Reviews, November 2012

Published  November 2012

Books

T.GERONIMO JOHNSON
HOLD IT ‘TIL IT HURTS
(COFFEE HOUSE)
It begins as a tale of two brothers’ provenance: Afghanistan war-weary veterans Achilles and Troy return from a tour of duty to find their adoptive father has passed away. They know they’ve been adopted but the blue envelopes their adoptive mother hands them hold the names of their birth parents. Achilles chooses not to open his. Soon enough, however, he is drawn to the last place his brother was seen searching for the people in his envelope: New Orleans, circa mid-2004. What follows is an intimate epic, weaving issues of race, class, revenge, brotherhood, family, love and survival together into a charged narrative. At the heart of Hold It ‘Til It Hurts is a 21st century Ralph Ellison-like exploration of what it means to find one’s place in a world where ties are not as binding as they used to be until they reach out and attempt to crush the spirit when least expected. Achilles must negotiate the soldier’s life he still carries within, the impact of having been a black son raised in a white family and his own feelings about his brother during his search. Who is Achilles really trying to find? —Leigh Checkman

 

HUNTER KENNEDY, EDITOR
THE MINUS TIMES COLLECTED: 20 YEARS/30 ISSUES
(DRAG CITY/FEATHERPROOF)
Somehow, a small tract with literary pretensions emerged from the brain of one Robert Hunter Kennedy in the early-to-mid-‘90s, presenting itself as a renegade zine with exquisite corpse-esque prose constructions from newspaper cutouts, some bits of offbeat wisdom and passages of poetry and prose. With the assistance and encouragement of friends like the polymathic David Berman (of the indie band Silver Jews) and a publishing deal with the indie recording label Drag City, Kennedy’s humble Minus Times, named for a meditation of Henry Miller’s on what it is to live, transcended its origins while still retaining its zine feel. Although ads appeared in its pages, they fit right in with drawings from Dave Eggers, typewritten (on an actual typewriter) questions put to Barry Hannah, Harmony Korine and Stephen Colbert; lists of recommended albums, books and DVDs from Sam Beam, Colin Meloy and Bill Verner; and stealthily killer poetry and prose from writers known and unknown. The Times’ prophetic prescience with regard to the pedigrees of its contributors has been lauded ad nauseum and the design of Collected is not above trying to overwhelm potential buyers with that fact, listing every single contributor on its front and back covers. It’s a good thing that the content that lies between those covers is far better than the roll call on the outside. —Leigh Checkman

 

MICHAEL ALLEN ZELL
ERRATA
(LAVENDER INK)
Raymond Russell has a problem. Is it possible to let things down easy – say, recount the horror of certain events and the pain of your actions and reactions to said events – in such a way that you are somehow still an upright, barely changed human? Can one possibly be better for the experience? Michael Allen Zell’s Errata is the record of Raymond’s attempt to make sense of the senseless by creating a cocoon of intensity around what he can only hint at. In reading his 22-day missive, readers are invited to become a part of his isolated life as an erudite cabbie, in which he focuses on obscure objects of desire, his roundabout, not-solegal path to becoming a cab driver, the things he does with his stolen library and secondhand books – anything but the baseness of the criminal act he only occasionally hints at, then recoils in horror at its mere mention. Zell has created a character who would be Raskolnikov if he somehow managed to act more decisively instead of letting things happen to him – but Raymond’s intent to obscure and correct the past is a fascinating and seductive text, with its infuriating and oddly absorbing tangents that string readers along while simultaneously pushing them prissily away. —Leigh Checkman


Records

ALEX MCMURRAY
I WILL NEVER BE ALONE IN THIS LAND
(THREADHEAD)
It’s been a couple of years since his last solo album, but Alex McMurray hasn’t been idle. Between the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus, the Tin Men, the Tom Paines and his many other bands and live appearances, it’s almost a wonder he can make his solo voice heard above the pulsing heartbeat of the scene to which he’s melded. Thank goodness for his stellar songwriting and for the incredible instrumental backup in ample evidence on I Will Never Be Alone In This Land, a work that occasionally refers to 2010’s How To Be A Cannonball but moves well beyond it in scope. More chances are taken with the melodies in Alone, its first few beautiful songs building up to “Me And My Bad Luck,” a raucous centerpiece that goes to town and falls repeatedly in the gutter with the help of great brass work from a tight crew that includes Matt Perrine and trumpeter Mark Braud. In fact, Alone is a great instance of commanding musicians, allowing McMurray to become looser with his songs and slink through seductive tunes like “The Get Go” without completely losing the edgy country, folk and garage rock thread he continues to pick up and saunter with whenever he can. The use of horns on songs like “The Man Who Shot The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and the lovely “Beneath The Rain” are blatant examples, but the stronger musical decisions go deeper than that. On Cannonball, some extra sound effects were used that seemed beside the point, perhaps quirky just to be quirky but on “Texas Again,” the crackling fire and musical saw really do serve the song. McMurray is a man confident in his craft but it’s a confidence that will keep you on your toes, dancing with intense glee. —Leigh Checkman

 

ANAAL NATHRAKH
VANITAS
(CANDLELIGHT RECORDS)
Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt may seem like two ordinary-looking British dudes with ordinary British names. But with the powers of these two combined, they’re the sound of the fucking apocalypse. And never has the apocalypse sounded so beautiful. Anaal Nathrakh plays a perfect meshing of black metal and grindcore. They’re what happens when Napalm Death or Nasum combine with Mayhem to create a sound that would have the devil incarnate shitting in his pants. If he even wore pants. The album’s song structures, along with Dave Hunt’s occasional operatic clean-vocal bursts, are the best they’ve been since Hell is Empty, and All the Devils Are Here; and Mick Kenney’s programming is the best that it’s ever been. It’s been said that it takes only a mere week for Kenney to lock himself in his basement and write a new album — a process that he could do all the time were it not for the year that it takes a record label to prepare for the marketing and production of the group’s next release. Anaal Nathrakh is the embodiment the most extreme music there is. Vanitas is no exception, especially with tracks like “Of Fire, and Fucking Pigs.” If you’re a long-time fan of the band, there’s a wonderful surprise waiting for you at the end of the album. Think “Satanarchrist.” —Konrad Kantor

 

BLIND TEXAS MARLIN
NOTHING UNLIKE ELEPHANTS
(BLIND FISH MUSIC)
Anyone who’s caught Blind Texas Marlin live knows how explosive his music is despite minimal – sometimes zero – electric amplification. With a small army of slackersoldiers loosely assembled around him, including White Colla Crimes hooligan Mike Lentz on kitchen percussion and fellow-Felixmate Thomas Furtado on piano, BTM blazes through a set that sounds ancient but not vintage, wildwest but not country, hobo but not boho. It’s a psychedelic combination of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison and about as poetic. “I got nothin’ in the bottom of my asshole” is about as memorable an opening line as you can write for a song. So with such a commanding live presence, you can imagine how hard that must’ve been to capture in a studio. Technically and musically, the album is an accurate snapshot of a Blind Texas Marlin setlist but ultimately sounds like tamed chaos, a lion in chains. Interpret that how you will, have an in-theflesh experience and get this CD after the show. Pop it in when you need a proper flashback and proof that what you witnessed was no illusion. —Dan Fox

 

DARK DARK DARK
WHO NEEDS WHO
(SUPPLY & DEMAND)
Sometimes it’s good to cry. And I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t frequently gotten misty listening to Nona Invie’s tender warble. Despite a touch of backlash due to a song from their last album appearing all over some of TV’s most cheesetastic shows (Grey’s Anatomy, anyone?), DDD is still an excellent study in making beautiful, heartbreaking music. Those shows used the swelling emotion of the song to create a “moment” for their audience and that’s something this band consistently delivers to their listeners. Their baroque sensibilities come to the forefront on their newest album, Who Needs Who. While the piano work is impressive throughout, the songs that really shine are the ones that vary the instrumentation (see: the pulsing accordion on the beat-poetic “Without You”). “Last Time I Saw Joe” plays a bit more with the cabaret/ theatrical side of their sound and, like the title track, makes great use of the trumpet by weaving it into the massive storm building behind Invie’s quiet, steady vocals. The undisputed standout for me was the fragile “How It Went Down,” a song with few frills apart from the naked, aching vocal. Overall, the album is solid, if occasionally too lulling. Horn duties are handled by someone probably familiar to most of our readers – multi-instrumentalist and general man about town, Walt McClements of Why Are We Building a Big Ship? I’d love to see him utilized in a more prominent way, as the songs just spring to life when his trumpet rolls in. Nonetheless, a solid effort from a young band that is clearly on its way to bigger stages. —Erin Hall

 

DEATH GRIPS
NO LOVE DEEP WEB
(EPIC)
That record label listed above, Epic, might be a little misleading. In fact, Death Grips circumvented their own label’s release schedule and dropped their new record into the mighty crosswinds of the internet. A bold move considering the band’s relatively minor level of exposure but something that should come as no shock to anyone who’s bothered to actually listen to Death Grips. The reservations Epic might have had for No Love Deep Web makes sense. It is not user friendly. Its scattered, difficult rhythms and schizoid production styles fall somewhere between the sample based hip-hop of their debut EP and the slicker follow up The Money Store. There are no easy hooks to be found on this album. Instead, songs are sculpted from phasered synthesizer strings, cobbled together with dusted 808 drum beats or assembled into dark sound collages that interpolate hip-hop more than represent it. No Love feels like a record made by a group afraid of what a major record label and a modicum of exposure could do to them. The apocalyptic “Lock Your Doors” drops a cacophony of multi-tracked, echoing vocals over a hellish cloud of roaring noise and menacing drums. Various tracks across the record flirt with accessibility before drowning that thought in dense walls of production or sparse tracks that feel like skeletal versions of whole songs. The aesthetic is deliberate, and there’s a certain amount of respect due to a group of artists willing to make their art how they like it regardless of commercial thoughts; but unfortunately No Love just doesn’t have the same creative fire behind it that their previous records demonstrated. It’s raw, punishing and heavy without sounding forced but it’s also flat at times and seems to run in circles. It will be interesting to see how Death Grips regroup from the fallout that the album is likely to spread with both their record label and fans. —Mike Rodgers

 

ENSLAVED
RIITIIR
(NUCLEAR BLAST)
RIITIIR marks Enslaved’s 12th (!) full-length since Vikingligr Veldi debuted in 1994; and whether you love or hate the direction the Norwegians have been traveling in, it’s hard to make a case against Enslaved being the most prolific band in metal today. Although RIITIIR doesn’t come quite as hard out of the starting blocks as Axioma Ethica Odini, it’s a much more consistent record that contains standout moments within all of its eight tracks and is probably the most complete effort since Isa. From significantly clean vocals to psychedelic, soaring guitar solos and an increasingly non-frightening atmosphere, viking black metal has never sounded so Pink Floydian. “Roots of the Mountain” is a song for the ages. -Konrad Kantor

 

EYEHATEGOD
NEW ORLEANS IS THE NEW VIETNAM 7”
(A389 / EMETIC)
It’s easy to feel like Katrina is still an active war zone with this latest Eyehategod release, their best stuff in years. EHG defined their sound over 2 decades ago so there are no surprises here: plenty of meanface guitar shredding and breakdowns that always nod but never fall. Mike IX Williams’ lyrics remain abrasive and, as always, sum up the darkest parts of our state of mind here in the sportsman’s paradise: “EAST BANK MESS, WEST BANK WRECK… SHOES DON’T FIT, YOU DON’T FIT.” This copy is issued on armygreen vinyl, pressed on one side but there are additional colors out there, such as the Halloween orange and black, courtesy of Emetic Records. This is one bitter pill to swallow and by now, you’re well acquainted with the effects. EHG lives. —Dan Fox

 

GARY CLARK JR.
BLAK AND BLU
(WARNER BROS.)
Gary Clark Jr. has finally released a full-length record and the only thing more frustrating than waiting this long to hear it is that the album itself is so… frustrating. Over the first six tracks, Clark literally takes two steps forward and one step back— two roaring tracks and then an absolute piece of garbage. The title track and “You Saved Me” are throwaway tunes. They’re not completely unlistenable but they are a far cry from the virtuosity that sweeps through songs like “Numb” and “When My Train Pulls In.” “The Life” is frankly embarrassing. There’s Autotuning. Clark doesn’t play these dogshit songs live, which makes it even more perplexing that they keep showing up on his releases. It makes zero sense that the same guy who has a surprise sit-in with Cedric Burnside at two in the morning at d.b.a. would put his name on this stuff. All that being said, at least half the songs on this album will absolutely taze your soul. “Travis County” reincarnates Chuck Berry in Jack White’s garage. “Glitter Ain’t Gold” is the song everybody wishes Lenny Kravitz could have written and played. There are a couple bits of debris here that call Clark’s future into question. But there is a whole pile of stuff that announces the arrival of the new blues-rock guitar god. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson

 

GASLAMP KILLER
BREAKTHROUGH
(BRAINFEEDER)
Gaslamp Killer (born William Banjamin Bensussen) has grafted together here not so much a record but an album. Breakthrough is a travelogue of his exposure to and experimentations with a world-wide buffet of styles, songs and sounds. Instead of approaching the tracks looking for hooks, beats or melodies, Gaslamp Killer cuts are often more about bringing together multiple genres of music, differing instruments and complex interplays to create something that’s uniquely his own. The doped lean of “Dead Vets,” with its smoky snare and bass beat and gnarly ‘60s guitar and organ riffing, feels like a late night at a smoky, dark bar. Juxtapose that with the analog burp and burble of “Peasants, Cripples & Retards” and it sounds like it’s coming from a completely separate dimension. Each track is cohesive and taken bit by bit, Breakthrough is jarring and at times gets lost in its own weirdness; but somehow the record puts the pieces together. —Mike Rodgers

 

NEUROSIS
HONOR FOUND IN DECAY
(NEUROT RECORDINGS)
Think back to a time when a Neurosis album first clicked for you. Chances are, fond memories of whichever ‘90s album you find most perfect are returning with pure nostalgic clarity (even thinking about “Locust Star” in a live setting gives me chills). Regardless of personal preferences and stylistic changes, one thing will always remain certain: Neurosis will change the way you listen to music. From Souls at Zero to Given to the Rising, the group has reinvented itself time and time again; and it has covered a stupefyingly vast range of sound in the process of doing so. So here we stand with anxious anticipation, 16 years after the release of criticallyacclaimed masterpiece Through Silver in Blood, hoping to be absolutely obliterated by the next step in the Neurosis catalog yet again. Honor Found in Decay is easily the most refined Neurosis effort to date and for many of us, will go down as one of the absolute best metal albums of 2012. —Konrad Kantor

 

ROSIE FLORES
WORKING GIRL’S GUITAR
(BLOODSHOT)
Rosie Flores is somewhat the Bonnie Raitt of Rockabilly music and her newest release, Working Girl’s Guitar, is a brilliant showcase of her immense talents as well as her sense of history. Flores is into her 6th decade on this planet but her voice doesn’t seem to have aged a day since she had her first beer. She sounds vital and energetic on all nine tracks here but especially on “Little But I’m Loud,” where “If I want it to / it goes to eleven.” She wants it to. Earlier this year, Flores funded and produced The Blanco Sessions, a posthumous record by the pioneering Janis Martin (often referred to as the “Female Elvis”). On Guitar, Flores pays tribute yet again by covering Martin’s tune “Drug Store Rock and Roll.” She also covers the Male Elvis’ classic, “Too Much.” And just to round things out, she takes a chilled-out jazz run at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which features a melodic guitar solo to which Willie Nelson would tip his hat. For the first time in her career, Flores handles all of the guitar work here (as well as producing duties) and her playing skills are in even finer form than her voice. Ranging from jazz to straight-ahead rockabilly to surf, pop and garage rock, Flores is just out here playing circles around folks. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson

 

TORI AMOS
GOLD DUST
(DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON)
It’s a strange thing when an artist looks back and re-records her past work without really changing much of it. If a symphony orchestra like the Metropole Orkest doesn’t change a studio recording, then what the heck will? I imagine if Amos had chosen songs like her haltingly bombastic “God” or some of the stranger experiments on Boys For Pele – or even some jazzier work found on the more recent The Beekeeper – Gold Dust would be far more than it is. Instead, she picked songs that really didn’t gain much from having the symphony there. Even “Precious Things” seems to have been lifted like a fingerprint from Little Earthquakes and given some strings. Is Amos shortchanging longtime fans, trying to create new ones or simply putting on CD the nod to classical music that was always there in her own songs? This is not to say Gold Dust is a shoddy work; the songs are as strong as they’ve ever been and the production itself is perfunctory and correct. In the context of Amos’ long and great career as an artist, however, the album comes across as dressed-up dross. —Leigh Checkman

 

TREY ANASTASIO
TRAVELER
(RUBBER JUNGLE)
Trey Anastasio takes a lot of flack for his guitar playing, and a palpable stigma has developed (at least among “indie” fans) around Phish over the last 10 or so years. Even people on the jam scene are writing Anastasio off— and that’s fine. I didn’t become a Phish fan because other people told me to or because they told me not to. I like Phish and Trey because I think their music is fun; and while Anastasio’s guitar chops are fine fodder for argument, two things that are inarguable are his senses of groove and humor. On Traveler, Anastasio fails to make a very coherent record. “Scabbard” sounds like an outcast from Phish’s Joy sessions; “Let Me Lie” borders on the edge of pop and “Land of Nod” is a genuinely funky, edgy, electro-march. The triumph of this record is in the production values and compositions. The ten tunes collected here are certainly engaging enough to get you bouncing in your chair. The biggest surprise on the record is actually what’s not here: spacey guitar jams. The longest track on Traveler clocks in at 6 minutes and 37 seconds, mere instants by Anastasio’s standards. There is plenty of room to stretch out and explore during live performances but Trey keeps things pretty tight here. Even at that, it doesn’t feel like anything is missing. These are good, fun, groovy songs and that’s what Anastasio has been about from the beginning. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson

 

TY SEGALL
TWINS
(DRAG CITY)
This settles it: 2012 is the year of Ty Segall. From the chunky, ‘70s coiffed garage metal of Slaughterhouse to the psychedelic, red eyed jamming of his collaboration with White Fences, Segall has hit his stride. Twins feels plucked out of some wonderful lo-fi punk fantasy, a realm where the guitars are loud and fuzzed as an old peach and everything smells like your cool older brother’s van. It seems like when Segall is working under his name alone he just can’t settle on a unified field for his records— except for his signature guitar tone and that voice that lands just on the right side of nasal. Twins is constantly shifting its tone and method but the result is always a heavy dose of syrupy riffs. There’s a direct connection to bands like Nirvana, who milked pop for its hooks, and Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, who strangled pop with feedback. “They Told Me To” gallops like a stoner Sabbath, “Inside Your Heart” grinds away on a groovy, distortion-encrusted riff and album closer “There Is No Tomorrow” is a downbeat, druggy shambling piece of garage rock that lets Segall’s voice peek up out of the haze so it doesn’t sound woeful. Twins is yet another entirely too heavy piece of mind burning, San Francisco rock revivalism and seals the deal on this year for Ty Segall. —Mike Rodgers

 

WANDA JACKSON
UNFINISHED BUSINESS
(SUGARHILL)
After working with Jack White on her wildly successful release The Party Ain’t Over, Wanda Jackson has recruited Justin Townes Earle to run the show on her newest release, Unfinished Business. Earle takes a softer approach than White did, easing Jackson back toward a more Opry-tinged country sound. Album opener “Tore Down” features some Memphis guitar and organ to get things moving and “Graveyard Shift” is all Jerry Lee Lewis boogie-woogie. Her twanged-up run at “It’s All Over Now” is a whole lot of fun and Jackson’s spin on Earle’s own “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome?” is golden-age Nashville, with swinging Western beats and a huge pedal-steel guitar that absolutely sobs. Jackson also covers “California Stars,” the Woody Guthrie/Wilco collaboration from Mermaid Avenue. Jackson’s performances across the entire album are outstanding but perhaps the most remarkable thing about Unfinished Business is the difference in production values between Messrs. Earle and White. Side by side, Party plays like a Jack White record featuring Wanda Jackson, while Business sounds much more like a Wanda Jackson record that sounds really fresh and fun. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson

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