Thirty-five years on from “Love Will Tear Us Apart”—Joy Division’s magnum opus during a short career that was essentially a human highlight reel of concepts that would go on to form the backbone of what we now shorthand as “post-punk”—the band remains a mythical unicorn, a Mancunian magic act that briefly appeared on our collective horizon, sprinkled dark genius all over the yard, and then disappeared, morphing into a more commercial entity (New Order) that would still challenge our ears, if not quite our convictions.
Honestly, I know very few music fans of a certain age who don’t already own some or even all of the band’s oeuvre; these re-releases of four nonetheless essential documents may only be speaking to a few completists or hardcore superfans at this point (who will find alternative mixes of “Love” or a randomly unearthed techno-oddity like “As You Said” worth owning anyway on an expanded Substance). But that doesn’t mean that Ian Curtis’ courageousness—his ego and conscience stripped bare for all to hear on classics such as “She’s Lost Control,” “Isolation” and “Transmission”—and his band’s inexplicably tuned-in and empathetic collaboration isn’t still a marvel, years after Curtis’ demise.
If I learned anything as a young person about what it means to be an outsider and still face the day—with flaws and human foibles bravely embroidered on the heart like a glow-in-the-dark badge—I learned it from Joy Division. The future of the rest of our musical lives began here.
Eszter Balint is a fascinating face familiar to downtown NYC film lovers for her work in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge, Woody Allen’s Shadows And Fog and a six show arc in Louis C.K.’s Louie. Yet, it’s her small-yet-captivating voice, her hard cabaretish songwriting skills and Baltic art-punk arrangements that form the center of third solo album Airless Midnight.
With the help of dierently skilled avant-guitar heroes (Chris Cochrane, Marc Ribot, Dave Schramm) and weary occasional co-vocalist Sam Phillips, the actress/singer lends dour punk theatricality to the noir-ish “Trouble You Don’t See” and “Calls At 3 AM.” Sleepy-yetchatty moments such as “Lullaby For Tonight” and the dire, dozy “Silence (After The Phone Call)” pack as much power and detail into their track time as any film. Yet, it’s Balint’s voice—small, squirrelly, yet full of blood and emotion—that draws you into Airless Midnight and keeps you riveted.
More menacing and Velvets-influenced than its jangly Paisley Underground brethren, the Dream Syndicate was born seemingly fully formed, creating a debut masterpiece—1982’s The Days Of Wine And Roses—that’s been sorely out of print since 2001, but has now been remastered and reissued. From the opening notes of “Tell Me When It’s Over,” the interplay between guitarist/vocalist Steve Wynn, lead guitarist Karl Precoda, drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Kendra Smith is incendiary and hypnotic, particularly on the scorching “That’s What You Always Say” and the thrilling, epic title track. The Days Of Wine And Roses is essential to any understanding of the college-rock era and represents a major gap in any record collection from which it’s missing.
The reissue adds six rough-edged rehearsal tunes, including two (“Still Holding On To You,” “Armed With An Empty Gun”) that ended up on 1984’s Medicine Show follow-up. Interesting and worthwhile from an archival perspective, they’re skippable because they take time away from listening to The Days Of Wine And Roses proper.
It’s hard not to pick up a spring in your step while listening to mariachi music. The uplift of the brass, the soaring strings, the ay-yi-yi of the vocals … Sadly, most of our connection to mariachi music comes from Mexican restaurants. It’s deeply depressing that there’s so much intensely innovative music being made by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the U.S., and so little of this is ever reported on in the mainstream press. That’s on us, so let this new album of seminal Los Angeles band Mariachi Los Camperos De Nati Cano be your guide to discover more.
Tradición, Arte y Pasión references everything from classic Mexican films to sentimental ballads, popular brass bands and Mexican country music (ranchera songs), and features lyrics like, “I want to cry, I have a sorrow/I want to cry out to the four winds that I’m nothing, that I’m nobody/That I’m worthless without your love, woman.” Exceptional.
To help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, Merge is re-releasing Richard Buckner’s 2000 album The Hill, which used Masters’ work as source material. Masters wrote more than 250 poems that were graveyard monologues, small-town Midwesterners revealing, after death, their grievances and recriminations with angry honesty. Buckner took a handful of them to use as lyrics—or inspirations for instrumentals—and the result was one of his best records.
Backed by Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico—who also worked with Buckner on 1997’s Devotion + Doubt (another Buckner highlight)—the album is full of unsettling, empathetic and poignant portraits. “Child, death is better than life,” claims one character, and Buckner resurrects Masters’ words and makes them persuasive. As always, Buckner’s voice has an inconsistent relationship with pitch, and here he sounds ancient, as if he himself could be singing from beyond the grave.
Old indie-rock bands don’t fade away anymore—they merely fester and split, then inevitably reunite for a lucrative run through the internet-fueled nostalgia circuit. More often than not, they then turn to the tried-and-true formula of touring their “classic” album in its entirety. And really, who can blame them? It’s a win/win situation for both band and audience—the musicians get to revel in crowd adoration and are handsomely compensated, while the fans get to relive their dim and distant youth. And thus, we have erstwhile East Kilbride art-pop terrorists the Jesus And Mary Chain currently touring their unhinged masterpiece and bona fide game-changer, Psychocandy, in all its febrile, demented glory, 30 years on.
And for the most part, they still sound astoundingly good, despite the dubious value of live albums in general. With typical perversity, they play their encore first, and so the set begins with a seven-song run through sundry classics, an especially bruised and gorgeous “Some Candy Talking,” being a standout. That said, JAMC do sound relatively restrained until they hit “Reverence,” where they suddenly shift up a gear—howling squalls of feedback begin to grow in intensity, the sound of the impending apocalypse is upon us, and all is right with the world.
While Jim Reid comes on like Leonard Cohen’s surly reprobate nephew, as Psychocandy unfurls in full, brother William revels in his role as one-man guitar army. Their heady blend of industrial white noise mixed with the pop suss of the Shangri-Las reminds you of just how genuinely incendiary they sounded first time around back in the shiny, glossy vapid mid-’80s. Cheap nostalgia and cynicism be damned. They still sound—on this evidence at least—utterly majestic.
Anyone acquainted with the Canadian collective’s rootsy approximation of rural American soundscapes—true rust-bucket takes on folk, blues, R&B, country, gospel, rockabilly and brass band music rolled into one funky, hunky, forlorn vocal blend—knows that the Band’s original vinyl and CD pressings didn’t have oomph. The hillbilly curl of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Rich Danko’s smoked voices (all deceased), their Biblical texts, the rhythmic kink—even Garth Hudson’s bittersweet organ swells and accordion wheezes—were muffled.
Thankfully, what this newly remastered collection does is maintain that the Band’s mystery murk—the ambiance of Appalachian hills, the mossy lushness of Kentucky greenery, the honk of everything New Orleans—is still in place. That’s the group’s thing. Yet, a greater clarity to the Band’s rickety bass/drum partnership and its overall vocal mix gives Music From Big Pink, The Band, Stage Fright, Cahoots, Rock Of Ages, Moondog Matinee and latter-day, often-ignored gems such as Northern Lights: Southern Cross and Islands a necessary shineup; like gold glinting through the dust of the Sierra Madres.
The late Bert Jansch was a master of the acoustic guitar, a Scotsman renowned within the British folk scene of the 1960s, a founding member of legendary group Pentangle, and a notable influence on Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Donovan and many others. Live At The 12 Bar is a neglected recording from 1995 that showcases Jansch’s strengths as a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter.
This intimate solo LP features songs from studio album When The Circus Comes To Town, including an ode to slain revolutionary singer Victor Jara entitled “Let Me Sing” and other haunting originals like “Walk Quietly By” and “Just A Dream.” Jansch’s precise picking drives these performances and o sets his pinched, dry vocal style. Standouts include traditionals like “Blackwater Side” and “Lily Of The West,” as well as songwriter Jackson C. Frank’s favored composition, “Blues Run The Game.” This is a sterling document well worth revisiting.
If you frequent the Hopscotch Festival, which takes place in Raleigh, N.C., at the end of each summer, you should already know that Three Lobed Recordings puts on the best party in a town full of parties. The label curates inspired, daylong combinations of performers that span genres, but are united in their individualistic quality—rather like Parallelogram. Parallelogram’s five LPs are each split between two performers, who get a side to use as they will. It’s not strictly a compilation, but a subscription series, with all five volumes happening to come out at the same time. This understanding of the project explains why it transcends the “not bad, it almost made the album” criterion that so many bands exercise when they donate tracks to a compilation. Only Hiss Golden Messenger’s slick pastiche of late ’70s and early ’80s r&b stylings feels like a dip in the leftover drawer. The rest of Parallelogram’s contributors have used their LP side to either push themselves in some fashion or reassert what makes them good.
Take Bardo Pond’s side-long eff ort, “Screens For A Catch (Fur Bearing Eyes).” The Philadelphia-based psychedelic quintet’s ability to fill a side with hot, slow-motion jamming is well-documented, but here it aims higher. The music feels illusory, yet heavy as a falling mountain; the drums and guitars seem to tread water, and yet, they are never static. Rather, they surge like a maelstrom of molten minerals around the empty core defined by Isobel Sollenberger’s languid voice and flute. Ben Chasny of Six Organs Of Admittance likewise contributes a single piece, “Lsha.” Its layers of churning electronics and acoustic guitar bring to mind the epic unrest of early Popol Vuh, but his falsetto singing bridges the blues of delta denizens and lonesome sailors. Other performers provide reminders of their reliable virtues. William Tyler’s instrumentals stack one reverberant guitar lick atop another like a landscape painter layering oils, first painting a broad bright valley and then showing you the most scenic path through it. Englishman Michael Chapman’s side showcases the state of his voice, reveling in the weathered roughness of 74 years and framing it with little besides his gamboling finger-picking. Thurston Moore and John Moloney’s Caught On Tape illustrates the connections between Moore’s appreciation for song and his freakout tendencies on a revival of 20-year-old song “Ono Soul.” And speaking of freakouts, Yo La Tengo merges feedback surfi ng with an implacable jungle beat on “Electric Eye.”
Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn, who are old mates, sit in on each other’s sides, huddling around a tape machine with banjo, guitars and drum machine. Both sides impress with unexpected cover choices by the likes of Nico and Randy Newman. But most startling—and thrilling—is the live fi rst meeting of Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls), Bill Orcutt (Harry Pussy) and Chris Corsano (Björk, Joe McPhee). Enacted before a Hopscotch audience, it’s a limb-threatening collision of rusty-edged guitar flailing, hurricane drumming and beyond-parodic punk babble by a singer who was never a punk.
Over the course of close to 50 albums, Richard Thompson has set the bar extraordinarily high, so high that even if Still falls short of his best, there’s more than enough awesome to go around. The album title is pure Thompson self-mockery: There’s no stillness here, especially with Jeff Tweedy producing, and though Thompson hammers away at some old themes—he remains pro-knavery (“Long John Silver”) and anti-chastity (“All Buttoned Up” and “Patty Don’t You Put Me Down”)—he sounds fresh, pushing hard at 66 to keep refining his craft, both as a guitarist and a songwriter.
At its strongest, there’s “Dungeons For Eyes,” about shaking the hand of a politician with a bloody past; “Josephine,” where a woman paces the room, waiting for her lover to show; and “Where’s Your Heart,” about a misguided romance with woman who’s like “a puzzle to me with pieces missing.” On guitar, there are too many highlights to name, with an astonishing emotional complexity to the electric solos, set against a stunning collection of ever-shifting acoustic rhythms that draw from British folk-trad, Middle Eastern classical and American rock ‘n’ roll.
From behind the console, Tweedy serves as a first-class enabler, subtly tightening these songs, adding small touches on marxophone and guitorgan, and using three members of Tweedy to fill the spaces between Thompson’s rhythm section. Put them all together and you’ve got a drink that goes down hard, with a potent bittersweetness distilled by a master.