track:  “All the Time