Sunday, November 20, 2016

Steve Gunn - Time Off

Steve Gunn released Time Off in 2013, and as far as I know it's the first album where he added his voice to his considerable guitar skills. It consists of six lengthy, intricate guitar based songs. Opener Water Wheel sets the tone, taking its time across complex guitar patterns, evoking classic 70s bluesy folk like John Martyn. Complex, but in a very mellow way. Guitars are mostly acoustic, when electric is employed it's done sparingly. Songs like Lurker have a kind of lurching groove to them. New Decline is an almost bottle neck style blues not heard so often in recent years, while Old Strange has some particularly fetching moody guitar parts, the type that sound almost effortless yet highly impressive. Trailways Ramble foregoes vocals in favour of duelling guitars.

It sounds 'classic' yet feels fresh. Although it's definitely one for the musos this is guitar music of the highest quality.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Magnolia Electric Co - Fading Trails

Fading Trails was released in 2006. A brief album at 9 tracks over 28 minutes, it's drawn from four different recording sessions. Despite this, it hangs together really well as an album. The Magnolia Electric Co band environment really suits Jason Molina's brand of downtempo country rock. Don't Fade On Me has a plodding Crazy Horse feel to it (a good thing), and is the first of a trio of rockers which occupy the opening third of the album. Montgomery is a very pleasing stomp but it ends tantalisingly after less than two minutes, while Lonesome Valley is very much a Nashville style rock song (if you can imagine such a thing), wearing its (black) Stetson proudly, if crookedly while Molina unleashes some fine guitar licks.

A change of pace comes with the next pair of tracks, A Little At A Time seeks to emulate Neil Young's Wrecking Ball with added growl on guitar, while sparse piano is employed on The Old Horizon which is the closest thing here to his work as Songs: Ohia. What's a little frustrating is that these admittedly fine songs arrive, cast their spell and then leave while you're just getting into them. After the country strum of Memphis Moon, Talk To Me Devil Again features a wonderfully melancholy guitar part with a lightness of touch that just makes the song.

Finally we get the primitive acoustic blues of Spanish Moon Fall And Rise and Steady Now ending the album on a kind of uncertain note. It's a really fine collection of songs, and serves as a primer for the Sojourner box set.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pavement - Brighten the Corners

After the all over the shop Wowee Zowee, 1997's Brighten the Corners was a kind of 'back to basics' for Pavement, and it's definitely an easier listen than its predecessor.  It opens with the smart ass rock of Stereo, which has a great moment when Stephen Malkmus sings "what about the voice of Geddy Lee, how did it get so high, I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy" and he's answered by "I know him, and he does", and Malkmus answers "then youu're my fact-checking cuz".  It's SO knowingly cheesy, which makes it actually brilliant.  More melodic is Shady Lane, which has warm guitar lines and a singalong chorus.  Midtempo grooves are the order of the day here with songs like Transport Is Arranged, We Are Underused and Type Slowly, which all have a fairly amiable laidback vibe and nonsensical lyrics, the latter featuring the memorable line "one of us is a cigar stand", before easing into Tom Verlaine style guitar heaven.  Date with IKEA is one of their more generic, yet accessible rockers, and would fit in fine on any indie music station (if we still had one), while Malkmus unleashes some fine guitar work in Old to Begin.

Embassy Row starts out a little like late period VU but then scorches off into a streaky rocker.  Blue Hawaiian provides a change (down) of pace, with classic Malkmus muttered lyrics ("your cheeks have lost their lustre").  The understated Starlings of the Slipstream is a late highlight, again it's highly melodic though not a predictable, hackneyed, borrowed tune, rather something that sounds original and strangely addicitve.  The album finishes with Fin, something which will allow you drift off on a sea of guitars.  Which is a good thing.

If you're looking for an example of what 90s indie is, this isn't too far away.  A kind of 'grower', if ever there was a "three and a half star" album, this is it. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Cure - Wish

By 1992, The Cure were beginning to feel very 1980s, along had come 'Madchester', shoegaze and grunge, not to mention the rave scene.  Certainly by the time Wish, their ninth album was released not many of us were even thinking about Robert Smith and co. What is evident from first track Open is The Cure had amped up the guitars, they 'rock' a little more, but in a 'Cure-like' way.  High sees them on more familiar ground, a hummable, breezy tune. We also get the more immersive, glacial songs like Apart, which has wonderfully downbeat guitar lines you can just sink into, with the gorgeous, simple lyric "how did we get so far apart, we used to be so close together".  Later in the album, Trust and To Wish Impossible Things.

From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea has a bit of Stones and a bit of goth thrown together to make something that is, at seven and a half minutes, a bit much to be honest.  Wendy Time is a little 'quirky-Cure-by-numbers', not that there's anything wrong with that but it just feels like Smith could do this in his sleep.  Very hard to know what to say about Friday I'm In Love at this stage, but it seemed to press a lot of Cure buttons back in 1992 and is probably one of their most synonymous songs, and indeed casual fans would be hard pushed to name any more recent Cure songs.

Letter to Elise is an almost perfect distillation of Pictures of you, it would almost seem like a ripoff except that it's just so soothing, thanks mainly to some absolutely awesome guitar work.  In fact this could well be The Cure's guitar album. End is the last track, drenched in guitars it bookends the album nicely. While by no means a classic Cure album, there are enough good songs to carry this one through, so if you like this sort of thing, there's plenty to enjoy here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Amazing - The Amazing

Swedish band The Amazing released their debut album in 2009. It opens with The Kirwan Song, where the band take the melody of Fleetwood Mac's early 70s guitar instrumental Sunny Side of Heaven and add their own verses.  After this we get the lazy Nick Drake/RHP style strums Dragon and Beach House which is more typical of the album.  Most of the rest of the album consists of these watery strums.  Deportation Day is pacier, rattling along very pleasantly, Is It Likely could be one of the more upbeat tracks from Bryter Layter.  Romanian is a swooning, exquisite, glorious slice of what can only be called sadcore.  Dead livens things up with gauzy, distorted guitars before the long, proggy Had To Keep Walking.  It's a dense, complex album, full of melody, with lots of layers to be revealed on further listening.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jason Molina - Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go

Jason Molina's second solo album under his own name came out in 2006.  Sounds rough and ready with the deceptively simple sounding guitar and piano of It's Easier Now underpinned by audible hiss. Tracks like Everything Should Try Again and Alone With The Owl are a real throwback to his work as Songs: Ohia.  It Must Be Raining There Forever sounds particularly desolate.  The final 3 tracks feature a drum machine, but not just any drum machine, this one is slow as molasses.  These tracks feel a bit more 'musical' for want of a better word.  Droning organ on It Costs You Nothing combines well with seemingly improvised piano before the slow drift of the title track where Molina lets loose on electric guitar (to a degree).  The whole thing is no easy listen, it's a good exercise in creating a dour atmosphere and maintaining it over an album.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Weezer - Pinkerton

In which the preppy geeks of Buddy Holly grew a pair of big heavy balls.  The album came out in 1996 and the wallop of guitars and drums that propelled opener Tired of Sex will have startled many, not to mention front man Rivers Cuomo's strangled yelps.  The catchy tunes are still here, you just have to work harder with them.  Second track in, Getchoo is a wonderfully malevolent pounder.  It swaggers in on a heavy drum beat and grungy riffs.

Another arresting howl opens the heavy pop of No Other One. Why Bother? and Across the Sea are hard riffing pop songs, a bit like Nirvana playing nursery rhymes. El Scorcho might be the catchiest thing here it's kind of reminiscent of The Sweater Song off their first album.  Unfortunately it ends with a fairly pointless acoustic strum, Butterfly which is completely out of place.  But leaving that aside, this is a good poppy, yet heavy album.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Pavement - Wowee Zowee

Pavement released Wowee Zowee in 1995, the follow up to the highly melodic Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.  It has the reputation of being a kind of glorious mess, with 18 tracks across 56 minutes.  To my mind it's not quite 'glorious'.  Too many of the tracks are scratchy and shouty with little merit (Brinx Job, Serpentine Pad, Best Friend's Arm etc).  It opens with the rather limp strum We Dance during which very little happens over 3 minutes.  The lurching, electric riffs of Rattled by the Rush are a distinct improvement, and Black Out is a wonderfully lazy strum, joined by soaring, breezy electric leads.  Other tracks like Grounded and AT&T are kind of prime Pavement, but on Father to a Sister of Thought they predict the alt-country movement with a gorgeous countrified strum, Doug Easley throwing a whole bunch of steel guitar all over it before beefier riffs kick in during the outtro.  Grave Architecture kicks off like a soft, Velvet-y track but unfortunately develops into a shouty track, and is kind of emblematic of the album.  Later into the album, Fight This Generation has a creeping, brooding quality to it but doesn't really develop into anything, just repeating "fight this generation" ad nauseum.  On the other hand, Kennel District does a decent approximation of a late-eighties Pixies track while the meaty, heavy riffs of Half a Canyon could be a pre-cursor to the White Stripes.

But there's no real fab standout, no Summer Babe, no Gold Soundz and no Major Leagues.  A hard Pavement album to love, though there are some decent tunes on it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Magnolia Electric Co - What Comes After the Blues

What Comes After The Blues was the first album proper by Magnolia Electric Co.  Released in 2005, it sees Jason Molina and co embrace the country rock vibe.  The Dark Don't Hide It puts the emphasis on the 'rock' with crunching Crazy Horse style riffs married to a Nashville y'all sway.  Country music for people who don't like country music, it's one of Molina's strongest rockers and his fine guitar work bears this out.  The second track The Night Shift Lullaby hands over lead vocal duties to Jennie Benford but it doesn't lack for intensity, with a country rock swagger, switching between hard-riffing electric and deftly plucked acoustic guitars.

There's a change of tack on the country soul of Leave The City with Mike Brenner's steel guitar joined by trumpet courtesy of Michael Kapinus.  However the ghost of Neil Young is never far away, and acoustic ballad Hard To Love A Man is every bit as good as any of Young's more stripped down moments.  Molina and Benford's harmonies evoke a modern day version of Neil and Emmylou Harris, while the Wurlitzer creates a timeless, eerie feel.  Give Something Else Away Every Day is a deathly slow trudge through molasses, worthy of Young's Ditch trilogy, here they get the slow, drowsy plod of Crazy Horse just right.  After this the album turns folkier, Northstar Blues and Hammer Down are spare, unadorned alt-country folk, with I Can Not Have Seen The Light taking a darker turn.

Dark country rock aficionados need to pick this one up.  A (brief) album of serious quality.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Jason Molina - Pyramid Electric Co.

Jason Molina released this solo album in 2004.  In contrast to the fuller sound of his band work, this was a return to the starker, sparser sound of earlier Songs: Ohia albums.  Entirely without percussion, the album features slow, lengthy songs of occasional electric guitar with some low key wailing from Molina.  The title track sets the tone, its low key, guitar rumbles are almost impressionistic in nature, particularly in the drifting coda where the merest guitar and whispered, wordless vocals occupy the final minute and a half.  Like the most downcast side of Bonnie Prince Billy, the glacial piano of Red Comet Dust and later the guitars of Spectral Alphabet conjure up a barren, lonely atmosphere, with lyrics on the latter such as "their names inscribed by death in a spectral alphabet".  Division St. Girl and Honey, Watch Your Ass are more familiar territory for Molina, slow, three chord guitar crawls.  Everything is barely there, even at high volumes you need to listen intently.  Later, Song of the Road is, if anything more downbeat, a minimal track based on a skeletal guitar progression.  So if you like Jason Molina at his most forlorn, and stripped back, this one's for you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Pig Lib

2003's Pig Lib is Stephen Malkmus' second album in his own name, this time his band the Jicks get equal billing.  It opens with Water and a Seat, where Malkmus' guitars initially sound quite unhinged and all over the place with a vocal to match, but somehow it resolves into a lurching, swaggering guitar rocker, allowing Malkmus to show off his (considerable) skills.  It's an awkward bugger of a track that aims high but ultimately falls just a little short.  Ramp of Death and (Do Not Feed The) Oyster are more low key, but are fine tunes, the latter featuring a searing guitar solo.  Vanessa From Queens is a slight, mellow tune but Sheets is a far more involving track, drenched in guitars and melody.  Later, two highlights include Animal Midnight, a track that ebbs and flows before unleashing a soaring guitar solo, and gently swaggering rocker Witch Mountain Bridge.  Elsewhere in the latter half of the album the quality does tail off with the throwaway Dark Wave, The Craw and the way-too-long-at-nine-minutes 1% of One, a repetitive babble of a track.  The album would work well for fans of Pavement, and it's an engaging album if you like your guitars.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Sea and Cake - Oui

The Sea and Cake are one of those bands who have an effortless, summery sound.  Their fourth album Oui, released in 2000 opens with the lively, skittish pair Afternoon Speaker and All Your Photos.  It's not till the album slows, on You Beautiful Bastard, that it settles into a groove.  This is subtle music, it doesn't fight hard for your attention.  Rather it sits there doing its thing, picking out delicate guitar patterns and conjuring up lazy, hazy vibes with the aid of strings and keyboards.

The Colony Room is another fine example of this, starting out all sunny and carefree, yet the mood darkens as the track wears on with the addition of some lugubrious woodwind.  Everyday adds vibraphone, evoking Tim Buckley. Towards the end, Seemingly is a kind of glacial soul, and it's highly effective.  However, the album works best as a soporific whole rather than listening to individual tracks.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Jim O'Rourke - Halfway to a Threeway

It opens with picked guitars and smooth harmonies on Fuzzy Sun, and these guitars grow progressively more lovely, reaching Marr-like proportions.  The addition of piano creates a lovely sound as the track evolves, packing a lot into its relatively (2.34) short running time.  The summery instrumental Not Sport, Marital Art follows, this one is kind of jazzy, along the lines of The Sea and Cake, particularly when brass enters the fray.  On the other hand the seven minute The Workplace has a kind of faintly embarrassed tone to it, along the lines of mid period Smog with some decidedly odd lyrics about what kind of clothes women and men "look good in" (each others). You can't help feeling there's more to this one than meets the eye, that O'Rourke is scratching the surface of something or other, though later we get a gorgeous coda with guitar picking and relaxed "da da da dom" vocals.  This relatively short EP finishes with the title track, the sparsest thing here, a kind of simple folk song.  There are worse ways to spend 20 minutes.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Songs: Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co

The final Songs: Ohia album is a curious beast.  Released in 2003, some consider it the first Magnolia Electric Co album.  It features a much fuller sound than any previous album put out be Jason Molina.  That sound is pretty much defined by opening track Farewell Transmission, which is a full throttle, seven minute, countrified Crazy Horse rocker.  I've Been Riding With The Ghost and Almost Was Good Enough have a similarly rocking, spooked-out feel.  It's light years away from the sparse crawl of early Songs: Ohia.

Just Be Simple shoots for the other side of the Neil Young coin, with a lightness of touch and a drumbeat that could have crawled off Harvest, guitars that twang and cooing backing vocals.  This country feel is ramped up with the first of two guest vocalists.  Lawrence Peters takes lead on The Old Black Hen and goddamn if it doesn't feel like a good old country tune from Nashville's heyday, particularly with the addition of fiddle and honky tonk piano.  It seems straightforward until the twist at the end of it when Peters sings "I was trying to sing the blues the way I find them."  On the other hand, Peoria Lunch Box Blues features high-pitched backing vocals from Scout Niblett, but this track has a haunted, bleak On The Beach feel.  

As if to remind himself that he's the mainman, Molina comes roaring back in on the harrowing John Henry Split My Heart.  Drums pound, guitar riffs whiplash back and forth, and there are few shafts of light in this particular heart of darkness.  The album finishes with the downbeat country drift of Hold On Magnolia, finishing on an uncertain, almost underwhelming note.  Hold on to what? Or for what?

This album's unrelenting intensity has the effect also of being the most accessible Songs: Ohia album.  A vital soundtrack for nights of rage, raging against the dying of the light.  And wallow in it.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Album Review: Stephen Malkmus

Stephen Malkmus' first solo album post-Pavement came out in 2001.  Unlike the final Pavement album which had quite a uniform sound, this album is kind of all over the shop.  It opens with the Stones-y rocker Black Book, which sounds a little odd coming from the mouth of Malkmus, as he sw(J)aggers "the black book you took was permanent-ally diversified", but that's every bit as clumsy as that sounds.  He tries similar posturing later with The Hook, but the results are much the same.  Too many songs like Phantasies, Jo Jo's Jacket and Troubbble breeze by in a kind of throwaway manner.  Much better is Church On White which features some glorious guitar work in the spirit of Tom Verlaine.  It's an absolutely splendid guitar workout, but it's not really helped by being surrounded by some of Malkmus' more mediocre material.

Discretion Grove and the lazy drawl of Trojan Curfew evoke his former band in great fashion, featuring yet more soaring guitar and catchy melodies.  The sunny, acoustic picking of Pink India sounds graceful and carefree, before building to a swaggering rocker, but this one suits Malkmus way better than Black Book or The Hook.  Jenny and the Ess Dog is quite tuneful if you can ignore its obvious similarity to Elliott Smith's Say Yes, while closing track Deado has a somewhat regretful tone, finishing the album on a downbeat note.

So if you're prepared to work with this album, albeit it's a seriously backloaded one, it does actually pay off.