MUSIC REVIEWS: Shaky Hands, Cave Singers, Lyrics Born, CeU, Stardeath & The White Dwarfs, Taken By Trees, Fat Freddy’s Drop, We All Have Hooks

The Shaky Hands
Let It Die
(Kill Rock Stars)

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The Shaky Hands = awesome. However, since you would probably like some supporting details to my thesis here, I shall provide you with some in the hopes that you will immediately check out their latest release, Let It Die, from Kill Rock Stars Records. These songs kind of make me want to hang out in a seedy dive bar and drink whiskey on the rocks and smoke cigarette after cigarette in a time we could smoke in bars and emerge smelling like a giant ashtray. And I mean this in the best way possible. This band is like a perfect fusion of old school British rock and gritty American folk rock – imagine Tom Petty joining The Who. Their sound is a total throwback to everything that was good about popular rock in the seventies and eighties. Quite impressive as well is that The Shaky Hands can evoke nostalgia for a time most of us reading this blog weren’t even cognizant for – that we were just kids, or not even born yet. Not bad for a four-piece from Oregon. Check out title track “Let It Die” and “Caught In The Storm” for that especially smoky feeling.

Patricia Scull

The Cave Singers
Welcome Joy
(Matador Records)

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In attempting to describe an album so sonically positive, so familiar in its embrace of folk sounds and melodies, so full of warmth in its guitar and vocal tones, it’s incredibly difficult not to make a direct and obvious reference to the its title, Welcome Joy, in the form of an overly sentimental agreement. But the Cave Singers’ second full-length is, indeed, brimming with all of these qualities, from Pete Quirk’s there-in-the-room-with-you vocals crooning out subtly engaging melodies, to the kind of comfortably folky guitar strumming that belies the fact that this band rose out of art-punky Pretty Girls Make Graves ashes. Featuring appearances by Amber and Ashley Webber of Lightning Dust, the album has several gems, including the tender opening track “Summer Windows,” “Beach House,” a reflective tune originally debuting as a free download for fans, the appropriately jangly “Jangle,” and the more heavily-rockin’ “At the Cut,” Welcome Joy’s leadoff single.

Toney Palumbo

Lyrics Born
Variety Show Season Pho
(Mobile Home)

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If you’ve somehow missed out on the Bay Area juggernaut that is Lyrics Born, his ruling of the game career now spanning for well over a decade, this album is a perfect introduction.

Seamlessly blending all the reasons his fans love him; humor, lyrical adaptability and mind blowing flowing facility with a distinctly grounded sense of contemporary hip-hop, this brisk 52 min album is actually one long mixed track that has been broken out into 22 distinct units. Indeed, these smaller tracks are very dense, each with it’s own sensibility within the larger world of hip-hop and quite adeptly bringing in a distinct global and aural connectivity.

The majority of the tracks stem directly from the old school hip-hop of the late 80s and early 90s, evoking Tribe and Slick Rick with Lyrics Born blazing over each grooving beat with political, populist, and vibrantly visual flow, while just as easily mastering the switch into any one of the multitude of styles that crop up during the course of the album. Among the variety are Latino vibes, classic funk, jazz fusion, contemporary synthesizer rap, Japanese hip-hop, a take on Middle Eastern flows, and even a sweet 80s dance pop track that really made me want to dance. The whole of the album though has a single current of classic past meeting and blending with contemporary conception of the genre to form an innovative future.

This future is multicultural, aware, and respectful of the lessons of the past. The sheer amount of amazing guests on the album speak to this ability to create positivity, while the album’s conception as an outgrowth of Lyrics Born’s webisode littered website (lyricsborn.com) adding yet another dimension of entertainment enjoyment.

Dan the Automater, the soulful Joyo Velarde, as well as Gift of Gab and Lateef from his Soul Sides days are the most prominent collaborators, but the ability and talent of all the artists on Season Pho is truly mind blowing, you can’t help but bob along. Some stand out tracks, “Utmost Versatyle,” “Mama’s Got a Brand New Slang,” “Take Aim,” and “Differences” are all crisp tastes of the creativity exuding from this silly, bitingly aware, and extremely talented post-underground voice that isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Kenneth Joachim

(Six Degrees Records)

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Brazilian singer CéU (pronounced ‘sew’) has an endearing seductive vocal elixir, smooth as honey and as sensual as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s love poetry. Painted against a fuzzed homage to Jimi Hendrix and the blues rock side of the Doors on “Espaςonave,” the track bathes in intoxicating pressurized electric guitar. Simmering keys bring a delirium so hazy and hot it is so hard to ignore or concentrate. Bleary guitars fighting for air between a stoic bass line on “Rosa Menina Rosa” delicately move with dazed out sincerity and yearning where CéU’s voice funnels through a crowded hallway of moody instruments. “Papa,” creeps by in a dub pounding rhythm and blues saunter and pleasant jazz piano. Her voice rises like an element made from water and ground baking heat. The affectionate sonic blush inducing style of CéU’s voice fits nicely in the arms of dub, funk, reggae, rock and ambient techno fused beats. Grammy nominated twice and born in Sao Paulo, she decided at the age of 15 that she wanted to become a singer. She went on to study music theory and later moved to New York City. Moody, temperamental, wild and careless are elemental parts to “Vagarosa,” an album that has a beautiful live sound, jutting jazz horns, silky ‘60s soul bass lines, and CéU’s fantastic vocal sound that help capture a glimpse of a soft powerhouse of a talent. The instrumental perfection makes “Vagarosa” a seductive treat.

Chanda Jones

Stardeath & The White Dwarfs
The Birth
(Warner Bros. Records)

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Having good taste in music and springing from the same bloodline of Wayne Coyne can only result in one thing: Psychedelic Greatness. Indeed, members of Stardeath & The White Dwarfs, (who consist of Dennis Coyne, Casey Joseph, Matt Duckworth and James Young,) let their creative juices flow on The Birth, and I guarantee fans of The Lips’ or the Floyd cult will adore this album.

The Birth opens up with “The Sea is on Fire” and “New Heat,” which resembles both Beck and The Lips. (I wonder if the “Girl with Lazer Hair” is the same girl who “uses Vaseline.”)

“Keep Score” is a reminder that you won’t know what you have till it’s gone, while the title track is very much the mellow yet menacing journey I expected it to be. “I Can’t Get Away” is a head-bobbin’, foot-tappin’, finger snappin’ ride through garage-techno, that’ll make you want to put your party hat on.

Arguably the best song on the album is “The Age of the Freak;” a song of hazy doom that resembles a mix of “Ziggy Stardust” and “Welcome to the Machine.” With lyrics like “Time is on our side” and “Now I will surely die all alone,” “Country Ballad” indeed lives up to its title. Concluding track “Smoking Pot Makes me not Want to Kill Myself,” will hopefully remind you of the better things in life.

Overall, this album is filled with songs that are harsh but gentle; somber but joyful; lonely but hopeful. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this as a “stoner” album. But let’s just say being part of The Flaming Lips road crew definitely benefited this band. For a debut album, The Birth is a wise and surreal accomplishment.

For more, check out some of Stardeath’s music on their MySpace page.

Lucy Tonic

Taken By Trees
East of Eden
(Rough Trade)

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What can you say? Taken By Trees has found (maybe invented is the better term?) a heady musical cocktail that includes funky, jazzed up rhythms, a world music sound and ethereal, sparse vocal treatments that make me feel as though I’m watching a David Lynch movie. As strange as that may be, this music is fairly easy to listen to. However, I can’t get away from the feeling that I’m listening to, and being subjected to, an art project, as opposed to, say, a band or something. That alone, of course, does not necessarily constitute a bad thing.

I imagine that if you like espresso, visiting MOMA and tripping around under grey skies on rain soaked sidewalks, then this is your thing. But you aren’t going to find them in the Big Apple. Not anytime soon anyway. Taken By Trees is out there doing what musicians do best; tour. One word to the wise however; you’d better check that visa since Taken By Trees is out there rocking in their own neck of the woods; London, Oslo, Stockholm and the like.

Victoria Bergsman is the voice and brains behind Taken By Trees. Prior to this, she sang with The Concretes and, more prominently, lent her talents to the band Peter, Bjorn and John where her singing was sent via the airwaves to the world at large on the song “Young Folks.”

If you like the unexpected and non-trendy artists marching to their own drum then climb aboard, sit back and let Victoria Bergsman take you for a trip. You do, after all, deserve it. Enjoy.

Dan Connolly

Fat Freddy’s Drop
Dr. Boondigga and The Big BW
(The Drop)

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What can one expect with a band of Maori musicians, a Maori singer/songwriter, a Samoan beat conductor, and a Kiwi horn section living in the South Pacific growing up on a whole lot of 70’s funk and soul, 80’s R&B, jazz, reggae and hip hop?

Known for their improvisational live shows and love for what they do, roots reggae band Fat Freddy’s Drop is that group. This seven-piece New Zealand-outfit consist of lead vocals by Joe Dukie, DJ Fitchie on MPC, Dobie Blaze on keys, Tony Chang with trumpet, Hopepa on trombone, Jetlag Johnson on rhythm guitar and Chopper Reedz on sax.

Condensing nine-tracks into 70-minutes of various musical influences ranging from the techno-flavored “Shiverman,” to the soul-induced lead single “Big BW” and it’s introspective lyricism: “…gotta know what you’re running from before you know where you’re running to,” Boondigga is that album in the spotlight.

When you have Garth Trinidad at KCRW in L.A. hailing you as “the bugged out love child of Isaac Hayes and Lee Scratch Perry,” rest assure, you’re well on your way to mainstream success. Though according to DJ Fitchie, the album’s title is the antithesis to what may become their future. He says, “I take the Big BW to mean The Big Brain-Wash and Dr. Boondigga is some evil creature who’s trying to sign us to a major label.” Be careful of what you try not to wish for…

ND McCray

We All Have Hooks For Hands
The Shape of Energy
(Afternoon Records)

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A strange thing happens every time I listen to The Shape of Energy. I always get sucked in by the first track, “Howlina and Bellowing.” The opening riff flies out of the speaker and grabs you immediately. The whole song is pretty awesome and has great energy. Shortly thereafter though I forget I’m even listening to music. The tracks all begin to bleed together and the howling and bellowing vocals quickly get tiring. It’s not that any of these songs are bad per se. There’s just very little that’s ear-catching. For me, the album was like sonic wallpaper. It was there in the background but I didn’t really pay any attention to it long after first noticing it. The only thing that really pulled me out of the apathetic haze was a surprisingly syncopated drum beat in the middle of “Bring Me Home.” At first you think the drummer made a horrible mistake but it soon locks into a bizarrely appealing groove. Sadly there are no other moments like this on the album. It’s the only time they aren’t content with playing spirited yet average rock and do something interesting and unexpected. Then, when the music finally stops you think “Oh I guess it’s over.” This is the way the album ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Jonathan Zuckerman

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