MUSIC REVIEWS: Spindrift, Como Now, The Streets, Johann Johannsson

The West
(Beat the World/World’s Fair)

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Spindrift describes their sound as “a psychedelic shootout in a Western town on a distant planet,” and it’s difficult to come up with a more appropriate assessment. While the carnivalesque opening track, “The Isle of Lost Souls,” is reminiscent of the genre-hopping Liverpool group The Coral, much of the rest of The West saunters around like the new gun in town making sure you know his name. Songs like “The New West,” “Ace Coltrane,” and “La Noche Mas Oscura” conjure up images of lone rangers on horseback, swinging saloon doors, and the expansive nighttime desert sky, all viewed through an addictively hallucinogenic lens.

But Spindrift isn’t all space cowboys and Indians, with shades of both the Ramones and TV on the Radio highlighting “If You Don’t Like It (Get the Fuck Out)” and a Jesus and Mary Chain coolness pulsing throughout “Goin’ Down.” An auditorily tantalizing array of sonic textures weaves its way through the album, eluding easily pre-packaged stylistic labels. Whatever the influences, by the time the nearly ten-minute closing track, “Colt’s Crime,” comes down from its extended Dead Meadow-meets-Sergio Leone trip, The West will have you won over.

Toney Palumbo

Various Artists
Como Now: The Voices of Panola Co. Mississippi
(Daptone Records)

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In July 2006, Daptone Records invited local singers to come on down to Mount Mariah Church in rural Como, Mississippi to create a permanent record of gospel music – the heart and soul of the south. The resulting album is an absolutely irresistible collection of some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful voices giving life to a truly stirring set of songs. There are no fancy studio-sounding tunes here. The production is raw and uncluttered – completely focused on letting the community’s musical heritage shine. When the gravely voices of Della Daniels and Ester Mae Smith belt out songs like “Jesus Builds A Fence Around Me” and “Move Upstairs” it’s a truly spiritual experience and even approaches the divine.

Amy Wagner

The Streets
Everything is Borrowed

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A new sense of spirituality and humility persists throughout The Street’s new album Everything is Borrowed but with it comes a loss for the loose, raw qualities that gave them an edge earlier in their career. The Streets, an alias for English rapper Mike Skinner, made a big impact back in 2001 with the album Original Pirate Material and recent years have seen the group flounder. The new album is a departure conceptually but not an entirely successful one. The title track leads off with a familiar tone and Skinner’s trademark accent but somehow the philosophy, although interesting, comes off as heavy and sophomoric. “Heaven for the Weather” and “I Love You More (Than You Like Me)” follows it up and hits much closer to the mark capturing a bit of the early Streets feel with its cool beats and mixture of rapping and singing. Unfortunately, tracks like “The Way Of The Doto,” “On The Edge Of A Cliff,” and “The Escapist” sound forced and almost cheesy despite their positive message. The songwriting is really an issue in the album and it sounds like Mike and the crew are trying too hard and not being true to themselves. The album is not a total disaster (it’s actually perfect for lofty college kids in their first philosophy classes) but the Streets have promised that their next album will be their last so we hope they get it right before it’s over.

Paul Kim

Johann Johannsson

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Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s Fordlândia derives its title from the tale of Henry Ford’s attempt to build an idealized American society on the Amazon in the 1920’s. Johannsson also cites running themes of rocketry and “nature reclaiming territory previously lost to human industry.”

Just as the nearly 14-minute titular opening track transports the audience through sweeping Sigur Ros grandeur and triumphant U2 guitar heraldry, the stirring and epic finale “How We Left Fordlândia” appropriately signals the return home from the completed dystopic pilgrimage. Bookended between the two opuses are eight other tracks of unmistakably classical arrangement and execution that nonetheless demonstrate popular influences. “The Rocket Builder (Io Pan!)” features a twinkling Danny Elfman-like melody supported by a moody accompaniment, while the low ambient guitars buried in the mix of “Melodia (III)” were allegedly inspired by Johannsson’s bearing witness to a Sunn O))) performance in an Austrian church. A curiously electronic-sounding percussion track even fuels “Melodia (Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device
based on Heim’s Quantum Theory).

Though inspired by failed utopias, Fordlândia is a rousing success, bringing modernity to the classical and evading the sappy sentimentality that plagues music this ambitiously cinematic.

Toney Palumbo

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