MUSIC REVIEWS: Polly Scattergood, The Warlocks, Double Dagger, Clues, Betty Padgett
It is hard to resist associating Tori Amos and Liz Phair to Polly Scattergood’s self-titled new release. The naked lyrical prose from this native of Essex, England, is saturated in a dark sobriety and hyper-awareness of intense emotional anguish. The strained rock instrumentation forms a nice soft ground for which each song grows, fighting to overcome, despite all kinds of conditions. The hushed whispery vocals remind one of certain sides of Tori Amos and the raw emotional release harkens Liz Phair’s earlier work. Most songs are slow to mid-tempo rhythms about love gone cerebrally bad and are often deepened and studied in melodious psychological anguish. Scattergood is not apologetic or removed from brutal honesty about the conditions of her heart and mind. Amongst blustery effects of violins and keys, Scattergood seems to barely be able to muster enough vocal power to deliver her songs at times. This breathy liberation is endearing and sometimes consistent to the overall push and pull of the album. “Please Don’t Touch,” is a more cheery acoustic guitar driven, more accelerated rhythm request where Scattergood’s voice rises much above the music and holds fast to a forceful musical “no thank you.” “Bunny Club” is an electro-lite kiss-off and directive about choosing self and refusing to be a victim. With hide and seek ambiguity, Scattergood balances dire introspection and strength.
A little ‘Krautrock’, some psychedelia and a whole ‘lotta Velvet Underground, The Warlock’s new CD, The Mirror Explodes is an 8-song loud, wanting-to-be haunting collection.
After a disappointing opener “Red Camera,” “The Midnight Sun” works a bit better for me, though things still meander a bit. By the time we are dead center with “There Is A Formula To Your Despair” though, I was getting to like The Warlocks lazy guitar strum, low beat background noisy thang. Bobby Hecksher’s vocals take some getting used to and I felt he’s used on the first few tunes to set up a mood and nothing else, but on “Formula” band and vocals are pretty much together with a sense of purpose.
Things get definitely ‘Velvety’ for me on “Standing Between The Lovers Of Hell.” “You Make Me Wait” has that effective build that “Red Camera” lacked (and it’s one of my faves here) and there’s lots of noise and psychedelia on “Frequency Meltdown.” The last tune, “Static Eyes” is cool, mainly because it’s unlike anything else here, with a nice use of an acoustic…and I feel this is one of Hecksher’s better vocals with the band perfectly restrained behind him.
The Warlocks have seen nineteen members since the band’s inception in 1999 and it definitely seems Bobby H. and the kids have their sound worked out here. If you want a little bit of mood, a touch of noise, maybe a little hint of early Lou Reed, pick of up The Mirror Explodes.
The title of the album really says it all. Double Dagger held nothing back with their most recent load of songs in More. The album itself doesn’t stand out as anything spectacular, but holds its own with sheer balls of iron. There are no standout singles, which actually makes it feel very much like a whole unit, no one-hit-wonder outdoing the rest, and I quite enjoyed that fact about it. While they are definitely very loud, and you can tell there are quality tunes behind the volume, I was sometimes lost amidst the din. The musicians are quite worthy of praise in terms of their talent, and when I was able to pick out some of the fabulous guitar solos in between the general cacophony, I was thoroughly impressed. “The Lie/The Truth” stood out in particular, mingling a ferocious chorus with spoken verses, and you can just envision them turning red and resisting Mother Nature’s will to strike them dead from exertion. Actually, you can feel that in every song, as I’m pretty sure they tempt impending aneurysms with any performance. Double Dagger will be at Market Hotel on May 23rd, and will undoubtedly rock with abandon, because they seem like the type of guys who would turn campfire songs into loud, hard, rock, just for the sheer hell of it. And they would do it well.
Montreal record label, Constellation, debuts a new album from ex-Arcade Fire’s Brendan Reed and ex-Unicorn’s Alden Penner. Along with other local musicians and visual artists Nick Scribner, Ben Borden and Lisa Gamble, don’t expect a sound spin off. Despite a few feeble similarities to their former bands, the Clues have a sound of their own. The eleven track album combines experimental, psychedelic, and post punk rock with the element of surprise, especially in regards to it’s musical structure. The lyrics are clever and filled with surrealist imagery, and dream like references, calling to mind fantastic visions of ghosts, the ocean, Nessie, dragons, death, and dreaming.
“Haarp,” the opening track is faintly reminiscent of Pink Floyd at the start. Toward the end of the song, the drums and guitars pick up speed and hammer concertedly as the ever-soft vocals ask, “Will I be able to feel the difference, when you turn me on and off?” Every track sees their instruments brilliantly colliding, producing a meritorious record with exceptional tracks like “You Have My Eyes Now,” “Perfect Fit,” “Elope,” and “Crows.” Early as it may be, the Clues have definitely earned a spot on my favorite albums of 2009.
Being the obstinate 70’s prog-head I am, I don’t get out all the much in the world of disco, reggae, or soul, but I can damn well appreciate them, as I do Betty Padget’s recently unearthed debut album. This lady from the Miami-based music scene collaborated with soul legend Milton Wright in 1975 to produce a stellar 8-song collection. Full of horns, cool riffing guitars, that sometimes ‘downbeat on the one and the three,’ this is music that weaves perfectly under Betty’s amazing pipes.
From the opener, “It Would Be A Shame” you know you’re in the hands of a master. Betty’s voice is rich, rising atop the simple groove under it, never overpowering, making this tune snappy fun and full of groove. The cover of “My Eyes Adore You” follows with a slight reggae treatment, which Betty and Wright employ more then once, and by the third song, her modest hit “Sugar Daddy Part 1” we have Betty moving along with punchy horns and a funky guitar.
“Never, Never, Never” and “Rocking Chair” (“Chair” is another great commercial tune) are as close as we’re gonna get to full-on reggae, both with Betty’s perfect pitch and mature control. “Gypsy Of Love,” a slow sexy number with some slightly over-played drumming, the spirited WAR-like reprise of “Sugar Daddy Part 2” and “Love Me Forever,” an almost 50’s style pop ballad, with some interesting accordion-like backing and great backing vocals, ends the album way too quickly.