Archive for October, 2006|Monthly archive page
Sometimes the Japanese have this ability to take a genre of music and push all the levels up to 11. Take High Rise, for example. Unleashing their first overdriven assault in 1986, High Rise II started forest fires with incinerating solos and knocked down doors with a battering ram rhythm section. Their psychedelic worship was tempered by a devotion to thrashed out punk rock, as if laying a branding iron on the ass of The Ramones early releases. Eight years and one album later, High Rise recorded what would become their defining moment. Since their debut, the band focused progressively less on punking out and more on the fiery psychedelica of Blue Cheer and 60s homeland heroes, Les Rallizes Denudes. Live captures the spirited trio at their rawest and most comfortable. Listeners might as well be inches away from dilapidating stacks of amplifiers pushing hellacious riffs. Guitarist Munehiro Nirito dominates tunes with mangled and seemingly endless leads. Though the vocals and bass work of Asahito Nanjo are intentionally buried in the mix, his walking melodic pulses and calmly sung vocals pop through the fuzz just enough to be a presence. High Rise paint the aural canvas with the widest, funkiest brush in the toolbox — swaths of bristling feedback riffs. Live doesn’t offer listeners much breathing room with pyroclastic versions of “Ikon,” “Mira” and “Mainliner” (except for the eight and a half minute fuzz boogie jam, “Door”), but it’s one of the finest ways to drown in sound.
“Don’t stop thinking about good times” are the lyrics that close out Young America, sung with joyful abandon and undeniably heartfelt. That sentiment runs deep throughout The Poem’s Minty Fresh debut. The Scottish four-piece, which counts The Bluebells Robert Hodgens among its members (and rarely identifiable cameos from Isobell Campbell and Norman Blake), radiates pleasantness through each of the album’s 10 tunes. The placid pipes of Amy Ogletree and Kerry Polwart are eternally patient and mothering, guiding the melodies along safe, time-tested paths. Their instrumental cheer squad contributes rollicking piano lines and stiffly strummed guitars, which trade places with the digital plops of keyboards and Abbey Road-era horn charts throughout the course of the album. Though oftentimes lively, Young Americans slows down occasionally to near down-tempo status, the gentle melodies relaying grins without being giddy.
The album opens with the charmingly adult contemporary “Sometime Somewhere Someone Should Say Something,” which gives an enjoyable but misleading preview. “So Soon,” “See the Sunrise” and “I Am a Believer” are only a few of the tracks bearing a striking resemblance to the work of The Go-Betweens, yet without outright ripping them off. Rather, they incorporate the classic pop structures with ornate, breezy melodies, as if hand-sewing the details into a sundress.
But the eye for detail that keeps Young America interesting tends to be too focused on blissed out melodies to be dynamic. As if stoned on vicodin, the melodies and style of break-up song “Ballad of a Bitter End” do little to reflect the disappointed platitudes being sung. After a while the record’s even keel makes for monotonous aural waters. Only “I Just Want Out of Here” and “So Soon” manage to be truly bittersweet (and nothing more), swept up in guitar hum and pointed soloing, but stops well before sad enters the equation. But not everyone can musically bawl at the drop of a hat; and with Young America, it seems much more The Poems’ bag to impart satisfying smiling pop songs anyway.
Because of the constant deluge of new bands rushing out demos and being subsequently hyped to cover model status (thanks, NME), I can’t tell how much attention people paid to The Noisettes. Though they’ve been unceremoniously lumped under drek like The Kooks and Dirty Pretty Things et al., the trio deserves a bit more attention than their lackluster countrymen.
When approaching the group, most bloggers focus on singer/bassist Shingai Shoniwa because, shocker, she’s black, female, and isn’t it naughty to have her in a rock group no less! But The Noisettes are best taken together (it’s not about to become the Shingai Show), as Dan Smith’s chunky peanut butter via syringe guitar work and Jamie Morrison’s staid, stolid and stupidly accurate drumming are equally essential.
That said (and because it bears description), Shoniwa’s voice is like a sneaky pinch on the ass, in that her squeaky soul is as surprising as it is fun. Forget the press release patter about Shoniwa being a “Billie Holiday on PCP” (whoever wrote that has never seen someone on PCP). She doe share a smoky vocal twitter when singing low, thoughtlessly dropping it when it comes time to belt things out. And the squeal that she does, preciously annoying as it is, could be the work of a more vocally-trained Lady Sov singing in the shower.
One of the group’s best songs is “Scratch Your Name.” Smith’s heavy serpentine lead might have been written in the 70s, Shoniwa is bratty and demure at once, and where those two meet is absolutely stirring. Shouting over the choppy chorus, Smith and Shoniwa beg listeners to leave a mark on the Earth, phrasing it as if it were a Yes tune with more gusto. The spiny solo that follows reveals Smith might more than a passing fascination in Steve Howe’s spiral-staircase fingerpicking.
Once you’re through with that wallop, there’s “Rifle Song” keeping the heart rate up. It takes a while for the song’s structure to appear in the uniquely timed and uniquely tuned upstrokes, and once it’s there it’s not backing off. Shoniwa is precocious, theatrical, nasty — and vicious above all. Go ahead, stand close to her, and the air she pushes when plowing through the second half of the song will impale you. Even better is when she reigns it in to moan, “What is this / final kiss / disppears,” then resumes the barrage. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to whom The Noisettes have been favorably compared to, have some serious competition. The other two songs on the group’s Myspace page are further exemplary of their range, particularly the pop/rock/jazz fusion of sex jam “Wind Blows Hot.” Though the group only has an EP under their belts, an LP with as much promise could put The Noisettes in the faces of unsuspecting Americans and Britons alike. I’m a bit smitten, if a bit nicked up as well.
I just wanted to link to two bloggers who are knowledgable and fucking shit up in the mp3 blog category. Not Rock On is Jörg from Germany, specializing in bizarre German records which he links in whole. He’s thorough. We also have LJ goethe-re-scape (or Various Artists, depending on whose side you’re on) , who has been hitting all the marks, linking me to NRO and giving me the sweetest music. They come recommended.
Also coming recommended: