MUSIC REVIEWS: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orch, Gil Scott-Heron, Charlie Alex March, Anders Parker, Mickey Factz, Crash Kings, Pit Er Pat

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
Kollaps Tradixionales
(Constellation Records)

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The new album by Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra (or whatever variation on that name they may call themselves) somehow gives me the feeling of being isolated in a cabin on a cold mountain, stepping out to occasionally take part in some mystic celebration around a campfire.

I’ve never done that before, so maybe that mental image is simply conjured by some of the antique imagery that makes up the album art. But there is a certain mood captured here on Kollaps Tradixionales seven tracks that, while largely progressive and bordering sometimes on post-rock, is a bit pastoral, even gospel-like.

This is quite evident on the opening “There Is A Light,” a 15-minute piece that meanders for too long before making its point, then drags on and on in a tiring crescendo-then-fall pattern not quite engaging enough to sustain my interest. Efrim Menuck’s voice – which often sounds like he’s singing with some heavy sinus congestion – doesn’t help.

Thankfully things pick up after that. The crushing “I Built Myself A Metal Bird” and its slightly more subdued instrumental counterpart “I Fed My Metal Bird The Wings of Other Metal Birds” boast hypnotic, repetitive rhythms, and string arrangements that can be both anguished and ominous. That sets the tone for the at-times chilling remainder of the album: the three-song block of title tracks, and closer “’Piphany Rambler,” which uses its 14 minute slow-build effectively. Fantastic listening for a moody evening during these winter months.

John Mordecai

Gil Scott-Heron
I’m New Here
(XL Recordings)

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After many years of battling personal demons, legendary poet, musician, singer and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron returns with I’m New Here – his first studio recording in sixteen years. Reaching beyond the social and political commentary of Pieces of a Man (1971) and Winter in America (1974), Scott-Heron is ever-more reflective at this stage in his life – he’ll be 61 on April Fool’s Day.

Still a great provider of wisdom and candid imagery, I’m New Here brings the worlds of electronica and spoken word together for a unique blend of tunes. Opening the album is a dedication to his familial upbringing (“On Coming From a Broken Home (Part 1),” yet the lead single, “Me And The Devil” places the poet’s vocals up against these dark and gritty electro beats. Even the lyrics paint a gloomy picture (“bury my body down by the highway side/so my whole evil spirit catches a Greyhound bus ride”). “I’m New Here” and “Your Soul and Mine” remains reflective but its “New York Is Killing Me” that showcases the heavy burden of living in the city can bring. It’s a perfect marriage of Scott-Heron’s rough tone of voice and the heart beats of the city.

“On Coming From a Broken Home (Part 2)” closes the album, and once again Gil Scott-Heron proves, he’s just as respected in his sixties as he was in his twenties and thirties.

ND McCray

Charlie Alex March
(Loaf Records)

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If there was ever a place where instruments lived in an infinite heaven, the golden streets would blast Charlie Alex March’s Home/Hidden, a utopian sonic panoramic wall of strings and ambient electronic sound. Buzzing through with endearing soft melodic wizardry, each song is a layered tapestry of the sweetest harmonies and the most elegant of orchestral arrangements. Violins pump out gleeful helixes, chimes soar and the atmospheric romantic allure is easy against dance grooves and whirling rhythms. With the help of Stereolab’s Andy Ramsay, Metronomy’s Gabriel Stebbing, Sean O’Hagan and Dominic Murcott of the High Llamas and Jo Apps, there is a wickedly billowy charm to each track that remains uniquely different than the next. “Snow Feet” moves with a dramatic ebb of blanketed violins, oscillating fury and ecstasy that dances against the breathy sonic machination that is gorgeous and mysterious. “Son of a Joe” begins with a tantalizing piano riff that moves with a childlike wonderment, leaving the listener never wanting the song to end. Charlie Alex March is a UK composer that has masterfully created an album so instrumentally lush it is its own euphoric love song.

Chanda Jones

Anders Parker
Skyscraper Crow
(Bladen County Records)

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Skyscraper Crow is the double album from Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Anders Parker. Disc one (Skyscraper) is a subtle techno-pop album that sounds like it belongs in the 80s. You can see The Smiths influence here, with Parkers’ vocals sounding like a mix between Howard Jones and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid. However, the vocals are perhaps the only interesting aspect of Skyscraper. Even remotely catchy songs like “Calling Out to You” and “Slow Clouds” are lackluster, making the entire disc seem void of point and substance.

Luckily, Disc two (Crow) takes a break from the electronics, focusing instead on a theme of relaxing, folk-like acoustics. “72nd Street Horses” is perhaps the most appealing track on the entire double album, and this track alone is worth the listen. It’s in songs like “My Bird,” “In the Wind” and “Horses Running Over the Hills” where I feel Parker channeling greats like Elliot Smith and Bob Dylan, yet unlike the former two artists, you never quite feel Parkers expression or emotion when he sings. If he chooses to stay with the acoustic, I think he’s on the right track, and he definitely has a voice worth listening to. But Parker needs to find a more distinct venue of sound if he wants to stand out from the many Dylan fans that decide to pick up an acoustic guitar.

Besides having two solo records, one EP and one live album, Anders Parker is also a member of Varnaline, Space Needle, and Gob Iron. Check out more from Anders Parker at MySpace.

Lucy Tonic

Mickey Factz
Dark Phoenix #ALPHA

You have to respect an emcee who boldly states: “I’d like to think I’m everything that Afrika Bambaataa would’ve envisioned hip hop to be in 2008, 2016, 2030.”

Fact is Dark Phoenix could be what Bam envisioned. Only arriving on the scene less than four years ago, after a stint at New York University’s law school, Bronx-bred rapper Mickey Factz is bringing depth to the bubble-gum rhymes now penetrating airwaves.

Lyrically-speaking, he may be the academic of word-play as highlighted on the dark and philosophical “Sunrise:” “Why do we wake up / If we don’t plan to dream?” He goes further – “We need more Princes / Who wants to be my Princess? / No time to lean on fences / If it means being friendless / I’ll be the Fall Out Boy like Pete Wentz.” What???

It’s a revolutionary era for music; just ask one of the pioneers of hip hop, Afrika Bambaataa. Fans want to be fed, and Mickey Factz taps into that hunger. The lyrical content on Dark Phoenix isn’t the only thing that’s on point, though the message-laden “S/ecrets T/hat D/estroy” makes you pause; “Turn It Up” brings the deep warble of dubstep, while “Still I Rise” gives live instrumentation.

When asked during an interview with the Fader magazine about why he does this, Mickey Factz says (I imagine with a straight face), “First off, I do this for my culture, because the progression and longevity of it means a lot to me and the future. Other than that, my ego tells me I can be…excuse me, that I am bigger than Michael Jackson and as innovative as Prince…” As I said, you have to respect the dude.

You can find and download it HERE.

ND McCray

Crash Kings
Crash Kings
(Custard Records)

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Crash Kings are an LA-based band, signed to Custard Records by talented and underrated producer Linda Perry (who has also worked with LA band Nico Vega). They’ve already toured with artists like Stone Temple Pilots, The Bravery and Chris Cornell, and they are the first US band that producer Dave Sardy (Oasis, Wolfmother) has worked with in over seven years. Luckily, the band’s potential is proven even more so within their self-titled, debut album.

What’s amazing about these ten powerful tracks is that no guitar is used to create any of these pulse-pumping and foot-stomping rhythms. Only analog instruments are used, with Antonio Beliveau on piano and keyboards, Michael Beliveau on bass and Jason Morris on drums.

The album opens with “Mountain Man,” a worthy track with a pounding beat and bass line and also the band’s first single. Although present throughout the rest of the album, it is within this track alone where Crash Kings could be placed in the same vein as bands like Spoon and Silvertide.

“Only Wednesday” and “Raincoat” are pop-rock at its finest, combining catchy melodies with booming piano and keyboards. “14 Arms,” like many songs on this album, starts off sounding like a potentially good rock song that’s sadly going to do a 180 into cheesy, bland pop oblivion… but it doesn’t. Right when I had my doubts, the vocals and thundering piano came back at me with energy full-force.

The best track on the album hands down is “You Got Me,” and the vocals in this song will surely remind you of Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale and Jet’s Nic Cester. However despite all comparisons, I thoroughly enjoyed this album as a separate entity and believe Crash Kings have a distinct sound that they can truly go far with. Props to vocalist Antonio Beliveau, who even in slower tracks like “Come Away” and “Non Believer,” manages to sing in a voice consistently strong, clear an infectious.

Lucy Tonic

Pit Er Pat
The Flexible Entertainer
(Thrill Jockey)

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Anyone for atmospheric indie-rock out of Chicago?? Formed in 2003 and calling themselves Pit Er Pat — after a painting by Chicago artist Jim Nutt, is a duo of musicians that blends downtempo grooves, gypsy nuances and a post-rock edge to make a surprisingly complex album.

Comprised of classically trained pianist Fay Davis-Jeffers and drummer Butchy Fuego, Pit Er Pat’s newest album The Flexible Entertainer showcases a wide array of emotions (and genres) from deep and dark to happy and euphoric.

Though each song has a different “label” (grunge, cinematic madness, party shuffle), the album itself still blends cohesively. The “grunge” track “Emperor of Charms” has these amazing guitar riffs and drum beats which mid-way through becomes a wicked guitar solo. (The ebb, flow and bridge of the track are quite lovely). While “Water” reminds me of L.A.-based duo J-DaVey; it’s electronica with a twist of R&B, “Godspot,” the “party shuffle” song does anything but make me want to party.

Overall, The Flexible Entertainer is a simple package of eight tunes but Faye and Butchy create an eclectic mix of moods and sounds that would rock any downtempo music fan’s world.

ND McCray

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