Music Review

Film School - Mercury Lounge, NYC


Even though Film School is based in San Francisco, it's not a stretch to imagine the American quintet circa late '80s or early '90s, experimenting with wavy distortions and atmospherics in a friend's London or Birmingham basement. Synthesizer drones, feedback-soaked guitars and drifting, faintly Cure-like vocals fill the songs, poking into the grooves of some heavy sponge of a track, full until brimming over with noise. It's no surprise then that their show Sunday at the Mercury Lounge confirmed what frequent listens to their self-titled debut on Beggars suggest: this is a great band, with lots of promise and a love for thickets of '80s noise. Read more »

Carlos del Junco: Blues Mongrel (NorthernBlues)

bluesmongrel.jpgHarmonica. Anyone can play. The considerably smaller slice of humanity sufficiently gifted to make the instrument transcendent includes Cuban-born/Canadian-raised Carlos del Junco. Treading differently, yet on familiar sonic turf, del Junco manages a captivating rearrangement of the furniture down in the mood room. Inspired by a substantial amalgam of masters and thoroughly imprinted with his own indelible signature, the music rolls, tumbles, and is guaranteed pleasure for blues harp fanatics. The rest of you won’t be disappointed either. Read more »

Hot Chip: Coming on Strong (Astralwerks)

hotchip.jpgThere are certain bands that beam with near geeky adulation at their musical influences, their own recordings consequently saturated with borrowed riffs, beats and melodic lines. Rather than being derivative, though, a band’s open adoration can operate like happy contagion, with bands refashioning familiar sounds into fresh, laidback homages. Such is the charm of British electronica four-piece Hot Chip, whose latest record Coming on Strong breathes adoration of the loungey groove, ranging from ’70s disco to early ’80s R & B overtones, with nods to Prince and Stevie Wonder, and some free jazz swirled into the mix. Against this loungey-cool framework, the band stamps on its own nerdy sense of humor, making for an enjoyable contrast of cool meets square. Read more »

Gary Lucas's Gods and Monsters

Gods & Monsters Gary Lucas's Gods and Monsters at Tonic on Tuesday night (2/7/2006) blended atmospheric, sweeping noise, twangy, meticulous noodling, and lush, art-rock skronk. G&M, who since 1989 have maintained a stable core trio of guitar virtuoso Lucas, bassist Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers), and drummer Billy Ficca (Television), opened the night sans Brooks. Instead, Lucas and Ficca took the stage with guitarist Alan Licht, and several minutes of guitar-tuning/sonic assault ensued. Lucas's wall of layered acoustic guitar acted as a powerful centerpiece, to the degree that Licht's minimalist offerings were decorative, relegated to the occasional "plink" -- colored by furious peddle-dabbling -- eked out between Lucas's strumming. The result was not frameless chaos; the three eventually settled into a groove for a driving and dynamic blues. Read more »

Calvin Johnson: Before the Dream Faded (K)

Calvin Johnson

There is an edge of something perfectly crazy in Calvin Johnson's music. Maybe it's his out-of-tune baritone register, the looseness of his songs, or the bare-naked emotional shrieks and hollers. Whatever it is, Johnson's latest solo record, Before the Dream Faded, is a special creature with his trademark qualities in full form -- sloppy seriousness, doe-eyed eagerness, and the punk rock, punk pop whimsy he lends to the quintessential love song. Read more »

A Mozart Birthday Guide

Mozart Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (yup, that's his full baptismal name; Amade was added later and in the form Amadeus was apparently only used as a joke) was born January 27, 1756. Wolfgang, son of composer Leopold Mozart, is the most famous child prodigy in the history of music. He learned to play piano by age three and took up composing at four. Soon he and his sister and father were touring Europe, playing for kings (Louis XV, George III). It's a good thing he started early, because he died in 1791 at age 35 -- and improbable legends immediately sprang up, as famously retold in the movie Amadeus. But in reality he was just another guy who didn't take good care of himself and lived in a time when medical science was, well, not very scientific. Read more »

Both Sides of Nina Simone

simone.jpgThe Soul of Nina Simone Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit Nina Simone Sings the Blues Silk & Soul (RCA Legacy)

Last year, the Legacy imprint of Sony/BMG as part of its DualDisc program issued The Soul of Nina Simone. On the audio side, it pretty much sidestepped Simone's political, contentious side -- not that that's entirely possible; this is a woman who makes Randy Newman's mopey "Think It's Going to Rain Today" almost seethe with righteous rage. Read more »

Happy Birthday, Robert Wilkins

wilkinsRobert Wilkins, the greatest blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist most music fans never heard of, was born on January 16, 1896 (exactly 110 years ago as I write this) in Herndon, Mississippi, in the hill country a bit south of Memphis, near the top of the Mississippi Delta region that was such a musically fertile area in the early 20th century. But while Wilkins might be an obscure figure to all but rabid Delta blues fans, among those fans are the Rolling Stones, and from that comes Wilkins's one bit of mainstream fame: the Stones' "Prodigal Son" (on Beggars Banquet) is a complete ripoff of Wilkins's "That Ain't No Way to Get Along."

A mix of black and Cherokee, Wilkins was the son of a bootlegger. After the state of Mississippi expelled the senior Wilkins, Robert's mother remarried; his stepfather was Tim Oliver, a good guitarist. Wilkins was exposed to some fine local musical talents: Jim Jackson was a family friend, and itinerant musicians played at Wilkins's sister's house parties. Read more »

Evil Miles Live!

cellar_door.jpgMiles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions (Columbia Legacy)

The Cellar Door was a club in Washington, D.C. (insert Basement Tapes reference here). In the early 1970s, trumpeter Miles Davis seemingly developed an allergy to the studio, but Columbia made up for it with frequent concert recordings, most of which have never been released or had just bits and pieces cherry-picked by producer Teo Macero. Over two-thirds of this music is appearing for the first time, 35 years after it was recorded. Read more »

The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth (RCA)

The Strokes' latest record, First Impressions of Earth, is highly anticipated, and understandably so, given the band's proven ability to pen songs about love and angst with infectious downbeats and lead singer Julian Casablancas's plaintive growls. The timing of the release -- January 3 of the brand new year -- is prime time for music fans chomping at the bit to catch the first of this year's golden sounds, the only big-name release this week.

Unfortunately, First Impressions falls into the same trap that at least half of the average person's New Years resolutions do: The promise of self-actualization is met with the all-too-ordinary failure of those aims to be consummated.This record is full of promises unfulfilled, beginnings of songs that sound like happy rock and roll explosions only to dawdle and shift uneasily in their own skins. Read more »

Defunkt: Defunkt/Thermonuclear Sweat (Hannibal/Ryko)

DefunktThis two-CD reissue reminds me that back in the early ’80s, Defunkt was one of my favorite bands. I saw it play many times, most memorably a night at Danceteria when leader/singer/trombonist Joe Bowie’s older brother, trumpeter Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, sat in (brother Byron was often on sax as well, in person and on record). It was an era when there was much cross-pollination between styles, when the fringes of art music and underground pop intersected and all sorts of hybrids were conceived. Defunkt mixed jazz (ranging from jagged avant-garde to edgy bebop), a particularly sharp and sweaty funk groove, the alienated, disconnected lyrics of immigrant Janos Gat, and a punk attitude to make some of the most hard-hitting, abrasive dance music this side of the Contortions (in which some of the members of Defunkt had served time). Read more »

Tri-O & Sainkho: Forgotten Streets of St. Petersburg (Leo)

TrioSainkhoTri-O & Sainkho: Forgotten Streets of St. Petersburg (Leo)

Tri-O is currently Sergey Letov (baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, Chinese flute, piccolo, swanee whistle), Alexandr Alexandrov (bassoon, swanee whistle), and Yury Parfenov (trumpet, althorn). Sainkho Namchylak is a Tuvan singer who combines the traditional vocal techniques of that region on Siberia's eastern border with Mongolia, including throat-singing that produces overtones, with classical and avant-garde influences.   Read more »

Heavy Thunder

When I heard that J. Mascis -- the lead guitarist of much admired, and recently resurrected rockers Dinosaur, Jr. -- was the drummer for new band Witch and not the singer, songwriter or guitarist, I disappointedly thought that meant he wasn't the band's front man. Watching Witch set up and play last night at the Bowery Ballroom, though, I realized my mistake. In fact, all the bands on display that night proved the defining element of music categorized as metal or acid rock is not anarchic yelling or noodling metal guitar, but the rhythms pounded out by the drums at their center. If there is a front man to a metal band, it's the thick, heavy rhythms at work on the bass drum. In that sense, Mascis remains ever the front man, this time literally front and center, with drum kit in tow. Read more »

Boards of Canada: The Campfire Headphase (Warp)


At its best, Campfire Headphase, the latest outing by electronic duo Boards of Canada, evokes what it might be like to walk through some Icelandic landscape: icy sheens, coarse static from some transistor radio off in the distance, and snow drifts blowing across wide-open plains. While the record is not without its hiccups, the band's soundscapes are, overall, deftly crafted, and make for an enjoyable listen.

Echoes, guitar strums, live drum shuffling, faint blips, synthesizer brushstrokes, and a range of other computerized sounds all feature prominently in a record that shows the band consciously shifting away from computer-reliant sounds to the integration of instruments and organic sounding elements. Read more »

Happy 30th Pattiversary

horsesPatti Smith: Horses/Horses (Arista Legacy)

Listened to now, three decades after its release, Horses still sounds like one of the top rock albums of all time. But I wonder if anyone who didn't hear it in the context of its 1975 release can fully appreciate just how pioneering it was. After all, '75 is the year that brought us Born to Run, Blood on the Tracks, Katy Lied, Fleetwood Mac, Wish You Were Here, and Barry White's Greatest Hits. Few people had noticed the New York Dolls' two albums, and the Ramones' debut wouldn't come out until 1976; not until 1977 did we get Blank Generation, Marquee Moon, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Read more »

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