Albums of the Week

April 16-April 22

Comments Off on Albums of the Week |April 16-April 22

In this edition: Iron & Wine, Gang of Four, Mike Watt, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, John Oates, New York Dolls, The Builders And The Butchers, Six Organs of Admittance, Marillion, Yellowbirds, The Mother Hips, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears and Malachai.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)

Best Iron and Wine album ever. Oh, I know there are beardy adherents to Sam Beam’s haunting early missives, wishing with eyes shut tight that he’ll keep remaking Our Endless Numbered Days over & over. Well, those folks are shit out of luck because Beam has made a bold, utterly successful stylistic leap akin to Paul Simon’s Graceland, where in a single album whole new universes of sound open up. Kiss Each Other Clean (released January 25) is fascinating, ear-grabbing and painfully beautiful from the get-go, launching us into a sighing, Revelation-esque vision as we walk far from home. Lazarus soon joins the expedition and the archetypal hits just keep on comin’, Beam and company heaping on layers and then slicing through them with sprightly saxophone, tweaked vocals, sinewy guitars and a groovy mindset that makes the thick ontology dance. The briar patch of the modern human psyche throws vines into the natural world and suddenly the two don’t seem so far apart. I took some months to savor this album and really figure out how great it is, and I’m convinced it’s the most complex, enjoyable and original work yet from this band, which just began their full U.S. tour this weekend (find dates here). No doubt, these songs will shift and evolve in the live setting in ways that make one’s head tingle just to think about. It’s a pleasure to find Beam moving from folksy distance into a realm that pops and crackles, issuing a sharp-tongued letter to lovers and the powers that be which pulsates with palpable energy. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Gang of Four: Content (Yep Roc)

Fuck aging with quiet dignity! The band that made Entertainment! a strange, dirty word in 1979 is definitely not going softly into this good night. Content (released January 25) is in fact a worthy contender for the surprisingly long-lived U.K. modern rock godfather’s career best. Knocked about by new, curiously titled joints like “You’ll Never Pay For The Farm” and “She Said ‘You Made A Thing Of Me,’ one hears where Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, Rage Against The Machine and innumerable others got some of their spark. Instead of a late career softball, Gang of Four has crafted a gnarly shiv to puncture bloated, delusional contemporary society. They are just as effective as in their critical heyday except now the music flows with greater mercurial grace. Slapped by mean, sewer splashed bass and clattering rhythms, one feels the weird tension of being alive in the 21st century. Bravo, sirs. You give aging rabble-rousers hope and a benchmark to aim at. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Mike Watt: Hyphenated-Man (Clenchedwrench)

When it comes to the punk opera, Green Day ain’t got shit on Mike Watt. While the mainstream pop trio’s hackneyed, over-hyped 2004 song cycle-turned-Broadway musical American Idiot is blindly touted as the groundbreaking work of its kind, the San Pedro econo-icon already has two narrative song threads in the bag in 1997’s paean to his old man Contemplating the Engine Room and 2004’s existentialist Divine Comedy re-envisioning The Second Man’s Middle Stand. And for this stellar, long anticipated third aria, Watt comes to grips with his past and the present of his status as the elder statesman of his art with 30 minute long blasts of old school punk jazz genius aided and abetted by his killer new group The Missingmen, consisting of guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales. Hypenated-Man (released March 1) is wholly inspired by the hours of time spent reminiscing on his days traveling the U.S. with the late D. Boon and George Hurley for Keith Scheiron and Tim Irwin’s acclaimed 2005 Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo. It is easily his best work since his 1995 solo debut Ball-Hog or Tugboat, and maybe even fIREHOSE’s Flyin’ the Flannel. Regardless, it is a total accumulation of everything you ever loved about this mofo. If only the next album could be twice as long and made in half the time. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong (Slumberland)

Some bands flaunt the bounty of their rookie success with new cars and flashy threads. New York’s Pains of Being Pure at Heart, on the other hand, showcase the fortune of their highly blogged-over 2009 eponymous debut full-length by reinvesting in their art and hiring the two men whose studio work inspired them to make music in the first place. Recruiting the production team of Alan Moulder and Flood – the duo responsible for some of the greatest albums of the last 20 years including the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Honey’s Dead, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral and Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – was the best thing for the Pains, as the acclaimed team help deliver the band into the threshold of genuine commercial viability by pulling them from the murk of their lo-fidelity past and into the totality of the Creation Records fever dream they’ve so longed for since their inception. The guitar crunch of tracks like the opening title cut and My Terrible Friend blisters like Billy Corgan back when Kevin Shields was his point of inspiration instead of Tom Scholz. Meanwhile, heavenly gems like Even In Dreams and Strange float along on a sound cloud of dream-pop bliss like a lost transmission from the sorely missed Long Island alternative station WDRE. Belong (released March 29) is nothing short of a revelation from a band who knows how to wear its influences perfectly on its collective sleeve like a Bulgari watch. (RH)

John Oates: Mississippi Mile (Elektra)

Face it, blonds always get more play in the pop world. For many, it will always be HALL and Oates, but you can’t teach wisdom or real attention to detail. Any true H&O fans knows that Oates is a monster musician, songwriter and singer, but it’s not gonna hurt for him to have a really satisfying long-player like Mississippi Mile (released April 12) with just his name above the title. This is old school Oates, going back to the musician rich, sturdy song stylings of his early albums with Daryl Hall and even earlier to his boyhood inspirations. A handful of solid originals shares space here with quality covers like Please Send Me Someone To Love and All Shook Up. Throughout, the playing is tight ‘n’ tasty and Oates sings like a burlier, back porch flavored Jimmy Scott, almost unrecognizable as the same vocalist from track to track and showing off a hell of a range. He saves the best for last with the final sequence of the Creedence-like Deep River into Dylan’s He Was A Friend Of Mine, an Ink Spots flavored reworking of You Make My Dreams Come True and a gentle, perfect closing cover of The Duhks’ Dance Hall Girls. Best solo album out of the pair since Daryl Hall’s bizarre, Robert Fripp produced gem Sacred Songs (1980). (DC)

New York Dolls: Dancing Backwards In High Heels (429 Records)

For their third album since reconvening in 2004, the New York Dolls headed over to Newcastle, England, to work with one of modern British rock’s brightest talents in Jason Hill of the criminally underrated Louis XIV [Editor’s Note: Couldn’t agree more on this point! Primo, ballsy rock with zero nostalgia.]. Together, this combination of surviving Dolls David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, Hill in the producer’s chair and a ragtag team of studio musicians craft the glam greats’ best work of their post-reunion era, seeing them dialing back the guitar grit of their previous work to reveal Johansen and Sylvain’s roots in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. And by keeping things in a mellower mood, the twosome offer a more reflective sense of sincerity in their songs, reminiscing on the fading history of their beloved downtown NYC in such a vivid way you can almost smell the stink from the manholes in Cooper Square emanating from the stereo and feel the linoleum flooring of your great aunt’s tiny kitchen in Queens under your feet. (RH)

The Builders And The Butchers: Dead Reckoning (Badman Recording Co.)

After being pretty wowed by The Builders And The Butchers opening set at a show in 2009, I’ve found myself steadily sucked into this band’s thick, jaundiced world. Bouncing with a vibe that’s somewhere between a jug band and a punk band, TBATB are the descendents of The Pogues, Hüsker Dü/Bob Mould and Split Lip Rayfield – fiery, rock addled folk grappling with ideas Bill Monroe and Pete Seeger would be too polite to tackle. Dead Reckoning (released February 22) is their first future classic, a sour mouthed, on-the-bloody-money assessment of the current state of affairs offered up in language and style that reminds us how universal suffering, poverty and power struggles have been throughout history. Few will be cheered by this slab, which flirts with positive spins on intravenous escape and suicide while asking, “Did you know the whole world is rotten to the core?” But it can’t always be sunshine and lollipops, and this fully formed bounder has the potential to creep onto 2011’s Best Albums lists. (DC)

Six Organs of Admittance: Asleep On The Floodplain (Drag City)

For his latest endeavor under the Six Organs of Admittance handle, master journeyman guitarist Ben Chasny reverts back to the comfort of his home studio to deliver his most relaxed collection of songs since School of the Flower. And following the electrified intensity of 2009’s Luminous Night, the quiet, acoustic nature of Asleep On The Floodplain (released February 22) is a meditative reaffirmation of Chasney’s status as the most talented man on the old hollow-body in the modern age, evident on such compositions as the reflective Dawn, Running Home and the comely River of My Youth, which features his wife and Drag City label mate Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers) on vocals. (RH)

Marillion: Live From Cadogan Hall (Eagle/Racket)

Marillion has released a lot of live albums, including some acoustic ones, but they’ve never nailed the acoustic thing quite so well as Cadogan Hall (released March 29 in the States). Taken from the tour for the sublime reworking of past catalog cuts Less Is More (see review here), this set takes the band another few yards away from their lingering prog-rock tag, revealing what superb pop tunes and interesting deep tracks lurk in this library. Steve Hogarth remains one of the preeminent lead vocalists in rock, furthering burnishing his rep in this exposed setting. Disc One recreates Less Is More, adding further appealing wrinkles to the already revisioned songs, and Disc Two is ten interpretations of great numbers like This Train Is My Life, Estonia, No One Can, Easter and an especially fine version of The Answering Machine. The musical standout here is Mark Kelly’s piano work, which continually leaves one quietly slack-jawed. Another fine entry from a band that’s only getting better with time. (DC)

Yellowbirds: The Color (Royal Potato Family)

Sam Cohen makes music that is undeniably Texan. But in the case of the songs he crafts under the din of his new side project Yellowbirds, the co-leader of the celebrated psych-pop collective Apollo Sunshine pays homage in ways that turns everything you perceive about the Lone Star State on its ear. The Color is the sound of a Monument-era Roy Orbison fronting the 13th Floor Elevators if they were produced by Van Dyke Parks…or something to that effect. Any way you slice it, Yellowbirds makes a beautiful strain of heady mellow that both challenges the mind and pleases the ear. (RH)

The Mother Hips: Do It On The Strings: Live In California November 2010 (self-released)

Performing as an acoustic trio while drummer John Hofer welcomed his daughter into the world, the stripped down Hips offer something decidedly different than the pure rock mojo they usually exhibit. Recorded at Grass Valley Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, CA, on November 13th, 2010 and McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA, Do It On The Strings offers further proof that the songs of singer-guitarists Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono are some of the most malleable out there. What perhaps surprises is how effective and fresh well worn staples like Protein Sky, Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear and Whiskey On A Southbound sound in this setting, not to mention how a newer track like Young Charles Ives also thrives in the gentler hands Bluhm, Loiacono and multi-instrumentalist Paul Hoaglin (now on hiatus from the band) here. While The Mother Hips can rage and roar with rock’s best, it’s a treat to hear them lower the volume and shake the bones of these compositions. You can purchase the download here. (DC)

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Scandalous (Lost Highway)

Two years ago, Black Joe Lewis was delivering fish fry in Austin, Texas, in spite of having a debut album on a prestigious imprint like Lost Highway and opening for the likes of Spoon and Little Richard. On the electrifying follow-up to 2009’s Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!, Joe, with the help of his band The Honeybears, delivers the kind of garage soul gold that gives him every right to tell his boss to take that filet o’ flounder and shove it where the sun don’t shine. With Spoon drummer Jim Eno once again in the producer’s seat, Scandalous (released March 15) finds the group honing their chops over a beefy stock of punked-out gospel (You Been Lyin’), old school Fat Possum country blooze (Messin’) and Motown-meets-MC5 funkdafied ferocity (Livin’ in the Jungle, Black Snake). (RH)

Malachai: Return To The Ugly Side (Domino)

There is nary a more unique outfit representing England’s Bristol District in the modern day than Malachai, and on the duo’s sophomore effort, they continue to expand upon their unique amalgam of paisley psychedelic sunshine and cut-and-paste hip-hop instrumentalism, allowing the influences of such abstract stalwarts as Flying Lotus and Madlib as well as the soundtrack work of Jon Brion to factor into the mix, elevating their unique tapestry of rhythm and harmony even more. Return to the Ugly Side (released February 22) is an aural fantasy where Revolver-era Beatles and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing were released in the same year – a swirling, majestic interpolation of 1966 and 1996 that sounds like nothing else out there. (RH)