Sunday, August 07, 2011

Music Library: Neko Case, Nels Cline, Neon Boys

Neko Case - The Virginian (with Her Boyfriends, 1997), Furnace Room Lullaby (with Her Boyfriends, 1998), Canadian Amp EP (2001), Blacklisted (2003), "Buckets of Rain (Live)," Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2006), and Middle Cyclone (2009).  Neko Case, besides being the most adorable singer in all of singer-land, grew by leaps and bounds on every album through her third.  Afterwards, she continues to tweak her formula, making marginal improvements as she goes.  Furnace Room Lullaby, with its spacey noir elements, is much better than the more traditional alt-countryish The Virginian.  Canadian Amp is more stripped-back and bare, less a transitional album than a breath of air.  Blacklisted has a huge sound, something closer to The Band's blend of country, rock, and soul, but with a heavy noir effect that Case has described as being influenced by Angelo Badalamenti's scores to David Lynch projects and by Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack.  The cover of "Buckets of Rain" is from a SXSW show in 2005, as recorded by a pal of mine.  Fox Confessor is another leap, this time into more elliptical songwriting that still evokes heavy emotion.  I wasn't much taken with it when it came out, but I like it much more now.  Middle Cyclone, besides having a contender for the title of greatest cover art of all time, seems more personal lyrically, but the music is definitely of a piece with that of the prior two studio albums.  Personally, I never feel that I have to rush out and buy the new Neko Case release, but I will always get around to it eventually.

Nels Cline:

Chest (with the Nels Cline Trio, 1996), "In Store" (with Thurston Moore, 1996), "Self Referenced/West Germany" (with the Nels Cline Trio, 1996), and Pillow Wand (with Thurston Moore, 1997).  One of the best, most technically accomplished, interesting, creative, and fun guitarists alive, Nels Cline is best known for being the guitarist for Wilco these days.  However, his career goes back to the early 1980s.  He was a jazzbo through most of the 80s and into the early 1990s.  I was first aware of Cline as a guitarist on Mike Watt's Ball-hog or Tug-boat? album and tour.  I have no idea how Watt met him, but thank the fates that he did.  I actually met Cline (and Watt and Michael Preussner) on that tour.  Watt moved Cline to a more central role by having him serve as the sole guitarist on his 1997 rock opera Contemplating The Engine Room.  At that point, I knew I had to hear more of what Cline was doing.  As it turns out, he was making great skronky jazz records and avant-noise albums with Thurston Moore.  The Minutemen cover I mention here is pretty amazing, too.

Sad (with the Nels Cline Trio, 1998), Rise Pumpkin Rise (with Devin Sarno, 1998), and Interstellar Space Revisited (with Gregg Bendian, 1999). Like Chest, Sad is skronky jazz, as if Peter Brotzmann had a trio where he replaced his sax with a heavily-distorted guitar.  Rise Pumpkin Rise is a collaboration with an L.A.-based avant-rock bassist, and mostly consists of atmospheric instrumentals that ebb and flow more than anything.  Interstellar Space Revisited is an interesting idea. Cline and Bendian (a percussionist) are sorta covering John Coltrane's free-jazz sax-and-drums album Interstellar Space.  Like any jazz guys playing their own version of a song, they play the theme and then improvise, but considering that Interstellar Space is bare-bones on themes and high on improvisation, Cline and Bendian are more-or-less doing improve in the style of Interstellar Space.  Pretty cool, actually, although it would be shit in lesser hands.

The Inkling (2000), Destroy All Nels Cline (2001), and Instrumentals (with the Nels Cline Singers, 2002).  Here's where things start getting phenomenal.  Cline is lyrical as hell on The Inkling, which an utterly gorgeous album.  Destroy All Nels Cline is amazing, a deconstruction of guitar noise and technique worthy of the great avant-noise composers of the late 20th century that also showcases considerable style, restraint, and talent.  Cline has been trying to fuse post-punk adventurousness with jazz skill and minimalist compositional structure to this point, and Destroy All Nels Cline succeeds in spades.  Instrumentals showcases Cline's new band The Nels Cline Singers kicking out more avant-noise punk-jazz in the vein of DANC, although I like it slightly less.

Buried On Bunker Hill (with Devin Sarno, 2004), Immolation/Immersion (with Wally Shoup and Chris Corsano, 2005), and Draw Breath (with the Nels Cline Singers, 2007).  After all of this lyricism of the last three, the drones on Buried On Bunker Hill failed to move me.  Immolation/Immersion is ultra-creative avant-jazz skronk with sax player Shoup and drummer Corsano.  Draw Breath features more of the crazy unhinged noise-guitar of the DANC sound, along with some of the most beautifully restrained playing of Cline's career. Lovely album.

The Neon Boys - The Neon Boys EP (1973).  Before Television, there was the Neon Boys, which featured Tom Verlaine on guitar, Billy Ficca on drums, and Richard Hell on bass.  Hell was the primary songwriter and vocalist, and this EP contains early versions of "Love Comes In Spurts," "Don't Die," "Time," and "You Gotta Lose."  Pretty awesome for fans of Television, Hell, and the whole proto-punk scene.


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