Thursday, April 29, 2010

Music Library Catch-Up: Beck, Bee Vs. Moth, Benko, Big Star, Alex Chilton, Kat Edmonson, The Fierce and the Dead, My Education, Qa'a

Beck - Record Club 3: Oar (2010).  This is the most successful of Beck's Record Club project so far.  His first two efforts - The Velvet Underground and Nico and Songs of Leonard Cohen - have some stiff competition from the albums themselves.  In this case, Skip Spence's masterpiece was limited by Spence's mental problems while he was recording it.  Not that Oar isn't a brilliant album - because it is - but it's sketchy.  Beck and his compatriots - including Wilco and Feist,  among others - bring Beck's maximalist tendencies to the material and it just kills.  It's free, so get it.  While researching this, I discovered that Beck's started releasing tracks from his next Record Club issue, INXS's Kick.

Bee Vs. Moth - Soundhorn (2007).  Bee Vs. Moth is a phenomenal Austin jazz-punk-whatever band anchored (and possibly led?) by bassist Philip Moody and percussionist Sarah Norris.  Soundhorn brings considerable swagger and punch to BVM's all-instrumental pieces.  Excellent.  And there's news of a sophomore album on the way.  Also excellent.

Benko - Welcome To The Follow Through (2008).  Another sophomore album of note (also featuring Sarah Norris, this time on vibes rather than drums) Benko's 2008 album packs a ton of power pop into a guitar-less trio format (vibes, bass, and drums, that is).  Erik Grostic's lyrics are witty and fun and full of in-joke references for Austinites, and Benko's songs have a powerful tension-and-release dynamic.

Big Star - Keep An Eye On The Sky (recorded 1969-1975).  I put off buying this box set for far too long, thinking that I had many of the songs already on bootlegs.  Boy, was I wrong.  Most of the non-album tracks were brand new to me and the whole box set is so well conceived that I fell in love with Big Star all over again.  I've written about Big Star and Chilton at length elsewhere on this blog.  Suffice it to say that even the most adament Big Star fan will find something new and surprising here.  And that's saying something.

Alex Chilton - Like Flies On Sherbert (1979).  I had this and a number of other solo Chilton albums on cassette.  I say "had" because I recently gave away most of my cassettes, figuring that I will most likely never listen to them again.  I did this, in fact, mere days before Chilton died.  And then I felt a sudden need to listen to them all.  So I'll download them from eMusic over the next few months, unless I can't bear it anymore and splurge.  Anyway, yes, this album is full of shabby, chaotic glory, songs that bridge rockabilly and country and soul and just plain noise.  We miss you, Alex.

Kat Edmonson - Take To The Sky (2009).  Austin jazz singer with a Billie Holiday drawl and a sweet and sultry nasality.  Like many jazz revivalists, she mixes in standards with covers of pop songs, but her delivery is strong and her band has the chops to know how to bring a slow burn home.  Good stuff, a few heads above, say, Norah Jones.

The Fierce And The Dead - Part 1 (2010).  I wish I liked this band's music more.  They bill themselves as post-rock, features a rather bad-ass name and album cover, and release this single 19-minute track as their debut.  I really want to like them, but the problem is the music itself.  I tend to grade first releases on a curve, because often a band has some real potential but they haven't gotten their sound to gel yet.  TF&TD need to add new instrumentation, plain and simple.  Their drummer might be great in another context, but here, he's just pounding out that same old heavy-on-the-hi-hat club-influenced chicka-chicka-bam.  The bassist plays one note at an octave for what seems like an eternity before finally showing a little movement with a four-note step part.  And the guitarist doesn't really have the range to carry off 19 minutes of noodling in the same key.  Single tone: monotony.  The reason other bands playing under the mantle of post-rock can pull this off is because they add lots and lots of interesting instruments and lots and lots of dynamics.  Even going back to the past with bands like Can, they would records hours and hours of music and cut it down to size for their releases.  This sounds like it was recorded in a single 19-minute take.  Hopefully TF&TD can workshop their music more before their next release.

My Education - Sunrise (2010).  I was planning to review this before its release last week and life events passed me by.  I regret that, because this is an extraordinary work of music.  It is intended to be a soundtrack to F.W. Murnau's film Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans, one of the greatest silent films of all time.  Wait, no.  One of the greatest films of all time, which also happens to be silent.  My Education has composed this music with vivid attention to the detail of the film, so much so that I can tell how the music syncs with the film even without so much as reading the song titles.  The music itself is clearly trying to match the powerful emotion of Murnau's classic, and I think it hits the mark.  I only wish the album was long enough to play through the whole film, as it has a running time of around 45 minutes while the film itself is a little more than 90 minutes long.  Their press release mentions artists like Popol Vuh (who provided the music for some pretty damn amazing Herzog films), Explosions In the Sky, Kinski, and Pelican.  Those names work for me.  I wish I'd been in town to see them play this music last weekend.  Or, more accurately, I wish that they were premiering this music tomorrow, because then not only would this review be timely, but I could follow it up by seeing the music performed live.

Qa'a - Chi'en (2009).  This is the work of a Spanish post-rock band who veer from mellow Tortoise-like groove to funky jam-bandish sounds to assaultive noise, often with no warning.  Quite good for fans of noise-rock.   I'm not crazy about the singing, but it's not terrible, either.


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