Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sound ‘Round: Superchunk / No Age

The future as present.

Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge)

superchunk - i hate musicAs labels plundered the Seattle sound and all its distant cousins into alt-rock oblivion, Mac McCaughan sat out as a conscientious objector – relegating himself to an existence of mainstream anonymity. Two decades later and still content with his fate, he continues to lead his cult band cohorts from the driver’s seat of a tour van. An idealist who’s closer to 50 than 40, he’s craftier musically and remains optimistic about a tomorrow that rivals the vibrancy of his youth. Eternally young-at-heart quips like “Cram into the back of a van / All of our friends with no plan,” could have easily worked in a tribute to Kurt Cobain, only here they belong in a paean to reggae musician Jackie Mittoo. As for the destination of said van, they’re off to Barcelona where McCaughan and company enjoy their middle-age at a music festival among commoners they’re happy to call their brothers and sisters. A real man of the people, I tell ya. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” / “Trees of Barcelona” / “Low F”

No Age – An Object (Sub Pop)

no age - an objectHaving maxed out their little-band-that could stratagem on 2010’s Everything in Between – an album of devil-may-care swagger paired with a stunted storm of churning aggression – here Dean Spunt and Randy Randall revert from buzz and fuzz, to primal and skeletal. At ease with letting the distortion they so relied on to simply evaporate, they double down on their art-punk cred by upping the ennui and relishing in their new found joy of austerity. Still deliberate in tempo, however, they continue to hum along at their own unbending pace. After opening with five bluntly effective keepers which tumble about despite their melodic shortcomings, things sag slightly in the latter half as the music turns monochrome and hollow. Still bummed about them shying away from bombast? Put those volume knobs to good use. Turn that shit up. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: C’mon Stimmung” / “I Won’t Be Your Generator” / “Running From A Go-Go

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Sound ‘Round: Future Bible Heroes / Martha Redbone Roots Project

Lyricism with limits. 

Future Bible Heroes – Partygoing (Merge)

future bible heroes - partygoing One of Stephin Merritt’s many side efforts, this one dormant since 2002’s Eternal Youth – which his Magnetic Fields co-host Claudia Gonson sang the entirety of. Here the vocal workload is damn-near 50/50. Many of the tunes, all typically brief, quaint and melodic, deal with boozing up – a common thread throughout much of the pair’s catalog elsewhere. Tepid subject matter, even for the kind of brevity they enjoy (13 tracks at 34 minutes), the best moments are found in Merritt’s wheelhouse, far away from the soirées, in his drably humorous songwriting. The one about suicide sprinkles in a few laughs with peppery lines like, “I’ll wear silk pajamas and sleeping masks in black / And you will wear a muumuu a la Roberta Flack,” while the one about putting children in a coma is a cautionary tale meant to protect the little ones from a world full of monsters and priests. Even better than macabre Merritt is Merritt in love – see “Sadder than the Moon,” his best unrequited love ballad since “I Don’t Believe in the Sun.” GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Sadder than the Moon” / “Let’s Go To Sleep (And Never Come Back)” / “Keep Your Children In A Coma

Martha Redbone Roots Project – The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake (Blackfeet Productions, 2012)

martha redbone roots projectI’m always weary of albums such as this; folk singer tackles classic poetry in hopes of capitalizing on the faux-artistry far too many of his or her sappy brethren have reaped profits from. And though the jury is still out on Redbone’s initial intentions for her foray into the works of William Blake, I suspect she may have accidentally proven to be a slight exception to the rule. A singer/songwriter who fuses Americana with elements of roots, soul, blues, as well as Native American influences, her understatedly smooth voice, forceful but never overpowering, adds a sturdy foundation to pastoral rhymes about country sides, dewy grass, Shakespeare and religious imagery. For all the things she does well, including keeping the music balanced yet sparse, simple yet intricate, the true winner is Blake himself, whose romanticism and delicate lyrics remain as austerely pristine as they were almost 200 years ago. As for the rest of Redbone’s original music, I’d skip it. Take the word of Robert Christgau: “…when I saw her live I thought she was the worst kind of icky folkie whenever she wasn’t on one of (Blake’s) songs. Score one for Mr. Blake.” GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: How Sweet I Roamed” / “I Heard An Angel Singing” / “The Garden Of Love

Sound ‘Round: Gogol Bordello / Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel

Fiddles, accordions and hooks, oh my! 

Gogol Bordello – Pura Vida Conspiracy (ATO)

gogol bordelo - pura vida conspiracy Liberated and freewheeling once more, Ukrainian-born New Yorker Eugene Hutz and his galloping group of gypsies bid “do pobachennya” to their former label, reinvigorating and refocusing their transcontinental folk-rock into the robust stomp it once was. After a slight drop off and plateau following their 2007 masterwork, SUPER TARANTA!, songs like “We Rise Again” and “Dig Deep Enough” are double-edged swords of the sociopolitical chants he’s made a career of and a personal declaration of reawakening. Hutz’s enunciation, though still deliberately cartoony, is more “Americanized” as every syllable is pronounced with clarified diction – the better to understand lines like “Borders are scars on the planet” and “Truth is always the same / Everything else is insane.” What begins as muscular loses its vigor and dips in potency as it goes along, but Hutz as regained his status as rock’s greatest immigrant troubadour. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “We Rise Again” / “Dig Deep Enough” / “Lost Innocent World”

Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel – Hey Hey It’s… the Jeffery Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band (self-released)

jeffrey lewisAbounding in hooks and humor, this second outing between the 37-year-old songwriter and 74-year-old fiddler is one of the most instantaneous albums of the year. An old fashion hoedown that clatters along at its own cheery pace, they’re care-free and preoccupied with life’s smaller moments; turning fire hydrants into sprinklers to escape the summer blues, people watching as they stroll around the block, listening to NPR while crisscrossing the country on tour. It may be ramshackle and quaint, but the oddly pastoral nature of the music befits Lewis and Stampfel’s young-at-heart demeanor. Another place they find common ground is their disavowing of wealth and celebrity. I thought the Snooki song was dated too until realizing it fit perfectly next to lines like “They get rich we have more fun.”  Yet the true measure of their optimism comes on “Another Inch of Rainfall,” where disappointment and disillusionment are met with shoulder shrugs and determination. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Another Inch of Rainfall” / “Do You Know Who I Am? I’m %$&in’ Snooki!!” / “Isn’t Summer Fun