It’s an inevitable consequence of writing about music, and all the things that surround it, that you’ll end up upsetting someone at some point.
Music, and its’ inherent tendency to evoke tribalism in listeners, tends to make normally rational human beings froth uncontrollably at the mouth when you might happen to mention that you don’t like the latest waxing from their favourite rockin’ teen combo. I always have that at the back of my mind when rationing out what I write about. I cannot possibly write about everything that comes my way – there is just too much of it – so I tend to pick the stuff either that I like, or where it is an established artist I have been following for years. This tends to result in stuff I don’t actually like not being reviewed – other than some passing remark on Facebook sometimes. There is some music I don’t actually see the point of, or reason for, but i’ll restrain myself from making lists of those I have black-balled as that would be a waste of effort.
I think you can work on the assumption if I haven’t mentioned them on here then I probably don’t like them, or I just haven’t got round to them yet.
So it’s January 2014 and already the pile of things to consider has grown to, what is approaching, an impossible size to contemplate doing them a reasonable amount of justice. So this little post aims to catch up on a number of things before the pile gets so large that I spend all day writing. So here are the first five offerings of material out in January or just beyond.
So what to make of the new album by Bruce Springsteen? Well it’s called “High Hopes” and it’s like most of his recent releases – perfectly pleasant to listen to, but lacking the cut and thrust of his early work. There are some moments where you think – oh no not another celidh/barn dance number – and others where you are quite astonished that he has added something new and refreshing to his arsenal. There is certainly some variety here – but by the same token there are some inevitable Bruce tropes that he can’t seem to shake off. Highlights are the extended remake of American Skin and the moody Down In The Hole. I often feel he is still borrowing from the 50s/60s pop song book he grew up with, and indeed some of the tunes would not be out of place on the soundtrack to an Elvis Presley movie. On balance this is not one of his best and, at times, he is dangerously close to parodying himself.
Conversely the new album from Carla Bozulich is a thing of complete beauty and to my mind her best work since the best of The Geraldine Fibbers and Ethyl Meatplow. Her first “solo” record, the 2003 album-length cover of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, was rightly hailed as a masterpiece of reinterpretation and re-contextualisation. Her first album for Constellation was 2006’s Evangelista, after which Bozulich adopted the Evangelista moniker for subsequent work, and released three more albums between 2008-2011 – the last being the excellent “In Animal Tongue” . She has set aside Evangelista for now, to focus on the songs that form “Boy”, her third record under her own name. Apparently this is Carla’s “pop” record – not so much a misnomer, more a lateral perspective I would guess. This is an incredible melange of brooding blues, where industrial sounds clash against off kilter rhythms and impressive vocal dexterity. Tempos rarely exceed medium pace creating an intense and focused listening experience. The expected norms of “rock” instrumentation are set aside for a combination of visceral and laminal drones, sweeps and bleeps coupled with an impressive display of percussion and vocal/spoken word combinations. When guitars do appear they are fractured and brittle creatures in the near distance. Likely to be one of my albums of the year I would guess. Outstanding.
Bong’s latest “Stoner Rock” appears to be delivered with tongue very firmly lodged in cheek. Comprising two tracks, each exceeding 35 minutes, this an hommage of some sort of to the genre described in the title but the degree of repetition and structure takes that musical form to somewhere around the work of Sunn o))) and other contemporaries. Each piece comprises stately and sustained banks of guitars which develop very slowly to a middle section with some spoken word before ambling back to the original structure and drifting into the near distance. I think the word to apply is minimalist.
Kristian Harting has been around the Danish music scene for a while and has worked in everything from Thrash Metal , Noise Pop, Film Scores and Installations. His solo album “Float” is inspired by sufi-music, mali-blues, western low-fi pop and the avant-garde. Harting composes songs using his guitar, voice, circuit-bending and effects – pushing to create sounds that are gritty and noisy yet beautiful and pretty – culminating in diverse electronic and acoustic trips. It is refreshing to hear a voice that does not seek to copy the current trends and a use of instrumentation that stands apart from the generalised indie sounds of today. If I was to draw a comparison it would be, musically at least, with God Speed or Mount Zion but with a warmer and more compelling vocal sound. It is certainly epic in approach and delivery and I have a feeling it is one of those albums that will grow on you following repeated listening. There is certainly a lot to explore.
Henry Blacker is the name of the band rather than an individual. A three piece from Somerset they comprise two members of noise band Hey! Colossus plus one of the pairs brother on drums. They deliver high-ish tempo hardcore grunge type rock with a degree of venom – their debut album is called “Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings”. You can put them in a camp with Melvins I think – there’s a degree of reckless abandon, some fairly intense vocals and a fuzzed submarine bass underpinning a very heavy rock guitar sound. There’s also the ability to kick out the jams when they want to. Whether it is all a bit the same thing throughout might be a criticism but I think on balance the scorched earth attack and relentless pursuit of riff and rhythm gives it enough points to shake off any lingering doubts. Imagine a very heavy version of Motorhead fed on a diet of Buzz Osbourne after a bit of Death Metal training and you are getting somewhere close.