issue 28 :: October 2017

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Rock Reviews

Flying Saucer Attack, Jim O’Rourke, The Ex, Bikini Kill, The Twerps, Pat Travers, Moonsicles, Lucinda Williams, Doc Wör Mirran, The Monochrome Set, Moving Panoramas, Lida Husik, Nisennenmondai, Fly Ashtray, Barbara Manning
Flying Saucer AttackInstrumentals 2015 (Drag City) CD

A very welcome return from David Pearce’s space rock project. I remember the joy of hearing the first FSA CD on VHF when it came out. Now, more than twenty years later, and after an absence of ten years or so, Pearce takes us and his guitar on fifteen short excursions to the different moods established by him over the years. From harsh noise (“Instrumental 6”) to reverb-heavy picking (“Instrumental 2”) to tender melodic rhapsodies (“Instrumental 5”), to soothing ambient moods (“Instrumental 13”), waves of drones and feedback awash upon our years. Maybe it was the Zeitgeist of the time, but I heard the influence of that first FSA record—a blissed, fuzzed, huge atmosphere—spread across many different artists, but no one did it better. It is great to hear new material. Rachel Brook, who left the project to form the excellently crafty Movietone, returns to provide the CD disc artwork.
Jim O’RourkeSimple Songs (Drag City) CD

Hardly the simple implied by the title, these eight songs made with a new band of Japanese musicians mainly take off where his popular Eureka/Insignificance/Halfway to a Threeway trilogy ended so long ago, in a similar way in which The Visitor from 2013 can be heard as an evolution from the earlier Bad Timing. Let no one fault a man for working on something for years to perfect it. We hear a superb combination of Eureka’s lush keyboards and string-dominated orchestrations, Insignificance’s more bright guitar-driven sound, and the quiet, acoustic oddness of Halfway..., sometimes shifting between these modes in mid-song. At times O’Rourke’s voice assumes a world-weary tone as if evoking the spirit of Warren Zevon, especially when he sings “I am friends with so many of the damned” on the song “Friends with Benefits.” Like Eureka, there’s not a note out of place, but none of the songs here are as instantly memorizable as that perfect pop record. Repeated listens are not unpleasant nor boring with O’Rourke’s work.
The ExCatch My Shoe (Ex Records) CD

I’ve neglected recent activities from the Ex for no good reason. I’ve watched a few live videos of them playing with Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria and read with excitement of their tours through Africa. It was a video they made at a 2015 festival with new (to my ears) vocalist Arnold de Boer that made me want to catch up. Which I did, by buying this and the At Bimhuis set. Here is a link to that video; watch it before it disappears. It’s the kind of performance and musicality that should win Grammy Awards. 2010’s Catch My Shoe was the first one with a new singer after G.K. Sok left the band. It’s also the record after Rozemarie Heggen left after only a few years of playing doublebass with them. This would then become a three guitar, no bass version of the band, with guitarist Andy Moor sometimes playing baritone guitar. More melodic guitar riffs anchor the songs in this new group, still over the gruff skronk we want from them. de Boer has a pleasantly accented speaking voice that can rise in intensity to shouting and excels at chanting catchy slogans. (“All pilots get rich, all the passengers pay for it.”) The rhythmic layers of overlapping guitar riffs inspire me to reach for my guitar. Roy Paci plays overdubbed trumpets on two songs giving a taste of later collaborations with Brass Unbound and Ken Vandermark, which generally have a more song-oriented feel rather than the art rock of Joggers & Smoggers or free jazz of Instant. I love all of these different directions of the Ex over the years. Drummer Kat Bornefeld sings on a cover of a song found on a Ethiopian cassette collected on one of their travels (and you can watch her sing it with the band and Han Bennick in Ethiopia here). Superbly recorded by Steve Albini in Chicago, this is a great re-introduction to one of my favorite bands.

The Ex, 1999
Terre & G.K., the Ex, Houston 1999

The Ex
Terre & Luc clapping, G.K. singing, the Ex, Houston 1999
Bikini KillRevolution Girl Style Now (Bikini Kill Records) CD

A great reissue of Bikini Kill’s demo cassette from 1991 that should have happened a long time ago. The songs that appear later on their first EP, “Carnival,” “Liar,” “Double Dare You,” “Suck My Left One,” sound very similar. If you’re a fan, you probably have the original cassette or downloaded it on SoulSeek. Likewise the songs that would appear on compilations, “Drives Blind” and “Candy.” The bonus tracks are worth hearing, more so than the bonus tracks on the reissue of Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah. “Ocean Song” in particular is an eye-openingly different direction for the band, reminding me of the Opal of Happy Nightmare Baby, maybe, especially the harpsichord-like guitar under the distorted guitar and the slow, intense burn that feels much longer than just three and a half minutes. I want an entire record of this sound. I want an entire record of additional bonus material. If you still have any of their records, this is necessary. I immensely enjoyed the new material.

postcard from Bikini Kill, 1996
TwerpsRange Anxiety (Merge Records) CD

A new-to-my-ears jangly pop band from Australia that reminds me of equal parts of the Television Personalities, the Cannanes and early Church. Big, resonant guitar chords with lead guitar slithering through. Male and female vocalists sing different songs with an early ’90s indie-rock sensibility. What they lack in absolutely catchy songs of the above-mentioned bands, they more than make up fot in in a versitile range and smart playing.
Pat TraversRetro Rocket (Cleopatra) CD

By a strange turn of events, backing tracks my friends in ST37, bassist Scott Telles and drummer Lisa Cameron, recorded with Jürgen Engler ended up in the hands of rocker Pat Travers, who overdubbed guitar and vocals on six of those tracks for this nine track record. Upon first hearing the record, not knowing what it was, I wondered who could have made this strange mix of Deep Purpleish classic guitar rock. It’s amazing how together the songs sound, it does not sound like it was recorded in two different studios. Truth be told, I’ve never listened to Pat Travers before, except for what I’ve heard on classic rock radio. His guitar playing remains highly competent blues-rock little touched by any of the stylistic evolutions discussed in this publication over the decades or other corporate rock induced trends. Rock and Roll remains exciting in the right hands. Most of the songs are your basic classic rock formulas, but two songs stand out, the narrative of “Searching for a Clue,” with its slowly unfolding mystery and the smoldering “Who Can You Turn To” dealing with the lingering effects of abuse.
MoonsiclesBay Of Seething (Feeding Tube Records) CD

* The Moonsicles formed from half (guitarist Aaron Russell and bassist/baritone guitarist Lindsey Verril) of the Weird Weeds, adding electronics from Sheila Scoville and Carolyn Cunningham’s drums. Continuing from the last Weird Weeds record, the Moonsicles play intense instrumentals, but devolved among louder, more ominous directions. Songs like “Hell Box” and “Pacifica” erupt into explosions of rock guitar chords, surprising the first time you hear them, expecting only Russell’s intricate finger picking from the Weird Weeds. Surprising and satisfying, as if modernizing Black Sabbath riffs for smart listeners. The use of analog synthesizer sounds and guitar effects, also surprisingly different from the earlier band, create a ponderous, shimmering haze throughout. Everything sounds beautifully thought out and road-tested for maximum effect. On “Glitter Matrix,” Verril’s bass playing reminds me of Mike Visceglia, maybe a reference only I will get among my readers. This is great late-night music, a perfect sound track for reading a weird book, or having a once-in-a-lifetime talk.

Moonsicles @ hole in the Wall
The Moonsicles @ the Hole in the Wall, Austin, TX, February 21, 2016
Lucinda WilliamsThe Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20 Records) 2xCD

Williams has made some of the most enjoyable country music over the past twenty years and part of that, beyond her distinctive drawl and moving songwriting, comes from the latitude she gives to the guitarists in her bands. Think back to the dual slide guitar attack of “Can’t Let Go,” and the Live from Austin DVD. This new record continues that path and on most songs gives Bill Frisell the right channel and Greg Leisz the left channel and having each constantly play off against each other, eschewing any simple rhythm/lead divisions of labor. Either guitarist’s playing would be perfectly fine by itself, but the two of them together — dang. And these two musicians have not only worked with hundreds of people in their lives, but have also worked together with Williams before. Williams’ voice is beautifully weary and slurred, perfectly embodying the damaged characters she sings about through her usual mix of catchy country-rockers and dirge-ballads. Images of death and loss soak through the record.
Doc Wör MirranGosia (MissmanagemenT) CD

* Doc Wör Mirran is a longtime open collaboration German rock project that has released dozens of recordings since 1985, working with people like Ron Lessard (RRRecords), Frans de Waard, Conrad Schnitzler, Asmus Tietchens, Yximalloo and many others. The music on this, their 60th?, record is well-constructed guitar rock instrumentals, sounding a little like Faust working with multiple guitarists, but nothing genre-breaking that the list of noise musicians listed above would imply. Founding member Joseph B. Raimond is still playing after all these years. The first half of the album builds a nice, atmospheric sound. The second half explores more weird (“Resi Dental”) and songlike (“Gosia”) pieces. I prefer the former, the latter seem too much like parodies of established forms. Both sides fit comfortably with other DIY prog rock groups out there.
The Monochrome SetSpaces Everywhere (Tapete Records) CD

The Monochrome Set reunites again for a collection of what you would expect if you’re a fan of the long-running English rock group: well-crafted guitar pop, aged and clarified just so. Bid’s voice retains its velvety croon through songs that mix the literary and the whimsical. Expertly layered guitars and organ, with occasional choruses from female singers, build upon the band’s excellent reputation. The songs “Rain Check” has a jazzy pop feel, as if composed for a Fred Astaire movie. Cool, calm, collected, the Monochrome Set still leads by example.
Moving PanoramasOne (Modern Outsider) CD

The Austin trio’s first record is full of pleasant guitar rock similar to bands I like such as Liechtenstein and Experimental Aircraft. Singer/guitarist Leslie Sisson’s voice has a sweet twang to it, you can find some nice accents in Texas (you can find some offensive ones as well), at time augmented by faint background vocals. Sisson used to play in the Wooden Birds, the band Andrew Kenny formed after he left Austin and ended the still-missed American Analog Set. A hint of his clean-tone guitar strum permeates this record, mixed with more distorted sounds in smartly overdubbed layers, particularly effective on the dreamy “Harmony” and moving “Always."
Lida HusikFuture Ghosts of America (HusikMusik) .mp3

One of my favorite singers/musicians, Lida Husik, is back with an all-too-short four song set of collaborations with cellist Soma Allpass and other friends. After a few records that veered off into techno production that hurt my ears, Husik returns to writing songs based on guitars and bass guitars, her overdubbed vocals and unique layers of other instruments. Each song strays from any simple formula, and even the remix of “The Navigator” sounds more like a distinct song than a remix. Although vastly different from her first two records, which remain two of my all-time favorite records, these new recordings encompass many different directions and moods, playing with instrumental variation that few others can match. My only complaint is that this doesn’t collect the few compilation and misc. tracks she has released in the past decade or so, songs like “Breeze,” “Lovers Divine” and “Sweet Thing” that deserve more attention, songs that have given us fans some hope for future ghosts.
NisennenmondaiN (Blast First Petite) CD

I’m still the kind of person who buys records from bands/labels I’m not familiar with and this record of a Japanese guitar trio seemed like it could be interesting. I was wrong. The ultra-repetitive click-click of these three long pieces aggravated me to no end. I could not listen to any of the pieces all the way through. Each track urged me to skip ahead to see if the music became more interesting. It didn’t. They could have just made 2 two-minute tracks with the instructions to play on repeat until you got sick of them. Each of the tracks is dominated but a simple, annoying clicking sound, a click track from a drum machine, a digital echo of an electronic glitch? click click click click click click click click click click click If you’re a fan of click tracks, this record is for you. A bass drum eventually joins in at half tempo and faint electric guitar and bass could maybe be heard playing single notes to the rhythm. Very boring and very annoying, mostly due to the click click click click click click click. The only part I enjoyed was during the highly descriptive track “B-2” where the guitar adds a bit of echo that reminded me of Andy Summer’s echo sound on “Walking in Your Footsteps.” And that made me think my ears would be better treated if I were listening to “Walking in Your Footsteps.” Maybe if you’re really into minimal IDM, you would like this. I’m not into any kind of IDM and I hated this.
Fly AshtrayWe Buy Everything You Have (Old Gold) LP

* Fly Ashtray has been around for a long time, releasing records since 1990, and, I’m ashamed to say, this is the first time I’ve heard them beyond those tiny Dark Beloved Cloud compilations. I was expecting to like this record, and like it I did. I can’t say what their other many records are like, but here we are offered eleven smart guitar pop songs, very American, touching on similar grooves to bands I adore like the Feelies, “Up on the Sun”-era Meat Puppets, Thinking Fellers Union... I would have enjoyed this record in 1990. This record sounds like it is from 1990, the good part of 1990. The lyrics have a touch of stream-of-consciousness rhymes in loveably-lazy singing. The second side gets into some longer jams, focused on playing, not cramming effects into everything like too many bands I can think of these days. Are the rest of their records this good?
Barbara ManningChico Daze (Bandcamp) online

The twelve songs in this online-only (no one has the Taste or Good Sense to give this a propper LP release?!) collection give us exactly what we want from Barbara Manning, her comforting, expressive voice, exceptional songwriting in a catchy guitar-heavy package. Recorded from 2004 to 2009 with three different bands—Fiberglass Jacket, Champion, Sleaze Tax—could have come from just about any period of her carrer. We are treated to two reworkings from Truth Walks In Sleepy Shadows, “How Did You Know? in a twangy country version, and “Ladies of the Sea.” Even though I know the song almost by heart, when she sings “I’m no good...” still breaks my heart a bit. Three of these songs were co-written by Manning with playwrite Lauren Goldman Marshall for a stage performance of Molière’s The Misanthrope. These stage numbers have been remade here into Manning’s normal band setting. They don’t sound a bit out of place with the other songs. Barbara Manning is a treasure, this is as good as it gets.
Reviews and photos by Josh Ronsen.
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