Friday, July 29, 2011

Transcendent Panache
Ty Segall,
Drag City

rock's past transcends its historical baggage with more panache than others.
--Dave Segal, The Stranger ("Platform Boots on the Beach")

If I say I love Goodbye Bread, and I do, then I'll give the
impression I think it's great, when it's closer to very good.

If I had never heard Melted, my favorite record of 2010, I
would probably be more forgiving, but Segall's previous effort
was such a thoroughly transcendent guitar-rock extravaganza
that there's no way he could possibly top it. And so he hasn't,
but it's still a Ty Segall production through and through.

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

Click here for my review of Melted.

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

I fell for the Bay Area musician's signature sound on Melt-
, follow-up to 2009's Lemons, and it permeates Good-
bye Bread
, starting with that Barrett meets Bolan voice.

If anything, he gives his finest vocal performance to date on the
title track, which combines a gentle croon with a lovely falsetto,
and yet he never recalls one of those super-sensitive indie-rock
guys like Iron & Wine's Sam Beam or Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.

Not that those gentleman "can't" sing, but Segall is coming from a
more ragged, raw-boned perspective; it's a whole different thing.

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

She said she wants to buy a couch...she wants a comfortable home.
-- "Comfortable Home (A True Story)"

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

And it has nothing to do with a lack of sensitivity on his part. Rath-
er, navel-gazing isn't part of Segall's arsenal, and that can lead to
a somewhat messier state of affairs. If Goodbye Bread packs
as much punch as Melted (I haven't heard Lemons), the hooks
aren't as sticky. And if Segall isn't in love, he's certainly got ro-
mance on his mind, which means it's also more introspective.

As noted in this post, I also hadn't noticed until Segall's latest
album and tour: at times, he looks and sounds a lot like Kurt
Cobain (and there's always been a John Lennon strain run-
ning through his music). Take "Comfortable Home," for in-
stance, which plays like a companion to Nirvana's "Breed,"
i.e. "We don't have to breed. We can plant a house, we can
build a tree. I don't even care. We could have all three."

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

You could go and meet my Mom. We could sit there all day long.
-- "You Make the Sun Fry"

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

Just as Cobain dreamed about a cozy domestic situation, Se-
gall does the same. (May he have better luck in that regard.)

Some of the other lyrics can be pretty facile and/or nonsen-
sical, i.e. "We could eat the tasty pieces of the peaches on the
beaches"--been listening to the Stranglers much?--and "See
you next time on the Reading Rainbow," but what the heck.

Ty Segall isn't here to teach you how to live your life; he's
here to entertain. At that: He succeeds spectacularly.

Endnote: Ty Segall plays the Crocodile tonight, 7/29/11,
with Idle Times. Doors open at 8pm. Image from L.A. Record.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Celestial Eclectic

AM & Shawn Lee, Celestial
, Eighteenth Street
a [8/30/11]

Los Angeles-based vocalist AM and
London producer/beat-maker Shawn
offer bossa nova-infused dance-
pop with bleeps, bloops, and airy synths. On the aptly titled
Celestial Electric
, man meets machine on the dance floor, like
Eric Carmen (the Raspberries) fronting Kraftwerk in São Paulo.

At first, I wasn't feeling it, but the more I listened, the more I
found myself falling for this dexterous duo. Collectively, they've
worked and/or toured with Air, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Caeta-
no Veloso, St. Etienne, Money Mark, Phoenix, and Sigur Ros.

If you always wished that Melbourne's Cut Copy would funk
things up more, AM & Shawn Lee have fulfilled your desire.

Made with "cheapo Casio and Yamaha synthesizers," their de-
but includes a tribute to Dirty Harry ("Callahan") and a fuzz bass-
driven cover of 1974's "Jackie Blue," while Finders Keepers hon-
cho Andy Votel provided the liner notes and cover design.

AM & Shawn Lee - Jackie Blue by AMSOUNDS

AM & Shawn Lee play live on KEXP at 9:30am on 9/13 prior to
their gig at the Sunset Tavern. Click here for my Line-Out review.

Strong Killings, self-titled, Don't Stop Believin' Records

Well, I'm all messed up, and I'm losing my shit,
Got a pounding in my head, and it just won't quit.
-- Strong Killings, "Licked, Nicked"

Like a collaboration between Frank Zappa and Suicidal Ten-
dencies, Seattle trio Strong Killings offer smart-ass hard
rock with fast-paced instrumental passages punctuated by ad-
enoidal vocals and hip-hop touches. I like some of those styles
separately, but I'm less enthusiastic when they come together.

So, their first record may not be to my taste, but I admire the
striking packaging--detailed illustrations and hand-written lyr-
ics--plus it also features a guest vocal from Pearl "Dragon"
(Champagne Champagne) on "The Basement."

Tasseomancy, Ulalume, Out of this Spark [8/30/11]

I'm not normally into dramatic, drone-oriented folk, but
asseomancy are adept at what they do, and what might
not be for me, could be for you. I certainly respect their craft,
which revolves around close harmonies from sisters Sari (man-
dolin) and Romi Lightman (guitar) that dance atop delicate lay-
ers of organ, lap steel, autoharp, harpsichord, and french horn.

Soft Feet (Heidi Mortenson's Gentle Dane Remüx)

Formerly known as Ghost Bees, Tasseomancy's second rec-
ord comes on like a cross between the Incredible String Band
(or latter-period Nurse with Wound) and Joanna Newsom--
but without the sharp edges (the press notes also cite Popol
Vuh and Julee Cruise). Bonus points for the abalone imagery
on the cover along with a foldout poster of a floral collage.

Click here for "Healthy Hands."

Endnote: For more information about AM & Shawn
, please click here; for Strong Killings, here; and
for Tasseomancy, here. AM image from Austin2011.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clear Some
Space Out

Black Up
Sub Pop

Clear some space out, so we can space out.
-- "Recollections of the Wraith"

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

After two well received EPs, Seattle duo Shabazz Palaces re-
lease their first full-length on Sub Pop. It was worth the wait: a
coup for the label, city, band, and genre. After all, the Northwest
wasn't really known for hip-hop until Sir Mix-a-Lot came along.

Then later: Common Market, Blue Scholars, They Live, and Mash
Hall (among others), but none of them has broken out like NYC's
De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, or Digable Planets (Ishmael
Butler's previous act). Shabazz has the means to do just that.

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

I'm dressing like I was at the Ali-Frazier fight.
-- "Recollections of the Wraith"

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

And by break out, I'm not referring to commercial success, but
cultural impact. Shabazz deserve to make a living at their craft,
but they push the envelope too far to conquer Top 40, where
Mix-a-Lot made his mark, yet I can see them winning over new
audiences if a forward-thinking crew like Outkast were to take
them on tour, so I hope André and Big Boi make that happen.

I'm not suggesting that Shabazz are sui generis; they didn't spring
from out of nowhere. They have roots and influences. And they're
part of a community that includes Champagne Champagne and
THEESatisfaction, the duo who lend their voices to a few cuts.

But Black Up is spacier and more experimental than most
hip-hop albums--most albums, period. The Other Music de-
scription, which references sax player Albert Ayler and rap-
per Divine Styler (Marc Richardson) isn't off the mark (and
maybe they'll inspire more people to rediscover the latter).

Further, they don't hesitate to use the "n" word, though they
don't use it often. Does that make them less progressive than
many critics have claimed? Well, they're certainly musically
adventurous, but if they spent much time listening to 1970s
Miles Davis in their younger days, and I suspect they did,
then they're probably more comfortable with the word than
their white fans--and Shabazz listeners appear to span the
spectrum in terms of race, age, gender, and sexual orien-
tation (the ladies in THEESatisfaction are openly gay).

So, I choose not to take them to task when I'd rather see them be
true to themselves than anything else. And it's their refusal to off-
er any easy hooks, choruses, or lyrical concepts that makes Black
work as well as it does. And yet it isn't a schizophrenic mess.

That's a hard trick to pull off, and I'm not exactly the biggest fan
of avant garde music, but their pop instincts emerge from time to
time, which serves as a sort of anchoring device. This record does-
n't float off into the air; it has some weight, some ballast. I love it.

Endnote: Ishmael Butler / Palaceer Lazaro image from Analog Giant.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From 638 to Slumberland

Visqueen, Message to Garcia, Local 638 Records

"Three parts punk attitude, two parts pop hookiness, and one part '70s rock swagger."
-- Mark Deming, All Music Guide

I was a big fan of the first Visqueen album, 2003's King Me, and
remain convinced that guitarist/front woman Rachel Flotard,
who runs Local 638 Records, is Robin Zander's long-lost cousin
(I wasn't as crazy about 2004 successor Sunset on Dateland).

Like Cheap Trick's Zander, she has the definitive power-
pop voice. Flotard can scream, shout, and work it on out, but
there's a certain non-saccharine sweetness she just can't lose.

She's the yang to friend Neko Case's yin, and even sounds a lit-
tle like her redheaded doppelgänger on the country-oriented
"Beautiful Amnesia" (Case adds vocals to five of the 11 songs).

Message to Garcia isn't just a fine showcase for the skills
of Flotard and drummer Ben Hooker, but offers the kind of
wide-ranging pop-rock--a little bit country, a little bit rock
and roll--I wish Cheap Trick was still making. If you're just
as nostalgic for the halcyon days of "Surrender" and "I Want
You to Want Me," Visqueen's third has your name all over it.

Click here for my AMG bio.

Brilliant Colors, Again and Again, Slumberland Records

On their follow-up to 2009's Introducing, Brilliant Colors con-
jure up a familiar brand of jangle-pop, which does little for me, but
your mileage may vary, especially if you're into Seattle's Seapony
or Brooklyn-based label mates Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

As Margaret Reges has written, "At their weakest, they are oddly
forgettable; there really isn't one memorable track on Introduc-
, and it's puzzling." I feel the same about Again and Again.

When it comes to Slumberland, I prefer Belfast's Girls Names, who
pursue a darker muse than their other acts. That said, I give this
Bay Area trio credit for playing engagements with the inimitable
Swiftumz, who has a forthcoming full-length on Holy Mountain.

Star Anna & the Laughing Dogs, Alone in
This Together
, Local 638 Records

Click here for "Alone
in This Together."

Seattle's Star Anna of-
fers full-throated, heart-
on-sleeve alt-country.

Her third record is in
the torchy vein of Ne-
ko Case
, but without
the noir overtones.

Pearl Jam guitarist
Mike McCready plays
on "Time," "Wolves in
Disguises," and the an-
themic title track.

9/1/11 update: Star Anna plays Summer Concert at Hia-
wath in West Seattle on
9/1 and the Triple Door on 9/8.

Street Eaters, Rusty Eyes and Hydro-
carbons, Bakery Outlet Records

Click here for "Nation Builder."

I listened to Rusty Eyes once, and couldn't think of anything to
say, so I listened several times more. There's nothing particular-
ly off-putting or incompetent about Bay Area duo Megan March
(drums, vocals) and John No (bass vocals). I just can't connect
with some acts no matter how hard I try. All originals, except
for a punk-pop take on Jefferson Airplane's "Two Heads."

Rusty Willoughby, Cobirds Unite, Local 638 Records

Former Pure Joy and Flop leader Rusty Willoughby takes a
gentler tack on Cobirds Unite, a baroque-folk enterprise. The
Seattle singer/songwriter's warm, conversational tone hasn't
changed over the years, and remains his strongest suit (in the
credits, he also assumes authorship of "presumptousness").

"Find a Way Home," which combines reverb, hand claps, and
harmony vocals from Visqueen's Rachel Flotard, represents
the highlight of this solid 12-song set, which includes tasteful
covers of Dan Penn and Chips Moman's "Do Right Woman
(Do Right Man)" and Bobby Bare's "Streets of Baltimore."

Endnote: For more information about Vis-
, please click here; for Street Eaters, here.
Flotard and Hooker image from Land's End Canvas.

Friday, July 01, 2011

July Reviews

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

Amazon DVDs: Burn Notice - Season Four [4-disc set], Who
Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour
, and Gregg Araki's Kaboom.

Amazon Theatricals: Sarah's Key (with Kristin Scott Thomas),
Winnie the Pooh (featuring the voices of Craig Ferguson and John
Cleese), and Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life - The Trav-
els of a Tribe Called Quest
, which opens at Pacific Place on 7/29.
Still playing (or yet to open): Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Jane Eyre, Miral, Water for Elephants, Weekend, X-Men: FC, and The Yellow Sea.


The Stranger: Line-Out reviews of Ty Segall at the Croc-
and Blank City (featuring John and Evan Lurie).
Also, check this shout-out from editor Grant Brissey.

[Blank City review didn't actually appear until August.]

(still playing):
Beginners and Page One - Inside NY Times.

Video Librarian: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Forks Over
, Bordertown [three-disc set], Land Girls [two-disc set],
Lebanon, PA
, Orgasm, Inc., The Sentiment of the Flesh, Spec-
tacle - Elvis Costello with... Season 2
[two-disc set], Vic-
torious - Season One, Volume One
[two-disc set],
Bride Flight
, Brave New Voices 2010, Gods,
Hey, Boo - Harper Lee and To Kill a
, and Viva Riva!.

Endnote: Click here for an update on Lurie by Rick Moody.
Lounge Lizards
image from DIA (photo by Marcia Resnick).