A few years back, The Men were, well, the men. It was 2012, and the band had just released Open Your Heart, an album that solidified the line-up and supercharged its sound. Guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi had fully ceded drumming duties to Rich Samis, and the twin-guitar assault clicked, yielding an album that finally seemed to translate the whiplash energy of The Men’s brawny live show. The full brunt of their power would be captured later in a particularly ripping set on KEXP, but hints at the band’s future came on “Kyle Keays,” a ripper that took Dinosaur Jr.’s “ear-bleeding country” aesthetic and exploded it outward and upward.
A pity, then, that the song would be re-recorded in half-time and at half-volume as “Half Angel Half Light” on the simmered-down, folk-rock-leaning New Moon. It was, perhaps, the most disappointing point in a record filled with disappointments. And though Tomorrow’s Hits was actually recorded prior to its woodsier predecessor, it continues a disappointing trend for The Men: Indie rock’s once most exciting band is now, comparatively, pretty fucking boring.
Because it still applies, let’s start where we left off with Kassem Mosse: The king stays the king. I can’t remember where I first heard his name but for at least the past five years, Leipzig’s Gunnar Wendel has been threading his way through my listening of dance music’s most intriguing needles: From Dial offshoot Laid’s smooth deep house to the crisp cutting-edge UK bass of Nonplus to his own enigmatic Ominira label, Wendel remains resolutely chameleonic in abiding by a code of anti-Internet party going and ephemeral live shows. More than any other, though, it is with Berlin’s Workshop Records that he has forged this reputation.
“The more you think, the more you stink,” Neil Young and Crazy Horse producer David Briggs used to say, by way of explaining the way they went about crafting the band’s rough-edged form of intoxicating garage thrash. The principle was simple: The Horse’s heyday was during the era of grandiose prog and hard rock, but Young and Briggs achieved more transcendence than most of their contemporaries by sticking to a simple formula and never letting it get watered down by excessive overdubs or fancy production values.
I’m not sure if British doom metallers Bong have ever used that exact motto (and they sure sound ornate when compared to Crazy Horse), but there is a feeling on the ironically titled Stoner Rock that this band knows what it does best and has decided to run with it as far as possible.
It’s beyond dispute that the legend of Earl Stevens in Bay Area hip-hop lore has long since been cemented. The man known best as E-40 has been pumping out local hits for nearly a quarter of a century and helped the hyphy movement reach its mid-decade mainstream pinnacle. But E is on his way to 50 at this point and, though he’s stayed busy with the Block Brochure mixtape series for the past few years, it’s his progeny that have increasingly been grabbing headlines.
It makes sense that Peter Walker named this album Second Poem to Karmela after a character in the Herman Hesse novel Siddhartha, a novel that tracks one man’s progress to enlightenment through a mastery of skills. It is, after all, the last album that Walker recorded for 40 years, and when he’d finished it, he, too, obliterated his career in a quest for obscure excellence. Walker wandered the world after Second Poem, learning sitar from Ali Akbar Khan, studying flamenco with the gypsies of Granada. When I caught up with him for Dusted about five years ago, he was still strenuously dedicated to the guitar playing art; even now, in his 70s, he makes a point of playing a piece in every key, every day of his life.
Second Poem to Karmela is, in a way, the bridge that Walker jumped off of, the point where he stopped admiring and imitating classical Indian and flamenco music (which he believes are closely linked i.e. that the Spanish gypsies came from India and brought raga with them when they arrived in Andalusia) and began to train to embody it.
Beneath the Brine is epically ambitious, its folk-delicate melodies blown up into symphonic crescendos, its blasts of strings, brass, percussion and reeds rejecting the small and reaching for grandeur, significance, scope. Massive opera choruses, Dixieland funeral bands, late-night jazz trios and conservatory-trained chamber orchestras burst from the crevices of these style-hopping songs. This is a “more is more” record in every sense. Seven permanent members make up the core of the Family Crest, but more than 400 people have played with the ensemble in some capacity, either live or on one of its two records.
Don Cherry’s story is well known, if not always appreciated for its unique textures. In the mid-1960s, after his longtime co-partner in harmolodics Ornette Coleman had gone onto new groups and instrumentation, Cherry went full gypsy. While Steve Lacy and others were finding new collaborators in Rome, Paris, Buenos Aires and elsewhere, Cherry sought to realize certain musical principles that he associated with a dawning world consciousness: improvisational possibility as utopic recipe.
The idea of Bill Callahan doing a dub album is perverse on several levels. Not only is his music notoriously lyric-driven, with his voice towering over whatever backing he chooses; he’s made more than one record where the settings were either extremely rudimentary or merely functional. The country-tinged arrangements on most of the records that he’s made after he switched from Smog to his own name don’t exactly lend themselves to dub treatment, either, given their emphasis on melody instruments. In dub, melodic and lyrical elements are usually the first things to go, and rhythm and sound reign supreme.
But if Callahan was going to make a dub record, Dream River, his most recent long player (and his first in a decade that Dusted hasn’t reviewed — hey, 2013 was rough) is the one to dub. And it’s the strongest collection of new material that he’s made since Knock Knock.
From the evidence presented on Guilt Mirrors, you should wake up every day and thank whatever higher (or lower, or on-the-level) power that gets you through this big mess we know as life that you haven’t had a run like Shocking Pinks’ Nicholas Harte had over the past few years. Guilt Mirrors is a war journal of insolvency, instability and disaster.
Having had no releases out unto the world since DFA launched an unsuccessful 2007 bid to bring him to a wider audience, via a self-titled compilation of choice moments and commissioned remixes from his mid-’00s releases for Flying Nun, Harte retreated into himself, writing by his estimation nearly 400 songs’ worth of new material. Judging by the scope of Guilt Mirrors, he means eight full CDs — the new record exists as a three-disc, 35-track, 161-minute brain-dump, and a vinyl edition that cuts it down to 51 minutes over two 12-inches pressed at 45rpm. Neither version satisfies what it could have been.
Somewhere, deep down inside, I like Blank Realm as a band and want to like their whole body of work, but I don’t. Some of the songs on their most recent album Grassed Inn are surely the Brisbane band’s most memorable. There is also a lot about them to cause concern, only saying these things is going to make me seem like an asshole for doing so. There is no point in making suggestions to a band this deep into what now seems like, for better or worse, a career. Flaws have gone unchecked and are now part of the band’s genetic makeup. In order to improve upon them, they would essentially have to become a different band. That’s probably not going to happen.
Through a friendship based in Mario Kart, vodka and dance records, Dublin ex-pat Marcus Lambkin aka Shit Robot began a mentorship with James Murphy, leading to Lambkin’s 2010 release, From The Cradle To The Rave. That album features members of the DFA collective, such as Juan Maclean, Nancy Whang (LCD Soundsystem, The Juan Maclean), Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip) and Janine Rostron (PlanningToRock). The focus and feel of those tracks explore 4/4 with the sterility-trying-to-learn-to-be-human of Kraftwerk circa The Man-Machine, haunting synth lines à la Gary Numan and Deep Techhouse at 115 BPM.
On We Got a Love, Lambkin follows the same tempos but infuses a bit more swing and cleavage-showing sensuality in his tracks, the reference point being closer to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” than “Are Friends Electric?”
I think it was Keith Richards who said that on any given night, a different band might claim the title of best rock ‘n’ roll band.
My affection for Death of Samantha rests upon the night that they stole that honorific from my favorite of the moment. It was 1988, and I caught The Mekons opening for some crappy combo that will remain nameless. They’d been on a roll, and even though a short opening slot didn’t show them at their best, I had a blast. But rather than stick around for the headliners, I went to a now-defunct Wicker Park joint to meet a friend who wanted to see Death of Samantha.