Consumer Guide March 8th/2019

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Sigrid – Sucker Punch

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(March 8th on Island Records)

Europe has always had pop figured out cold, Northern Europe doubly so. Norwegian singer Sigrid’s debut follows in this tradition, trading in solid pop sensibilities that don’t chase any particular trend or try to reinvent the wheel. It plays it safe, but that safety is also so well done it feels like it might be something more. It’s also distressingly wholesome, but the message – good things come to those who love themselves – needs to be heard more.

Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1

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(March 8th on Warner Bros. Records)

Literally the Imagine Dragons of indie rock, if you can stomach such a thing. I never have been able to, but there are stronger constitutions out there than mine, I’m sure.

Sasami – Sasami

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(March 8th on Domino Recording Company)

An interesting debut from the one-time Cherry Glazerr member, this one is quiet and intimate while managing to to call forth some real heavy power when it needs to.

Amanda Palmer – There Will Be No Intermission

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(March 8th on Cooking Vinyl Records)

The stark nudity of the record cover is a metaphor, for the ultra-confessional proceedings offered here by the Dresden Dolls singer. Imagine if Mark Kozelek had something useful to say, and it might sound something like this.

Sundara Karma – Ulfila’s Alphabet

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(March 8th on RCA Records)

Combining Wolf Parade with Eighties Bowie is interesting, and…that’s pretty much where it ends.

Meat Puppets – Dusty Notes

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(March 8th on Megaforce Records)

Their version of country-punk was innovative thirty plus years ago but in this day and age when country is grudgingly allowing again for dissonant voices it rings a little hollow.

William Basinski – On Time Out Of Time

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(March 8th on Temporary Residence Records)

It sounds like two supermassive black holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago.

Literally.

Because that’s what it is.

Literal, inescapable doom.

Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue

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(March 7th on Fat Possum Records)

A collection of demos from the 22-year-dead balladeer of the dusty forgotten highways and the decaying dive bars, barely more than shacks themselves. Sparse, desperate, doomed American music.

Dido – Still On My Mind

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(March 8th on BMG Records)

Pretty, too polished, but pretty. I actually like it more than her big hit album from 2000 or whenever, the one everyone knows because of “Stan”.

Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs

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(March 8th on Secretly Canadian Records)

Frank, blunt, and sexual, like Lily Allen emerging sharper than ever from the #MeToo era. It will make some people uncomfortable. Be extremely wary of the people it makes uncomfortable. Four stars only because it kind of meanders after the highwater mark of “Boys Will Be Boys” before coming in strong again at the end.

Maren Morris – Girl

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(March 8th on SME Records)

Excuse me, wasn’t this supposed to be a country album?

Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile

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(March 8th on RVNG International)

Weirdly exuberant for such an insular, spacey record. This is how you know they found that good stuff.

Nick Waterhouse – Nick Waterhouse

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(March 8th on Innovative Leisure Records)

Devoted to a certain time and place – America, 1963 – but maybe a little too on the nose for much of it’s run.

 

 

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Consumer Guide, March 1st/2019

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Royal Trux – White Stuff

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(March 1st on Fat Possum Records)

When a band comes back after twenty years to release a new album I expect them to play it safe but there’s such a thing as taking it too far. White Stuff is fine, especially if you were into the band Back In The Day, but it sounds like a rewrite of older, better stuff with no attempt at trying to move forward at all.

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Consumer Guide, February 22/2019

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Teeth Of The Sea – Wraith

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(February 22nd on Rocket Recordings)

Like a soundtrack for apocalyptic times, Wraith veers between pounding industrial, jazzy, introspective diversions, and moodier alt-psych excursions. Like the zee, it changes when you don’t look at it for too long.

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Consumer Guide, February 15/2019

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Woman’s Hour – Ephyra

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They broke up after their acclaimed 2014 debut but managed to stick together long enough to put together this enchanting, disturbing synth-pop confection. Nineties Bjork and Oughts-era The Knife with a gauzy layer that crinkles uncomfortably like human skin when you press it slightly.

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Consumer Guide: January 25/2018

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TOY – Happy In The Hollow

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(January 25th Tough Love Records)

Low-tempo Krautrock with a seriously languid groove. If Faust was secretly a bunch of goddamn hippies they would sound like this.

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Consumer Guide: January 18/2019

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Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – De Facto

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(January 11th on Sonic Cathedral Records)

Psychedelic noise-rock that walks the thin line between being artistically and willfully difficult. Avoids becoming lost in a gauzy haze by virtue of an excellent rhythm section that knows instinctively how to ride a groove.

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Consumer Guide, January 11/2019

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You Tell Me – You Tell Me

(January 11th, 2019 on Memphis Industries)

Field Music and Admiral Fallow, together at last, or something. Like chocolate and peanut butter for people who think Eighties post-Genesis pop was fuckin’ keen.

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GOLD: 50 Years of Lumpy Gravy

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Frank Zappa – Lumpy Gravy

Released August 7th, 1967 on Capitol Records

The front cover of Lumpy Gravy states that it’s a “curiously inconsistent piece which started out to be a ballet but probably didn’t make it.”  The back cover asks “is this phase 2 of We’re Only In It For The Money?”, a bizarre question given that said album didn’t come out until 1968.  It was, in fact, an orchestral piece commissioned by Capitol Records’ Nick Venet; to get around his contract with MGM and Verve, Zappa positioned himself as merely the conductor of the orchestra he cobbled together for the recording.  This cutesy bit of manouvering didn’t stop MGM from threatening to sue, but as subsequent history would show, label heads going after Zappa would prove to be an exercise in futility.  In fact, while waiting for MGM to come to that conclusion, Zappa plowed ahead on a project he called No Commercial Potential (which would make a great name for a retrospective of his career) that would eventually give birth to four albums: We’re Only In It For The Money, a reedited second edition of Lumpy GravyCruising With Ruben And The Jets, and the gloriously bizarre “soundtrack” album Uncle Meat.  The second edition of Lumpy Gravy would be released in 1968 by Verve Records; it would contain pieces of the original orchestral recordings as well as dialogue that was recorded near the studio’s grand piano, which would vibrate with resonance whenever someone spoke near it.  The result is willfully bizarre musique concrete, the sort of thing you can only fully enjoy if you’ve completely disconnected yourself from society and human contact, as shown in the following chart:

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As you can see, Lumpy Gravy falls somewhere close to the bottom level, where light no longer actually shines and the sounds of pan-dimensional click-beats can be heard from the wall.  Patrician approved.

It’s worth noting that many of the performers Zappa gathered together for the original recordings thought at first that he was a total chump, just a guitarist from a joke rock band with no real experience composing.  By the end, he won all of them over to his peculiarly cracked genius.

Aluminium: 10 Years of The Stage Names

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Okkervil River – The Stage Names

Released August 7th, 2007 on Jagjaguwar Records

Okkervil River may be indie rock’s perennial “mid-level band” (as they refer to themselves on “Unless It’s Kicks”) but The Stage Names, their fourth album, they burst up above the clouds to briefly take their places among the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon.  This is not a reference to any hits – there are no hits, a criminal shame in itself – but instead to pure songcraft, the perfection of a crafted album and the wry, self-reflective poetry of frontman Will Sheff.  Their previous album, 2005’s Black Sheep Boy, came close to the indie-rock mastery present here, but they would never again achieve such heights (although 2013’s The Silver Gymnasium comes kind of close).  Unlike Black Sheep Boy there is no explicit concept (that album was an exploration of the life and death of junkie-poet-folkie Tim Hardin); however, there’s some pretty clear themes running through The Stage Names that make it a sort of meta-rumination on Sheff, the band, and the nature of rock ‘n’ roll mythology.  If the album could be said to be about anything, it’s about the cheap theatricality of populist art, and the complicated narratives that we spin around simple people.

We think of our lives as films, with narrative arcs and neat endings; “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” posits that there is no such thing.  Sheff sings that “It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax” and teases here and there that are moments that make one think that their life could be a movie, if you looked at them sideways in the magic hour that begins twilight.  “Unless It’s Kicks” is an admission that the narrative created by the consumer of art bears no resemblance to the author’s intent (and here we go rehashing that argument again); “What gives this mess some grace unless it’s fiction,” he asks, “Unless it’s licks, man, unless it’s lies or it’s love?” and then implores a fan “with their heart opened up” to take warning about believing your own lies.  Those lies – the narrative we impose tyrannically on the anonymous textures of everyday life – are important, because they impart some meaning onto the ultimate meaninglessness of existence, but if we believe in these lies too fully we risk trapping ourselves in an unrealistic narrative that can crush us if it’s revealed to be too much of a lie.  “A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene” is about the slick and vicious nature of some of those lies; Sheff buildings the lyrics out of scenes from television shows that Okkervil River’s music has been featured in, including a Cold Case scene where a serial killer picks up a male prostitute, kills them, and buries them in a remote, rocky area.  “Savannah Smiles” shows the flip side, being about Shannon Michelle “Savannah” Wilsey, a pornographic actress who swallowed her own narrative so completely that when she was disfigured in a car accident she killed herself rather than face a life without being her illusory, created self.  “Plus Ones” takes aim at our mad frenzy to keep the story going, to churn out sequels and franchises in order to never end the imposed narratives we’ve become obsessed with.  “A Girl In Port” likens the travelling rock ‘n’ roll band to being sailors with girls in every port, only the girls in port for rock ‘n’ roll bands are acting out the dictates of the (usually false) mythology that builds up around bands.  “You Can’t Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man” bridges the gap between the narrative of youth and wealth and the reality of age and starvation for artists; “Title Track” tackles the illusion of stardom head-on with an eye to it’s utter absurdity.  The final song, “John Allyn Smith” sets sail, tracks the life and suicide of poet John Berryman, a doomed artist who was something of a muse in 2006-2007 as he was referenced by a number of others, including The Hold Steady on Boys And Girls In America.  It examines the mythology of the poet versus the sad, sordid reality (alcoholism and suicide attempts) and caps it off with a rendition of the traditional “Sloop John B” that feels more like suicide note than the raucous ode to debauchery and hangovers it usually is.

The album that came directly after, 2008’s The Stand-Ins, would be a sort of second half of The Stage Names, but would not be as successful in mining it’s themes for frisson; The Stage Names still remains Okkervil River’s crowning achievement.  I first fell in love with it on a bus trip; I was going north to help close down the family cottage and on the bus ride I had enough time to listen to two albums.  I ended up listening to The Stage Names twice, entranced by it’s lyrics, it’s melodies, and the way that the two combined to run goosebumps up and down my arm.  Ten years later I still sing along to every word and, if pressed, I’d probably place it in my twenty favourite albums.