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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Sea and Cake - The Fawn

Jazz-rock band The Sea and Cake released their fourth album in 1997.   Opening with Sporting Life, the sound of the album is a little jarring at first, a sort of lounge-style noodling with little in the way of melodic hooks to hang onto.  Keyboards, bossa-nova rhythms and flutes abound on The Argument.  Such disparate elements somehow come together and work, particularly as the album progresses.  Or maybe it's just that your ears gradually attune to what, it has to be said, is a summery sound on tracks like The Ravine.

The title track has a kind of swirling, 'no-fi' sound.  There are nice touches across the album - the creeping, hesitant guitars of instrumentals Rossignol and Black Tree In The Bee Yard being some of the finest.  Bird and Flag is positively... groovy, while final track Do Now Fairly Well is the least jazzy and most post-rock moment, reminiscent of Slint.

But it's less about the individual songs, more the collective whole.  Music like this doesn't fight for your attention, it doesn't care one way or another.  It just kind of buries itself sneakily in your brain.