Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (pt. 18)


PICKS

Comet Gain, Howl Of The Lonely Crowd    (What’s Your Rupture?)

It takes a special kind of maturity to recreate the shambolic feel of first-time-out indie, especially if you’ve been at it for nearly two decades, but that’s exactly what this long-running and long-ignored London seven-piece outfit pulls off on their sixth full length. David Feck remains as cheerfully off-key as ever, and if lo-fi tendencies have been reduced, there’s still no kind of fuss over arrangements, even while horns and organ periodically ascend from the background. In fact, despite their many freely-admitted influences, from straight punk to northern soul, what most comes to mind here is the magisterial slop of prime Mekons. Not that Feck delivers the kind of lyrics Langford & Co. specialize in, or that his concerns drift far beyond tales of intelligent heartache and artsy outsiders. But they share with their Leeds compatriots great pop instincts, effortless group interplay, and an ability to submerge themselves in American musical form without ever suppressing their quintessential British character. Check out “After Midnight, After It’s All Gone Wrong” for a country ballad only a non-Yank could write. Then check out the rude noise of “Yoona Baines” for a post-punk time warp. And then move over to the CBGB two-chord snot of “Herbert Huncke Pt. 2”. Maybe they’re attracted to Huncke because of the way he figured in nearly every facet of the Beat Movement without ever being able to commit his influence to print. Might Feck suspect that history is often propelled by thinkers deemed peripheral?

Astronautalis, This Is Our Science    (Fake Four, Inc.)

If taking a deep melodramatic breath at song’s end seems too earnest by half to you, you’ll bail on this before track number two drops and certainly before the shtick of “Holy Water” appears in the final third. But accept Minneapolis-based Charles Bothwell’s bombast as essential to his individuality, and the pleasures of this wide-ranging “hip-hop” album will unfold naturally. Or not – I’ll admit to taking a deep breath myself whenever Bothwell traded out his multi-tracked florid woe for an unadorned voice all the more effective for being nearly featureless. An entire album of either would no doubt prove tedious. So perhaps this guy’s onto something when he shifts between musical genres effortlessly, all while spitting lyrics with a flow that’s no pose. Tegan Quin charmingly stops by on the herky-jerk  “Contrails,” while Bothwell goes it alone on “Measure The Globe,” a piano ballad that sounds like nothing else here and in which he promises to cover his arms with tattoos and kiss any woman that moves. Messy stuff, yes, and admirably so.

NEAR PICKS

Desolate, The Invisible Insurrection   (Fauxpas Musik)

Don’t pigeonhole Sven Weisemann as dubstep, no matter how much this barely forty minute project resembles the finest offerings from that domain. ‘Desolate’ is merely Weisemann’s nom de plume for one of many musical projects, not all of them electronic dance – he has several capital-c Classical compositions out there for good old solo piano. Perhaps that varied background helps him sheer away extraneous detail and deliver a much calmer, cooler variant on a style that grows noisier and busier with each move towards the mainstream. Or maybe Weisemann’s just naturally attracted to tranquility. Whatever his reasons, the caution he brings to these tracks may limit his appeal to those seeking harder stuff, even if others will find this the perfect soundtrack for setting a mood. So, the best I’ve heard in this style since Burial, in a form not confined by rules the master inadvertently set down way back in 2006. In an age less beholden to specialization, this might be no big deal. But in our current climate of microgenre hairsplitting, it’s a cause for celebration. Quiet, minor key celebration, of course.

Real Estate, Days    (Domino)

Garden State boys turn down the reverb a tad for this sophomore release, but chiming echo still predominates, and while I’m as fond of reverb as the next guy, in the hands of the uninspired it merely serves as easy atmosphere, like a hack director overdoing it with the fog machine. Nearly every song boasts a memorable lick, riff, or refrain. But with all their modest energies given over to simple atmosphere, nothing but the barest hint of narrative or imagery remains. “It’s all right/it’s ok/because the night/is just another day” teeters as close to the profound as they dare, and a reference to “all those drives through green aisles” suggests aimless summer afternoons of yesteryear make up the bulk of their aesthetic theory. Ah, repetitive minimalism, continually confounding the improvident.

BOMBS

The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow    (Sensibility)

At first, it’s a relief that this folk duo avoids any trace of the gothic morbidity so many non-Southerners (and Southerners, too) wrongfully believe wholly constitutes the Child Ballad. But wouldn’t you know, that loss of morbidity turns out to be one of several major problems here. With dulcet voices pure and direct, any sense of dirt under fingernails gets scrubbed away with vinegar – or hand soap, the tang of vinegar perhaps too rude a substance for this crowd. So give ‘em credit for bringing such spare music to the Grey’s Anatomy crowd, spreading good word-of-mouth through a free live album, and for not wallowing in the false purity of folkiedom. But don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t drag, that their one attempt at a bluesy raveup falls flat, that the standout song here isn’t “Poison And Wine” but the toss-away country weepie “Forget Me Not,” that this couldn’t easily be the work of any number of decent duos holed up in any decent coffeehouse.

The Weeknd, Thursday   (self-released download)

 With listeners still coming to grips with Abel “Weeknd” Tesfaye’s springtime debut, unleashing a new 50-minute mixtape in late August is pretty audacious, an insistence that this crew’s creative gifts overflow like ’65-era Beatles. Another possibility: this is a savvy attempt at milking hype and good press before another free-download-of-the-month overtakes the spooky vibes and pervy delivery of House Of Balloons. Because no matter whether you found that debut revelation or inadvertent camp, there’s less of everything this time around (hooks, rhyme, ear-catching samples), except for the camp. To address any thematic confusion, we get a portentous recitation of the days of the week on opener “Lonely Star” and “Thursday”. Grinding guitars on “Life Of The Party” cue a moaning come-on line meant to induce some sweet young thing to submit to a gangbang, while on “The Birds Part 2,” cut-up sobs dart between a storyline that begins, “she said please, mercy me, mercy me/Let me fall out of love with you before you fuck her, before you fuck her/ She begged me,” before repeating “she on the floor” until we get the idea. Sounds like one helluva sex life. But sexual exploits get dull, especially if you lack a sense of humor. As much as I’d like to think Tesfaye meant for the album-closing line “I am God” to be some kind of joke, I just don’t think he’s got it in him.