Monthly Archives: November 2009

213. The Dearhunters – “Red Wine and Blue”

Ah, we’re back to the comfort of Candle Records output. This time we’re listening to the one album from the very appealing combo of Jodi Phillis (ex-Clouds) and hubbie Tim Oxley.

It’s raining today in Melbourne town (well, on and off). This album is perfect for such inclemency.

Both Phillis and Oxley are blessed with sweet voices, and this CD is jampacked with harmonising on tender, slow and emotive tracks. There is a mix of acoustic and electric, whistling, strings and gentle percussion.

This album has a small feel.  By that I mean that it is intimate and slight.  It is also warm and inviting. This is the sound Will Oldham often toys with before getting all cantankerous and experimental.

Everything about this album is well-measured and subtle.  It is certainly well-titled, as curling up with a big glass of red on a chilly night would probably be its ideal context.  Thankfully it isn’t as morose as the ‘blue’ implies.

File under: A nice drop worth cellaring

212. Deadstring Brothers – “São Paulo”

This album (on vinyl no less) has been in my possession even less time than the Dead Weather effort.  I picked it up online (from the mighty Bloodshot Records) along with Justin Townes Earle’s latest release.

These guys share a lot more in common with Justin’s pa Steve’s rockier work than with that of his progeny. 

Their sound’s well and truly in the country-rock domain.  This sounds like the album The Rolling Stones should have been making for the past 25 years or so.

It isn’t quite the southern-rock of The Black Crowes, as it has slightly less swagger (but only slightly).  If anything, it’s probably most like the Drive-By Truckers when they turn on the mellow.

Lest this whole review be solely name dropping, I can tell you that there is a lot of slowhand guitar, plaintive vocals, and some decent slide and pedal. 

If you wandered past a pub on a Thursday evening, or a Sunday afternoon and these guys were playing, pulling up a stool and a beer would be irresistable. They also go very well with muffin-baking and the first beer of one’s birthday (for that’s what I’ve been doing).

File under: A Brazilian that doesn’t hurt on bit

211. The Dead Weather – “Horehound”

Wow, a CD released not only this decade, but this year!!  Lucky my missus stills buys CDs occasionally.

This is one of them supergroup efforts, bringing together the ubiquitous Jack White, the frontwoman from The Kills, a Queen of the Stone Age and some other bloke.

It aint the same as The White Stripes, if nothing else because of the predominance of female vocals, but also for the full band lineup, and White’s shift off strings to the drum stool.

Despite all that, it sounds pretty familiar.  If you’ve heard White’s James Bond theme, you’ve got a pretty good feel for this.  It’s all very soaring and melodramatic. 

Alison Mosshart has a very strong, full voice and does a decent Polly Harvey impression.  The riffing and basslines are strong.  This doesn’t sound like a little jam session between some friends.  The production levels are right up there. In fact, they might be almost too good, leaving it all little too slick.

There ain’t any true standout singles on here, but So Far from Your Weapon and Rocking Horse stick better than most.

I’m not saying these guys are better than the sum of their parts.  But they don’t embarrass themselves either.

File under: Not quite Best of Breed

210. Dead Kennedys – “Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death”

I have a love-hate relationship with punk.

Intellectually I get the whole kicking-against-the-establishment thing and the DIY ethic.  I recognise that in the late 70s these bands were a shock to the ears of a public accustomed to disco and prog-rock. I even get the primal desire to jump around and bash into each other.

But, I typically struggle with the reality of the recordings. The sloppy vocal stylings, trashy guitar and haphazard rhythms just ain’t that shocking through a 21st century lens.   What I mean is that it just doesn’t seem that dangerous or rebellious, and instead can be a bit of a chore.

This album is a case in point.  The DKs were at the forefront of shocking the conservative US, what with their name, their expletives and (elsewhere) supposedly perverse album covers. They dished up an angry, sarcastic critique of early 80s Californian and American mundanity and tyranny.

That’s all and good, but much of this compilation just sounds just sound like poorly constructed Cramps ‘tunes’ and Stooges outtakes.

When the band do get it right, they get it very right, however. Their most famous tracks (i.e. the first three plus Holiday in Cambodia) are justifiably subcultural icons.

File under: Give me competence



209. De La Soul – “Buhloone Mindstate”

The path taken by De La Soul is a fascinating one.

Album Cover De La Soul buhloone mindstate

Bedevilled with idolatry of their debut and its breakthrough status, they then struggled to match these expectations.

As I argued, the followup was a pretty much a weak facsimile of the firstborn.

This third effort saw them abandoning the undergrad cartoony tendencies (i.e. the skits are gone, as are the attempts to label a generation).

In their place is a more consistent focus on the rhyme and the groove. Most of tracks here are lyrics-heavy and they are partying over more upbeat, jazzy beats and melodies.

It all works very effectively, yet fails to capture me completely. Part of the problem is the loss of distinctiveness. The lads bring in a whole range of friends (including some much-needed female accompaniment), but many of the guests just highlight the extent to which De La have spawned a generation of imitators, all capable of laying down these laidback rhymes. While they’re noticeable in the absence, any of the Native Tongues buddies (i.e. Jungle Brothers, Tribe Called Quest) could have delivered this.

I will occasionally spin this disc for a bit of inoffensive background funk-hop, but it doesn’t raise my pulse in any sense.

File under: A Monday afternoon state of mind

208. De La Soul – “De La Soul Is Dead”

I was so disappointed with this album when it was released in 1991. I gave it repeated spins but could find very little of the magic of this crew’s debut effort. It has subsequently sat unplayed in the rack for nigh on 18 years.

Album Cover De La Soul De La Soul Is DeadAs such, I was intrigued to see how it would fall upon some relatively fresh ears.

The trio (or is it quartet with Prince Paul) were up against it trying to meet expectations. And they should be lauded for taking some risks. They embraced some unexpected disco grooves on the two bigger singles here (Rollerskatin’… and Ring, Ring, Ring). These two tracks feature some solid rhyming.

The other single (Millie…) tells a brutal of child abuse and is not alone in its more streetsmart tendencies (as Pos also discusses his crack addict brother elsewhere). Too many tracks creep into the flippant ‘life of a rap star’ domain, and the skits sound laboured.

It aint a bad album. It just isn’t De La enough. It could so easily be the output of their Native Tongues buddies.

Hmm, it’s probably best to saw the jury is no longer screaming for execution. But, they aren’t enamoured with the case for the defense either.

File under: Not quite dead, but less lively.

207. De La Soul – “3 Feet High and Rising”

Here’s a record (yes, it’s on vinyl) that still gets pretty regular spins in my house, despite me owning it for almost 20 years.

Album Cover De La Soul 3 Feet High and RisingThis debut release justifiably continues to win kudos as a breakthrough album in the hip-hop domain.  I distinctly remember the British indie-music papers wetting themselves with delight when this popped out back in 1989. I fell for the nursery rhyming very quickly.

There was (and is) so much to love on this album.  Samples from all over the musical landscape (including the Johnny Cash lyric album title), warm almost-sung raps, skits that don’t tire with repetition, a mention of Australia… it’s great stuff.

I am so damn familiar with this album, I find it hard to imagine not having heard it.  It’s hip hop but not as we typically think about it.  The groove is much funkier.  The vibe is more love-filled than anger-driven. There are flights of fancy George Clinton would be proud of.

There is a lot of silliness on this record.  Some tracks are just a bunch of fun samples or riffs about your friends smelling funny. But that just serves to connect the epics (Magic Number, Jenifa…, Ghetto Thang, Eye Know and about 7 others!).

I found this on Youtube (the press video they put together at the time, and which I taped off Rage way back then):

It captures some of the magic.

File under: A giant release

206. Kimya Dawson – “Hidden Vagenda”

I may be stating the obvious here, but the world of popular music is pretty sexist. In particular, there is enormous differences in the expectation around vocal ability. 

Album Cover Hidden Vagenda Kimya DawsonWhile Dylan, Richman and many other dudes can get away with close-to-atonal stylings, we expect a female vocalist to sing like an angel (with this simile premised on (i) angels existing and (ii) said angels being perfect in diction and pitch).

Kimya Dawson thus sticks out like an ailing thumb, with a voice that breaks, crackles and splutters throughout.  Many of you will be familiar with it as the defacto “voice” of Ellen Page from the Juno soundtrack.

Here we hear Dawson in full swing, delivering fourteen lyrics-heavy numbers. Many of them thrill me, overburdened as they are with oddball imagery, memorable phrases and insane couplets. 

Dawson occupies a parallel universe to most folk and melds the cynicism of Rob Clarkson, the naivety of Jonathan Richman and the perversity of The Magnetic Fields.

This album contains enough gems (the first 3 tracks are fantastic, Parade pure summer joy) to overcome the slide in quality in the back half.

One final notes, this album benefits considerably from headphone listening…

File under : Surrender to her Vagenda

205. Guy Davis – “Give in Kind”

Traditional blues albums have not been particularly well-received on this blog such far.  As I’ve stated several times, I have a strong preference for blues of the dirty (more in sound, but sometimes also in terms of lyrical content) and electric variety.  The more folky and respectful CDs tend to irritate me.

Album Cover guy Davis give in kindThis effort falls into the adult-oriented (rather than adult-warning) category. Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for it and play the CD quite regularly.

There may be an element of fond memories here (I’ve seen Davis a couple of times at festivals), but I think its more than that.

Guy mixes up the tempo and content sufficiently to keep my attention.  He manages to deliver paeans to his grandma without seeming overly mushy. He does that “my girl done me wrong” thing with sufficient humour and limited cliché. He fingerpicks adeptly.  He incorporates didgeridoo without it sounding like a gimmick.

Indeed, the didge track (Layla, Layla) is a ripper and certainly more the double the quality of its Clapton namesake.

This album does not always thrill me.  I’m more likely to chuck it on on a chilled out Sunday morning than a (less and less common) wild Saturday night.

File under: Warming blues


204. The Datsuns -“The Datsuns”

Calling all mathematicians. What are the odds of amongst 1300+ album reviews that two different bands from the tiny nation of NZ would appear within three reviews? Seems as unlikely as being sick on a Saturday.

Album Cover Datsuns self-titledI have struggled in the past to distinguish the Datsuns from D4. I had bundled them both them into the garage rock pigeonhole. A few listens of this eponymous effort makes the distinction clearer.

While D4 mined a DIY punk vein, the Datsuns relish a bigger, better equipped multi-car garage with room for a smoke machine, a large Zeppelin drumkit, and perhaps a some fireworks. This is much closer to stadium rock… but a stadium with bikies and stoners.

This is throwback metal of the ilk that The Makeup and The White Stripes occasionally deliver, and which AC/DC delivered when they had a decent vocalist (i.e.Scott, B.). It is burdened with a certain pomposity, but also a warranted confidence. The falsetto of lead singer Dolf (now that’s a good rock moniker) soars alongside some great riffs.

I enjoy the energy and persistence of this album. Play it very, very load and scare someone’s parents.

File under: Another reason for Nissan to regret giving up a great marque