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MELOMANIA unhitches its bindle to set out a hodgepodge of music for our railyard feast.
Plowing through the nuevo for you like a cowcatcher on a locomotive.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS (a/k/a the unofficial reviews)
KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD’s latest is a lightning-fast metallic opera. “PetroDragonic Apocalypse”(KGLW) is not “Infest The Rats’ Nest” Part Two - although it does come close to achieving its volcanic energy. “PetroDragonic” has more in common with White Zombie (that growl!) and later Metallica, than the NWOBHM thump of “Rats.” Take the Jazz/Thrash odyssey of the lead single (9 minutes) of “Dragon.” It is both thunderous and ponderous, but never grinds you down. Like the edited output of “Ice Death,” it keeps improving on the same theme with every turn. “Supercell” is a blinding fast song with a symphony of chugging and soaring guitars. While it too is arranged around the familiar Motorhead gallop, its ridiculous sing-a-long Def Leppard-like chorus makes it a highlight. Also, the double-speed Uriah Heep-ish “Witchcraft” and its odd-time rumble could place it next to Osees. Like “Rats,” this one is a real adrenaline rush - but not exhausting. So, go ahead. PREORDER IT.
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The main course is QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE’s “In Times New Roman…” (Matador.) Upon the first two listens, “In Times New Roman…” misses any immediate comparison. It feels as dark and desperate as “Era Vulgaris,” but Homme’s songs are less of that classic robotic groove and choose sleeker Seventies AOR. Queens lyrics have always hit as good wordplay (“Xanadu or Xanadon’t” in “Head Like A Haunted House” is a recent favorite.) These tracks truly have some bite. To give credit to another source, Pitchfork astutely points out that Homme has always played a bit of a cartoon villain - this time the aforementioned desperation feels very real. The Urge Overkill-ish “Paper Machete” is cut from the same cloth as the classic debut, but in the refinement of the fills especially - it has become weirdly ratty-sounding and hyperfocused. After all the clattering chaos, the compressed bass and squelchy guitar solo truly ring out despite a drop in volume. An inspired moment that we cannot say we have heard before from the band.
All the doubled vocals and careful driving of that central riff in “Negative Space” is as seductive as what they were after on “Villains” but its build (and the chorus on the single “Emotion Sickness”) are both this weird damaged Power Pop. To subvert the common analogy, this Power Pop is no longer in pursuit of the perfect Saturday night - it knows things are going to get sinister until Sunday morning. “Made To Parade” is muscular, tough blues that marches over you like T. Rex’s glittery boots. Deep in its wild array of sounds, are the most terse Homme lyrics from in a while. At one point, he sounds like he stepped outside of himself to take inventory of his life as a knight errant reviewing the past. However, this is not Quixotic as the lines are typically delivered with a more acidic tone than the lead guitar. As he spits out/croons “Slake your thirst, bitches/Come get what you deserve.”
NOW…THE MAIN ATTRACTION
SBT (SARABETH TUCEK) - Joan of All [LP/CD](Ocean Omen/The Orchard)
After a decade away, Sarabeth Tucek reemerges with a female singer/songwriter album that avoids the modern trappings to sound like a statement of purpose. With her Chrissie Hynde-meets-Dry Cleaning purr, Tucek seems to know that she needs to draw you close to listen. The brilliant opener "Joan Says/Amber Shade" starts quietly with Tucek emerging from acoustic guitar and ocean waves. However, Tucek shuts the dream off P.J.Harvey-style midway through for the biting second part where like Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning, she talks us through self-psychoanalyzing the inevitable ("Should I just let it break?/Because one day it might break anyway?") Her best songs are like the back and forth of conversation. "The Living Room" is a bright, chiming Pop wonder where she winds through self-discovery only to turn it over to chance. The Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque "The Gift" and the Velvet Underground-ish "The Box" illustrate her influences very well. However, "13th St. #1" is the best synthesis of her inspiration with her writing and life. The rawness of this childhood memory is neatly complemented by the dreamy "Swings" where Tucek's acoustic strums and windchimes tell a tale that is not there. "Joan of All" gives Tucek a great chance to stretch in all directions.
YOURS ARE THE ONLY EARS - We Know The Sky [LP/CD](Lame-O)
With her wisp of a voice Susannah Cutler, takes and delivers comfort among a set of songs that have her working through family struggles. While songs like "Horses" may seem all soft and cuddly, on the other side of "a horse I wasn't meant to ride" is a journey that she was forced to take. With hushed acoustic guitar ("Bad Habit") and subtle touches of pedal-steel guitar and brushed drums, Cutler is not another writer inflating situations to match emotional output. In one of the most chilling lyrics, Cutler says in a clipped near-whisper during "Bad Habit," "I won't cry if you won't cry/I'll survive even if you want me to die." Honestly, this is not meant to be a lump-in-the-throat moment. Cutler wants it to ring clear as a bell and take power from the song (and life) continuing. As gentle as it may sound, "We Know The Sky" is from the Elliott Smith school of surrendering to the feelings not reliving them again within the song. Cutler's lyrical conceits are equally clever. "Black Bear" could be a lullaby, until you realize that she is singing "I could be so sweet/I can't bite if I'm asleep." Even the rolling chords cannot save you from when she seductively prolongs the melody and lines "to be a black bear/and violent." Powerful even if it chooses not to wield it.
CHEER-ACCIDENT - Fringements Two [CD](SKiN GRAFT/Redeye)
In the beautiful randomness of being, we have Cheer-Accident. “Fringements Two” is a challenging but enjoyable audio collage of “found sound” from their recordings and life. Yes, “Breath Taken!” is the Police. “Philrock” could be Led Zeppelin. For example, “West Side W” is a tack piano part gone mad. As it fits in with the direct opposite of the smooth Herb Alpert-weirdness of “Fambiz Marching Band,” you realize that both tracks are playing with the same wild repetition with different results. Next, they turn the overdriven This Heat-ish drums down from “West Side W” and layer horns and distorted vocals into a disturbing pastiche that would make The Residents bat their giant eye at them. “Fringements Two” is not an album per se. It is the experience of hearing 40 years of absolute freedom to compose, record, and collect reduced down to a weird palette that they can continue to pull from. Oh, you can too.
CREEPING DEATH - Boundless Domain [LP/CD](MNRK Heavy)
Texas Death Metallers Creeping Death launch a full-bore assault on Metal with precise drum parts and that undercurrent of chaos that makes tracks catch fire quickly (The standout “Intestinal Wrap” spins through Punk, Thrash, and Death Metal.) What sets Creeping Death apart is how well they arrange their songs. There are several Technical Metal bands who could learn how to handle time-signature shifts and hairpin Punk jagged interrupts like this band (“The Parthian Shot.”) As furious as “Boundless” can be, there are many tracks that fit the classic post-” Ride The Lightning” formula (just no screaming high vocal notes - thumb harmonics do stay intact.) The slower cuts are not quite the same match of intensity, but the way they match their changes with the drum fill on “Creators Turned Into Prey” bodes well for their future. This Death Metal will not be underground for much longer.
GENTLE GIANT - In'terview (1976)[LP/CD/DLX CD](Alucard/AMPED)
With the new Steven Wilson remix on the way, we thought it would be an excellent time to figure out how well 1976's "In'terview" ties up Gentle Giant's hold on Prog and predicts how Rock is about to change dramatically. So many Seventies Prog/Rock albums are about finding moments of chaos ("Design") and turning them into wonder. The vocal breaks on the former, the Yes-like organ swells and synth dives on "Another Show," and the reggae lilt on "Give It Back" are the standout moments on Gentle Giant's eighth album. In short, "In'terview" excels in its weirdness. Derek Shulman's Peter Gabriel-esque vocals are typically outstanding. Take the abstract four-minute suite of "Empty City." It opens with an acoustic flourish before winding into its Pink Floyd/Alan Parsons verses where the members tie up their harmonies with Rush-like runs. For all its complexity, the simplicity of lyrics helps keep the parts separated and prevents dated words/phrases from being distractions. If anything, slicing their opus down to four minutes seems like the smartest idea for Prog Rockers to survive the coming storm.
The opening track is assembled to mimic a question-and-answer session with parts corresponding to each other, and at times - purposely interfering. (The Wilson remix of this cut actually shelves the musical bits better, possibly recreating how it sounded in Quadrophonic.) As charming as it is (especially with that tough Chris Squire-like bass,) it still does not hold together nor introduce the album effectively. However, the album's closer "I Lost My Head" does. Here the musical contributions cycle through instruments and keys, all around a circular theme. For an album sign-off, the whole thing starts off so spritely that you do not see the Prog punch coming. While it does get repetitive, the handoff from Derek Shulman's vocal pushes to Kerry Minnear's keyboard interplay seems custom-made for the long fadeout.
Oddly, 1976 is actually a turning point for Prog/Rock. Without Peter Gabriel, Genesis soldiers on with "A Trick of the Tail" (also with song length scaled down,) and "Wind and Wuthering." Van der Graff Generator tries to out-grandiose itself on the follow-up to "Godbluff" with some success on "Still Life." Rush unveils "2112" making their Prog Rock breakthrough and branding them working-class heroes. The aforementioned Alan Parsons totally breaks convention with the Edgar Allan Poe stories on "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" and scores a left-field commercial hit. This mixed bag signifies change. With large-scale productions not yielding the sales they did previously, a band like Gentle Giant cannot simply depend on live performances that get people talking. So, "In'terview" is a wise step. With no Yes album in 1976, it should have filled that need. However, the most important music event of 1976 kicked the year off. "Frampton Comes Alive." If anything, its massive success put the "business" of music ahead of the unleashed creativity. When the seeds of New York's scrappy Rock bands and the UK's Pub Rock turned to Punk Rock, the days of Prog were numbered.
THE CURE - The Top (1984)[Fiction/Elektra/Rhino)
How much of a misstep is The Cure's post-"Pornography"/pre-"The Head on The Door" album? "The Top" is truly a transitional album. Listen to the oozing double-tracking bass on the opener "Shake Dog Shake" (which is still a staple in the live set,) and you hear the future. The haunted chime of the guitar. The massive snare hits. Smith is on top of it all like a Gothic circus ringmaster. If "Pornography" was a painful, bleak mess, then "The Top" is The Cure taking what they can before they reach the escape velocity of "Head." If possible, listen to the demos in the Deluxe Edition and you can hear a tougher, deep record. Andy Anderson's drums fill out the sound more and Smith's hollow, ringing vocals sound like they are coming up from the depths. "Wailing Wall" carries with it echoes of Smith's days in Siouxsie and the Banshees and would not feel out of place on "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me."
Omitting "The Caterpillar" because it remains a sparking single that goes well with the ephemeral 1983 collection "Japanese Whispers," ("Let's Go To Bed," "The Walk," and "The Lovecats" could fit the other side of "transitional" Cure at another juncture.) "The Top" actually catches fire on its second (or "Cross") side. "Piggy In The Mirror" carries a similar gloomy focus to the trio of terror ("Faith," "Seventeen Seconds," and "Pornography") but Smith constructs this music differently. The gurgling organ on "Piggy" makes an excellent compliment to Smith's voice, and the classical guitar solo is far out on a track that is a great distance from normal. Despite those dreaded, dated pan-flute synths, there is a new power and bite when Smith repeats "As I dance, dance back to the body - in my bed." It feels like a turning point as the previous drowning in never feeling anything is dissolving. Unlike, "Shake Dog Shake," "Piggy" greatly benefits from the intimacy of Smith's close-micing. "The Empty World" is a bit of a trifle. However, there is one fantastic chord change, and that ending where the snares just sizzle is worth it.
While "Bananafishbones" might have been the most 1984-ish song on "The Top." Smith lets it bubble up but never boil over. If he learned anything from his time as a Banshee, it was that control is everything. "Bananafishbones" floats on insane carnival sounds from the organ and a far-away falsetto. The other elements manage to steer it into a song (the shimmering guitar that continues to send it from light to dark) and chaos (the harmonica freakout as an intro.) Here is where Smith is likely developing a big-picture view of how The Cure can no longer worry about songs matching because he immediately follows it with the scary title track. "The Top" does not quite work over its nearly seven minutes, but there are portions where only Smith, the throbbing bass line, and the drums work some spidery magic despite being so bare-bones. As we arrive at the end, it feels like all of Smith's hard work and the position changes in the band are now worth it. While "Bananaskinbones" and "The Top" are not meant to be next to each other - they work, thus opening up how those future albums will work so well.
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