Note: A new added feature to this weekly column starting today will be standout tracks highlighted for Near Picks and Bombs - an effort to catalogue worthy moments on albums otherwise not necessarily worth too much of one’s precious time.
Burial, Truant / Rough Sleeper (Hyperdub)
Complaints that William Bevan has abandoned the supposedly richer tapestries of full-lengths in favor of 12” singles seem asinine to me, unless one suspects Bevan’s primary concern remains cultivating a mystery image by switching allegiances to short form, which also seems pretty asinine, to be honest. Let’s not forget the lengthiest track on 2007’s hallowed Untrue was just a few seconds over six minutes, while none of the eight tracks from his most recent EPs have run shorter than six minutes, with four pushing past the eleven minute mark. If anything, Bevan’s music has assumed greater complexity - or grandiosity, one might worriedly note. For better or worse, although usually for the better, these two “songs” are compositions, an intricately ordered series of set pieces and incidents dependent upon sloppy fidelity and incidental noise to mask their own precision, with the composer/arranger’s newfound fascination with pregnant pauses ensuring that proceedings periodically shudder to unexpected halts. The usual Burial obsessions remain - 2-step shuffles mimicking human pulse, vinyl crackles designed to bedevil the cold indifference of digital perfection, a treated vocal lamenting “I fell in love with you” over and over. But there’s also as warm a bassline as he’s yet crafted, proudly thematic rising strings, sombre organ tones pulsing with krautrock energy, a saxophone poking out of the murk now and again. If he gets any more maximalist, he’ll soon be dropping thirty minute dirges on us à la “He Loved Him Madly,” and when that day comes, I’ll listen to it, too.
Ike Yard, Remix EP 1 Feat. Regis & Monoton (Desire / Blackest Ever Black)
Two remixed tracks serving as lead-ins to the upcoming re-release of a storied and long out of print 1982 Factory full-length, proving these slightly forgotten New York electronica/post-punk/no wave pioneers knew how to use the technology at their disposal, or, more accurately, knew how to avoid over-using that technology. British techno guy Regis takes on “Loss,” seven minutes of minimal pitter patter, oscillation, synth plonks, and mumbled vocals. Monoton, aka interdisciplinary renaissance man Konrad Becker, gives “NCR” the quasi-dub treatment, favoring skittering beats and keyboard farts. The originals rocked a bit harder, these versions streamline the rhythms somewhat, and both sound utterly contemporary. Industrial music, I guess - funkier than Cabaret Voltaire, for damn sure.
Woollen Kits, Four Girls (Trouble In Mind)
These three yobs (Tom, Tom, and Not Tom, sez the press release) hail from Melbourne, but they betray an aesthetic affinity more in keeping with the jangling drone of a Flying Nun label situated 1500 miles across the Tasman Sea. They also seem to claim two vocalists, one favoring a garage sneer, the other droning offkey like Calvin Johnson let loose in the Victorian bush. And at thirty-two minutes, this is just about right, touching down upon such familiar signifiers as the Modern Lovers (an echoing guitar solo reminiscent of Jerry Harrison’s organ overdrive on “Sandra”) and Galaxie 500 (the slow inexpert crawl through album closer “On The Move”) even as they find room for a saxophonist (perhaps even a band member? who can say?) channeling Duncan Kilburn. Seem like nice lads, too - the four women alluded to in the title would appear to represent actual feminine individuals, as witness song titles “Cheryl,” “Sandra,” “Susannah,” and “Shelley,” even if Susannah is repeatedly cautioned to “give it up now”.
Tracks: “Sandra,” “Susannah”
Christopher Rau, Two (Smallville)
Hamburg producer, inspires equal parts admiration and disdain from those paying attention to such things for his suggestion that house music is cheery easy listening, which it kind of is. Favoring rhythms that often land one split-second behind where you think they should, he’s breezy and goofy as well as corny and even dumb, so the trick is to avoid the dumb tracks (“High,” “Sound Shake”) while engaging ever so slightly with the not-dumb ones. Examples of the latter might be the exotica strings on opener “Apple Snapple Tracking,” the minimal disco theme seesawing back and forth along nearly all of “Unlimited Dancemoves,” the cut-up beats and guitar glissando of “Swag Lude,” the speedy Kraftwerk metronome and cheap-ass synth horn line throughout “Weird Alps”. Feel free to pursue other distractions, though - it’s doubtful Rau would mind much.
Tracks: “Swag Lude,” “Weird Alps”
T.I., Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head (Atlantic / Grand Hustle)
The open secret about T.I. is that over the last ten years he’s assembled an unimpeachable string of high-quality tunes - cherry pick the charting singles from his seven previous albums, line them all up in whichever order you choose, and you’ve got a collection of party jams as unpretentious and fun as, say, the Shirelles. Another open secret: his albums have always been uneven, and whether he’s still regaining his footing after a second stint in jail or just foggy on how one goes about slotting a hot single in a new decade, this vaguest of conceptual projects (something about getting busted for possession, plus Marvin Gaye) lurches from one outsourced appearance to the next. Sometimes his guests merely highlight the auteur’s own floundering sense of self, with Andre 3000 cutting his disciple to ribbons on album centerpiece “Sorry,” confiding how his writing skills were sharper before the royalty checks started flowing in even as T.I. waves his luxury watch in the face of a hard-up bystander. Others just dial it in and try to dodge the swag (Pink gasping for air over the Pachelbel-prog of “Guns and Roses,” Lil’ Wayne mumbling about popping that pussy). But the worst moments come after a dreary three-song stretch in which T.I. assumes control without the benefit of backup, dragging a bemused Akon onstage to transform Elton John’s “Your Song” into an Auto-Tuned “Dream On” and encouraging some lucky lass to crawl through L. Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. On this closing tune (hymn?), T.I. compares himself to Jonah, Lazarus, Solomon and Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ.
The Pogues, The Pogues In Paris: 30th Anniversary Concert at the Olympia (Universal)
If you’re the type of cultural observer who likes to place bets on how hard a broken man will hit the ground, allow me to ruin the surprise by pointing out Shane MacGowan appears to remain vertical throughout this entire live performance (although one can’t be sure without the visual evidence). And since watching to see if Shane MacGowan will remain vertical for an entire performance informs so much of the weird cult that has sprung up around this band, cultural observers uninterested in broken men or Irish stereotypes might be advised to stick with Rum Sodomy & the Lash, merely one of the greatest albums of the 1980s. Unless you think Hemingway did his best work while sitting gin-soaked in Key West or kicking beer cans in Ketchum.