Former Soft Machine and Matching Mole drummer Robert Wyatt has been making solo albums for more than 30 years, incorporating jazz, lounge, folk protest, the odd Caribbean rhythm and long stretches of drone and space. Comicopera is unmistakably Wyatt: There are touches of Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden, he still records with Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno, and he still likes to take his time. Here, he’s divided his work into three acts, the last one sung in Italian and featuring the poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca. The tracks in act one slosh by slower than time itself, with Wyatt’s keyboards, cornet and gentle Canterbury voice guiding the way for long, cool horn harmonies. The tunes that make up act two provide an abrupt change of pace. “A Beautiful Peace” sounds at first like a rehearsal tape before slipping into the closest thing the man has ever come to country music. Elsewhere, in what becomes an increasingly obvious anti-U.S. foreign-policy sentiment, the act takes an odd swing. Yet there’s really no way to sum up the album’s blend of styles. And there’s perhaps nothing prettier than the steel drum-driven “On The Town Square.” Because Wyatt has been using varied instrumentation to tug at pop’s weatherbeaten coattails for well more than 30 years now, he’s no doubt an indie-rock godfather. The fact that Comicopera is a masterpiece proves it all right nicely. [www.dominorecordco.com]
In the case of Seattle’s Band Of Horses, you can go home again. After guitarist Mat Brooke left the group, leader Ben Bridwell and a few friends decided to high-tail it back to Mt. Pleasant, S.C., to be closer to family and friends. Cease To Begin, like 2006 debut Everything All The Time, was recorded and mixed by Phil Ek (Built To Spill, Modest Mouse) in Seattle, and the sound is again a hazy mess in the best way possible. And if it sounds like Everything All The Time Part 2 … well, it is. All the major guitar chords and reverb-soaked vocals that draped themselves over BOH’s debut are back and sound at least as good, maybe better. Cease To Begin opener “Is There A Ghost” starts things off with Bridwell creakily repeating, “I could sleep, I could sleep/When I lived alone, is there a ghost in my house,” as the guitars swell and aim for a crescendo that never comes. The crescendo does arrive on “Ode To LRC,” whose major chords erupt into big hooks. Elsewhere, Band Of Horses apes ’70s-era Beach Boys with a banged-up piano sound on “The General Specific” and fizzles out on shoegazer interlude “Lamb On The Lam (In The City).” Bridwell and Co. nail the soft/loud dynamic better than any group in recent memory, and Cease To Begin is a fine, fitting return to familiar ground. [www.subpop.com]
Cass McCombs doesn’t sit still very often. He’s the kind of troubadour who rides the Greyhound with a few $20 bills in his pocket and little else. He dodges muggers and probes interviewers and anyone else who wants a piece of him. He hears divine voices (“infinity whispers in my ear”) that urge him “onward, Christian songwriter.” But for a guy who spends most of his time on the road reading Gideons and auditioning new bandmates, Dropping The Writ is remarkably consistent. McCombs had an extended stay in London recently, and you have to wonder if he was tossed into a time machine set to 1987 and recorded with 4AD musicians during a week of rain and fog. Unlike, say, the Clientele—a modern band with a direct line to the melancholic, pastoral pop of the ’60s—McCombs sounds like the Shins interpreting a Robyn Hitchcock cover of the Zombies. Spacious arrangements leave plenty of room for layers of vocal harmonies, and unlike many crooners, McCombs is at his most endearing when he stretches his tenor. Opener “Lionkiller,” with its rolling guitar, is itching to be mashed up with Battles’ “Atlas.” It’s one of the only immediate thrills found on this album of subdued and subtle pleasures, where the weightless atmosphere is a deceptive distraction from McCombs’ songwriting strengths. [www.dominorecordco.com]
Vintage photograph on the album cover? Check. Trebly, lovesick melodies sharp enough to rip a cardigan sweater? Check. Clever, library-assistant-baiting lyrics such as “I will be de Beauvoir, if you’ll be my Sartre”? Double-check. Needless to say, Scotland’s Hermit Crabs leave no page of their country’s folk/pop fakebook un-turned. But for those frustrated by more than a year with no new music from Belle And Sebastian or Camera Obscura, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sweet ballad “Closet Fan” finds guitarist Melanie Whittle sighing about punk rock while confessing a secret love, and “Bad Timing,” with its driving beat and tastefully grinding violin, is about as close to rocking out as the Hermit Crabs are likely to get. The quartet’s jangle-pop pedigree is fairly impeccable, with a guest spot from original Teenage Fanclub drummer (and Camera Obscura manager) Francis Macdonald, and the 10 bite-sized tracks on Saw You Dancing breeze by with such ease that it’s tough to find much fault. But it’s equally difficult to get terribly excited. [www.indiepages.com/matinee]
With a commanding, imposing voice, Siouxsie Sioux turned what looked like a one-night stand into a musical career that’s still going strong. Sioux, born Janet Susan Dallion in 1957, formed a primitive version of Siouxsie And The Banshees to open for an early Sex Pistols show at London’s tiny 100 Club in 1976. Who would’ve guessed this ad hoc support band would outlive the evening’s headliner by almost 20 years? The eerie drone of the Banshees was a harbinger of brooding U.K. post-punk outfits the Cure, Joy Division and Bauhaus. After a career that included 15 top-30 hits in the U.K., Sioux pulled the plug on the Banshees in 1996 to focus on the Creatures, the side project she’d formed with husband (and Banshees drummer) Peter “Budgie” Clarke. Now comes Mantaray (Decca), Sioux’s debut solo album. No matter what the label on the can says, it’s pretty much the same peppery soup inside. Crackling guitars and pounding drums protectively surround Sioux’s vocals as though they’re safeguarding the princess of some long-lost Inca tribe.
Admittedly a bit “gaga” after a day full of radio interviews, Sioux spoke to MAGNET from London.
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