This week’s column is a recap of some of the better stuff that’s made it through the i-Pod during the first quarter. I’ll probably do something like this every quarter as space dictates.
Column 18 — Muck Surfing for Roses
Probably the most common question I get: “What have you been listening to lately?” Last year alone I received a few hundred CDs in the mail for review, most of them pure crap. But hey, that’s the deal. You swim through the acres of cowflop to find that one perfect rose, and when you do, you want to share it with all the other muck surfers. That’s what being a music critic is all about. That said, here’s what’s floated to the top of the heap recently.50 Foot Wave, Golden Ocean (Throwing Music) — The sweet-voiced, demure Kristen Hersh who emerged in the ’90s with Throwing Muses and withdrew in the ’00s with her fey solo projects on 4AD, has re-emerged once again. And this time she’s pissed. No woman since (early) PJ Harvey or the late great Courtney Love has rocked so hard so well with so much intensity. As punk as it is anthemic, this is a brutal, bruising guitar rock record that burns with Hersh’s throaty, snarling voice singing (screaming) lines like “I’ve never been afraid to die / I’ve never been afraid before.” Guttural.Maria Taylor, 11:11 (Saddle Creek) — Along with Orenda Fink (or is it Fink-Baechle now?) Taylor makes up the duo Azure Ray — a folksy, mousy and somewhat withdrawn project that’s all about harmonies and broken hearts. Alone, though, Taylor takes on a new intensity with music that throbs and pounds and breathes with a beauty that pops more than wilts. Which is a fancy way of saying I like this better than the Azure Ray records, mostly because it prefers to quietly rock than quietly whimper. With a Fink solo CD coming out later this year on the same label, this creativity influx can only mean good things for Azure Ray fans.A Frames, Black Forest (Sub Pop) — The march-of-the-metal-soldiers intro foreshadows the angular, industrial nightmare that lies ahead, like listening to a million Gang of Four robots cut loose in Kraftwerk land. Consisting of former members of Cows, Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid, Seattle’s A Frames creates a stern-faced, thick-chorded racket that bludgeoned fans of The Fall will recognize immediately for its barren, Cold War sheen. Touch my monkey. Go ahead, touch it.Iron & Wine, Woman King (Sub Pop) — Breathy folker Samuel Beam, a.k.a. Iron and Wine, already has been embraced by the same O.C. crowd that’s been gobbling up copies of the Garden State soundtrack like they were coupons for free cell service. Don’t be dissuaded by the cool-kid factor. From its rat-a-tat mantra-like title track to its urgent, harmony-tinged, finger-picking closer, any of the six songs on this EP would make perfect mix-tape fodder. An acoustic-powered gem.South San Gabriel, Carlton Chronicles: Not Until the Operation’s Through (Misra) — The side project by Centro-matic frontman Will Johnson sports the same dust-covered rural melodies as that band’s best, minus the roar. Instead of muscular feedback, Johnson prefers a pretty pedal-steel or piano part, making this dimly lit afternoon music. Johnson’s gravel-pit mewing is bound to make him the Eddie Vedder of our generation thanks to a pure distinctiveness that will be emulated by every bar-whore band in the Midwest if it ever gets discovered beyond the in-the-know indie crowd.Robbers on High Street, Tree City (New Line Records) — Red hot from the mean streets of NYC, the Robbers have only been churning it out since the summer of 2002 and already they’re this year’s “future of rock” band. I don’t know about that, but you could do a whole lot worse. Their laidback rock-with-an-edge gets compared to The Strokes but more closely resembles Spoon or Wheat, with a giddy-up pop-rock sheen that glows from crooner/heartbreaker Ben Trokan’s sweet, sweet swagger. Produced with Peter Katis (Interpol, Mercury Rev, Get Up Kids), look for Tree City on a radio near you, eventually.Little Brazil, You and Me (Mt. Fuji) — Local heroes get it right on a pop-rock keeper featuring Landon Hedges’ quirky, forlorn voice.Heavy Trash, Heavy Trash (Yep Rock) — Jon Spencer’s latest is cooler and cleaner than anything that hepcat has done in years.Holy Ghost, Welcome to Ignore Us (Clearly) — Former Lincolnite Chris Heine (Urethra Franklin, Opium Taylor) and his gang of NYC devils vamp up their angular punk sound for the better.
A reminder about that Silo show tonight at O’Leaver’s. They’re the opening band and, according to their website, will be going on at 9 p.m. sharp! See you there.
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