This isn’t going to help the Jay Reatard comparisons. Ty Segall has been compared to the late garage punk Reatard for many reasons, namely their prolific pysch-garage sounds that find the artists hiding their pop hooks underneath layers of fuzz and their ability to create a lot of sound and fury with minimal parts. Now Segall is following in Reatard’s footsteps with a collection of his best singles in the form of a powerful compilation. Segall’s collection is 25 roaring tracks collected under the umbrella called Singles 2007-2010 and is being released by the venerable Nasville label Goner Records. The tracks range from cuts featured on his LP and EP’s to harder to find singles that really round out the collection, making a final product that would work as well as an introduction to new fans as it will as a capstone for the diehards.
Per usual, the songs are quick and powerful bursts of garage based fuzz stomp, with a mix of his early one man band material (much more stripped down) and his later work when he had a band backing him up. The 25 songs contain little fat, with the longest track clocking in at 3:08, and he packs in as much muscle as he can over the collection. Ranging from the straight forward stompers like “It” and “No No,” to the gentler acoustic jams “Lovely One” and on to the demented organ freakout of “….And then Judy Walked In.” A personal favorite of mine has always been the rich, T-Rex boogie of “Caesar,” which highlighted his Melted LP and is one of my favorite tracks he has put to tape.
Segall also has no problem working his magic on songs by other artists, with the collection containing covers of songs by Chain Gang, Thee Oh Sees, Simply Saucer and Gories. Seeing that five of the final tracks were demos only made me laugh, realizing that the lo-fi scraggly mess that made final albums was not actually first takes recorded straight to tape as I had expected (and secretly hoped). It is funny hearing “The Drag,” a powerful but straightforward highlight from his self-titled debut LP, in an even more primitive stage. The song, the first song to draw me into the fuzzy web of Segall a few years back, lost a lot of the punch of the final version being backed by a a drum machine, which drained some of the vitality that helped create the stirring final product. Whether highlighting the ongoing creative process he works through or simply bringing together 25 great tracks, Singles 2007-2010 is a rewarding listen and a testament to one of the hardest working and most entertaining artists in rock music right now. As is the case with every Segall record, it is already out of date and behind the times, but shows again that despite his breakneck pace, he is following in Reatards footsteps in making sure that the quality is equaling the quantity.
Segall will be playing a show at the 7th Street Entry on 5/8 with White Fence supporting (surprise!) a new LP created in collaboration with White Fence.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history, and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Three reactions, Three impressions, Three Takes on the new record Clear Heart Full Eyes from Hold Steady front man Craig Finn.
There’s something about Craig Finn’s new album, “Clear Heart Full Eyes,” that strikes me. Given all the changes he’s undergone (from Lifter Puller to his work with The Hold Steady) hearing “Clear Heart Full Eyes” for the firs time sounds like Craig Finn subdued, and while it isn’t the clear masterpiece, it definitely represents Craig Finn properly, it sounds like the ghost of Springsteen came to him, which gives the record a more bluesy/Americana feel to it, you would think that you’re listening to Johnny Cash’s “American Recordings”, which also gives Finn’s narratives more breathing room, such as on “Apollo Bay,” and on the numerous tales on “New Friend Jesus,” it really is Craig Finn making the type of record he wants to make. And everything from its production value to the way that Finn tells these stories, give the record a really human feel to it. While clearly it may not be the record Hold Steady admirers expected, it definitely is a majestic effort.
Alright, let’s just jump right in…it pains me to say it, but this album is simply awful.
I loved Lifter Puller and I’m a huge fan of The Hold Steady. Baseball-lover Craig Finn’s first recorded foray into the solo world, though, is a complete swing and a miss. The first words Finn bellows are “my head was really hurting,” obviously foreshadowing how my noggin would feel upon giving Clear Heart Full Eyes some time. After the first listen, I was unimpressed & disappointed. After the second, I was miffed (and just a tad pissed off). After the third, I came up with a list of things I’d rather do than listen to this steaming pile of garbage ever again…
I’d rather watch the Director’s Cut of Love & Other Drugs.
I’d rather do PR for Odd Future.
I’d rather be on an unconditioned airplane, in a middle seat, between two dudes going to Burning Man.
I’d rather eat at Subway.
I’d rather attend a live taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, when his guests are a Kardashian and anyone from NCIS.
I’d rather go #2 in the First Avenue men’s room.
…or in the Turf Club men’s room.
…or in the Triple Rock men’s room.
…or in the 7th Street Entry “men’s room.”
I’d rather listen to Radiohead.
This album isn’t just bad…it’s atrocious. The familiar vocal styling is there, but Finn seems to be lacking any motivation whatsoever, as if prior to his time in studio, he was on a strict diet of mashed potatoes and Percocet. As for the sleep-inducing accompaniment, I envision Finn wandering downtown Nashville, soliciting random drunken street musicians who’ve been kicked out of Robert’s, pleading for their assistance in creating an authentic and emotional sound, none of them knowing the importance of a metronome. The Hold Steady are the ultimate party bar band, thanks in large part to Finn’s spastic energy and worker bee attitude. Not a situation exists, though, where I could imagine enjoying any of this material in concert, let alone on record.
The music of Craig Finn with Lifter Puller and for the first three LP’s with The Hold Steady was like that person you see at the bar and you are convinced they are the best person in the world. The stars are aligned. They are smart, funny and know how to party. His solo album is waking up the next morning and seeing they are fat, toothless and you think their tattoo’s may be borderline racist. If you would have told me 7 years ago that Craig Finn would write and release a song as lumbering and awful as “New Friend Jesus” I would probably have punched you…but alas, this abomination is truly credited to a messieurs Finn. Finn suffers from the lack of muscle in the music, even more than I thought he would. The knotty indie-classic rock of Lifter Puller and the straight up classic rock of The Hold Steady matches so perfectly with his talk-sing cadence in a way I hadn’t appreciated until hearing him struggle through the mundane slide guitar and breezy alt country on the train wreck of “Balcony.” It isn’t all bad, as songs like “When No One’s Watching” seem to infuse that spirit that brings out the best in Finn. For your sake, if you are a Lifter Puller or Hold Steady fan like me, don’t stain your memory by opening this door. Sometimes change is good…sometimes it sounds like an off key coffee shop singer wrestling with 2nd rate Minneapolis centric Bulkowski-esqe poetry backed by a crack Austin band. Which is depressing, in all the wrong ways.
What is the sound of Duluth? Or Minneapolis, Brooklyn, or Austin, TX for that matter? Looking at the last two cities, you might argue that a jangly variant of lo-fi garage pop epitomizes their current “sound.” But characterizations like that don’t really get at a city’s sound so much as the type of music that’s popular among musicians from that locale. And thanks to the proliferation of Internet music culture, chances are the aesthetic popular in one larger city is also popular in another. (Do you see how I just conflated Austin and Brooklyn?) I imagine one thing working against larger metro areas—let’s add Portland and, to a lesser extent, Seattle to the mix as well—cultivating a distinguishing music style is the in-and-out migration of young creative types. A good portion of the artistic work comes from individuals with shorter roots to the region and a poorer sense of the city’s music history.
Minneapolis has a long history of well-loved, well-known, and well-remembered musicians and bands who’ve called the city home. Dylan, Prince, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, yadda yadda—all regarded as seminal “Minneapolis artists.” But there’s nothing essentially “Minneapolis” about Robert Zimmerman’s raspy storytelling, the skeezy grooves of The Artist, or the charging punk of the ’80s. Nothing in the guitar chords, drum kicks, or synth riffs. Without outside knowledge of the band, it would be nearly impossible to pinpoint where the seminal bands came from. Maybe, if explicit enough or Google-able, you could guess from some revealing lyrics . . .
Two bands notorious for name-dropping their home state are the Hold Steady and Motion City Soundtrack. (For the latter, it’s even encoded in their name!) And neither of them, in my opinion, connects music to place in anything more than a superficial way. While mentioning Lyndale Avenue or City Center may serve an autobiographical or narrative end, the references are merely cultural touchpoints for the listener a character in the song. Depending on the track, artists like these come off as either encyclopedic city slickers or desperate crowd-pleasers.
So what about Duluth? The harbor city’s biggest cultural exports are, arguably, Low and Trampled by Turtles. But just like Prince and the Replacements, Low’s shoegazing alt-rock and Trampled by Turtles’ rootsy bacchanalia aren’t particularly “Duluthy.” A half-liquored-up music-theory graduate student might contrarily try to argue that the cold, foggy winters of Duluth lend a mellow, introspective quality to Low’s songwriting; or that big-small town vibe of downtown Duluth is the origin of the celebratory togetherness of Trampled’s folky bombast. I believe that music can capture the atmosphere of a place as large as a city, but I don’t think it can be accomplished through rock or pop.
Not to sound like an old saw . . . but this is a perfect realm for experimentalism—like the combination of found-sound manipulation and abstract choral music of Philip Blackburn. Blackburn is a UK-born “environmental sound artist” who’s been doing much of the album production work for the fabulous and under-appreciated innova record label based in St. Paul. After about 20 years with innova, the label is releasing what amounts to Blackburn’s “debut album,” Ghostly Psalms (due out February 28). The lead-off track from the album is “Duluth Harbor Serenade,” an 8-minute wander along the shore of Lake Superior and the up the cobblestone avenues of the taconite city.
“Duluth Harbor Serenade” is a montage of found sounds mingled with immersive public performances in the city. (Watch the video below.) The shrill bellows of fog horns, piercing wail of ambulance sirens, and tolls of church bells comingle with the laughter of school children, buzzing chainsaws, an impromptu street-corner choral arrangement, lapping waves, and random loud instruments played and recorded simultaneously throughout the city. According to innova, the composition was “heard over several miles.”
Blackburn’s serenade is, I think, the perfect example of music capturing the “sound” of a city. Listening to it brings me back to day trips with my dad and brother to Canal Park and crooked evenings walking out of Fitger’s. The recording samples he chose to spotlight on the track speak to Duluth’s industrial past—the boats pushing through the harbor, the railcars loading and unloading ore from the Iron Range—in a very honest way. One example of someone trying this out in Minneapolis—to a much lesser extent—is Jeremy Messersmith at the end of his song “Light Rail.” These are the sounds that make the city what it is, turned into music. On top of that, by bringing the performance into the streets, Blackburn indirectly engaged Duluth’s whole population with his art.
I’d argue that a work like “Duluth Harbor Serenade” is possible for every city, every town. It’s up to the artist, of course, to single out the integral, nostalgic, idiosyncratic snippets of noise that make the place memorable, that turn a city into a hometown.
Following up his excellent early 2011 LP Space is Only Noise, minimal electronic artist Nicolas Jaar released to short, but very good, EPs near the end of last year. The first EP is self-titled, released under his Darkside moniker, that is more sleek and dark than Space is Only Noise. Don’t Break My Love, released under his given name, follows the ambient textures of Noise more closely.
Don’t Break my Love is essentially a single released as an EP. The title track is the A-Side; “Why Didn’t You Save Me” serves as the B-side. “Don’t Break My Love” is classic Jaar, building itself with drum clicks wrapped in static; soft, wobbly synths; and disjointed vocals. The track is a wistful mix of spooky and alluring moments. The curveball comes five minutes into the track, when the music drops out and demented neo-soul sweeps through the speakers. Once you get over the abrupt shock, it is as funky and commanding as you would ever suspect from Jaar. “Don’t Break My Love” sounds like an outtake from Noise and is a good continuation of his work, even if it isn’t the most arresting track he has ever written.
The real highlight, for me, is the dark, avant-noir stutter of the three song Darkside EP. The tracks seem tailor made for your next car-heist movie, slinky and detached while still packing a forceful punched. Simply named “A1,” “A2,” and “A3,” the collection is a masterstroke in minimal electronic funk. It’s possessed with the kind of restrained urgency that makes you clench your fists and stomp your feet, ready at any moment for the unsuspected twist around the corner. The songs are all tight and rigid, equally suited for a headphone phase-out as a dark and sweaty dance floor. Letting the bass line pulse through the songs and utilizing cutting guitar stabs, Jaar proves he is fully capable of bringing the funk when he wants to, even if his forte is in wandering the nebulous ether of synthscapes.
Both releases serve as excellent addendum to Space is Only Noise and further encouragement for those who haven’t checked out Jaar yet to hop on the bandwagon. While Don’t Break My Love cements his mastery, the Darkside EP is the real stunner, and—importantly—shows that Jaar is more than a one-trick pony. Both are streaming below—two crystal clear examples of why Jaar is one of the most exciting young artists (he is 22) currently working in electronic music.
On her follow-up to 2010’s 1977, Chilean/French rapper Ana Tijoux further explores the nascent jazz/hip hop fusion aesthetic of that record. While 1977 found a balance between hard-hitting rhymes and sultry beats, La Bala tips the scales toward jazz and R&B. Though an extremely capable rapper, Tijoux spends almost as much time on La Bala singing as she does rapping—similar to what we recently heard on Doomtree emcee Dessa’s A Broken Code. La Bala’s most lively rapping can’t even be attributed to Tijoux—a guest rapper from Los Aldeanos takes that prize with some fierce wordsmithing on “Si Te Preguntan,” on which Tijoux mainly sings the chorus (though she does rap a verse toward the song’s back end).
And while there isn’t anything wrong with Tijoux’s singing voice, there also isn’t anything all that special about it. Tijoux brings a fiery passion to her Spanish-language verses when she does rap them. As singer her vocals are merely good without being captivating. Despite a weaker vocal ability, several songs off of La Bala are bound to evoke some comparisons to a “Latin Erykah Badu” (particularly smooth jazz number “Quizas”). Generally, Tijoux strikes a fine enough balance between rapping and singing that her strengths in the former mask any weakness in the latter. In fact, the line between rapping and singing is often blurred to the point of not really being able to pin the sound down firmly in either camp.
When Tijoux does break out and rap, the results are often mesmerizing and enchanting. Titular track “La Bala” and “Las Cosas Por Su Nombre” are both standout singles in which Tijoux shines with expertly calibrated rhyme schemes. The record’s production shines as well—La Bala is drenched in sultry strings (similar in style to Janelle Monae’s recent ArchAndroid) that are the silky smooth foil to Tijoux’s hard-edged words. (However, again, when she sings, the juxtaposition effect is lost.) The beats and sampling also are generally executed well—though “Shock” occasionally falls into the all-too-common trap/trope (in Latin hip hop) of sounding like a Manu Chao song.
If my complaints about Tijoux’s singing voice turn you off, don’t dismiss the album outright–on La Bala Tijoux is as fine a singer as most around, and La Bala is a very successful fusion of jazz and rap. In a world where celebrated female emcees are still rare, though, it can be difficult to see one of the genre’s brightest stars drifting towards the jazz vocal category (which has been brimming with females since Billie Holiday and beyond). It’s Tijoux’s choice though—she’s got the talent to become a great rapper or, in all likelihood, a great singer. My own predisposition biases me towards the former, but I have to admit La Bala shows that Tijoux has got some talent in the latter as well.
Minneapolis duo Tender Meat specializes in gritty, pulse-pounding electronica that combines a sort of free-jazz mentality with a Nintendo-on-acid aesthetic. Until recently their only widely available full length recording was a live album recorded at the 2010 Heliotrope Festival entitled Ritz on the Fritz. Ritz managed to capture the wild, loose energy of Tender Meat’s show while maintaining a degree of audio fidelity that is rare in low-budget live recordings. And considering how good the band is live, when I heard that their newest effort, a record entitled Ripper’s World, would be a studio recording I approached it with some degree of trepidation.
Thankfully though, Tender Meat sounds every bit as crazy in the studio as they ever did in a live setting. Ripper’s World flows with kind of cohesion that almost sounds as if the whole thing was recorded in a single take. And if that is the case, it must have been one furiously manic recording. Despite actual track breaks (something Ritz lacked) Ripper’s World manages to never lose its momentum.
The tape starts with the crackly-static bomb “Brawler’s Bay,” and goes on to fill the following forty minutes with a sound that is futuristically weird while maintaining a grimy low-tech façade. The space of that time is crammed with a brilliant kaleidoscope of electronic exotica: field recordings, steam hisses, bizarre sampling, and 8-bit grooves, not to mention a whole lot more. Standout track “Cockpit Dread” contains a furious collection of rhythms – some electronic, some real drums, that combine for a sound that could melt paint off the walls. The follow up “Funnel” is no slouch either – it contains an amazing array of electronic noise, all composed around an 8-bit beat that sounds as if it was lifted from Konami’s Ninja Turtles Arcade game (I was actually convinced it was but a lengthy search seems to have proved me wrong).
Another major difference between the new material and Ritz is that in the studio recording, Tender Meat does occasionally give the listener a little space to breathe. “If I am, I am I am” slows the album’s pace for a gloomy, dread-filled minute before “Jungle Stalker” ratchets the tension back up with a minimalist beat that utilizes pastoral field recordings to put the “jungle” into the “stalk.” “Tetsuo Shima” (named for the Akira anime character) also pulses with an atmospheric groove that is less in-your-face than the sound I have previously come to associate with the band. Ripper’s World also never shies away from the bizarre – most notably in final track “Zuckerberg Vs. Winklevoss” which contains samples drawn from the infamous Facebook trial case.
While Ritz made me admire Tender Meat for their ability to take the listener on a relentless thrill-ride, the wider range of Ripper’s World makes for a much more dynamic listen. The live format is excellent for capturing the excitement of non-stop bangers, however the studio has freed Tender Meat to explore a much more interesting spectrum of sounds and textures. Ripper’s World really shows that not only are Tender Meat masters of the electronic sledgehammer, they are also artists who are capable of fine, nuanced details.
Flashback Friday is a continuation of our Do Look Back series, in which we took time to look back at albums that are older, forgotten, or just plain undervalued albums from the past and give them a fresh listen. Our first Flashback Friday is the 1970 LP People are Together by soul artist Mickey Murray, an LP being re-issued by the local label Secret Stash.
It would be easy to make this review about the event and spectacle of Mickey Murray, of his record getting picked out of the dustbin of history and re-released by local imprint Secret Stash Records, and especially of his one-off show Saturday night at the Cedar in celebration of said re-issue—but I’m going to stick to the music. No matter the local pomp and circumstance around the release, if the record was a dud, it would put a definite damper on the festivities. Luckily the record is a resounding success. Hearing it actually makes the fact that it has been languishing in the shadows for more than four decades even more mysterious.
While Murray was brought in to take the place of James Brown on the King Record Label, his sound is definitely more refined and subdued than the work of the deceased King of Soul. The tracks on People are Together cover a range of soul music, from the gentle “Try a Little Harder” to the more upbeat material like the swampy organ-driven funk of “Fever” and the funky “Ace of Spades,” a song chock-full of sharp horns and impassioned vocals. Like many singers at the time, the album has tracks written and previously performed by other artists. The highlights are the shuffling funk of “Fat Girl,” an Otis Redding song, and the borderline psychedelic, wah-heavy take on the Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want).” Interestingly, part of the story why the album wasn’t widely released is that the title track was too racially-progressive in 1970 for southern black DJs to play. I assumed before listening that it would be a riotous, hellfire-and-brimstone song. I was wrong. “People are Together” is a solemn, heartfelt track about working towards equality. It fits alongside the impassioned work of Sam Cooke and Mavis Staples as a song that is both depressing in light of the social reality and uplifting in the espirited people who continued to fight. It pains your heart to think that a song with a message as simple and clear as “People are Together” was not only ignored, it was purposely swept under the rug. The song is the epicenter of the record, tying together the album and really cutting open a vein to highlight Murray’s thoughtful, unadulterated lyrics and powerful singing in a way that should have made him a gigantic star.
In a surprise to no one, the world isn’t fair. Mickey Murray and his excellent LP did not get the credit they deserved. Luckily, we have labels like Secret Stash around that not only do the time-intensive crate-digging for records like this, but reproduce them so they can get into as many people’s hands and minds as possible. People Are Together is a profound and powerful record that also manages to be funky and fun—a success that somehow slipped through the cracks, but is seeing the light of day again—still as relevant and entertaining as the day it was recorded.
If you missed our interview with Secret Stash about the back-story on this album and some info on the one-shot concert they are flying Murray in for on Saturday, read the interview HERE.
The paint is barely dry on his excellent cassette, Time Giver and his late 2011 collection Desolations, but Jon Davis, aka Ghostband, is back in the saddle with another release. The latest release from the mercurial electronic soundscapist is the glitchy electronica of Husbandry, which he dropped yesterday on his Bandcamp page. The eight songs are mellow and subdued, with dusty dubstep beats and unwieldy synths weaving through the collection. As always, it is an engrossing collection of songs and a piece of art easy to get lost in. While I’m still finding my way around his last few releases, Husbandry is another notch in his belt and proof that patience isn’t always a virtue. Stream the record below or download it at the “name your price” price-point on the Ghostband Bandcamp page.