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Saturday, June 29, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: DAVID YOW - Tonight You Look Like a Spider

DAVID YOW - Tonight You Look Like a Spider (Joyful Noise)

An unsettling but rewarding album of experimental pieces with a cinematic quality from the Jesus Lizard/Scratch Acid frontman.

Going into my first listen of David Yow's first solo album I knew that anything could happen, so I was prepared for what ever weirdness or aural assault he could muster. I went in KNOWING that my expectations would be defied and challenged, yet he threw such a curve ball that I was still caught off guard in the best possible way. The only other artist I can think of that broadsided me as much with such a radical twisting of preconceptions is Scott Walker.

It would have been easy for Yow to stick close to the abrasive noise rock of his former bands, Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard. But instead he courageously walks away from that template and explores entirely unfamiliar territory. Tonight You Look Like a Spider is an often unsettling, mostly instrumental collection of experimental pieces. It has an avante garde cinematic quality to it, like the soundtrack to some unknown David Fincher movie. Or a warped Ennio Morricone soundtrack played on a turntable with a loose belt.

Yow made this album by himself over almost fifteen years as he learned ProTools, which sounds like the recipe for a bloated, self-indulgent mess. But he pulls it off wonderfully. The compositions and arrangements are deliberate and balanced. It's weird without sounding weird-for-weird's-sake. He doesn't play it for yucks or push unnecessarily into some "ain't this crazy shit?" zone. But there is some crazy shit here. There's oddly tuned piano tinkering, distorted voice bits, unidentifiable sounds that float in and out of pieces, shifting time signatures, and what I'm pretty sure if one of those cow moo tube toys that you turn upside down to get a moo, but greatly slowed down.

Other than "Roundhouse", which has hints of Jesus Lizards "Fly on the Wall" in the bassline, there's not much to directly identify Tonight You Look Like a Spider with Yow. A few parts remind me a bit of Resident's Third Reich and Roll or elements of Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, but I also hear equal parts of Bernard Herrmann turned inside out or the above mentioned Morricone. Especially Morricone's Crime and Dissonance collection, which would make sense, since this album was once planned to come out on Mike Patton's Ipecac label.

David Yow has proven that he's a more complex artist than I gave him credit for. I was not expecting this to be an album that I would feel compelled to come back to multiple times, but it's bizarrely captivating. I'm hoping that he doesn't take so long for the next album.


Friday, June 21, 2013


I'm in the mood for some Shuffle-a-gogo. You know the drill: set your MP3 player of choice to shuffle and write down the first ten songs. Here's what I got.

1. JULIAN COPE - Reynaard the Fox (Fried 1984) The lead track from Julian's second album hints at much of what come from throughout rest of his career. In just over six minutes he goes from super catchy pop to a bizarre dramatic reading to a crazed garage instrumental freakout.
2. ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Out of the Picture (Black Snake Diamond Role 1981) A straight forward Byrdsian pop song from Robyn's debut album featuring some wonderful jangly guitar.
3. E JOSEPH and the PHANTOM HEART - Changing Trains (All the Medicine in the World 2009) Pleasant power pop from a Baltimore guy that had previously worked with Splitsville and Myracle Brah .
4. EDWYN COLLINS - Dilemna (Understated 2013) Wonderful pop from Edwyn's new album, which is a lock to make my year end best of list.
5. GUIDED BY VOICES - Go Rolling Home (Lets Go Eat the Factory 2011) I love GbV when they make melodic pop. This isn't one of those songs.
6. GARBAGE - Cherry Lips (Absolute Garbage) New wavey electro pop from 2001's Beautiful Garbage. I didn't realize how many Garbage songs I loved until this hits collection came out.
7. WHITE RABBITS - Percussion Gun (It's Frightening 2009) Indie rock from Brooklyn.
8. the EQUALS - Fire (First Among Equals) British R&B pop from Eddie Grant's fabulous and woefully underrated first band. In my quest to own every song from the band's 60's output I've had to buy a few comps to pick up another song or two, which was the case here.
9. FRANK SINATRA - Come Fly With Me (Sinatra 80th) A swinging number from Frank's Capitol era. I've always loved that vocal pause he inserts into "down to Ac.......apulco Bay".
10. OPAL - Supernova (Happy Nightmare Baby 1987) Brooding psychedelia from David Roback (Rain Parade) on guitar and Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith. Sadly this was the band's only album. This is high on my list of late-night headphone faves.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


the WOGGLES - Big Beat (Wicked Cool)

Supercharged party rock from one of the most reliable garage revival bands working today.

For over 20 years Georgia's Woggles have been kicking out relentlessly fun garage rock of the highest quality. When you put on a Woggles album you can count on having a good time. A really fucking good time. You're going tap your toes. You're going to shake your head. You're going to want to get up and dance. With this new one you're going to probably HAVE to get up and dance. And then thirty-some minutes later you're going to feel compelled play it again and dance some more.

The Woggles never played the cooler-than-thou tough-guy brand of garage that was in vogue when they hit the scene in the early 90's. Even on their early, harder rocking albums and singles, the Woggles still had a maximum R&B feel that made their records sound like a kick-ass party. Over the years they've honed that vibe and made the grooves stronger. The Woggles capture the spirit of the first garage bands playing frat parties and teen dances when the main objective was making the kids dance and to have a good time. Few bands seem as committed to keeping that spirit alive as the Woggles are. They remind me a lot of the Fleshtones in their heyday (a comparison I don't make lightly - the Fleshtones are gods).

The Woggles are super-tight and totally energized on Big Beat, which pushes everything into overdrive. At times I hear a garage-ified Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Other times they sound like a more primal Easybeats. There's a little Kinks, Sonics, and Animals in there as well. The songs are so solid across the board that it plays like a singles collection. Not a weak song in the bunch. They even deliver a stellar take on the much covered Frankie Laine standard, "Jezebel", a song I was sure that I didn't need to hear anyone else do. But they take ownership of it and make it work.

Big Beat is one of the best garage albums of the last few years. Probably the strongest album in the band's stellar catalog. It rocks. It swings. It's fun as hell!

Monday, June 17, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: OMD - English Electric

OMD - English Electric (BMG)

For their second album since reuniting the classic line-up, OMD deliver a very likable collection of songs recalls some of their best work of the 80's.

In 2010 OMD released History of Modern, which was the first album reuniting the classic OMD lineup since 1986's Pacific Age. The album hinted at what the band could achieve, but perfomances lacked spark and the songs weren't very memorable. It was the shell of the OMD sound, but lacked focus and sounded a bit too generic. Outside of Andy McCluskey's instantly recognizable vocals and a few trademark OMD synth tones, it sounded more like a band influenced by OMD than actually being OMD.

English Electric is their second album since returning, and it's a huge leap forward. This is OMD in "give the fans what they want" mode, featuring songs that highlight the strengths of their glory days while still sounding fresh. This time they embrace the distinctly OMD feel of their 80's albums, incorporating various elements of their first five or six albums. There's a nice balance of deceptively simple electropop, moodier downbeat melancholia, and big mainstream pop numbers with instantly catchy melodies. It's a very familiar sounding album with at least a few songs that could seamlessly fit onto that first Best of OMD singles collection. Or on the soundtrack to an imaginary John Hughes movie.

They've always owed a debt to Kraftwerk, and at several points on the album that influence is more apparent than on anything else they've done before. OMD don't retread their past, but they don't stray very far what they've done before either. This isn't the album for big innovations or an advancement in their sound. But it's also not a step back. The songs are well crafted and it's obvious that a lot of passion and attention went into making the record.

English Electric is instantly likable and consistently solid from start to finish. Despite the pristine and occasional almost-too-slick production (even by OMD's meticulous standards) there's a warmth to the whole thing that's very welcoming. It's not going to change the world, but there's great comfort in hearing OMD playing to all of their strengths.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Here's part three of my all time favorite albums covers. These aren't necessarily the greatest album covers of all time, just the ones that for one reason or another totally work me.

ABOVE:  the Dream Syndicate - Medicine Show (1984) An album I bought when it came out strictly because of the cover art, band name, and song titles. It ended up being one of my all time favorite (and most played) albums. I was quite bummed when my tourshirt featuring this image went through the washer one too many times and had to be retired.
BELOW LEFTElvis Costello and The Attractions - This year's Model (1978) One of many fabulous covers from endlessly talented Barney Bubbles
BELOW RIGHTGamma - Gamma 2 (1980) I don't like the actual album, but this cover was a big fave of mine when it came out. The album cover is designed by Mick Haggerty and the cover photo is by Jeffrey Scales (who was getting pictures published in the Black Panther Paper when he was only 13!) 


ABOVE LEFT: the B-52's - the B-52's (1979) Cover photo by then relatively unknown Interview Magazine photographer George DuBose. He originally made the image for flyers, but when they were signed the band chose it for the cover image. Island Records creative director Tony Wright hand colored the photo and changed a Mylar balloon Kate was holding to thrift store handbag. He didn't like the band, so he used the alias Sue Absurd for the designer credit. The full story and original b&w photo are at George's site.
ABOVE RIGHT: RAMONES - Road to Ruin (1978) Wonderful illustration from Punk Magazine's John Holmstrom.
BELOW:  Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Vol 1 The Early Years (1961) This is one of the albums I inherited from my parents and it's a cover I stared at quite a bit. Great use of text and white space. I like the fact that the cover image I found was a bit dirty since I don't think I've ever seen a clean copy of the actual vinyl.

ABOVE LEFTthe Jim Carroll Band - Catholic Boy (1980) Cover photograph of Jim and his parents taken by Annie Leibovitz
ABOVE RIGHTthe Clash - London Calling (1979) One of the all-time great album covers. That iconic Pennie Smith photo of Paul Simonon might be my favorite rock picture ever. It's an image that periodically pops into my head the same way a great song does. Ray Lowery framed that picture beautifully with the layout appropriated from Elvis' debut, which really puts the whole thing together.
BELOWthe (English) Beat - I Just Can't Stop It (1980) - The cover is designed by one of my favorite cartoonists, Hunt Emerson, who also designed the iconic Beat Girl logo.

Monday, June 10, 2013


the OBLIVIANS - Desperation (In the Red) 

After 17 years the Memphis trash garage ne'er-do-wells pick up right where they left off.

For my money the Oblivians were the definitive Crypt Records band. They ripped through supersharged lofi garage punk that was light on finesse but heavy on attitude. They were relentless in their assault, creating of a muddled hybrid of garage, punk, blues, and rock & roll. They put out 3 albums in the second half of the 90's and then called it quits. Over the years the three members stayed busy with various projects (fronting the Reigning Sound; producing, writing, and/or playing with artists like the Detroit Cobras, Mary Weiss, Panther Burns, Jay Reatard; and running Goner Records label), making it seem unlikely that they'd return.

But 17 years after their last full length, ...Play 9 Songs with Mr Quintron, the Memphis trash garage ne'er-do-wells are back, picking up right where they left off. The production is a little better (nowhere close to being overproduced - it's still lo-fi) and they're more experienced musicians now, but they still tear it up with the same reckless abandon of the Oblivians of twenty years earlier. As with most great garage albums, there are some fine covers. The blistering cover of Paul Butterfield's "Lovin Cup" is fabulous, but the genius cover is taking a simple zydeco  party number, Stephanie McDee's "Call the Police", and turning it into a massive, pounding garage anthem.

Desperation is noisy, dumb-fun garage rock. Exactly what I want from the Oblivians.


Friday, June 7, 2013


EDWYN COLLINS - Understated (AED)

A wonderfully strong British pop record filled with Northern Soul goodness from the former Orange Juice frontman’s eighth solo album.

Edwyn's eighth solo album is a joyous occasion, filled with bright melodies and toe-tapping rhythms. It's also a joyous album lyrically, filled with the life-affirming declarations of the man that suffered two brain hemorrhages less than a decade ago. Edwyn's sweet spot has always been the intersection of post-punk indie pop and Northern Soul, and that's exactly where Understated hits. And it hits hard, showcasing a mastery of pop songwriting that seems effortless (but when you know the backstory it's anything but). The spirit and vintage sounds of Motown and Stax are deep in the grooves, but he never actually copies any specific reference point. The feel of those soul records is so ingrained into his psyche that it comes out naturally in his songwriting. It never sounds calculated, as it does in the hands of so many of his contemporaries. The record sounds fresh and natural, maybe the most consistent album in his thirty plus year career.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


the LOST PATROL - Driven (Lost Patrol)

Lost Patrol makes shimmering dream pop with a muscular edge that incorporates a wide palette of stylistic influences into one cohesive and gorgeous album.

New York trio the Lost Patrol are not an easy band to pigeonhole or even accurately describe in brief synopsis. They play ethereal pop with roots in goth and shoegazer, but their sound is too wide reaching to comfortably fit within the rigid parameters often associated with those genres. They build on their songs by integrating elements of other genres in innovative ways without ever sounding forced or gimmicky. Rich surf guitar tones flow into lush dreamy soundscapes with bits of Ennio Morricone added to the mix. They comfortably shift between moody electronica and sunnier jangle pop and then throw in a wonderful twist on girl group dramatics. The thing that amazes me most about Driven is how well the album flows considering all of the change-ups they incorporate.

Mollie Israel's vocals are absolutely gorgeous while still packing a powerful punch. At times her voice reminds me of Shirley Manson, Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, or Blonde Readhead's Kazu Makino. Driven is lush album with some epic moments, but it manages to maintain an intimacy and warmth that could have easily been lost in lesser hands. The only song that doesn't work entirely for me is "Just Go", which is a convincing WWII era sounding vocal pop number with an equally convincing period delivery (piano, stand up bass, and drum brushwork), but it's the only moment on the record where the band's diversity is distracting. But that's a small complaint, especially since they pull it off so well.

I'm new to Lost Patrol, so I not only get the joy of this fabulous album, but I'm also looking forward to digging into their catalog.