Swearin’, Surfing Strange (Salinas Records)
The most affecting half-assed anthems you’ll hear all year come courtesy of this latest iteration of indie’s royal family of Crutchfield, sister Allison and two boys punching out eleven punk-pop gumballs, far heavier on punk than pop and the rare approximation of 90s alt that keeps from tripping over its own feet. From the dreamy Beatles drift of “Glare Of The Sun” to the sludgy slowdive of “Mermaid,” they revel in guitar tones sloppy and rough, kicking things back to a suitably enthused drummer while never once enunciating for the benefit of observers. But don’t mistake them for obscurantists, the possibly Pavement-citing “Loretta’s Flowers” aside. “Grudges unrequited,” “in a certain way / everyone’s laughed at,” “sometimes the truth don’t make it better,” “I’d follow you anywhere,” “you talk to me about things you don’t know,” and last but not least “the sun is high / and so am I” - ah, the splendid agonies of twenty-three. May they shamble forever in the shadows of their fussy colleagues.
Livity Sound, Livity Sound (Livity Sound)
Preferring my electronica both organic and barbaric, my beatwise sympathies normally lie within the urban spook zones of Burial, the mish-mashed audio vérité of Oneohtrix Point Never, or even the arena thwonk of Skrillex. Yet whenever I consult my Dutch/German soul on such matters, it whispers to me that Basic Channel is really where it’s at - calmly delineated as Mondrian, sleekly functional as Gropius. And Basic Channel remains my point of reference for this two disc compilation of stray tracks from British 12-inch label Livity Sound even if people who know about these sorts of things assure the rest of us that featured twiddlers Peverelist, Kowton, and Asusu are “pure Bristol”. Perhaps. What I hear are three collaborators as perversely simplistic as they are admirably committed to the groove, techno heads making zero concessions to vocalists or hooks because both would muddy their aesthetic vision, which appears to be miami bass grime. Most listeners could easily lop off half of these eighteen tracks without any ill effect. But sink into distraction via headphones, and you may surface wondering why the other guys are always so damn fussy.
Dean Wareham, Emancipated Hearts (Double Feature)
It’s doubtful the former Galaxie 500 / Luna frontman has been hoarding these tunes for years while awaiting the right time to drop his solo debut, especially since things barely clock in at 28 minutes even with the title cut’s unnecessary remix included. And from the politics hidden beneath layers of obfuscation (“Emancipated Hearts” supposedly discusses or at least thinks about WikiLeaks) to the Ben Lerner and John Betjeman references embedded within song titles, this echoplex tugboat captain once again takes no risks even while endlessly pursuing his dream of private art in the public sphere. But he’s good at what little he does, whether that’s maneuvering “Little Drummer Boy” atop a very “Revolver”-esque riff on the title track or getting his string players to channel their inner John Cale while they saw and screech. And then this lifelong fan goes out on an Incredible String Band cover, who fit nicely alongside such previous Wareham canonical choices J. Richman, L. Reed, and Y. Ono.
Howe Gelb, The Coincidentalist (New West Records)
“Well, welcome to the desert,” croaks our Tucson bard, as if previous dispatches hailed from the cabanas of Key Largo. Only he’s no longer a desert rat swooning over Georgia O’Keefe sunsets - more the howl of Edward Abbey, as see his immediate clarification: “it’s becoming increasingly more expensive”. So Gelb strolls calmly through mock doo-wop and sorta-country, leaning pleasantly against guests M. Ward and a Steve Shelley mostly consigned to brush duties, marveling at such Sonoran landmarks as Pichaco Peak while offering praise unto backpacking and sedatives. “I can’t believe my luck,” he grins on “The 3 Deaths of Lucky” before crouching into a splay-fingered piano solo, so amiable you’re willing to blame his languid pace on the heat. Someday we’ll get that cherry-picked multi-disc career retrospective, and a glorious thing it will be.
Jake Bugg, Shangri La (Mercury UK)
The “East Midlands Dylan” - jeeze, makes you wonder who’s claimed the West Midlands. Only why stop at geographical boundaries when attempting to pigeonhole this once-in-a-generation talent, as see The Independent’s measured take: “If it’s not quite the jump from Bob Dylan to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, it’s the closest recent equivalent”. “Not quite” is what I take away from that sentence, along with a suspicion that Rick Rubin is spreading himself dangerously thin these days. A busker gone electric, imagine that? Or: it’s all right ma, I’m only temporary.
Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer, An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer (8 Ft. Records)
No, I didn’t get through all three discs, forty tracks, and/or 175 minutes, just like I never got through all four LPs, twenty-two tracks, and/or 168 minutes of Chicago At Carnegie Hall, the original vinyl of which my father picked up in the autumn of 1971 and probably never played through in its entirety either (the slipcase sure seemed in remarkably pristine condition when I first pulled it out sometime in the late 80s). Both documents share a self-indulgent predilection for inertia unfolding in real time, the 70s dispatch drenched in post-peak communal decadence while the new offering reeks of Kickstarter abuse. But at least Chicago had a drummer and some horns, didn’t indulge in a nine minute audience q&a session (“Ask Neil and Amanda” - must have been some gripping ringside drama), and avoided such self-promotional acts of wishful thinking as “Gaga, Palmer, Madonna: A Polemic”. Better Palmer’s ukelele anthems than Chicago’s flute solos, though.