Anybody expecting this unreleased session by the man who assembled the heavenly vocal blend of the Mamas And The Papas to sound anything like that beloved combo is doomed to disappointment. Without the pipes of Cass Elliott, Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty, you’re left with John Phillips’ rather ordinary voice singing self-penned tunes (“Zulu Warrior,” “She’s Just 14”) that sound like they were fished from the Rolling Stones’ rag bag. Not surprising, as these 1976-77 Jagger/Richards-produced sessions feature guitar work by Mick Taylor and Ron Wood. Only “Sunset Boulevard” has the self-assured vibe of Phillips’ excellent 1970 solo debut, The Wolf King Of L.A. Bonus material: Five unreleased tracks have been added, including “Don’t Turn Back Now (World’s Greatest Dancer),” which finds Phillips hopelessly lost and attempting a Tom Jones-style production number. An instrumental version of Ricky Nelson’s ”Hello Mary Lou,” an outtake from the soundtrack sessions for 1976 David Bowie film The Man Who Fell To Earth, is glammed up beyond recognition by Mick and Keith. [www.varesesarabande.com]
After Galaxie 500 burned to the ground in 1991 at the hands of frontman Dean Wareham’s blazing ego, drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang retreated and, as they outline in the liner notes to this reissue, “turned our attention to other artistic pursuits: painting, writing, publishing books.” Lucky for us, G500 producer Kramer coaxed the couple back into the studio. Freed, as they put it, from Wareham’s “bad energy” and enthralled by Kramer’s trove of recording gear, Damon & Naomi made the most of their second act, Yang’s ethereal vocals supplying an instant signature as they essayed the peripatetic, slide-guitar dream pop of “E.T.A.,” the strummy freak-folk of “Laika” and more. From the vivid Man Ray photo adorning the sleeve (now a mini-LP design) to a bluesy cover of Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper’s “Memories” and a Twin Peaks-esque take on Claudine Longet’s “This Changing World,” 1992’s More Sad Hits signals an artistic pursuit. Out of the cinders of G500, the duo emerged dreamily optimistic and triumphant. Bonus material: None. [www.20-20-20.com]
While conventional wisdom holds that Calexico fuses mariachi and rock music, the band has always accomplished more than that. Core members Joey Burns (vocals, guitars) and John Convertino (drums) can also kick up honky-tonk sawdust, wring tears with a folk ballad or make dim lights flicker with noir-jazz ambience, and they generally sound best when they’re doing more than one thing at a time. They went wrong on 2006’s Garden Ruin by trying to boil things down to protest lyrics and big rock moves; the result was as boring as a John Mellencamp record. Carried To Dust is a return to polyglot form. Burns and Convertino have swapped sincere-yet-simplistic politics for mysterious, discursive travelogues and brought back the mariachi horns and twangy desert guitars. They also heaped on guest appearances by Sam Beam (Iron And Wine) and Doug McCombs (Tortoise) and topped it off with studio experimentation. Carried To Dust is definitely Calexico’s best-sounding record: Each voice and instrument has its place, wheeling around Convertino’s graceful drumming like dancers going around the maypole. Someone had some fun mixing Carried To Dust; on “Fractured Air,” the bass drum’s reverberations pop in and out of the song, and treated piano and steel guitars swirl vertiginously around the singing on “Red Blooms.” That fun carries over to listening; with Calexico, more is definitely more. Welcome back, guys. [www.quarterstickrecords.com]
Bound Stems have always seemed like a band worth rooting for. 2006 debut Appreciation Night was a well-realized batch of rickety, sleeves-rolled-up indie rock that was as heavy on historical references (vocalist Bobby Gallivan teaches high-school history) as it was on hooks. But beyond that, the Chicago fivesome understood just how crowded the genre pool has become over the years, and it tangled things up with gnarly time changes and production antics. That ethos is fully intact on follow-up The Family Afloat. Gallivan’s lyrical turns remain chatty and rhythmically taut, and warm jams such as hand-clapping romp “Happens To Us All Otherwise” are still sprinkled throughout. But the Stems have toyed further with their sonic model, abandoning a lot of the Promise Ring chug and post-hardcore blasts that stood out in their past work for more Beefhearted tomfoolery. It’s a step forward for sure, though at times it reinforces the cloying feeling that the need to complicate rather than simplify makes for overwrought music. But you can’t blame a band for being thoughtful or for playing like something is at stake. [www.flameshovel.com]
There’s Lindsey Buckingham, contributor of meticulous production, searing guitar and one of the all-time great musical kiss-offs (“Go Your Own Way”) to the soon-to-be-on-again Fleetwood Mac. Then there’s Lindsey Buckingham, the enigmatic eccentric behind celebrated solo efforts such as 2006’s acoustic-based Under The Skin and 1983’s bouncy “Holiday Road” (of National Lampoon’s Vacation fame), not to mention one of the most influential commercial flops in rock history, Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double album Tusk, which has been covered in its entirety by Camper Van Beethoven and cited by Stephin Merritt and Matthew Sweet as a misjudged masterpiece. Buckingham’s latest solo album, Gift Of Screws (Reprise), is made palatable to the Mac-loving masses by buoyant pop songs such as “The Right Place To Fade” (a dead ringer for Rumours opener “Second Hand News”) and the breezy “Did You Miss Me.” They provide a radio-friendly counterpoint to the batshit-crazy yelps and drummer Mick Fleetwood’s caveman stomp on the title track and the cut-and-paste electro clatter pulsing through opener “Great Day.” While his classic-rock peers have opted for the safety of summer shed tours and Wal-Mart partnerships, the 59-year-old Buckingham has spent the last several years crafting self-described “boutique” albums, mostly by his lonesome, then taking them on the road to entertain a devoted cult following.
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Though more punk than pop, the Mint Chicks aren’t so easily corralled. Signed to New Zealand’s storied Flying Nun label, the chick-less trio seems itchy in genre pants, opting instead to rummage through piles of metal riffage, punk spastics and art-pop skittering. (The band calls its musical style “troublegum.”) While not as smooth or fluid as you might hope, Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! lives and dies by its herks and jerks, its more resonant moments never obscured by stubborn sequencing. Not such a warm welcome, opener “Ockham’s Razor” wrangles and then collapses on a scuzzy bass line that wouldn’t be out of place on a Queens Of The Stone Age record. Smuggling a hard-on for both Sabbath and the Ramones (much like could-be Mint Chick Jay Reatard), the sweetly melodic codas of “This Is Your Last Chance To Be Famous My Love” and “Walking Off A Cliff Again” signal sharp-toothed transitions from the basement to the stadium. Both are strong examples of the Chicks taking a pop number and burning it sky high, but it’s the title track that wears its dirt most attractively. Riding a snare roll that’s accompanied only by the occasional six-string groan and frontman Kody Nielson’s panting, it’s as satisfying a slice of pop noise as anything put to tape in ‘08. Crazy? Yes. Awesome? Sometimes. [www.flyingnun.co.nz]
Even if he wanted to, Howe Gelb couldn’t repeat himself. Just watch him sing sometime; the guy’s got two vocal mics, one distorted, one clean, and he doesn’t make up his mind which one he’ll be singing into until he’s halfway through his line. The same goes for his albums. Some of them are so murky and confusing you’ll lose your way to your own bathroom while they’re playing, while others walk right up and declare themselves. His last solo album, 2006’s ’Sno Angel Like You, was one of the latter. Recorded with a Canadian gospel choir, it practically put its arm around your shoulder and said, “Listen, I want you to know how good life can be if you just hang in there and do what you need to do.” ProVISIONS, on the other hand, refuses to be pinned down, either in style or spirit. “Stranded Pearl” opens things with a mid-tempo country shuffle and a lyric that seems unable to make up its mind whether love is bringing you down, is all that matters or is both. Ambivalence rears its head again on “Out There,” its trudging beat tugging one way, Gelb’s hopeful croon the other. Persistently country-tinged in the first half, the music bounces pinball-like in the second, with late-night piano balladry, overcaffeinated tango and shattered guitar noise. ProVISIONS tells a less reassuring truth than ’Sno Angel Like You, but one that’s just as true; you just never know. [www.yeproc.com]
On paper, at least, this Louisville, Ky., power-pop trio would appear to be an utterly faultless proposition, an aging hipster rock critic’s proverbial wet dream. Broadfield Marchers have all the right moves and touch all the requisite musical reference points: a hefty slice of Radio City-era Big Star meets the Raspberries via Badfinger, with added echoes of The Who Sell Out, a whole lot of sub-Byrds Rickenbacker jangle and just a smidgen of R.E.M. mystique. All this plus a neat line in vocal harmonies and a succinct attitude toward song length (only two of the 19 tracks on sophomore effort The Inevitable Continuing clock in above the three-minute mark), and both this magazine and Mojo have lauded the band. What’s not to love, right? And yet, it’s all so interminably dull. The Inevitable Continuing is certainly pretty, and it possesses a certain psych-pop fragility. But nothing here ever gets under the skin. It’s as if it’s been airbrushed and buffed into near nothingness, calling to mind the last Shins album (another musical reference point), which promised so much and delivered so little. Ultimately, The Inevitable Continuing is a pleasantly inconsequential experience that wafts by and is gone before you know it. [www.rainbowquartz.com]
Using insider info from her days as bass player in Mae Pang, Christine Weiser re-creates Philly’s mid-’90s underground scene in Broad Street. Full of women behaving badly, often in response to men behaving worse, the novel follows the struggles of bassist Kit Greene and her trio Broad Street as they compete in the Guyville rock culture. Well-chosen music references (to Pavement, Wanda Jackson, the Original Sins, and, ahem, “the Minute Men”) and tales of dingy clubs, untrustworthy journalists and business insiders anchor stories of Kit’s personal turmoil. [www.psbookspublishing.org]
Having a conversation with Robyn Hitchcock is like tripping through the back of your eyelids or talking to the mouse who lives inside Bob Dylan’s hat. It is a sip from the creative fountainhead. We here at MAGNET dial Hitchcock’s rotary imagination as often as possible.
We spoke to Hitchcock about Luminous Groove (Yep Roc), the recent five-disc boxed set collecting three of his albums with backing band the Egyptians (1985’s Fegmania! and Gotta Let This Hen Out!, along with 1986’s Element Of Light) as well as rarities and unreleased tracks. Hitchcock is currently touring the U.S., performing the entirety of his 1984 classic (we mean it is seriously classic) I Often Dream Of Trains. Q&A after the jump.
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