LEO Weekly ran my review of C.S. Yeh’s new album, Transitions, in today’s edition:
Defying expectations is risky, but even more difficult for experimental musicians playing pop. That challenge — of a player known for more demanding fare stretching out into “less serious” realms — is readily accepted by C.S. Yeh on Transitions. A violinist known for his Burning Star Core project, Yeh plays every instrument here, with a shaky retro sensibility reminiscent of 1980’s one-man band My Dad Is Dead. Yeh takes more than a few chances on Transitions: His icy vocals, rudimentary guitar work and synth-driven rhythm tracks are far more direct than previous experimental efforts, while lyrics like “I thought that good luck routed me to Cleveland” might be too tongue-in-cheek to take seriously. But with sly nods to the underground and the mainstream, covering both Father Yod and Stevie Nicks, Yeh makes their songs his own.
You can buy it from De Stijl here.
This week’s LEO Weekly ran my review of the new album by Howlin Rain, The Russian Wilds:
Not so many years ago, Ethan Miller’s band Comets on Fire provided a perfectly psychedelic shot in the arm — their loud, histrionic MC5-style rock ruled the day, and it seemed like a number of copycat bands have since sprung up in their wake. Nothing good lasts forever, though, and while Miller has a new band, Howlin Rain, they pack a much less potent punch. To add to the potential misery of the overly long retro retreads on their new album, The Russian Wilds, which features a number of miscues and missed opportunities, the most egregious is an embarrassingly poor faux-Latin coda (think recent Santana) on “Phantom in the Valley.” Produced by Rick Rubin, who once tried to turn The Cult into AC/DC, The Russian Wilds is thankfully no longer than an hour, though it’s an hour that unfortunately seems much, much longer.
Buy it here.
My review of the latest record by The Fall was published on LEO Weekly‘s Bluegrass Catastrophe blog today:
It’s tempting to compare vastly different eras of The Fall’s career to one another. After all, The Fall has been a going affair for front man Mark E. Smith for five decades now, with Ersatz G.B. being the latest in a long line of releases. So to make the comparison, the latest, 2012 incarnation of The Fall documented on Ersatz G.B. reminds me most of the relatively accessible mid-1980s version, especially the lineup that recorded the classic album The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall. Musically, the band flirts with a slightly poppier yet hard-edged sound, including an atypical “metal” number, driven by the steady rhythm section of Keiron Melling on drums and David Spurr on bass. What little of Smith’s garbled vocals I can make out involve his usual concerns – he’s been lamenting “the highest British attention to the wrong detail” since 1982’s Hex Enduction Hour.
Buy it here.
My review of Jakob Olausson’s new album, Morning & Sunrise, was published in this week’s LEO Weekly:
From a part of the world where the sunlight is scarce in the wintertime, Swedish singer-songwriter Jakob Olausson delivers an album that, despite its deceptively luminous title, sounds almost as stark as a Scandinavian winter. All of Olausson’s songs on Morning & Sunrise are lyrically direct, sung as if in a relatively one-sided conversation, though musically they meander, with snaking electric guitar leads overlaid upon the foundation of Olausson’s reverb-drenched strummed acoustic. In a way, Morning & Sunrise is reminiscent of Alexander “Skip” Spence’s loner masterpiece Oar, but without Spence’s supposed drug-addled goofiness or his Nashville-produced influence on the music. Aside from the just-slightly-too-ramshackle song “Engraved Invitation,” Morning & Sunrise is a sober and serious affair, like a steaming hot cup of black coffee at the crack of dawn on a cold winter morn.
Buy it from De Stijl here.
This week’s LEO Weekly contains my review of the new album by 200 Years, the new project by Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda) and Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers):
At the conclusion of the Six Organs of Admittance show at Uncle Slayton’s back in August, Ben Chasny was joined onstage by singer Elisa Ambrogio, and the lucky audience was treated to a preview of their new band, 200 Years. The current concern for Ambrogio and Chasny, this self-titled debut on Drag City is superficially akin to Chasny’s Six Organs project as it features primarily acoustic guitars, delicately sweet melodies and the occasional accompaniment by harmonium. But the band is really Ambrogio’s showcase, as her voice dominates the album. However, unlike her usually confrontational work with Magik Markers, the overall aesthetic of 200 Years is one of dreamy, contemplative harmony between her voice and Chasny’s guitar. In songs such as “Partin Wayz” and “West Hartford,” there’s even a welcome sense of nostalgia and sentimentality, which gives 200 Years a sweet edge quite unlike anything previously by either artist.
Buy it from Drag City here.
My review of Briarwood by Wooden Wand & the Briarwood Virgins ran in this week’s LEO Weekly:
The near-closing lines of the first song, “Well, it’s winter in Kentucky/And I’m all tapped out,” perfectly encapsulate the emotional desperation running like a crooked river throughout Wooden Wand’s ambitious new Briarwood. Recorded with a large ad-hoc ensemble of Alabama-based session players, Briarwood showcases the usually solo, Lexington-based Wooden Wand at his most musically accessible; it’s an album chock full of beautifully sung harmonies and well-played solos, overflowing with melancholic, defiant lyrics written from the perspective of scarred loners just trying to survive. In an era overpopulated with generic music masquerading trite sentiment as true insight, with hackneyed retro retreads posing as nods to “tradition,” the despondent personalities inhabiting Wooden Wand’s songs should earn him an appreciative audience akin to those enjoyed by the best American singer-songwriters. Alas, much as the characters of Briarwood well know, the small rewards eventually come to those who lower their expectations.
You can buy it from Fire Records here.
My review of David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time ran in this week’s LEO Weekly:
David Lynch – director of such cinematic classics as “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive” – has decided to try his hand at music. While both his masterpieces and near-misses (like his underrated adaptation of “Dune”) possess a fantastic musical sensibility, it’s difficult to discern why Lynch felt it necessary to inflict Crazy Clown Time on the public. At best, such as with album opener “Pinky’s Dream” (with guest vocalist Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Lynch retreads the gothic Americana creepiness present in most of his movies. At worst, which describes most of the album, he sounds like a comically impaired Neil Young — except without Young’s heart-tugging sentiment, simple lyrical genius, or compelling melodic sense. Crazy Clown Time plays like a bizarre hybrid of Young’s famous failure Trans mixed with the terrible techno of ex-porn star Traci Lords’ 1000 Fires — except not as enjoyable as either.
If, after reading that review, you still want to buy it, you can find it at http://www.pias-america.com.