Record Reviews: Whitesnake, Pyramids, Greeley Estates
Santogold | Santogold | Downtown/Lizard King
That Santi White has worked both sides of the music business adds some drag to the momentum of her cross-continental, disco-dub alias, Santogold. This ex-A&R rep for EMI is the latest arrival to the musical fire sale Jamaica and Africa are apparently having, and cherry-picks Highlife, ska, dancehall and even the guitarist of reggae greats Steel Pulse to color the beat-based mélange of her eponymous debut. When de drum hits, it hits, as on the sassy, Althea and Donna–conjuring “Shove It” or the Junior Reid–copping synth burbler “Unstoppable.” But when Santo switches the emphasis to melody, her influences from the temporally shallow end of the musical pool are exposed. “Creator” blatantly jacks M.I.A.’s steez, “L.E.S. Artistes” vamps like Tegan and Sara’s “Walking With a Ghost,” “I’m a Lady” rips off Yeah Yeah Yeahs ripping off Chrissie Hynde, and the whole thing sports a cold production sheen à la Bloc Party’s recent work. Santogold is the kind of album that begs to be crosschecked, which makes it feel just as poured from the jar as the gold glitter that adorns its cover.
Pyramids | Pyramids | Hydra Head
If you think of hipster cred as something that needs to be physically maintained, a taste for metal is like six-pack abs; more often than not, it can only exist after everything else is fully developed. While heavier bands have slipped through the usual filters of twee or hip-hop, most of the time these leakages are met with a reaction of “Too loud,” “Too slow,” “Where are the songs?” and “God, Sunn 0))) sucks.” Well, the Denton, Texas, band Pyramids have George Bushed the button on the indie nuclear option: As one of my colleagues put it, “It sounds like a Radiohead album being disemboweled.”
Which is only sorta true; among the first things you hear on “Sleds” is S Windett’s voice howling from beyond some Nigel Godrich–helmed abyss, but then again, the static and lurching fuzz that surrounds it gives off more of a Sigur Rós vibe, if you replace all those Iceland descriptors with those of a coal mine, or a landscape of the band’s Denton home base. In fact, if this weren’t on Hydra Head, it’d be exceedingly difficult to figure out exactly what makes these guys “metal” at all, as opposed to purveyors of heavy, heavy drone clouds. Okay, you get some rather thrilling double-kick drums on “End Resolve” and “Hellmonk,” but more often than not, Pyramids songs are free-time, all-encompassing static, black-eyed angels swimming with you to heaven in a rowboat. Seriously.
Whitesnake | Good to Be Bad | Steamhammer
Whitesnake seem to be deliberately tempting fate by calling their new album Good to Be Bad. That, or they just don’t really care what snide music critics might say about them. It’s not like their fans ever based their purchasing decisions on that sort of thing anyway. Most of the planet knows Whitesnake for one song — their 1987 hit “Here I Go Again,” and more specifically, the song’s video, featuring singer David Coverdale’s then wife, Tawny Kitaen, in a see-through dress, doing slow-motion cartwheels across the hoods of two Jaguar sedans.
As overwrought ’80s power ballads go, it’s not a bad song, but, still, it’s a shame that “Here I Go Again” has come to define the singer’s long career. Because before all the pouffy hair and synthesizers, Coverdale was prowling arena stages in tight bell-bottoms during the early ’70s as lead singer of the legendary Deep Purple, an act whose massive popularity was only rivaled at the time by Led Zeppelin. His recorded debut as Purple’s (second) singer, Burn, remains one of the band’s many artistic high points. But while Whitesnake’s 1978 debut was entirely respectable, their subsequent output increasingly pandered to the overly slick demands of corporate radio. It may have paid off financially but it doomed them artistically, a fact that Coverdale has since acknowledged.
So it was with some well-earned ambivalence that I unwrapped Good to Be Bad, Whitesnake’s first studio album in 11 years. And while it doesn’t come close to rivaling Coverdale’s mid-’70s output, it does go a long way toward redeeming his reputation as a classic-hard-rock singer. There are a couple of clunky ballads, but the majority of the album comprises surprisingly muscular arena rockers that make one seriously yearn for feathered roach clips, Paraquat and party vans.
Sumatran Folk Cinema | Sublime Frequencies | DVD
Another superinteresting issue from the Sublime Frequencies series of CDs and DVDs wherein intrepid hipster dudes Mark Gergis and Alan Bishop (the latter of Sun City Girls) document hitherto unexplored — and way, way alternative — ethnotica in the musical, dance and visual-art traditions and antitraditions of faraway Thailand, Cambodia and, now, Indonesia. Sumatran Folk Cinema is a hard-edged, gritty and wonderfully flavorful batch of sights and sounds from the archipelago’s crumbling urban and rural centers, a heady collage of “folk cinema” shot in grainy, oversaturated and shaky handheld style in 2004 in the cities of Medan, Padang, Bukittinggi and Padang Panjang. It’s a narration-free float through some of the gnarlier sides of Indonesian culture, with fearsomely rocking glimpses of Dangdut club bands, Minang orchestras, street and country folk, and even electro bands, and arcane theatrical-film scenes and cut-up raw bits from cheapo local-TV broadcasts. The result makes your head swim, actually, and most likely very exotic to anyone who doesn’t happen to be Indonesian. All material was shot before the tsunami of December 26, 2004, destroyed the city of Banda Aceh and the northwest coastal areas of Aceh province.
Greeley Estates | Go West Young Man, Let the Evil Go East | Science
Riding the first wave of a fresh sound can earn a band, almost regardless of quality, a certain level of celebrity. Then, around album number two or three, the stylistic shock-and-awe fades, the crutch of genre association collapses and the traditional career foundations of songwriting, musicality and performance must shine. So for Phoenix’s Greeley Estates, early embracers of screamo’s metal/hardcore/emo collision upon their 2002 forming, this third full-length could be the difference between platinum sales and pink slips. Despite repeated lineup traumas, they stay true to a template of troubled singing/spewing framed inside epic, widdly ’n’ gurgly guitars and drums that sound like belt-fed weapons. The high-gloss sheen of Go West aims to please, synthesizing many Warped Tour sonic touchstones and carefully juggling melody and muscle. But, too, the band offers eccentric glimmers — soulful samples, detached psychedelic flirtations, perverse changes of pace — of take-us-as-you-find-us confidence. This disc won’t make Greeley Estates enormo-dome headliners, but expect to see them creeping up the bill.
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