Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 76)


PICKS   

Ex Cops, True Hallucinations     (Other Music)

Like many another outfit in a peer group dominated by record collectors, the sum of this Brooklyn duo’s well-worn influences barely runs a surplus, meaning listeners given over to writing down band names can savor any number of trivial pursuits in these thirty minutes. Just for fun, I’d point out an opening fragment built off of Genesis’ 1983 Top Ten single “Mama,” a jangly guitar line on “Separator” swiped wholesale from a Magnetic Fields instrumental, the Sound Of Confusion vibe swirling throughout “Jazz & Information,” a brief melodic nod towards Yo La Tengo’s “Cherry Chapstick” on sugary single “Ken,” and the “Strawberry Fields Forever” drums clattering all over “Nico Beast’s” VU drone. As that latter title suggests, Brian Harding and Amalie Bruun’s main concern isn’t covering up their anxiety of influence. What they’re serious about are their hooks - all this talk about shoegaze is so much noise in the face of what remains relatively straightforward power pop, albeit with enough spasms to keep things from ever getting too cute. Like the master scavengers they are, Harding and Bruun sometimes seem at a loss applying what they’ve lifted to what they know, as see transforming a throwaway Beach Boys chorus into a song’s entire foundation (“Spring Break”) just so Bruun can croon “happy birthday / happy birthday” over the results. Hardly the first moderately delightful melodists not worth lyrical parsing. But you can hum along with the nonsense.

 

Drop On Down In Florida: Field Recordings Of African American Traditional Music 1977 - 1980     (Dust To Digital)

Helpfully split into two discs designated “Secular” and “Sacred,” this long-out-of-print collection of amateur black Floridian performers helps reframe an overlooked aspect of the Great Migration - namely, how African-American inhabitants of the lowland South followed the path to the land of citrus and sunshine as surely as they decamped to sites north and west. The lengthy recordings made inside the Testerina Primitive Baptist Church and the Miccosukee Church of God of Prophecy are no less fascinating for being items one needn’t hurry back to, just as the shape note and Sacred Harp ensembles will briefly command your attention the way most a capella performances briefly do. It’s hardly debatable that these performers are elderly practitioners unused to entertaining or sustaining an audience, a point the extensive liner notes, to their credit, hardly shy away from. So while it’s pleasing to hear mellowed blues performers like Johnny Brown and Robert Dennis gently return to songs they no doubt belted out with aplomb back in the day, it’s left to acoustic bottleneck aficionado Richard Williams to explore less familiar terrain, in this case the country/songster leanings of proto-blues numbers originally designed as party entertainment. But praise be to the folklorists in charge for encouraging Emmett Murray to plug in his electric guitar and comp like John Lee Hooker for six numbers. And the price of admission is justified by the twenty-plus minutes devoted to Moses Williams and his homemade one-string/ diddley-bow/ yakkedy board. Captured in a fidelity allowing the full sonorities of his instrument to ring and reverberate, this is Outsider Music far warmer and funkier than most pretenders to that sorry throne, including the spookiest version of “Sitting On Top Of The World” you’re likely to come across and an uncategorizable rhythmic workout entitled “Which Way Did My Baby Go?”

 

NEAR PICKS

Bad Religion, True North     (Epitaph)

If Keith Morris and his Off! compatriots rage against the dying of the light too literally for the less sentimental among us, there’s always the SoCal melodicism of hardcore’s most reasonable outfit, here bolstered by a three-guitar lineup culled from the ranks of Minor Threat and Circle Jerks, with Professor Greg Gaffin making up in articulateness what he lacks in vocal drama. Never content to merely sneer at wealth, prestige, and power, Gaffin rails equally against intellectual poverty and popular consensus, questioning the efficacy of your moral compass even while taking the time to explain quite specifically why “fuck you” is polite discourse. And in their tidy, archaic way, these muscular anthems of discontent transcend their own verbiage, not least on a welcome philippic against Citizens United entitled “Robin Hood In Reverse”. Quoting Sham 69 even as he pisses on Scalia’s silken robes, Gaffin gets the way law and religion have been wedded by our financier class: “Let’s say we try to get this right / said the plutocrat to Jesus Christ”. Also, “swing low sweet precariat”.

Tracks: “Robin Hood In Reverse,” “Fuck You”

Jose James, No Beginning No End     (Blue Note)

Like all disciples seeking to recreate the magic of Voodoo, this sorta-jazz singer returned from the Oracle of Delphi with clear instructions to track down Welsh bassist and neo-soul favorite Pino Palladino, certainly a more essential personnel choice for the sought-after groove than either Roy Hargrove or Charlie Hunter. But no matter how central Palladino’s behind-the-beat presence, the bass player alone can’t generate the kind of excitement D’Angelo’s seminal document oh-so-slowly did. Better pipes and stronger hooks might help. But so might going harder and deeper. By the time James gets around to bringing in Emily King for a babymaking joint, it’s doubtful most attendees will be awake, let alone in the mood.

Tracks: “It’s All Over Your Body,” “Heaven On The Ground”

BOMBS

Toro Y Moi, Anything In Return     (Carpark)

Interesting that the track pissing people off is the obnoxiously fun pop blast that is “Cake,” one of exactly two actual songs on a fifty-two minute album otherwise notable mainly for the ways it showcases Chazwick Bundick’s love of vintage studio equipment. Almost makes you wonder why he even bothers with the words, although a bigger mystery is what people are talking about when they laud this album’s “musically and emotionally rewarding” contents. Perhaps they’re thrilling to the expertly programmed beats or the perfectly placed synth farts. They certainly couldn’t be creaming to Bundick’s vocals, which remind me of no less an unimposing figure than Sam Prekop, another gifted studio technician who couldn’t sing and rarely came up with more than one song per album. 

Tracks: “Say That”

Brokeback, Brokeback and the Black Rock     (Thrill Jockey)

Too-tidy guitar trio shuffles and crunches ponderously. Or, Reason #216 Why Rock Musicians Are Not Jazz Musicians. Or, you wouldn’t want to listen to a forty-minute Surfaris album, either. At least, I hope you wouldn’t.