Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Single of the Year:
Mark Kozelek/Sun Kil Moon, 
“War On Drugs, Suck My Cock”*

Jesse Mullen

*The following piece is the author's failed attempt at satire, and is no way serious. The author's goal was not to praise the song lavishly, but to poke fun at 2014's lack of interesting music, in his opinion, when compared with 2013. The author does not necessarily agree with the way Kozelek conducted himself, but understands that this contankorous banter is not out of the ordinary for him. That said, enjoy the piece as best you can. Viewer/Reader Discretion Advised.

In a year that has produced many highly-anticipated reunions, there have been few examples of the spoils of these reformations emerging from the studio. (save for Sleater-Kinney’s serviceable new record, which I reviewed earlier.) As a result, I have had to sift through established artist’s releases (The Jicks, Caribou, Thom Yorke), Older artists making music under a new name (Ex Hex), or newer artists making a breakthrough (Parquet Courts). None of them released a single as fabulous, and ultimately interesting as Mark Kozelek. (Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon outfit released the truly amazing Benji in march, but it works better as a whole.)

The track begins with some lovely classical guitar finger-picking that only Kozelek can pull off. And then the beast begins to sing:
“We were up on stage I heard a classic drum fill” I begin to sway “blastin’ a hundred decibels over the hill/It was gettin’ pretty loud, I asked who it was/Guy in a raincoat shouted back ‘they’re called ‘War on Drugs’/Sounded like basic John Fogerty rock/I said “this next song’s called the war on drugs can suck my cock.”

My jaw drops in awe of this poetic, (and comedic) genius. He goes on to talk about the Raleigh incident (“All you rednecks/shut the fuck up”), his fictional meeting of the War On Drugs (“Their hair is long and greasy/hope they don’t have lice”), and their fans (“Bridge and tunnel people are people too/This is their big night out.), while humorously plagerizing an Eagles guitar part, and bashing WoD’s “Beer Commercial Lead Guitar.”

All in all, a classic song, that will remain on my playlists for years to come (and this year didn’t have many of those.)

“No Cities To Love”

 Jesse Mullen

(Image Source: Sub Pop)

“You come around sounding 1972, you did nothing new, 1972” Shouts Guitarist/secondary vocalist Carrie Brownstein on “Entertain,” one of the highlights of Sleater-Kinney’s former swansong, The Woods.

Sleater-Kinney are a band that need no introduction, a band that have changed many lives with their music, and certainly changed mine. (They have Three albums on various Rolling Stone “best ever” lists.) After cranking out seven records, they decided to pull the plug in 2006. They quietly reunited earlier in the year, recorded an album in secrecy, and created a stir, when the fruits of their labour began to trickle out.
So when I fired up the old harddrive to get a sneak peak of the record, and heard what was playing through my headphones, I was…. underwhelmed. In a huge way.

Things get off to a rocky start with “Price Tag,” which opens like Elastica’s “Generator” and becomes Corin Tucker’s “Groundhog Day,” a truly sleepy opener in it’s own right, featuring an equally unappealing chorus.

The situation improves Immensely with the following two tracks: “Fangless” is classic Sleater-Kinney, with an almost dance-y bridge. The previously released single, “Surface Envy” also borrows heavily from Elastica, but this time the result is a much better song, on all fronts. Corin’s voice has aged beautifully, and her new found lower register is on full display here. Carrie Brownstein’s guitar playing on the track is especially inspired as well. She does much more string bending, than is the norm of her style, but it works.

Things take a turn for the worse with the genuinely boring title track, which boasts a staid, dad-rock melody, and some of the weakest lyrics in the Sleater-Kinney canon.
(The line about the weather isn’t even worth printing in full, and made me yell “slap me!” after hearing it. I would’ve much preferred that to the song.)

“A New Wave” is another great song, opening with a Dinosaur Jr.-esque guitar melody, with loads of funky note bending, that could become a regular aspect of Brownstein’s playing. She even displays a rare sense of humor within the song, with her hyper-energized, semi-deranged vocal performance. But the outro offers possibly the biggest surprise of the entire record: actual bass guitar. In case you weren’t aware, Sleater-Kinney are a trio with two guitarists. They rarely used bass, if ever, until now. If I wasn’t agnostic, I’d say it’s a Christmas miracle.

“No Anthems” is pounding Noise-Rock at it’s dark finest, with an emotive vocal from Corin, and a typically inspired drum performance from Janet. It’s good to hear her pounding the skins again; her talents are somewhat underused in Quasi.

However, “Gimme Love” is entirely skippable, with it’s drab start-stop melody that goes nowhere for 2 minutes and seventeen seconds. At least it’s short.

With a hit to the “>>” button, you are treated to “Bury Our Friends,” the pounding comeback song released for free on the band’s website back in October. I was originally not a fan of the track, but in the context of the record, I am enjoying it much more. (for better or worse, it is one of the stronger tracks here.)
Afterwards, the album takes a quieter tone with the penultimate track, “Hey Darling.” It’s a side of the band that isn’t normally explored, but on the rare occasions that they do (Past examples: The Size of Our Love, Leave You Behind, The Swimmer), it’s always beautiful.

Finally, The album wraps with one of their famous guitar closers, “Fade.” It sounds like the end, in the way that “Night Light” did on The Woods. However, on my third listen, I’m still unsure about the time signature change in the bridge. Had Sleater-Kinney been more in tune with the math-rock scene, this would make sense. But they aren't and it doesn't fit in the context of the song. It’s little things like these that end up dragging the record down. Moments that sound like other bands, in a less inspired way.

In the end, No Cities To Love ends up being a pretty good record, but not a great one. One that I expect will remain in my CD player for the next few months, but will wind up collecting dust on my rack not long after that. Pretty music, “But where’s the ‘Fuck You?’ where’s the black and blue?”

7/10 or Three and a half stars

Sub Pop/2015

*Side notes: 1) As of this writing, this is the first review of No Cities To Love on the internet. suck it, pitchfork. 2) About the leak;
I highly doubt it was an accident. More like a weird publicity stunt by Sub Pop.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

EX HEX: “Rips”
Jesse Mullen

(Image source:
*Personal bias: It should be noted, that I have always been a fan of Timony’s work, and do not always agree with popular opinions in regards to her solo work. This should not affect the review however, as Ex Hex is three people with very distinct musical personalities.

What else can be said about Mary Timony that hasn’t already? First she was a member of DC proto-riot grrl/math rock visionaries Autoclave, and later frontwoman to seminal Boston Noise pop outfit, Helium. She gained notoriety for her distorted, off-kilter guitar riffs and her unique, and often fantastical lyrics centering around female characters who don’t normally have a voice in indie rock. (Case in point; Helium’s debut E.P. Pirate Prude, was a concept album about a prostitute’s transformation into a vampire.)

Later in Helium’s run however, Timony shed her trademark fuzzbox, in favor of a more melodic, yet experimental Chamberlain-lead sound, which she dubbed “Weird Rock.” Helium’s dissolution in early 1998 (though they wouldn’t formally announce their break up til 2001) saw Timony heading even further left with her sonic palette, with songs now featuring Viola (played by her nonetheless), Harpsichord, Piano, and the aforementioned Chamberlain, as well as significantly darker lyrics.
 Fans and critics were surprised, and even disappointed in the new direction, but in retrospect, these records (2000’s Mountains, and 2002’s The Golden Dove respectively) are some of Timony’s best records, and stand the test of time better than nearly everything else she had released previously (with the obvious exception of The Dirt of Luck), or since (exception: Wild Flag, and Rips).

So, This leads us to now. (I’m skipping over The Spells, Timony’s other two solo albums, and Wild Flag’s lone eponymous record. there are far more in depth articles on them scattered over the web on publications much larger than this one. look em up.)
Timony’s newest project, Ex Hex, has just dropped it’s highly anticipated new record. (The group also consists of Indie musicians Betsy Wright on bass, and Laura Harris on drums.) Fans will notice immediately that it is Timony’s loosest, most rawking, and fun collection of songs to date. Even more so than Wild Flag was. And that is really saying something.

Starting out with the one-two-three punch of “Don’t Wanna Lose,” “Beast,” and “Waste Your Time,” the record immediately finds its footing in the form of Proto-Punk song structures, and soaring vocal “melodees” (sorry, see bias above).
Timony sounds downright swaggering on “Don’t Wanna Lose,” as the stuttering riff which opens the track gives way to a rollicking chorus, which is practically the musical equivalent of a rollercoaster. Once the guitar solo comes, you won’t want to play anything else for the next few days. But you must press on, as this is only the beginning of this fantastic disc. But I digress.
“Beast” is pure glam punk circa 1973, with a “Personality Crisis” overtone to the riffs in between the verses.
“Waste Your Time” is pure Big Star a la “September Gurls,” with its jangly riff, and Chilton-esque solo. Speaking of Alex Chilton and Big Star, pre-album single “Hot and Cold” also evokes the spirit of the Memphis Power-Pop trio, with its crystalline verses, and big-muff heavy chorus.

Another unexpected highlight comes when Betsy Wright steps up to the mic to sing “Radio On.” who knew she had such a gorgeous voice? I’m quietly weeping in the corner of the office, thinking of all of the wasted years that have gone by, which could have featured a release by herr Wright.

If any faults with the record are to be found, it is that the “Hot and Cold” single is repeated here in it’s entirety (albeit in re-recorded form.) Given, all three tracks are in superior form here, but that leaves only eight new tracks (mostly) unheard to the general public. (mostly, excluding the lucky few that were able to catch Ex Hex on their autumn tour of last year, or their spring tour of this year. Lucky bastards.)

What more is there to say? A great record, by a group of veterans, that sounds like it has been playing together for ages. I was originally supposed to review Ex Hex’s Merge label mates Caribou’s new record, Our Love next, but now I can’t be bothered to; all I want to do is listen to Rips. They’re probably somewhere laughing about this disservice they've done. Damn you, Ex Hex..


Monday, September 29, 2014

Song of the Week (9/21-9/27/14):
Thom Yorke, “Mother Lode”
 a long rant on technology, and a review
Jesse Mullen

What a week it has been for fans of Radiohead; First, enigmatic frontman, Thom Yorke posted mysterious photographs of unused artwork, and lyric sheets, made by him and Stanley Donwood, known collectively as “The White Chocolate Farm,” or Dr. Tchock for short. (The Post also announced that Radiohead have been recording overdubs for a future release, possibly their ninth studio album. but more on that later.) Next, he posted a photo of a mysterious white vinyl record, with a blank white label fixed to it, suggesting a new release was imminent. Finally, when Friday arrived, Yorke delighted fans with the release of a new solo record, Tomorrows Modern Boxes, and a new music video for opening track “Brain in a Bottle.”

The release was anything but conventional; instead of releasing it digitally, via W.A.S.T.E. central, the usual outlet for Radiohead, and Yorke related material, fans were instead directed to, of all places, bittorrent's new website, Bittorrent bundles. Bittorrent is obviously best known as the best and easiest way to steal music (and other file types, for that matter.) However, Yorke intends to change this for the better. In a statement by him and Producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke said the following:

As an experiment we are using a new version of BitTorrent to distribute a new Thom Yorke record.
The new Torrent files have a pay gate to access a bundle of files..
The files can be anything, but in this case is an 'album'.
It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around ...
If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work.
Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves.
Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers.
If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done.
The torrent mechanism does not require any server uploading or hosting costs or ‘cloud’ malarkey.
It's a self-contained embeddable shop front...
The network not only carries the traffic, it also hosts the file. The file is in the network.
Oh yes and it's called
Tomorrow's Modern Boxes.
Thom Yorke & Nigel Godrich

Seeing Yorke and Godrich’s recent criticisms of internet streaming services, and his previous release strategies with Radiohead, this should not come as a surprise.
Yorke is obviously at a point in his career where he can do as he well pleases;
freed from the clutches of EMI nearly a decade ago, he and co. have been on various indie labels, and can choose when and where they release his/their music. Yorke is also open to technological advances, and this time he is at the forefront of this one. (forget whatever the fuck Bono is doing with apple, this is the real deal, man!)

Right, so, onto the music. One of the best tracks on the record is undoubtedly “The Mother Lode,” a sparse piano ballad/post-rock slow burner, with a little IDM thrown in for good measure. An Eerie baby grand slowly begins playing, followed by a drum sample, and finally Yorkes Inimitable vocals come in to the mix. This is the “Pyramid Song,” the “Backdrifts,” the “Videotape,” and the “Codex” of the record all in one. It is also one of Yorke’s finest compositions to date. The Contrasting vocal melodies and drum loops make the track alluring, yet irresistible. His best recording since in Rainbows, this the work of a true genius sonic landscaper.