Six Years of Musoscribe: Power Pop

July 31st, 2015

One of my abiding musical loves – and not a guilty pleasure, not at all – is the style known as power pop. At present I even play in a band that covers the classics of the genre. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a number of artists associated with the genre (though some would prefer not to be tagged as power pop artists. Here are just a few.

The Smithereens
With a perfect balance of punch and melodicism, New Jersey’s Smithereens scored on the charts in the 80s and beyond. Their more recent work is every bit as good. Their drummer Dennis Diken made an excellent solo album, and over the course of an evening that included lots of Indian food, beer, and backstage chats with other acts at the Charlotte Pop Festival, I had a long and fascinating conversation with Dennis Diken about his work.

The Posies
I discovered The Posies around the time they released Frosting on the Beater (1993); from there I worked my way forward and backward through their catalog. In 2014, Omnivore Records began a reissue campaign of Posies albums, beginning with their debut, Failure. I interviewed both Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer and put together this expansive Posies feature.

Blue Ash
Now remembered as one of the early progenitors of the powerpop genre, Ohio-based Blue Ash released only two albums (one great, one not-so-great). Way back in the 1990s, I was in regular contact with the band’s guitarist Bill Bartolin. This was long before their debut was reissued on CD. This feature recalls our correspondence and its back story.

Big Star
Now rightly revered, Big Star were ignored when they were together. In the 90s, Alex Chilton revived the band with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow plus original drummer Jody Stephens. Release of a live concert CD of the group (Live in Memphis) was the perfect occasion for a Big Star chat.

Marshall Crenshaw
When I say that I’m a longtime fan of the singer/songwriter/guitarist, I’m not exaggerating. I first saw Crenshaw live onstage in the 70s, when he was playing John Lennon in the traveling cast of Beatlemania. I saw him again a few years later, opening for Hall and Oates. Decades later, I interviewed him for the first of three times (so far): 2007, 2009 and 2012.

Jason Falkner
Power pop enjoyed a renaissance in the 1990s, and nobody did it better than Falkner. My three-part interview with Jason Falkner covers his solo work, his session work, and his time in The Grays and Jellyfish.

Jellyfish
Speaking of Jellyfish…the group only lasted for two records – both classics – but their mix of 70s bomnbast and studio finesses with 90s power and crunch made them an enduring presence. My interview with Jellyfish’s Roger Manning discusses the group’s work.

The dB’s
The dB’s are another of those groups who never quite made the really-big time, but whose influence is felt in the work of many bands that followed in their wake. When they got back together for the superb Falling Off the Sky, I interviewed the group’s co-guitarist/co-songwriter Peter Holsapple.

Tommy Keene
I can still remember it like it was yesterday: the first time I heard Keene’s “Places That are Gone.” That 1986 single got me hooked on the man’s work. I’ve interviewed him twice (so far): way back in 2006 and then again in 2011.

Trip Shakespeare
Another band that I discovered in my college years, Trip Shakespeare stood apart form the other bands associated with their hometown of Minneapolis. My conversation with bassist John Munson delves into the band’s early years (those albums have been reissued by Omnivore; hopefully more are on the way).

The Paul & John
Paul Myers is well-known for at least three things: his excellent work as an author, the music he makes with John Moremen, and one other thing I won’t mention. The Paul & John’s debut album Inner Sunset was one of 2014′s best releases. Here’s my conversation with The Paul & John.

Pugwash
The Irish group has struggled for years to gain a commercial foothold in the US market, but it looks like they’re finally succeeding. With a sound reminiscent of XTC-meets-Electric Light Orchestra, the group makes timeless, melodic pop. Here’s my conversation with Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh.

Richard X Heyman
I somehow missed the work of NYC-based indie-powerpop artist Richard X Heyman for many years; once I discovered his music, it was time to play catch-up. Part of that effort has included interviewing him no less than three times (so far): 2007, 2011, and most recently in 2013.

Next week I’ll take a look at more of my favorite interviews and features from the last six years of Musoscribe (and beyond). Thanks – as always – for reading.

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Six Years of Musoscribe: Jazz

July 30th, 2015

Other than a copy of Weather Report‘s Heavy Weather purchased back in the 80s, I never paid attention to jazz until the last couple of decades. And even then, my interest in (and knowledge of) the genre was pretty limited. Arguably it still is, but I know what I like. In addition to many album reviews and several liner notes projects (more on those at the bottom of this post), I’ve been fortunate to interview a few jazz composer/performers.

Bayeté
Omnivore Recordings reissues expanded versions of long-lost and/or greatly treasured music in a wide variety of genres. One of their most interesting projects is a black power/fusion album from Todd Cochran aka Bayeté. Cochran and I enjoyed a deep and wide-ranging conversation.

Larry Coryell
Larry Coryell deserves to mentioned in the same breath as John McLaughlin, but he’s less well-known. Coryell granted me an interview, and we went into some detail.

Resonance Records’ Zev Feldman
The non-profit Resonnace Records works tirelessly to unearth rare and unheard jazz recordings. The label’s A&R man Zev Feldman talked with me about their goals, with specific emphasis on ther Wes Montgomery releases.

Les McCann
Soul jazz legend Les McCann will likely remain one of my all-time favorite interview subjects. Here’s my Les McCann interview/feature.

John McLaughlin
I was fortunate enough to land an in-depth conversation with the jazz and fusion guitar legend. Here’s the multi-part feature. I was scheduled to meet him soon thereafter, but things went horribly wrong. Here’s that story, too.

Jazzhaus’ Ulli Pfau
A German-based label called Jazzhaus has rights to the tapes of the country’s national radio station and television companies, and they released a good bit of excellent quality archival material from their vaults. My interview with curator Ulli Pfau dealt with the label’s efforts.

Fred Pallem of Le Sacre du Tympan
When on a vacation in Montréal in 2007, I stumbled across a wonderful big band called Le Sacre du Tympan. (Seemingly I was the only person in town who didn’t know ahead of time that the Montréal Jazz Festival was happening.) A few years later I managed to contact and interview band leader Fred Pallem.

Concord Music Group
The music conglomerate that currently holds the rights to the jazz (and other genre) catalogs of Riverside, Fantasy, Prestige, Stax, Specialty and others is doing a fine job of reissuing old jazz titles. I spoke with the company’s Chris Clough about the reissues and more.

There are simply too many jazz-related reviews on this blog to list them all. This link will point you to some of the more recent ones. And I’ve curated and/or written liner notes for a couple of Cannonball Adderley reissues, Black Messiah and Big Man.

More to come; next time I’ll look at some power pop-related interviews and writings.

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Six Years of Musoscribe: Frank Zappa

July 29th, 2015

Another musical figure whose work I discovered during my college years is Frank Zappa. I was fortunate enough to see him in concert not once but twice; the first was in 1981 on the You Are What You Is tour. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to interview the man, but I have interviewed a number of notable musicians who were within his orbit.

Project/Object
Though I didn’t know him personally at the time, fourteen years ago my friend André Cholmondely headed a Zappa tribute band called Project/Object. The band often features members of Zappa’s groups. Here’s my interview with André Cholmondeley and Ike Willis.

Howard Kaylan
In the post-Turtles years, Kaylan and Mark Volman (aka Flo and Eddie) fronted Zappa’s band. I’ve interviewed Kaylan twice; the second interview focused on his autobiography, Shell Shocked, a story full of Zappa-related content. Here’s my second interview with Howard Kaylan.

Grandmothers
The Grandmothers is a sort-of Zappa tribute group peopled by musicians who’ve worked with him. My interview with Don Preston and my conversation with Napoleon Murphy Brock shed some light on their group.

I’ve also written about and/or reviewed other Zappa-related releases:

My look back into the archives on the occasion of the blog’s six-year anniversary will continue.

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Six Years of Musoscribe: King Crimson

July 28th, 2015

My retrospective continues on this, the sixth anniversary of my Musoscribe blog.

One of my favorite groups – like so many others, I discovered ‘em during my college years – is King Crimson. The pioneering progressive rock band that started in England is, these days, an Anglo-American outfit. One of the very few musical acts that consistently loves forward – no nostalgia for this lot – King Crimson rarely sound like the same group from album to album. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to interview (and in some cases, even meet) several current and former members of the group. (Of course when a band has had so many musicians pass through its ranks, one could argue that the odds are in my favor.) Not counting the time when Robert Fripp complained on his own blog about something I wrote, I’ve collected quite a Crim-related mass of writings. Herewith:

The Crimson ProjeKct

While KC was on one of its many hiatuses, three members of the group put together a double-trio that performed King Crimson material. Originally called Two of a Perfect Trio, they later became an officially-sanctioned Crim extension and dubbed themselves The Crimson ProjeKct. Here’s my feature/interview with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto. (And here’s more.)

Adrian Belew
Belew is no longer involved in King Crimson; his attention is now applied to his solo career and (sometimes) the ProjeKct. I interviewed him in 2014. Here’s my Adrian Belew interview.

Pat Mastelotto
Pat Mastelotto is also in another Crim-related group, Stick Men, with Tony Levin. I interviewed Pat in 2013.

Tony Levin
Levin is one of the busiest men in music; I chatted with Tony about his Levin Brothers project in 2014.

Trey Gunn
Gunn played guitar in King Crimson alongside Robert Fripp for several years. Here’s my interview with Gunn, focusing more on his solo work.

John Wetton
Wetton was King Crimson’s bassist and vocalist in the mid 1970s, a time during which the group recorded and released what might be their best album, Red. Here’s my interview with John Wetton.

Greg Lake
King Crimson’s first vocalist/bassist went on to greater success with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. But when I interviewed Greg Lake, we talked about King Crimson, too.

Steven Wilson
Wilson has been at the center of King Crimson-related activities these last several years. His Porcupine Tree bandmate Gavin Harrison is one of three(!) drummers in the current Crim lineup; he’s borrowed the band’s original Mellotron for use in his own music; and he’s heading the remix/remaster/reissue project of the Crimson catalog. I’ve interviewed Wilson multiple times; this interview focuses on his King Crimson-related work.

I have also reviewed a number of King Crimson (and related) albums and videos. Here’s a rundown; I may well have missed some, but this list is close to complete. (All King Crimson except as noted.)

More of these reminiscences to come.

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Six Years of Musoscribe: Ponderosa Stomp Festival

July 27th, 2015

Today and for the next several days, I’m celebrating the six-year anniversary of the Musoscribe blog. I launched the site in summer 2009, and once I got into the swing of things, I began a schedule of posting new content every business day. I’ve kept to that goal ever since.

But the beginning of my music writing predates the blog by many years. When I first began to collect my writings – interviews, features, essays and reviews – I hosted them on a website, the “main” part of musoscribe.com. There you’ll find my archive of material from before and up to June 2009.

A sequence of events that led to my launching the blog was the sudden and unexpected demise of the print magazine for which I served as Editor-in-Chief. In spring 2008, I had traveled by train to New Orleans to attend the Ponderosa Stomp music festival, a showcase of unjustly-forgotten and/or overlooked figures in music. (The annual festival continues to this day, and I highly recommend it.) While there, I saw many impressive sets of music, attended several fascinating discussion panels, and did some of my most memorable interviews (more on those in a moment). When I arrived home after the festival, I received a message letting me know that the magazine had shut down, and that no, the many thousands of dollars that I was owed would not be forthcoming.

Work on the next-scheduled issue of the magazine was already done: stories had been written and edited, and the entire layout of the magazine was complete. I had the unhappy task of contacting my team of writers and letting them know that they would not be getting paid for their work, either. The good news was that they could have their stories and reviews back; they were free to do with them as they liked. Small comfort, I know. Happily, several of my writers deservedly went on to much bigger things.

Speaking for myself, I had conducted interviews in New Orleans for features to appear in future issues of the magazine. I was fortunate to place one of them in London-based Shindig! Magazine, and that fine publication also ran an abbreviated version of the other story. Both full-length features are archived on my site. Also archived here is an interview/feature that’s related to one of the acts I saw at Ponderosa Stomp 2008.

Green Fuz
In the history of 1960s garage rock, there’s a story that’s equal parts typical and unlikely. A group of Texas teenage boys came together to make a recording that has been described as “no-fi.” The a-side – a sort of band anthem called “Green Fuz” – is among the rarest of all one-off singles of the garage era. And the story behind the band and their recording is interesting. I met with the re-formed Green Fuz while in New Orleans, and got to attend their triumphant show. Here’s the Green Fuz story.

? and the Mysterians
Speaking of oddities, the band of Latino rockers from Michigan who scored a classic hit with “96 Tears” is a curious tale, too. Though the band didn’t manage a successful follow-up hit of any great measure, they persisted. And they still persist today, nearly fifty years later. I met and interviewed the group’s leader (known only as “?” without the quotation marks), and to this day that interview remains the strangest one I ever conducted. The tapes of that interview were lost shortly thereafter, but I am happy to report that they turned up earlier this year, some seven years after they went missing. Here’s the story of my meeting ? and the Mysterians.

Roky Erickson
One of the headlining acts at Ponderosa Stomp 2008 was Roky Erickson, former leader of the group many consider to be the first “psychedelic rock” band, the 13th Floor Elevators. His life story is a troubling, often sad tale, but these days he seems to be in a much better state than before. A documentary called You’re Gonna Miss Me was made about his life, and I interviewed both the director of that film, John Scheinfeld, and a man who produced some important studio sessions for Roky. That man is better known as the bass player for Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stu Cook. Here’s the feature on Roky Erickson.

My Musoscribe retrospective will continue tomorrow and beyond. As always, thank you for reading.

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Album Review: Warren Haynes — Ashes & Dust

July 24th, 2015

A true son of the South, guitarist Warren Haynes has built a varied career imbued with musical values that proudly display his Appalachian roots. And though he’s strongly associated with the electric guitar – largely through his work with Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band – his interests have always extended well beyond the relatively narrow idioms of blues and rock. Even a decade ago he was featuring an acoustic guitar reading of Radiohead‘s “Lucky” in his solo live sets.

So it’s not at all without precedent for Haynes to release an album that digs deeper into his affinity with the more acoustic-flavored and rootsy parts of his own musical makeup. On Ashes & Dust (released today), Haynes enlists the musical support of newgrassers Railroad Earth, a group renowned for their own skill at folding in influences from a wide variety of American musical styles (which, come to think of it, is as good a definition as any for the slippery genre known as Americana).

While a significant portion of the disc features quiet, relatively simple arrangements, Haynes makes intelligent use of Railroad Earth’s instrumental prowess (not to mention his own chops). The yearning fiddle work of Tim Carbone helps connect musical dots with some of the 1970s’ best singer/songwriters (Jackson Browne, Neil Young). The prominence of mandolin and banjo on Ashes & Dust gives the music a decidedly Americana air, but Haynes isn’t afraid to apply mostly acoustic tools to decidedly rocking-out goals. The eight-minutes-plus “Spots of Time” executes a slow burn that rocks, while still showcasing Haynes’ Latin-flavored acoustic and electric guitar licks.

From its title, it’s clear that “Company Man” – one of two tracks that have been premiered ahead of the album’s release – is a story song. A tune written years ago by Haynes, it explores the decisions the songwriter’s father had to make when facing a company shutdown. It’s a story familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small town, and Haynes delivers the lyrics in a heartfelt manner.

Ray Sisk‘s “Glory Road” has been a part of Haynes’ repertoire for more than ten years; with the nuanced backing of Railroad Earth, Haynes renders it in a more thoughtful and evocative manner than he was able to do in a solo setting (for Ashes & Dust, he’s radically transposed it, too).

Haynes doesn’t, however, do anything interesting with Fleetwood Mac‘s “Gold Dust Woman.” Beyond an extended instrumental break, there’s little difference between his reading and the Rumours original. But that track is the only comparatively weak spot on an otherwise solid, varied and engaging album. With a long intro that suggests melodrama leavened by the sound of a band tuning up on stage, “Hallelujah Blvd.” unfolds into a weary, melancholy and contemplative tune.

Ashes & Dust is widely being described as Haynes’ “Americana album.” But attempting to pin the record down to a single genre – however stylistically inclusive that genre might be – does it and Warren Haynes a disservice. The music on Ashes & Dust invites all listeners.

An edited version of this review was previously published in Mountain Xpress.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 3

July 23rd, 2015

Blues, r&b, post-jazz and country-flavored singer/songwriter music: never let it be said that I only write about rock. Here are five fine releases in a wide array of musical styles.

Rusty Wright Band – Wonder Man

Take the attitude of big-band swing and electric guitar blues, and apply it to uptempo rock’n'roll, and you might end up with something like The Rusty Wright Band. Too many modern-day blues exponents have nothing interesting to offer musically. Wright deftly avoids falling into the strict confines of 21st century blues by widening his musical scope to incorporate other styles. And he does it in a way that won’t offend blues purists (neat trick, that). “Black Hat Boogie” feels like a cross between ZZ Top and Deep Purple; that’s just a hint of what’s on offer here. Wonder Man indeed.

The 24th Street Wailers – Where Evil Grows

I get letters; I do. Actually, they’re usually emails. But owing to the large number of ‘em, few get a “yes, please send a CD” reply from me. Here’s a worthy exception. Imagine a group that plays like JD McPherson and boasts songwriting and a production aesthetic reminiscent of the late and great Nick Curran. Add in some gritty 40s and 50s rhythm and blues, and top it all off with a strong female lead singer who just happens to site behind a trap kit. Whaddya got? This group. On Where Evil Grows, they tear shit up. Get this now.

Victor Krummenacher – Hard to See Trouble Coming

If asked to name a musical act of the last few decades that draws from the widest possible range of musical styles and genres, I’d answer without hesitation: Camper Van Beethoven. That group’s bassist, Victor Krummenacher is endlessly busy with all manner of projects in and outside that group. His latest is this, his tenth solo album. An acoustic-leaning affair, the disc features strong melodies in a slow-to-midtempo vein; the tracks find Krummenacher in an agreeable troubadour/singer-songwriter album, and should appeal to fans of Crosby, Stills and Nash (but not so much Young) and the solidly dependable Bakersfield c&w sound.

Tas Cru – You Keep the Money

Another example of an artist who deftly expands his musical scope beyond the solid lines some draw around the blues idiom (see Rusty Wright, above), Tas Cru starts with the tried-and-true electric blues elements – electric guitar, bass, drums, B-3-sounding organ, overdriven blues harp – but he applies those tools to a rock songwriting style. His assured and expressive vocal style is strong and unaffected, and the production style avoids cliché. Oh, and as “A Month of Somedays” and the subtle, smoldering “La Bell Poutine” both illustrate, Cru can play some mean guitar in the traditional blues style as well.

Throttle Elevator Music – Jagged Rocks

Maybe you’ve heard the term post-rock; it attempts to describe a sort of music that’s both cerebral and visceral, but that moves beyond the idiom from which it was borne. Well, with that in mind, here’s some post-jazz for ya. This trio is shepherded by Gregory Howe, head of Wide Hive Records, and features a sax/drums/guitar lineup. The instrumentation pieces tend toward the short-and-snappy, and they’re alternatively mysterious/gauzy and noisy/aggressive. Howe’s intimate production aesthetics make it feel like you’re in a small room with the band. That’s good, but be warned: like the old saying goes, it might get loud.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 2

July 22nd, 2015

Five releases from five acts from five different countries (Poland, The United States, Germany, Belgium and Sweden) are the focus of today’s brief reviews.

Lunatic Soul – Walking on a Flashlight Beam

Bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda seems to be taking a cue from the astoundingly busy Steven Wilson; he’s involved in several musical projects all at once, and each is both unique and very worthwhile. His primary band, Riverside, has been slightly less active of late (new album coming later this year), but as Lunatic Soul, Duda has released four albums. Walking on a Flashlight Beam continues the project’s avoidance of electric guitars, and Duda sings and plays everything except drums. The music is ambient-leaning melodic progressive rock; it’s deeply textured and contemplative music that holds up well to active listening. DVD included.

Hildegard – Hildegard
I’ve occasionally wondered why hardly anybody has come up with music that spans the divide between accessible, electronic-leaning vocal pop and more adventurous progressive-minded rock; it seems as if that could – if it’s done right – be a winning combination. To my delight, I’ve found that such a thing does exist. And it comes from an unlikely place: New Orleans. Hildegard is guitarist Cliff Hines and vocalist Sasha Masakowski, and on their self-titled debut, the seamlessly blend a dizzyingly wide variety of musical styles. The subtle, quieter moments are a slow burn; the many rocking parts do indeed rock.

Camouflage – Greyscale

It’s my firm belief that the musical styles of the 1980s aren’t all used up; while the MTV era gave us untold amounts of by-the-numbers synth-pop and -rock (and then moved on to other things), there’s a lot that can be done with the musical tools and aesthetics of that period. The cool synthesizers of that period represented the gradual displacement of analog by digital machines. On Greyscale (their eighth studio release), Camouflage continues their winning approach of sturdy, moody music. The German group’s sound suggests a less bloodless Human League, or a less melancholy Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark.

Brainticket – Past Present & Future

Originally a (sort of) krautrock band of the early 1970s, Brainticket released two of the odder entries in the genre, 1971′s Cottonwoodhill (reissued in 2013) and 1972′s Psychonaut. The prime mover of the group was keyboardist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Now it’s more than forty years later, and while everyone else involved with the 70s lineup is long gone, Belgium-born Vandroogenbroeck has enlisted members of non-German krautrockers Hedersleben to craft a new album. Past Present & Future features hypnotic works a la Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd; it’s dreamier and less insistent than the early stuff, and thus more accessible. Quite enjoyable and recommended.

Last Days of April – Sea of Clouds

It’s a peculiarly American perspective to think of ourselves as the center of the pop-culture universe. But the truth – of course! – is that there’s some great pop coming from places that don’t have English as their primary language. As I’ve just now discovered, Sweden’s Last Days of April is one of these acts. They’ve been around for two decades, and their sound is one that should please American ears. Singing in non-accented English and featuring simply lovely use of pedal steel guitar, they trade in an engaging, hooky, country-flavored timeless pop. A serious contender for best of 2015.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 1

July 21st, 2015

Power pop is a term that can be taken to mean a lot of different things. For me it almost always means fun and appealing music. Here are five examples, each reviewed in brief.

The Shoe Birds – Southern Gothic

During my recent conversation with him, Drivin’ n’ Cryin‘s Kevn Kinney threw out a phrase I hadn’t heard before: kudzu rock. The phrase was new to me, but I knew exactly what he meant: a kind of jangly southern rock that draws from classic rock but is informed with a c&w sensibility. R.E.M. and Tom Petty are kudzu rock; Charlie Daniels and Danny Joe Brown are most assuredly not. But The Shoe Birds are: their music features heartfelt lyrics coupled with memorable, hooky song craft. At its best, Southern Gothic conjures the ghosts of Big Star without copying their style.

Kurt Baker Combo – Muy Mola Live!

As part of The New Trocaderos, guitarist/vocalist Baker showcases his skill at crafting fast, catchy and memorable rockers. But here, fronting his own four-piece, Baker ups the wattage considerably. The songs are even better, and – thanks to the live setting for this recording – the energy is much more palpable. The visceral feel of punk is combined with the cheery perspective of power pop and the swagger of full-on rock’n'roll. They start and stop on a dime, and play to the small audience like rockstars. Their reading of The Remains‘ “Don’t Look Back” is stellar and incendiary. Vigorously recommended.

The Hangabouts – Illustrated Bird

Swimming in the less powerful – but supremely melodic – end of the power pop pool, The Hangabouts (John Lowry and Gregory Addington) craft melodic, acoustic flavored pop of the highest order. Their songs are reminscent of some of Pilot‘s best work, and fans of Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn and Jeff Lynne will quite possibly fall head-over-heels in love with the thirteen songs on Illustrated Bird. This music is proof (if it were needed) that one needn’t rock out all of the time. The production and arrangement (by the duo) are both up to the standard of the songs, too.

Aerial – Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak at School?


The album graphics and packaging suggest a sort of teenage, angst-filled punk pop, and in some ways, that’s what the music delivers. But this American band has a more nuanced and textured musical approach than, say, Green Day. With guitars that pummel along like Bob Mould‘s old band Sugar, Aerial definitely have one foot in the punk/hardcore camp. But the poppy songs lean very much in a melodic direction; listening to their wonderfully hooky songs, one might guess that the group’s favorite Ramones album is End of the Century. Bonus points awarded for the ace backing vocals throughout the album.

The Super Fuzz – Super Famous

Taking a page from the way-out-front, exuberant playbook of Cheap Trick (“Speedball” even musically quotes Rockford’s finest), The Super Fuzz play a sort of glam-inflected, power-chording rock that puts strong emphasis on melody, groove, vocal harmony and roaring-guitar-centered performance and arrangement. One might detect hints of Fastball and Redd Kross in the grooves of Super Famous. Song titles like “Surprised Your Boyfriend’s Still Around” make it clear that this isn’t deep philosophy. What it is, is fun, fist-pumping rock that will have most listeners singing along. But please keep a hand on the steering wheel. Find this and buy it.

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Blu-ray Review: Elliott Smith — Heaven Adores You

July 20th, 2015

The life and music of Elliott Smith bears some superficial similarities to Nick Drake: a quiet, introspective songwriter who never quite seemed at ease, and whose life ended tragically maybe or maybe not by his own hand – at a far too young age. But while Drake didn’t achieve anything approaching stardom during his lifetime, Smith was catapulted int othe spotlight.

A new film, Heaven Adores You, explores Smith’s life and music. Over the course of an hour and forty minutes, the film charts his life and career. Remarkably little footage of Smith talking or being interviewed surfaces in the film; whether that was an aesthetic choice or due to such material simply not existing, the effect is to render Smith as a ghostly, enigmatic figure who’s sort of half present, half not.

And that ambience seems to suit the subject very well. As some of those relatively rare audio interviews show, Elliott Smith didn’t want to (or perhaps could not) reveal much of himself in conversation. During an interview for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, Smith is asked why he had relocated – years earlier – from Dallas, Texas to Portland, Orgeon. He begins to answer, and then thinks the better of it. The tension hangs in the air until the subject changes back to music.

Heaven Adores You draws upon interviews with friends, family and musical associates. Many of them remain visibly moved by the thought of Smith, and there’s a fair amount of holding-back-tears onscreen. This is one of those stories where most viewers know how it ends before they see it, and director Nickolas Rossi wisely starts the narrative at the end. Only once that part of the story is covered does he wind back to the beginning.

The film has a distinctive visual style. High resolution, shallow depth-of-field camera work is used, and the camera lens lingers on its subjects – trains in yards and at crossings; traffic at night; buildings – for unusually long periods. The subjects (or elements within the frame) move, sometimes via time-lapse techniques, but there’s a quiet, forlorn and meditative feel to the visuals. That feel – heightened by the directorial choice to eliminate the audio tracks from those scenes – provides a pleasing backdrop for the musical and narrative audio that moves the story forward. Heaven Adores You isn’t exactly an “arty” film, but it’s an artful one, a film in which the visual approach fits the story like a glove.

Viewers familiar with Smith’s work will find many gems; the soundtrack is packed with music form all phases of his career, including some unreleased material. Those who know Elliott Smith only from his work on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack are in for a treat. And those who know only his acoustic side may be intrigued to discover his much more rocking side, most notably with the band Heatmiser.

But it’s not necessary to know anything at all about the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (he was a fine and expressive pianist, by the way) to enjoy Heaven Adores You.