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Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds

15 Jun

Such is the exotic, multi-cultural appeal derived from Boys And Diamonds that it would be very tempting to begin this review with an indulgent, slightly over the top narrative of  descriptive imagery, so lets not go there (although naively the first 1 or 2 drafts say otherwise).  But at the very least Rainbow Arabia will induce an urge to be in the open air amongst like minded people and preferably a cold drink at arm’s length, certainly on the first listen anyway.

This, the third release from the wed locked Los Angeles duo, (Matthew and Tiffany Preston) is a master class in sound technician with an almost obsessive attention to detail that manages to curb the slippery slopes of over production.  There are similarities to the Arabian/Oriental flirtations expressed by Siouxsie and the Banshees and even the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s most recent output, but in particular The Knife, emitting strong comparisons both musically and vocally, albeit on a lighter, worldlier note.

There’s plenty of reverb injected into her more than capable voice, but the concession should be made that in terms of pure brass, vocal attitude, Mrs Preston is perhaps better suited along side Shakira than say, Karen O.  But don’t let that put you off.  In fact, what might put you off is that from the opening title track you may think for a split second that you’ve been transported to an all singing all dancing stage performance of the Lion King, or a tribal welcome party in the heart of Africa.  The feeling of being subjected to an exotic travel commercial never entirely filters, but more over and perhaps more disappointingly, an issue of motive develops asking which is more important for this couple, making music or being cool?  This may appear a little too harsh for what is essentially an enjoyable album, but from this, perhaps overly cynical critic, it’s pop in denial.

 

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DIRTY BEACHES Badlands

7 Jun

DIRTY BEACHES; BANDLANDS REVIEW

Bandlands, as the album title implies, doesn’t disappoint in portraying a somewhat David Lynch-esque inspired landscape of nihilistic dystopia, with the blurred faces of Martin Sheen and Cissy Spacek never too for in the background, or indeed Denis Hopper inhaling his…well, you get the picture.

But to simply relate the music made by Alex Zhung Hai, AKA Dirty Beaches to a few snapshot recollections of various cinematic flicks would be wholly unjust, because it’s not merely the images stirred which draws the attention but the feelings that are awoken alongside them, and it is this which (although musically it’s nothing new but indeed quite familiar) attracts us again and again to this particular mode of escapism entertainment. 

Badlands would certainly not sit out-of-place as the solitary remaining vinyl of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, perpetually repeating itself in this vast backdrop where the only other remainder is the howling wind of eternal lament.   The tracks ‘True Blue’, ‘Lord knows best’, or even ‘Black nylon’ perhaps convey this most accurately.  The rather short album holds a slightly antique sound quality, giving an impression that it’s just been dug up from beneath the earth with Zhung Hai’s Orbison sounding voice gently nursing the music.

As with a lot of his earlier work, the issue with Dirty Beaches is the uncanny resemblance to Suicide which at times may be difficult to distinguish by the not too familiar listener.  His cover of ‘Horses’ could easily pass, or be mistaken for an Alan Vega et al endeavour, and also ‘Sweet 17, except we discover more of a Rock ‘a’ Billy surf approach tinged by ‘The Cramps.  On the whole it’s a thoroughly commendable record endorsing a largely under-appreciated genre which Zhung Hai taps with obvious sincerety and affection, but it’s unfortunately nothing new to wail about.

Retrospective: Sleater-Kinney – “Dig Me Out” (1997)

3 Jun

“Dig Me Out” by Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney’s music has a very manic edge to it. Verses and bridges are slow, terrorizing builds that explode into psychotic climaxes of choruses where screamed declarations and pounding drums are layered over driving guitar harmonies. 1997’s “Dig Me Out,” their third and most seminal album, personifies this mania more than any other record the iconic riot grrrl trio has put out. The savvy sophistication that is heard on later albums – the critically acclaimed “One Beat,” for example – isn’t there yet, but neither is the lumbering experimentalism that characterizes Sleater-Kinney’s earlier recordings. On “Dig Me Out,” the band is in control, but you get the feeling that it’s only because they want to be.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s vocals are interlocking parts that make up a sonic puzzle, one that can only really be described as discordant harmony. Listening to them together is an unnerving, if unparalleled experience that sets ablaze tracks like the angst ridden “All the Drama You’ve Been Craving” and the euphoric “Words and Guitar.”

But it is the more reserved tracks where “Dig Me Out” is at its most beautifully cathartic. “Dance Song ‘97” is a tribute to confused infatuation with a charmingly kitschy musical aesthetic and some of the most memorable guitar work in Sleater-Kinney’s entire discography, while the agonized “Jenny” is a heartrending narration that pulls no punches in its description of heartbreak and loss. Sleater-Kinney has, somehow, invented and engineered the impossible: the punk ballad. Poignancy meets disillusionment in a series of soft yet still very intense tracks that do the band more justice than a listener might expect after hearing 1996’s “Call the Doctor.”

“Dig Me Out,” more than any other Sleater-Kinney record, is a truly amazing album for its ability to exist on the edge, always close to tumbling over into sheer mania but holding it in – just barely.

Twin Shadow

3 Jun

TWIN SHADOW-FORGET

Twin Shadow, AKA George Lewis’ debut LP Forget, is an interesting and thoroughly engrossing array of accomplishments.  Co-produced by Grizzly Bears’ Chris Taylor and released on 4AD, it manages to reveal an influential past by paying tribute and giving homage to it, yet it sustains sufficiently in offering an entirely new and refreshing tonic which dusts off any of those cobwebs, and is thus able to hold its own in the unsympathetic courts of originality.

There is a definite 80s footprint left by The Cure and Bowie and even The Smiths for instance, alongside various similarities to the ever confusing genre that is ‘Post punk’ (you be the judge) and, if it may be said, a likeness to Edwin Collins.  The album was apparently written entirely from Lewis’ apartment in Brooklyn and it certainly has that bedroom feel to it.  Although it may not disclose any dark or unnerving closet secrets, Forget does portray a list of songs that were written in relative solitude, displaying a creative flow that perhaps benefits an artist further when expressed in privacy.

Tracks such as ‘Slow’ and ‘Castles In The Snow’ stand out in particular but not by much, which is a credit to the consistent quality within the whole piece.  If pressed to submit a down side, it would have to be the seemingly luck lustre attempts at vocal harmonising in certain areas, which may be deliberate of course, but only serve in presenting a finished article that is slightly undercooked and which merely required a little attentive patients.  This is a minor criticism which for some listeners may go relatively unnoticed because on the whole Forget is triumph and deserves nothing but praise.  Enjoy

Album Review: Jawbox – “Jawbox” (1996)

26 Mar

Jawbox’s eponymous last album is a blazing exploration of the sonic landscape that comes with Selling Out to the Man circa 1996. ‘Jawbox’ finds the band ditching their ruthlessly abrasive brand of DC hardcore for a series of startlingly MTV-able post-punk tracks that sound more ‘Breed’ than Big Black. The change could be chalked up to Atlantic Records’ less-than-punk motives, but, more likely, as lead vocalist J. Robbins notices in ‘Spoiler,’ “vindication [wasn’t] what it used to be” for a band that, after three studio albums and five years of touring, were finally fully realized (with a record, aptly, titled after themselves) – but not through hardcore punk. ‘Jawbox’ is an inescapably commercial record with an inescapably commercial sound.

Losing the harsh discord that characterized iconic-if-messy debut ‘Grippe’ and critically acclaimed sophomore record ‘Novelty’ may have cut down on the adrenal force that only cacophonously ugly guitar riffs and rumbling bass lines can really deliver, but Jawbox is by no means any less articulate on this post-punk swan song. The cryptically caustic lyrics on the album are odes to drug abuse and dysfunction that craft a harrowingly beautiful alternate universe for themselves through unending tangles of metaphors in songs like “Iodine” and “Mirrorful.” Matching these lyrics with dark, seething music that taps eerily at spider-webs of verses and plunges into radiantly catchy choruses with a startling force makes “Jawbox” one of the best records to come out of the DC scene of the 1990s – even if it indicates a movement away from the scene’s hardcore roots and into more commercial territory.