Do we need a fourth volume of Mick Harvey’s Serge Gainsbourg covers? Yes, surprisingly. Intoxicated Women comes out of the same sessions that produced the recent Delirium Tremens, which arrived two decades after his previous Gainsbourg set. This one, however, focuses on duets and songs for female leads; it’s jauntier, if still jaundiced, and contains some of Gainsbourg’s best compositions, including “Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son” and “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus.” Harvey, formerly of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, often cedes the vocals to one of his guests, content to lead the small band from behind the piano or organ. Harvey’s female foils such as Xanthe Waite, Andrea Schroeder and Jess Ribeiro can’t quite match Gainsbourg’s Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin for sexual tension, but the general tenor of Intoxicated Women, in Harvey’s translations of Gainsbourg’s French lyrics, is aptly dissolute, louche and subversive.
It may not be a coincidence that Robert Pollard’s latest Guided By Voices offshoot, ESP Ohio, kicks off its debut album with the two-and-a-half-minute clarion call of “A Much Needed Shot In The Arm.” ESP Ohio—Pollard, guitarist Doug Gillard, Lifeguards producer/drummer Travis Harrison and current GBV bassist Mark Shue—plays with a startling cohesion and renewed verve that suggests TVT/Matador-era GBV, as evidenced by the quietly epic “Miss Hospital ’93,” the punky menace of “Intercourse Fashion,” the compelling thump of “Royal Cyclopean,” the pummeling Who-glazed rumble of “Lithuanian Bombshells” and the loudly epic “Grand Beach Finale.” Let’s face it, if you’ve resisted drinking Pollard’s Kool-Aid to this point, ESP Ohio isn’t going to tempt you to tip his Dixie cup. But to those of us who saltily salute whatever flag the Captain runs up his various flagpoles, Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean is one of the more exciting developments in the recent Pollardverse.
For the last few years, change has both defined San Diego-based duo Crocodiles and made them impossible to define. They were initially a sludgy, doomy garage combo, but Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell’s recent efforts (usually manifesting in an album per year) have pushed the boundaries of guitar-based psych/pop. Calling Dreamless merely the band’s foray into electronica is a bit reductive and not entirely accurate, though the album features more synthetic elements than any of its five predecessors. With the aid of frequent collaborator Martin Thulin on keys, Welchez and Rowell reimagine their attack on Dreamless, opting for Joy Division-esque menace (“Go Now”) and dark disco (“Maximum Penetration”). The songs range from grimy rave-ups like “I’m Sick” to oddly bubbly closer “Not Even In Your Dreams.” Dreamless might not be as thunderous as Endless Summer or as hooky as Crimes Of Passion, but it vastly improves on the scattershot Boys, suggesting that, at least for now, Crocodiles got their groove back.
We’ve seen several once-forgotten folk luminaries return to recording after multi-decade silences (Vashti Bunyan at 60, Linda Perhacs at 70), but Shirley Collins, now 81, is a special case. A primary architect of the British Folk Revival—not a songwriter but a peerless, iconic interpreter as well as an intrepid scholar/archivist of traditional music—she’s as venerated in certain small circles as she is broadly unknown outside of them. Her first album in nearly four decades consists, as usual, of songs even older than she is; if that sounds at all stuffy, think again. Lodestar is a deeply strange, idiosyncratic affair—perhaps her wildest and most wide-ranging ever—drawing from the expected English sources, but also French and American (including songs she collected in the U.S. South in 1959, alongside then-partner Alan Lomax), with bold instrumental choices from bottleneck slide guitar (transforming ancient British ballad “Death And The Lady”) to a bracing hurdy-gurdy drone and raucous on-record Morris dancing (both on the astounding 11-minute opening suite). The songs are mostly about death—but then, the songs are always mostly about death. What’s striking is how her voice, which once epitomized the prototypical fair young maiden, remains just as compellingly austere (albeit a good deal lower) but has now come to embody the much richer archetype of the wise old woman, with all the knowing tenderness, subtle humor and wry stoicism that entails.
—K. Ross Hoffman
The Clean said it itself on one of its early songs: “Anything Can Happen.” When David and Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott convene, you might get songs so glorious they can change cultures (in the ’80s, the Clean kicked New Zealand’s underground music scene above ground) or you might get off-handed instrumental scraps. 2001’s Getaway is the first of just two albums that the Clean have recorded in the 21st century, and rather than rehash the glory days, it finds the band experimenting with splendidly Stones-y psychedelia, computer remixes and the aforementioned instrumental scraps. It benefits greatly from the sonic clean-up that it’s received in preparation for its first vinyl pressing. Even better, the bonus CD that comes with both formats compiles the contents of a pair of tour-only live albums that mixed incendiary versions of (then) new and old favorites with highly successful experiments. If you don’t yet know the Clean, pick up Anthology and thank me in the morning. But if you do and you don’t have Getaway, there’s never been a better time to get it.