Friday, October 31, 2008

Last chance for a Halloween mix!

Almost as good as last year's, and downloadable here.

The mix:

Hasil Adkins - No More Hot Dogs
Antelope - The Demon
Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead
The Cramps - The Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon
Dead Moon - Graveyard
The Fall - I'm a Mummy
PJ Harvey - The Devil
The Horrors - Full Moon
Newspapers - Devils Dance Blues
Siouxsie and the Banshees - Happy House
Subway Sect - Watching the Devil
The Mo-dettes - Dark Park Creeping
The Revillos - Jack the Ripper
The Stranglers - In the Shadows
The Very Things - The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Henry Clay People - For Cheap or for Free

Rather than point to Joey Siara’s lyrics, increasingly about the reality of living as a part-time musician with favors to ask and debts to pay, or the influence that stems here from ‘70s glam (“Living in Debt”), mid-‘80s alt-rock (“This Ain’t a Scene”) and, on the whole, that ambiguous field of Americana/alt-country, it’s easiest to sum up For Cheap or for Free by mentioning how doomed the Henry Clay People are to garner a share of reviews that claim “Rock and Roll Has[n’t] Lost its Teeth.”

This third full-length combines a perfect formula of sad bastard luck and drunken cheer, unpretentious and heavily divided in tone by its separate recording sessions. Several songs carry over from the Working Part Time EP, released earlier this year and far more representative of the band’s rowdy live show than For Cheap on the whole. That said, those three – as well as “Fine Print,” which references earlier song “Elly and the Eczema Princess” and is also from that original recording session – balance the more polished recordings, the acoustic breakup ballad, the barking of Siara’s dog.

Moreover, every song the Henry Clay People create is an anthem in itself, and if “Andy Sings!” is the feel-good moment in a coming of age movie when the kids are about to embark on a pre-graduation road trip, or when the geeky but socially acceptable guy in khakis is about to ask out the hot blond chick who secretly crushes on him, then “You Can Be Timeless” is the conclusion of the film. This band gets smarter with every song, and is among the best in Los Angeles at present.

The Henry Clay People - Fine Print
The Henry Clay People - This Ain't a Scene
Purchase For Cheap or for Free starting November 4.
Then buy a taste of their live show (recorded during their February residency at the Echo)

And for you local folks, the Henry Clay People will be at the Cat and the Fiddle (8530 Sunset Blvd.) on Halloween. Show's at 9pm, is $5, and also features the Tall Hands (note: this is a venue change).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Three Cheers for the Pacific Northwest! (Part Three)

This (well overdue) review finds me trying to prop up one of those worthwhile albums which have gone somewhat overlooked since being released earlier in the year, as well as rounding out the third installment of cheers for that great grey puddle to the north, Washington state.

I discovered the Old Haunts during a stint with college radio – an ideal time to get into a band like the Old Haunts, really. They're not original in the least, but they're the band that would easily become a staple, if only you'd give them the chance. They epitomize the minimalist mentality of their label, Kill Rock Stars, and even on Poisonous Times, their cleanest and most cohesive record, they remain loyal representatives of the DIY garage rock ethic.

What's changed since the 2002-2004 recordings of Fallow Field (released 2005) is surprisingly plenty. For one, Craig Extine's voice, once merely high with shock and/or playful lack of commitment, adopted what will inevitably be called a Jack White quality during 2006's Fuel on Fire, and in watching Extine sing – the Old Haunts visited the Smell this past April – it's a helpless lisp that he seems to have taken on, his tongue actually hanging out of his mouth as he sings. It's a nag he offers, and it's an acquired taste.

The drummers of recorded past certainly make a difference in the group's album history; Fallow Field was a collection of work featuring three separate drummers in sessions over three years, the most classic punk urgency brought to the 2004 tracks which were carried by Danny Sasaki on drums and found no guitar solo or beat lagging behind. So quick, these six songs, which quickly ran through. Though Fallow Field is a fun listen in all, it's certainly no coincidence that what seemed to be their most compatible pairing of percussion and melody was actually helped by better songs being written later in the recording process.

With a more serious, slightly cleaner and less spontaneous record came a new drummer, heavy hitter Curtis James. Fuel on Fire was also a solid record with Extine's lyrics as a sudden focal point and his speedy guitar solos more audible through thinner bouts of lo-fi production. It was a good, almost angry-sounding collection with a fair amount of aggression showing through riffs of swamp, surf, pluck pluck pluck.

Two years later, we've got Poisonous Times, where the band has remained loyal to Fuel on Fire producer Johnny Sangster, leaving them with that relatively clean production which still fails to spoil their natural knack for old fashioned rock 'n' roll. But this record is different in tone, and miles from where the Old Haunts were five years ago. I can't help but feel that the mood of the record is quite sad from its start, even despite the replacement of James with phenomenal multi-tasker Tobi Vail, whose drumming is heavy on the crash and snares, light on the toms (unlike James, a definite reversal).

Poisonous Times is more varied and more memorable than Fuel on Fire; “Volatile” carries a lot of swing but is sung with barely mustered confidence, which finally picks up with “Hurricane Eyes.” There's a lot of spit and fury in “Sister City,” a boxy rhythm and practically inhuman strain of voice in “Ruined View,” and all of the above in “Not Hopeless,” a fighter of a track.

The unexpected thing about this record is that a lot of that strangely sad tone is assisted by lyrics which seem to be the songwriter's efforts at convincing himself of his confidence – something of which it's sort of hard to be convinced, what with lines like “sometimes everything seems like it'll be alright,” “when the sun shines through my curtains/it makes me feel certain everything is alright,” or the hopelessly optimistic “there is purity in failure and obscurity/I don't mind these things.”

Emo it's not, though, and Poisonous Times has, once again, got some fantastic riffs and solos – this time more surf than swamp – as well as Vail's endlessly energetic drumming, perhaps in its prime on “Outside of Divided Time,” which sees her skipping about merrily and Irishly, or “Hurricane Eyes,” on which she tumbles along effortlessly. Bassist Scott Seckington gets a bit buried at times, save for when Extine's guitar quiets down, but then, isn't that the usual case with a classic rock 'n' roll record?

Purchase the whole damn thing here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Roots Manuva - Slime and Reason

Quite obviously, hip-hop's never been my forte - not that I don't like it, just that I don't feel knowledgable about it, given how new it always seems to sound in contrast with any genre using guitars to borrow all things recognizable from the past. I have gotten a bit excited over some of what's come from the UK, though, namely a taste here and there of grime in particular, and Roots Manuva arguably falls under this category. As someone who has a dreadful time appreciating and accurately describing electronic styles fit for the future (erm...the future is now, people), I recommend this one for its accessibility and surprising warmth. Quite easy to latch onto, actually.

The newest from 36-year old south Londoner Rodney Smith/Roots Manuva gets progressively more interesting and – musically – takes itself more seriously near its finish than its start. Early on, dancehall track “Do Nah Bodda Mi” has a lot of rhythmic step to it, a grower that’s a bit too simple and steady on first few listens, while “Kick Up Ya Foot” has got a good, heavy stomp of bass and “Buff Nuff” carries a syncopated beat thick enough to round out the record’s first half.

Slime & Reason grows a bit darker in its second half, though, with the haunting backing melody of “It’s Me Oh Lord” rounded out by the ghostly horns shot up throughout “2 Much 2 Soon,” on which Smith raps, “I’m wishin’ I was a trustafarian/I wouldn’t have to hustle/I wouldn’t have to swear/I came from this shit/I gotta do better.”

Of course, those words aren’t nearly as depressing as those on “C.R.U.F.F.” – “We’re too much hurt and too much conflict/seems to burn my bone these days/got a big ol’ yearn to stay home these days” – or as witty as those on my personal favorite here, “Well Alright,” the claim “I think like Jesus/God’s my dad/they wanna tie me to the cross and hurt my gonad/cause I do weird stuff with my pen and my pad.” Here, there's humor, there's heartbreaking truth, and there are layers aplenty. Good shit.

Roots Manuva - It's Me Oh Lord
Purchase Slime & Reason

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Echo and the Bunnymen - Ocean Rain at Radio City Music Hall. New York City. 10.01.08

Last week was quiet 'round these parts while I visited the great old city of New York, in part to see Echo and the Bunnymen at the huge and beautiful Radio City Music Hall. The venue itself, if you've never been, is quite grand a theater; lighting fluxuated between a violet matching the cover of Ocean Rain and a darkness which allowed for the venue's cream shell of a ceiling to be lit with shadows to the point where it appeared this jagged wall of grey and black - Berlin epitomized, as I imagine Berlin as a color and shape.

Early on in the show, Glasvegas all in black spewed forth a big wave of doo-wop shoegaze (a decent impression of the My Bloody Valentine/Jesus and Mary Chain formula over a timid partnership of tom and snare), and vocalist James Allan shared in a thick Scottish accent that he'd wanted to open for the Bunnymen mainly as an opportunity to watch them play for free. Quite a fair deal, I'd say. As for Glasvegas themselves, their dreamy pop would have been a nice jumpstart to the show were it not for the oddly Californian accent that replaces Allan's speaking voice when he sings. That, and their being labeled "that fuckin' band" by a fellow sitting nearby.

It's likely that Allan, however, would have gladly paid the $40-60 to see Echo and the Bunnymen play this night, as they were phenomenal and filled, perfectly, even a space so large and impressive as Radio City Music Hall. This also happened to be the only date on which the band was to play its 1984 record Ocean Rain in its entirety during a U.S. performance, which made it a special occasion.

Ian McCulloch, owner of the lips, from the third mezzanine resembled the Pogues' Shane MacGowan from the same distance, sort of the anonymous figure in a shapeless black coat, lumbering about in some awkward effort to half-dance on occasion. Thing is, with McCulloch, you've at least got the understanding that he's retained more of his looks and - certainly - more of his teeth. He's also got his voice, though, full and gorgeous as ever (due to his quitting cigarettes, said the man referring to Glasvegas as "that fuckin' band"). He can go low these days, but flawlessly cry out as well.

The band's set was divided by a brief intermission - at first, the hits, from "Lips Like Sugar" to a big, thundering rendition of "The Cutter." Between the two, among others, were "Bring on the Dancing Horses," incredible highlight "The Disease," which nearly sounded to have the orchestra behind it which would appear for Ocean Rain, and the fantastic "Nothing Lasts Forever," melted into a medley with "Walk on the Wild Side."

Post-intermission, the orchestra arrived to give Ocean Rain this fantastic fullness that perhaps made the album even better live than in its original recording. It held up - though the songs sounded of their time, there is nothing gaudy or dated about Echo and the Bunnymen, and McCulloch really carries, even today, a heavy romantic quality that ties the band together beautifully. Most pleasing was the second (and my personal favorite) track, "Nocturnal Me," thick with sharp strings and a confident march, so much power and romance. And closer "Ocean Rain," drawing a standing ovation from most, was elegant enough for any decade.

But McCulloch also made a habit of singing whilst draping about a bit of black fabric (like Meatloaf sans microphone stand, I suppose), and after throwing it toward the front of the stage, some unlucky man up front reached over and grabbed it, only to be escorted off and away. A beautiful concert for thousands, but a sad night for a sad bastard in the audience.

Echo and the Bunnymen - Nocturnal Me