MUSIC REVIEWS: Camera Obscura, Sex Mob Meets Medeski, It Hugs Back, Crippled Black Phoenix, Yuzima
It seems in choosing their name, Camera Obscura may have damned themselves to obscurity because they’ve been recording albums for seven years and still very few people know who they are. If you are one of those people, I think the time is now to check them out. Their upcoming release, My Maudlin Career, is their fourth album and it is a gem.
While the band is from Scotland, their musical influences are unmistakably American. A good point of comparison is Rilo Kiley. This isn’t simply because both bands have female lead singers. Songs such as “Swans” and “Away With Murder” are heavily orchestrated pop songs with slight country inflections that could easily have been written by Jenny Lewis and crew. Like Rilo Kiley, Camera Obscura have a perfect knack for updating older styles of music and making them sound relevant in today’s indie rock world. In fact, where these two bands differ most is in the vocals. While Jenny Lewis’ voice is always front and center, Tracyanne Campbell’s voice blends into the mix and becomes another color in the band’s sonic palette. The washes of reverb on her voice make it seem foreign and far away, and her clear accent only adds to it.
Perhaps the biggest influence that can be heard here is that great American, Brian Wilson. From the sweet harmonies of “The Sweetest Thing” to the roaring, cavernous drums of “My Maudlin Career,” Camera Obscura create a wall of sound that Wilson would be proud of. Ten seconds after pressing play on this album and you can tell they’ve been wearing out side two of their copies of Pet Sounds. Don’t think these songs are a bunch of rip-offs though. That Beach Boys sound is filtered through Camera Obscura’s own style and a bit of their Northern Europeanness. Therefore while they may sound like they are on the beach, it’s gray and raining, and they certainly aren’t surfing. So if you like your pop music with gorgeous string arrangements, tons of echo, and a touch of melancholy I recommend My Maudlin Career.
Sex Mob alongside John Medeski, keyboardist for the trio Medeski Martin and Wood, have created a live jazz avant garde album that has the full on swagger of hip hop, slow sensuality of rhythm and blues, out of this world expression like experimental jazz, unabashed hard hitting licks like death metal and a sweet genteel charm like that of country music and the carefree charm of Dixieland swing. Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau is a collaboration that creates its own movement of instrumental pieces that are as crooked as shards of broken glass that somehow fit together to form the world’s most luxuriant window pane that reshapes the way one looks at life or in this case, the way one takes in sound. The birth of Sex Mob was at the Knitting Factory during the late nineties. Sex Mob’s music became addictive with their notarized musicianship.
Their shows also featured the re-structuring of a frenetic mix of cover tunes from artists like Nirvana, the Rolling Stones, ABBA and Prince. Sexy slinky saxophones, acrobatic and ear pleasant trumpets, smooth sensual bass bumps, howling organs, and extra psychedelic keys all clamor for attention just to mention a few prizes. Like most legendary jazz greats, Sex Mob has created its own sonic language. A new realization is found in the translation where words are cultures and instruments are emotion. A masterpiece from beginning to end, Sex Mob and John Medeski electrify the listener by deconstructing sound and reinventing it at the same time.
Warm, fuzzy, endearing, charming, sweet lo-fi shoegazer indie soft rock fluffiness inundates the album, Inside Your Guitar by Kent, England’s 4 piece band, It Hugs Back. Each track shuffles through with vocals that have all the appeal of a summer breeze along with cushiony organ melodies, soft pumping bass lines, and drum bumps that hold the songs together quite well. The album is structured foundationally with a sunny upbeat wistful melodramatic outlook that sonically moves like an echoing train in the distance, where obvious influences seem to be that of Sonic Youth and the Sea and Cake. “Back Down” begins as raking electric guitars almost drown out the vocals. Soft reverb and a bit of feedback rise up over the lyrics while the bass reaches even higher. The more electro pop approach of “Look Out” nicely skips through daisies with an ultra light, rockier, moodier sentiment and sound. It is easy to pinpoint the passion of Inside Your Guitar. The over-reaching gentle quietness of each track allows it to be reflexive on a very calm scale and sometimes that is all one needs music to do.
Hard rocking, grungy and unforgiving, 200 Tons of Bad Luck, is layered in a post-modernist haze of doom-rock with a rich sonic murkiness that reaches from here to the skies. Crippled Black Phoenix’s latest album is brutal, oddly beautiful and at times boils over in organic well-structured gems. The instrumentation and vocals, where used, are flawless and intense. Violins melt against heavy-handed rock guitar riffs. Drum escapades are so transcendent that they are often tribal in nature. Crippled Black Phoenix is melodically ruthless on the same musical front as that of the Black Angels. The impressive 17 minute plus opus, “Time of Ye Life/Born For Nothing/Paranoid Arm of Narcoleptic Empire” begins with a spoken word piece that offers hope during despair. Once the instruments begin to dominate, strings, drums, and guitar rock into a composition that builds like a lifetime. The rises and falls, victories and defeats engage the ear and soul. The track continues to build into a hardcore industrial psychedelia where Crippled Black Phoenix pounds away at a sound and groove that is stirring and imposing. “Crossing the Bar” is introduced with endearing acoustic guitar dancing gleefully over cello to create an elegance kept up by stomp-box drumbeats that quickly fade while the song moves into a soft piano ambient pattern. Crippled Black Phoenix is from the UK and is more of a collective of musicians from such bands as Iron Monkey, Gonga, 3D House of Beef, and Mogwai. Definitely extreme and beautifully constructed, 200 Tons of Bad Luck goes beyond music and emotion to create a whole new, yet sonically textured world of darkness, light and beauty.
Homegrown singer-songwriter Yuzima just released a trifecta of trouble. His three-track album The Cosmonaut features a cohesive concept (spacey sounds with spacier lyrics) but suffers from poor mixing, flat vocals, and the overabundance of off-beats. On “What’s in a ?!” Yuzima seems to forget the timing of his stomp-beats as the existence of each ‘misstep’ is palpable. The first ten seconds of the introduction on The Cosmonaut is quite nice and fits in the easy-listening section. Unfortunately, the introduction and the rest of the song are bridged by a feeble transition when the drums are brought into the cybersphere of this eponymous track. Limited to three notes, Yuzima’s vocals manage to fall out of key like a falling star.