Monthly Archives: March 2009

81. Bonnie Prince Billy – “I See A Darkness”

This is the first of many works here by Will Oldham (most will be in the P section in around 2011).

bonnie-prince-billy-i-see-a-darkness-album-coverI first spied Mr.Oldham at a gig at the Corner Hotel on Feb 17, 1997 (I looked that up here).  I went along on the recommendation of a mate, having never heard his work.  I was blown away by the uniqueness of his voice, the intensity of his lyrics, as was seemingly everyone in the room.  I have never heard a crowd at said venue remain so hushed.  I soon became the owner of many of his albums, and have bought new stuff from him on and off over the years.

I have seen him live again, but the magic has never been the same.  His albums are equally hit and miss, especially the later ones. This one is very strong however.  It evokes the tender and precarious dimensions that captured me that night.  His voice is just as reedy and Appalachian as on much of his work.  The lyrics are brutal and mesmerising, especially on the title track, which Johnny Cash would go on to cover.

It’s not all beer and skittles.  I really have to be in the mood, otherwise his uncompromising style can be grating.

File under: I see bearded people

80. Box – “The Apathy Sessions”

Erratum: I have just realised that i mis-alphabetised here – this should have have been #82.  Sorry… I’ll blame the jetlag…

This is one of the more curious CDs in my collection.  I didn’t buy it, but was rather given it by the boyfriend of a housemate way be in the mid-90s.  He was the bass-player in this band, who were pretty regular scenesters in Melbourne at the time.

box-album-coverIt is always fun to hear an acquaintance playing on tunes. As I don’t the CD case in front of me, I can’t tell if Steve (the said bloke), sings on one of the tracks, but damn it sounds like his voice.  It’s a rather weird experience to recognise him, given our paths haven’t crossed in more than a decade.

So back to the CD.  The vibe here is Red Hot Chilli Peppers meets Frank Zappa – i.e. bass-heavy funk rock, with tricky shifts in time signatures mid-song. There is a strong sense of fun both musically and lyrically. At times they drift into the more shouty and blokey end of TISM’s early work.

All in all this stands as a fine testament to a misspent youth (as does my music collection I guess).  The lead singer of this trio went on to front a somewhat more successful outfit – The Grand Silent System.  Here’s a vid from them:

I prefer his earlier work.

Note to anyone wanting to give me a free CD.  That’d be grand, although of course I will only review it in its due position in the alphabet.  But free stuff is good…

File under: I’m interested in this apathy

79. Sarah Blasko – “The Overture & the Underscore”

Time to drift away from sweaty rock and enter the realm of the chanteuse (not to be confused the realm of the Chantoozie – who, alas, I won’t be reviewing in the Cs).

sarah-blasko-the-overture-the-underscore-album-coverThe songstress in questions, Ms Blasko, is somewhat underrated in my opinion.  She can certainly hold a tune, and possesses one of those vowel-distorting manners not dissimilar to Missy Higgins (or, more internationally, Neko Case or Martha Wainwright).

The Higgins comparison is worth pursuing.  In many ways, this album might be described as a more mature, less overwrought take on the Higgins oeuvre.  Blasko is more adventurous with her instrumentation.  While I doubt there was a load of dollars thrown at this debut effort, there is a consistent and slick sound throughout.

Blasko’s songwriting is intimate and engaging.  She doesn’t come across as the sunniest person in the room, but also doesn’t lean too far into the whingey or overtly ambiguous domains. All Coming Back is a beautiful opener, while Counting Sheep rollicks along (despite it’s Missy-ness).

Not sure why I didn’t buy Blasko’s follow-up, as this is a lovely Sunday morning listen.  I’ll have to put it on my shopping list.

File under: More over than under the mark

78. The Black Keys – “Attack & Release”

There was some trepidation in my world when I heard the Akron twosome had hooked up with superhip producer Dangermouse.  Would he turn them into some sort of disco outfit?  Would they move too far away from their roots?

the-black-keys-attack-release-album-coverThere was no need to fear.  The Risky Rodent did not push them into completely uncharted waters.  The album does sound noticeably different from their earlier works, but in a logical and exciting manner.  Instead of stridently sticking to the guitar and drums combo, there are some new sounds on here – an organ, bells and other tinkly things. The core dynamic is still the rise and fall of the guitar and drums, but the new sounds  do add some refreshing variety.

This album could a load of critics excited when it came out.  It is good to see the lads having fun and making new friends.  It would be even better if they delivered some super catchy tracks.  A few approach single-like status, such as I Got Mine, Strange Times and the closing Things Aint Like They Used To Be, but it does appear that the bigger picture of a coherent soundscape took precedent.

File Under: Mousy rock

77. The Black Keys – “Magic Potion”

I give this a good listen while wandering the streets of Paris.  It went very well with my pain au chocolate, and sounded pretty good on the Metro.

the-black-keys-magic-potion-album-coverPerhaps this reflects it slightly pedestrian tendencies.  Let me qualify that.  This album is somewhat pedestrian by The Black Keys’ standards. The garagey sound is still there, front and centre.  Dan still pulls out some sensational riffs, but several tracks are ever so mellower than elsewhere.

If you hadn’t heard anything else from them, I’m sure this album would still suck you into their world.  Your Touch, Modern Times, and the unusually political (for this duo) Goodbye Babylon and would fit into any ‘greatest hits’ compilation from these lads. The latter tune has some of the band’s best ever guitar/drum/vocal interplays.

So, I guess I’m saying this bejewelled egg is still pretty tasty, but that, at times, it lacks a certain je ne sais qua (pardon my French).

File under: Not quite Getafix quality

On the road again

This blog may be quiet for the next two weeks, as I head off on a roadtrip.  Rest assured the iPod is loaded up and albums will be reviewed on paper with uploading whenever I get the chance.

Keep on rocking…

76. The Black Keys – “Thickfreakness”

We’re back in world of vinyl, and also stepping back McFly-style into The Black Key’s musical past. 

the-black-keys-thickfreakness-album-coverThis was their second release, and listened to in the shadow of the follow-up Rubber Factory it is even more apparent how much the production effort was raised for that current blog chart-topper.

The approach here is much more basic.  The duo sound more black and more blue here than on any of their other releases. 

Dan’s vocals are muddier – more like grunts than articulated thoughts. The sound is more singular, with a consistent set of riffs and beats stretching from song to song.  It creates a very coherent piece of work, but one lacking the strong individual efforts of the band’s debut and followup. 

It still has the desired primal effect, and translates wonderfully into the live arena, but pressed to pick between their long-players this wouldn’t be my first choice.

File under: A dollop of dense blues rock

75. The Black Keys – “Rubber Factory”

A very long-running gag amongst a few mates and I is to interrupt anyone starting a story “I woke up this morning…” with a verbal approximation of a blues guitar riff.

the-black-keys-rubber-factory-album-coverOf course, this springs from the tendency of old-time bluesmen to start many a lament in such a way. 

Therefore, it always thrills me when Dan and Pat unleash just such a pairing on Grown So Ugly (and follow through with a truly brilliant tune).  It is a shame that this is track #8, not #1. Having said that, the opening couple of tracks (When the Lights Go Out and 10AM Automatic) are on par.

Indeed, this album lacks for any filler.  The great tracks just keep coming. Stack Shot Billy and Girl is On Mind showcase the Keys sound perfectly. 

This is the long player where these guys really come into their own.  The vocals are given just a little more clarity than on their previous two albums, the guitar is crisper and the drums feel alive.  I love how Patrick creates so much more than mere persussion on the kit. I swear he’s playing riffs on them cymbals.

All hail the new kings.

File under: There is power in this factory…

74. Black Diamond Heavies- “Every Damn Time”

There’s some great bio info on the back sleeve of this debut outing.  It turns out that the drummer in this duo comes from a bourbon-distilling family.  Meanwhile, the singer/organist is the literal “son of a preacher man”.  That sounds like the perfect pairing for grimey, soul-tinged rock. 

black-diamond-heavies-every-damn-time-album-coverAs I said in my earlier review of their follow-up, these guys have taken a time-honoured genre and made it all seem new and exciting and dangerous again.  

This album is about as lo-fi as I can tolerate.  The tracks were pretty much recorded directly into a two-track, with only a little bit of horns added in later.  They’ve done a great job of it.  It feels like you standing in the room dodging the sweat as it flies.

The vocals sound just as Waits-ey as on album #2, and the drums and organ work perfectly in unison.  The tales are real and raw, especially the powerful White Bitch.

They are quickly becoming the band that excites me most.  See them live. Buy their stuff. Love them like me. Here are a couple more tracks from them: 

File under: Kick-Arse and Life-Affirming

73. The Black Crowes – “War Paint”

This was supposed to be the big comeback album for the Crowes after a Kate Hudson-caused hiatus (well I think was the explanation I heard).

the-black-crowes-warpaint-album-coverIt caused a bit of an internet furore, when one magazine reviewed it without hearing it. The review was unfavourable, and I guess it serves as a reflection of the low expectations some in the press may have had of this release (as well as the lazy attitude of less-hardworking reviewers than myself).

Bands coming off spells can sometimes struggle. The Crowes hiatus coincided with lead singer Chris Robinson putting out a couple of solo albums which were less polished and more jam-oriented than the BCs.

In many ways this album treads the ground between those efforts and the band’s ’90s work. There is a more country-rock bent and less big riffing.

It is all very competent, but I don’t feel the energy of their early work. They seem to be going through the motions somewhat, although Robinson is a little more versatile vocally than on the ‘mid-career’ work. I’m also concerned by the god-bothering track towards the end. Insufficiently rock’n’roll in attitude there lads.

File under: Not as feisty as I’d like