Halfway Gone

Though the official mid-year celebrations are a short ways off, here at C&P I’m jumping the gun so I can actually enjoy listening to all this crap I’ve got sitting around. Without further blathering, thoughts on some of this years releases:

Tori Amos – American Doll Posse
I still like the first few Tori albums, and love From The Choirgirl Hotel. Her latest has some great stuff, but has a good chunk of godawful crud that sounds like everything else she’s done this decade. Give it a listen, and buy the good stuff from iTunes (“Big Wheel”, “Body And Soul”).

The Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound – Ekranoplan
From Teepee records, home of my beloved Witch (RIP) and Earthless, Assemble Head are described by their PR flacks as “Mudhoney in Haight-Ashbury”. Though not as good as that, their heavy psychedelic blues-rock is good, and has just enough layers of noise and fuzz to compliment the groove.

Battles – Mirrored
I’ve been listening to this for a while and the shine has kind of worn off. Though I would say overall I am leaning positive, it doesn’t excite and interest me as much as the first few listens when I was unsure of what to make of it. Grooving post-rock with manipulated vocals, I’m sure I’d like them live more than on record. I do like it more than the two EPs, which I was very “meh” about.

Bjork – Volta
I liked it better in the short, condensed version she released as Selmasongs seven years ago.

Clutch – From Beale Street To Oblivion
Has not fell out of my rotation since it’s release in March. Further shedding their metal roots, Clutch comes across here as heavy, heavy southern blues – think ZZ Top on steroids. Muscular but not forceful, tuneful and fiery, I will be very surprised if this isn’t near the top of my year-end list. “Electric Worry” is one of my favorite songs this year; watch the video here.

Earthless – Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky
I’ve only had this a week, but it makes a helluva first impression. Just big honking stoner grooves – two go for twenty minutes each, then they throw a Groundhogs cover in to wrap things up. I think I might not like it quite as much as their prior release, Sonic Prayer, but if you like wordless jams that combine Hendrix, Blue Cheer and Sabbath with nods to power metal you can’t go wrong with either one.

Eluvium – Copa
I know nothing about this guy or anything else he’s done, but this is beautiful, subdued instrumental music. It almost falls into new age twinkledom, but holds the line and comes out like a soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch movie where nothing exactly happens but you enjoy the whole experience. I enjoy listening to this, but I don’t think it is a warm weather album so it’ll probably have to be “rediscovered” this Fall.

Tim Fite – Over The Counterculture
Free album? Of course I’ll listen! There are some great songs on this (“I’ve Been Shot” is a standout) and it only costs time. Won’t probably be there come end of year, but it was worth a couple of spins for a few standout tracks.

Jesu – Conqueror & Sun Down/Sun Rise
Continuing the steady shift from noise purveyor to the most depressing shoegazer imaginable, Justin Broadrick mope-a-dopes his way through blissful sounding sheets and waves of guitar. Even poppier than last year’s Silver, Jesu’s latest is wonderful to listen to, but has failed to lodge even the smallest riff or bit in my head. I can’t recall anything beyond a general sound and that I enjoy hearing it, but it may be too samey to make a distinct impression. Sun Down/Sun Rise is a bonus EP that was included with the Japanese release of Conqueror, and consists of two cuts, the first 17 and the second 15 minutes. Both songs are the equal to any of the shorter pieces included on the domestic album, particularly when played loud; you can really hear the songs build and develop when they envelope you.

Low – Drums And Guns
I freely admit I know nothing about this band, beyond a track here and there over their ten-plus year career. With Ian regularly singing their praises (and writing about them very well at Too Many Words x2), I decided to give this a listen when I got the chance. Without any history or context within which to place it, Drums And Guns is a somewhat off-putting and difficult listen. Their sound isn’t harsh or dissonant, but the decision to hard pan the voices and forgo a traditional aural mix is a challenge from the start. I think it works, though it does teeter on novelty after a while. I don’t like it as much as Ian, but I like it enough to want to hear more Low.

Mammatus – The Coast Explodes
I’ve got nothing to add to this review right now.

Minsk – The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment
Though I was disappointed with them live, the album is still pretty solid. Post-rock, drone, doom and Kahlil Gibran in an epic mash. Not most people’s cuppa, but I keep playing it.

The National – Boxer
I mentioned it in passing before, but this is a very good indie-pop record. I would shorthand it by saying it sounds like the meeting point of Lambchop and the Psychedelic Furs.

Elvis Perkins – Ash Wednesday
Though there are a few misfires on this (“May Day” is like the worst round of Kumbaya ever), his debut lives up to the tracks that have been floating around for a few years. I have a weakness for singer/songwriter stuff, and Perkins has a just enough of a touch of Mangum and Buckley to be right up my alley and to cause others to run in terror.

Tinariwen – Aman Iman
Anything that combines North African/Arabic style drones with delta blues guitar and what may be 40 different singers makes me prick up my ears. Tinariwen do that and add hand percussion and a bass guitar playing kick drum lines. I haven’t even bothered to read the translated lyrics; when it sounds this good I don’t care whether their singing about love, war, or pedophilia.

Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
Completely unoriginal, with an on- and offstage persona that is deplorable at best, Winehouse and company (particularly the oft-maligned Mark Ronson) have crafted an album that is just fun. I like early sixties soul, so throw some more modern beat patterns and a trashy but competent singer on top and I’m good. Won’t replace Carla Thomas or The Ronettes, and if it gets people to listen to them instead of Winehouse that’s good too.

Their are a bunch of things I haven’t heard, or haven’t heard enough. On the radar: Devin The Dude, Bonde De Role, R. Kelly (“I’m A Flirt (remix)” is so good I’ll try the rest), Crippled Black Phoenix, The Moonbabies. I gladly take recommendations.

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