When Matt Valentine and Pat “P.G. Six” Gubler played together in Tower Recordings, they often seemed to represent opposing methodologies within that communal endeavor. While Valentine favored a distinctly American form of entropy, Gubler seemed to advocate for a close study of English folk forms. These differences dissolve in Wet Tuna, which features Gubler and Valentine alone except for a sequence of pinch-hitting drummers. There’s no mistaking Valentine’s voice, even though it’s been funneled through enough effects to make it crinkle like thrice-used aluminum foil.
These two men seem united in their evocation of the sorts of sounds that lure far-gone record nerds down rabbit holes that are far deeper than they look. You can imagine them sitting in some basement home studio, finishing each other’s thoughts as they first propose and then realize ridiculous-yet-possible recording scenarios. “What if Scratch Perry took over John Martyn’s One World sessions … ” Gubler begins. “… But Garcia and Weir sat in and got everyone to play over Arthur Russell b-sides,” finishes Matt. They nod sagely to each other in perfect unison, and then make it so. Water Weird is the home-brewed, rural disco album with dancing-bear-embossed socks on that you never knew until now that you needed. But now that you know, it cannot be denied.
“Hakawati,” the song that kicks of City Of Djinn’s self-titled second album, comes at you like a cavalry attack over rough ground. The drums stomp, a rhythm guitar pounds, and an electric buzuq casts an intricate lead the long way around, flanking you on either side before the massed vocals charge straight at you. The message is resistance, and the sound is big and stirring.
It’s a bit of a shock to find out that the Chicago-based band numbers only two men: Marwan Kamel and Micah Bezold. But that’s what volume, determination and a few overdubs can do for you. Even more shocking is that the record sounds pretty close to how they do in concert, where these guys keep the beat with kick drums while they bash out power chords and snake their way through winding, modal scales.
David Kilgour’s first album in five years confirms his enduring strengths as a singer, guitarist and composer, but it also stands apart from anything else he’s done. Half of Bobbie’s A Girl, which was recorded in Kilgour’s hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand, is instrumental, and it sustains a low-key vibe from start to end. Drums played with brushes and gauzy vibraphone set the stage for Kilgour’s gentle singing, which tends to cycle through a few repeated phrases that sound off-hand until you realize that he’s singing about some of the heaviest stuff around.
The album came together after Kilgour lost an old friend and a parent, and there are moments where you become aware you’re eavesdropping on a conversation with someone in the afterlife. But Bobbie’s A Girl isn’t about wallowing in grief; it’s about letting go and carrying on. The guitars, played by Kilgour and long-time Heavy Eight Thom Bell, do a lot of the talking; sparse, tremolo leads impart the feeling of being between times and states, but patiently choogling rhythms alert you to the fact that the world’s not going to stop. And if you’re playing or listening, you don’t need stop either, not just yet. The album’s cover depicts a stray cat that turned up on Kilgour’s front porch and became a part of the family. Like its namesake, Bobbie’s A Girl is a comforting presence.
Brian Crook doesn’t make solo albums very often. He doesn’t need to. The Joshua Tree, Calif., resident is the co-lead singer and writer in the Renderers, and if he ever makes it back to New Zealand, which he left seven years ago, the Terminals would probably be happy to welcome him back. At any rate, the latter combo (full disclosure: I put out one of their singles back in 1996) never replaced him with another lead guitarist, and when you hear Crook on The World Just Eats Me Up Alive, you can well imagine why. If a tune requires long, spiraling lines of fuzz or terse, white-knuckled accompaniment, he’s right there. But Crook also stands ready to drop in abstract starbursts, acid-scored drones or sonic black holes that’ll put your heart in arrest for the duration of a song. He doesn’t just make a whale of a noise—he makes you feel like it matters.
Since Crook is a team player, he’s not going to let his contributions put a band’s music out of balance. The Renderers wouldn’t be the group they are, after all, without the beauty of Maryrose Crook’s singing to balance her husband’s beastly groan. In fact, Brian Crook is backed by both bands on this LP, whose seven tracks were recorded over a span of eight years. But focus on these performances. His voice (whose range has expanded over time to attain parched-yet-nimble rasp as well as the horrified holler of yore) and his corrosive guitar playing (which is simply better than ever) share the center. Every once in a while, you need to stare into the dark without any light to distract you. When that time comes, The World Just Eats Me Up Alive is at your service.
The name Weeping Bang Band stokes expectations for cannabis-reliant comedy, or at least a few cracks about why the bong is sad. But while II evokes the cloudiness of consciousness that comes from congregating in smoke-filled rooms, neither tragedy nor hilarity is on the agenda here. Just ask NASA; it requires both serious intent and technical facility to induce lift-off, and this quintet—Anthony Pasquarosa, Beverley Ketch, Clark Griffin, PG Six and Wednesday Knudsen—has the right stuff.
Weeping Bang Band’s sophomore LP opens on a ceremonial note, with echo-laden banjo and reverent organ tones marking the clearing where Ketch stands, reciting a poem that intimates knowledge and loss. After that, II is completely instrumental, with liquid guitar tones and knowing piano figures winding around quietly questing bass lines. This music was recorded in real time by musicians who know how to listen and respond, and who do so in ways that keep the focus on sustaining a zonked vibe rather than indulging in wanton zonkedness themselves.