Friday, February 27, 2009

Undulating Uuvulas


I was going to review the albums I received for Christmas before I realized that if I said something disparaging about any of them it would be rude and inconsiderate towards those who bought them, some of whom read this. Since no one gave me Faith Evans' Greatest Hits or anything of the ilk, there wasn't too much to complain about anyway.


Main Offender
- Keith Richards

It's Deerhoof's fault that I bought this album (based on a recommendation list penned by drummer Greg Saunier). And the Amazements, they're always in awe of Keith. When I told Liam I was really enjoying this he said I was the only person under 40 besides him that expressed a liking for it. Ho hum!

Freed from the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards makes music that unsurprisingly sounds like the Stones with a lot less singing on it. He actually has a much better, tar and whiskey-ravaged voice circa 1991 than he did on his debut singing lead on 1966's "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" (and that song sucked anyway). But he uses it to color and comment upon, rather than dominate, any given song - unlike a certain someone (whose solo records aren't as good as this).

Strong tracks include single "Wicked as it Seems" (the requisite "It's over, fuck you" song) which has one of those great male rock-survivor backup singer refrains typical for the early 90s (for more examples of this, check out the sole Little Village album, starring John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner). Then my personal favorite, "Eileen," which approaches (Exile on Main Street track) "Happy"-type territory with drummer Steve Jordan doing a spot-on Charlie Watts impression at the kit. "Hate it When You Leave" is a rather obvious Motown tribute - check out the horn refrains and fake flute sounds - but charming rather than contempt-provoking. And shit, even the extended island exploration "Words of Wonder" (par for the course on Rolling Stones albums starting around the mid-70s) is pretty fucking good too, although I'm still scratching my head over how Keith fashions himself to be a reggae artist one song per album. Switching out bourbon for "herb" for a day?

Black and Blue - The Rolling Stones

This took a while to grow on me. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that I left the actual disc in the store's CD player in which I was testing it out. And didn't come back to get it for three weeks, increasingly afraid it wouldn't be there as time bore on.

Much has been said about Black and Blue being lackluster, half-assed, "the first meaningless Stones album" (Bangs) but over thirty years later, when the Stones are as cartoonish as they come with their increasingly melted-looking visages and incessant selling-out, the blow has been softened to the point of irrelevance. Besides, who in their right mind could consider Goat's Head Soup or It's Only Rock and Roll deep artistic statements?

Sonically, this is one of the absolute best-sounding Stones albums there is. Chronologically, it's right on the border between the Stones' obsession with capturing a great live sound and then sacrificing their music to whatever production trend is hip at the time (see Dirty Work, the Dust Brothers-produced Bridges to Babylon or the simply miserable-sounding A Bigger Bang). Which enables vacous songs like disco-chant opener "Hot Stuff" ("Can't get enough") and rawkin' stompin' chantin' closer "Crazy Mama" ("You're crazy, mama") to still be engaging and enjoyable free of illicited disgust from the listener.

The ballads come embued with a certain creepiness this time. At over 7 minutes, "Memory Motel" is a bit hard to digest - don't mistake its length for ambition - and its tale of empty on-the-road romance may offend at first before the overall statement of alienation and melancholy (reflected in much of the album in the first place) rings true, becoming a strength rather than a cheap ploy. "Hand of Fate" is one of the best most known-unknown Stones tracks there is, and pretty much the only time they offer up a fantastic rock song free of pretense on the album. Then, "Melody" finds the band apparently in smoky jazz-club mode, brushed snares, soulful harmonies and Billy Preson (who probably wrote the song, in all honesty) trading lines with Mick putting on most overdone impression of someone-or-other. Completely ridiculous. Check out his own Jamaica Man stylings on mandatory island exploration (cover) "Cherry Oh Baby" (one of the best tracks on the album to boot, with Keith yelling "IRIE!" about halfway through).

Look, the album's a fucking joke now, but an enjoyable and really good-sounding joke. It's a good album, one that reinforces the cliche the Stones have become to most people with style - well, many different styles, anyway.

Offend Maggie - Deerhoof

On first pass, I hate every new Deerhoof album. Well, so far. When "+81" came out as a sneak peek for Friend Opportunity I thought it was childish and stupid and vowed not to buy the album, which I ended up buying the day it came out. (I still consider it to be my favorite Deerhoof album so far.) Flash forward to a couple months later when I sat in my friend's car stoned on hash, silently attributing all these deep, morbid meanings behind the single's extremely minimal lyrics, even trying to connect it to Egyptian mythology, which I know next to nothing about.

So it should have been no surprise that I absoutely loathed "Tears and Music of Love" and "Fresh Born" upon hearing both of them. (They just seemed too cutesy.) But instead I was sent into an existential funk. Did Deerhoof go from amazing to suck in one year? Or was it me? I didn't buy the album the day it came out. I didn't even think about seeing them at the Avalon in October, assuming I wouldn't be into it.

And then, of course, I broke down and bought the fucker at Amoeba used a couple months later, days before my brother could manage to give it to me for Christmas.

Offend Maggie is a return to the "band" record-sound the band put forth on The Runners Four, as opposed to the more ambitious productions found on Friend or Milk Man - and with all the recording knocked out in three days, one would expect so. Sure, weird sounds creep out on "This is God Speaking" and maybe a blast of noise here and there - but essentially this album finds the Hoof getting back to four-piece rawking, now that they have guitarist Ed Rodriguez in the band.

"Tears and Music of Love" won me over upon second listening, what with its endearing ripoff of Free's "All Right Now" in its first 30 seconds, before being followed up by the almost Rundgren-esque "Chandalier Searchlight," one of Deerhoof's all-time best songs; sounds like they know it, too. Other highlights include the title track, featuring John Deiterich's ornate acoustic fingerpicking and irresistible harmonies between lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki and drummer/husband Greg Saunier; and the absolutely gorgeous and stately "My Purple Past."

More than anything, this album reinforces the fact that Deerhoof gets away with a lot of shit that other bands wouldn't. Some of this can be attributed to Satomi's voice, a love it or hate it naive soprano which transforms material from pretentious or archetypically indie into a new breed of weirdness, almost like deranged Children's TV themes. Or Greg Saunier's spastic drumming, inserting extra beats and weird time signatures into four-on-the-floor rock beats. Or the guitarists' weave through songs in and out of dissonance to assonance within measures. The songs are fantastic but it is the performances that make them so with Deerhoof - every time. Don't try singing this shit at your next campfire, it won't come off. Stick to Sublime.

Bottom line - can't wait to hate, and then ultimately love, the next Deerhoof album....

Climate of Hunter - Scott Walker

That Scott Walker is one gloomy fella. He does these outerwordly harmonies with his low-singin' self. On this album, 80s reverb abounds but doesn't destroy his impressionistic and almost unclassifiable songs. At the end he covers a song by Tennessee Williams...

But that's about all I can say about it right now. I think it sounds good. I'm not sure why. When I find out, I'll let you know.

Some songs for yu:

"The Losing End (When You're On)" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
"St. Elmo's Fire" - Brian Eno
"No Sex" - Alex Chilton
"'Til The End of the Day," "She's A Mover" - Big Star
"Je Suis Un Rock Star" - Bill Wyman
"Sunny Side of the Street" - The Pogues
"Late Night" - Syd Barrett