MUSIC REVIEWS: Jello Biafra,Elvis Perkins in Dearland, The Mountain Goats, Or, The Whale, Dappled Cities, Pete Yorn, UUVVWWZ, Iron & Wine,
It’s been thirty years since Jello Biafra first told us his thoughts on then California Governor, Jerry Brown, while fronting San Francisco Punk legends, The Dead Kennedys. Since then, he’s worn many hats from Political Activist and Spoken Word Artist to actual Politician. Now in his 50s, he gives us another edition to his long and inspiring career, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. Titled The Audacity of Hype, Biafra and his new band (featuring Faith No More bassist, Billy Gould) deliver the goods and then some on this debut offering.
Biafra has lost none of his angst or disdain for the corporate political machine, consumerism or those that eat up everything their government spoon feeds them. Obviously, if you’re familiar with his work at all you’ll know he always intends to send a message and this album is no different. Biafra attempts to educate listeners on the darker things this side of CNN and challenges people not only to become smarter Americans, but to intelligently evolve as a species. It’s a lot to take in but that’s all right because it’s all in the confines of some of the catchiest tunes ever laid down.
The Audacity of Hope is a punk album that mixes elements of traditional rock (like most good punk does) and even some surf rock (reminiscent of the Dead Kennedy’s output.) The infectious opening track, “The Terror of Tiny Town”, chronicles the administration of George W. Bush in a comical way that actually leaves you scared towards the end. However, if you’re not interested in the subject matter so much (I can’t imagine a fan of Jello Biafra not being interested in what he’s saying though) you can simply enjoy the album based on it’s musical merits. I dare you to try and get songs like “Electronic Plantation” and “Strength Thru Shopping” out of your head once you’ve heard them. Impossible!
Yes, it’s not The Dead Kennedys but it’s pretty damn close and it’s a very solid album. And for those conservatives hoping Biafra will quietly recede into oblivion–no chance there. To quote the closing lines of the final track, “I won’t give up. It’s not an option.”
Gospel, zombies, and folk inspired indie rock goodness are what you’ll find on the new Elvis Perkins In Dearland EP, Doomsday. The title song is from EPID’s recent self titled album and the track’s stirringly soulful lamentation accented with sorrowful brass and warm reassuring tones from the acoustic guitar and piano feels like a joyous funeral march for our civilization- and hey if we gotta go, why not celebrate it. The EP also has a slower variation of the track aptly entitled “Slow Doomsday” which has a very different feel but the same amount of heart with its punctuated beats and southern church walk essence.
In addition to the two variations of “Doomsday” the EP introduces four new, very diverse songs which are like snippets from an Americana road show. Elvis and crew re-imagine the early days of rock, rhythm, and blues with “Stop Drop Rock And Roll,” put their mark on a very different interpretation of the traditional “Gypsy Davy,” and deal with the undead in “Stay Zombie Stay.” Finally there’s “Weeping Mary,” a gorgeous track which opens with a beautiful harmonic a cappella intro and blends old and new with a feel straight out of the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. The collection is a little voyage in the way of music and is a great gift for everyone who enjoyed the group’s most recent album- its equal parts Woody Guthrie, John Lennon, and The Band which makes for a pretty interesting listen.
The albums religious tone is one of the first elements that one hears when listening to The Life of the World to Come. Each song comes with a religious title and many reviewers make the comment that perhaps these songs would belong on a religious radio station.
The first song of the album, “1 Samuel 15:23” is perhaps the albums most beautiful track. Simple and lyrical, the poetry in the song is both eerie and religious. The strongest atheist would still find comfort in the song. “Psalms 40:2” is aggressive and powerful. The track feels like a B-side from a Get Up Kids album. With lyrics speaking of religious elevation, the track is ominous setting the tone of the rest of the album. “Genesis 30:3” is the grandest track on the album. It’s so spacious and comforting, even without listening to the lyrics about salvation and protection, one can find themselves feeling more comfortable.
While the album is pleasing, for those who find awkwardness in religion, the album might not be the best of choices.
“Never Coming Out” is sung by Lindsay Garfield and her pipes are like refined gold. This song is completely fresh, jumps out of nowhere and the subtle pedal-steel work takes it to another level. Sadly, I was baffled that Ms. Garfield takes the lead vocal on only two of the eleven songs that fill up what is otherwise a solid album. In addition, the two songs “Never Coming Out” and “Shasta” (track 9) lie buried in the ranks. “Never Coming Out” feels like a top contender that could have possibly opened the album. Or, The Whale needs to let her very resonant voice shine a little more. If there is going to be more than one ‘lead vocalist,’ doesn’t it make sense to let them actually sing? Otherwise, it seems you run the risk of turning that vocalist into some kind of novelty afterthought. Let’s put it this way, they wouldn’t be hurting themselves any to let her belt out a few more tunes. Alright, ‘nuff said.
The remainder of this self-titled album is very full sounding and well balanced. I have to say though, that with seven capable musicians in the band I’d be feeling a little ripped off if it was anything less! The combination of stellar harmonies and nimble, tasty guitar playing creates very easy-to-listen-to, country-fied music. Listening to this CD really makes me feel like sitting on a grassy knoll at some sun-drenched music festival and listlessly dawdling my time away.
Or, The Whale is hitting the road kids. Check them out in a city near you. And if you want a fat dose of musicality to go with your espresso (or moonshine) then get to it pronto.
I am a fan of any band who chooses their name out of whimsy. Dappled Cities, also known as Dappled Cities Fly, is an awkwardly-titled 5-piece based out of Sydney, Australia. Most of their songs are modeled around crescendoing, flowy synthesizers and driving drum beats. Take Death Cab, Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, and throw in a splash of Bowie and you’ve got yourself Dappled Cities. I can imagine them being a pretty good band to see live, as some of their YouTube footage looks hella fun. There’s a similar quality about all the songs on this album that make any of them perfect for a climactic moment in a movie. Standout tracks include “The Night Is Young At Heart” and their first single from the album, “The Price.” Check out this album before everyone in the States catches on.
For all that Pete Yorn has given in the past 10 years to the music world, this album left me wanting a little bit more. I mean that in a good way. This is the first album I’ve heard of his, I’ve never been a fan really. Not because I don’t like his music, I just didn’t know it. Most of my musical tastes lean away from the soulful individuals, I would pick up the Sex Pistols before I would John Mayer, but to expand my horizons I sat listening to Mr. Yorn for the better part of one day straight. Well, I definitely like him a whole lot better than John Mayer, with his lyrics being down-to-earth and his voice comfortable to listen to. And he writes and sings like a man 20 years more experienced.
The album has a calming effect, and the personal nature of the songs helps set him apart from every other solo, acoustic, folky musician out there. He makes sappy love songs sound edgy and honest, avoiding the dramatic whininess of so many of his contemporaries. If he keeps making albums like this, there’s no doubt that he’s on the track towards becoming another Jackson Browne or Morrissey. For others like me who might not know his music, take a listen to Back and Fourth. I found songs that relate to my life and any musician that can make me enjoy a folksy ballad has done a great deed. It’s short, with only 10 songs, but tremendous.
The members of UUVVWWZ, are natives of Nebraska and join ranks with Tokyo Police Club, Bright Eyes and Son Ambulance on Omaha’s own, Saddle Creek Records. Some, if not all, may wonder the origin of this band’s unique name. Jim Schroeder, who plays guitar in the band, spent some time rearranging letters and designs and this arrangement was appealing enough to be dubbed their moniker.
The album starts with “Berry Can” and Teal Gardner hooks you immediately with her off handed badinage chant, “I like the blackberries cause they cannot entangle me.”
On, “Jap Dad” the band develops a watered down punk sound and it’s vastly different from the two previous songs. “Neolaño”, the longest song on the record , at 7:53, starts off as a sleepy sort of tune. Two minutes in, and I’m already bored of it. I’m starting to think this record has an identification crisis. By the next track Castle, I’m sure of it. It’s the best track on the record, with the band’s greatest advantage, Gardner’s vocals, at its finest. The rest of the record, much like the first half, sounds erratic. The band, jumping between blues and rock numbers, a manic search for their identity.
Here’s band who haven’t found their sound yet, but when they do it’ll be really great. Right now, the inconsistency makes it an annoying listen.
Iron & Wine always comes up with the most delicately beautiful music, and somehow it can still stay funky. I don’t really know how it is done, but Iron & Wine can make a whole album of slow tempo songs un-boring. It’s really quite remarkable, and this newest album is nothing different. There are 24 gloriously tender songs, aided by Sam Beam’s soft vocals and guitar. While comprising a sturdy bunch of songs themselves, this is actually a collection of “rarities” from years past. It includes unreleased songs, demos, B-sides, and the like. But when the songs were written or why is not really relevant. The music is wonderful on its own. And it’s an even bigger joy because there are just so many songs, each with its own golden tone. The 2-disc set is chock full of mysterious, back hills banjo-picking, supple lyrics, and sweet whispering that makes you feel like Mr. Beam is telling you the deep secrets of the south. This is a bewitching addition to previous Iron & Wine albums, and a great statement of musical prowess. Fresh, enchanting and delightful, absolutely.