MUSIC REVIEWS: The Black Seeds, Girls, Hey Ocean!, Legion Within, Constants, The Black Heart Procession, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Mixing genres of dub, funk, soul, vintage reggae and afrobeat, New Zealand-based outfit, The Black Seeds are bringing their island vibes to the masses – more specifically, North America. With a recently-launched European tour to promote their North-American release of Solid Ground (Easy Star), the eight-member band has a festival-like, summertime vibe to them. Matter of fact, over the last 10-plus years, the group has consistently sold out shows and festivals throughout their native New Zealand, Australia and Europe. So it made sense that while listening to the funky rhythms and electric guitars, I had a feeling of wanting to chill on a blanket in the park with a cold beverage of my choice and just vibe-out. Some of my favorite tracks: “Rotten Apple,” “Take Your Chance,” “Make a Move” and “Come to Me.”
Though Solid Ground is The Black Seeds first North American release, check out their previous New Zealand releases – Into the Dojo (2006), On The Sun (2003), Pushed, a remix album (2003), and Keep On Pushing LP (2001).
Girls pulled a genius move when they named themselves Girls. I don’t know if they were thinking this at the time but no straight man will ever be caught saying, “I don’t really care for Girls. They’re just not my thing.” The good news is that no one should be ashamed of being tricked into admitting they like Girls because they are actually really good. Their album is titled Album, making it impossible to make any assumptions about the music, which is pretty freaking excellent by the way.
The first track, “Lust For Life,” sucks you right in with its catchy melody and lyrics about wishing for all kinds of good stuff but only getting madness. This formula of atmospheric pop music and hopeful/hopeless lyrics continues throughout the whole album and never gets tiresome. The sprawling “Lauren Marie” has some great lines like “ I might never get my arms around you but that doesn’t mean that I won’t try.” Every time that line rolls around I get struck by its poignance all over again. But on an album full of highlights, the most jaw-dropping moment is “Hellhole Ratrace.” Here Christopher Owens bares his soul and its simplicity is so startling. To come right out and say “I don’t want to cry my whole life through/ I want to do some laughing too” seems incredibly basic but that’s why it strikes a chord. Girls just keep it simple, from their name to their album title to their lyrics, and for that reason they are easy to connect with. I recommend listening putting on Album on one of those grey, can’t-get-out-of-bed mornings. I’m not saying it will get you out of bed but it’s always good to commiserate.
Hey Ocean! and their single “A Song About California” immediately reminds me of The Cardigans – but that is a gross overgeneralization of a poppy band with a blonde, airy-voiced female singer. Hey Ocean! adds funk and energy to their eclectic sound with the use of a very energetic horn line, congas, loud harmonies, lots of snazzy bass lines, and I’m pretty sure I heard a flute in there somewhere. Besides their fusion of pop, rock, hip hop, Latin, and folk (to be broadly generous with genres), Hey Ocean! offers a female singer with an alluring timbre whose notes trail off into the atmosphere like ephemeral clouds. Check out their video for “Alleyways,” which features the band casually gathered in their kitchen singing and each member playing his respective instruments – very organic and casual, yet all together builds something equally yummy and endearing. Also peep “Too Soon” and live track “Vagabond” featuring rapper Shad K and prepare to fall a little bit in love.
Mouth Of Madness, the fourth album by Seattle’s Goth-Rock/Industrial act, Legion Within, is a dark, atmospheric journey that is destined to put an end to your sunny day. Who needs the sun anyway, when you’ve got great music to listen to? Mouth Of Madness is a solid effort from beginning to end and would have made a much more suitable soundtrack for Lestat de Lioncourt’s band instead of what we actually heard in the disappointing film, The Queen of the Damned.
The overall feeling of the album is deliciously gloomy, often bringing to mind the likes of Marilyn Manson (Antichrist Superstar/Mechanical Animals stuff), Stabbing Westward and David Bowie’s evil side. It starts out with “Someone’s Speaking” and the title track which both have an industrial/dance feel you can easily imagine a club full of vampires grooving to. There is a nice blend of slower paced songs, like the beautifully sad “Memories of You” and my personal favorite “Demon’s Arms”, which sounds like a collaboration with another notable Goth-Rock outfit, Switchblade Symphony. Then there are more aggressive tunes, particularly “The Empire Is Burning” and “Try To See Me” which seem to haunt you to the point that you begin wondering if vocalist William Wilson’s voice is actually coming out of your speakers or is it all in your head?
The album finishes with an unexpected treat as the morbidly jazzy, but strangely not out of place, “Mall Cops Of Freedom” kicks in. Anyone familiar with the brilliant, but defunct band, Dog Fashion Disco would enjoy this track as it conjures their playfully dark tone. A remix of the title track follows to bring everything full circle. It doesn’t stray much from the original but is a nice alternative to an already catchy song. Mouth Of Madness definitely earns it’s place in the music collections of both the living and the undead.
Like moody torrential rains, the Constant’s forage into drone, temperamental rock is an excursion of motion heavy pounding guitar barrages. Sheets of heavy drums pound against puddles of bleak yet uplifting guitar sonnets and the sentiments behind the lyrics are emotionally raw. Like small rays of sun that occasionally pay visit through heavy downpour, the Constants do a great deal of meteorological daring by making way for softened guitars that chime and fold around each other yielding warmth and awesome melodies. Their vibrancy and the still hard pounding of drums are lucid and beckoning. It also adds a great deal of dimension to their sound. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, the Constants consists of Rob Motes, Orion Wainer and Will Benoit. The wonderment in the Constants is the residual beauty in both their loudness and softness. On “Abraxas pt. II” the rush of guitars echoes in a dirge then blasts moving more like an assault until the guitars almost ring through like keyboards. Almost with a livable pulse, the supple soft sounds and the riotous noise of the Constants is what sets them up for a new level of appreciation.
Talk about road warriors. These guys are going international on all y’all. Whether you want to see them in New Mexico, Italy or somewhere in between, you will definitely have your chance. These guys have enough gigs lined up to make the Queen of England’s schedule look like that of a total slacker.
Their name immediately conjures up images of long haired, Marshall-stack playing dudes accompanied by maybe a set of forearm spikes on a crusty leather jacket. Instead, I’m hearing piano riffs and plaintive melancholy. When I checked out their obligatory myspace page I was surprised to see six clean cut guys sitting on what looked like a reupholstered Victorian sofa.
I could say it well enough but their website really sums up what this album is all about. So take a gander.
“Brimming with pitch-black ballads of discarded loves and forgotten souls, the album paints a bleak yet strangely comforting portrait of heartbreak, self-destruction and religious allegory over some of their most inspired songs to date, drawing a clear line from here to soulstirring visionaries such as Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Tom Waits.”
Wow. While this is not for the faint of heart, (death, crucifixes, damned souls, etc.) I still do not hear any kind of a crunch factor and I’m wondering just how much someone can take. Is it just too ambient? Has The Cure gone soft?
If you like dark, crypt style loathing, these are your guys. If I see you at a show I’ll be the guy in the corner wearing black.
Ever imagine floating in space or watching your father become a zombie after riding a horse into the kitchen on thanksgiving dinner? Well those are the kinds of scenarios that come to mind while listening to White Lunar, the new collection of music which was scored for films by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (a multi-instrumentalist and member of the Bad Seeds). The material is varied, having been pulled from a number of different films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road, and The Proposition (for which Cave also wrote the screenplay) as well as from the duos own archives. But while it does at times have some of the quirky characteristics that one might associate with Nick Cave, it is certainly much more visual in nature.
The 2 disk set featuring 33 songs is something of a musical Amuse-bouche, giving the listener a small taste of Cave and Ellis’s soundtrack work ranging from epic, orchestral works to dark and haunting. Like most soundtracks, the auditory experience is not truly complete without the intended visual but in this case the sound does seem to imply a narrative on its own and stands as a work by itself. For the down and dirty Nick Cave fans the album is a perfect sampling of the expressive musicality of your favorite Australian and the album might be a good buy just for the duo’s shagalishous hair on the grungy black and white album cover.