Thursday, July 31, 2008
Carefree [Ba Da Bing Records]
Charming solo debut from former mall punk gets retro-classy
If you ever bought one of those Epitaph Records Punk-O-Rama compilations in the late '90s, you might vaguely recall Devon Williams' pop-punk band Osker. (They also played the house-party band in the movie Crazy/Beautiful.) And your jaw might crack the table when you hear the direction he's taken on his solo debut. It's not uncommon for lapsed punks to turn to country or folk (an urge Williams slakes as the guitarist for Lavender Diamond), but how often do they become '60s pop-rockers with a penchant for syrupy chamber strings? Echoes of Williams' old group can be heard in the rollicking cadences of "Stephanie City" and "Bells" but, mostly, Carefree is for fans of Cass McCombs, Belle & Sebastian and John Vanderslice. The production sparkles with reverb and cavernous drums, and from the marching strings of "Please Be Patient" to the harmonized girl-group "ooh-oohs" of "One and One," Williams has found a context in which his lush tenor can really soar.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Artist: Sic Alps
Album: U.S. EZ
Review date: Jul. 24, 2008
The recent media emphasis on “lo-fi” as a re-emerging genre feels more than forced these days. After all, low-fidelity recordings have existed as long as musicians have deigned to make a few bucks off their craft. What differentiated 1980s and ’90s practitioners from any number of skuzzy Nuggets clones or DIY progenitors from decades past was a base ironic detachment that rested on a willful subversion of the expected norms of music production. To claim any sort of rebirth here is to deny the fact that crappy microphones and cheap methods for recording music continue to propagate each and every day.
In a way, though, this renewed focus on an aesthetic like lo-fi was almost an inevitability, a response to be expected from musicians and listeners less and less interested in indie rock’s increasing approach of traditional major label values and marketing strategies coupled with desperate grabs for ever-shrinking pieces of market share pie. Even still, while lo-fi’s break represents somewhat of an alternative from the way things currently are, it still brings with it another set of troubling orthodoxies: ridiculously small pressings of records, a seller’s market on eBay, bands who use cardboard boxes for drums, and a resigned expectation of terrible live sets.
California duo Sic Alps have been lumped pretty haphazardly in with this new class, thanks in part to the tinny quality of some of their recordings and a few overt moves to dialogue with their forbearers (going so far as to cover kindred spirits like the Strapping Fieldhands). In addition, the fact that they’ve had a few vinyl-only releases disappear in a matter of weeks hasn’t done much to sever that association. And though it might have made sense on recordings past, with U.S. EZ, Mike Donovan and Matthew Hartman’s first full-length for the Siltbreeze label, Sic Alps lay bare the fact that their primary interest isn’t in dissociating methods or recorder grot, but rather in pure and simple songs.
More so than any other of their supposed contemporaries, Sic Alp’s tunes place the personalities and the methods a distant second to Donovan and Hartman’s simple guitar and drum patterns, building blocks for songs that call to mind a distinctly multi-generation approach that has as much to do with garage pop and vintage psych as it does modern wave weirdo punk. “Bathman” starts out with a forlorn acoustic strum, for example, but quickly segues into a cascade of rolling drums and a thundering riff. Later on, “Mater” comes on like a punched-up version of the Clean, albeit one cut with stronger percussion and a better sense of vocal harmony. Best of all here, though, is “Gelly Roll Gum Drop,” an ascending vocal paired with insistent drums and honky-tonk moves that manage to take the music of Sic Alps into a wholly new realm.
Now, this group exists in some perfect middle ground, one in which great songs can be had without all the muss and fuss that strips them of their personality. Building on the strength of the still fresh singles collection, U.S. EZ is another great record by a pair of folks who seem to crank them out at ever increasing speeds with an alarming efficiency. You can call this stuff “lo-fi” as much as you’d like, but more than anything else, when the record stops or the show ends, you’ll remember the songs you heard first and foremost and not be left, weeks later, with the nagging feeling that you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes by some burnout.
By Michael Crumsho
Capitol Hill Block Party 2008: Jay Reatard @ Capitol Hill Block Party 2008
There have always been bands I haven’t given the time of day simply because of their monikers. Case in point: Jay Reatard.
I was unsurprised to be greeted with wild-haired, ironic flying-v toting post-punk rockers. But like mama always says, don’t judge a book by its Pitchfork cover story.
Though skeptical, I was pleased once I witnessed a band who could churn out songs so quick and so raw they were seconds away from tearing my face off. Unfortunately their high-energy antics brought out the mosher in some of the crowd, most likely those too drunk to realize that punk has been on its deathbed for quite some time.
Fortunately, in their tight jeans and golden slacks, Jay Reatard managed to rise above the punk rock grave, deconstruct the genre, throw in garage rock, slaughter that, and beat it into something compact and forceful. Though they may have felt like a gimmick at times, perhaps running on the dreaded 15-minute course, at least they’ve got great music and marvelous stage presence to show for it.
More Reatarded shows with the Cheap Time supporting:
7/29 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
7/30 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
7/31 San Diego, CA @Casbah
8/1 Mesa, AZ @ Hollywood Alley
8/3 Austin, TX @ Red 7
8/4 Dallas, TX @ ClubDada
Friday, July 25, 2008
The Dead C Reveal Rare U.S. Tour, New Album, Reissues...and tour-only 12"!
Fun fact about the Dead Sea: it has a lot of salt and stuff.
Fun fact about the Dead C: the Earth has circled the Sun some five times since the long-running experimental New Zealand combo last toured the U.S., and 13 times since their most recent visit to the East Coast.
That all changes this October, as the Dead C have announced a brief Stateside visit, kicking off in Philly on the 12th and wrapping just a few days later in the Chi. All kinds of noiseniks and other weirdos are coming out of the woodwork to support the Dead C on this trek, including Thurston Moore's Northampton Wools project, Wolf Eyes, Six Organs of Admittance, and Sightings.
So what's the occasion for this rare overseas voyage? Why, a new Dead C record, naturally. Secret Earth packs in four presumably long tracks and arrives October 14 on CD and vinyl thanks to Ba Da Bing.
But that's not all! Ba Da Bing is also teaming with Jagjaguwar to reissue on vinyl a pair of Dead C classics originally released by New Zealand's legendary Flying Nun label (the Clean, the Chills, the Bats, the Verlaines, etc). Eusa Kills and DR503 are due to hit shelves in mid-fall in double-LP form, and each packs in the extras. The former boasts a pair of cuts from the "Helen Said This" 12", while the latter crams in six jams off the The Sun Stabbed EP.
But wait, there's more! When the Dead C barnstorm the States this fall, they'll have with them a new, limited edition, tour-only 12". Take that, giant pool of brackish water.
DR503 (vinyl reissue):
01 Max Harris
02 Speed Kills
03 The Wheel
04 Three Years
07 I Love This
09 Angel *
10 Crazy I Know *
11 Fire *
12 Bad Politics *
13 Sun Stabbed *
14 Three Years *
Eusa Kills (vinyl reissue):
01 Scary Nest
02 Call Back Your Dogs
03 Alien to Be
04 Phantom Power
05 Now I Fall
06 I Was Here
09 Glasshole Pit
12 Helen Said This *
13 Bury (Refutaio Omnium Haeresium) *
* bonus track
10-12 Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda's #
10-13 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom ^
10-16 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall %
10-19 Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle $
# with Blues Control, Pink Reason
^ with Northampton Wools, Sightings
% with Six Organs of Admittance
$ with Wolf Eyes
Thursday, July 24, 2008
What happens when you grow up in Indianapolis, Indiana, a city whose greatest claim to fame is a yearly car race that millions of people watch just to see the fiery collisions that sometimes take place? Well, we wouldn’t know since we’re tried and true Noo Yooakas, but we’re guessing you grow up a little twisted. Maybe you harbor fantasies of working in a chocolate factory by day and hacking up and skinning cheerleaders at night. Or maybe you really withdraw into the recesses of imagination and form a lumbering doom metal band like The Gates of Slumber.
Although Gates of Slumber formed in the late ’90s the band’s first release wasn’t until 2004. But that record, The Awakening quickly garnered acclaim within underground circles and was hailed as “a breath of fresh air within the doom / true metal underground” (if you don’t believe us, read the band’s bio).
Gates of Slumber’s follow-up, 2006’s Suffer No Guilt, was even more lethal, and the band quickly developed a strong following across Europe — especially in the UK, where they tour was greeted with raised swords and battle cheers. However, in their native land, their albums were only available on import and The Gates of Slumber remained relatively unknown. With their new album, Conqueror, the heathen warriors hope to change the tide and assemble a strong army of barbarians and sociopaths intent on tearing s—t up to the tunes of Indianapolis’ most promising doomsayers.
And The Gates of Slumber’s video for “Trapped in a Web” ain’t gonna hurt their cause. Here’s frontman Karl Simon to tell us more:
The concept around the video, for us, was to do something totally over the top. To that end, we spent the entire night before the shoot driving around town and gathering up guitar and bass cabinets to augment our stage gear. We wanted it to have that “wall of amps” look. I think I finally got home by like 7 a.m.
At 8:00, I got up and went to gather the troops. After picking up bassist Jason McCash and drummer Bob Fouts, we were on the way to the location for the shoot. At that point, the director Andy Reale calls to tell us that “he doesn’t think we’ll need the amps” (cue laugh track). It turns out his idea was way cooler than what we had in mind.
The video, to me, has the same look and feel as Danzig’s “Am I Demon” or Slayer’s “War Ensemble” — both very cool looking videos. The hall that we played in was something like 45 degrees, rather cold and dark for a lack of sleep. The lights, on the other hand, were only slightly cooler than the surface of the Sun! The shoot was a hell of a lot of fun: we must have done a thousand takes and all I remember was Andy telling us over and over again that we had to “headbang more.” Now, I almost never headbang at all anymore so I think I threw my neck out five seconds into the shoot. He kept telling Bob to “hit the drums harder,” and Bob already beats the hell out of his drums! I think he and Jason looked the coolest: their solo shots were just awesome — especially. Bob’s because of the way the light was playing off the cymbals. It was just great to look at.
And by the way… It would be awesome if you’d play “Gloves of Metal” by Manowar after our video - that would rule!
Karl, your wish is our battle command. Now watch the bloodshed and don’t miss it on the big screen on Saturday’s “Headbangers Ball.”
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Check it out here.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and right click or control click on the bj080718mp3 link.
Album: Object 47
Label: Pink Flag
Review date: Jul. 7, 2008
Even though this is Wire's 47th recording (counting EPs, singles, live albums and god knows what else), the band's reputation still mostly rests on its three groundbreaking albums in the late 1970s: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. When people say that something "sounds like Wire," they mean it sounds like these three records – either brash and fast and loud like the first two, or tentatively melodic, experimental and synthy like the third. They forget, for the most part, that Wire itself didn't sound like Wire for much of the late ’80s and early ’90s, that in those dance-influenced, synthetic years, Wire actually sounded more like New Order. A series of fractious post-2000 reunion recordings – the three Read and Burn EPs and the summing full-length Send – may have allowed us to forget that Wire had its pop side, its new wave side, its technology-fascinated dance side. If nothing else, Object 47 serves as a reminder that no one should ever assume they know what the next Wire album will sound like, only that it will differ from the last.
One difference is immediate. This is the first Wire album without guitarist Bruce Gilbert, a member since the beginning and one of its leading proponents of noise. So when Object 47 brings its pop melodies to the front and shoves its droning, clanking, turbulence down into the mix, as it does for the first half of the album, fans of that classic Wire sound will be cursing Gilbert’s departure.
The fact is, though, that the first five songs on Object 47 exist in an almost surreally clean sonic space. Even the edges that might be rough in live performance are subordinated with antiseptic washes. Listen to how the abrasive crank of bass slips down below the singing in opening salvo "One of Us," almost subliminal under a slick, late-1980s new wave melody. There's subversion in the lyrics and maybe in the deepest rumbles underneath, but the song feels too accessible, too easy, too bouncy. "Mekon Headman,” too, taunts with droning, distorted guitars roiling under pop surfaces. You hear them as if through layers of sterile gauze. With "Four Long Years," the slinky, minimalist percussion at the start makes you wonder if the musically omnivorous Colin Newman and crew have been sampling some dubstep – that is, until the Depeche Mode synths bubble up.
The first half of Object 47 would, in fact, be easy to dismiss as lightweight and over-eager to please, lesser fragments from a once great band … if you ignored the second half. The album takes a shocking 180°. On "Hard Currency," the drums crack right up near the surface, the circling, distorted guitars and hard-pulsing bass build genuine heat under a serene façade. For the first time on the record, you feel surrounded by three-dimensional sensation. "Patient Flees," while softer, is melodic in an idiosyncratic way, more like Syd Barrett than XTC. And the two closing cuts, "Are You Ready?" and "All Fours" are tough and abrasive and punishing, full body blows at last.
Various people have tried to explain to me why I find Object 47 so frustrating. One, Bill Meyer from Dusted, said it sounds like it was recorded via file trading, as if none of these guys were ever in the same room. Another, an ex-editor, said that Wire's super-clean material always took longer to warm to than its art punk and that I should give it time. Maybe, but my inclination is to forget all that and just play the last four tracks over and over. After 47 recordings, 30 years in music and at least three self-reinventions, who can blame me for cherry picking the good stuff?
By Jennifer Kelly
Upcoming live shows:
8-Sep London UK Scala
9-Sep Leeds UK Met University
10-Sep Nottingham UK Rescue Room
11-Sep Glasgow UK The Arches
12-Sep Manchester UK Academy 3
19-Sep Amsterdam NL Melkweg
20-Sep Gent BEL Minnemeers
21-Sep Tilburg NL ZXZW Festival
22-Sep Brussels BEL Botanique
5-Oct Montreal QC Le National
6-Oct Ottawa ON Barrymore's
7-Oct Toronto ON Lee's Palace
8-Oct Cambridge MA Middle East Downstairs
10-Oct Philadelphia PA Johnny Brenda’s
11-Oct Washington DC 9:30 Club
12-Oct Atlanta GA Variety Playhouse
15-Oct San Francisco CA Fillmore
16-Oct Vancouver BC The Commodore Ballroom
17-Oct Minneapolis MN First Avenue
18-Oct Chicago IL Metro
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Sick to Death
On their first album Sick to Death, the Portland, Ore., band Eat Skull mashes together almost everything that's great about trashy art-punk, weirdo fuzz-garage, skuzzy punk-pop, Kiwi garage-rock and off-kilter bedroom-strum. If you adore the weird songs on the Not So Quiet on the Western Front album as well as the Urinals, Raincoats, Gordons, Swell Maps, Homosexuals, Tronics, Desperate Bicycles, Television Personalities, Axemen, Guided by Voices, Chain Gang, those Messthetics comps, and very early Pavement, then meet your new favorite band. You should know, though, that this record sounds like it was mastered by a deaf person. It's all super-distorted and in the red; even the "folksy" numbers are louder than fuck. But once your ears adjust, you realize that it's all killer, no filler.
Lots of acts are mining similar territory these days. To name the most obvious adherents, Sic Alps, Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit, No Age, and Tyvek have each hit upon their own twisted formula for reinventing noisy art-pop. For some reason, all these groups have decided that the best way to record is if all your songs sound like they were taped on a thrift-store answering machine using its built-in condenser mic, in a tiled bathroom, when you're really high. Was there some sort of convention held where it was decided this is how records are supposed to sound now? Does Tom Lax of Siltbreeze have nude photos he'll release of all these band people if they ever set foot inside a proper studio? And who came up with the "shitcore"/ "shitgaze" term for this stuff? That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. I personally wouldn't mind being able to hear more of what's going on in some of these songs-- ironically, you can catch the distinct parts of the music way better when you go see these bands live.
Arguing against this approach is useless, and if I do it any more I'll turn into Andy Rooney. You might as well walk up to your favorite Scandinavian death metal act and asking them to please write paeans to puppy dogs. Some things are just genre conventions, and you deal: in this corner you get songs about burning churches, and in the other you have more distortion and hiss than Slay Tracks. You'll notice I have not yet used the phrase "lo-fi" in this review. That's because I greatly dislike that term. In its 1980s/90s heyday, "lo-fi" referred to such a wide variety of acts-- Daniel Johnston, Dead C, Sebadoh, Supreme Dicks, Grifters-- that it was functionally useless right from the start. At most, "lo-fi" defines an alleged method of capturing sound, similar to the way that "indie rock" refers to a supposed distribution method and nothing else (aside from "rock"). I am reminded of Jean Dubuffet's quote, that "there is no art of the insane any more than there is an art of dyspeptics, or an art of people with knee complaints." Um, but I digress.
Unlike the current army of Anglophiles rocking the basements across the land, this quartet is as in love with American punk as they are the Commonwealth stuff. They shamble into a muffled memory of U.S. hardcore on songs like the Nervous Gender-ific "Beach Brains" or the wonderfully incomprehensible "Stress Crazy". But there's a surprising amount of variation between sounds and songs on Sick to Death; at times it seems like a various artists comp rather than one band. Here they are channeling GBV and the TVPs on the acoustic lament "New Confinement", while "Puker Corpse" is what the Gun Club would have sounded like if they only made soundtracks to haunted houses. The organ-driven shoutalong "Punk Trips" is a glorious pop song that pits multiple melodic hooks against one another, each of them competing for your heart. I dare you to not get it stuck in your head for days.
- Mike McGonigal, July 14, 2008
Upcoming Eat Skull live dates:
07/15 Davis, CA @ Delta of Venus
07/18 Portland, OR @ Slabtwon
07/27 Portland, OR @ Rottue (PDX Pop Now Festival)
Monday, July 07, 2008
Like some other great artists before them (CAN, Faust, Miles Davis, etc.), Aufgehoben normally uses a long-term editing process after its initial recording to carve out a resultant mass from raw material. This was discussed in greater detail in my interview for DOA last year with the group. Khora was actually recorded way back in 2005, approximately one year after the recordings for 2006's Messidor. This led to Aufgehoben's Stephen Robinson referring to them as "sister albums." Make no mistake, Khora follows an upward trajectory from the previous album, which is no small feat since Messidor was pretty goddamn incredible.
Khora is essentially split into halves. The first of these halves is made up of a sequence of three songs called "Ignorance Oblivion Contempt," "Annex Organon," and "A Bastard Reasoning." These are shorter pieces that focus on the musicians' seemingly wild abandonment of all structure and logic. Things start out loud and abrasive and the group only ratchets up the intensity from there. It would all probably fall apart in the hands of a less capable group, but here each player manages to utilize this chaos. They don't try to unwisely control or manage the walls of screeching electronics and stereo guitar feedback, instead the band just lets loose while its dual drummers establish a broken backbone that constantly lurches forward. The second half of the album is 30 minutes of pummeling punishment entitled "Jederfursich." Here, Aufgehoben gives us raw matter as there was no editing from the initial recording. It sounds as if their amps are melting down from being overloaded with a gross amount of distortion. For nearly any other band to attempt something like this would be overstepping the bounds of its capabilities. For Aufgehoben it seems like the band is really flexing its muscles and it accomplishes something entirely beautiful as a result. Noise that is clear and concise in its
Aufgehoben has effectively raised the bar for every avant-rock and noise group operating today. Khora is the result of time well spent on the band's part at attempting perfection. Here it just may be that they have achieved such an end, the total cleansing hinted at by the dark water on the album's cover, a tidal wave of destruction sweeping away everything in its path.
A Balancing Act Of A Dentist And Dozens Of Metamorphoses -23 June 2008
Words by Sean Moeller // Illustration by Johnnie Cluney // Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Maybe it’s just the lingo and it’s not in me to understand it or to have been around it enough to appreciate the garden varieties of it, the ho-hum building block of the mostly instrumental music that Martin Dosh makes when he’s not maxed out being busy with everything else. When describing his song “First Impossible,” he mentions, “the main drone for this piece is something I have been working on for over three years,” and the word “drone” elevates itself right up out of the explanation. Given the chance to define it, that word would be accompanied by a soft explanation of what it means to lock into a groove. It’s the worker bee, the drone bee syndrome, a sort of monotonous system of similar initiatives that – when combined with other perfectionists in different categories – can create a dangerously spectacular experience.
A drone, meeting a drone of a different stripe, meeting a drone of a different mind makes for a three-flavored explosion of three specialists playing their cards right. Alone, it’s a drag and in combination, these three different repetitive signals, can be as exhilarating as a ride through some white rapids. Martin Dosh, Andrew Bird’s percussionist of choice (because just calling him a drummer would be a gross underestimate of the Minnesotan’s expansive talents) challenges his own efforts when he’s building these dense and daring walls of cacophonous sound and hoping that they’ll fluster people in ways that they’d never imagined they could be. He’s taken his drones and his meaty beats and braided them into a recipe that belies anything that could be categorized as simple electronic music. It could be the live-ness of how he makes and performs all of the songs that he pounded out in his basement. It could be even more to the point that he thinks like a songwriter, not a music-maker. Or at least that’s the venture that’s we’re willing to make. These pieces of music that have taken years of experimentation and dissection, re-application and jiggering, are not plated to the floorboards, but are filled with yeast buds ready to start multiplying when that targeted temperature reading hits. These songs on Wolves and Wishes are full of active ingredients that never interlope, just function precisely with one another, bringing out all of the aromas and accents needed to make the full picture – usually a peaceful torrent of steam that acts like a pulsation.
Watching Dosh work in a live setting is a bit of how it would be if there was one room – with an observation deck – or maybe a stadium full of spectators, where one we could witness a combination of things happen. These acts wouldn’t be exclusive of one another, but all happening at the same time, performed by the same person simultaneously. We’re talking about a dentist intensively drilling and filling a cavity – staying within that little off-white kernel of corn and straying from the nerve endings, a half a fleet of Monarch butterflies all metamorphosing at the same time, showing the before and after pictures, two drum corps battling off with each other, three or four hot air balloons ascending, and a big cat on the prowl. You – or we, cause this wouldn’t be something to miss – would be seeing all of this happening at once, like a hydra controllably flailing. Dosh pounds the shit out of his Rhoades with his drum sticks, then attends to his pedals, then attends to his kick for some brief flourishes, keeping the state of mind in a constant flux between the cerebral appreciation of the difficulties seen before you and the physical connection to the driving force of feeling as if you were on some sort of high-speed getaway, with Mike Lewis’ getting red and sweaty in the cheeks and giving you a flattering, brassy push with his saxophone blurts. You’d be looking behind your back all the time if the circus in front wasn’t so captivating.
DOSH ON NPR's Second Stage.
Dosh: 'Don't Wait For The Needle To Drop'
NPR.org, July 2, 2008 - Martin Dosh is a percussionist from Minneapolis, Minn., but his solo work is far from simple drum work. With Wolves and Wishes, Dosh's fourth full-length release on the Anticon label, Dosh has composed a series of richly orchestrated, mostly instrumental electronica tracks with a cinematic grandeur. With collaborative help from such well-known artists as Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Andrew Bird (for whom Dosh plays backing drums), the record finds a balance between Dosh's trippy synth, keyboard and drum work, and the album's guitars, violins, clarinets and saxophones. The result is organic, never feeling over-produced or mashed up, as it works a happy, eclectic medium between trip-hop and more grandiose orchestral sound.
The album opens with "Don't Wait for the Needle to Drop," and from the first few notes you might think you're listening to a new Sufjan Stevens record. But Dosh quickly adds a heavy hip-hop beat to disorient any expectations. Instrumental chaos builds in a flurry of keyboards, drums, and synths until a short, sweet violin melody floats out of the mix, only to be chopped up and overcome by all the bells and whistles. Ultimately, a simple repeated keyboard motive prevails and the track slides into a soft ordered decline. The record isn't all trip-happy though. Much of Wolves and Wishes rests between jazz-influenced works like the smooth piano piece "Kit and Pearle" and jam-rock tracks such as the head-bob guitar track "The Magic Stick." Still, the album holds together under Dosh's signature, nervous, percussive jitters.
While each of Dosh's albums includes a few tracks with vocals, he usually sticks to wordless music. "I like the sound of vocals and my voice, but it's just the words there's a disconnect with." For this record, Will Oldham of Bonnie "Prince" Billy offered some vocals, almost as an afterthought to Dosh.
Dosh recently wrapped up a U.S. tour and will be playing a number of festivals with Bird this summer as well as a shorter solo tour. Plans are in place for him to put together material for an EP later this year.
[In the Red; 2008]
As far as singles compilations go, two years might seem like a pretty narrow window. Then again, just as the two- or three-minute songs from Jay Reatard feel epic, he's given his fans a near-career's worth of riches in that time. It's true that nearly one-third of these tracks are demos and alternate versions of songs from 2006's Blood Visions, but he hasn't rested on his laurels for one moment since then. This compilation is beyond helpful for collecting so many one-off singles, and actually makes for an excellent intro into the world of Reatard for the uninitiated.
Anyone who's caught Jay Lindsey and his band live over the past year or so has probably heard "Night of Broken Glass": It's a simple but effective juxtaposition that sums up Lindsey's reference points fairly well, from the Devo-brand jerkiness of the verse into one of his most breathless punk-rock choruses. (It speaks to the man's casual approach to history to have what sounds like an empathetic warning song from a guy whose last side project was named the Final Solutions.) Those only familiar with Blood Visions may be surprised by the other tracks from the Night of Broken Glass EP. "Another Person" has perky carnival keyboards, stiff new-wave affectations, and sophisticated self-harmonizing, while the foreboding lyrics in "All Over Again" are betrayed by a swinging and sweet backing track without a flying-V guitar in sight.
"I Know a Place" and its B-side, "Don't Let Him Come Back", are just as disarmingly gentle, but it further speaks to a songwriter steeped in punk traditions who's absorbed a lot more than his album covers might suggest-- not in the least bands like the Go-Betweens, who originally recorded the deep cut "Don't Let Him Come Back" in 1979, with Reatard following suit after Grant McLennan's had passed in 2006. It's a faithful, acoustically driven version marked by Reatard's hiss-soaked multi-tracked vocals, making his lonely yelp into a basement chorus line.
"Hammer I Miss You" is slow and loopy power-pop that struts rather than races, with a great faraway wail and a guitar part like a downhill snowball for the chorus. But between the staccato full stops of "All Wasted" and the screeching vocal of "It's So Useless", its B-sides might do the best job of reconciling his former, younger fury with his just-slightly slower punk-pop of late. "In the Dark" is one of Reatard's most explicit Wire nods, though it's mid-tempo beat is still infectiously urgent, the single for which also featured two sluggish lo-fi demos of what would be two Blood Visions stand outs, "Searching For You" and "Haunting You" (which would be renamed "Nightmares" and Fading All Away", respectively-- the promo we reviewed inverted the titles, but both demos are clearly named from key lyrics in each.) Here, they seem to sink underneath the melodrama of the broken relationship they detail; "Searching for You" holds up, as it's an uncharacteristically wistful song for Reatard, while "Haunting You" doesn't fare as well-- hearing a lyric like "I won't stop until you're dead" isn't quite the same without the clattering engine of the band behind it.
Those unexpected quirks are more evident on the "Blood Demos" 7" released on Stained Circles. The title track is just as biting as its album counterpart, but its chorus melody is more static and the transition between it and the verses much less smooth, while the juxtaposition of the sterile verses to the careening chorus of "Turning Blue" was sacrificed for a more manic and more streamlined approach on the record. That said, there's still something happening here; a sense of melody and purpose that still lifts them above the other exemplary singles from Blood Visions. Letting the seams show a bit with these demos not only reveals a bit about his process, but it illuminates the link between his earlier career and his recent breakthrough, while going a long way to prove that record was more than three or four chords and a fake accent.
Song for song, Blood Visions might still outclass this compilation (though this is certainly more diverse), but again, mind those dates at the top: In this short span of time Reatard cranked out more memorable songs then some acts do in their whole careers. If there's a creeping criticism to be had, it's that Jay Reatard solo songs always sound like Jay Reatard, be they slow or fast, quiet or loud, played on synths or guitars. It's a fine line between consistency and stasis that he's toeing, and something to bear in mind as he continues as he continues to record for Matador. For a songwriter hitting this kind of unstoppable stride over the past two years, however, it's a moot point. Whether you watch that DVD or not, it's an era worth celebrating.
- Jason Crock, July 3, 2008
Summer tour schedule including dates with Spoon, Cheap Time, Les Savy Fav, and Pitchfork Fest appearance.
07/14/08 @ Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia PA
07/15/08 @ Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, w/Spoon
07/16/08 @ Lupo’s Providence RI w/Spoon
07/19/08 @ Pitchfork Festival, Chicago, IL
07/21/08 @ Triple Rock Minneapolis MN w/Cheap Time
07/22/08 @ The Aquarium, Fargo, ND w/Cheap Time
07/25/08 @ Capitol Hill block Party, Seattle WA
07/26/08 @ Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, BC w/Les Savy Fav
07/27/08 @ Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR w/Cheap Time
07/29/08 @ Independent, San Francisco CA w/Cheap Time
07/30/08 @ Echo, Los Angeles, CA w/Cheap Time
07/31/08 @ Casbah, San Diego, CA w/Cheap Time
08/1/08 @ Hollywood Alley, Mesa, AZ w/Cheap Time
08/3/08 @ Red 7, Austin, TX, w/Cheap Time