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.