Thursday, November 19, 2009

Music Library: Jesse Sykes, Jesu, Jesus & Mary Chain, PLUS Arthur Russell, Caetano Veloso, Fall, Godflesh, Harvey Milk

Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter - Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul (2007). Sykes has an interesting voice, a brassy-yet-breathy low instrument that is strangely genderless. While her music rooted is rooted in folk and country, she and her collaborator Phil Wandscher (formerly of Whiskeytown) bring in elements of jazz and psychedelia that leave this album feeling unstuck in time. Further complicating matters is that her label is Southern Lord, the metal juggernaut run by Sunn 0)))'s Greg Anderson. And Sykes sang on the Sunn 0)))/Boris collaboration Altar. So, yes, she's hard to pigeonhole, but that is not a bad thing by any means.

Jesu - Heart Ache EP (2004), Jesu (2004), Conqueror (2007), Lifeline EP (2007). Led by Justin Broadrick, formerly of Godflesh and Napalm Death, Jesu is one part Black Sabbath, one part My Bloody Valentine, one part Swans, and two parts so elusive I can't put my finger on them. Definitely interesting music, even if I don't know what it all means.

The Jesus & Mary Chain - Psychocandy (1985). Killer, killer, killer. Big pop hooks with layers upon layers of howling feedback guitars. I mean, the Ramones had this idea first, but they only took it so far. With the Jesus & Mary Chain, the guitars are so overdriven that it's sometimes hard to hear if they're even playing chords or just letting their guitars turn into a wall of squelchy, squalling sound. Fantastic.


Arthur Russell - Tower Of Meaning (1983) and World Of Echo (1986). The former is a minimalist compositional work with patterns that swell and abruptly cease. Lovely stuff. But the latter, a collection of songs and demos, is breathtaking. I reviewed the other Russell albums I have (Let's Go Swimming EP and Calling Out Of Context) back in 2008 when I was far more terse than I am now, but these are a reminder of just how astonishing his talent was.

Caetano Veloso - Caetano Veloso (1969). This is the 2nd of Veloso's five self-titled albums, and it was also, not-so-coincidentally, his second solo album. I wrote about the other Veloso albums in my discography back in April. The basic tracks for this album were recorded while Veloso and Gilberto Gil were imprisoned by Brazil's military dictatorship. The Tropicalia elements were added in-studio later. Veloso and Gil were exiled from Brazil later in 1969, and they spent the next few years in London, where Veloso recorded and released the third of his self-titled albums in 1971. This one is a sadder and more desperate-sounding album, as befits its circumstances.

The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent (2008). I reviewed the Fall's catalog in early August. And a few weeks ago, I discussed a couple of newer acquisitions. I've finally picked up the most recent Fall studio album, and hoo boy, it's a great one. The album starts with "Alton Towers," driven by bass and electronics, which could be the work of any top-notch new band of the 00s, and quickly segues into the punk-slash-burn of "Wolf Kidult Man," another track that stakes out the Fall as vital and exciting as they ever were. These claims to youth lead into "50 Year Old Man," which is 11+ minutes of sonic exploration (seriously? a banjo solo?) with Mark E. Smith hammering out the lyrics, including the refrain, "I'm a 50 year old man/what are you going to do about it?" Awesome. Following this is a song by keyboardist Eleni Polou (and MES's current wife), "I've Been Duped," which she sings with a great call-and-response from the rest of the band. The Fall covers The Groundhogs' "Strange Town," meaning that the Groundhogs have now been covered by both The Fall and Earthless, a unique honor. The remainder of the album includes one Kraftwerk-esque electronic track and a bunch of songs that sound like, well, The Fall. Which is great, because The Fall rocks.

Godflesh - Streetcleaner (1990) and Messiah EP (1994). Seemed appropriate to mention these in the same post as Jesu. Godflesh is both more metal and industrial-sounding than Jesu, with much less of a shoegaze-y wash of sound. There's a lot more Big Black and Throbbing Gristle in the sound than I had expected before hearing it. I wish I'd heard this band when I was younger. Where I'm at now, I prefer Jesu's headier sound.

Harvey Milk - My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be (1994). Jesu's labelmates Harvey Milk have become one of my favorite art-metal bands. This is their first release, a mix of extra-slow Sabbath-y riffs, sudden shifts into silence or quietly played intricate guitarworks, and aggressively weird twists and turns. Dramatic, powerful music, even if it is not as strong as 1995's Courtesy And Good Will Toward Men or 2008's Life... The Only Game In Town.


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