Record Reviews: Lucky Dragons, Love and The Bug

Lucky Dragons | Dream Island Laughing Language | Marriage Records

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

This review is written in part to correct a terrible oversight. Lucky Dragons’ Dream Island Laughing Language came out two months ago, at about the exact same time as the No Age record, and while we heaped mounds of deserved praise on the latter’s Nouns, this brilliantly odd and beautiful album received no ink from us, and we think it’s important to acknowledge what is one of the most fascinating and compelling records to come out of L.A. this year. Not that the two acts have many sonic similarities at all. Where No Age is all guitars and drums, Lucky Dragons, the pseudonym of one Luke Fishbeck, makes little electronic miniatures, of which there are 22 on Dream Island. In the notes to this year’s Whitney Biennial, where Lucky Dragons performed, his music is decribed as ranging from “gritty urban field recordings to sampled MIDI versions of medieval flutes, Inuit vocal games, and songs recorded inside the base of a redwood tree,” and that captures at least part of the music’s allure — that it sounds out of time, lost between the ancient and the future.

Lucky Dragons’ early work, which is collected on the highly recommended A Sewing Circle, is noisier, and filled with much more flutter and hiss. It sounds alternately like conversations between an AM radio and a beer bottle, or a music box and a toaster. For Dream Island, Fishbeck has embraced melody, seems to have poured his staticky electronic noise through cheesecloth until what remains is clean, pure melody. Individual pieces arrive without a context of what the sound source is; what seems like a synthesizer may very well be a sampled voice. It’s not about where the sound is from but what it can offer. In this way, Fishbeck seems part of a continuum embodied by John Cage and Raymond Scott in the 1950s, by Spanish composer Nuno Cunavarro in the 1980s, By German poseurs Oval in the late ’90s: sound as sculpture.

If there’s a criticism, it’s with Fishbeck’s lack of patience. Tracks such as “Wander Birds” are so beautiful that you want them to last longer than a minute, are so engaging that you want to see them expanded, stretched and fucked with — to take this odd and alluring material and build a grand castle out of it. Maybe that’s what remixers are for, sure, but I almost always exit a Lucky Dragons experience wishing that he’d slow down a little, imagine something grandiose, and then build it. But that’s a bit like complaining there aren’t any cakes at a pie store, or that the Minutemen never recorded “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Two different things, two different expectations.

—Randall Roberts

Love | Love Story DVD | Start Productions

Chris Hall and Mike Kerry’s documentary on the life and legacy of the enigmatic Arthur Lee and his Love is a flavorful trip through the gnarlier side of the artistically fertile rock biz of ’60s Hollywood, and a heartbreaking probe into the fractured psyche of rock legend Lee. Centering on the painful and painstaking recording of the band’s 1967 magnum opus, Forever Changes, Lee and bandmates recount the trials and tribulations of launching a multiracial band with an often darkly disturbing vibe in the midst of the flower-power era, how heavy drug use and creative clashes led to their eventual implosion, and their competitiveness with their more melanin-consistent Elektra labelmates the Doors. The film boasts a thrilling batch of from-the-vaults video clips, photos and sounds from the band’s live and studio sessions, plus valuable contextual insight from the Doors’ John Densmore, Elektra’s Jac Holtzman, producer/engineer Bruce Botnick and Forever Changes’ orchestrator David Angel, and mostly the wizened Arthur Lee himself.

—John Payne

The Bug | London Zoo | Ninjatune

If Lil Wayne indeed sleeps, there’s little doubt as to the details of his particular dreamscape — it’s ugly, heaving, hopelessly dark and in constant flux at the hands of some serious demons. Aggressive, rhythm-bent voices pound in from all sides; wild, chirping sounds stab at the body; and time passes at simultaneous double and half rates. The rest of us should be so lucky. In lieu of true lunacy, we have dubstep — specifically, the Bug’s London Zoo. On his Ninja Tune debut, U.K. producer Kevin Martin, an underground agitator since ’97, wrangles a top-ranking set of vocalists to unravel their neuroses over a soundtrack that conjures up images of Lee Perry stuffing Burial and Boards of Canada into a meat grinder. Old-school reggae toasters like Tippa Irie and Ricky Ranking sound renewed (and deliciously demented) here, and the baritoned grime monster Flow Dan is well matched by two tracks of jerky, effects-blurting beat-fuckery. But London Zoo’s nastiest animal is Warrior Queen, whose “Insane” not only lobs a schizoid ragga Bug-bomb into the lap of imitators like Santogold but makes a mad dash on behalf of its mistress for an as-yet unclaimed crown: that of the Nancy Spungen to his destructive majesty, Sid Weezy-ious.

—Chris Martins

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