Tuesday, 28 July 2009

some reviews: lovvers, jay reatard, mariachi el bronx + more...

a bunch of reviews have been added to the skinny's website over the last few weeks, including these written all by myself:

The Dead Weather - Horehound (****)

It’s natural that Jack White has dominated discussions of the Dead Weather. With two bands already under his command, the unveiling of a new blues-rock combo featuring his talents was inevitably seen as just another outlet for its ringleader’s voluminous talents. Some commentators have weakly bandied around the ‘supergroup’ tag to highlight the presence of The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita, but regardless, most will come to The Dead Weather with White‘s career as their guide, anticipating an album timed to replace The White Stripes (till Meg returns to work) and the Raconteurs (while Brendan Benson goes solo again).

A first listen won’t really challenge this opinion. The distorted guitar underpinning much of Horehound revels in the same old-school blues riffs that have always influenced White’s style, and only Mosshart’s seductive vocals distinguish some songs from the likes of Icky Thump. Except that a) The White Stripes and The Raconteurs have never sounded quite so filthy and b) that ain't White playing guitar. If White drives the Dead Weather, he does so from the drum stool rather than centre stage, his drumming carrying a great deal more weight than your average Meg paradiddle. Guitar duties are handled by Fertita, as are the voodoo-Doors-esque organ lines that help give tracks like So Far From Your Weapon their fuzzy, skuzzy atmosphere, while credit goes to Jack Lawrence (of the Greenhornes/Raconteurs) for the rattling bass lines gracing Rocking Horse et al.

And then there’s Mosshart, specialising in two types of vocals on Horehound. The sultry delivery of the first will be familiar to any Kills fans, all sighs, wails and pouting attitude (see opener 60 Feet Tall and New Poney, amongst others). The second type is best exemplified by Cut Like A Buffalo, a peculiar beast which marries reggae-syncopation with Ray Manzarek-like organ to produce the album’s one genuine diversion from the band members’ various day jobs. Here the vocals are layered and multiple (White may be relegated to the back of the stage, but that doesn’t keep him schtum), not so much in harmony as bellowed together in a vaguely similar register. It's a style that just about works on Buffalo but which sounds uncomfortably close to 90s rap rock cliché on Treat Me Like Your Mother.

So it turns out that Jack White’s new band isn’t ‘his’ at all – it’s a co-op, with all four of its members claiming ownership over its successes but also sharing liability for its occasional failures. Some tracks peter out long before their running time expires; others simply rehash old ideas. But the Dead Weather is the sum of its parts in the best way possible – four skilled musicians working together without anyone (i.e. Mr White) dominating. If the band prove to be temporary, then they deserves more than pithy dismissal as a side-project, or a footnote in White’s career. Chances are, unfortunately, that’s exactly the short shrift they’ll receive.

Asa Ransom - An Asa Ransom Release (***)

Relocating to New York must have been a no-brainer for Asa Ransom, hailing as they do from Marion, Indiana, whose only recent(ish) claim to fame has been hosting Julia Roberts's union with (now ex-) husband Lyle Lovett. The Big Apple, by contrast, is so adept at incubating dance-rock-garage hybrids it could no doubt churn them out in its sleep (which, as Frank Sinatra once revealed, it never, ever does). Borrowing copiously from the local aesthetic, the band's playful mix of Rapture grooves with The Walkmen’s spiky alt-rock boasts liberal song structures which journey into all sorts of unexpected but exciting places. The Luck Of Stoney Bowes combines taut Wire-y guitar with muttered whispers, while The Way We Go, mostly consisting of the title repeated over a Clinic-al backbeat, sounds simultaneously like an invitation to dance and a threat. And they aren’t out of ideas yet, having already begun their follow-up. An-other Asa Ransom Release? I look forward to it.

The Bookhouse Boys - The Bookhouse Boys (***)

“A soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist” is up there with “voice of a generation” in the big book of irksome review clichés. But in this case, it’s so apt I’ll not only use it, I’ll go one better and specify the feigned film. With its Morricone crescendos, surf-guitar riffs and, on Tonight, an introduction identical to Urge Overkill’s Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon, the first half appears specially commissioned to save Tarantino the hassle of hunting through 7”s for Kill Bill Vol. 3. Nick Cave is a clear non-cinematic influence, with I Can’t Help Myself sounding awfully like The Curse of Millhaven with less interesting lyrics (which isn’t an insult – most songs have less interesting lyrics than Cave’s blood-drenched ditty). Unfortunately the standard later dips, with too many lulls killing momentum and leaving the Bookhouse Boys an intriguing prospect, but not yet a fully-formed one.

Jay Reatard - Watch Me Fall (***)

Despite spending his teens in lo-fi garage-punk bands, Jay Reatard’s solo work is unashamedly pop. There are no attempts to undermine the hooks running through Watch Me Fall with noisy outbursts: Reatard instead offers up twelve no-nonsense, instantly memorable slices of power-pop which shimmy, shake, rattle and roll through a hit-parade of influences. Past comparisons to Guided By Voices and Supergrass don’t quite convey the enthusiastic brio with which Watch Me Fall crackles - imagine instead if Andrew W.K. chose to emulate Ash and Weezer rather than soft-metal and motivational speakers. So why the subdued score? Because, for all their individual charms, over the course of several listens many songs lose their sheen; chord changes start to sound overly obvious and there’s only so many way/away-type rhymes one can take before craving something a little more ambitious than a three-minute earworm. In moderation, however, Reatard is a happy, catchy treat.

Mariachi El Bronx - Cell Mates (****)

Unless The Jonas Brothers are anonymously working on a double album of folk-inspired death metal, this is undoubtedly the most unusual musical alter-ego of 2009. A world away from the noisy hardcore sound for which they’re known, LA punks The Bronx have transmogrified into Central American doppelgangers Mariachi El Bronx, swapping crunchy detuned guitars for chirpy brass, frantic bass-drum rhythms for a summery latino sway and rock-n-roll howls for sweetly sung jail-based pining over absent sweethearts. Such a major stylistic shift might have an air of novelty were it not for Cell Mates straight-faced sincerity and wonderfully upbeat flourishes. Even if the Bronx have thus far left you cold, the summery warmth of the Mariachis may change your mind.

Lovvers - OCD Go Go Go Girls (****)

The plot of Dan Brown’s forthcoming crime-against-literature/bestseller is top secret, but I reckon I’ve figured out the subject of investigation: the origins and meaning of the mysterious double ‘V’. While it hasn’t reached the ubiquity of ‘Crystal’, Lovvers are the second band (after Wavves) to debut lately with an elongated middle, and it seems an awfully big coincidence that both peddle a similar brand of fuzzy guitar-pop. What connects ‘VV’ and broken-amp-core? No idea. What I do know is that a) Lovvers beat Wavves into a cocked hat, sounding more vibrant, ferocious and tuneful and b) OCD Go Go Girls (that’s one less ‘Go’ than the album title - a clue??) is an ace summer sing-a-long, or at least would be if the mumbled lyrics were audible. So, conspiracy theories aside, Lovvers’ debut rocks - though if a re-branded Times New VViking emerge anytime soon, we're declaring this an epidemic.

and be sure to have frequent peaks at the skinny site for plenty of other spiffing music/film/stuff coverage!

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