Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thee Oh Sees - Help

Thee Oh Sees finally made it to In the Red Records, which means they've officially solidified their transition to a four-piece garage rock band.

So here lies Help, the second effort by the John Dwyer, Petey Dammit, Brigid Dawson and Mike Shoun combination, and it's nearly as playful, more consistently rock 'n' roll, and – from what can be gathered – sounds to be more of a collaborative effort than the Dwyer and Co. releases of OCS/Oh Sees past. Not that either situation is a poor idea, of course. Dwyer's still zipping about his guitar, eating microphones (rather literally), but Dawson and Shoun are a touch more audible here, and the group on the whole feels more like a real band rather than players in a single man's project.

Help is the latest in a chain of records that gets gradually better with every release, and is thus far the most accessible – accessible being a loose term, of course. None of that excessive feedback, no little experiments to fill space. Instead, there's the hyperactive “I Can't Get No” (if you squint you can see a little Mick Jagger in there), walls of guitar paired with great, dissonant chord combinations on “Soda St. #1,” circular rhythm and heavy doo-wop drumming on “Destroyed Fortress Reappears.” And there's the playful “Ruby Go Home,” to which it's easy to envision Dawson smacking her tambourine and Shoun grimacing in pain from pouring so much might into his drums.

Let it be said that Help contains zero filler, and is, frankly, a near-perfect rock 'n' roll record, as well as the best Dwyer's put forth, with any combination of musicians, since the Coachwhips' Bangers Vs. Fuckers.

Thee Oh Sees - Can You See
Thee Oh Sees - Rainbow
"Buy the album adorned with a San Franciscan bat," it says.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Who doesn't love doing stuff?

Not related to music, but there are a couple of things happening this month that have the potential to be sort of brilliant, if only you let them by showing up.

1. On April 25 and 26, UCLA will be hosting the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, for which tickets will be a mere 75 cents, available April 19. The two-day event is to include panels on topics ranging from various writing styles to the publishing industry (including a possibly worthwhile Saturday panel on publishing, moderated by former LA Weekly editor-in-chief Kit Rachlis, as well as appearances by Ray Bradbury and S.E. Hinton, and a media panel that includes Arianna Huffington and the Weekly's Marc Cooper...hrm.). The real fun, though, is in the schedule of outdoor staged events, which presently includes Yeardley Smith, Yo Gabba Gabba! (with D.J. Lance Rock in the flesh!), Tori Spelling, Jon Sciezka and Bob Barker. Too good to be true?

2. If you live in L.A., Dining Out for Life is on April 30; this year, at least 25% of your restaurant bill from a list of participating restaurants will go to Project Angel Food, a really fantastic organization that prepares and delivers food to L.A. residents with HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses. This organization's sort of dear to my heart, so if you can't make it out to one of the restaurants, help 'em out by volunteering or donating directly. They're good people, and there is a scarily high number of people in this city who are living with HIV and need the assistance.

And for the musical goodies: Goodtimes Goodtimes has a couple of new songs available at his website. The Twilight Sad is finally coming back to America to open for Mogwai on tour (though, as luck would have it, the goddamned west coast goes ignored). Greg Ashley's also coming out of hiding to tour (though he - a California resident, even - is also ignoring the west coast). Support 'em all!

And, of course, Record Store Day is April 18 - go support your local record store and buy physical albums! If you live in L.A., make the rounds by heading here, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Various - Nigeria 70

It's no surprise that Nigerian funk and Afrobeat have been stylish 'round the states over the last few years, what with Tony Allen's inclusion in the Good, the Bad and the Queen two years ago, and Seun Kuti gaining popularity with his Egypt 80 when Femi's not been in town. If you've had the chance to see Seun Kuti's recent tour or check out a documentary like the oddly funny Ginger Baker in Africa, you might have developed a hunch that music is (or was) a bit more loose and free in West Africa, able to convey a message, sure, but more direct than poetic, never taking away from the rhythm itself.

“Don't bring bullshit to Africa,” then, is the new “Enjoy yourself/you no know today you could die.” Perhaps it's the way such simple statements get made with honest fire over the scratch of funky guitars and imperfectly tuned brass, but there's an authoritative voice that separates the authentic stuff from American imitators like Ann Arbor's Nomo or Brooklyn's Antibalas. If “La La La” sounds familiar, in fact, it's likely that you've run across a 2004 cover by Nomo; the included version, though, live and thus more spontaneous, with call-and-response sing-along, finds Segun Bucknor confidently calling out, shaking, echoing over brass.

If there's any disappointment with Nigeria 70, it's the overlap of tracks with Luaka Bop's Love's a Real Thing from 2005 (which actually makes the Luaka Bop comp the disappointment, as this one's a remastered version of a 2001 release). Surely there were more songs to choose from? There's repetition of Tunji Oyelana & the Benders doing “Ifa,” and “Allah Wakbarr” by Ofo & the Black Company. But who could blame the labels for wanting to include them? The latter in particular's got a guitar like a razor, all sorts of excitement shouted in numbers. Also, “Woman Made the Devil” by Bongos Ikwue is the odd one out on this double-disc set, a bit American folk, comparatively speaking, and “Better Change Your Mind” by William Onyeabor is dated and low-budget in a '70s hip-hop sort of way. But then, what else would be fitting for the time?

Ofo & the Black Company - Allah Wakbarr
The Funkees - Dancing Time
Purchase Nigeria 70