Albums of the Week

August 16-August 22

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

In this edition: The Builders and The Butchers, Demon Queen, Mark Mulcahy, and Pedaljets.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
The Builders and The Butchers: Western Medicine (Badman)

AOTW0816_Builders Arriving with cold fingers and blood in the back of its throat, Western Medicine (released July 2) is the cure-all for the increasing Mumfordization of folk-inspired popular music. The Portland, Oregon group keeps all the death songs and harrowing tributaries of American folk intact even as they complicate and advance their sound on their latest long-player, incorporating fuller arrangements, electric guitars, a thicker vocal blend (enriched by pals Kelli Schaefer & Cristina Cano), sharp horns, and a overall more immediate, gripping rattle than their earlier work. With dad digging up the past in the backyard and the Grim Reaper pacing in the distance, Western Medicine is appealingly harrowing, fun but flecked with dark, important stuff. Even when they quiet down on No Roses, it’s still a flood of tears, but as with The Butchers and The Builders in general, the vaguely possessed howl singer-guitarist Ryan Sollee sweeps one up like a prophetic wind and the layered, deceptively simple but really smartly complex playing of the whole band makes it worth diggin’ through the entrails to see what messages are waiting for us. Realists will likely acknowledge that these times feel at least a little apocalyptic and it’s good to have the right music as cities burn and people shake their fists in frustration and anger. The Builders and The Butchers offer a foreboding soundtrack but in ways that touch on gospel’s comforting release on this new chapter, hope fluttering in the flames, struggling against the rising darkness, frail but present nonetheless. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Demon Queen: Exorcise Tape (Rad Cult)

AOTW0816_DemonQueen I once told a very open-minded music geek pal of my abiding affection for Funkadelic’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies, and his response was a flat, worried, “That’s a weird album.” This bugged-out collaboration between Tucson MC Zackey Force Funk and Pittsburgh’s Tobacco (Black Moth Super Rainbow) makes George Clinton’s Vietnam/Baby Boomer commentary seem positively polite, but if one cares to suckle strange teats there’s curiously curdled milk aplenty within Exorcise Tape (released August 6). This set is all the electricity and late night prowling wildness that’s missing from the over-praised new Daft Punk, jumper cables from a big ol’ musical Hemi big block running to nipples and other tender bits of flesh as Zackey and Tobacco gun the engine with wicked grins, spilling Four Loko on the leather upholstery and seeing how much voluptuous ass can be crammed in the backstage while the listener twitches and jitters. Exorcise Tape, like obvious spiritual ancestor Midnite Vultures (with more robot cock garbling the words), is filled with tweaked potential club bangers (Vodka being the most obvious cut in this vein), but the album feels more dangerous and street level than most of what’s being lobbed at party people today. Amidst the purring analog synths, distorted moaning and nasty beat science they drop in nuggets like, “Dreams don’t matter to a machine.” Even as one drops it hot-like, this pair tickles brains while making the other groove merchants sound lazy as fuck. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Mark Mulcahy: Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You (The Mezzotint Label/Fire Records)

AOTW0816_Mulcahy The Miracle Legion were one of the most underrated bands of the 80s, serving as a middle ground between R.E.M. and Pere Ubu at the height of the college rock era that has all but disappeared from the American music landscape in 2013. But ever since the release of 2009’s excellent tribute album Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy, a touching homage to the New Haven, CT-born singer-songwriter’s wife Melissa who passed away in 2008 and features the likes of such famous fans as Thom Yorke, Frank Black, Michael Stipe, Juliana Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr. and Mercury Rev covering various cuts from both the Miracle Legion and the Mulcahy solo lexicon, there’s been quite a resurgence of interest in the man and his music. Not enough, unfortunately, to merit long-overdue reissues of such classic Miracle Legion LPs as Surprise Surprise Surprise and Me and Mr. Ray – both of which are going for astronomical prices on Amazon at press time – but enough for him to see the biggest buzz he’s experienced in years upon the release of his fifth solo album and first via a new distro deal with the UK-based Fire Records for his own Mezzotint imprint. A more upbeat affair than such prior works as Fathering and In Pursuit of Your Happiness but just as fulfilling, Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You (released June 18) is the singer’s first new album in over eight years. Shades of his acclaimed 1992 LP with the Legion, Drenched (which, by the way, is available for a pretty cheap price on Amazon unlike its predecessors), permeates through such wry character studies as Everybody Hustles Leo, The Rabbit and My Rose Colored Friend. It truly is great to have Mark Mulcahy back in the public eye. Now all we need to do is convince him to start rattling the cages of Rough Trade about reissuing that early Miracle Legion stuff! (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Medicine: To the Happy Few (Captured Tracks)

AOTW0816_Medicine For much of its short existence in the early-to-mid 90s, Los Angeles-based alt greats Medicine, led by former Savage Republic drummer Brad Laner, were largely overshadowed by their Irish and English counterparts My Bloody Valentine and Ride. But thanks to the intrepid tenacity of remembrance instilled in the collective mindset of Brooklyn’s indie label du jour Captured Tracks, the trio has enjoyed a much-deserved reassessment of their importance on the modern American rock landscape with an extras-heavy 2012 reissue campaign centering around their 1992 debut Shot Forth Self Living and its 1993 follow-up The Buried Life. And exactly 10 years after Laner made a paltry attempt to resurrect the Medicine brand with 2003’s dreadful Astralwerks one-off Mechanical Forces of Love, the multi-instrumentalist reteams with original members vocalist Beth Thompson (who participated in the ’03 LP) and drummer Jim Goodall to create what some are calling the best Medicine album yet. To the Happy Few (released August 6) teems with cascading waterfalls of old school amp-testing fuzz and flanged-out sunshine psychedelia that sound as if the last 20 years of advancements in music making never happened. Yet, the album is daringly cutting edge at the same time, a trick that can only be pulled by a master gazer like Laner. (RH)

Ron’s Bonus Review:
Pedaljets: What’s In Between (Oxblood Records)

AOTW0816_Pedaljets When the Pedaljets busted out of Lawrence, Kansas back in 1984, their Replacements-meets-Meat Puppets brand of Midwestern bar punk received raves from such essential rock rags of the time as CREEM, CMJ and Trouser Press. However, by the time their sophomore set came out on the woefully missed indie label Communion Records in 1989, the band’s days were numbered and they broke up the following year following the disappointment they had experienced in what they had considered to be a poor final cut of their self-titled second album. Now, six years following a reunion that saw them triumphantly “fix the mix” of Pedaljets for the Kansas City imprint Oxblood Records, the ‘Jets return with their first collection of all new material in 23 years with the excellent What’s In Between (released June 25). Working with veteran producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., The Hold Steady, Son Volt) at Headgear Studios in Brooklyn to ensure the security of someone knowledgeable at the mixing board, the new material might not be as raucous as their late 80s output. But the punched up twang and rogue Bowie influences of such highlight tracks as Conversations, Measurement, Tangled Up and Some Kind of One
elevates the Pedaljets to new altitudes of craftsmanship that renders What’s In Between a true classic a quarter-century in the making. (RH)