Low Cut Connie, Call Me Sylvia (Low Cut Connie)
Adam Weiner and his quasi-South Philly band of miscreants are rock ‘n roll believers, not revivalists, and that distinction is key. No matter how anachronistic the pounding piano or buzzing farfisa or backslap echo or background shouts as plentiful as those on any Gary “US” Bonds session, all period details pay fealty to a contemporary ethos only partly communicated through libidinous set pieces and wharf rat cynicism. Credit a budget increase for deepening their electric bass lines, and perhaps sharpening pop skills that were hardly lacking on a debut so woolly any follow-up might seem slightly tempered. Yet aside from a few numbers merely holding our boys’ place in line, inspiration rarely flags and turns of phrase predominate. Weiner’s the kind of confidence man who effortlessly spits out “baby” the way other men used to wear fedoras, embracing a bravura theatricality that helps ground his admiration for someone as long gone as Jimmy Cagney and undercuts some of the malice running throughout a smirking walk-on-the-wild-side title cut involving shaved legs, sixty-seven old boyfriends, and lovers bound-and-gagged before topped with a bow. But misanthropy isn’t their game. They got lucky once in college, know clipping one’s nails won’t help change the game, think they could be next big things if they could screw better, announce their impending “Christian phase” by wearing undies with pride on the outside, want you to “say yes / yes / baby,” bug you with details about their “Scoliosis in Secaucus”. A way with words, that Adam.
The Corin Tucker Band, Kill My Blues (Kill Rock Stars)
Neatly pigeonholing this as the return-to-rock rebuttal to 1,000 Years’ self-described “middle aged mom record” not only overstates the kick-out-the-jams character of an album with plenty of tempered tempos. It also confuses relative domesticity with political / cultural retreat, a mistake Corin Tucker for one won’t make because she understands how the political becomes more personal as one’s responsibilities (to family, to society) mount. Since most of Tucker’s life work has tended to subsume lyrical meaning beneath guitar and voice, the lyric sheet definitely helps - while it would be hard to misinterpret the Sandra Fluke revenge anthem that kicks things off, I completely missed big laugh line “you can rent me a burro / we’ll live off of churros” in the southern latitudes fantasy “Summer Jams” until the words were staring me in the face. And with those lyrics firmly anchoring the controlled vigor of a band that can’t hope to surprise listeners the way her old trio did, even the blues crawl of “Tiptoe” and maternal platitudes of “None Like You” (“perfect love / loves the weakest”) have their moments. The sweetest sentiment here may be memories of a teenage awakening on the Oregon coast, the best riff is undoubtedly the lovely figure running throughout Joey Ramone’s elegy, and the lyric to ponder is “we’re not making songs for suburban little girls / or we are / and we’re much too sincere”.
William Parker Orchestra, Essence Of Ellington (AUM Fidelity)
No doubt, this concert must have been a blast to attend, the spontaneity of an auditorium setting perhaps a bit more sympathetic to both twenty-six minute ensemble pieces and the occasional hooting vocalese of Ernie Odoom (I’m guessing the Milano audience enjoyed Odoom’s contributions as campy glossolalia). But even if this project loses some of its luster removed from the concert hall, living emblem of the American jazz avant-garde Parker is the right man for an attempt at capturing the complexities of Ellington the bandleader, arranger, and talent scout, with Ellington the composer obviously present yet never dominant. And just as Parker’s 2008 memorial celebration for Curtis Mayfield sought to explore unexamined possibilities within Mayfield’s canon (both musical and political), here the unapologetically avant solos insist the Duke’s legacy needn’t be mothballed within polite nostalgia - indeed, that consigning Ellington’s accomplishments to a specific time and place constitutes an act of vandalism. Hamid Drake remains the secret weapon. But saxophonists Kidd Jordan and Darius Jones simply fume. And pianist Dave Burrell’s gentle introduction to “In A Sentimental Mood” is a moment of calm on an otherwise fervid album.
Bailter Space, Strobosphere (Fire Records)
The first new slab of drone-noise from these New Zealand legends since 1999, and maybe only old Gordons fans or collectors still mourning Matador’s deletion of their catalog will care. But this is the sound of the nouveau 90s many hopeful listeners discerned within the more crowd-pleasing likes of Yuck last year - heavier, murkier, moodier, maybe even slower, sloppily amateurish for a band entering a quarter century of activity, luxuriating in a guitar sound only Christchurch still believes in. Songwriters they’re not, nor have they ever been, preferring to construct tracks with melodies barely suggested, vocals heartlessly buried beneath fuzz and chug even while songs abruptly fade or start, more dependent on their drummer than perhaps even he suspects. Few do what they do or have done. And while that might ultimately be a good thing, one never regrets returning, however briefly.
Seapony, Falling (Hardly Art)
At some point in pop music - especially pop music existing on the margins of quote unquote popularity - the mere existence of charm isn’t enough to sustain a band, no matter how beholden said band is to a tiny framework of genre conceits. Vocal projection, tempo, thematic diversity, dissonance, dirty jokes, studio razzle-dazzle, literary allusions, hell, even a little in the way of blank verse - any of these hardly-outre devices might help this Seattle trio stand out from the tribal confederation of a contemporary twee scene that welcomes any coy lass with a guitarist into the sisterhood. If marginal distinctions matter to you, it’s worth pointing out that Seapony’s drummer thumps a bit harder than the one for the merely inept Sea Lions, and that these Americans employ echo more sparingly than UK counterparts Veronica Falls. If such names mean nothing to you, you needn’t worry about marginal distinctions. “Outside / a long time ago” Jen Weidl worries again and again, sometimes even in tune, and shame on the cynic who wonders just how long ago her remembered “incident” actually took place.
Kreayshawn, Somethin’ Bout Kreay (Columbia)
Remember when novelty artists understood their place in history’s arc? Or was Natissa Zolot somehow under the impression that YouTube viewers got behind the three minutes of last year’s “Gucci Gucci” because a lurking silent majority exists for anti-designer diatribes? As fun as that baggie-full-of-Adderalls hit was, one wonders if Zolot’s confusion of Arby’s with McDonald’s was the kind of oversight that happens when somebody fakes blue collar. Still, what was amusing for the length of a single song becomes odious at forty-four minutes, thirteen examples of straining towards a deadpan she lacks the finesse to pull off, heavily reliant upon trashing her fellow sisters as both bitches and train wrecks, unless Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse, Lisa Lopez, and Britney Spears are getting name checked for their advocacy work against patria potestas. Worst track: the utterly cynical goop-ballad “BFF,” rote recitations of bad girl cliches cloaked in the detachment Zolot mistakes for irony. The hip-hop tent is wide and welcoming. But moderate capabilities at speaking in rhymed cadence will not gain you entrance.