February 25, 2014

REVIEW: "St. Vincent" by St. Vincent

Annie Clark hustles and bustles on St. Vincent

     Love an album that steps right into it.
     The self-titled fourth album from St. Vincent, or the girl also known as Annie Clark, picks up right where 2011's Strange Mercy left off with opener, "Rattlesnake." It surges ahead with grooves contorting and billowing from all angles. The beats are jacked-up and burbling as Clark takes her clothes off with no one around. Her voice is distressed and manic. She's sweating, sweating and by the end of this album, so too will you.
     With St. Vincent, released this week, Clark is quickly becoming a must-hear artist of any genre. She is joyfully weird with a voice broaching levels of ecstasy and devilment. She is frisky and sassy, but also a true master of the axe. Nearly everything on the album is enveloped in the light fuzz of distortion and it pinches the back of the neck until the drool flows.
     On "Birth In Reverse," the first released song, Clark's guitar does the Slip 'N' Slide. The tempo is locked into a rushing run, like a frantic, cinematic chase sequence through New York City. She's slipping over the hood of a taxi cab, diving left towards David Byrne’s house, bursting the ambling crowds like flocks of pigeons. Like most of this album, it’s very busy, but never overcrowded.
     As a lyricist, Clark trades comfort for mischief, unafraid to bend a sentence around the sound exterior. “Remember the time we went and snorted / That piece of the Berlin Wall that you’d extorted,” she sings, pure of heart, on "Prince Johnny." Her voice goes off on flight, reflecting on a smitten, but lost and deranged lover.
     Since her last album, Clark snuck in a collaboration with Byrne, the full-length Love This Giant. The pairing was perfect. The rhythms of St. Vincent are a direct trickle from the Talking Heads' reservoir. "Digital Witness," could have stemmed from those same recording sessions. It's a solid piece of funk with flatulating horns and a mind-tugging chorus.
     "Huey Newton" starts with a space-rock shuffle, then becomes a fractal explosion. Clark sounds like Alison Mosshart fronting Black Sabbath two hits from the crack pipe. Some of the crustiest, filthiest, wubbiest guitar ever break down the walls between the right and left speakers. The closer, "Severed Cross Fingers," is as lush as it is triumphant, the perfect lolling end to a bustling modern classic.
     Not only is Annie Clark, without any doubt, one of the great guitarists making current music, but she puts her talent to the most creative of uses, never settling to go straight. She loves to throw her sound into total disarray just to pick it back up. She nearly melts the recording studio down on "Bring Me Your Loves" with an onslaught of scuzz.
     Her penchant for experimenting with metallic textures and psychotic song structures gives her music a desperate need for return. She pushes the limits of what’s expected in a song and for that her name deserves to roll off the same tongue as Bjork, PJ Harvey, Erykah Badu, Laurie Anderson, the beautifully supernatural women of rock.
     On "Digital Witness" Clark sings, "I want all of your mind / gimme all of your mind." By the conclusion of St. Vincent it’s already in her lap.

Key Tracks: "Digital Witness," "Huey Newton," "Prince Johnny," "Birth In Reverse"

from: IMP

February 18, 2014

REVIEW: "†††" by †††

Chino Moreno puts the haze in the chamber on ††† debut

     The ghosts of Chino Moreno’s new-wave past have floated into the present for his newest project dubbed, ††† (“crosses”). The Deftones frontman linked up with old friend Shaun Lopez, from Far, and Chuck Doom for their self-titled debut album--a collection of songs both hazy and guttural. 
     Each track is kicked along by crisp, pricking hip-hop beats, but every noise around it is from the gallows. The opening track, "†his is a †rick," strikes the speakers with an incessant trap beat while Moreno sings tenderly against loops of feedback growl. The groove of premonition on "†elepathy" is darkly funky and so good it hurts. Lyrically, Moreno is prowling with his usual obscurity, dealing with shape-shifters, witchery, ghosts and demons like it’s just another walk through the graveyard on a foggy evening. 
     The Deftones relation is never lost. The songs exhibit the same groove and crescendo of Moreno’s prime-time act, but without the thrash-metal and punk bursts. Instead, the release is consumed by a thick layer of electronic atmosphere and distorted vibrations, something always leaking in the cracks of Deftones’ music, especially on songs like “Cherry Waves,” “Digital Bath,” and “Lucky You.” Here, though, it’s the focal point, not merely an embellishment. 
     ††† first started constructing songs in 2011. They released EP †, in 2011, and EP ††, in 2012, each consisting of five songs and each one appearing on the 15-track debut. The previous songs are subtly remastered with some added sonic flourishes, but they’re basically the same. Unfortunately, the anticipation was dimmed somewhat to learn only five songs were actually new. 
     The big surprise--and mild disappointment--here, is the real lack of experimentation. Given that this is Moreno’s third project outside Deftones, there was an anticipation of something beyond the folds of his previous work. It’s sharper and more focused than his first non-Deftones outing, Team Sleep, and less expansive than Palms, his project with members of Isis, but, in the end, it’s not a huge departure. 
     Many songs are centered on choruses chock-full of rock-and-roll grandiosity, not too dissimilar from the single “Minerva,” off Deftones' self-titled album. The big pummeling drums on "†hholyghs†" rise like oncoming waves before dissipating into haunted house sound effects. 
     "Nine†een Eigh†y Seven," "Prurien†" and “†rophy” move like a snow drift on a slow-wafting breeze. The album finishes in hushes with "Dea†h Bell." Moreno’s voice sails from the next room over, while a meek piano plays against a gear-cranking drum pattern. 
     The best song, “Bi†ches Brew,” was released with a video late last year. The pulse of a wavering bass moves with a lock-step drum groove through the shadows against the moonlight. It’s one of Moreno’s most haunting melodies with whispers looming from the corners. For pure metalheads, not exactly keen on the lightness of movement, there’s a quick dash of Deftones unrelenting at the end. 
     Moreno may be one of the fiercest screamers in all of metal, but Deftones have always been more than a metal band, fusing melody and atmosphere with crushing riffs. It’s a formula that has kept them ahead of their grouchy, nu-metal counterparts and that lies squarely on Moreno’s early inspirations and his persistence in staying out of the mold.
     He’s made no secret about his admiration for the emotion behind early Eighties new-wave and groups like Depeche Mode and The Cure. This new project takes those first musical awakenings and blends them with the modern day equivalent of moody, down-tempo acts like Burial, the xx, Zomby, even Massive Attack. †††, then, is a worthy extension of Chino Moreno’s musical mind. 

Key Tracks: “Bi†ches Brew,” “†his is a †rick," "†elepathy," “†he Epilogue”

February 15, 2014

††† / Color Film at Santos Party House, 2/12/14

Three crosses for ††† at Santos Party House, Feb. 12, 2014.
If, in the late 90's and early 2000's, you dipped your music tastes somewhere in the dip of where punk and metal met, last Wednesday night may have seemed a bit strange. Two side-projects of veteran frontmen of the stage played a packed Santos Party House: Chino Moreno, of Deftones, played with his new group, ††† and opening was Color Film, fronted by Daryl Palumbo, Glassjaw's nutcase vocalist. Each act an extension of their primary group, but each standing strenuously on its own.
Color Film, Palumbo's second side-project since Head Automatica, shambled onto the stage. Their songs were quick, tight driving post-punk. Richard Penzone, previous collaborator with Palumbo, shredded his guitar. Palumbo scratched and clawed his way through the set just as he's always done. The hand not holding a microphone almost constantly pumped the air with a fist. He's a Grade A maniac on the stage, staring outlandishly, cartoonishly at the crowd, in a state of childlike awe. 
Palumbo and Color Film drummer during set.
The band was loose, clearly still kneading the songs into shape, but what they left behind was promising. Last year they released Until You Turn Blue EP, but the songs in their set, "52 Minds," "Bad Saint" and "Small Town" might turn up on their upcoming full-length debut, Living Arrangements
Three lighted crosses at the back of the stage were bathed in color as the full five-piece live version of ††† hit the stage. Moreno, as usual, lastly emerged from the dark to rapturous applause. The crowd always swoons for the guy in whatever form he's appearing in and it was no secret he was the guy everyone came to see. 
The group's debut self-titled album was released the night before, but already, every word Moreno sang had an added echo from the crowd. Clearly, he was overjoyed to see the big turn out. On stage everyone was in sync, often breaking into big grins. Moreno was flanked on either side by his co-conspirators on the album, Shaun Lopez, from Far, and Chuck Doom. 
Their foreboding grooves translated perfectly into the live room. The atmosphere was amped. The entrapment of "†elepa†hy" turned the place into a Gothic dance-hall. "Bi†ches Brew" was a hallowing out of the brain with swervy bass poking the frontal lobe, turning clockwise. The cool trip-hop of "Blk S†allion" made it to the live stage for the first time and the stutter bass stabs of "†his Is A †rick" slapped up against the wall.
Lopez stood to the side, jet-black hair combed over, fiddling between a keyboard set-up and playing chiseled psych guitar licks. Doom, who Moreno called Dr. Doom when an audience member asked who he was, played the bass like a wet dolphin, always dipping forward, looking like souped up King Of The Hill character.
††† abandoned the stage briefly, returning for a moody rendition of "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus and finishing with "†he Years." As they dispersed for the final time the glowing crosses left the audience mired in a trance.
Chino Moreno (center) performs with ††† last Wednesday at Santos Party House.

February 02, 2014

REVIEW: "Play With Your Toys" by The End Men

The End Men Work It Off with Toys

     Play With Your Toys by The End Men may have been recorded at Brooklyn's Well Rounded Hoodlum Studios, but often, it sounds like it's coming from the back room of a rickety old wooden boat where a single dimly-lit bulb swings with the waves.
     The album opens with woozy, ship-wrecked chanting on "Cleaning Your Mind," before lifting off with the psychedelic swirl of "Run Away." The song then spittles into a steady grinding blues riff--The End Men's long suit.
     The Brooklyn group are only a duo. Matthew Hendershot mans the guitar and growls, while Livia Ranalli drops an anchor with her drums. Their music exhibits all the trappings of the most basic blues, but with a more chiseled slant. "Into The Mines" flows like a sea shanty before Hendershot leads the listener into a dark soot-covered hole in the ground. The blues crunch of ZZ Top is heard on “The Ballad Of Billy Polk” and "It's All Wrong" is a tough, bare-knuckled stomp. 
     The songs are simple enough. Between the two of them, they use every bit of meat on their instruments. Hendershot challenges you up front, dares you to cross him. His voice is equidistant from Billy Gibbons's garble and Mark Lanegan's low-tide moan. 
     Ranalli has a pile of percussion before her. She remains in lockstep with the boozy guitar, but splashes, pokes and prods every piece of hardware between Hendershot’s riffs. Her backup vocals are ghostly and subtle, sliding right in next to the grime.
     They do plenty with such a lean set-up and create an atmosphere worthy enough to stretch over the 11 songs on Play With Your Toys. The swift accordion drifts of “Play With Your Toys Pt. I” and “Pt. II” are like mist teasing into the heavier tracks. On "Mental Trapeze" Hendershot trades a sack of nickels for sticks and seeds with a blind man on 27th Street. Later he makes a batch of chocolate brownies and descends into a creeping carnival waltz.
     The End Men are here to shake all the strange from your soul. Play With Your Toys was released digitally last February and is available for download and stream on The End Men’s Bandcamp. Their newest release is the two-sided single, "Work," from last September.

Key Tracks: "It's All Wrong," "Mental Trapeze," "Run Away," "Into The Mine"

from: IMP