I reviewed the Music Blues debut for PopMatters:
The bad dreams and bad vibes continue, track after track. That Cheshire Cat smile – wry, knowing and disturbing – guides the listener, if only for a while. “Trying and Giving Up” is as cheery as the title sounds, but when the knowingly inept guitar solo kicks in it’s easy to think Tanner is taking the piss out of both himself and his audience. But all too soon the smile fades, and, like a children’s story, is put aside for more serious matters.
I reviewed the new Spider Bags record for PopMatters:
The question now is can Spider Bags continue to improve with release after release. Frozen Letter cements their prior strengths while pointing toward new and potentially more impressive sounds. It’s been a steady climb, and McGee and company could easily rest after such a feat. Let’s hope whatever rest is short and, for inspirational purposes, bittersweet. Another two years would be two years too long for more songs from their distinctively caustic and jangly mire.
I reviewed the Roadburn jam session between Earthless and Heavy Blanket for PopMatters:
But this isn’t 10 or 15 minutes long. It’s an hour. An hour of free-form exploration that inevitably goes off course and has no chance of reaching its destination, assuming one was ever planned for in the first place. Mascis and Clise have plenty of ideas and the skill to execute them, though it sounds that perhaps they hadn’t told each other where those ideas led. Far too often both seem to want to be the trailblazer, and though their sympathies keep them together enough to never fall into a cacophonous clatter, the tension it sometimes brings isn’t a positive one. A few times the rhythm kings are able to assert themselves. Rubalcaba gets insistent around the 23-minute mark with a steady pulse and a series of cymbal crashes, and with the help of Eginton’s repeated bass figure is able to bluntly force the guitarists to regroup. It’s a role he plays in Earthless as well, though with a much greater subtlety than he’s able to display here.
I gushed about the new Judas Priest record for PopMatters:
But no song is more singular, nor a greater success, than “Sword of Damocles”. From the opening notes, this is both new and, again, a distillation of the many paths Judas Priest explored if not always followed. There is a swing to the verses that feels familiar, like a sped up “United” from 1980’s British Steel; this is an arms across the shoulders of your comrades drinking tune, where choruses are yelled and beers are sloshed. But then, after the short acoustic interlude, the martial aspect overwhelms the carousing and the call to arms is raised. Music for both the night before and the morning of battle has rarely been this good.
I reviewed the newest release from Dex Romweber for PopMatters:
Yet for all his obvious strengths as a singer, he may be an even better guitarist. He’s always been a nimble player, whether with rapid runs, fine picking, or with manically strummed chords. But regardless of tempo or tone, Romweber plays with an understated lyricism. As he’s aged, that has come even more to the fore. As a result, he has finally found the perfect harmonic support and counter for those powerful vocals. “I Don’t Want to Listen” finds him digging deep into his lower vocal register, with the guitar holding the highs in bright relief, before dropping in turn as his voice climbs up near it’s breaking point. The guitar solo, a simple melody with just a few bent notes, ties the highs and lows in a pretty bow that anchors both the song and the album as a whole.
My review of the new Linda Perhacs is up at PopMatters. I love Parallelograms, and while here return isn’t up to that level it does have some lovely tunes on it.
However, there are songs on The Soul of All Natural Things that do succeed, if not quite on the transcendent level of Parallelograms’ title cut. For example, “River of God” manages to put it’s Enigma-esque beat to good use, and Perhacs sings with sincerity and passion. There is no doubting her conviction and belief, and it carries the song until the chorus, when her voice weaves with those of her collaborators Ramona Gonzalez and Julia Holter in a tapestry of shifting, delicate tones. The same layered vocals return on “Prisms of Glass”, where they reflect and refract, and split and combine, like light through the prisms of the title.
I reviewed Neneh Cherry’s new solo record, Blank Project, for PopMatters. It’s a special album, and definitely will be high on the list of my favorites come the end of the year.
Blank Project, Cherry’s first solo album in nearly 18 years, simultaneously sounds like both the culmination of Cherry’s work to this point as well as a purposefully low-key, low pressure, recording. The speed of recording and mixing – a mere five days – certainly played a part. Her vocals are imperfect yet all the better for it; the rushed moments and the occasional cracks that begin to appear as she reaches for notes, add to the intimacy and vulnerability on display. As The Cherry Thing previously showed, Neneh Cherry has matured into a vocal stylist of some note. She is able to slip off a beat, to emphasize not just the lyric itself but the sound of a phrase, to roll and shape a melody with a nimble tongue. While it may sound easy to sing around a beat, to do so in a way that strengthens rather than weakens a song is a rare art. Cherry does so in a style that seems natural and necessary, a way best exemplified by Nina Simone and Willie Nelson. Like those artists, she bends the tune to her own rhythm and brings a feeling of rightness when doing so.