PopMatters: Humble Pie – Performance

My review of the new Humble Pie box set, Performance – Rockin’ at the Fillmore: The Complete Recordings is up at PopMatters.

When they left the studio for the stage, Humble Pie became something different altogether. Freed of the strictures of three minute long radio-friendly material, the four musicians came into their own. No longer was it Frampton extracting pop melodies from Marriott’s heavy R&B sensibilities, or Marriott dragging Frampton into a blues framework on a track-by-track basis. As this recording shows, their live partnership wasn’t a capitulation of one’s style to serve the other’s needs. It was two artists constantly pulling away from each other, with the tension of their inherently different approaches held in equilibrium by the rhythm section of Ridley and Shirley. Jerry Shirley’s ability to both pound heavily when playing blues and to sit off the beat for a jazzier feel allowed him to buttress whichever guitarist had stepped to the fore. Greg Ridley’s bass playing was limber yet solid like Shirley’s drums, and alternated that support role with the drummer like one instrument. Their fluid approaches to rhythm let Frampton and Marriott follow where their muses took them without sacrifices from either frontman.

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Last Rites: Moon Coven – Amanita Kingdom

I reviewed the upcoming Moon Coven debut for Last Rites:

There are two things Moon Coven have from the opening notes of “Ruler of Dust” that many bands can’t ever seem to find: an earworm of a riff and a properly awesome guitar tone. The riff is a simple one, a drunken ellipse of a figure, with a slight stagger like a hiccup that immediately catches your attention. Then there’s that tone: rich, thick and resonant from bottom to top, no pass filters, no frills. It’s a tone that fills any room, from clapboard walls to cement halls. With that riff and tone locked and loaded, Moon Coven fire off toward the orb they worship. The song clocks it at just over seven minutes, but it could go another five or ten with that riff to carry the load.

PopMatters: Qat, Coffee & Qambus

Various Artists: Qat, Coffee & Qambus – Raw 45s from Yemen

There’s currently an egregious typo that I missed in editing which should be fixed soon, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how this review turned out. The hardest thing I’ve yet to cover; the temptation to rehash the excellent liner notes was great, and as a so far unique compilation there is little literature or other work to draw on when discussing these recordings. I hope I did enough to intrigue and entice the reader into searching it out by describing the music as I hear it.

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.

Monday Musings

I’m not exactly a fan of Nine Inch Nails (I like the first album and songs here and there), but I am a massive fan of Bauhaus and Peter Murphy’s solo output. It is really no surprise then that I enjoyed hearing the radio sessions Trent & Peter recorded when on tour together last year. The four sets from four Eastern US cities range from covers of each other’s material to covers of songs they both love (like a passel of Joy Division, a Pere Ubu track and Iggy’s “Niteclubbing”). Lots of fun, nothing too revolutionary or revelatory, beyond the fact they sound like they’re having fun. Though one thing dawned on me; Peter Murphy is turning into Neil Diamond, just wearing black instead of bangles. They have about the same vocal range and tone, have a penchant for really silly dramatic arm motions, and are both pretending they’re not bald or balding. Diamond is a good fifteen years older, but they both rocked roughly the same do at fifty (of course, Neil has rocked the same ‘do since about the fifties, so I’m not posting his pic).

Peter Murphy, fully emoting, with comb-forward and burns:

The Crashing Waves Of Proggy Metal

Hailing from Corralitos in the mountainous terrain of inland Santa Cruz county, Mammatus describe their sound as “the final war between amps and sea creatures”. Judging by their latest album, The Coast Explodes, the sea creatures that inspire them aren’t placid sponges or phytoplankton-gorging krill. These Californians mean the older, larger, stranger ocean-dwellers, the mythical beasts that surface on the Lenox Globe beneath a banner reading “Hic Sunt Dracones”.

The Coast Explodes picks up directly from where their self-titled debut left off, with the third part of the epic “Dragon Of The Deep” (the word epic is not used lightly as the three pieces collectively top the 42-minute mark). Though a thematic continuation, the sound has changed slightly. “Dragon Of The Deep, Part Two” closed the first album with bristling, heavy, acid-soaked psychedelic doom. “Part Three” opens with the same high-pitched guitar feedback that closed “Part Two”, but 20-odd seconds in a quick, very mid-seventies progressive rock figure is introduced, rapidly followed by a second quick figure of over-driven guitar which would not sound out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Mammatus, in one short year, has expanded their sound from circa-1972 to circa-1976; the space-rock has met prog and is touching at the beginnings of NWOBHM. This inspired amalgam lasts for the first six-minutes before giving way to the retro-psychedelia of the heavily reverbed vocals (Mammatus’ singer, Zachary Patton, has a relatively high-pitched voice with a bit of softness to it, reminiscent at times of Perry Farrell without the whine). The pace slows, and the call to arms – “Take up your sword/Raise up your shield” – comes across as a softer version of the ceremonial chants at the heart of Sleep’s Dopesmoker, only with a message akin to Shakespeare’s Henry V before the battle of Agincourt.

The lyrical thrust of the album keeps with that martial (but hopeful) theme; rise with the sun’s/Son’s light to clear away the darkness. This duality is explicit in the lyrics to “Pierce The Darkness”, but does not veer into preachiness. It is the view that nature and divinity are entwined; they come across not as dogmatic but more an awakening to the majesty of creation and the strength and salvation that may be drawn from it. To reinforce that point, the sound of the album is reflective of nature, with long, soaring passages evoking flight and the swirling winds, repetitive washes of feedback coupled with cymbals and toms to mirror the waves crashing on the shore.

This evocation of nature does lead to the one glaring misstep on The Coast Explodes; actual sea lion barks and squelches make an appearance on “The Changing Wind”. This song, which serves as a break between the longer, heavier tracks leading into and out of it, pales in comparison to “The Outer Rim”, a Pink Floyd homage that served the same purpose on the debut. Easily described (and dismissed) as “Man Man goes freak folk”, complete with a weeble-wobble-wooble-weeble-weeble-wooble chant over sub-Vetiver acoustic noodling. Plus sea lions.

Luckily Mammatus redeem themselves with the album closing title track. The song is built around a guitar riff that sounds somewhat like Tony Iommi playing around with Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge” at half his usual attack. The loping gait over the steady drums is instantly intriguing, and builds nicely to a strong, full sound before cutting back to allow a slow spoken word interlude that again brings to mind Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction, in particular “Summertime Rolls”. The casual Iommi guitar returns, and Mammatus alternate passages and styles again. This song shows most clearly the strides they’ve made since their first album; where the longer tracks there were heavy, thick waves of feedback and haphazard grooves, “The Coast Explodes” is a 12-minute track where there is a practiced precision to each step, a surety and strength that is crafted instead of jammed. While furious riffing and “riding the groove” may make for a powerful stage performance (and a fun – if flawed – first effort), the refinement of ideas on The Coast Explodes indicate Mammatus is more than just a band to see, but to hear. Just lose the sea lions.

Quick Hits

Things bringing joy to Mudville since Casey has struck out:

1. Super Furry Animals
Q: How have I completely missed the recorded output of these Welshmen? A: The Manic Street Preacher’s The Holy Bible turned me off 90s rock from Wales entirely, it being overhyped, generic post-grunge guitar rock that made me long for Bush and Candlebox. Listening to Songbook Vol. 1 makes me think pop music could have been so much more interesting if SFA were huge in the place of other UK bands – namely Oasis, Blur & Radiohead. Though all of these band did some great stuff, “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck” is just masterful.

2. The National
I thought their last album(Alligator) was boring, generic, and entirely wasteful of my time and attention. Their upcoming release Boxer is none of those things. Though my first impression was a little “meh”, further listening has really opened it up for me. It is an understated grower, mellow but not sleepy, orchestral without being twee or precious.

3. Q-Tip
How many unreleased albums can one legend accumulate before his label puts something out? I’ve mentioned Kamaal The Abstract before; now I have a copy of Open which was supposed to be out in 2005. He was even giving interviews and making the press rounds before it was shelved. Not as experimental or as steeped in the 70s as Kamaal, it is instead a melding of the neo-soul sound that peaked around the centuries turn and classic hip-hop beats. Reportedly, Q-Tip is reworking some of this material for his yet untitled 2007 release. Expect it to be shelved once recording is completed.

4. The Rub
Brooklynradio.net hosts The Rub radio broadcasts as downloads. DJ Ayres, DJ Eleven and Cosmo Baker have been doing shows entitled “The History of Hip-Hop”, and thus far have done eleven volumes covering 1979-1989, with one show dedicated to each year. Great way to either remember the songs of your youth or get a lesson in the roots (or a little of both, as has been the case for me).

5. Frank Zappa
I’m a Zappa fan but not a fanatic, and I greet each new release from the vaults with a bit of skepticism. The latest “new” Zappa release, Buffalo (a show from the 1980 band, wherein the band rock the crap out of upstate New York), shows Frank and co. at their most powerful and technically adept. Whether tearing through an incredibly fast version of “Keep It Greasy” that highlights Arthur Barrow’s bass-playing ability (imagine the speed of the solo from Rancid’s “Maxwell Murder” as the backbone of an entire track) or nearing a metal version of Steely Dan with Steve Vai’s guitar work on “City Of Tiny Lites”, this latest bit of Barko-Swill is a keeper.