Thursday, September 01, 2005

About 10 days later than planned, but here it is. Another Summer is ending. Wasn't too bad for the smoldering, but then if you'd told me New Orleans would be 75% under water today, I'd probably just have laughed nervously. Painful times. Shattering times. I feel so small and useless right now. "Thousands without food or water"..."Corpses on the streets"...And apparently snipers are shooting at rescue workers and shit's just going downhill. If this isn't hell on earth, it's far too close for comfort.

But it's important to move forward and look to any bright spots on the horizon. To send in those donations to the RED CROSS, too. Can't believe some of the hate rhetoric I've heard on "talk radio" today. The arrogant, heartless Monday-quarterback attitude needs to go. As for the rise of gas costs, take a bus. Take a walk. Blow up every Hummer you see. Nothing like this has EVER HAPPENED before. NO ONE can truly be prepared. The govt sure as fuck wasn't. If you aren't affected by this on a personal, compassionate level, you're probably not someone I want to invite over for dinner. [rant over]

Anyway...

...Been a while since I've covered anything remotely pop in these archives, so let's dare to toe-tap in the wake of disaster:

Summer's End Pop Roundup, Part One:

A band I've finally discovered, only about six years too late, is The Radar Bros. They pretty much perfected trance inducing Floydian psych rock on their self-titled debut way back in '96. Remarkable how well that minor masterpiece holds up today with its vintage tone and immaculate arrangements. "The Fallen Leaf Pages" (Merge) is not as good, but it's still a compelling mixture of their earlier atmospherics and bouncier psych pop. The Pernice Brothers weave a similar spell with "Discover a Lovelier You" (Ashmont Records), and come from a more upbeat perspective, sewing a melodic tapestry that's as informed by dreamy synth swirls as power pop and early 70s folk rock. This is the first PB album I've heard that feels like more than just a pastiche of eras and styles. The glorious "There Goes the Sun" and the funkier "My So-Called Celibate Life" are basically modern art pop classics. File under: Beach Boys, Flamin' Groovies, Aztec Camera.


I dug Sleater-Kinney's "Call the Doctor" album way back when it came out and then largely lost interest as the trio got more ambitious and became indie rock icons. Not much for such institutions. "The Woods" (Sub Pop) knocked me out of my chair though. One of the more masterfully bombastic punk/psych/noise pop albums released this year. Pretty much everything about it sounds right, from accessible pop nuggets to crashing power chord blowouts. Like Nirvana or even Cheap Trick, the trio defines melodic, radio ready fuzz and kicks burly ass in the process. Dave Fridmann's raw production helps greatly, but it's these ladies' chops and hooks that leave me head-banging and hand-clapping.

Cobra Verde is one of America's best kept secrets, as heard on their brilliant "Easy Listening" album, a raucous glam metal punk mash that you should ckeck out asap if you haven't. So potent was its creative expulsion that the boys decided to release "Copycat Killers" (Scat) next as they considered their next move in the studio. As you might've guessed by now, it's a covers collection that features everything from Pink's "Get This Party Started" (Think Faust goes reggae and then crank it to 12) and Leonard Cohen's "So Long Marianne" (sounding like mid period Church or Jesus and Mary Chain with big booming percussion and boatloads of reverb) to the Flamin' Groovies "Yesterday's Numbers" (note for note and exquisite!), but the pick of the litter is probably their creeping/sensual take on the Stones' "Play With Fire." These guys rule because they're a "punk band" that obviously has a deep affection for the best newwave, glam, garage boogie and good old fashioned songwriters. This version of New Order's "Temptation" is pretty much perfect. "I Feel Love" (the old Giorgio Moroder disco hit) is an absolute blast of house beats and blistering Bonham-esque gallops. Closer to Hawkwind than any disco I've ever heard. There's so much affection in these tight, thunderous performances, such masterful production. These guys pretty much deserve every ounce of recognition they receive.

OH WOW! 30 sec Quicktime sound clips:
"Temptation"
"I Want You"
"Play With Fire"


"La Forêt" (5RC) by Xiu Xiu should be the breakthrough Jamie Stewart and his capable ensemble have been promising for years now. I've been a fan ever since the first time I heard "Hives Hives," a howling clash of desolate post punk defiance and crumbling industrial grime from their "Knife Play" album, but Stewart's alienating, sexually confused perspective could be as daunting as his musical inconsistency. My response was usually something along the lines, "get over yourself already and just do what you were born to do!" And that is sing pretty/cryptic songs over a lacerating bed of pulsating rhythms, rabid acoustic/electric guitars, seething synth and other sound-makers. Folks might get pissed when listening to Xiu Xiu because it's just so obvious that they could step beyond confrontational shock into sheer greatness if they really wanted to, but that's not very pfr [punk fuckin' rock], is it?

Thematically "La Forêt" is just as bilious as all that's come before, but it's sweetened with an influx of strummy acoustic guitars and hypnotic pop hooks that are consistently compelling. Opener "Clover" makes the point obvious from the outset with distant guitar strums and Stewart's tense vocal murmur (think Talk Talk's Mark Hollis on antidepressants) giving way to the most languid vibes and cello interplay. If the hair on the back doesn't respond aptly, you probably don't have a pulse. Elsewhere, a sparkling percussive glimmer segues into a thumping beat, blaring synth, impassioned vocal eruptions and, finally, total noise overload on "Muppet Face"--a title that has a special resonance with me because I used to describe a character from one of my recurring dreams as "muppet face." Synth and indie pop guitars merge perfectly in the jangly laserbeam woosh of "Pox."

Where previous Xiu Xiu albums seemed designed to occasionally shock the listener out of any perceived comfort zone with jarring sonic terror and lyrical anguish, the juxtapositions on "La Forêt" are more subtle and carefully thought, without sacrificing any of Xiu Xiu's paranoid intensity. "Saturn" is a barage of crumbling industrial groans and buried vocals, but it's followed by the deep synth swell of "Rose of Sharon" which is closer to early Eno and Nico's classic 70s albums than Joy Division or Throbbing Gristle. It's a beaut, for certain. And then there's "Bog People" (a video of which is included with the CD), which is probably my favorite kind of Xiu Xiu song--frenzied and freaked out--but with a vibrant humanisim running through its core that can't really be denied. To Mr. Stewart: Thank you for listening.

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