Music Features
Apr 25, 2008, 12:53


I had a really hard time picking only one “Album of the Month” for this installment, but I ain't complaining. Let's get on with it.

Of all the great bands to emerge from Finland's folk scene, Islaja—led by the enigmatic Merje Kokkonen—is my favorite. Merje's simple tunes conjure Loren Mazzacane Connors at his most unhurried, while her commanding voice is reminiscent of Catherine Ribeiro. Previous albums have been good, but Blaze Mountain Recordings (Ecstatic Peace!) is just stunning (and it's a live album). Accompanied only by partner Jukka Raisenen, Islaja's songs are mesmerizing and psychedelic in all the best ways. Complete with total punk rock cover art. You can't lose.

Speaking of Ecstatic Peace!, Poor School is a new project featuring Bryan Ramirez (ex Universal Indians, current Ex-Cocaine—got that?), and The Holy Master differs from Ex Cocaine's rock approach by slightly abandoning rock leanings and adding a saxophone, making for a mighty skronk. Even the most open minded ‘free jazz' purists may find this all a bit much to take, but fans of noise rock combos with jazz leanings (and not the reverse) like Coffee, Ayler's Angels and Borbetomagus, will find much to enjoy here.  Â

One of the best bands in the world right now are Goslings, a husband and wife duo from Florida who specialize in

crushing, blissful drone metal. They differ from their ever-growing list of shoegaze contemporaries because their tunes are at once mightier and poppier. No other band has quite mastered this exact mix of hefty metal sludge, stoner fuzz and twee pop. Occasion (Not Not Fun) is everything (previous album) Grandeur of Hair was and more—a manifesto of uncompromising single-mindedness, a burrowing assault on the senses that pummels and lulls in equal measure. Even the drums are distorted! Hard to imagine them topping this one, but then, that's what I said about their last one.

Los Llamarada is a band from Monterrey, Mexico making a lot of noise, and their new single on SS Records, following an outstanding LP (also on SS Records), is a mixed bag. A-side “The Very Next Moment” sounds like a band just discovering The Fall and superficially going through the motions, but all is quickly forgiven, because the B-side is an absolutely perfect cover of Peggy Lee's sultry “I'm Sorry,” complete with wastoid rhythm section and a guitar that sounds like someone pushing a shovel full of crickets into a bug zapper. Neat.

The debut single by Meth Teeth, on Canada's Sweet Rot Records, is a head-y little blast of post-garage noise. “Bus Rides” is a frenetic, insistent pop tune with great fuzzy-toned guitar breaks (see: Sic Alps), while “Unemployment Forever” is a speedball rock hootenanny that begs the question “What if Television Personalties had performed on Hee Haw?”

Night Wounds is a band of punk rock derelicts from Portland, Oregon, and Allergic to Heat, their new album on Corleone Records (actually a reissue of their out of print LP version on Woodsist), is a spastic slice of indulgent noise rock that owes more to Drive Like Jehu than it does to Fushitsusha. This is ‘math-y' no wave, complete with saxophone, and certainly a little on the bland side, but the band's personality occasionally emerges

through the fog to lay down some heavy grooves, as on the almost Polvo-esque math rock of “Ex Best Friend,” and the vaguely Dead C-referencing closing track “X.O.T.” The inscrutable vocals are shouted and distorted, a la Bob Log or Quintron, but possess neither the style nor personality necessary to command any kind of attention. Night Wounds could very well rule live, and I could certainly see how they would, but as for Allergic To Heat, frankly, it leaves me pretty darn cold.  AMAZON

Vizusa (I hear it's pronounced Viz-U.S.A, but don't quote me on that) is a duo of Caitlin Cook and Calder Martin, former members of Excepter, but Vizusa is about as far removed from that band's inscrutable space dub as you can get. Their eponymous debut LP (SERES) is chock full of repetitive, narcotic dirges reminiscent of Twisted Village's golden age and Sun Dial's more adventurous moments. Martin's guitar style is unique—there's plenty of the expected wah abuse,

and a very admirable Melvins-heavy tone—but the effects seem to change frequently, sometimes mid chord, creating unexpected textures that ebb and shift at random intervals. Not sure how he achieves this, but it's awesome. Cook's vocals are exclusively sung through echo effects, but are forceful and assured, and perfectly compliment Martin's ominous sheets of guitar noise. Side B's “Fair Hesperides” is the obligatory nod out track and high point of the album, complete with a slow motion Sabbath-y riff (read: minor pentatonic scale), but catatonic like Charalambides circa Market Square or Un's brilliant and underrated self-titled LP on Siltbreeze. Usually a little of this goes a long way, especially in light of the glut of ‘psychedelic' doom bands right now traipsing around like Bardo Pond never existed, but Vizusa is a special breed. There's a style and aesthetic at work here that's as unique and original as it is hard to pin down. Oh, and the album plays on 45—cool! Neil Hamburger - Sings Country Winners

Neil Hamburger's …Sings Country Winners (Drag City) is the eccentric comedian's first foray into country music.  Remarkably, it works as both a country album and a comedy album, in an almost arrogant defiance of logic and taste. That's Nnnnnnneeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiil Hambuger for ya! “The Recycle Bin” is a masterpiece and alone worth the price of a CD. The song starts as a classic indictment of people “tainting the waste stream” by throwing Styrofoam, chicken bones and dirty underwear into the recycle bin, but the chorus reveals a bit more: “Not everything goes in the recycle bin / A shattered dream? / A divorce? / Those are just waste.” The admonition that “some things simply must be thrown away,” extends from stillborn kittens to broken hearts. Elsewhere, Hamburger's irreverent observations cover everything from the thankless life of a lonely stand up comedian (“Three Piece Chicken Dinner”), a seven year old girl imploring the depressed clown at her birthday to get a hold of himself (“Please Ask That Clown To Stop Crying”), and a government that continually abuses its power (“How Can I Still Be Patriotic (When They've Taken Away My Right To Cry)”). And that's just the first half of the album, even before a surreal cover of John Entwistle's “Thinkin' It Over.” It doesn't hurt that the band is probably more capable than a project like this may deserve, but such a luxury proves to be a great choice. Rachel Haden's background vocals in particular lend a softness to Hamburger's trademark nasal whine that makes these sardonic, hard boiled tales palatable. There is some precedent here—Harvey Sid Fisher's beautifully cracked pop songs, Peter Grudzien's harrowing country tales of demon possession and taboo sex, Jim Goad's album of traditional trucker tunes, maybe even some of Mojo Nixon's less obvious satire. But Hamburger is a true American original, and so is Sings Country Winners, one of the only comedy albums you'll ever want to listen to more than once. AMAZON

Now, any other month, the latest by Neil Hamburger, Vizusa, and the Goslings would have all been the Sewers of Mars “Album of the Month.” They certainly all deserve it, and will all likely make my top ten of 2008. I'm sure there will be a month this year when I'm hard pressed to pick a ‘best' album of the month, but this month, I had to choose between four. Good gravy.

But beating everyone out by a nose this month is Free Gold, the astonishing new album by Indian Jewelry (We Are Free). I'd say this Texas troop of rock iconoclasts is the future of rock music, but sadly, people aren't that smart. The future of rock music is a kiosk with a USB port in a bar bathroom. No, Indian Jewelry is the future of something greater, something less ethereal, some thing more slippery. The band has made some exciting records, but Free Gold is their best. For the uninitiated, these are rock tunes, but augmented by drowsy synthesizers and junk electronics. No wonder Kid606 digs 'em. The album opens with “Swans,” which updates the formula set forth by Spacemen 3 (perhaps their most obvious influence—there's even a song called “Walking On The Water”), and also recalls the sorely underappreciated Flux Information Sciences. Elsewhere, slow motion guitar and junkyard beats are joined by a seasick synthesizer on “Temporary Famien Ship,” while overdriven guitars clash and bash on the Glenn Branca-esque “Bird Is Broke (Won't Sing).” Then there are the curveballs. Oh, the curveballs. “Pompeii” sounds like Brain Jonestown Massacre at their most tuneful and sublime, and is also the closest a modern band has come to capturing the woozy, narcotic spirit of the first Velvets album in years. “Everyday” is a beautiful tune that comes out of nowhere featuring acoustic guitar and multi-layered harmony vocals. “Hello Africa” begins by sounding like the band is about to launch into a cover of Blue Oyster Cult's “Godzilla,” but instead detours into a driving synth jam with disembodied vocals delayed to mesmerizing, almost demonic effect. This is what Primal Scream thought XTRMNTR sounded like. If only. Despite the reliance on otherworldly textures and sounds, Indian Jewelry is never impersonal or detached, which itself is a feat beyond the grasp of their immediate noisenik peers. Haunted by the long gone ghosts of junkie pretenders and true life leaf-eaters alike, Indian Jewelry have created an inspired, twisted masterpiece here, one that deserves far more accolades than it is likely to receive. Where's the vinyl??    AMAZON

Next month, we'll discuss the great first volume in Sun City Girls singles collection, testify on the new Witch album on Tee Pee, and offer up some tips on how to get the stubborn stench of bong water out of a Persian rug. Hot dog!

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