Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy 70th, Bob

So, what did I do yesterday in honor of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday? Well, for one I had to move, which put a huge crunch on my music listening time. But I did put together a 200-song Bob Dylan playlist and managed to get through about a quarter of it. And just pondering things here, but aside from every other accomplishment, isn't the fact fact that Bob Dylan actually lived to 70 one of the greatest achievements in American history?

Here's a great live version of what's probably my all-time favorite song (at least in heavy contention), Tangled Up In Blue (sorry about the ad, but the video is excellent):

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Times New Viking - Dancer Equired

As a term defining a certain recording style and general aesthetic, "lo-fi" includes the notion of energetic, frenzied performances recorded with a screw-the-details ambivalence. The flaws are the charms, and if one song happens to be a little weak, there are plenty more to record. As the aesthetic of lo-fi grew into its own sort of genre, what it took for a band to stand out started to match the indiscernible quality of the music.

Harsh in tone and tightly bound to noise and fuzz, Columbus, Ohio, trio Times New Viking took plenty of cues from nearby lo-fi heroes Guided By Voices. But following a label change, the band recorded its fifth album in an actual studio. The result: a sound that's cleaned up just slightly, but enough to make telling differences.

While still crude and often muddy, Dancer Equired finds Times New Viking in command of both obscurity and clarity of sound—and it's the interplay between the two that makes the record so compelling. As the band drops more of the fuzz veil, a tuneful punk sound emerges. When the band draws that veil a little tighter, the songs take on a dark mystery.

Keyboardist/vocalist Beth Murphy shines on "California Roll," "Don't Go to Liverpool" and "Fuck Her Tears," catchy songs that play up both the band's breakneck assault and light, flitting melodies.

By embracing both tension and release, Times New Viking has taken a slight detour, exposing some hidden strengths. Dancer Equired shows that a little bit of polish goes a long way.

Published May 19, 2011 in the Tucson Weekly.

Times New Viking - Ever Falling In Love

Friday, May 06, 2011

RCPM hit the Rialto on Saturday

Though I missed ever seeing Tempe greats The Refreshments play (and I had the chance, in late summer 1997, when they played on campus for free, but alas, I had a house party to go to...) I caught on with Roger Clyne's next band, The Peacemakers, right away.

I've seen them play about a half dozen times, from tiny Fourth Ave. clubs with $5 cover charges, to the glad-it's-defunct East Side Backstage/City Limits, to $20 shows at the Rialto. But it's been about six years since I caught the band, so I'm definitely way overdue.

RCPM are back this Saturday to headline the Rialto, in support of the brand-new Unida Cantina, which I reviewed in the Tucson Weekly:
Roger Clyne has a long-nurtured fascination with Mexico, singing plenty about the low-key party life found beachside, and peppering his Southwest rock with Spanish—and an open invitation to join him in the escape.

Such an unerring faith to a single muse risks repetition, but Clyne brings a renewed sense of nuance to Unida Cantina, the Peacemakers' sixth record—but their first in three years.

The songs find Clyne approaching larger themes, like the hollow ache that comes from economic struggles and how to find a sense of community and togetherness. But he also takes a look inward at family life and the slowly shifting identity and priorities of a man in his 40s.

The band's sound is well established—driving rock, harmony-rich, with a classic jangle and some country influences. Opener "All Over the Radio" is an ode to rock 'n' roll, with bright horns and Clyne's gift for an expressive melody, full of yearning and devotion. "Heaven on a Paper Plate" celebrates the simple pleasures of the backyard family barbecue.

With its opening line of "Rich gonna reap / poor gotta sow," "Dinero" is an anthem for the struggling, with Clyne urging a spirit of defiance, even as the breaking point gets closer and closer.

By taking on a different sort of live-for-today attitude, Clyne shows an equal embrace for where he is and where he's been.

Published May 5, 2011 in the Tucson Weekly.
DOWNLOAD: Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Heaven on a Paper Plate (live 2010-09-29)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Low Anthem at Congress Friday

One of the highlights of the End of the Road Festival for me last summer in England was The Low Anthem, a neo-folk quartet from Delaware that has had me buzzing since I first heard the band's 2007 debut album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

The Low Anthem is back with Smart Flesh, one of the best records I've heard yet this year. The album sounds like taking an afternoon long curious trip in some old dusty attic, finding bygone treasures and strange artifacts in musty drawers and boxes.

I reviewed the album in the new Tucson Weekly. Check it out below and don't miss the show:

The Low Anthem make folk music that ambles with a sense of curiosity, ducking into unexpected corners just to see what's been left lying around.

It's not exactly a throwback sound; it's a sound that never really found its footing. The Low Anthem can be soft and slow, leaning on an airy clarinet and the melding of four voices. Then the band turns around with a chugging, raucous tune that sounds like they're trying to wake the ghosts of old folk and blues musicians who played before the genres formed such distinct boundaries.

The band opens with "Ghost Woman Blues," a cemetery blues song written by George Carter in the 1920s. It's the perfect expression of the Low Anthem's strengths: ruminant lyrics, glorious harmonies and a sense of shedding years, decades at a time.

Next is "Apothecary Love," with its chorus of, "I've got the cure for the shape that you're in," applied to a steady succession of intoxicants. On "Love and Altar," singer Ben Knox Miller returns to the falsetto that carried "Charlie Darwin" on the band's breakthrough.

"I'll Take Out Your Ashes" features a plucked banjo and bowed crotales (an antique oddity) before fading into an old radio broadcast of a ballgame.

The band recorded Smart Flesh in a defunct pasta-sauce factory, a fitting origin myth for a band that sees wonder and possibility in a big, old, empty room.

Published May 5, 2011 in the Tucson Weekly.
The Low Anthem - Apothecary Love (live KCRW 2010-03-15)
The Low Anthem - Ghost Woman Blues (live KCRW 2010-03-15)
The Low Anthem - Evangeline (The Band cover) (live 2010-08-30)