Steve Wilson. On music.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Liminanas - Crystal Anis (Hozac)

French pop marvels, the Liminanas, hail not from Paris, but from a town called Perpignan, nestled between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean (also home to the also awesome Sonic Chicken 4).

The Liminanas self-titled debut, released in the States on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind label, was a sparkling collection of garage-rock and Velvet Underground inseminated Gallic pop. The follow up, Crystal Anis (on another Chicago underground stalwart, Hozac Records) is a shorter, sharper distillation of their aesthetic. Smart, simple and seductive - you’ll listen again and again.

Since the French pop of the Sixties and early Seventies, represented by singers in the Ye-Ye style (which could be generously interpreted to include everyone from France Gall and Sylvie Vartan to Jacques Dutronc and Francoise Hardy) and the sinuous, sexy songs of Serge Gainsbourg, Gallic pop has been pretty much a wasteland for three decades. The petit renaissance that began with bands like  Sonic Chicken 4 and the Plasticines showed the French could rock out with flair. And the Liminanas add additional support to a new case for Franco-rock.

Lionel and Marie (Liminanas) use spare, simple materials. Unlike many of the V.U. influenced ensembles since the Jesus and Mary Chain or Spacemen 3, Lionel Liminana abjures slick slabs of harmonic distortion, favoring instead discreet bits of Reed/Morrison guitar framings, more redolent of the Velvet’s third, self-titled album and Loaded than the merciless wave of White Light/White Heat. The band’s music also travels well with fellow neo-retro rockers like the Raveonettes and the Dum Dum Girls, even sometimes suggesting the Euro-cool of Stereolab.

 From the tremolo guitar on “Longanisse” (a sort of sausage, hmm?), and the flanged sounds of the title track, to the blasts of fuzz guitar on the choruses of “AF3458,” the Liminanas keep the textures fresh and changing. Lionel’s guitar parts play off  his Farfisa and Vox Continental style organ lines. Championed since the heyday of the sound by guys like Jeff “Monoman” Connolly in DMZ and the Lyres, these archetypal keyboard sounds are forever identified with Sixties garage-rock, a vibe associated more with one (or two) hit wonders like the Castaways, Five Americans and Seeds than the Beatles/Stones/Kinks canon.

Lionel’s vintage guitar and organ sonorities are driven by Marie’s basic, insistent drumming, and blended with everything from ukulele (“Salvation”) and glockenspiel (“Longanisse”). It’s a palette both bone simple and subtly complex and the Liminanas know the difference between embellishment and excess. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nude Beach - II (Other Music/Fat Possum)

Their name stinks. 

Nude Beach?

But Nude Beach they are. And their second album (yup, II) is one damned entertaining piece of work.

They come from the Brooklyn scene; maybe they thought their name would look good on bills with Passion Pit, Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear (okay, maybe Nude Beach isn’t so bad). 
It’s for damn sure that nothing about Nude Beach fits in with the rest of the Williamsburg sound. The above bands sound like trustafarians plotting new directions in pointless obscurity. When Grizzly Bear performed recently on “The Colbert Report” the song they played was shapeless, meandering, and lacking a distinct chorus. This foolishness passes for innovation among the self-select in America’s largest post-graduate ghetto. Snore. 
Instead, Nude Beach seem to have swallowed the Seventies whole – and the good parts mostly. Among the icons pictured on their inner sleeve are Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, and Dee Dee Ramone – indicative musically, and even more in terms of affinities.
The band’s debut album is not widely available or distributed. I’ve heard bits and pieces on YouTube videos, and it smacks a bit more of post-punk and grunge leftovers than II’s trimmer, coolly classic rock approach. Nude Beach’s music demonstrates that innovation and novelty are not necessary qualities for rock pleasure. For Nude Beach it’s more about choosing inspirations judiciously, working on craft and performance, projecting energy and just enough individuality to make something familiar sound fresh again. 

To be honest, nearly every time Chuck Betz opens his mouth I find myself thinking of Tom Petty. Listen to the way he sings the line “so hard to believe” in “Walkin’ Down My Street.” Okay, it’s obvious he loves some Tom. But that’s not such a bad thing. Betz, in particular, recalls the steely, pissed off Petty that the FM rockers mistook for punk. “Street” also recalls Springsteen’s “Sherry Darling,” and a time in the Boss’s life before the mantle of sobriety was heavy upon him. There’s also a wound up quality to Betz’s delivery on a song like “Some Kinda Love” that captures David Johansen’s raw edge and the urgency of a young Paul Westerberg. 
Betz’s songs are mostly about girls - bad girls, good girls, obtainable girls, distant girls – okay, girls. When they’re not they’re about direction, identity, destiny; it’s standard rock lyric stuff. Not too many lines leap out or grab you by the poetic neck, but his sentiments are expressed intelligently and with a passion that’s believable and idiom appropriate. Musically, they’re complete songs. You know, the kind with verses, b-parts, bridges (where necessary), and hooky choruses.