Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Japandroids - Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

I’m driving the wife’s car. There’s gas in it. That’s a plus. And it doesn’t need a timing belt. My poor old Volvo, though, has one superior feature - a fancy direct input for an iPod; her car has no such.

Accordingly, I pack up the compact disc wallet (so 90s, baby!) with classics (Ramones, Stones, Big Star) and current crap I am a) digging, b) curious to check out, or c) have told some promo dude I’d audition.

Eddie, my astute sixteen year-old son, flips through the wallet, not finding exactly what he wants. He’s used to the world at his iTunes/Spotify fingertips. At last he settles on the Japandroids, their new album Post-Nothing.

He asks me how it is. I respond that it rocks, the tunes are alright, and it seems like something of an indie-rock cause célèbre. In other words, I sorta like it, but I don't get what the fuss is about. Eddie said that some of his friends keep talking about them. Fair enough.

I keep my mouth shut and let him listen.

After three songs he’s handing me the Super Furry Animals disc Hey Venus! (exclamation pt, theirs).

“Had enough,” I inquire.

“Yeah“ he says, “it’s kinda boring.”

At which point I volunteer that I observe the following: 

1.  With aggressive rock music the farther the singer gets from any African- American influence whatsoever the more flaccid, white and suburban it sounds to me. 
2.  That, and they have too many “oh, oh, oh” lyrics, chants, background vocals, whatever (they use them a lot!) making my oi-mo (I think that covers the gamut of fist pumping ‘punk’ genres … oi to emo) tolerance quickly exhausted. 
3.  Generally, this music is vibrant. I don’t hate it. It entertains me in short blasts (like the cover of the Gun Club's "For the Love of Ivy"). But the songs are too long, too samey and the whole dude thing just isn’t very hip shakin'.

Eddie nods in assent.

‘I don’t like the drumming” Eddie adds. “Too busy,” I say. “Yeah,” Eddie responds.

Reverberating: 7. 4

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse (In the Red Records)

I’ll begin by warning mature readers of REVERBERATIONS: in the event you don’t have a sense of humor and adventure about noise and excess, advance to the previous review of Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe.

If you do, say hello to Ty.

If Goodbye Bread was Ty Segall’s orange sunshine voyage; Slaughterhouse is his STP crash. But enough about drugs.

This young Segall chap is prolific. Slaughterhouse is his fourth release since 2008’s Lemons (excluding side projects, a disc with White Fence, etc.), and far and away his, like, heaviest. The full credit is to the Ty Segall Band. The sunny-sour Chilton-isms of Bread were also, like his second solo effort Melted, a bit on the shambolic side. Segall’s pop sensibilities were rarely obscured, yet he seemed to insist on showing that he could pull a T. Rex or John Lennon solo turn, but couldn’t be bothered to tighten up his performances. Fortunately for Segall, those records were long on melody and charm, so whether his lackadaisical qualities were laziness or aesthetic didn’t matter so much.

But causal brilliance isn't what heavy rock is about. The Segall Band on Slaughterhouse is brutally tight. They hint at the Stooges Funhouse without having that band’s primitive funk moves, but they nail the acid-rock (God, what an idiotic term, but it seems to work) of other Detroit psych merchants like the Frost and SRC, and even New York’s Autosalvage.  Other reference points, maybe Hawkwind, and Blue Oyster Cult; of course Sabbath. But enough about drugs; I mean, stoner-rock bands.

In the maelstrom of the late Sixties and early Seventies there was an element of tragedy attached to music this damaged and brutal. If, as that Karl Marx fellow suggested, history appears "first as tragedy, then as farce," it's first hard not to see Slaughterhouse as farce.

But I figure that if times have changed that doesn't mean they've gotten any prettier, and besides, when made with such vigor music like this is even idiomatically compelling.

I don’t always, but in this case I’ll go track by track, partly because the pop to plunder quotient shifts consistently throughout Slaughterhouse. Things start with “Death.”  The song begins with pizzicato violins playing in close harmony. KIDDING. It starts with howling feedback and, uh, skronk. And it sounds pretty cool when you’re driving down the highway at midnight. “Death” sounds like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators without the jugs and theremins and with the guitars on Blue Cheer meets Sonic Youth mind meld.

“I Bought My Eyes” (even the title sounds kinda Roky-ish) has spooky harmonies, like some Left Banke from hell, or at least B.O.C.’s rehearsal space. Emily Rose Epstein’s drumming is equal parts drive and splatter, perfect for this music.  Segall and guitarist Charles Moothart go for shards and splinters, but harmonies, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL Recordings)

He’s one of the great soul men. As far back as the early Sixties he was writing and singing (w/the Valentinos) timeless songs like “Lookin’ for a Love” and “It’s All Over Now.” Yes, you students of white guys playing the rock ‘n’ roll, those tunes were further popularized by the J. Geils Band and the Rolling Stones, respectively.

He’s Bobby Womack. Dude moved in on Sam Cooke’s widow before the greatest soul singer of all was cold in the ground. Yeah, he’s bad. His songwriting skills were undiminished, but by the late Sixties Womack’s performing career had little traction. The he surfaced in the Seventies in a big way. With a string of classic releases, including Communication, Understanding, and Facts of Life, Womack solidified his place in the soul firmament. His songs from the soundtrack for the flick Across 110th Street, featuring the era evincing title track, represented, along with Isaac Hayes’ Shaft and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, the transcendent musical statements of the Blaxploitation genre of the Seventies.

Womack also made some fine records in the Eighties, chiefly The Poet and The Poet II for the short lived Beverly Glen label. The man has staying power. Nonetheless, a recurring combination of drug issues, personal problems and career cul de sacs kept his profile low. Now 68, and on the rebound from his demons, Womack is back with The Bravest man in the Universe on XL Records, home to bands like The XX, Sigur Ros, Jack White, and Adele. The label’s one effort at soul resuscitation was the late Gil Scott-Heron’s We’re New Here (not a bad start). Bravest is stone, classic soul in composition and spirit, utterly contemporary in arrangement and production. And the synthesis of classic and current elements is successful in ways that make Bravest Womack’s best record in forty years. 

 Bravest is co-produced by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc. – for those of you who have spent the last twenty years under a rock) and XL label honcho, Richard Russell. Albarn’s eclecticism and openness to adventures in sound is well documented. Russell, now sole proprietor of XL, was one of the label’s three original founders. XL initially emphasized music associated with dance and rave culture. All of these histories impact Bravery. This is not your father’s rhythm ‘n’ blues record. The kind of electronic rhythms and programming associated with acts like Massive Attack, XX and the trip-hop genre generally are consistent throughout Bravery. The contrast between these rhythm tracks and Womack’s gravelly, gospel derived singing is stark, but the synthesis is seamless.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


 Golly ...

I quite appreciate that it has been too long between entries here at 'Reverberations.' I have been listening to music, of course. Frankly, I hear plenty that entertains me, but little that inspires sufficiently to devote critical time. 

While I don't say much about it here I am also a musician and songwriter my own self. And recently my own work has been preoccupying me. Not that I'm working so damned hard on it, more like I'm distracted by it, and trying to use work time and dream time effectively.

I have two or three review ideas germinating, however, so look for those in the next week to ten days. I am also considering 'Reverberations' version of the sort of approach typified by R. Christgau's "Consumer Guide" or Creem magazine's "Short Takes" -  mini-reviews intended to plug and dismiss, inspire and discourage. My general disposition, as those of you who read this blog know, has been to delve into records in some depth, usually in appreciation and support for the artist. My nasty digs are few and far between. The "short takes" approach would almost certainly invite more negative reviews. First, the wider the net is cast the more driftwood one catches. Second, it's more time efficient to dispatch crap in fifty words than seven-hundred. So, I would ask you gentle readers ... is the capsule review approach one I should on occasion pursue? After all, I do this all for you. Oh, and the free shit.