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Record Reviews: Usher, Lurker of Chalice

Lurker of Chalice | Lurker of Chalice | Southern Lord

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As the side project of one-man band Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice exists as a place for odder sounds that his main gig’s black-metal specs permit. Wonderman Wrest, a.k.a Jeff Whitehead, released 777 copies of Lurker of Chalice in 2000 to immediate acclaim, prompting this reissue on respected LA-based sludge label Southern Lord. Giant carpets of doom-distortion link together each song form, themselves prog mini-epics, into a storyless program of despair. “Piercing Where They Might” starts with crows and clean-channel contemplation before lurching headlong into perpetual panic drums, a seething lead guitar, trademark yowl and Wrest’s characteristically unintelligible vocals. “Spectre as Valkerie is” uses crystal magic to obscure the ogre chugging behind. There are moments, like on “Paramnesia,” that show the drawbacks to the one-man studio thing, such as clumsy miking on drums mixed awkwardly above quiet, gloaming passages, but quiet-loud growlers like “Granite,” a formless haze of utterance and shiver sounds held together with big-reverb drum hits, create an ambitious and gorgeous menace from such sound scraps. (Daphne Carr)

Usher, featuring Young Jeezy |“Love in the Club” single | LaFace Records

Indicative of the wildly outside-the-box thinking pervasive in modern R&B, the latest comeback single from Usher’s upcoming Regret (previous album title: Confessions — shit ain’t sweet for Urrrrrsh) is a declaratory club banger, featuring an Atlanta production/MC duo. As this is 2008, Usher won’t be lifting Lil’ Jon off of any milk cartons or forcing Ludacris to start once again making songs that are, you know, fun. Instead, reflecting the south’s increased shift from Crunk Juice Pop Tarts to monolithic Hannibal stomps, producer Polow Da Don is behind the boards, and Young Jeezy pops in to offer his intermittent, Diddy-esque guttural counterpoint. Polow’s work is actually pretty amazing on this, a sinister lurch combined with a vaguely “No Woman, No Cry” chord progression in which the synth patches twinkle like sparklers (in, perhaps, a nod to Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”). Problem is, said sinister lurch is a huge mismatch for a track designed to seduce people other than the Polow/Jeezy enthusiasts populating the Internet. “Love in The Club” never feels loving at all, particularly in light of Usher’s professional (no Autotune here), but overly serious, delivery. In the biggest disappointment of all, we don’t even get the pleasure of imagining what kind of levity R. Kelly could’ve brought to a similar party; he’s already made “Freaky In The Club,” which is a better title, and a better song. (Ian Cohen)

 Eugene S. Robinson | Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking | Hydra Head

Some very fine spoken-word action on the art of butt-whoopin’ by the scary but articulate frontman of rad avant-metal behemoths Oxbow. Also a frequent contributor to boxing- and martial-arts mags, Robinson at first and second glances would appear to be one very big, black biker baddie, replete with bulging biceps and terrifying tats. Inside, however, he’s sensitive as shit, and boasts an equally frightening command of the English language, plus one obscurely enormous incentive to spew it in your face. Anyway, this two-disc set is based on his book of the same title, and why should you care about such a foreboding fella’s poetic poop and artful historical bullpuckey on the whys, wherefores of whamwhamwham? ’Cause it’s interesting as hell, and hugely entertaining. Prison shivving, how not to become a Kenpo karate master, how to hold your head up while beating a hasty retreat (most important) and, best of all, some gruesomely graphic payback fantasies make this document far more enlightening than Joyce Carol Oates — and twice as manly. (John Payne)

 

The Dodos |Visiter | French Kiss

The magic and the intelligence behind the Dodos’ newest release lies in the clear faith Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have in their audience. Several tracks off Visiter follow a pattern: They begin with a deceptively simple guitar strum and graceful lyric, then build in momentum and percussive elaboration to end up overwhelmingly, powerfully, mind-fuck gorgeous, administered in the realm of S.F. Sorrow’s storytelling operatics and effected with the trademark grace of Liege and Lief. I wasn’t sure that the Dodos’ studio recordings could come close to matching the power of their live performance, the way 2006’s Beware of the Maniacs has a few great tunes but tended to lose steam from time to time. But Visiter tracks “Joe’s Waltz” and “Jodi” are relentless epics, as is “Paint the Rust,” a work that solidifies Long’s compositional genius. The one loose link comes with “Park Song.” Stuck between more intricate tunes, seemingly for filler, it’s definitely unnecessary. But the one track aside, Visiter has already been cleared, stamped and filed in the “Why I’m so damn proud of my generation’s musical accomplishments” archive — a truly special work that demands analysis and attention. (Rena Kosnett)

 

 

Mezzanine Owls | Mezzanine Owls EP | Jax Art 

The Mezzanine Owls always had good songs, what they didn’t have was a sound of their own. Originally recording under the name the Few, Jack Burnside & Co. got their start riffing off the old Replacements’ songbook, penning catchy, caffeinated three-minute burners that were always fun but rarely interesting. A lineup and name change later they dropped their sophomore LP, 2006’s Slingshot Echoes, which reflected a sonic shift toward Jesus & the Mary Chain worship and gauzy pretty noise that did little to demarcate themselves from the Black Rebel Motorcycle Clubs of the world. But Mezzanine Owls, their EP on the L.A.-based Jax Art imprint, reveals a major step forward, with the band learning to fit their epic intentions into cozier constructs — the record’s four songs check in at just more than 13 minutes. Indeed, the quartet has come into their own, finding a balance between Burnside’s haunted caterwaul, Jonathan Zeitlin’s soaring guitar lines and ethereal keys, and Pauline Mu, who isn’t just one of the best female drummers making music today, she’s one of the best, period. (Jeff Weiss)

Frightened Rabbit | The Midnight Organ Fight | Fatcat Records

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Frightened Rabbit follow up the off-kilter underground raved debut Sing the Greys by fleeing the ship of shambles. They worked with Peter Kalis, producer of tastefully quirky modern indie hits for the National and Spoon, and this album bears similar signature dramatic, if mannered, layers of acoustic accompaniment blended with keen studio sense on songs utterly well-rehearsed. In the foreground, singer Hutchison’s melancholic words lilt with a round Glasgowian accent that mostly saves him from likeness to Adam Duritz by way of Conor Oberst. The first half modern-rocks over either awkward or inventive sparse shuffle beats. The second half unwinds with gentle fingerpicked ballads like “Poke,” a song so sweet it’s possible to forget how earlier, Hutchison sounded equally sincere singing, “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him” on “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms.” While low-level romantic dread permeates, it’s seldom that he breaks so wonderfully bare. (Daphne Carr)

 

Air | Moon Safari 10th-anniversary edition | Astralwerks

Belatedly, we were hipped to the iffy fact that Air stands for Amour, Imagination, Rêve, or Love, Imagination, Dream. A oui bit redundant, perhaps, but were we to start slighting the quintessentially Parisian duo for romantic indulgence, well...that’s one glasshouse that needn’t be disturbed. Ten years later, the monument that is Air’s debut, Moon Safari, still stands, even if it’s fluid-damaged in parts (a glass van might be a more apt metaphor). “Sexy Boy” remains a vamping bit of electro bliss, and sprawlers like “New Star in the Sky” remind us how unexpectedly timeless this synth-driven music really is. Slightly more dated is this edition’s bonus CD, where radio performances out-umph the remixes (Beck’s included) and demos. But the accompanying DVD, showing the boys French-ily bumbling around New York City, and the illustrated book that binds this collection together round out our hormonally fogged memories of Air pre-acronym — just a fantastic “French Band” (as the album art explained) grasping at the great ethereal. (Chris Martins)

 

Various Artists| Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volume 5 | Sub Rosa 

This series of releases digging into the roots of an art that has somehow evolved in a popular genre called “electronic music” (which now means dance music) is invaluable if only for an explanation of how the most radical of art forms generally do come to inform and even define contemporary art and culture. Volume 5 highlights electronic explorations of the voice, not as a melodic instrument or vehicle for literal communication, but as an excellent sound source through distortion, electronic filtering, musique concrete (tape-collage) and other techniques. The pieces are grouped as a conceit according to particular techniques, country of origin, characteristic studio sound, historical relevance and as predictors of future directions. An international spectrum of artists working in widely varied approaches includes Charlemagne Palestine; Pere Ubu; Léo Kupper’s stunning “Electro-poème”; and Japan noise master Masonna’s awesome “Spectrum Ripper.” Two magical hours of educational wonder, the double-disc set’s deluxe digipack, which includes a 54-page booklet, is a thing of beauty too. (John Payne)


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