Friday, January 27, 2006

Two interesting discoveries in early '06:

First up, Dallas cult rockers Virgin Insanity; they received an informative write up in the Dallas Morning News a couple weeks ago. Imagine my surprise when I read that a genuine cult rock band hailed from my neck of the woods, and more interestingly, played a kind of arty folk rock that could be compared to later Velvet Underground, The Manson Family(!), Brit psych folk, and any number of "lost/utopian" acid kissed garage bands. Needless to say, I immediately located their one and only privately pressed LP (edition of 200), "Illusions of the Maintenance Man," in digital form through nefarious means. The music: a humbling listening experience, youthfully optimistic, but with an edge that can be deemed "art basement," a cynicism that acknowledges the disasters of the previous five years (this came out in '71) and a hope that keeps eyes forward and attention focused on the present. The lyrics are both naive and honest in their declaration that all we really have left in a dying world is a little hope and much love. Seems obvious, doesn't it? Tempos occasionally waver as minor key guitars dance beneath heartfelt boy/girl vox, and percussion is rarely used, but effective when it is.

Opener "Don't Get Down" really does sound like it could've been the first song on "Loaded," only Bob Lang actually means what he's singing (but then, I guess Lou meant it by then, too), as he captures archetypical emotions of loss/hope in 2 and a half minutes of folk pop transcendence. Not everyone will see it that way, but then what do they know? Any soul who doesn't listen to the oblique acid pop/tender emotional pleas of "Be My Friend," a number that begs for affection and acknowledges the end with the same earnest poignancy over a soft bed of hypnotic fingerpicking, probably doesn't have a pulse. Belle and Sebastian and Clientele fans should appreciate, but I'm more inclined to think of Japanese folk pop legends, Nagisa Ni Te, or even Maher Shalal Hash Baz. All in all, shambolic, truly timeless folk psych, and get this: Japan's P-Vine records will be reissuing this album and its never released follow-up (recorded over 30 years ago!) in February. Can't help but wonder if Shinji Shibayama ever came across one of those original pressings back in the day.
Sound samples:
Don't Get Down
For a While

The Battles are not an instrumental math rock ensemble featuring the former drummer from Helmet. Based on a randomly read email in recent months, that's precisely what I expected. The Battles (the other act is simply Battles) actually hail from Vancouver (New Pornographers country) and conjure pretty melodies over a charging, garage punk backdrop of Feelies obsessed guitar jangle, Pere Ubu synth and Peter Hook hypno-bass. That's a simplification, of course. The ghost of early Flying Nun Records, Todd Rundgren, Ray Davies, Roxy Music (I realize these people are not dead) also hover sublimely over Steven Wood's alternately impassioned, quirky and detatched songs, which can definitely make the heart shiver in its cage, especially when his band kicks into high gear and hits everything harder. Just check out "Poem #8 (That Would be Good)," its elastic basslines and surging chorus wiping all memory of Interpol from the gray matter. Too bad it's so short, but I'll take a minute, fifty secs of what The Battles have to say over 40 mins of Interdull any day of the week. The beauty of these performances may have something to do with the fact that contributors play or have played with Destroyer, Loscil and Black Mountain, among others. There is depth to burn in "Tomorrow's Eager Hands" (Soft Abuse) and like a classic Wire album (other than "Pink Flag"), its genius isn't always so obvious on first listens. As for me, I just had to hear opener "Changes" turned up to 10, and I was pretty much hooked.

Dan Bejar can also be heard harmonizing on a few tracks, but you know what? I dig this more than Destroyer or the recent work by New Pornographers. It's because Wood is such a visionary, all encompassing songwriter. He obviously loves stripped down, minimal basics, but his use of harmonies, quirky synths and massed distortion ups the ante sufficiently. The glory hewn "We Were Right to Fight" sounds almost like the New Pornos gone prog. A welcome inclination towards moody, spectral folk pop never disappoints (see "In Excelsis, Yes"), and the monumental groove of "Northern Man"--Mott the Hoople power chords over thudding drums--propels a monster hook of a chorus to the golden rock promise land. Diggit. This isn't actually out till early Feb, but Soft Abuse is taking pre-orders now.
Sound sample:

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