Thursday, July 25, 2013

Album Review: Retribution Gospel Choir

The first album from Retribution Gospel Choir, released in 2008, sets the tone for this project - heavy, rocking out guitars, a sort of Alan Sparhawk midlife crisis escape from Low.
Basically if you like the heavier bits of The Great Destroyer, you'll love this.  Opening with the heavy rock of They Knew You Well, the band reimagine two of Low's songs from Drums and Guns in this format - Take Your Time and Breaker, both of which succeed it has to be said.
The pounding, bone-shaking riffs of Somebody's Someone and What She Turned Into thrill and startle in equal measure.  The bashful, subdued Holes In Our Heads is more typical Sparhawk territory, starting quietly before giving way to more guitar pyrotechnics. Kids betrays the hallmark of producer Mark Kozelek's heavier material with Sun Kil Moon, all heavy, yet hesitant guitar crunch, and is allowed a full four minutes before concluding with Sparhawk singing a gentle 'Amen'.
Frustratingly, many of the other songs last little over two minutes, it would have been nice to hear Sparhawk indulge his inner Crazy Horse.  It's at times unsettling and never a comfortable listen, the ideal flipside to Low's Drums and Guns album.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Album Review: Bob Mould - District Line

Bob Mould's 2008 album District Line is a curious one.  No more so than on opener Stupid Now, which can't decide between being a dance song, or to rock, and ultimately does neither.  Mould at times sounds like he can barely sing on this, and also the Britpop strum of Again and Again, his voice cracking under the strain of reaching the notes, and its not clear whether this is deliberate or not.  Better are the Sugar-y rockers Who Needs To Dream? and Return to Dust.
Old Highs, New Lows is another dodgy dance/rock hybrid, while Shelter Me goes the whole 'dad-dance' hog.  He saves the best for last with the reflective, REM channeling strum of Walls In Time, accompanied by Amy Domingues' fine cello part.  This track was apparently written around the time of 1989's Workbook.  It's a shame there aren't more like it here as it suits him down to the ground and is the strongest track on an uneven album.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

EP Review: Bedhead - The Dark Ages

Bedhead's 1996 EP The Dark Ages opens with the slow build up the title track.  The Kadane brothers' clean, clear guitars ring gently over hushed vocals.  Two and a half minutes in the drumming becomes more prominent, without threatening to overpower the song.  The slow Velvets grind of instrumental Inhume follows, before Reed and co's third album is invoked on the gorgeous country lilt of Any Life.  Overall the EP serves as a good introduction to Bedhead's quiet melancholy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Album Review: Dinosaur Jr - Beyond

2007's Beyond was Dinosaur Jr's first album in ten years, but it may as well have been ten months - the material here takes up from where their mid 90s albums left off.  J Mascis is in supreme form on guitar riffs, and he welcomes back estranged original bassist Lou Barlow for the first time in nearly two decades.  The album is full of sun-kissed, blissed-out rockers like Almost Ready and Crumble and is dominated by Mascis' towering guitar, along with some laughably ropy vocals.

Pick Me Up is basically a long lead-in to a hugely satisfying guitar solo, and, so long as you aren't looking for much depth to the lyrics, Barlow's Back To Your Heart is a swaggering stomp of a song.  Mascis and co sound revitalised on some of the heavier tracks like It's Me and Barlow's Lightning Bulb.

The one weak spot is the plodding acoustic strum of I Got Lost.  Here Mascis sings falsetto, and though it's a rare instance of proper 'singing', it doesn't help matters.  Much better in a mellow vein is We're Not Alone, which bobs along amiably, evoking the Lemonheads.  The album is definitely up to scratch with their older work, ushering in a great Dinosaur Jr second act.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Album Review: Bob Mould – Body of Song

After the rather strange dance experiment of 2002’s Modulate, 2005's Body of Song was billed as Bob Mould’s ‘return to rock’.  It opens with the reasonably heavy Circles which has a decent tune, but (Shine Your) Light Love Hope and I Am Vision, I Am Sound hark back to Modulate with their dance beats and vocodered, auto-tuned to death vocals.  Really quite jarring.
Thankfully the rest of the album improves on this.  Underneath Days has a strong guitar riff and real passion in the vocals along with impassioned rockers like Paralyzed and Best Thing.  Elsewhere, Days of Rain introduces an ‘adult-oriented’, relaxed, mid-paced sound which really suits Mould, and it’s replicated on High Fidelity and Missing You.  It’s the type of thing Paul Westerberg manages quite well.
Penultimate track Gauze of Friendship is the most emotional track, all busted relationships and sepia-described memories, with a fine guitar solo thrown in for good measure.  The album concludes on a very strong note with the parched, downbeat rocker Beating Heart The Prize, possibly the most anthemic track here and yet another blinding guitar solo.
It’s not the most cohesive album Bob Mould has put his name to but, dance-pop experiments aside, is a good collection of songs.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Album Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Your Funeral... My Trial

Your Funeral... My Trial was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' second album of 1986.  At this point Cave had discovered the Hammond organ, and he uses it to great effect on 3 fairly slow tracks (the Your Funeral side).  Opener Sad Waters, sees Cave duetting with himself (singing and speaking) on a deep, mellifluous ballad, far from his usual fire and brimstone.  The title track is a very early version of the 'Nick Cave brooding ballad', inventing a genre of its own.  Finally, the creepy, unsettling Stranger Than Kindness, darkens the mood, with restrained, rumbling guitar lines and the merest hint of organ.

The rest of album is more standard issue Cave and the Bad Seeds; the death march of The Carny, the zaniness of Hard On For Love and the epic finale of Tim Rose's Long Time Man.   While Jack's Shadow is very much a quintessential Cave track, special mention must go to She Fell Away which takes an early Johnny Cash groove to feature not only xylophone courtesy of Mick Harvey, but also Thomas Wydler on fire extinguisher!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Album Review: Stuart A. Staples - Leaving Songs

Stuart A Staples released his second solo album in 2006, while Tindersticks were on hiatus.  It’s not dramatically different from Tindersticks, but it is far more realized than his first solo album.  Opening song Old Friends No. 1 commences with a classic Staples line: “It's not that I don't love you, or are tired of your ways, I want you to know” while the music acts as a throwback to their Tindersticks II era sound.
Which Way The Wind has a full brass and sweeping string section but the rest of the album is mainly sparser and low-key, which allows Staples’ voice to breathe, sounding even more careworn and weary than usual.  There Is A Path is softened by female vocals but what’s more distinctive here are the little steel guitar touches on This Road Is Long countrifying things before a jaded-sounding Maria McKee joins him on a wonderful duet.  One More Time and later This Old Town have a similar feel, again with steel guitar.
He also duets with Llasa de Sela on That Leaving Feeling, which has a really sunny, optimistic feel to it, helped in no small way by mariachi horns.  But overall, if you like Tindersticks, this will be familiar ground, and you’ll love it.