Thursday, 12 July 2012

reviews: wussy, white manna, diana darby

Wussy - Buckeye (****)

Though Buckeye is Wussy’s debut international release, there’s plenty else to explore should it connect with your tastes. Since forming over a decade ago, the Cincinnatians have released a string of acclaimed albums in the US, from 2005 debut Funeral Dress to last year’s Strawberry, and Buckeye packages choice cuts from across their discography for fresh ears.

Though we can’t equal Robert Christgau’s enthusiasm (the ex-Village Voice critic recently proclaimed them “the best band in America”), these seventeen tracks nonetheless feel like a significant discovery: an inexplicably-secret history for a band deserving widespread laudation. Core duo Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker share vocals, complimenting one another perfectly on songs with shades of IRS-era REM and Rilo Kiley (amongst others), and though they sometimes recycle a little too directly (Funeral Dress is basically Teenage Kicks with a new vocal line), this primer makes for a mighty fine introduction.

Out now

White Manna - White Manna (****)

When a band calling themselves White Manna christen a track Acid Head, they risk flirting with parody. The Californian quartet’s mantric psych-rock sound, coupled with the nomenclature, paints a potent picture, but in reality they’re far from pastiche. Their clarity of vision is visceral and true: these guys know what they like, and chase it single-mindedly across five lengthy jams.

Only Don’t Gun Us Down breaks from the dense, guitar-abusing formula, its drifting introduction supplying a much-needed breather. Tellingly, it’s also the album’s weakest track: the band’s keenest strengths lie at the more propulsive, noisy end of their self-restricted sonic spectrum; ease off the gas, and their spark dissipates into so-much bong smoke. But so long as it’s kept on the boil, their focussed psychotropism is expertly effective, with the driving Mirror Sky the pinnacle. They’re anything but jacks of all trades, but they’re evidently already masters of one.

Out now

Diana Darby - I V (Intravenous) (**)

A series of personal misfortunes tarried the arrival of Diana Darby’s fourth album, her first since 2005’s The Magdalene Laundries. Yet despite a troubled genesis, I V’s brittle folk lacks emotional impact. There are positives: Darby’s whispered vocals are refreshingly modest, and her preferred recording approach – single-takes, sparse arrangements – fosters a confessional air that helps salvage some of the stumbling poeticisms in the lyrics.

But others are beyond rescue: guileless and exposed lines like “If love were a song / would you play me a tune?”, for instance, cry out for a little less transparency. You can imagine it working better in live performance, where the aura of intimacy is stronger, and likely to draw out whatever insight might be locked within a track like Ugly Little Toad (a symbolic creature “sitting by the road”, in a pondering that goes nowhere). On record, unfortunately, I V’s simplicity grips attentions only weakly.
Out now

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