MUSIC REVIEWS: Liars, Class Actress, Johnny Cash, Red Pens, The Road Sdtrk, Local Natives, Entrance Band, DJ Champion
Thanks to references from Thom Yorke, Liars have ended up on the radar of many. However, nothing about the band needs hyping as everything the band does is literally a realm of it’s own. Sisterworld is no exception to the bands usual surrealistic and noise field dream. The album works best as a continuous piece. This isn’t the type of album to walk away from in the middle. “No Barrier Fun” is the album’s most accessible track bringing the Flaming Lips and Modest Mouse into one song. The chorus sounds like a child’s album and listening with headphones will allow the ringing instrumental to move from ear to ear. “Proud Evolution” is one of the album’s deepest points, filled with room-shattering acoustics and tiny sound effects. The song feels both larger than life and fundamentally organic at once. It will pull you into a trance if you let it. “Drip” starts with a rational piano melody that highlights the band’s musicianship but moves along into an experience. All in all, don’t miss Sisterworld if you have another option. The album is an experience and is something to put on your to-do list rather than to play in the background. Take a minute to absorb the album and it will overtake you.
Brooklyn is a big place, people! Not every artist claiming to be from there emerges with a masterpiece. There must be other places to find a band. Can we at least agree to a moratorium on signing anyone from the County of Kings until the other boroughs get their act together? Come on Queens, Bronx, Staten Island. Represent!
Until that day arrives and it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon, here’s Class Actress and their debut EP Journal of Ardency, singer/songwriter Elizabeth Harper’s collaboration with producers Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson, released on Terrible Records, the new label run by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear.
This is slinky Euro “Stalker-pop,” Blondie style, but without the guitars and the rock and roll edge. What’s left is a mass of buzzy, sequenced synthesizers and Harper’s breathy, languorous come-ons, which are somewhere between sexy and comatose. There’s nothing wrong with this “Journal of Lethargy.” It’s perfectly well-executed, moody dance music. You won’t laugh or cry. The lyrics are all delivered in the same deadpan style, no one word is given more weight than another. “Careful What You Say” is catchy, with a dollop of Human League thrown in at the end. In “Adolescent Heart,” Harper appropriates Morrissey’s singing style. “Let Me Take You Out” sounds like The Cure. The whole thing bubbles along amiably and it’s hard to dislike. But the ennui grows a bit dispiriting. Class Actress will have to bump up the passion beyond current minimum Brooklyn requirements to sustain our interest over a full length album.
Another in a great bunch of Johnny Cash recordings with American Recordings, American VI: Ain’t No Grave, his sixth and last is about as best as you can hope to hear from the man in black. Opening with the haunting title track of death-lickin’ at his heels, this brushes-on-snare tune more or less sets up the overall simpler production on VI. “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” is about as perfect a tune you’re ever going to hear, with J.C.’s voice actually sweet singing of humble reflection. “For The Good Times” sees Johnny Cash singing this classic in again perfect voice, with a lilting arrangement (try listening to this one and not get a lump in your throat!)
“It Don’t Hurt Anymore” is a lyrically sad but musically jaunting tune, even with Cash’s slightly tentative vocal, as he is on “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.. We get back into that reflective mode of guitar picking on “Redemption Day” and some slow fumbling on the last tune “Satisfied Mind,” but even when Johnny Cash is rooting around a melody and a less then perfectly played guitar, he’s better than anyone else.
Old Rick Rubin is to be commended for all this Cash stuff we got near the end and after the great man’s life. American VI: Ain’t No Grave is another great batch of music that caps off this legend’s amazing output.
Red Pen’s Reasons is fresh music that is undiscovered by the masses of rock-indie bohemians it caters to. The band is quaint, their Myspace page offers a collection of abstract art and pictures of red pens. Everything about Reasons is off the monotonous mainstream track. It has a crisp garage sound where drums dominate more than usual. I almost can compare the guitar chords to a Sex Pistols sound. Everything is gritty with slight fuzz, and it is refreshing. The album is not polished, and in no way should it be. “Baby Alligator” is a head bopping tune that has lots of “ahhs” and “la la las” that get anyone singing. There are lots of sound effects like a needle touching a record and a movie reel clicking. If I could classify this I would call it “Beach Music.” With a relaxed feel and smooth dancing tunes Reasons is excellent for a lazy day. I appreciated its imperfections, many bands clean to no end. Rough edges make the Red Pens shine.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score for the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road is a moving piece of music. Much like the book’s subject matter, and the accompanying film, The Road takes us on a very dark and menacing trip. There are a few brief moments of what would sound like optimism in this musical landscape but they are completely shrouded by horror. Not the type of horror that involves axe-wielding maniacs in hockey masks or benevolent spirits but real-life horror. The type of fear that is brought on by the paranoid, high-stress struggle for survival, both physically and mentally, within a chaotic world with no rules and next to no civility.
Cave and Ellis do an amazing job creating that sense of loneliness, dread and insanity that situations like the state of the world in The Road would undoubtedly bring forth. The only thing that could have probably made this score more sinister would be if Nick Cave had added some of his villainous vocals. It’s plenty dark without them though, trust me.
If the world really was thrown into a post-apocalyptic state you’d be hard pressed to find a better musical backdrop for it than The Road. It’s a beautiful but unnerving piece of music that’s worth taking in when you can give it your full attention. Luckily it’s just the score for a film and not our lives.
Gorilla Manor by the Local Natives is a sterling debut album from the five-piece Silver Lake, California-based band. The album is a melodic blend of indie rock, folk pop, and Americana, coupled with harmonizing vocals layered on top of dazzling musical arrangements. A catchy guitar line opens “Wide Eyes” followed by a distinctive percussive beat to accompany the smooth and matching vocals. The memorable and beautifully haunting “Airplanes” artfully demonstrates the band’s folksy sound combined with melodic beats and catchy lyrics. “Sun Hands” is another track with gorgeous overlapping drumbeats, vocals, and string instrumentation that creates a musically gliding effect. A couple of my favorite tracks include the soulful groove of “Cards and Quarters” and the sexy down-tempo sounds of “Who Knows Who Cares.” After repeatedly listening to the album on many occasions, the songs have grown on me tremendously and I’ve become increasingly appreciative of the varied elements and eclectic sounds that make each song different and unique. The musical talent is apparent on Gorilla Manor and the Local Natives have produced an album that is entirely delightful to listen to. If you already enjoy the music of Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear, chances are pretty high that the Local Natives will be a fitting addition as well.
Guy Blakeslee has been releasing albums as Entrance since 2003. For his last album he added a bassist and drummer and Entrance became The Entrance Band. His guitar playing is great and here he’s matched by some awesome musicians like Paz Lenchantin on bass (It’s good to see she still gets work after A Perfect Circle and Zwan). On their self-titled album the trio jams out to some trippy prog-blues numbers that are pretty hit-or-miss the whole way through. They conjure up some cool riffs but there are very few memorable moments here.
The big exception is “Grim Reaper Blues.” Here is a song that’s dark, heavy, depressing, and a little bit scary- everything a good blues song should be. Over a pummeling Zeppelin-esque riff Blakeslee wails about the fact that he loves his baby but the Grim Reaper wants a chance to love her too. The buckets of reverb keep the song from being as raw and bone-chilling as it could be but it’s forgivable. The other track that stands out is “M.L.K.,” both for it’s good blues playing and it’s confounding lyrics. I like Martin Luther King as much as the next guy but is this really the time or place to tell us to remember him? Blakeslee could have sung abut Dr. King’s message with a little more nuance in the lyrics.
I found the rest of the album to be completely forgettable. I remember some interesting interplay between instruments and a lot of studio effects but nothing else. Most songs are longer than they should be as is the album itself. The decent but too long “You Must Turn” should have closed the album but instead they tacked on the boring and too long “Hourglass.” If you’re planning on breaking out the black light and bong this album might help set the scene. Otherwise there isn’t much to get out of it. The Entrance Band have talent and some vision. What they need is better songs.
DJ Champion’s No Heaven Borderlands can be summed up in one word, funky. The album is quick and concise with not a lot of BS. Every song has a distinct, cool beat that emits pure ease. This music can be played anywhere from swaying hips while washing dishes to a party on the beach. It reminded me of hot summer nights. There is not a whole lot to say, except that I suggest everyone take a little bit of time from their day to experience DJ Champion’s music. I found no disappointments except for maybe there could have been a few more songs. Then again, I am left wanting and waiting for more. Go out and do what you need to do to make a listening experience like this one happen.