Albums of the Week

August 7-August 13, 2010

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In this edition: Hiss Golden Messenger, I’m Going Where The Water Drinks Like Wine, Wintersleep, Stuart Moxham, The Heavy Guilt, Max Richte, Arcade Fire, PVT, Joe Elliott’s Down ‘N’ Outz and Wild Nothing.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Hiss Golden Messenger: Root Work (reapandsow)

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Shapes forming in the air, transmissions from the other side coalescing and reaching into your ear-hole with moist, fragrant fingers, an inviting sonic shiatsu that snaps tightness and stress. Such is the alluring unfolding of this live set from future cult superstars Hiss Golden Messenger, an outgrowth of SF’s The Court & Spark whose extended family on the two coasts includes Pink Nasty, members of Oranger, Mushroom and The Mother Hips, all of whom appear on Hiss’ 2009 studio debut Country Hai East Cotton (see review here), an album destined for the same starry-eyed outsider worship as Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day, Terry Reid’s River, and The Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. Since moving to North Carolina from San Francisco, the core nucleus of J.L. “Slim” Diamond and Scott Hirsch have found new collaborators and this six-track EP represents this lineup’s first official fruits. Captured at a session originally recorded for WFMU in 2008, Root Work (released June 1) represents the voluptuous evolution of the Country Hai material, building on and warping the one-drop, blue-eyed reggae elements and sharpening the guitar and horn attack even as Robert Stillman’s Fender Rhodes sighs and licks at this pagan-gospel jubilee. John Martyn is Hiss’ largest looming ancestor, who they honor by respecting all parts of his voluminous catalog and the self-determined zeal for creative expression he represents. Slim sings ’em with more unpasteurized soul than most white dudes can dream to muster, and the whole enterprise oohs & aahs in ways that feed one’s spirit. Don’t miss out now and have to lie about loving them back in the day after the Pitchfork crowd discovers them down the line. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Various Artists: I’m Going Where The Water Drinks Like Wine (Sub Rosa)

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One of my favorite scenes from Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World is when Steve Buscemi’s character, nerdy vinyl collector and corporate fried chicken shill Seymour, throws a party where he and his buddies trade old 78s of impossibly rare blues sides from the 1920s and 30s and one of the dudes gets all bent out of shape because there was a hairline fracture in a particular side Seymour was looking to sell him. While most of us who are knowledgeable fans of the blues are well aware of such unsung early 20th century kingmakers as Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James, Bukka White, et al, it’s the likes of such serious scholars of roots music like Seymour and his real-life doppelganger, comix great Robert Crumb, who have presumably heard of the 18 unsung bluesmen of the Jazz Age compiled for this excellent Nuggets style collection. Among the highlights of I’m Going Where The Water Drinks Like Wine (released June 8) include Sylvester Weaver’s Guitar Blues (one of the first known blues songs to use slide guitar), James Alley Blues by early political bluesman Richard Rabbit Brown (famously featured on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and covered by Bob Dylan before he went electric), a pair of tracks from the mysterious Kid Bailey (who was rumored to be the pseudonym of famous Charley Patton sideman Willie Brown), and Devil in a Woodpile by Tennessee street busker Noah Lewis, whose Viola Lee Blues was a regular staple of The Grateful Dead’s sets back in the Haight-Ashbury days. Fans of the kind of deep blues legendary music journalist Robert Palmer waxed so poetically about in his writings will definitely want to seek out this most valuable bottle of vintage refreshment. (Ron Hart)

Wintersleep: New Inheritors (Kitchen Table)

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Halifax’s Wintersleep have opened for Paul McCartney, Editors and Pearl Jam, none slouches in their understanding that rock need not be utterly reinvented to be very enriching. Wintersleep is a band that reshuffles the deck with such dexterity and style that it becomes relevant and alert, not unlike fellow Canadians Dearly Beloved or Stateside peers The Whigs. There’s a plaintive yearning to much of New Inheritors (released June 1) married to a expansive, ambitious palette with traces of Stone Roses and The Smiths, though with country strokes outside either Brits’ purview. While readily accessible, these songs benefit from focused examination, each revealing dozens of small details that elevate them from quite good to downright great. American audiences in the South and the East Coast will get a chance to check out Wintersleep live when they tour with The Hold Steady in September. Those of us out West will be appropriately jealous. (DC)

Stuart Moxham: Personal Best (Habit)

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As the guitarist for Young Marble Giants, Stuart Moxham is the man responsible for creating some of the most minimalist pop to grace college radio airwaves back in the early 80s. But as those who followed his post-YMG solo career over the last thirty years can attest, Moxham’s music, both under his own name and with The Gist alongside brother and fellow Giant Andrew Moxham, moved further and further away from the sparse dryness of Colossal Youth and closer to a lighter, brighter area of melody pulling from elements of bossa nova, Athens jangle, French pop, electronica and even dub to create ear candy that might remind some of Sean Lennon’s finer moments. This wonderful 20-track set serves as a perfect primer for YMG newbies to introduce themselves to the cream of Moxham’s solo years (the first release on his new boutique label Habit) as we anticipate the forthcoming release of a new album from this favorite son of Cardiff, Wales. (RH)

The Heavy Guilt: Lift Us Up From This (self-released)

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A soft focus photograph of a graveyard on the cover makes the implications of this San Diego-based band’s debut clear. Loss, longing and the dangers of speaking of dreams aloud form the spine of this feelings rich rock. Former K23 Orchestra members Al Howard (percussion, backing vox) and Josh Rice (Rhodes, B3) along with highly emotive lead singer Erik Canzona are joined by an attentive crew including former JFJO drummer J. Smart, who shows he’s as strong and tasteful as ever. The general feel touches on the darker side of Dave Matthews, Wilco and the like, with craftsmanship and intelligence being key aspects throughout. The Heavy Guilt are often most effective when they simmer and complicate, building memorable work brick by brick in a way that nicely recalls latter day Dylan’s peculiar, patient compositional structures. Not exactly happy music but The Heavy Guilt captures much of the substance they strive for on this first shot across the bow. (DC)

Max Richter: Infra (Fat Cat)

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Following the success of his stark, spooky score for Martin Scorsese’s 2009 horror sleeper Shutter Island, composer Max Richter returns with this groundbreaking fusion of electronic and classical music. Originally conceived as the soundtrack for a Royal ballet alongside imagist Julian Opie and a choreographer, Infra (released July 20) is a wonderfully intricate, pronounced amalgamation of Richter’s appreciations for Philip Glass, Franz Schubert, Brian Eno and Autechre in 13 movements awash with complex, sweeping textures and melodies that bring classical music even further into the realm of the 21st century. (RH)

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge)

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The third album from these nigh-universally adored Canadians (released August 3) feels like a grower, a song cycle that will be richer revisited over the months and then set aside between visits, but it’s tough to embrace out of the gate. It’s just so joyless, and even their attempts at pop-esque snap are undercut by the alternately brooding male or sharp, erratic female lead vocals and an oppressive insistence on being “art” that seems to think cracking a smile would mean not being taken seriously. Maybe I’m the only music writer in the Western Hemisphere that doesn’t get the gushing critical love for Arcade Fire, and especially any claims of originality. These ears pick on the sonics of Peep Show/Through The Looking Glass-era Siouxsie & The Banshees, the echo-laden heaviness of Factory Records acts like The Durutti Column and Joy Division, the almost-comic earnestness of early U2 (as well as the swoony production of The Unforgettable Fire), the bookish cleverness of middle-period Belle & Sebastian, and the forced loftiness of recent studio Bruce Springsteen. The Suburbs took close to two years to complete and the sound occasionally feels overworked with a few too many details crammed into spaces that cry for breathing room. Arcade Fire are unquestionably talented but there’s an awful lot of bands working similar veins – Southeast Engine, Phosphorescent and Everest immediately spring to mind – without being so leadenly serious or irritatingly self-important. (DC)

PVT: A Church With No Magic (Warp)

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Normally when an instrumental band starts to add vocals into the mix, the results are usually an epic fail, but Australian IDM rockers PVT (formerly Pivot) skirt the pitfalls that have dogged such great one-time wordless wonders as Trans Am and Don Caballero. Good songwriting is the key to A Church With No Magic (arriving August 10), which features a heavy helping of Replicas-era Tubeway Army offset by PVT’s experimental electronic-organic mind meld, resulting in an album that should prove to be enjoyable for fans of both their 2005 debut Make Me Love You and its 2008 follow-up O Soundtrack My Heart, regardless of the brand new elephant in the room. (RH)

Joe Elliott’s Down ‘N’ Outz: My ReGeneration (Mailboat)

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Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople don’t get near enough credit, especially in the U.S., but Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott is doing something about it with this affectionate covers set, which encompasses solo Hunter, Hoople deep cuts and post-Hunter Mott project British Lions. The barroom scene on the sleeve hints at the very English Pub Rock within, and not just Mott fans but anyone fond of Brinsley Schwarz, Frankie Miller and early Robert Palmer will be well chuffed by My ReGeneration (released July 13). Elliott updates the production a bit but keeps the standup piano hop, wild guitars and strutting R&B confidence of his inspirations, never straying too far from the original arrangements and offering his strongest singing in years. Outside Leppard’s highly polished environs, Elliott’s rough boy character and road house charm come to the fore, and the backing from The Quireboys, who form the core of Down ‘N’ Outz, is just plain good rock ‘n’ roll. Everyone involved is having an obvious blast, which in turn infuses the music with an eager reach. Elliott told Classic Rock – who included a free copy of My ReGeneration in Issue 147 – that he hopes Down ‘N’ Outz do three more albums, with the second focusing on lesser known Mott numbers, the third stretching out into bands of the same period like 10cc, Fanny and Wings, and the fourth introducing original songs. Absolutely down to hear it all after spinning this debut. (DC)

Wild Nothing: Gemini (Captured Tracks)

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How does Jack Tatum do it? Under the guise of Wild Nothing, this Virgina Tech student has been setting fire to the blogosphere by creating little pop songs in the calm of his bedroom with the same sense of sonic lushness that Stephen Street brought to the finest Smiths albums, only without the bottomless pockets of Sire Records funding the fray. Gemini (released May 25) is Tatum’s full-length debut and brings a wonderful new layer of class not only to the Captured Tracks family but to the current wave of lo-fi nouveau romanticism made popular by the likes of The Radio Dept., Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the like. (RH)