Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Deochannaí agus Amharclann areir aríst

Scríobh mé faoi deireanach de reir ag dul amach leis Léna ag cur "deochannaí agus amharclann." Bhuel, d'imigh muidsa aríst areir go teach tabhairne eile agus amharclann eile. Chonaic muid an drama Eireannach eile agus d'ól mé beoir eile. 

Ar dtús, d'imigh muid ag freastail taispeántas fiseán le Marco Brambilla, "An Lineáíl Dhubh". Bhí é ina Músaem na hEalaine i Naomh Monica ann. Tá sé ag déanamh scannáin is mó agus tá siad ag léirigh leis léirshamhlú is mo fós ansin.  

Thóg Brambilla snaidhm reatha leis scannán; taispeáint sé cúrsa dramaíochta. Níl insint gach gearrscéal air, go fírinne. Nílim ábalta focail a chur a rud fúthú go héasca. Mar sin, feic ar an nasc suas! 

D'fhág muid go "An Amadán an tSráidbhaile" go dtí ar lár Choill Chuilleain. Níor chuir cuairt mé go gceantar na Melrose ar feadh nóimead fada. Níl maith liom a siúl leis dream turasóireachtaí agus slua cuairtaíochtaí go starrógachaí, go fíor. 

Ach, fuair muid eolas an bhealaigh go dtí an teacht tabhairne a tughtha do dhaoine go cairdiúil. D'ordaigh mé beoir speisealta, Lagunitas 13 Sonais. Ach, ní raibh é acu, d'inis an cailín freastal orm go luath. 

Is maith liom pionta "Sean-Cearc Bhreac," ar taobh eile. D'ith mé easc sceallogaí blásta. Is brea Léna a h-easc leis glasraí freisin.

Tháinig muid go "An Amharclann Steifir" ag trasna an sráid plódaithe le trácht. Bhreathnaigh muid ina áit bheag "Clocha ina a Phócaí" le Máire Nic Eoin le Béal Feirste. Bhí seomra gann faoi thróscan ann. 

Rinne beirt duine cúig dhuine dhéag. Tá scannán go raibh ag cruinnithe le Meiriceánaigh agus ag léirithe le Sasanach ag déanta i gContae Ciarrai. Déanann beirt duine áitiúil chomh "sa bhreise" scéim a leagan amach in aghaidh na daoine Choill Chuilleain. 

Is cosúil é le "An Fronsa Bhalworth" (ag feicthe an mí seo) mar sin go bhfuil beirt dhráma ag déanta leis páirteannaí go leor leis aisteoirí níos lú. Níor éirigh "Clocha" leis go hiontach. Níor rinne an beirt aisteora go maith i bpáirteannaí éigin agus ní raibh ábalta deachracht a sharú leis blasannaí eagsulái achan.

Ar deireadh, ní raibh suim agam leis an scéal seisean le Nic Eoin. Mar sin féin, is maith liom a feiceáil drama garamharc. Níl eásca ag dul ar an stáitse.

Drinks and Theatre again last night

I wrote recently on account of going out with Layne to get "drinks and theatre". Well, I we went off ourselves again last night to another pub and another theatre. We saw another Irish drama and I drank another beer.

At first, we went off to attend a video exhibition by Marco Brambilla, "The Dark Lining". It was at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. It was made of the biggest screens and they were detailed with the most careful delineation there, furthermore.

Brambilla built a repeating loop with film; it shows a dramatic cycle. It's not easy to tell each short tale, truthfully. I'm not able to put them into words easily. Therefore, look at the above link!

We drove to "The Village Idiot" in the heart of Hollywood. I had not paid a visit to the Melrose district for a long while. I don't like to walk within a tourist crowd and a throng of gawking visitors, truly.

But, we got directions on the way to the pub given by a friendly man. I ordered a special beer, Lagunitas Lucky 13. But, they didn't have it, the waitress told me later.
I liked the pint of "Old Speckled Hen," on the other hand. I ate tasty fish and chips. Layne loved her fish with vegetables also.

We came to the "Zephyr Theatre" across the street crowded with traffic. We watched in a small place "Stones in His Pockets" by Marie Jones from Belfast. It was in a room without hardly any furnishings. 

A pair of people play fifteen people. A film's slated by Americans and directed by an Englishman to be made in County Kerry. A pair of "extras" concoct a scheme to counter the people from Hollywood.

It's similar to "The Walworth Farce" (seen this month) since it's a pair of plays made for lots of parts with few actors. "Stones" did not rise to success. The pair of actors weren't good in some parts and they were not able to handle with success some diverse accents.

Finally, the story itself by Jones for me lacked interest. All the same, it's a pleasure to see drama close-up. It's not easy to go out on stage.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Brook Wilensky-Lanford's "Paradise Lust": Book Review

Wanderlust may have been one curse for Adam and Eve, expelled from Eden. In this survey of modern exiles, their yearning to go back to the Garden afflicts them with the same intensity. Brook Wilensky-Lanford, intrigued by rumors that her great-uncle may have hunted for the site of paradise, begins her own quest. After a prologue introduces the ancient and medieval theorists and the early explorers whose journeys were fantastic or textual rather than real, she examines fourteen examples of modern professors, prophets, and adventurers who asserted their own territorial claims upon the physical proof for our culture’s most enduring origin myth.

The first two chapters, full of detail, moved slowly. They remind the reader of dusty monographs full of meticulously annotated arguments between experts long discredited and ignored. Still, the eccentricities of William Warren, first president of Boston University, who sought Eden at none other than the North Pole with its “hyperborean Eocene Man,” and then Friedrich Delitzsch, whose professor father renounced Judaism for a dogged Lutheranism which for his son became an Aryan defense of the last Kaiser’s imperial ambitions in Mesopotamia, certainly make for an off-beat contrast. The tensions between biblical criticism and traditional beliefs, which both academics attempted to ease as they wrangled over the location of Eden, make for a dramatic case study in what foibles even the most learned professors of the early twentieth century might advance if in the interests of dubious archeology and dangerous anti-semitism.

Reverend Landon West began that century by popularizing a Native American Serpent Mound in Ohio as the site where the snake tempted Eve. The difference was that the original natives were drowned in the Flood, and the Indians who repopulated the continent had no connection to the primordial pair who produced America’s earliest settlers. Most did not take this German Baptist seriously.

More successful were those scholars who tried to use, as Delitzsch’s Assyriology had enabled biblical students in Germany, the emerging scholarship on what the cuneiform tablets unearthed revealed about ur-texts which predated by a millennium the book of Genesis. Oxford academic Archibald Henry Sayce figured that scripture could be proven by not its divergence from the earlier evidence (as his colleague and rival Delitzsch found himself entangled within) but for its direct continuity with Babylonian sources. Sayce reasoned that Moses revised pagan accounts to match the morality of the new Hebraic codes.

Over in Hong Kong, in 1914, Tse Tsan Tai stayed up one night to draft his short pamphlet which solved the problem that confounded Western scholars. The location of the Garden of Eden rested in Chinese Turkestan. Noah equals Nü Wa in the ancient epics of Tse’s homeland. The vast inland sea of Central Asia once flowed with water after the deluge, which wiped out Eden.

Irrigation engineer William Willcocks also sought an actual Eden, but one recoverable by his imperial efforts to reclaim the deserts to make them fertile again. Willcocks tried to match the Mesopotamian landscape with the biblical topography. Sayce pinpointed an Eden in the marshlands of what is now Iraq; Willcocks tracked a “Garden of Eden of the Semites” to an area farther north, so he labeled his competing countryman’s site the “Garden of Eden of Sumer.” He compromised that the “Sons of God” set their monotheistic, proto-Judaic site in one place. Then, Willcocks relegated the polytheistic Sumerians to Sayce’s other realm.

World Wars interfered but also strengthened similar suppositions, for the British remained engaged within this oil-rich region. Qurna at the junction of the Tigris and the Euphrates promoted the original Tree of Knowledge. In 1946, the Times of London reported on that the tree “has withered and died.” However, it then added: “Doubtless concerned for the continuity of knowledge, the enterprising local authorities have planted a new one.” (119)

Across the globe, Wilensky-Lanford explains that by mid-century, such efforts to link the present-day land to antediluvian evidence faded as the Scopes “monkey trial” drove creationists and biblical literalists into their own retreat. American media mocked fundamentalists, as science swayed most within an increasingly secular constituency. Amateurs replaced professors, and professionals surrendered the search for Eden to adventurers and those on the fringe.

Yet even those in the rationalist mainstream might be lured into this quest. William and Lana Sadler, two Chicago doctors and leading progressives, became believers. They led a group which in 1924 began The Urantia Book, which they transcribed as dictated from a higher power, full of a complicated edenic if alien storyline that made the puzzles left by Genesis seem simplistic.

Down in remote Northern Florida, Elvy Edison Calloway represented the revenge of the fundamentalists. In 1956, he re-created the site of Eden as a libertarian, anti-New Deal, fiercely anti-Communist, yet pro-feminist park in an unwitting revival of Landon West’s Ohio attraction. Calloway tolerated more progress than West, but the two Baptists agreed on a retreat from the “spiritual confusion” that modern life and values popularized as biblical verities fought for a comeback.

Thor Heyerdahl’s fame came with Kon-Tiki after World War Two, one of his many attempts to travel back to beginnings. He decided to start at Qurna, and to retrace backwards the ancient exodus that had led Sumerians out of Africa, first from Egypt to the Indus Valley in today’s Pakistan and then to Mesopotamia. His reed ship Tigris in 1977 set sail, meeting Cold War snafus, polluted waters, and despite a series of mishaps, some pioneering assumptions that anthropologists entertain about the interconnectedness of these early civilizations.

The book’s final section enlivens the tale; finally Wilensky-Lanford starts her own journey. Her visit to a redoubt in Northern Kentucky, the Creation Museum, represents the return of literalism to American classrooms and pulpits. Creationism attempts to reconcile science with the Bible, and the author provides a thoughtful consideration of a view that challenges her own skepticism. Touring the exhibits of Eden in chronological order, she marvels at their lifelike qualities. “In the first scene, a dark-haired Caucasian Adam named the animals. He reached one hand forward toward a deer and an elk. In the crook of his arm he held a tiny lamb, both symbolizing Christ and conveniently covering his private parts. At this point of course Adam was still naked and unashamed, but the viewers were not.” (213)

Yet, the location of Eden, amidst the determinedly detailed “evidence” amassed at the museum, itself remains for modern literalists a mystery. Noah’s flood erased its traces. For fundamentalists now, earlier adventurers recede along with their diligent theories. The Bible, for once, does not offer literalists a clear answer about where the Garden existed.

After a chapter investigating another religious version of a place now vanished, the Mormon ties to Northern Missouri as Joseph Smith’s Eden and Zion once upon a time, the book explains new ideas from archeologists who attempt to match cultural shifts from hunter-gatherer nomads to agriculturalists ten thousand years ago with the recorded traces, “likely residual stories” from memories passed down perhaps seven thousand years before writing arrived in Egypt and Sumer. These became the Middle Eastern stories that the Bible then preserved and adapted.

Juris Zarins supposes that the first farmers were driven off by rising floods around 5,000 B.C. The angry Arabian nomads might have harried their Mesopotamian farming rivals. This clash might have led in a primitive logic to divine retribution for farmers who had tried to use what they gleaned from a Tree of Knowledge to plant and sow, to usurp the role of the divine. This story of exile and guilt could enter into Sumerian myth as the agriculturalists, blamed for their transgressions against nature and the gods, fled the flooding of their homeland and their gardens.

While other scholars argue, inevitably, against Zarins, Wilensky-Langford accepts this as part of the process, for nobody can dig up a garden that has vanished. Eden’s dream fades, theories are debunked, but new ones sprout as this most original of stories remains timeless. Visiting Qurna after the latest war, she finds this Iraqi city replacing the withered stumps of its tree with olive saplings, one named Eve: “it still had vibrant, real, green leaves.” (Featured at the New York Journal of Books 8-2-11)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mekons' "Ancient & Modern": Music Review

This starts, the subtitle tells us, in 1911. Edwardian hopes emerge from the tinkling and creaking sounds opening "Warm Summer Sun": "Firelight and toast after I come home from playing cricket", the narrator muses. But, this is no Village Green preserved from a sunny afternoon on a Kinks record. "I look out on corpses, skeleton trees" reveals the "unimaginable hell in front of my eyes."

For their twenty-sixth album, this Leeds-founded ensemble in their thirty-fourth year can look back themselves on a career from heaven to hell and back (to paraphrase their titles from a live LP or two), of raucous merriment and searing sorrow in their diverse, punk-folk rooted approach. The CD is cleverly packaged as if an old phonograph record, with witty band member monikers and period illustrations, but this presentation plays against, or off, the serious contents of its untidy moral tales.

Mekons embody the stories of people caught up in the gap between the idealized and the real. Their political outlook incorporates, on this album as many before, references to diverse struggles: "it's really just a story that's been told", they conclude on "Arthur's Angel", only to add as the final line, "a story that's been sold".

A reflective album of diverse melodies, these nine Mekons share a varied soundscape. The promotional tour for this release alternates between "a quiet night in" and "a wild night out"; this album balances these two moods. Acoustics dominate "Warm Summer Sun" but clash with the warbling, anguished vocals that follow the pastoral opening. "Space in Your Face" recalls the louder, radio-friendly (if subversively themed) stage of the band twenty-odd years ago, as if the Clash learned better lyrics and articulated less facile politics: "I'll make the world think light is dark and maybe just convince myself" goes this song, starting with the anarchist bombing of the Los Angeles Times building and ending with a bitter verbal blast from a betrayed lover.

The personal and political swirl in this martial, brittle rocking tune. Next comes a tipsy, woozy "Geeshie" vamped in earthier manner by Sally Timms. Her insinuating vocals suit a teasing style--if with a more anarchic and existentialist lyric than may have graced a music-hall once. "Gonna build another bomb and hope the doctor comes while there's still time." The enigmatic singer toasts: "To the splendor and the crimes, Nothing happens twice. Raise a glass of wine and try to still time."

"I Fall Asleep" continues in this vein of bitter reflection, a stately ballad with simple piano. Jon Langford's voice, strained if yearning, captures well the method of Mekons: they combine the amateur singer striving for poignancy and emotion, backed by a professional band that matches their vocal capabilities to the challenging, dense, carefully composed lyrics. Here, "I fall asleep when I should pray" dissolves, after male and female renditions, into a swirl of distortion and repetition as if left like a needle on a gramophone, until strings return and the chorus builds to a hymn-like resignation.

"The head of John the Baptist sitting on a tea tray" proves a memorable image, as "Calling All Demons" summons up some haunting spirits, starting off as if Captain Beefheart, in voice and guitar, before smoothing out into a very David Bowie delivery from his "Scary Monsters" period. It tells of a man home from India to the "East Side Irish slums" with "a filthy city river and bubbling sedition"-- this murk drifts into "Ugly Bethesda", the Welsh counterpart, the mining town during a strike. with slate stone contending against "muslin curtains" with a hint of the exotic and erotic in this song, which hints of the Orient in percussion and strings edgily set off against another vocal by Timms, hesitant and trapped in its desire and pain.

The title track begins a three-song stretch that shows the band's music at its best. It mingles the folk with the rock as if the British electric and eclectic styles of the late 1960s and early 1970s simmered into the punk generation ten years after. "Ancient and Modern" spans much in a few minutes. Its lyrics speak of both the "sepia glow" of nostalgia and the "mask of nothingness" that represents the coming, or past, century. Atrocity and "imaginary rites" contend against "slow trains" and "horse races" and cricket again. The war looms: "crawling up the muddy hill, dropping like flies"-- as if Thomas Hardy's poems about modern brutality found fresh and weary voice in this miniature epic, on an album recorded in Devon, with this song featuring a Welsh male chorus.

Langford's warped vocals carry "Afar & Forlorn" back to a singer who "laughs and wakes up smiling on the grassy mound a hundred years ago" even as the song emphasizes the distance and the loneliness of one who has strayed into sadness. The accordion and the guitar, the drums and the fiddle combine to convey this isolation.

"Honey Bear" prolongs this search for the end in the beginning, a rousing straightforward rock song that belies another complex parable. "The further the story is from the truth, the more you need propaganda": Langford's warning proves how relevant this album is for our times as much as any past century's application. The speaker flees the village green and blue sky, as if madness or frustration impels him to "have a long conversation with the honey bear" far from Pooh Corner.

Disturbing scenes of poisoned sheepdogs and pale eyes fading segue into "The Devil at Rest"--which may be a misnomer. This tiptoes through a tune that hesitates and sneaks around. Timms pokes about the song, telling of a balloon rising with "black burning smoke" until a promise emerges. Typically, it holds off a calmer world until first the apocalypse. "We'll cut the grass after the bombardment."

"Arthur's Angel" closes this suite with a mid-tempo electric tune that sighs at the folly of it all. A soldier trapped in No Man's Land articulates his last thoughts, wondering "if you see the same as me?" The wires mark boundaries, the lines on maps. Treasures once sought for salvation tarnish, as they are replaced by "the guns, the manufacturer" who produces the "national treasures of their age."

This could smack on paper of the Marxist seminar or agitprop pamphlet, but Mekons after a third of their own century know better than to peddle catchy slogans or facile rhetoric. As mature music that sweeps up intelligent, elusive imagery into compact songs through this well-sequenced delivery of radically traditional tunes, this album redeems itself as both a tribute to the forgotten men and women of the past and to this band who makes their voices and thoughts come alive in a time of necessary reflection and direction, 1911-2011.

(Featured 10-7-11 at PopMatters-- slightly altered for Amazon US 10-7-11)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Márta Sebéstyen's "I Can See the Gates of Heaven": Music Review

She's one of my favorite singers. Her work with Muzsikás, the Hungarian folk ensemble, and her soundtrack and world music collaborations brought her deserved acclaim, but not as much as she deserves. I hope Márta Sebestyén’s newest record brings her success. It may surpass even her distinguished track record these past few decades.

The leading singer of Hungarian music, renowned for her decades with Muszikás as well as her contributions to Deep Forest and the soundtrack for “The English Patient,” Márta Sebestyén’s first album for her own label may even surpass her impressive track record. This album, for listeners as this reviewer who have admired her work, so long into her career, impresses by its experimental quality and melodic range.

Balazs Dongo Sokolay (bagpipes, shepherd’s flutes, tárogotó, saxophone, and zither) and Matyas Bolya (“oriental fretless lute” and zither) accompany Sebestyén expertly. They provide a sound less based than her former bandmates in Hungarian folk and more reminiscent of Central Asian and medieval Christian influences. As this album adapts eight Hungarian songs from secular and sacred sources, it surprises by its ability to stay rooted in the past while eager to play with the present world music possibilities in a deft, inventive, and energetic fashion. Each song tells a story any listener may visualize, beyond the Magyar lyrics.

“Vision” starts harshly, as if blustering in from Siberian steppes, and then relaxes into a folksy tune; “Heritage” reminds us of the Central Asian origins of the Hungarian nation and stretches into the Far East with a delicate melody; “Flower Gatherers” may conjure up with its winding guitars a song from Pentangle.

“Driving Away Sorrow” wanders back to a hunter on the icy plateau with its overlays of throat-singing and deep chanting. “Invocation” offers a Eastern European touch with woodwinds and plucked, jazzier moodiness. “Valiant Knights” continues this tone. Fittingly for its title, horns massed usher in a dramatic introduction of a wall of Renaissance sound. Then, klezmer joins lute, into a danceable tango. This precedes a gentler interlude full of stringed plucking, and then a gentle Japanese rhythm, before it circles back across the Asian continent towards Hungary.

Two Christian tunes conclude this journey. “Good King Matthias” turns part-troubadour in its flutes, part-dance floor with frenetic strums. “Evening Prayer” blends the “Kyrie Eleison” and “Gloria” smoothly into an elegant hymn that any listener, no matter his or her creed, will admire.

This highly recommended album merits praise. Care shows in its rich production, its French-English liner notes, its attention to the controlled energy and its expression of the elegance of its sources. These features make this one of Márta Sebestyén’s best recordings to date, and that is a very impressive feat.

(I wrote this review except for the italicized paragraph for "" and their "RootsWorld Bulletin" site, the great online magazine and store for world music. Also posted to Amazon US 5-13-10.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Willie Clancy's "The Gold Ring": Music Review

"Uilleann piping from Co Clare," this features a champion player of traditional Irish music's most challenging instrument. They say seven years to learn, seven to practice, seven to master, but Clancy sped up. In that amount of time he made the pipes his own, and influenced the greats after him.

These two discs released by RTÉ expand the previously released tapes made for Irish radio of one of the greatest pipers ever. This release blends some of these tapes with others unreleased, from a widely known yet perhaps under-recorded master of Irish music. Influenced by two travelling players, Garrett Barry and Johnny Doran, this Co. Clare native epitomizes its often mournful, often celebratory “open,” plaintive style that the combination of chanter, drones, and regulators can make in skilled hands.

Disc one features the varied styles Clancy mastered. Thirty-four tracks mix radio session recordings with private tapes made in the field as well as in the studio. Disc two serves in archivist-compiler (and piper with The Bothy Band) Peter Browne’s phrase as a “musical biography,” from 1947 to the early 1970s, of thirty-one examples of how Clancy’s playing evolved on its own, as well as his integration of Doran’s example. Browne’s thorough liner notes enhance these remastered and restored tapes.

These selections, for fans of later players such as The Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney, Moving Hearts’ Davy Spillane, Paddy Keenan, and Planxty’s Liam O’Flynn, will attract listeners to the formative decades when Irish traditional music began to leap from the pub and local session to wider acclaim. Many of these tracks sound familiar only because students of Clancy’s took them and recorded them in later decades to wider acclaim. Hearing them in their abbreviated, unadorned, raw setting enhances the original encounters listeners would have had with this music, emotional and raw, from this standard Irish instrument, the bagpipe’s lap-held cousin.

The premature death of Clancy in 1973 robbed Irish music of this link between its itinerant, wandering practitioners and today’s studio-skilled students. Clancy asserts his delicate touch, mimicking bleats, cackling beasts sometimes and fiddles, voices, and the wind at others. He in this tribute to his legacy demonstrates how one of the most complicated of instruments turns into one of the most direct expressions of how smooth melody can come from a few pounds of wood, bellows, and leather bag.

(I wrote this review except for one added paragraph for "" and their "RootsWorld Bulletin" site, the great online magazine and store for world music. You can hear Clancy's double jig "The Rolling Waves" from the CD there. My review also appeared on Amazon US 5-12-10)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration": Music Review

Earlier reviews at Amazon US have been tepid. I admit this collaboration's not the way I prefer hearing Altan. I heard Mairéad play with local Donegal fiddlers and sat six feet from her in a tiny village hall, and that was preferable.

Still, this is not as MOR as I feared. I wrote my review below before logging on to Amazon and finding others had heard it and rubbished it. I am not a big fan of such orchestral efforts, but I listened with an open ear, and I hope you do too. After 25 years they may be edging towards the Chieftains film accompaniment route and that'd be a letdown for me, but this isn't "Celtic Women," in my opinion, either. Here's the review as I wrote it-- for an introduction to people who might not have heard them---

This gathers favorite material from arguably Ireland’s leading traditional ensemble. A quarter-century together, Altan here roams into the orchestral, cinematic, epic realm. Recorded with the Irish radio-television orchestra, the songs alternate lots of strings with the Co. Donegal fiddled and strummed expertise that established this band’s reputation.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s direct, wistful vocals offer a contemplative, yearning quality that in this production luckily finds sensitive balance with the massed instrumentation. The group manages to keep their accompaniment muted to allow her singing, often in her native Irish, to float over the woodwinds and flutes. These may remind listeners of the countryside and its wandering lovers about which the lyrics often reflect, as on Cití na gCumann, or the closing lullaby Dún Do Shúil.

Bouzouki player Ciarán Curran, fiddler Ciarán Tourish, guitarist Mark Kelly, and accordionist Dermot Byrne all deliver solid-- if rather understated at times as is necessary in the concert setting-- backing along with Ní Mhaonaigh’s own fiddling. The melancholy airs that this group favors may be heightened by the dedication of this album to Mairéad’s father, himself a musician in a long line of such.

How does this soulful music manage to be honest rather than sentimental? The band lets up and lets the strings take over, and then returns to gently assert its own dynamics. Often, on other records, this combination of orchestra with other genre players washes the tunes into an overlay of symphonic gloss, and vocalists may struggle to be heard above perhaps ninety players --rather than four or five bandmates. But, the group on Dónal agus Mórag holds back so Ní Mhaonaigh’s articulation of tricky Gaelic staccato can be heard clearly, freed in the verse and then backed by the chorus. As this song builds, so gradually does the orchestra, ending in percussive triumph. This depth highlights the back-and-forth nature of this production by the band with arranger Fiachra Trench, which offers more scope than a conventional folk recording.

Fans of The Chieftains, whose music over their own half-century evolved into this type of collaboration, may welcome a chance to hear Altan in this venue. Comb Your Hair and Curl It/ Gweebarra Bridges represent a similar melding of traditional with orchestral arrangements. While their own intimate early efforts (the first five studio recordings released in America on Green Linnet are recommended over their later EMI or Narada New Age-tinged albums) offer the best introductions to this group’s charm, this well-chosen sampler from ten albums may tempt newcomers towards their back catalogue.

The pacing of the tunes accentuates their stately quality. Molly na gCuach Ní Chuilleannáin recalls pre-synthesizer Clannad (from the same district as Altan) with its massed vocals and rhythmic pace. They cover one of Clannad’s best tunes, Gleanntain Ghlas Ghaoth Dhobhair, which was adapted into The Shamrock Shore, itself well sung by both Paul Brady and Horslips. This typical interplay of the Irish tradition with its modern interpreters shows Altan’s ability to popularize its heritage while staying close to its roots—which are in Gaoth Dhobhair on the remote northwest coast of Co. Donegal.

The Christmas tune Soilse na Nollaig and the standby As I Roved Out slow the direction down a bit too much, but what follows is memorable. This is The Sunset, composed by Seamus Quinn and Cathal McConnell, all the way from their 1987 début. Its gently rippling melody, once rendered by their late flautist Frankie Kennedy, deserves its reprise here alongside Byrne’s nimble support. With such a range of feeling and expression of moods that Altan conveys, their innovations here show continued love for the music and a delight in delivering it with respect and affection.

(Posted to Amazon US 5-12-10 with the italicized part added; featured on PopMatters 6-14-10; the rest originally for "" and their "RootsWorld Bulletin" site, the great online magazine and store for world music.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Téada's "Ceol & Cuimhne": Music Review

Téada in Irish means strings, ceol music, and cuimhne memory. These three words sum them up: they play traditional sounds, they express their heritage. Yet, the music stays fresh.

Oisín MacDiarmada’s fiddle heads this instrumental ensemble. As on his solo recordings, he blends regional trends, as liner notes document. This Sligo-based band stands at the crossroads between Galway and Donegal. They merge bolder Northern with softer Western approaches. For a non-Irish listener, fiddle-dominated Sligo sounds may seem familiar—its musicians emigrated to command dance halls abroad. This music tends towards a peppier high-stepping lilt.

Therefore, it’s perfect for kicking your own feet up. It might have benefited from more of Damien Stenson’s flute to offset the reliance on fiddle with Paul Finn’s accordion, but it’s a sure-footed release from one of Ireland’s top groups. Téada shows skill in straightforward, direct styles free of studio trickery or synthesized adornment, and for that, listeners will be thankful. (Posted to Amazon US 5-12-10; also as a capsule review for Pop Matters 6-10-10.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Solas "The Turning Tide": Music Review

This veteran Irish American band merges traditional with folk tunes. Fourteen years on, they provide consistent, accessible interpretations of standards, along with original songs in the Irish style, and on this new CD, covers of Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, Josh Ritter, and Karen Polwart.

This broad approach places their style at the middle of the road. Séamus Egan favors in his multi-instrumental leadership a clean, lush, friendly sound. Little of the darker, somber qualities shroud this music for long. Although their covers are, respectively for the artists above, "The Ghost of Tom Joad," "The Poor Ditching Boy," "A Girl in the War," and "Sorry," these socially aware lyrical themes seem novel as conveyed through the soft vocals of recent recruit Máiread Phelan.

Phelan's breathy, whispery delivery expressing Tom Joad's "a hole in the belly, a gun in my hand" forces listeners to reconsider how we react to such a violent tale of revenge in the name of justice. She does not switch the gender of Thompson's lament, and hearing "she cut me through to my bones" likewise catches the audience off-guard. While I am not sure if this was the intended effect of singer matched with these songs, it makes for a more unexpected encounter with venerable folk themes of discontent. Softening their punch, it freshens their sting.

Session musicians on acoustic and electric bass and on drums move some songs towards a mainstream, studio-friendly ambiance. They smooth off the rough edges other Irish bands keep, and this may please or displease aficionados of this genre. Winifred Horan's fiddle, Mick McAuley's accordion and concertina, Éamon McElholm's guitar and keyboards provide modest rather than bold backing on many tunes. They create an ambiance of contentment despite the discontent sung about in the cover songs.

"A Sailor's Life," far shorter than Thompson's former bandmates in Fairport Convention had adapted, waltzes and reels, and the gentle closing guitar-based "A Tune for Roan" show other directions for the band, closer to their previous albums. Solas, whose name means "light" in Irish, tends towards sunniness. Despite the waves that grace the inside folds of this compact disc's presentation, the musical forecast again proves to be brighter. (Posted 5-12-10 to Amazon US and featured 5-26-10 on Pop Matters.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Deochannaí agus Amharclann

Bhí muid ag dul Amharclann Bhean Sí an deireadh coicís ó shín. Is maith linn ag imríonn ansin anois, mar sin bhí Léna agus mé ábalta ól in aice láimhe ag "Tony's Darts Away." Tá sé cúpla míle ar shiúl i mBurbank é.

Feidhmíonn an teach tabhairne seo cuid beoir bhairille go déanta i gCalifoirnia amháin. Go minic, sampláil muid deochannaí difriúl ach leann dubh agus leannaí leis stíl na Beilge go spesialta. Mar sin féin, d'iarr muid leannaí pale leis stíl na hIndia an uair seo.

Chuir cuairt muid greann-dramaíochtaí eagsulaí ina hAmarclann. Ar dtús, chonaic muid "Dilis Mná" le Gearóid Ó Maoilmhichil ar siúl i mBéal Feirste Oirthear. Bhi sé an-fhisicúil, go glórach agus go nádurtha!

Seo chugainn, chuaigh muid ag freastail "Rithe an Bhóthair Ard na Sruth na hÁithe" le Seamusín Ó Murchú. Bhí sé scannán ag déanta; ní fháca mé é. Measaim go mbeadh ag chuala cuid Gaeilge ar feadh ar an scáileán, is amhlaigh.

Bhuel, d'imigh muid go an hAmharclann níos deanaí ag breathnaigh "An Fronsa Bhalworth" le Enda Breatnach. Is cosúil é le "Rithe" mar sin go bhfuil beirt dhráma le inimircigh Londain. Mar sin féin, smaoinaigh mé nach raibh chomh maith é.

Shíl mé go raibh ró-fhada sin. Thuig muid an "bun-bpointe" faoi an plot. Mar sin féin, dhealraigh an scéal ró-chasta.

Ar an taobh eile, bhain sult as againn ag dul "amach ar an mbaile." Measaim an amharclann chomh fáilteach; is iad na aisteorí cumasach. Ar deireadh, d'ól deochannaí den chaighdeán leis fearr, leis ispíní glasraí. Tá siad níos blásta ann!

Deochannaí agus Amharclann

We went to the Banshee Theatre a fortnight ago. We like going off there now, since Layne and I are able to drink nearby at "Tony's Darts Away." It's a few miles away in Burbank.

This tavern features a share of draft beers made only in California. Often, we've sampled different drinks but especially stout and Belgian-style ales. All the same, we asked for India Pale Ales this time.

We've paid a visit to various tragicomedies at the Theatre. First, we saw "Loyal Women" by Gary Mitchell taking place in East Belfast. It was very loud and very physical, naturally!

Next, we attended "Kings of the Kilburn {="stream of the kiln" in Old English, not Scots!} High Road" by Jimmy Murphy. It was made into a film; I haven't seen it. I think there's heard a share of Irish during it on screen, moreover.

Well, we went off to the Theatre lately watching "The Walworth Farce" by Enda Walsh. It's similar to "Kings" because the drama pair are with Irish immigrants. However, I thought it wasn't as good.

I thought that it was too long. We understood the "basic point" about the plot. However, the story seemed too convoluted.

On the other hand, we enjoyed going "out on the town." I reckon that the theater us welcoming; the actors are talented. Finally, we drank the highest quality drinks, with veggie sausages. They were very tasty there!

Eolas/Info: Amharclann Bhean Sí/Theatre Banshee

Grianghraf/Photo: LA Theatre Review

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oneida's "Absolute II": Music Review

This send-off into the vacuum realm above completes the Thank Your Parents trilogy begun three years ago with Teenage Weaponry, three long songs heavy on trance. Oneida continued in 2009 with Rated O, a sprawling triple-album's worth of clang, clatter and clash added to longer drones. Absolute II ends the experiment with no drums at all. Kid Millions, after working lately with White Hills (see my review last month of their newest, Hp-1), does not feature his dramatic bashing here at all. Instead, this Brooklyn band, with a baker's dozen years worth of recording an intellectual response to stoner rock, Krautrock, psychedelic pastiche and prog-rock filigree, tempers their assault while continuing its textured aggression.

The band launches off to deep space. This album provides a sinister soundtrack to a post-Kubrick odyssey. "Pre-Human" opens with primordial silence between keyboard noises and ambient moods. It stretches out and feels longer than its nine minutes. With no snares or toms to beat, the song wanders: lonely and yearning.

"Horizons" spends much of its eleven minutes twiddling in another atmospheric phase, as electronics distort and vocals phased at first irritate, and then blend into the trajectory. This album, more like the first installment in the trilogy than the second, concentrates on disturbing the listener, as vocal bursts shatter the simmering void. While some listeners may be annoyed by what may at casual attention seem only a rambling track, repeated plays should cause this to burrow into one's consciousness as it attempts to alter one's impressions.

I expected the guitars to enter, and they did, as "Grey Area" starts a ten-minute storm. Buzzy loops intersperse with chords that slice across the static. Most of this song keeps an uneasy pace. My music player shut off as I listened to it, perhaps ticked off by the track's refusal to follow convention. Yet a haunted, nearly monastic atmosphere enters at times, as depth is evoked in the ominous pauses between the descending shards of guitar. The hiss reminds one of interstellar radiation, as if left over from the Big Bang.

With the ten-minute title track concluding this brief album, its relatively short playing time does not detract from its cumulative effect. There's an abundance of noise here, but careful attention to the album as on this track shows that this amplification balances with emptiness, and hints of noise persist among the electronic spatter that dominates.With so few spoken moments, and those warped beyond comprehension, the alien theme of this record rewards the very patient, or lethargically prone, compliant listener.

At first listens, I wanted to dismiss this as lazy goofing around with effect-laden machines. The band, by downsizing its approach, may disappoint its fans used to its more rousing, if occasionally self-indulgent, overly allusive sonic poses. If you are not in the right spirit, this album may inspire you to turn it off rather than make it through. If I was not assigned to review it, I wonder if I'd have had the patience to analyze it?

So, it comes with a warning label. Perseverance may reward the diligent seeker, but admirers of their earlier arena-rock or stoner-rock stages, a more raucous delivery of catchy tunes, may feel let down by this metal machine music. It took me a while to warm to its chilly, unwelcoming temperature, accustomed as I was to Oneida's art-school phase, its punchier if more fey mid-decade work. But those who may be curious about mood music that upends one's emotions rather than calming them down may welcome this shambling trip into interstellar breakdown, instead of overdrive. (Featured at PopMatters 8-11-11 & to Amazon US.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Feelies' "Here Before": Music Review

Great textures, not a weak track, excellent production by Bill Million & Glenn Mercer. This will grow on me. I tend to be cautious about reunions twenty years on, but this continues where "The Good Earth" in its folksier side merged with the softer songs on the overlooked "Only Life."

Not as exuberant as "Crazy Rhythms" or as Dylanesque as the angrier "Time for a Witness," so this extends more the Feelies as they were in the mid-to-late '80s. This mid-tempo, steady, strumming pastoral outing reminds me of Luna, where drummer Stan Demeski went after the Feelies, and New Jersey neighbors Speed the Plough & Yo La Tengo (a member of StP & YLT get nods in the liner notes). Those who followed Wake Ooloo, Glenn's solo work, and the earlier side-projects such as the Trypes will recognize signature sounds swirling about now and then. Not to mention those who admire another group who rose as the Feelies settled, Galaxie 500.

I like the understated vocals, more unassuming even on the peppier "Time is Right," as they provide a solid foundation for the band. "When You Know" and "Way Down" catch the ear right away. There's an insistent riff within Velvet-like "On and On" even if I hear fewer percussion tricks from Dave Weckerman outside of this tune, but repeated listenings may bring out more secrets. The guitar work on this song digs in, under layered drones.

There's an appealing maturity to this ensemble, with Brenda Sauter's bass on "Bluer Skies" underpinning the optimism that invigorates this impressive, yet modestly inspirational more than melancholic return from one of my favorite bands. I've waited a long time for this, the fifth album, from one of my favorite bands. Glad to hear it turned out so well. (Posted to Amazon US 4-20-11 & 4-21)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Faust's "Something Dirty": Music Review

If Pete Frame drew a family tree of this experimental band, founded in 1971 in Germany, he’d face a challenge. The newest release comes with a respectable pedigree, from founders Jean-Hervé Péron on bass and Zappi Diermaier on drums, joined by Gallon Drunk guitarist James Johnston and vocalist-keyboardist Geraldine Swayne. The original band, which lasted officially until 1975, reformed in the early 1990s. It now has another wing, performing and recording under the same name. Despite or because of the complicated lineup and intricate changes, this trans-European quartet sounds impressively fresh and entertainingly bold. If PiL could have (should have?) continued with their own early innovations, inspired by Faust, then postpunk, combined with krautrock, Can’s tribalism, Velvet Underground-influenced noise collages, and Patti Smith’s free-form poetic jags would resemble this resurrected ensemble. 

This is the fourth record from the Péron-Diermaier wing, as the band reinvented itself as a new group in 2004. They play with the fury of punks, the depth of post-punk, and with the imagination of psychedelia. Something Dirty roams over the terrain of the past forty-five years, rooted in the mid-1960s avant-garde, the late-1960s/early-1970s progressive and acid-rock movements, and the reactions of punk and its aftermath. Each track feels organic, so each remains distinctive, providing a rich range of moods. 

The rousingly titled “Tell the Bitch to Go Home” opens with a homage to Peter Hook’s descending bassline from Joy Division’s “Shadowplay.” This anchors a danceable propulsive krautrock tune that like the best of that genre I wished would never end. “Herbstimmung” as its name implies feels more pastoral in the manner of compatriots Popol Vuh, yet stays edgy, as it adds a disturbing buzz. 

The title track completes a strong introduction based in assertive songs, with chiming guitars recalling New York’s Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca. Yet, it adds Diermaier’s tribal drumming, to drive the clanging chords with a brutal beat as French male vocals chatter and mutter. Voices enter on “Thoughts of the Dead,” as its spooky, spectral vibrations hang amidst spoken word fragments.

This sense of articulated, yet half-cloaked messages lingers with “Lost the Signal,” which dives into a shadowy swirl of stuttering guitars, and hesitant, disjointed keyboards. Swayne’s squawking, restless voices combine with Johnston’s guitar. They wander where John Cale and Nico once lurked. 

Three short tunes keep you guessing. This band rarely hints at when a song may end, as these glimpses open darker corridors. “Je Bouffe” wakes up the dead with a punkish yell full of French spatter, and its squalling assault accompanies a demented waltz. “Whet” does just that with a bit of gothic dub, Its distorted feedback continues into “Invisible Meeting.” This may be a sexier song, depending on your preference for a nightmarish delivery of Swayne’s whispers, miked very close for maximum effect. She ends an impatient litany with a sigh and “are you ok?” which may be a sign of surrender or dominance. 

The ghosts of PiL return with crashing guitars of “Dampfauslass 1” and of “Dampfauslass 2”: the first reminds me of PiL’s “Four Enclosed Walls,” with its pummeling rhythm section; the second sustains this jittery sensation with droning slashes of guitar dumped over a martial beat. “Pythagoras” searches for its own pulse, with shards of sound collapsing into angry guitar, again over a basic, annoyed drum roll.

“Save the Last One” offers only a snippet of violin recalling traditional French folk, but “Le Sole Dorée” extends the Francophone connection into a melodic buildup that begins with Swayne’s chants and then builds up into an breathy, passionate, erotic burst of “go go if you go like this let you go.” This plays well as a spinoff of bands earlier energized by Faust and krautrock, such as Moonshake and Quickspace. It concludes this strong, inventive, and unpredictably diverse album as it began, with a wave of insistent mechanical clatter that shelters remote revelations and exposes a restless heart. (Posted to Amazon US 3-23-11 & 4-21; at PopMatters 4-15-11.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Darker My Love's "Alive as You Are": Music Review

As with the psychedelic movement’s drift away from density among many of its original hitmakers, so with its followers. The back-to-the-country appeal by 1969 or 1970 lured The Grateful Dead and the Byrds away from West coast urban pressures towards gentler pastures. They stripped down their lysergic or cerebral textures and let the fresh air in.

Darker My Love does the same on their third album. Their self-titled debut marked a neo-psych record that rivaled the best of the past twenty years of musicians who expand on what that decade started; 2 bettered the first album by a diversity that recalled late Beatles blended with a crunchier, heavier space rock and a post-punk atmosphere. This had been boosted by some of the band being recruited mid-tour when The Fall took them on as their backing band after, them being The Fall, most of its members left suddenly near the terminus of a 2006 tour in Darker My Love’s hometown of Los Angeles.

As with Angelenos cosmic cowboys Beachwood Sparks and 60’s garage-protopunk revivalists Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Darker My Love shifts away from drone and depth in their third outing. Like those two predecessors, however, this marks a retreat rather than an advance.

This album opens with “Backseat,” a lively ditty which sounds so much like the Dead that listeners may think it a bonus track from a reissue of Touch of Gray The pace steadies as seven out of eleven tracks continue in this mode, which will please anyone wondering if American Beauty or Workingman’s Dead may need performers able to deliver a note-for-note re-creation for a tribute concert. This is solid music; no song falls short of this pleasant, sunny mood.

But it’s a long way up, or down, from the massive assault that created an amazing second album. Fans who may want more of that intensity must seek out the Spaceland releases made at a series of summer 2006 sessions at that L.A. club, made even before 2 in 2008 had bettered the studio debut. That follow-up’s first four songs attest to their command of the songcraft that combines energy with dynamics.

Dynamics are muted on Alive as You Are.The calm mood defies the album’s cover art that features a mascara-rimmed Beatle-haired fop moping behind purple-shaded shrubbery. Instead of gloom, we get glee. This album prefers a casual approach to its return to the decade it loves. While a competent record, the band’s range compresses and the panoramic visions of its earlier albums reduce to a window on a garden, a nice view for a few minutes, but not as satisfying as a bracing expedition up peaks and down canyons that their other records took you through, reminding one of another L.A. exponent of dread and doom, The Warlocks, or Austin’s percussion-heavy messengers of overload, The Black Angels.

A few songs manage to suggest other Sixties influences besides the Dead. “18th Street Shuffle” starts with a “Run, Run, Run” riff that smacks of the Velvet Underground and the vocals match its druggy feel. “Maple Day Getaway” keeps the Dead’s shuffling pace, but adds a bit of pedal steel recalling the Byrds’ country-rock period. “Dear Author” recalls “I Am the Walrus” in its beat, and “A Lovely Game” hints at the Kinks as well as fellow revivalists Lilys and more British vocal mannerisms.

But these and those Dead-like songs pass rapidly on a short album that feels for a band this talented as if dashed off rather than constructed carefully. The talent remains. But Darker My Love can do better if it wishes to show us how it can incorporate its skills into reshaping more challenging material that 2 and the Spaceland tapes have proven in a very convincing way. (Posted to Amazon US & 8-30-10 and featured 9-2-10 at Pop Matters.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Horror The Horror: "Wilderness": Music Review

New York: 10 years after or 30?

If you want to revive the sounds of that city's new-wave clubbers of the late 70s and early 80s, follow these five Swedes. On their third release, they turn, despite their press release, not towards David Gilmour, but closer to David Johansen. Swaggering vocals, the insistent yet lighthearted beats, the combination of angst and ease: these characterize The Horror The Horror.

This album prefers a slightly unsteady tone. Few songs leap out of the bright mix at first. They lurk as grooves. “Feel It” recalls Kid Creole and the Coconuts with its dash of world beats, but most tracks prefer a mid-tempo shuffle under vocals that recall such as Huey Lewis in his pop mode, a comparison I’m not sure the band seeks. The tunes aim for an accessible, glossy, radio-friendly approach. They also want to contain the more sinister, uncertain feel of an urban attitude. Do they have the chops for both?

The title track starts off in a familiar fashion for anybody who’s heard New York bands the past 10 years who listen to New York bands of the past 30 years. Swirling guitars, peppy drums, “ah ah hunh” choruses, rousing riffs: this opener aligns with many songs that aspire to this style stateside. “Honestly” leans towards a crooning, streetwise beat; “Vanity” reveals in spite or due to the title a slight accent from Scandinavia within the American register preferred as the vocal approach.

Joel Lindstrom is credited with vocals, along with two guitarists, Mattias Axelsson and Johan Jansson. Their voices tend towards a confessional appeal, a plaintive tone recalling The Strokes and other bands of a decade ago who sought to capture this same city, this same period. The challenge faced by contemporary musicians admiring the sounds of 30 years ago remains how to avoid imitating their influences. This album never makes a wrong move, but its consistency over nearly every track also shows the risks of too careful a tread upon hallowed grounds of Gotham.

Patrick Thorngren on bass and guitar and Jacob Frodell on drums add to what on paper seems like a rich lineup. They can sound slick, as on “Believe in Magic” or “Submission”, but this also nears the predictability of a romantic comedy’s theme, or a car commercial’s soundtrack. The twin-guitar and rhythm section combine more often for mood than energy. Still, the glimmers of promising echoes that end “The Forest” glimpse at more atmospheric textures too rare on this shiny record.

The band stays often in the shadows while Lindstrom steps out. “Move It!” and “Imbecile” demonstrate with massed backing vocal tracks and insistent structure their intention: to take the tinge of “white R&B” vocals layered on classic rock sprinkled with new-wave sheen. This sultry set of melodies may suit those the morning after a night on the town. But it may not get many to dance the night away before that bleary morning after.

“Out of Here” expresses welcome tension. This final track ends with a slice of distortion. If David Gilmour rather than David Johansen represents the role model for the band’s direction over the past five years, this may promise more intriguing depths for The Horror The Horror. Their name arouses a more visceral reaction than their glossy, sleeker music delivers. Therefore, more dissonance, more experimentation, more daring may allow these five Stockholm fans of the CBGB’s era to follow their idols, who after all sought a more inventive, less soothing, way to entertain audiences circa 1978. (PopMatters posted 5-2-11 with two slight edits; to Amazon US & 5-11-11.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

White Hills' "Hp-1": Music Review

Combining stoner steadiness with spacious soaring, this compresses vocals to a growl. This enigmatic trio expands guitar effects and percussive clatter. Not much of a message can be discerned from the songs themselves, but they frame, according to their press statement, an assault on our status quo.
Ego Sensation, bassist, co-synthesist, and co-vocalist, explains: We can barely pay our rent each month but we are willing to pull out our credit cards and go into debt each time a new iPhone promises a better connection. The joke is on us. Our greater connectivity has caused us to disconnect from our humanity. We have been sold the religion of consumerism to feed the corporate machine. We have been tricked into believing that wanting our tax dollars to pay for our own health care is treacherous to the ideals of a democratic society. H-p1 is symbolic of the simplification of complex ideas to keep the masses from questioning the system.

How does a largely instrumental, bracingly cranky record convey such a manifesto? The title track, closing the album, grumbles about something political, but lacking (in my advance copy) liner notes or much else to go on about this band from their label’s website, its convictions must be accepted as one listens rather than reads, relying on sounds rather than words. Complex ideas in these compositions appear, but they are ground down by repetition, extension, and distortion. This processing renders them more accessible, even catchy, but it also reifies their studio manufacture, their stamp, and their strains.

As with their self-titled Thrill Jockey debut (which followed limited-release vinyl singles, two LPs and three EPs), H-p1 fits into the Boris and Acid Mothers Temple school of Japanese psychedelic, free-form, post-rock where it meets Krautrock, Hawkwind, and stoner-rock revivalists. These musicians aim at an open-ended, experimental approach which lightens the guitar and frees the rhythm section from sludge, if not rattle and hum. White Hills uses voices sparingly, as do their somewhat calmer peers Kinski, for example, to accentuate vocals as an added layer rather than as the dominant sound in their stratified arrangements.

Dave W., also a singer and synthesist, prefers a propulsive guitar for the opener, “Condition”. This is lighter than the bands Sleep or High on Fire in its vocals but it channels their spite. “Movement” and the penultimate track “Monument” share a gritty, industrial, shaky ambiance, closer to the post-Sleep duo Om. This pair stand as very visual songs, landscapes of desolation that end in spatters and pulses, tribal percussion circling around a Mad Max post-apocalyptic expanse.
Drums by Lee Hinshaw (or Oneida’s Kid Millions or Antronhy on certain tracks) keep restless as often as they propel tunes. “No Other Way” methodically progresses, beneath hissing keyboards (Shazzula Nebula adds these on seven songs) which open up into space-rock recalling Farflung’s astral voyages. “Paradise” follows with a motorized guitar riff, an appealing Krautrock progression over more hiss.

As its title indicates, “Upon Arrival” sails into space-rock again, an uptempo song closer to standard hard rock. As on their self-titled debut, I found this reversion to such a trope a slight letdown. Lean and solid, certainly, but White Hills shines when they leave behind these familiar chords for darker skies.

This stage in the album, as on many after mid-point, enters contemplative realms. It stretches out into astral patterns, elongated and attenuated, but their lack of dynamism leaves the listener impatient after the calm shift in this section wears off and the energy dissipates. White Hills structures these songs well, and none falter, yet the livelier, edgier tracks imprint themselves deeper in the imagination.
Their collaborators and colleagues Oneida share with White Hills a love for a hard rock stripped of its bombast. Like Oneida, their heavier, dirtier, earthier influences contend with airier, almost alpine atmospheres. The closing title track represents this dichotomy. Its classic-rock attack directs the listener to its beat, but its subversive shards of vocals are buried under a massive guitar-bass riff and a clean drum pattern.
They can’t figure out whether heavenly flight or angry spatters will triumph. While this title track as with a few earlier ones on this album ends exhausted rather than victorious, it earns respect and commands attention. The band reminds us that its message is “you don’t have to be a drone”. Expressed by often droning music, Hp-1’s liberating message entangles itself in its own melodic medium, half-freed into stars, half-forged by iron. This cryptic core trio, however shifting in its lineups as well as its genres, delivers a solid, satisfying second album. (Posted to PopMatters 6-22-11 & Amazon US &; thanks to bassist Paul Hischier of Farflung who introduced me to their music and reminded me of their earlier discography, albeit unheard by me.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pixies "Doolittle" tribute: my review

Here come your bands

This tribute by over a hundred Bay Area musicians will gratify those who have wondered what Doolittle would sound like if every song sounded nearly the same. It’s an effort far from the spirit of the original album, which stands for me between R.E.M.‘s jangle and the Meat Puppets’ yelps. Doolittle inspired Pavement’s vocals and lyrics and Nirvana’s stop-start, loud-soft dynamic. The Pixies’ second record, it established them in 1990 with radio-friendly songs nestled next to weird exaltation. The diversity of the original 15 tracks, for all their determined experimentation, resulted in compact, odd, punchy songs that clocked in for the most part at less than three minutes.

This sprawling and much longer tribute reassembles these college-rock anthems into frenetic, lurching, orchestral arrangements colliding with alternately funky, corn-pone, theatrical, Latin, jazzy, relentlessly off-kilter interpretations. Classical Revolution and Unwoman’s “Wave of Mutilation” features appealing, earthy female vocals; Conspiracy of Venus’s “Monkey Gone to Heaven” survives the sonic blend best, as they maintain the melodic concision of the source material.

Too many other songs ramble on, veer and shout, stomp and chortle. Their attention-getting but distracting, nagging eclecticism reduces too many players to, ironically (an adverb key to the Pixies’ music), sounding like the hundred-odd other musicians convened to produce this record. Its songs tend to sound the same, diminishing the eclectic appeal of both their inspiration, Doolittle, and these tributes by an equally diverse range of bands crammed onto a busy, buzzing, but ultimately more irritating than pleasing disc.

PopMatters posted July 6, 2011.