Albums of the Week

August 21-August 27, 2010

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In this edition: Mt St Helens Vietnam Band, Boris & Ian Astbury, The Henry Clay People, Blaze Foley, Donovan Quinn & The 13th Month, Nite Jewel, Wavves, Peter Case, Frontier Ruckus and Danzig.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Mt St Helens Vietnam Band: Where The Messengers Meet (Dead Oceans)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003QTBTUW]At times not fully cracking a band’s code can be the most seductive thing of all. Knowing there are mysteries and treats to come as one ruminates on an album is exciting, and the sophomore slab from this swiftly evolving Seattle bunch is chock-a-block with slow stripping pleasures. Often likened to modern sources like Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire, the vibe I pick up on is much closer to a contemporary Led Zeppelin, where the players take what the other children are toying with and build striking, powerful new constructs. It’s not just their irregular yet captivating riff sense or the Bonham-like whomp of their much-ballyhooed 14-year-old drummer, but something deeper that doesn’t reference Zep musically so much as spiritually in their surge, precocious invention and thick, shadowy atmosphere. Not all of Where The Messengers Meet (released August 3) is elusive, and the on-a-mission delivery and crunchy rock instincts peppered throughout make this enjoyable from the start. But the real rewards come only through plumbing its depths, picking out cool details as one’s flashlight swings to & fro in the darkness. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Boris & Ian Astbury: BXI EP (Southern Lord)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003RXXZX6]It took me a long time to get back into The Cult. I used to listen to them quite a bit in my early high school years. Both Electric and Sonic Temple were in regular rotation on my ugly, yellow Sony SPORTS Walkman in those days. The combination of Ian Astbury’s shamanistic post-Lizard King howl cascading against the spot-on Angus Young-cum-Daniel Ash gleam of Billy Duffy’s Les Paul provided the perfect solution for drowning out the bullies in the back of the bus during those harrowing commutes to campus. So, when the fall of 1991 rolled around, it was a no-brainer when I walked into the record shop one day in late September to pick up The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik to also scoop up the new album by The Cult, Ceremony, which had come out that week as well. The dude behind the counter cautioned me against buying it and suggested I purchase Nirvana’s Nevermind, which had also been released that Tuesday and that it didn’t matter if I hadn’t heard of them since I would love it. I immediately felt the burn of buyer’s remorse based on my decision to stick with Ceremony because that album was fucking terrible and completely killed The Cult for me for a long, long time whilst helping me appreciate Nirvana all the more. However, nearly two decades later, I am currently experiencing somewhat of a revival for the Yorkshire group through the recent discovery of their first album, 1984’s Dreamtime; definitely one of the most underrated albums in the Beggars Banquet catalog. The generous four-CD deluxe edition of 1985’s Love has also fueled a reassessment of The Cult’s importance to the rock landscape in the Reagan/Thatcher era. So, when word got out that Astbury was joining forces with Japanese psych-metal greats Boris in Tokyo for a collaborative EP, one sensed some serious shit was about to go down. And BXI (released August 17) most definitely delivers. The two disparate acts have a substantial amount of chemistry as Astbury and Boris fully intertwine themselves into each other on the EP’s three original tracks Teeth and Claws, We Are Witches and Magickal Child. In this day of unlikely combos heading into the studio, it truly is a rare treat to hear one that went together so naturally. Boris’ epic crunch and Astbury’s mystic man jive well with one another, and then when Ian excuses himself as Boris delivers a perfect cover of The Cult’s classic Rain from Love, featuring the hypnotic voice of guitarist Wata, presumably as a thank you for being able to rock together on this surprisingly stellar team-up. Word has it there is a possible full-length in the works, and if that comes to fruition it will be very good news for Boris and Cult fans, lapsed or otherwise. (Ron Hart)

The Henry Clay People: Somewhere On The Golden Coast (TBD)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003HE2B30]The Henry Clay People’s third studio album is an end-to-end delight, spitting wisdom laid atop an entirely winning mixture of classic rock moves and jagged punk moxie. The cover of a man falling into the “embrace” of two giant bears hints at their playfulness but once inside its their heart that captures one. On The Golden Coast (released June 8) provides anthems for part-time workers everywhere who get by on the kindness of family, friends and strangers, yet are willing to sell their favorite guitar for those they love so they can pay the rent. Mission of Burma and The Hold Steady come to mind as one cranks Nobody Taught Us To Quit, End of An Empire and This Ain’t A Scene, and there’s nary a dud in the bunch. Better with each spin, Golden Coast is the kind of creeper that could sneak onto one’s Best of 2010 list.

Blaze Foley: The Dawg Years (Fat Possum)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003MQ3H9K]Before the late, great Blaze Foley became renowned as one of the most respected singer-songwriters to ever come out of Texas, the man whose tunes were covered by such peers and heroes as Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Lyle Lovett was known as Deputy Dawg. This spare, stunning collection of acoustic tracks span the years 1976-1978 and was recorded in the living room of friends Bill and Margery Bouris, whose son Basil discovered and produced the album from tapes he found in his parents’ closet, and who can be heard on several songs in the background as an infant. If you are a fan of Townes at his starkest and Shel Silverstein at his rootsiest, you will definitely dig The Dawg Years (released July 6). (RH)

Donovan Quinn & The 13th Month: Your Wicked Man (Shrimper)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003T8FLGS]This slow boil from San Francisco-based singer-songwriter has the seemingly wispy feel of Donovan, Syd Barrett and early Devendra Banhart, but only at first flush. Surfaces can be misleading, and there’s a decent amount of muscle below the sighing, earnest top layer. Spend some time with this 10-pack (released August 3) and something akin to the dreamy spell that captured the Velvet Underground in the 60s or solo Robyn Hitchcock in the 80s is afoot. Each instrument is carefully chosen and carefully placed, making a little work a lot, where each piece serves a purpose and strengthens the core of one of tomorrow’s parties thrown with gently honed grace. (DC)

Nite Jewel: Am I Real? (Gloriette)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003WN793I]One of the fastest rising stars on the Los Angeles abstract beats scene is Ramona Gonzalez, who records and performs under the name Nite Jewel and has toured and/or collaborated with such neighborhood pals as DaM-FunK and Baths. She may cite the likes of such experimental greats as German krautrock legends Cluster and Tom Recchion of the Free Music Society as influences, but the music she creates is equally inspired by late 80s freestyle and early 90s R&B as well, if say someone like Flying Lotus is the house producer instead of Teddy Riley. Following up on her 2009 full-length debut Good Evening, this six-song EP (arriving September 7) is another winning collection of minimalist dance-pop anthems that should appeal to both glo-fi disco brats and educated Stones Throw cats alike until Nite Jewel’s next proper album come out in 2011. (RH)

Wavves: The King of the Beach (Fat Possum)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003SNYZVG]Beach music has a long, problematic history. For every Beach Boys or Dick Dale there’s a hundred crap knockoffs. So, kudos to Wavves for rushing into these waters like wild-eyed toddlers, crashing into the surf on a sunny day. A kitchen sink pulverized in a food processor approach informs King of the Beach (released August 3), which borrows liberally from The Ventures and both “Surfer Girl” and Holland/Surf’s Up era Beach Boys, amongst other seaweed strewn ancestors. What makes this effort different – both from earlier Wavves albums and the obvious sandy ancestors – is the layers of ugly and obfuscation slapped on everything. Producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Camper Van Beethoven) deserves a few cold ones and some SPF lotion for his hand in sculpting this intriguing, quite fun new chapter for Wavves, opening up new possibilities for them and expanding on Fat Possum’s reinvention of recent years. (DC)

Peter Case: Wig! (Yep Roc)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003LWLG70]In the mid-to-late 70s, Peter Case was one of the most distinctive voices in the punk/new wave era as the leader of both The Nerves and The Plimsouls. In 2010, he has rebuilt his image as a grizzled bluesman from the canyons of Los Angeles. A victory lap following a successful double bypass in 2009, Wig! (released June 29) is the sound of a man with a revitalized heart who’s ready to put down the acoustic guitar that lorded over his solo years and pick up the electric bass of his band years once again. Once again playing in a trio alongside guitarist Ron Franklin and X drummer DJ Bonebrake, Wig! is loaded with raw guitar blues in the vein of early Fat Possum Records, propelled by one of the best songwriters in power pop. And make sure you get the CD of this one, because the artwork and packaging is pretty cool. This is a definite keeper. (RH)

Frontier Ruckus: Deadmalls & Nightfalls (Ramseur)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003OJ28ZO]As quietly adventurous as their name implies, Frontier Ruckus warps folk forms, keeping the string stroking intimacy but adding a compelling wobble ‘n’ warp. Those (like myself) missing where The Avett Brothers left off before their recent Rick Rubin produced foray into pop-rock will find oodles to adore on Deadmalls and Nightfalls (released July 20). However, the Ruckus is earthier and bloodier than the Avetts, though often one misses the subtext on first pass. Listen again and there’s bodies sweating and hurting strewn about their second album, caressed by dobro, banjo and pedal steel and wrapped around potent language that recalls Moby Grape’s Skip Spence, Billy Bragg and Robyn Hitchcock at their sharpest. As the title hints, this is ideal listening for quiet spaces where the rest of the world has curled up to leave one alone with their thoughts. (DC)

Danzig: Deth Red Sabaoth (Evilive)

[amtap amazon:asin=B001QGX1DU]I can honestly say that not since Lucifuge have I listened to a Danzig album with as much enthusiasm as I did this latest release from the horror-punk hero. Deth Red Sabaoth (released June 21) features Glen playing guitar and bass alongside Tommy Victor on guitar and Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative) playing drums, and harks back to his legendary pair of Rick Rubin-produced albums for Def American, harboring more of the bluesy metallic boogie of his “classic” era than anything he has done since on tracks like Black Candy, Ju Ju Bone and Pyre of Souls. If you’ve ignored Danzig for the last 15 years or so like me, get back in the ring with Deth Red Sabaoth. (RH)