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.