Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back to

End It
, An-

Tight as a rat's rectum

-- "Glass Coffins"

The fourth solo joint from Anti-Pop Consortium member Beans
doesn't get off to an auspicious start, but stick with it, and the re-
cord builds in momentum. He may not be most expressive em-
cee, but he compensates with clever wordplay and multi-textur-
al beats (I particularly like the way he "rocks to the PM Dawn").

His roster of producers include Nobody, Four Tet, Tobacco, and
Interpol's Sam Fog. At times, the instrumental backdrops come
close to experimental/musique concrète territory, but he always
brings things back to reality before the number is through.

Click here to watch the "Blue Movie" video.

In his bio, Beans cites "Suicide as his main influence (with nods
to Sun Ra, Mantronix, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, & Autechre)."
For me, the highlight is the vocal interplay between the rapper
and Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio) on "Mellow You Out."

Laura Stevenson & the Cans, Sit
Resist, Don Giavanni Records

Sit Resist offers jaunty, vibrato-laden Americana with woozy
horns in the vein of Regina Spektor. Throughout her second re-
cord, Laura Stevenson's voice swoops up and down, some-
times into a little-girl croak. According to the press notes, her
grandfather, Harry Simeone, a vocalist with the Benny Good-
man Orchestra, composed "Little Drummer Boy." Cool cred-
entials, but I have no tolerance for this kind of thing. She is-
n't without talent, but the disc is too precious for my taste.

Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx, We're
New Here, XL Recordings

As much as I loved I'm New Here, a remix release feels extra-
neous, even if Jamie xx participated in both projects. After all,
the way Gil Scott-Heron stripped the material down to its es-
sence--the better to hear his words-- was its biggest strength.

Consequently, the most interesting tracks didn't appear on I'm
New Here
or have re-emerged in new form, like "My Cloud,"
"The Crutch," and "Ur Soul & Mine." On the contrary, Jamie
doesn't do anything with "New York Is Killing Me" that improv-
es or re-contextualizes it in any significant way; just adds a few
sound effects here and there. Stick with the original recording.

Endnote: For more information about Beans, please
click here; for Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, here;
and for Laura Stevenson, here. Beans plays Chop
with Tobacco on 4/22. Image from One O'Clock.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tear the
Club Up

Dirtbombs, Party Store, In the Red

"[A] sci-fi dork in a leather jacket." --Fred Thomas on Mick Collins

It took awhile to get ahold of this CD, which everyone has heard
by now--at least everyone who was dying to hear Motor City ti-
tans the Dirtbombs put their stamp on Detroit techno. As I sus-
pected (and fervently hoped): Party Store was worth the wait.

For anyone who thinks it's an about-face, it isn't. Detroit native
Mick Collins
has been talking up techno for awhile now (when I
interviewed him for Tablet in 2005, Collins said, "I have a techno
record coming out later this year"). Further, he hints at things to
come on 2008's We Have You Surrounded, which features more
robotic/post-punk moves than any Dirtbombs effort to date.

That doesn't mean the new record attempts to out-manmachine
Kraftwerk or Daft Punk. The quintet hasn't put their humanity a-
side. Even when MC strives to sing like an android, he still sounds
like a man--on "Sharevari," he's a French one...with bionic parts.

Consequently, Party Store feels more cohesive than the schizo
Surrounded, their last studio recording. In that sense, it serves
as a twin to their soul and funk collection, Ultraglide in Black.

Granted, I'm not sure that Carl Craig's "Bug in the Bassbin" needs
to exceed 20 minutes. Then again, once you've locked onto a good
groove, you might as well, pace James Brown, do it to death. "Bug"
is the kind of quasi-psychedelic jam meant more for trancing than
dancing, though the group's patented two-drummer attack (Pat
Pantano and Ben Blackwell) insures that you can do that, too.

Also, epics tend to work best at the beginning or end of LPs,
whereas "Bug" arrives in the middle. What the hell, the Dirt-
have always played by their own rules. It's also an in-
strumental, like "Jaguar," so if Mick's vocals are your favorite
part of the 'bombs, this won't be your favorite release (I reco-
mmend neophytes start with Ultraglide, and work forward).

Ironically, Party Store doesn't make me want to go off on a
techno bender, which may say more about me than the Dirt-
. Rather, it makes me want to spin the disc non-stop--
which definitely says something about the band in question.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ******

Bonus: Click here for the Kyle Hall remix of "Bug in the Bassbin," here
for the Ectomorph remix of "Jaguar," and
here for the Omar S remix of
(All three are available on a gatefold, limited-edition 12".)

Endnote: If interested, you can find most of the original tracks
on YouTube, like Derrick May/Rhythim Is Rhythim's "Strings of Life." Click here for more Dirtbombs reviews, videos, info, etc. Image from This Is Book's Music (photograph © Brian Alesi).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

and Direct

Kurt Vile,
Ring for
My Halo


Now that Jay Reatard is no longer with us, I proclaim Philadel-
phia's Kurt Vile the independent recording artist with the best
hair. Not that the two sound alike, because they don't (except,
perhaps, on "Puppet to a Man"). Throughout his fourth album,
Vile gives his folk-oriented songs a subtle psychedelic twist, re-
sulting in an LP that feels dreamy and direct at the same time.

Click here for "Jesus Fever"

At its worst, it's a little samey, but I like the indirectness of
his vocals, which has more to do with the way he records than
the way he sings, as if his mic were wrapped in layers of gauze.

Smoke Ring
follows in the wake of 2009's Childish Prodigy,
and Vile plans to promote it Reatard-style: by playing Amer-
ica's finest record stores
. Look for him in your town soon.

Update: Kurt Vile plays a solo acoustic set at Bal-
lard's Sonic Boom location on Sun., 4/24, at 6:30 pm.

Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death,

Some of Us Are in This Together
, Don't Stop Believin'

I wish I liked this release better, because Triumph of Leth-
argy Skinned Alive to Death
hail from Seattle, but Spencer
Moody's angst-ridden vocals are a significant buzz kill (the ex-
Murder City Devil seems to be going for a Steve Albini effect).

I prefer
"Salt" and "Hey Asshole" on which former Pretty Girls
Make Graves front woman Andrea Zollo does her thing. Other-
wise, the quartet recalls Pelican. Similarly, they'd work better
as an instrumental outfit or with a different vocal approach.
The Laughing Hyenas set the standard for this sort of thing.

Click here for "The Dirty Street"

Andy Votel - Cock Diesel Mixtape
Vol. 1 Cassette
, Finders Keepers

Here's something you don't see every day: a cassette-only collec-
tion of music from vintage biker films. Jess Rotter designed the
skullerific cover, and the stamp inside my copy reads 25/100, so
quantities are limited. I don't know if there are any left, but Other
Music carried it last year (I got mine from Rotter and Friends).

There's no track listing, but the OM review notes that most of
the cuts come from Australia's Stone (1974). Though I expected
English-language selections, compiler Andy Votel scoured the
globe for this beautifully fuzzy, buzzy, polyglottal bouillabaisse.

Still to come: Beans - End It All, Dirtbombs - Par-
ty Store
, Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx - We're New
, and Laura Stevenson & the Cans - Sit Resist.

Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to
Death plays the Rendezvous on 2/19. Image from
Matador Records by way of
Basic Edits’ Flickr.

Saturday, February 12, 2011



Is it too soon to declare Good Things a soul classic? After all, Stones
Throw only released it five months ago. Classics usually take
a few years to germinate, but I'm gonna go ahead and call it.

Decades from now, will people speak about his LP with the same
degree of esteem we now accord Shuggie Otis's Inspiration Infor-
? I hope so, because it shares the same eclectic charm.

There are those who believe that qualifiers diminish the object in
question, and they have a point. If I describe Good Things as
neo-soul, like many have, I'm suggesting that it would be folly to
compare Blacc to, say, Stevie Wonder. Better to compare him to
Rafael Saadiq and label mate Mayer Hawthorne. Those compari-
sons certainly make sense, but I'd rather not go there either, be-
cause it also diminishes their work, just as neo-noir implies that
Roman Polanski's Chinatown doesn't bear comparison to the
noirs of the WWII-era, even though it holds up just as well.

Granted, Blacc wouldn't exist without the soul practitioners who
came before, but they didn't emerge from a puff of smoke either
(no, not even Marvin Gaye). If the prefix must persist, I would
reserve it for artists who understand the parameters of a genre,
but haven't yet found--or don't possess--the means to transcend
them. If you think you've heard it before, it's because you have.
On the contrary, Good Things feels both fresh and familiar.

It began with the first single, "I Need a Dollar," which didn't sound
like anything else released in 2010 (and became the theme to How
to Make It in Americ
a). That was already a promising sign, but I
doubted that a full-length could measure up. It does. And doesn't.

As it turns out, Blacc doesn't make the same song over and over
(and I'll never understand why anyone would find that a worthy
goal). On the contrary, he offers 13 discreet selections. Each is u-
nique in its own way, but you can tell Blacc was behind each one.

Furthermore, Good Things doesn't sound like an exercise in
style, even though Blacc started out as an MC. If you listen close-
ly, his hip-hop background becomes apparent, but you have to
make an effort. I have no idea whether this is a permanent shift or
a temporary detour, but his lyrics and delivery indicate that he
means what he says. Were he merely trying to prove that he
pass for a soul man, his words wouldn't scan as well.

Hold My
Hand," for
instance, is
a heartfelt
ode to a
mother. He
may (or
may not)
have taken
from Bill
Withers' "Grandmas Hands," but there's no doubting his sincerity.

In "I Need a Dollar," Blacc sings, "If I share my story, will you share
your dollar with me?" Taken literally, it describes our exchange: I
heard a song--a story--and I wanted more, so I bought his album,
i.e. I shared my dollars with him. In return, I received 13 stories.

Whether each one emerges directly from his own life experiences,
I couldn't say, but it doesn't matter, because they don't come ac-
ross as mere fabrications. Put them all together with his earthy
voice and those beautifully understated funk melodies, and Al-
oe Blacc
has crafted a soul classic. No qualifiers necessary.

Endnote: Images from Hypetrack and Analog Giant.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Movie of
the Month:
Part 25

I recently
the follow-
ing DVD for
Video Lib-
, and thought the results were worth sharing.

STILL BILL [***1/2]
(Damani Baker and Alex Vlack, 2009, US, 78 mins.)

Documentaries about R&B stars often end in death, obscurity, or
sustained stardom. Co-directors Damani Baker and Alex Vlack re-
count a different story, since Bill Withers was in his 30s when
he entered show business, only to walk away from it in the '80s.

In the film, he speaks about his past and his present, while archival
footage fills in for days gone by. He also travels back to his home-
town of Slab Fork, WV and to New York City for a tribute concert.

His laconic, colloquial way of talking makes the 70-year-old ex-
ceptionally good company (a quality that segues into his sing-
ing, in which he combines soul with folk and funk elements).

Aside from a stutter, which he conquered as an adult, Withers
suffered from asthma as a child, and dealt with instructors who
doubted his abilities, which only strengthened his resolve. From
high school, he joined the Navy, and became an aircraft mechanic.

His first single, "Ain’t No Sunshine," put him on the map, but when
the suits pushed him in a more conventional direction, his enthu-
siasm evaporated (one suggested he cover Elvis's "In the Ghetto").
"The fame game was kicking my ass,” Withers laments, to which
friend Cornel West counters, "You have been true to yourself."

Towards the end, Withers works on songs with his daughter, Kori,
proving that he hasn't lost the desire to make music. Other speak-
ers include Tavis Smiley, Angélique Kidjo, and My Morning Jack-
et's Jim James (wife Marcia and son Todd also offer a few words).

Concludes the singer, "We are remiss in overvaluing entertainers."
True, but Still Bill offers a necessary corrective for one who has-
n't always gotten his due. Audio options: 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0
Stereo (click here for a list of the extras). Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 24: ELO Live - The Early Years

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Click here
for my review of +'Justments, here for Just As I Am/Still Bill,
and here for Soul Power. Bill Withers still from Vishows.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Charmed, I'm Sure

La Sera, self-titled,
Hardly Art

Brooklyn singer/bass
player "Kickball" Katy
Goodman (Vivian Girls), AKA La Sera, strikes
out on her own for this
Seattle-recorded debut.

I was charmed by the
first single, "Never
Come Around," and had
high hopes for the rest
of the record. I wasn't
disappointed, though it isn't quite as immediate as the debuts from the Vivian Girls or the Dum Dum Girls. (Comparisons are inevitable, so it seems better to embrace than to resist them.)

Instead, La Sera reminds me more of Frankie Rose and the
(Rose has played with the Vivian Girls and the Dum Dum
Girls). In other words, it's more of a grower, but Goodman al-
so combines delicate vocals with dusky surf-garage melodies.

At first listen, the reverb-drenched "Never Come Around" is
the clear stand-out, while the other cuts are more amorphous,
but on subsequent spins, their subtle hooks grew in stature.

"Sleeptalking," for instance, sounds like a female-sung Mighty
Lemon Drops song, while "Devils Hearts Grow Gold" has an en-
chanting nursery rhyme-like quality and "Left This World" re-
calls Heavenly with its sprinkling of tambourine and hand claps.
Explains Hardly Art, "Her inspiration sprung from an attraction
to early pop hits from the 1950s and ethereal choir vocals."

Click here for "Devils Hearts Grow Gold" mp3 and here for video.

Though Goodman has a pleasant voice, I wouldn't call it forceful,
but I don't consider that a problem, since the spare, yet effective
production indicates that she understands her limitations (she
collaborated with producer/multi-instrumentalist Brady Hall).

She often sings at the top of her range, but never pushes too hard
or overwhelms the instrumentation. Instead, her multi-tracked
vocals float around the guitar, bass, and drums; sometimes rising
above, sometime melting into the mix. Very charming indeed.

Endnote: Image from SXSW. During the fest, La
plays the Austin Convention Center on Thurs-
day, 3/17. For more information, please click here.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Make a Smile for Me: Part Two

Click here for part one

Shortly after I posted a few Bill Withers covers in honor of
Still Bill
, which premiered on Showtime yesterday, February
4th, crate digger extraordinaire Larry Webber suggested sever-
al more. Here are the four I like the best. The reggae interpre-
tations are great, but I prefer the funkiest of the funk jams.

In the All Music Guide, Jason Ankeny describes Eddy Senay's
(1972/Sussex) as "a virtual primer in psychedelic funk."

The AMG classifies vibraphonist
Roy Ayers as "one of the prophets
of acid jazz," but that doesn't mean he couldn't funk it up, too (see al-
so his score for 1973 blaxploitation classic Coffy). This cover comes
from Roy Ayers Ubiquity - Red, Black and Green (1976/Mercury).

Bill Graham favorites Cold Blood (1968-76), featuring front woman
Lydia Pense, hailed from the Bay Area. They re-formed in the '00s.

Trombone player/arranger/musical director Fred Wesley proves
he could make it on his own outside the James Brown organization.
Wesley has also played with Parliament and Ike and Tina Turner.

More: Horace Andy - "Ain't No Sunshine" (and an alternate
Lyn Collins - "Ain't No Sunshine," Prophets of Soul -
"Ain't No Sunshine," Ken Boothe - "Ain't No Sunshine," Augus-
tus Pablo
- "Ain't No Sunshine," and B.B. Seaton - "Lean on Me."

Endnote: Image from AllStarsPics, which notes
Withers' full name: William Harrison Withers, Jr.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February Reviews

These are the reviews
and other pieces I'm
working on this month.

Amazon DVDs: The Doub-
le Life of Véronique - The Cri-
terion Collection
The Norman Conquests
[three-disc set], All About
(special fea-
tures), Nuremberg - Its Lessons for Today
, and Weeds - Season Six [three-disc set].

Amazon Theatricals: Tom Shadyac's I Am, Ni-
colas Philibert's Nénette, and The Oscar Nominat-
ed Short Films 2011 - Animation and Live Action.

Still playing: Blue Valentine, The Company Men, Country Strong,
The Fighter, How Do You Know, Inside Job, The King's Speech, Love
and Other Drugs
, Somewhere, The Town, and Waiting for Superman.

Siffblog: Gregg Araki's KABOOM and Lemmy*. Al-
so, cleaned up interviews with John Scheinfeld (Who
Is Harry Nilsson [and Why Is Everybody Talkin' a-
bout Him?]
) and Keith Fulton (Brothers of the Head).

* The screener never arrived. May review the DVD release.

Video Librarian: Felicity - An American Girl Adventure,
The Girl
, Sasha, 1 a Minute, Changing House, Invitation to
World Literature - The Odyssey
, The Lazarus Effect, Rachel,
Romantic Warriors
, Sin by Silence, Teenage Witness - The
Fanya Heller Story
, Two Spirits, and Vanishing of the Bees.

Endnote: Image from emusic.