Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Stephen Malkmus - Face The Truth

The third solo album from Stephen Malkmus came out in 2005, opening with the jarring squeaks of Pencil Rot.  Buried underneath annoying studio trickery is a half decent tune.  Not far into the album we get the vaguely irritating I've Hardly Been, not the ideal start!  Thankfully It Kills, is the kind of guitar heavy, relaxed tune Malkmus has made his own post-Pavement, with a little snatch of banjo and a hint at, of all things, Rod Stewart's Do You Think I'm Sexy thrown in.  The easy, lazy charm of Freeze The Saints works well, enhanced by some really excellent guitar work.

But the eight minute No More Shoes is the centrepiece.  Sounding pure seventies, the song is built on a rolling guitar riff and a 'do-do-ing' refrain which acts as a jumping off point for Malkmus to indulge in some awesome guitar work.  It's a powerful track and the best thing on the album.  After this, Mama is a bit of a throwaway, sounding like a cross between The Beatles' Ballad of John and Yoko and Creedence Clearwater Revival's Rollin' On A River.  And what follows isn't too inspiring.  Kindling for the Master aims for the same poise as Bowie's Golden Years, while other tracks such as Post Paint Boy and Baby C'mon would be fairly run of the mill only for Malkmus' guitar work.  So overall, not a standout effort within Stephen Malkmus' catalogue but rescued by some decent tunes and some above average guitar work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Palace Brothers - There Is No-One What Will Take Care Of You

This debut, released in 1993, was where it all started for Will Oldham.  It opens with its shortest and most jarring song Idle Hands Are The Devil's Plaything, featuring a very ropey vocal from Oldham over a spritely banjo and seemingly random percussion.  Though it's preferable to the six minute dirge that follows, Long Before.  I Tried To Stay Healthy For You sounds very close to the melody for Auld Lang Syne and sounds kind of bizarre.  The guitar and banjo The Cellar Song is a distinct improvement before the strange strum of (I Was Drunk at The) Pulpit.

The title track sounds more like a real band effort, but O Lord Are You In Need is the one song here which indicates where Oldham was planning to go in his Bonnie 'Prince' Billy persona, it's more relaxed and 'crafted' than anything else here.  Merida is a kind folky, backwoods blues and is one of the stronger tracks here, along with the slow, creepy Riding.  So, although there are some good, if a little basic songs here, it's not the ideal introduction to Will Oldham.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Uncle Tupelo - March 16-20, 1992

For Uncle Tupelo's third album, released in 1992 at the height of heavy grunge, the band kept largely to acoustic folk.  This collection of originals mixed with traditional American songs sounds almost timeless.  Early on, a grim reading of Coalminers rubs shoulders with Jeff Tweedy's jauntier Wait Up.  Jay Farrar's contributions are generally strong - the brief Criminals is an early highlight, a bitter strum of being "criminals looking for something to do", while Shaky Ground has echoes of REM (not surprising as Peter Buck produced).  Tweedy's no slouch here either, Black Eye lays the groundwork for Richmond Fontaine's more stripped down material.  By contrast, versions of Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, Moonshiner and Atomic Power are a little too close to folk pastiche for comfort.  Although a whole album of this can get a bit repetitive, the original material here saves the day.  Towards the end, Fatal Wound is a gorgeous, laid back going-nowhere ballad with a fine steel guitar part.  Overall, the country feel to the album might seem off-putting at first but the quality of the songs grows on repeated listening.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Yuck (self-titled)

Yuck released their self-titled debut album in 2011.  It sounds like the collision of the sweet spots of Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement and Sonic Youth, with the roughest edges smoothed away.  Opening two Get Away and The Wall distil this very well, with Max Bloom's guitar in particular helping to lay the foundation of their sound.  Slower, more introspective moments like Shook Down, Sunday and the twangy Stutter veer close to the Lemonheads' imperious early 90s period though crucially, minus Evan Dando's distinctive vocals, singer Daniel Blumberg sounding more akin to Ash's Tim Wheeler.

Elsewhere, the shoegaze-y Georgia has guitars which are almost perfectly ragged (if such a thing is possible), while Operation robs Sonic Youth's Teenage Riot BLIND.  They fare well on instrumental Rose Gives a Lilly, which, like the rest of the album, is enjoyable if a bit derivative and also a bit... controlled.  It's left till final track Rubber before the band really lets loose with a full-on shoegaze effort.  Though it's hard to fault this album, ultimately you'll be looking for older albums recorded by their influences.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Amazing - Wait For A Light To Come

This short EP from The Amazing, released in 2010, sees the band go a bit soft rock.  It opens with the busy folk of Evil, before leading into the sweet-sounding ballad And It Looks Like Today.  The track Islands is like a jazzy version of Nick Drake, with 10CC thrown in for good measure.  Languid electric guitar introduces Head Beaches, a kind of swooning, laid back song, and Defect sees them break out the guitars full throttle but makes little impression.

All in all, it's a bit too much on the soft side.  Pleasant, but little more.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jesus and Mary Chain - Munki

By the time the Jesus and Mary Chain's sixth album came out in 1998, the band was definitely on a downward trajectory.  The album came off as a slightly desperate attempt to try as many styles as possible to make them relevant.  Opener I Love Rock 'n' Roll rocks fairly hard without fully convincing.  There are plenty of middling rockers such as Birthday, Stardust Remedy, Fizzy.  On Moe Tucker neither Jim nor William Reid bothered their arse to sing it so they got their bored sister to sing!

Unfortunately after this things go a bit pear-shaped with the trip-hop duet between Hope Sandoval and William Reid, Perfume, which probably should have been kept for a B-side.  Degenerate borrows liberally from the Stooges' TV Eye.  Cracking Up represents a distinct improvement, and is arguably the strongest track here.  Wasted ballad Never Understood (ooh clever!) is elegantly lazy.  But having SEVENTEEN tracks here is way, way too much.  By the time you reach closing track I Hate Rock 'n' Roll (yes, the snotty sibling of the opening track) you can see what they mean.  You'll have had to negotiate 7 minutes of the warped sounding Commercial and the pseudo sixties mysticism of Supertramp to get there.  Probably one of the Jesus and Mary Chain's less essential albums.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Uncle Tupelo - Still Feel Gone

Uncle Tupelo was one of the original 'alt-country' bands, formed in the late eighties at a time when country music was neither 'alternative' nor cool.  Including both Jay Farrar (of Son Volt) and Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco), their hard rocking second album Still Feel Gone came out in 1991.  Listening to it now, it holds up pretty well, opening up with Gun which definitely leans more on the rock than country.  Looking For a Way Out is a slice of a kind of countrified Crazy Horse, while Fall Down Easy's mandolin midway through has echoes of REM.  The sparse, country strum Still Be Around is a fine track, complete with lyrics like "with the bible is a bottle".  On the other the pounding, lurching Postcard displays a fine grasp of guitar dynamics, particularly the 'don't give a f**k' solo midway through.  Although the album tapers off a little towards the end, it ends with the downcast If That's Alright, a perfect doing-nothing-staring-out-of-the-window type song.

Certainly if you like your country a bit on the rough and unpolished side this one is essential.