Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jolie Holland - Pint of Blood (Anti-Epitaph)

In her live shows and on recordings, Jolie Holland delivers performances of such intimacy that one at first feels like an eavesdropper. As if you’re the ghost in the room while she confides in a close friend or lover, or is simply singing her heart out for her own emotional benefit. Her demeanor is neither hostile nor ingratiating. She simply sings for her own satisfaction, hoping too that you as a listener derive some inspiration or delight. She’s got me. I do.

Having followed her career I’m struck by her determination to follow her own muse. It defines her. Never more so than on the new recording with her band the Grand Chandeliers, Pint of Blood. She’s made records that were poppier (The Living and the Dead), rootsier (Escondida) and more intimate. As one who finds her songs charming, if sometimes shapeless, I’ll confess a fondness for the near-pop of The Living and the Dead. On Pint of Blood, Holland’s tunes sound effortless, but they don’t always stick with you at first listen. But having listened many times to Pint of Blood, and having been caught in her live spell at the Record Bar in Kansas City recently, I will concede that the spell she wields is increasingly seductive with exposure.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mickey - s/t (Hozac Records)

 Mickey is a rockin’ little band from Chicago on the sweet indie label, Hozac. Mickey rocks. I’ve seen some video on these guys. And let’s just say they’d make a helluva band for your next house party. Unless you own the house. If it’s your property, ya might wanna think twice.

But hell, get these Mickey boys in the studio and they clean up real good, without losing any of their essential piss and vinegar. You see, Mickey has triple-hyphenated power. They ain’t just pop-punk. Or power-pop. Nosiree Bob, they are power-pop-punk (with a touch of glam, too). The punk part is easy; mix two parts energy with equal parts don’t give a shit. The pop part? Well, that takes a little finesse. And combining the two is harder to pull off than you might think, especially without one “P’ short-sheeting the other. And then to do it all with rawk authority (i.e.  p-o-w-e-r). Not easy. The Buzzcocks did it. The Vibrators. Undertones.  Add Mickey to the list, kids.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Robert Pollard - Lord of the Birdcage (Guided By Voices Records)

Robert Pollard shreds any previous conceptions of the prolific. It’s possible to argue that his output has been prolific to the point of excessive. I tried once to compile a list of all of the albums (to say nothing of the odd seven-inches, eps, etc.) that Pollard has produced, either as solo artist or as a member of Guided By Voices, Boston Spaceships, the Lifeguards and a number of other ensembles. I gave up. It’s mind-blowing, nonpareil – with the possible exception of John Zorn.

Perhaps his output might have been more brilliant had he been more focused and self-editing. While indie-philes, protectors of their lo-fi underground legacy might object, Guided by Voices were possibly at their best when they signed to the quasi-major label TVT and worked with producers who did more than roll tape and nod their heads (Ric Ocasek for Do the Collapse, Rob Schnapf for Isolation Drills). Sure, Bee Thousand was awesome. And the several records that GBV cut for Matador, before and after their TVT stint, were often terrific and contained some of their best songs and performances. But I would suggest that Isolation Drills, in particular, was not just a great indie rock record, but a world class rock ‘n’ roll set. And there’s a difference - the former can reach an audience primed to respond; the latter can seduce the casual fan. Of course their fan base expanded only incrementally during their TVT period. And Pollard, the kind of guy who likes to keep working, clearly began to envision a future, not unlike the very early days of GBV, in which he could work as much as he wanted and release whatever struck his fancy. He’s done so on his own Guided By Voices label and on a variety of one-off and short term deals with labels. He’s worked fast and furious, almost compulsively.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rave On Buddy Holly (Fantasy Records)

Just what the world needs another “tribute” album. With occasional exceptions (the Roky Erickson tribute Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye springs to mind) these anthologies are occasions mostly for pointless retreads or lame-brain deconstructions of familiar music – your appreciation for the individual treatment owing almost entirely to some combination of your feeling for the original material and for the artist who’s approaching it.

But as long as there are great songwriters and performers there will be people who feel motivated to honor them. And Buddy Holly, who would be seventy-five this year, left behind a beautiful legacy in his sadly foreshortened life (he died at twenty-two). Compilation producers Randall Poster and Gelya Robb collected nineteen tracks for Rave On Buddy Holly, drawing from both the current alterna-crowd and the legacy acts who influenced them.

Generally, the older iconic acts have more feeling for this material than the younger musicians. Nick Lowe stays true to the sound and spirit of “Changing All Those Changes;” here he sounds more like the guy who cut Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust than the middle-aged crooner he’s become. I’ve always held that the Velvet Underground’s guitar rhythms extended Holly’s style, turning his insistent right hand into something more agitated and urban. Lou Reed’s turn on “Peggy Sue” just feels right. Laurie Anderson’s violin playing adds just the right touch of pleasing anti-musicality (think “Tomorrow Never Knows) complementing Reed’s churning rhythm guitar. Patti Smith’s devotional take on “Words of Love,” inspired by Allen Ginsberg concertina mantras, is dear, spiritual and surpassingly selfless. Tony Shanahan's production frames Smith’s vocal beautifully.