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2013 Record Reviews

39th and the Nortons On Trial

39th and the Nortons
On Trial
[Evil Hoodoo]

Twangy, countrified 60s style garage rock and roll from France via Great Britain. (I think.) If you like your Nuggets olden and golden and served with some sweet organ and harmonica and drenched in a delicious reverb sauce, then you’re gonna wanna head on down to 39th and the Nortons and get yourself a heaping helping of this eleven song plat du jour (I am certain I used that term incorrectly). You can download this meal from Evil Hoodoo or you can go one awesome step further and order the cassette which is served in a hand-stitched fabric sleeve, or bag of some sort. Limited edition of 100. I am now hungry for pancakes! Let's eat!

—Joey LeGerm

Angel Olsen Half Way Home

Angel Olsen
Half Way Home

Angel Olsen sounds like Patsy Cline after having fallen to pieces. Her songs sound so aching and so despairingly melancholy that you'll actually enjoy the bit of sadness it will bring to your day. This aspect of Angel's songwriting is underlined by her vocal delivery which soars and dives as her heart commands. Half Way Home contains songs whose subject matter us puny humans have been enduring since the beginning of our time on this shitty planet. It’s a real bummer, girlfriend. “Safe in the Womb” is a sparse song with Angel on guitar singing about safety, comfort and the feeling of protection. “Free” harkens back to an old school swing and "The Waiting” is a classic, sad country tale of lost love. These, and the rest, represent what's best about folk and old country and the Appalachian and blues tradition of American music. It's what the awful CMT should be rewarding. It's soulful, haunting, love damaged and reminds us that things will get better, but not much and not for long.

—Chris Auman

Azita Year

[Drag City]

Year is the sixth solo record for the avant garde chanteuse, and former no-wave antagonist, AZITA. It's a slight departure from her previous effort, Disturbing the Air. One might even call it accessible. Almost. It has it's darker moments to be sure, (like the song "Opening" later reprised as "Closing"), but songs like "Out and Around" have a hopeful, optimistic vibe to them and "Ice", despite the coldness of the title, conjours up feelings of inside warmth when outside it's anything but. "Passengers" has AZITA's piano sharing space with a warm-toned guitar that verges on 70s AM radio. “It’s Understanding” is a rolling piano tune which showcases AZITAs immediately recognizable, and at times atonal, singing voice searching for the key before thinking better of it. The standout track for me, clocking in at eight minutes and fifty-one seconds, is the surprisingly good, dubby reggae tune, “Something That Happened”—just another twist in the shifting road Azita travels on.

—Chris Auman

Cave Threace

[Drag City]

Let's just call Threace what it is. It's Jazz Fusion. That tag may have bad connotations in some people's little minds and maybe it leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, but this is the heavy kind of funk and jazz meld that you used to hear drifting out of that dorm room at the end of hall (all mixed in with pot smoke filtered through a rolled up towel which smelled like bong water anyway.) Like I said, Threace joins, or fuses, elements of rock, jazz and funk to create the five songs on this album. Now that we're all past that, let me tell you that I am no spelunker, but my past experience tells me that this is a much tighter and focused record for CAVE. They seem to have drifted further away from the drone and the psychedelic aspects of their earlier output. Maybe that has to do with the departure of their keyboard player and the addition of a second guitarist, or maybe it has to do with natural progression, or maybe both. "Sweaty Fingers" is an extended opening exercise that kicks up and breaks down and kicks off again. "Arrow's Myth" is a bitch's brew of that funky stuff I was just talking about back a minute ago. "Shikaakwa" is just a bad-ass track with hypno-tizmic flute and funky repetition. "Silver Headband," is CAVE doing the kind of music that earned them all the CAN and Krautrock nods scant weeks and months ago. It has the drone, the unrelenting rhythm and the crunch of distorted guitars that break things up when things need to get heavy in the middle. Listen to this just a little too loud. That's it. Review over. Thanks.

—Chris Auman

Der Todesking Real Bomb

Der Todesking
Real Bomb
[XO Tapes]

Named for the bleak as fuck German death flick in which a violent suicide or murder is depicted for each day of the ever-lovin' week, Der Todesking (Death King), lets you know right up front just what kind of creeped out aesthetic they’re into. It’s horror-core punk rock with a real bummer edge. The Real Bomb cassette is nine songs of dirty grit, grime, knives, fire and flame. With screaming, growling vocals and nasty unpolished noise, D.T. get right up in your face with it. There's a nod to seminal SoCal hardcore band Black Flag in “Playing with Knives” which has its own take on “Six Pack”: “I’ve got a knife with nothing to do/I’ve got a knife and I don’t need you.” And “Arson” gives similar props to The Descendents' own “Suburban Home” and their desire to (not) be stereotyped and classified, thank you very much. Scary like punk rock usta was and should be again. [Der Todesking]

—J. Germ

The Best of Howling Hex

Howling Hex
The Best of Howling Hex
[Drag City]

In the imaginary world of The Howling Hex, every day is a circus where junkies waltz to a crazy bouncy beat. Carnies jockey for a chance to get your nickel for a ride along the border separating north and south from insanity. "New Border Soul" it's been called for that very reason, I suspect. I would warn a varmint not to listen to this thing the whole way through too many times in one sitting. There's a chance you may be whisked away completely—across a big dry desert or a tall wet mountain. If you can make it through "Trashcan Bahamas" then you're the kind of creature that has Metal Machine Music on repeat on your iPod. That's not to say it's not musical, it is—they both are—it just takes brain cells with a bunch of strength and mental stamina. Now that I've cleared all that up, it must be said that Neil Haggerty’s The Howling Hex is still a bit of an enigma, especially since I tried not find out anything in the first place. Not knowing is a good way to start and end and The Best of Howling Hex is all you really need to know either way. Haggerty gonna do what Haggerty gonna do so there's no sense thinking too much about it.

—Chris Auman

Iceage You're Nothing

You're Nothing

Iceage is not from the U.S. or even the U.K., although they sound at times like Wired crossed with Hüsker Dü or the band Ian Curtis and company would have formed after seeing Black Flag instead of the Sex Pistols. They are, depending on your preferred tag, a Danish "post-hardcore", "post-emo" or "post-punk" band. No "post" modifier is really required, however. Everything is "post" these days and Iceage travels on trails blazed decades before. The band's use of right-wing imagery and themes is certainly nothing new and hardly gained much traction as far as controversies go. The fact that a Danish post-everything band such as this can land on Matador only makes sense in 2013. In 2003, Iceage would likely not have risen above the underground VFW Hall, Book Your Own Fucking Life scene in this country. That's not to say they don't deserve to be on a higher profile label like Matador. They do, much the same as countless bands before them deserved, but never acheived that status. The other, allegedly noteworthy, thing about Iceage is their relatively young age. They were teenagers when they started the group. Teenagers playing punk rock? Pretty radical. No, they were and still are exactly the age you'd expect of a band that attacks it's music with violent, world-ending urgency.

None of the above makes You're Nothing—the band's sophomore full-length after 2010's New Brigade LP— any less worthy of loud, repeated plays. The album's opener "Ecstacy" is a washed out mess of guitars that sounds like snotty Brits taking the piss on an 80s SoCal hardcore band. It’s got a fast part and a faster part where the drums take off and the guitars seem so stupified and stuck in place, they can’t give chase. "Coalition" is all buzz saw guitars and angered alienation with a shouted one-line chorus of "Excess". "Interlude" begins with the sound of a distant train. There’s something sinister about it. It builds with the march of a snare drum. Perhaps this is one of those ultra right-wing themes that needs to be carefully monitored? Or not. "In Haze" has singer, Elias Bender Ronnefelt, in top punk vocal form (you one can almost see the spit flying into the mic) as the math rock guitars duel it out behind him. "Morals," the longest track at three minutes and twenty seconds, features a few piano chords over a guitar drone that could pass for the Strokes on heavy doses of Robotussin before it ascends into the chorus ending with those martial sounding snares again. "Everything Drifts" makes good use of a chunky Chuck Dukowksi bassline and "Rodfaestet" is a punk rock sprint sung in Dutch.

Iceage may not be the new age of anything, but they do justice to a long tradition of abrasive music that also manages to be both intelligent and tuneful.

—Chris Auman

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper Ripley Pine

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Ripley Pine
[Ba Da Bing]

Lady Lamb is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill apiarist. She is not always gentle like a lamb. She sometimes has bees in her bonnet which she unleashes in small swarms, always at a fitting time when she can deliver the best sting, sweet as honey. As if Aly Spaltro (as Lady Lamb is also known) wasn't a precious enough name for the young singer/songwriter, her adopted moniker certainly suggests something playful and innocent, but her youthful looks belie a soulful voice that sounds an age beyond her 23 years.

The background story is that Lady Lamb began writing and recording songs after hours at the DVD rental store where she worked in Brunswick, Maine. She sold these recordings at the record store next door under the Lady Lamb pseudonym. From that beginning, here we are. This is Aly's first full-length foray and it's pretty fabulous and packed with great songs that are emotionally powerful and driven and showcase an admirable level of lyrical virtuosity.

To be dragged by the hair to the carnival is a strange enough way to travel. Even so, “Hair to the Ferris Wheel” gives a rousing start to a record that never stops spinning. The song starts slow but amps up quickly with a driving drum beat and strummingly loud guitars. "Aubergine" is a leg-kicking tune with fired up horns that build up big only to fall down and start all over again. It's about absence making the heart grow, not fonder, but hollow like an egg without a yolk. "Bird Balloons" gets Lady Lamb popping with Bjork-like bleat;, “I’m a ghost and you all know it”. "Rooftop" delivers as a standout track of guitar with gumption and violin and vocals that soar and tumble down.

Ripley Pine is as strong a twelve song effort as I've heard. It fluctuates between half empty and all full while pontificating in the abstract about universal subjects. It lays in the cut at the right times only to hit full force with the backing of a full-band. Shear sheepy brilliance. Baah, rah rah.

—Chris Auman

Parquet Courts Light Up Gold

Parquet Courts
Light Up Gold
[Dull Tools]

It’s fitting pehaps that Parquet Courts use footage from old hardcore shows in their video for “Light Up Gold II”. They’re anything but a hardcore band, but they defitnitely wear their influences on the sleeves of their throwback jerseys (yep, that's a football reference). I have a feeling this is a band of former record store clerks—record collecting geeks at the very least. I hear so many bands I love in each song and in the Court's whole approach to the band thing. There’s Minutemen for brevity ("Donuts Only"). There’s Camper Van Beethoven for jangly sing-alongs ("Light Up Gold II"). There’s Modern Lovers (“Stoned and Starving”) complete with ad hoc guitar solos. There's the lo-fi pop weirdness of GBV (“Caster of Useless Spells"). The record also has general themes of humor “Careers in Combat”, “N. Dakota” and what could be called a love song (“Yonder is Closer to the Heart”). These guys soaked it all up to make a classic record complete with the requisite imperfections of wrong notes, out-of-tune guitars and pitchy vocals. Light Up Gold is a welcome relief from some dudes who get it. I get it. Get this record!

—Chris Auman

Scout Niblett It’s Up to Emma

Scout Niblett
It’s Up to Emma
[Drag City]

Scout Niblett sought solace in Rollins Band for her seventh full-length, It’s Up to Emma. That’s not necessarily evident from the music. It’s more of a spiritual kinship and the drawing of strength and inspiration. Catharsis, as it were.

It’s Up to Emma, (Emma being Ms. Niblett's real first name) is a nine song dissection of a relationship gone all crumbly and awry. Very crumbly and very horribly awry. Each song on the record seems to beg a different question of how, why and what the fuck? There’s accusation, revelation, venom, confusion, wishful thinking and heartache all wrapped up in a handful of bare bones rock songs delivered with short stabs of pain and then longer stabs of anguish. There’s not much joy to be found here unless you find joy in being bummed out.

"Gun" is a menacing tune that promises the threat of a revenge served hot and steaming straight out of the barrel of a gun. Like most of the tracks, “My Man” is sparse, just guitar, some strings and Scout asking, "Could we have made it somehow?” Probably not is probably the answer. “Could This Possibly Be?” is another questioning tune in which the answer this time is, yes. "Second Chance Dreams” starts off gently enough only to have the anger simmer over in Scout’s acutely enunciated syllables, which then get underlined by a martial snare drum. “No Scrubs” is that “No Scrubs” with Scout straight up calling out homeboys for their overall lack of flyness. This is a record of someone dealing with some shit, going through some shit and feeling pretty shitty, but once it's out, then it's really over. One would hope.

—Chris Auman

Ty Segall Twins

Ty Segall
[Drag City]

Ty Segall puts out lots of records and plays in bunches of bands in the garage rock vein. He is the Garage Rock King. The fact that Segall creates records in such great abundance and makes it look relatively easy is to be admired. Prolifacy is a double edged sword though, and while Twins has some great moments it's mostly underwhelming. The opening track, "Thank God for the Sinners" is certainly a garage rock classic and a fitting way to kick off any album. "You're the Doctor" follows suit as a full-on rocker and "The Hill" is another great moment with a dang near gospel choir backing Ty up as he aspires to outdo The Who in bombast. Not every track is a killer, however, although it’s not quite filler. Segall can be forgiven for that. He’s a busy dude, playing, recording and touring and he does deliver exciting moments. There's falsetto vocals and reverb soaked guitar solos aplenty, but sometimes two chords and a tatch or two of reverb doesn't always a great song make. "Ghost" is an epic at 4:14 but it just trudges along. "They Told Me Too" is a so-so grunge tune and I’d take “Love Buzz” over “Love Fuzz” if I had my druthers (which I do).

—Chris Auman





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