Rock Review Roundup


Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)

A far better album than Young & Crazy Horse's shabby Americana from earlier this year, not so much because it's songs written by Neil (certainly nobody will be impressed by the rather feeble lyrics on display here) as that he stretches out and jams with the Horse. Really stretches out, as in tracks lasting 27:35, 16:48, 8:33, and 16:26 (along with five tracks in the three- to four-minute range). He quit drugs, but he didn't quit reaching for another state of mind; I'd even say that he may be using this music as his drug. The hypnotic trips he takes here make this his best new album in over twenty years, and one of his top five post-'70s albums. Pretty good for a guy who just celebrated his 67th birthday.

David Byrne & St. Vincent: Love This Giant (4AD)

This could have been a style rip-off. David Byrne's thank-yous list "inspirational brass groups: Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Gil Evans," and ten other groups or artists. The thing is, though, that this album sounds like none of them except Asphalt Orchestra, and that's because that group's Ken Thompson co-wrote one of the arrangements with Tony Finno. The latter did all the rest of the arrangements by himself except for "Dinner for two" by Kelly Pratt (Beirut, Arcade Fire) and "Weekend in the dust" by Lenny Pickett (Tower of Power, SNL band). Okay, Johann Johannsson's on Byrne's list as well, and there are moments when I also hear similarities there, but mostly, aside from a couple of Bjork projects, this album plows its own furrow until near the end, when "The one who broke your heart," which features The Dap-Kings and Antibalas, recalls the album Naked by -- brace yourselves -- David Byrne. The collaboration with Annie Clark AKA St. Vincent also works well; her voice is a good contrast with Byrne's but they mesh well, and their songwriting sensibilities are well-matched. And Byrne's instrumental accomplishments deserve note as well: his angular guitar solo on "The forest awakes" fooled me into thinking Marc Ribot was playing. After a series of too-quirky projects, this is a welcome return to form.

Jim Coleman: Trees (Wax & Wane)

Cop Shoot Cop member Jim Coleman's new project seems like electronic music, a natural development for a guy who's been scoring films and, as Phylr, doing remixes. However, there are plenty of instruments mixed in, with collaborators here including cellist Kirsten McCord, drummer Phil Puleo (also of Cop Shoot Cop, as well as Swans), Ellen Fullman on her homemade "long stringed instrument," and vocalist Dawn McCarthy (Faun Fables). Falling somewhere between Ambient and Post-Rock, it's haunting, shadowed music in which small patterns mutate and mesh, with a great concern for mixing and matching timbres. Opening track "Sideways" could fairly be called Enoesque (more obvious patterns, more repetition), but it's better than anything on Eno's latest; subsequent tracks are dronier and darker, and more distinctive.

Elliott Sharp's Terraplane: Sky Road Songs (Enja)

Just as the title updates travelling blues with commercial airlines, the music of E#'s blues band updates the genre. Or as he puts it, "keep one foot in the past and one foot in the future, which puts your ass right in the Now." The protean essence of the blues flows easily into the shapes of current concerns (one track, which pops up twice with different lead vocalists, is "Banking Blues"), but the classic blues topics -- bad luck, broken hearts, wanderlust -- never went away either, and the lyrics by Sharp and the singers (poet Tracie Morris, jazz scion Eric Mingus, co-producer Joe Mardin). The occasional instrumental tracks often find Sharp's avant-garde side peeking through more, as on the aptly titled "Off the Hook," but there are slight flashes of it elsewhere as well; nonetheless, Sharp keeps things elemental enough that when the late blues guitar great Hubert Sumlin is heard on one track, his counterpoint with Sharp fits right in.

Golden Retriever: Occupied with the Unspoken (Thrill Jockey)

Though this duo consists of Au's Jonathan Sielaff and Parenthetical Girls' Matt Carlson, it's not especially similar to either. Carlson is credited with "analog modular synth, ARP Odyssey, effects"; Sielaff with "bass clarinet, effects," and there's no percussion to be heard. The "Kosmische Musik" ancestry of this project, for instance Achim Reichel's A.R. & Machines, is obvious ("Canopy" is the best example) and superbly evoked with the vintage equipment, though there are more dissonant and challenging moments such as the first few minutes of "Eudaimonia." The press release for this, their fourth album, notes that it was edited down from live recordings, greatly condensing them in the process, but this was done seamlessly and the results sound completely organic.

Shoes: Ignition (Black Vinyl)

Another great comeback: this is the power-pop icons' first album of new studio recordings since 1994's Propeller. With three original members -- the Murphy brothers (guitarist Jeff and bassist John) and guitarist Gary Klebe -- still in the band, plus longtime concert drummer, the sound is generally what you'd expect from them, but there is one exception, "Hot Mess," which has a dirtier Stones sound; if the lyrics were less derogatory, I suppose it would subtract from the Stonesiness, but as it stands, no thanks. Fortunately, the jangly guitars and pop-melodicism of their classic sound dominate, with such catchy items as "Say It Like You Mean It" sending us back to the '70s in stripped-down style.

Carlton Melton: Photos of Photos (Agitated)

This instrumental psychedelic quartet from San Francisco consists of two guys from Zen Guerilla, Andy Duvall (guitar/drums) and Rich Millman (guitar/synthesizer/tape effects), plus drummer Brian MacDougall and bassist Clint Golden; they are joined here by producer John McBain (Monster Magnet), who contributes guitar, synth, bass, and echoplex. Their long, droney jams start out almost ambient, but usually build in intensity, sometimes even to a feverish peak -- opening track "Nor'easter" is positively "Maggot Brain"-esque in that respect. The use of synths sometimes puts them in early Krautrock/Kosmische Musik territory, with "Space Treader" a prime example. There are enough memorable riffs to distinguish one track from another, making this one of the best recent examples of its type.

Drivin' n' Cryin': Songs about Cars, Space and the Ramones (New!)

DNC is releasing a series of EPs; this six-song CD is the second and most recent. There is a song about Ramones ("Johnny Rides Shotgun"), but also a sense that the Ramones' influence is stronger than usual, not that DNC sound like clones or something. Adding to the punk flavor, Cheetah Chrome (Rocket from the Tombs/Dead Boys) contributes a guitar solo to "Out Here in the Middle of Nowhere." - Steve Holtje


Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor. His song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach can be heard here.