Why Better Nature is billed as Silversun Pickups’ “most human music thus far” is something of a mystery. The slinky, dreamy Los Angeles quartet’s fourth full-length is hardly a stripped-down effort. Organic elements do not feel unusually emphasized; heavy processing has not been lightened. Indeed, the quest to locate the sweet spot between hyper-layered My Bloody Valentine-esque sonic shimmer, Spoon’s propulsive, tight rhythmic drive and the expansive electronica of Violator-era Depeche Mode (last heard on SP’s 2012 Neck Of The Woods) essentially carries on apace. (Pro tip: A band that releases a hallucinatory music film rather than a music video is probably not about to drop its Nebraska on your unsuspecting skull.)
Do evolution and cultivation rear their heads throughout? Sure. Yet, engaging and alluring as this fresh coat of cool on an easily recognizable sonic vehicle may be, Better Nature nonetheless remains an album destined to placate—not trip out—fans. Nurture kicked the shit out of nature this time out.
The biggest stumbling block for a band like Lucero—which has sculpted and defined its own sound after what seems like 377 years (give or take) on the write/record/tour circuit—is generating new material that not only cuts the mustard, but doesn’t simply rewrite past glories and successes. Of course, a definite stylistic thread exists—the alt-country folk/punk supporting structure, the honky-tonking old soul feel, and Ben Nichols’ always incisive lyrics and gritty storytelling—but there are spots where you can almost hear Lucero slipping with “The Man I Was” and “Throwback No. 2,” which sound sparse and sleepy, almost lazy. Thankfully, those are the rarer occasions of album number 11, as the Memphis ambassadors display strength after songwriting strength on the infectious chorus of “Went Lookin’ For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles,” the driving, forceful horns of “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” and the sizzling boogie of “Young Outlaws.”
Whitney Rose’s voice sounds like it’s coming out of a time machine in RCA’s Studio B in Nashville, circa 1960. Her songwriting blends vintage R&B and retro country. With head Maverick Raul Malo producing, they achieve a timeless sound that crackles with energy and just enough studio polish to remind you that it’s 2015. “The Last Party” is a classic tale of heartbreak, and it sounds like Dolly Parton channeling Jim Reeves, with the pedal steel of Burke Carroll (Shania Twain) weeping in the background. Rose’s wrenching vocal on “Only Just A Dream” is a jaw-dropping blend of Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers. There’s a bit of grit on rocker “The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night,” with Maverick drummer Paul Deakin laying down a solid beat to support Rose’s purring vocal, while Malo duets with Rose on “Be My Baby,” reinventing the Ronettes hit as a smoky country shuffle.
Michael Benjamin Lerner has reached a career point where other artists might start to settle into their carved-out sound. Instead of recycling the effervescent power pop found on (most of) his previous records, Lerner explores bold new frontiers on Ad Infinitum. Despite suggestions of a more synthesizer-heavy direction on portions of 2013’s Dormarion, Lerner’s approach to his fourth Telekinesis album is nonetheless surprising. With each song comes a new exploration of both humanity and technology, underscored by dreamy soundscapes and crisp drum programming. Lush arrangements on “Sleep In” and “In A Future World” give Lerner room to experiment, while the taut “Courtesy Phone” and “Edgewood” bring new energy to the “classic” Telekinesis sound. While not as immediate a confection as past releases, Ad Infinitum is Telekinesis’ Golden Record: broadcast into the cosmos, its twinkling message serving as a reminder of where it’s been and where it’s going.
Quick recap: Hell finally froze over, and someone convinced Louise Post and Nina Gordon to start talking and writing together again. The reward is 14 loudquietloud—and sometimes just plain loud—tracks from the newly reunited O.G. lineup of Veruca Salt. Ghost Notes also reteams the band with American Thighs producer Brad Wood, who … hasn’t changed one bit in two decades, either. Defiantly retro throwbacks like “Black And Blonde” and “The Museum Of Broken Relationships” further the notion of a band in stasis. And, yet, it all sounds minty fresh in a modern context because that odd mix of Post/Gordon harmonies and cock-rock swagger is unique to Veruca Salt and remains a semi-undervalued commodity. Plus, those hooks! Even the outliers, like “Eyes On You” (which recalls Gordon’s solo pop phase) and the meandering six-minute closer, “Alternica,” are super catchy. As comebacks go, it’s perfect.
These are halcyon days, kiddos! While most of the world seems to be falling apart at the seams, ready to rupture from the endless backflow of bullshit, we couldn’t be happier. Yes, the climate is changing, the West Coast is burning and mass murder is a national pastime, but hey, we’ve got a new Royal Trux reissue to listen to! And the timing couldn’t be better, as our copy of the 2002 reissue of these early RT demos has been partied into oblivion. (Side note: Any of you nerds know how to dissolve a malt liquor and illicit powder-based cement that may or may not include various bodily fluids? Send us a letter.) Hand Of Glory, all two tracks/40 minutes of it, captures the Trux at its lo-fi freak-punk best, the perfect hot mess to bookend a hot, messy career.
—Sean L. Maloney
The target audience for Elitism For The People, Pere Ubu’s vinyl archival boxed set of studio and live work from 1975-1978, is exceedingly focused, so let’s assess the set on those terms: If you’re the sort of fidelity geek who squealed when the “Coppola Restoration” of The Godfather allowed you to actually see the blood mist bloom behind Sollozzo’s head when Michael Corleone clipped him in the restaurant, welcome home. Elitism’s four discs of 180-gram vinyl—comprising studio albums The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, the early self-released “Hearpen singles” and a short live set from Max’s Kansas City in 1977—were transferred from the original two-track analogue tapes at super-high digital resolution, then fully remastered. The set is minimally packaged, and reasonably if realistically priced, given the production costs of high-quality vinyl.
But if you’re a fan of these albums, be assured that the music’s never sounded this good or this clear, not even on 1996’s generous Datapanik In The Year Zero boxed set. David Thomas’ high paranoid cluck is placed full, forefront and bell-clear in every mix, making the listening experience somehow even more unsettlingly intimate; Tony Maimone’s bass (and Tim Wright’s famous intro run on “The Modern Dance”) is deeper and sharper, pegged firmly in the EQ as opposed to throbbing around fuzzily all over the tracks.
Because the band is invariably attentive to small touches, Pere Ubu is one of those rare groups that improve exponentially the clearer the audio gets. Even a listener deeply familiar with these records—no, especially that listener—will enjoy a high reward for the outlay, which also comes with digital mp3 or FLAC download.
There are those who would contend that all of Glen Hansard’s musical accomplishments have been cut and tailored from the same bolt of sturdy Irish cloth, but that line of thinking would blithely ignore a good deal of distinct nuance and texture that Hansard brings to his individual projects. For anyone who would like to experience all of Hansard’s estimable gifts in a single listening session, he has thoughtfully provided a compendium of his patented brilliance on Didn’t He Ramble.
Although parts of Ramble live up to the traditional folk mood suggested by its title, Hansard packs the album with enough atmospherics to warrant a nod to Brian Eno (“Grace”), and enough horn-drenched Irish soul to bring a homeland pub to its rowdy feet at closing time (“Lowly Deserter”). Ramble’s first single, “Winning Streak,” strolls along the pleasant trail blazed by Bob Dylan in the service of lyrics that sound as if they were pulled from an Irish prayer book; “Her Mercy” storms in on a glorious Van Morrison-in-gospel-mode wave; and “Just Had To Be The One” pulses with a quiet jazz bloodbuzz and swells with a poppish authority that would make Lee Hazlewood smile.
As usual, every note and syllable on Didn’t He Ramble is indelibly inked with Hansard’s unique musical identity, evidence that the more musical references he accesses, the more he emerges sounding exactly like the folk-and-beyond genius he has presented for the past two and a half decades.
Since 2002’s Up The Bracket (and you can include Babyshambles if you want to reach further backward), audiences have been waiting for Pete Doherty’s Libertines to become the great white garage guitar-pop hope that loomed forever as a promise for both his fans and those of longtime Lib partner Carl Barât. Barât’s brotherhood aside, you could look into Doherty’s under-publicized (and rarely discussed) 2009 solo album Grace/Wastelands as evidence that the Cockney-accented singer, shambolic melody-maker and street urchin-smart lyricist could do anything he set his mind to when thinking and acting clearly (or clearer).
So, with 11 years between Libertines efforts, here is the aptly titled Anthems For Doomed Youth—an album where “Fame And Fortune” is hardly ever fortunate, the “Belly Of The Beast” is bloated from its too-rich intake, and the “Iceman” cometh hard, cold yet with the witty, wily honor of its theatrical predecessor. The guitar sound shared by Doherty and Barât is still the ghostliest space-garage-dub tone since the Specials’ second album; a hollow, spidery, punk flange that stinks of art-reggae ambience (see the slash and skank of “Gunga Din” for the best lesson in that regard) in accordance with the Libertines’ nice-guy rhythm section, drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall.
The same can be said of Doherty and Barât’s vocals, as they weave between each other’s snotty low tones like Fiats on a race track. Their boyish charms are punctuated by sneers and jeers, leaving the listener clueless as to who ends where the other begins. That sort of daft mystery makes Anthems—and the Libertines in general—worth its weight in dope and gold.
First released in 1983, Beat Gen icon Allen Ginsberg’s two-LP epic culled 1971 sessions with Bob Dylan, 1976 recordings with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue band and producer John Hammond, and 1981 studio efforts with now-legendary cellist/composer Arthur Russell for one grand, creakily American poetry jam with the “Howl” king as its mouthpiece. Beat notables David Amram, Happy Traum, Anne Waldman and Peter Orlovsky appear while Ginsberg sings, chants, speaks, rings finger cymbals and plays harmonium, with the blues being the poet’s primary idiom in which to spout repetitive absurdist rants such as “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag” and silly, earnest love songs like “You Are My Dildo.” For all the wordy anti-everything readings (“Stay Away From White House” is a good one) and Ginsberg’s odd and slippery holy demeanor, there are genuine moments of loveliness found within this package, such as the graceful “Gospel Nobel Truths,” a stoic reading of William Blake’s “Tyger” and Ginsberg’s own achingly prosaic “Father Death Blues.”