Q&A With Robert Forster

Robert Forster was always the darker, more literary Go-Between, the Lennon to Grant McLennan’s McCartney, as was often noted during their three-decade partnership. The Evangelist (Yep Roc) is Forster’s first album since McLennan’s untimely death in May 2006, and while it continues in the vein of previous Forster solo releases (the last one being 1996’s Edwyn Collins-produced Warm Nights), it is also a ghostly Go-Betweens album. Bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson of the final incarnation of the G-Bs join Forster, and Audrey Riley provides string arrangements, as she did way back on 1986’s Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express. And Forster finishes three songs that McLennan had written before his passing. It adds up to collection of haunted and haunting songs, from the understated, mandolin-driven “Let Your Light In, Babe” to the strummy, talky title track to the jangly and catchy “Pandanus.”

Forster spoke to MAGNET in New York City at the Hi-Fi bar on Avenue A, which he called “Go-Betweens Headquarters” because of the band’s songs on the jukebox and memorabilia on the walls.

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NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS: Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! [Anti-]

For a master of the tongue-in-cheek, the bright marquee lights gracing Nick Cave’s 14th studio album seem like a heartfelt greeting. It’s been 25 years since the morose Australian first assembled his Bad Seeds and four since their last LP, with Cave having dabbled in writing movies (The Proposition), film soundtracks (The Assassination Of Jesse James) and Snoop Dogg-approved blues rock (Grinderman) in between. Cave, now 50, commands the Bad Seeds’ classic obtuse fascinations (God, death, decadence) like a ringmaster. As such, the playful Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! stands among his most mature albums. God plays an important role on “We Call Upon The Author,” as Cave asks Him to explain “mass poverty, Third World debt, infectious disease” and other maladies (amid calling Charles Bukowski a jerk and punnily praising suicidal poet John Berryman for doing things “the Heming-way”). On “Jesus Of The Moon,” Cave addresses mortality: “I’m more afraid of things staying the same.” He casts the Biblical Lazarus as an ungrateful teenager on the title track, opining, “He never asked to be raised up from the tomb.” But Dig!!! is by no means mopey, quoting Iggy Pop on “Today’s Lesson” and unleashing catchy hooks on the chorus to “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl).” Cave’s only sign of decadence is his solipsism, and that’s still why he’s likeable. [www.anti.com]

—Kory Grow

GOLDFRAPP: Seventh Tree [Mute]

On 2005’s Supernature, Goldfrapp proved itself the life of the party, delivering a heady stew of glammy stomps and groovy dance-floor fare to accompany discerning listeners’ post-collegiate bacchanalia. All the more striking, then, to hear Seventh Tree opener “Clowns” sounding more Sandy Denny than Marc Bolan. The hushed, pastoral track evokes images of the lush English countryside where the London duo—vocalist Alison Goldfrapp and multi-instrumentalist Will Gregory—wrote and recorded Seventh Tree. While “Clowns” is the only purely acoustic song on the album, the rest of it is decidedly muted. “Happiness” finds the duo flirting with a mellow, Wilson-ian lilt, while “Cologne Cerrone Houdini” sounds like the Hi Records rhythm section resurrected. But Goldfrapp is most at home here with the whispery psych of “Little Bird” and “Monster Love.” With the exception of the ridiculously catchy “Caravan Girl,” Seventh Tree is a moody, understated gem. A finer hangover record will be hard to come by in 2008. [www.mute.com]

—Bret Tobias

BEACH HOUSE: Devotion [Carpark]

Beach House’s druggy, dreamy self-titled debut drew polite applause from the indie cognoscenti in 2006, but expect the thunderous standing ovation three songs into this sterling sophomore record. “Gila,” a monster slice of minor-key guitar noir, lurches to life like a sinister wind-up toy with guitarist Alex Scully’s gently weeping six-string octaves, unrelenting Transylvanian organ and vampish singer Victoria Legrand’s moaned vocals. It’s a bona fide star-making turn—the best track on either Beach House record—and along with the rest of Devotion, it’s sure to change the way people think about the Baltimore duo. Legrand’s gauzy yawns were a large part of the first LP’s appeal, but the overly simple waltz-time instrumentation often amounted to nothing but narcotic, carnivalesque mood music. On Devotion, the melodies and arrangements take center stage, and they’re consistently stunning, never more so than on “Gila” and in the stretch to follow. A syncopated girl-group swoon (“Holy Dances”), swirling sonnet (“All The Years”) and Cream-worthy guitar showcase (“Heart Of Chambers”) all seem to fit together as thematic movements in one flawless, three-part pop sonata. [www.carparkrecords.com]

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

ATLAS SOUND: Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel [Kranky]

One of the most exciting aspects of Deerhunter’s recent Cryptograms was its schizophrenic approach to sound: bone-rattling noise rock one moment, placid, electronica-driven instrumentalism the next. There’s much more of the latter on Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox’s debut as Atlas Sound, a solo album awash in a vaguely psychedelic haze that masks lyrics about being drowned (in love), waking up with bite marks on your back and being so zonked on tranquilizers that you sleep until you feel drunk. While Cox’s narratives make little sense (much of the time, he’s not even singing so much as wailing wordlessly), the music is surprisingly accessible. There are hints of laptop electronica (“On Guard,” “Winter Vaca-tion”), the mesmerizing repetition of bands like Windsor For The Derby (“Recent Bedroom,” “Ready, Set, Glow”) and the gentler side of shoegaze (“Small Horror”). But Cox is at his best when he doesn’t skimp on melody, particularly on the sweet “River Card” and the slinky “Ativan,” which is replete with Velvet Underground-style echo on the guitars and vocals. Kudos to Cox, who could’ve easily just turned up the volume. By keeping things mostly quiet, he’s conjured a sonic universe all his own. [www.kranky.net]

—Jonathan Cohen

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Don’t Press Your Luck: The In Sound Of 60’s Connecticut [Sundazed]

Subtitled Garage And Psych Howlers From The Vaults Of Trod Nossel Studios ’66-’68!, this is a suitably solid-gone tribute to the Constitution State’s mid-’60s garage scene. It’s a riot of fuzztone guitars, Vox amps and Ham-mond grooves, of improbably clean-cut, gee-whiz all-American kids sporting Roger McGuinn bowl cuts, ludicrously tight strides and Cuban-heeled boots. Each track follows the same tried-and-true formula, namely the ridiculously named beat combos (George’s Boys, Bram Rig Set, Uranus And The Five Moons, to list a few) banging out endearingly amateurish takes on the British Invasion and, in particular, the Stones, the Yardbirds and the Animals (plus a little Who and Them for good measure). It’s infectious, dumb fun, a lovingly compiled souvenir of a long-gone, innocent era. If you’ve grown tired of your Nuggets and Pebbles compilations, consider this a worthy addition to your collection of adolescent pre-punk attitude gone crazy. Bonus Material: The double-12-inch, gatefold vinyl version has five exclusive tracks. [www.sundazed.com]

—Neil Ferguson

THROW ME THE STATUE: Moonbeams [Secretly Canadian]

More ebullient than Belle And Sebastian, less catholic than Peter Bjorn And John and just as tightly tethered to new-wave artifice as the Magnetic Fields, Seattle’s Throw Me The Statue only seems like your average indie-rock sprawlathon. But hiding behind seven other players (who contribute violin, euphonium, trumpet, melodica and more) is singer/songwriter Scott Reitherman. On this debut album, he’s unafraid to tap into the tender turns of B&S or the jaunty pop of PB&J, and he tends to cut his dulcet melodies with the corrosive, dissonant synthetics of Stephin Merritt’s side projects. “Yucatan Gold” fuses distorto-guitar crunch and jangling synth, while “This Is How We Kiss” joyfully embraces the sweetly jagged edges of late-’70s primitive pop/punk. “A Mutinous Dream” closes with electronic sputters and jerks before floating into the glockenspiel-spattered “Your Girlfriend’s Car,” which resembles a dreamy outtake from the Shins’ Oh, Inverted World. Rightly so: Reitherman is the latest Northwestern heir to an indie-songsmith tradition buttressed by such disparate voices as James Mercer, Doug Martsch and Isaac Brock. Yet TMTS carves out its own niche, drawing from a broader palette of musical colors. Coasting on a languid willingness to work with happy mistakes and discoveries, Reitherman and Co. are ready to break from the pack. [www.secretlycanadian.com]

—Kimberly Chun

JAPANCAKES: If I Could See Dallas / Down The Elements / The Sleepy Strange

Led by guitarist Eric Berg, Athens, Ga.’s Japancakes began as an experiment: What would it be like to get a bunch of friends together and play a D chord for 45 minutes? The short answer: hypnotic. The long answer: Well, if there’s absolutely no rehearsal, you could roll tape, let Berg cut and paste to his heart’s content, then create something as gently soothing as 1999’s If I Could See Dallas, which shape-shifts through more than an hour of space-age, neo-psychedelic, ambient-country ragas. Japancakes spent that first album finding their signature sound: three parts drone and one part melody. A year later, Berg recut the same sessions for the harder-edged Down The Elements; in 2001, when the players reunited for The Sleepy Strange, they finally knew what they were supposed to sound like. The Sleepy Strange is as good as it gets, finding the perfect balance between mellow atmospherics and earthy post-rock. Bonus Material: None. [www.darla.com]

—Kenny Berkowitz

MARCO BENEVENTO: Invisible Baby [Hyena]

Those brought up in the rich tradition of the jazz piano trio, a style that once flourished in the hands of Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson and Cecil Taylor, might be amazed at where 30-year-old New Yorker Marco Benevento has taken the keyboard/bass/drums format some 50 years later. When playing live, he sometimes uses indie-rock melodies by Deerhoof and My Morning Jacket as launch pads for his kaleidoscopic excursions. The all-original material on his solo debut finds Benevento (also of the Benevento/Russo Duo) at his piano, armed with effects boxes that give him everything from fuzz-drenched guitar to wheezing prog-rock organ. On the stripped-down “Record Book,” Benevento likes to stretch and restate a keyboard motif rather than improvise over a set of chord changes. It’s a more haunting soundtrack than jazz as we’ve known it, but it’s no less fascinating. If the pure piano on Invisible Baby recalls the work of anyone, it’s the warm, cinematic style of Bruce Hornsby, but Benevento never sits still long enough for a close-up. “If You Keep On Asking Me” juggles dead-slow piano sections, daubed in Taylor’s advanced tonalities, with Sgt. Pepper-ish backward guitar (played on piano). Invisible Baby proves you really can arrive without traveling. [www.hyena-records.com]

—Jud Cost

ANTIETAM: Opus Mixtum [Carrot Top]

In ancient Rome, opus mixtum was a building technique that involved mixing bricks and stones. Opus Mixtum is also the title of Antietam’s eighth album, but only its third in the last 14 years. With so much time between releases, the NYC-based, Kentucky-rooted trio had a lot to work with; this album was originally conceived as two separate releases, one a song-based rock record, the other a digitally enabled set of instrumentals. The decision to combine them into a 26-song, two-CD (or three-LP) magnum opus may not have been for the best. There are no problems with the rock tunes, which stomp, squeal and swoon. Josh Madell’s elemental drumming and Tim Harris’ graceful electric bass propel the songs, Tara Key’s Hummer-crushing power chords provide their muscle, and her succinct and twisting leads supply their melodic momentum. Standouts include “On The Humble” (which features simpatico sparring between Key and Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo), the anthemic “Time Creeps” and punk slash-and-burner “RPM.” But there are too many instrumentals. They range from regal riff statements to spacey loops-and-beats confections; taken a couple at a time, they’re a swell change of pace. In aggregate, they break up the momentum you need to hang with 100 minutes of music. Either segregation or stricter rationing would’ve better served the great rock record inside Opus Mixtum. [www.carrottoprecords.com]

-Bill Meyer