Review Roundup: Rock, Soul, Electronica, Noise

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I've fallen so, so far behind in my reviewing. Here are a few things I've managed to check out.

Melt-Banana: Fetch (A-Zap)

This Japanese noise band celebrates its 20th anniversary with its first studio album since 2007's Bambi's Dilemma. (The demos for Fetch were finished in early 2011, but the Fukushima earthquake and all that resulted from it interrupted them psychically.) Bambi's Dilemma slightly sweetened their attack; Fetch further broadens the duo's range. Not that either is threatening the pop charts; this is still weirder and more sonically aggressive than 99.99% of what gets released, though some old-time M-B fans have complained. In a major change, singer Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata operate on their own now, letting technology take the place of their ever-changing drummers and just skipping bass. Onuki's blurting vocals remain unique, and while Agata's mastery of guitar tones is less rabidly displayed, he's just expanded his abuse of technology into additional realms, with electronic techniques (especially looping) and mechanical beats to the fore. The band's in town for a sold-out show Friday night (11/1) at St. Vitus.
 
This Japanese noise band celebrates its 20th anniversary with its first studio album since 2007's Bambi's Dilemma. (The demos for Fetch were finished in early 2011, but the Fukushima earthquake and all that resulted from it interrupted them psychically.) Bambi's Dilemma slightly sweetened their attack; Fetch further broadens the duo's range. Not that either is threatening the pop charts; this is still weirder and more sonically aggressive than 99.99% of what gets released, though some old-time M-B fans have complained. In a major change, singer Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata operate on their own now, letting technology take the place of their ever-changing drummers and just skipping bass. Onuki's blurting vocals remain unique, and while Agata's mastery of guitar tones is less rabidly displayed, he's just expanded his abuse of technology into additional realms, with electronic techniques (especially looping) and mechanical beats to the fore. The band's in town for a sold-out show Friday night (11/1) at St. Vitus.
 

This Japanese noise band celebrates its 20th anniversary with its first studio album since 2007's Bambi's Dilemma. (The demos for Fetch were finished in early 2011, but the Fukushima earthquake and all that resulted from it interrupted them psychically.) Bambi's Dilemma slightly sweetened their attack; Fetch further broadens the duo's range. Not that either is threatening the pop charts; this is still weirder and more sonically aggressive than 99.99% of what gets released, though some old-time M-B fans have complained. In a major change, singer Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata operate on their own now, letting technology take the place of their ever-changing drummers and just skipping bass. Onuki's blurting vocals remain unique, and while Agata's mastery of guitar tones is less rabidly displayed, he's just expanded his abuse of technology into additional realms, with electronic techniques (especially looping) and mechanical beats to the fore. The band's in town for a sold-out show Friday night (11/1) at St. Vitus.

Azar Swan: In My Mouth (Pendu Sound)

This duo project's first two songs under its new name (formerly Religious to Damn), "In My Mouth" and "Over," are so killer that I keep playing them over and over.

Sigur Ros: Kveikur (XL)

Anybody who thinks all Sigur Ros albums sound the same will be in for a surprise (and hasn't really been paying attention). On a track-to-track basis, this is the most varied Sigur Ros album yet. The sonically aggressive "Brennisteinn" kicks off the album shockingly. If the vocals were changed, its first half could conceivably fit on some of the more experimental black metal albums of recent years, though the track shifts gears a few times after that. Of course, ethereality is soon heard; "Hrafntinna" is slow and beautiful, but there's still the surprise of some low brass. The anthemic "Isjaki" follows with maximalist, fill-every-space production and a propulsive drum loop. I'm not going to describe every track, but every single one is good, and distinctive. If you only like this band when it's mellow and pretty, Kveikur's not for you, but if you're up for a 360-degree listening experience, snap it up.

Lee Fields: Let's Talk It Over (Deluxe Edition) (Truth and Soul)

I have enjoyed some Lee Fields in the past, which is good because otherwise I wouldn't have stuck with this inconsistent album long enough to hear the good stuff. Aside from the deeply funky "Fought for Survival" (buried in the second half of the album) there aren't any memorable songs here, just a series of recycled funk, soul, and disco clichés. Mostly the funk clichés work much better (though the imitation JB's groove "The Bull Is Coming" is flawed early on by an asthmatically wheezing trumpet solo), which makes it odd that the first half of the album is tepid soul ballads and uninspired disco. It heats up after that, fortunately, with the lyrically derivative but musically irresistible "Funky Screw" another highlight. This album won't convert skeptics, but hardcore funkateers ought to check it out.

Mavis Staples: One True Vine (Anti)

Yes, Mavis is a soul legend, but this is a bit of a snooze, mostly because Wilco's Jeff Tweedy is not the guy to go to for ecstasy -- and since most of the songs are gospel, ecstasy is urgently needed. It temporarily perks up during the secular pep talk "I Like the Things About Me," but mostly this album is too low-key, at best a slow burn, but frustrating in that the burn refuses to satisfyingly flare up.

Goo Goo Dolls: Magnetic (Deluxe) (Warner Bros.)

This band spent its first four albums sounding more or less like the Replacements, playing rough but deploying hooks adroitly, which was a pretty good thing to sound like. Then they polished their sound, kept the hooks coming, emphasized main singer John Rzeznik's aching voice, and broke through with ballads in 1995. I admit that I didn't pay much attention to their albums of the 2000s, and didn't even notice their 2010 release, so Magnetic came as a shock. Their sound has been drastically modernized, and on some tracks here (especially on the opening "Rebel Beat") where the guitars are buried in the mix, they are almost unrecognizable except for that familiar vocal sound. They started out as a rock trio and this album credits a whopping 35 musicians. The deluxe version has a couple of concert recordings, and even they don't sound much like the band's peak years. A good song is still a good song regardless of production style, but sometimes here the songs are only so-so. "When the World Breaks Your Heart" is a winner in their mid-'90s style, though, and "BulletProofAngel" is somehow memorable in spite of being generic balladry. As long as the listener can accept that this is practically a different band even though two of the founding members remain and the drummer's been with them since 1994, this can be enjoyed intermittently. - Steve Holtje

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.