Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Alex Turner - Submarine (Domino)

Alex Turner always impressed me as a guy who could be a character in a Nick Hornby novel, a highly individual, but still archetypal wounded post-adolescent observer - the best narrators often the ones observing the committed missteps of others.

Turner’s no rube. His parents were teachers, his dad Music, his mom German. Turner himself has said that he’d have pursued studies in English at the University of Manchester had his year off to take a shot at playing music not paid off. Of course it did pay off. The Arctic Monkeys are as big as it gets in the U.K and have made serious commercial inroads in the States. Their fourth studio album Suck it and See is out soon, their fourth in five years. The band tours relentlessly.

None of this has kept Turner busy enough it seems. His collaboration with Miles Kane and James Ford in the Last of the Shadow Puppets struck a bittersweet Sixties/Seventies obsessed tone with Beatles, Bowie and Scott Walker inspirations. Compared to the blazing guitar intensity of the Monkeys, Age of the Understatement was by turns a wistful and rueful set, an urchin’s take on beau monde. More stripped down in arrangement than Understatement, Turner’s songs for the film Submarine feature two guitars, a dash of keyboards and the rare drum track. Not having seen the film (the tale of an alienated teenage boy in Swansea who is romancing a troubled young girl and whose parents are in marital disarray) I can’t really comment on how the songs work in the film. But they stand by themselves splendidly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bambi Kino - s/t (Tapete)

 Bambi Kino was the name of the theater that provided exceedingly modest accommodations for the young Liverpudlians (George Harrison was an “illegal” seventeen years of age) known as the Beatles when they began their legendary tenure in Hamburg, Germany. They first played the Indra club, later the Kaiserkeller, Top Ten, and Star Club, as they worked their way up the rough and rowdy Hamburg club circuit.

Bambi Kino is also the name of a band of American rock veterans (members of Guided by Voices, Nada Surf, Cat Power, and Maplewood) obsessed with recreating the sound that a formative Fab Four blasted out of the Indra club. For the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles Indra/Hamburg debut, Bambi Kino (the band) played several dates at the Indra with a repertoire comprised entirely of songs that the Beatles played from that period.

Friday, May 13, 2011

White Fence - White Fence is Growing Faith (Woodsist)

He is White Fence. He’s the first among equals in Darker My Love. And he’s just hired on as a gun with the Strange Boys. Tim Presley is a busy guy. Compared to Darker My Love, Presley’s day job, the music on White Fence Is Growing Faith sounds pretty mid-fi and slap-dash. What it shares with DML is an almost encyclopedic appreciation for late Sixties rock sounds and styles – that and a song conscious sensibility. Listen closer, it’s clear that however home studio sounding White Fence’s music is, Presley puts a lot of love into the playing and presentation of the sixteen pop nuggets on Is Growing Faith. What at first reminds of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert (yeah, Alex used an ‘r’) is, in fact, not bashed out, but a meticulous one-man band studio concoction, rough edges retained for sheer verve.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Robert Scott - Ends Run Together (Flying Nun/New Zealand)

Ends Run Together by Robert Scott is a really terrific record. You probably haven’t heard it. You probably won’t, unless I encourage you sufficiently to pursue it. I hope I do.

The third release from New Zealand’s rejuvenated Flying Nun (Bats, Clean, Chills, Verlaines, etc.) imprint, it should be a release that puts the label back in the forefront of indie-rock perception, whether the mechanics of media and distribution allow for that is another thing. The music Robert Scott makes isn’t the issue. It’s there.

Scott has an extensive alternative pedigree. As the on again, off again bassist for the Clean, a Kiwi band with a fractured career trajectory who played the recent Scion Garage Fest in Lawrence (Oct. 2010), but primarily as the main singer-songwriter-guitarist in the Bats. The Bats, given Scott’s restless ways, have recorded intermittently since 1982, taking the decade between 1995 and 2005, for instance, off. Perhaps this contributes to their lack of career momentum, but the deeper truth is that they make music that’s too subtle, whose melancholy and grace is a bit too elusive for a mass audience in any event. It’s great stuff, though. Check out Daddy’s Highway from 1987 or At the National Grid (2005) to hear fine examples of their sound, and to hear how slightly, gradually they’ve morphed from their aesthetic. In a sense they share a jangly, folk-rock sensibility with contemporaries like Robyn Hitchcock, even R.E.M. Their melodic drone was an inspiration to bands like Yo La Tengo and Pavement; there’s something at once listless and forceful about the band’s energy, narcotic and seductive.