Photo by Andy Catlin
HOPE SANDOVAL & THE WARM INVENTIONS
Bavarian Fruit Bread (Rough Trade)
No one who’s ever heard Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval in action with that blue-lit group would expect her to break out a Bollywood showgirl strut on her first “solo group” album. Still, even by Mazzy’s formidable narcotic standards, Bavarian Fruit Bread is something of a blissed-out, 10bpm yawner: more mood than melody, more glacier than mountain stream. Which is cool when you have a coo as sexy as Sandoval’s, a voice that becomes more bewitching as the tempo slows and the hues darken.
So, Miss Dourpuss Steps Out this is not. What it is, is deeply desolate laconica firmly in the Mazzy tradition, with Mazzy guitarist and co-founder David Roback’s rather significant absence filled out by a range of downbeat musical approaches. Like Nico, Sandoval displays good taste in selecting collaborators and cover material. She partners here with Colm O’Ciosoig, drummer for the now-defunct My Bloody Valentine, who brings more of that band’s lush, womblike ambience to the Warm Inventions’ music than you might have reasonably anticipated. But the album’s major coup is an appearance by legendary British folk-blues guitarist Bert Jansch, who flutters and plucks his way across two tracks, including a cover of “Butterfly Mornings,” a gorgeous song from the fairly obscure 1970 Sam Peckinpah film The Ballad of Cable Hogue. (The album’s other cover is a major remodeling of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Drop.”) Sandoval herself remains the country-goth-folk singer who writes lyrics like “I’m gonna spend all my money making you cry.” She’s the sad-eyed young woman who hangs round the funeral parlor, the lonely damsel in the tower who refuses to let down her auburn hair.
But Bavarian Fruit Bread is not without a sense of levity: Just look at that ridiculous title. Even better is the chorus of the stately, slo-funk “Around My Smile,” in which Sandoval does an almost self-parodying version of a Lil’ Kim vamp, breathily intoning, “I’ve got it going/I’ve got it going/I’ve got it going . . . onnnn.” Mmm. Indeed she does. Lights out . . .
Since I Left You (Modular)
Photo by Steve Gullick
Partiers like the Avalanches, who get so fiendingly high from the sampledelics of their cut-and-paste gear, sort of remind me of wigged-out liberal-arts scholars — rummaging through the history of recorded narratives, extracting the passages and motifs that might cause a stir, and then making the far-out connections between seemingly disparate worlds. Of course, these sample-addicted future-culture producers, like pot-smoking scholars, mostly get off by startling themselves with those connect-the-dots revelations. But the six-member Australian collective defend their masturbatory revisionism with such sure-handed orchestration that you inevitably get swept up in the possibilities that musical tradition likes to hide from you. Sure, now it makes perfect sense . . . why wouldn’t Nancy Wilson’s elegant blue-note whisper be the logical development from the nasty Southern booty-funk smackdown of Blowfly?
Though the dauntingly extensive footnotes of Since I Left You will also refer you to the works of Mandrill, Marlena Shaw, Prince Paul/De La Soul, Mama Cass, the Isley Brothers, Kid Creole, the Osmonds and even Madonna (the copyrighted-material girl gave unprecedented permission for the use of “Holiday” on “Stay Another Season”), the Avalanches’ feverishly animated, groove-fitted, often relaxing sound (mostly accompanied by analog synthesizers) is more likely to persuade you to check out their like-minded contemporaries: the Freshmaka, DJ Punk-Roc, Dimitri From Paris, Lemon Jelly, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Riton and perhaps a little bit of Daft Punk and DJ Shadow. Smooth body-rock tempos like “Live at Dominoes” and “A Different Feeling,” featuring a hypnotically sweet Debbie Reynolds breakdown borrowed from her 1957 song “Tammy,” easily brush away the pejorative sense of recycled music and prove that connecting the dots is not only a critical skill, but an art form — particularly if you have no idea what you’ll end up drawing. (Tommy Nguyen)
Howls From the Hills (Tolotta)
Real Audio Format
Drifting Down Streams
The wah-wah pedal is one of the great inventions of the 20th century. You don’t need to be a good guitarist to connect with a wah; in fact, if you are good it’s best to forget that, crank up and barf away, like Ron Asheton in the early Stooges. It will sound great, guaranteed.
Jason Simon’s guitar chops couldn’t feed a shrew, but he’s God Almighty of the wah-wah — one of the reasons that Dead Meadow is the most chortle-inducing new rock band of the last several years. It would’ve been hard to surpass last year’s debut, Dead Meadow, whose bonged-out grooves these three D.C. youths perfected over many months of religious woodshedding. And with Howls From the Hills, they haven’t. Instead, they’ve exhaled a monstrosity so full of lazy spontaneity that it makes Crazy Horse sound clinical.
You’re more than two minutes into Howls — and you’d better be playing it loud — before you hear anything except air-raid guitar noises and a few touches of (no kidding) sitar. Gradually, Mark Laughlin’s drums and Steve Kille’s bass riffs coalesce into a slow, floating rhythm that supports relentless wah blasts, while the waves of sound swamp Simon’s endearingly whiny vocals, which meander in the background — evading melody and message — just so you’ll feel you’ve got company. That’s it. That’s the formula, except the guys accelerate into a Hendrixy boogie once, and nod into one nicely textured acoustic Neil Young strummer, and conclude with some kind of brain-damaged quarter-speed rockabilly. There’s no pretension, no menace, no sex. Pure escape.
It doesn’t always come together. Sometimes Dead Meadow get so slow and spare they almost fall over. But all that gurgling, gushing wah — it feels so good! If you’re not ready to hail the new Cactus, you must be an intellectual or worse. (www.tolotta.com) (Greg Burk)
Tenacious D (Epic Records)
Whilst the moon did cast a silvery shadow over the acoustic guitars of Kyle Gass and Jack Black, a hoary demon commanded them to write the best song in the world. They didn’t. No, with a flash of thunder and dry ice, said demon forced a pair of conch-shell-belted, long-tressed and technically proficient rock-god stand-ins to set quill to parchment. Gass and Black, two comics who met while slogging it out with the Actors’ Gang, merely composed and performed a “tribute” to this hallowed event.
Their ability to ape the faux virtuosics of Blackmore and Sambora, Howe and Malmsteen, combined with their teen-metalhead understanding of medieval wordplay, makes Tenacious D the funniest ode to rock pomposity in recent memory. (You may recall Black — and his incredibly versatile vocal cords — as the irate record-store clerk in High Fidelity.) By enlisting a number of hipster professionals (bassist Steve McDonald of Redd Kross, the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl on drums and Phish keyboardist Page McConnell) as musicians and the Dust Brothers as producers, Gass and Black squeeze radio-friendliness from extremely goofy material. There are epic narratives like “Wonderboy” (the Spike Jonze–directed clip is currently wreaking havoc on MTV). There are less epic tracks revolving around traditional rock themes such as sausage as phallic metaphor and a reason to break up a band (“Kielbasa,” “Karate Schnitzel”), or the sexual prowess of the roly-poly duo (“Fuck Her Gently,” “Double Team,” “The Road”). And there are chest-thumpers (“Dio,” “Rock Your Socks”).
The D dynamic: Black, the self-centered front man, pummels Gass, who gets stiffed by his bandmate in a multitude of ways, resulting in Black’s lament, “Kyle Quit the Band.” Still, amid one-chord solos and three-part harmonies, the pair continue to rock the universe, wax poetic of broadswords and Ronnie James Dio, and work in the largest collection of ’70s guitar-rock clichés ever assembled on one album. (Skylaire Alfvegren)
Photo by Salomon Emquies
It’s been a while since a rock record has “leaped out of the grooves” at me (to borrow an obviously dated expression), but the U.K. foursome Moke (British slang for a donkey or a mule — among other things) kicks out the kind of brash energy that has always been one of rock’s necessary ingredients. The opener/single, “My Degeneration,” a play on The Who’s raucous ’60s anthem, may not be as subversive as the original, but it’s certainly a statement of purpose — and one solid slab of British beef (sans mad-cow, foot-and-mouth, etc.).
Instead of trouncing what remains of “the establishment,” Moke takes on its peers with the same cockiness (“Rude boys, they keep bangin’ out the same sounds . . . We’re just shaking on an old sound”). In addition to mining Beatles-style melodic hooks and the buoyant harmonies of “Can’t Explain”–era Who, the group has a feel for the kind of adventurousness XTC excelled at circa Black Sea. In the tuneful “Hanging Around,” a syncopated psychedelic bridge with soaring harmonies contrasts against the white-boy rap of the verses, while the heady “Slide,” filled with plenty of production frills (thanks to mixmaster Bob Clearmountain), and “I Don’t Mind” demonstrate the band is anything but one-dimensional.
Songwriter John Hogg is a charismatic singer who carries the band with surprising poise and, on “Strange Days,” employs the boyish, melodic charm of early Yes (minus the noodling). Even when Moke is churning out the Cheap Trick power pop of “Magic House” or a relatively mindless riff like “Liar,” there are enough twists and turns — in the latter, a gorgeous bridge — to win you over. Sonically and musically, this disc is a pleasure from beginning to end, and that alone is a rarity. (Michael Lipton)
Moke performs at House of Blues, Monday, November 19.
ARMAND VAN HELDEN
Gandhi Kahn (Armed)
The success of “U Don’t Know Me” and “Flowerz” must’ve scared the shit out of Armand Van Helden, for how else would you explain his increasingly obsessive butch behavior ever since? Indeed, both titles — available on his 1999 debut full-length 2Future4U — were two of the gayest house anthems ever made by a street-cred DJ-producer, and when they emerged after his popular remix of Tori Amos’ “Professional Widow” — featuring the notoriously lewd loop “Gotta be big” — you could imagine dancing homos everywhere having a field day.
According to Gandhi Kahn, his third album and most militantly guido enterprise, Van Helden desperately wants you to get it straight: He loves the chicks, and he makes music for straight dudes who love the chicks. Recall that Van Helden went out of his way to make “Koochy” the most conspicuous track on his second album, Killing Puritans — conspicuous not only for its flagrant sampling of Gary Numan’s “Cars” but for its smooth-booty poetry: “When I call your house after work/I want that koochy and I’ll make it squirt.” So it’s no surprise that, on Gandhi Kahn, Van Helden’s neurotic hetero drag would ruin the awesome stadium-sound tumult of “I Can Smell You” with its whispers of creepy night-stalker nothings, or give a flaccidly sloshed rendition of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” or jerk off to “Robots Are Cumming” and “Chocolate Covered Cherry.” Yes, Van Helden’s mouth is responsible for all of the vocal tracks on the new album, a shame since he’s gotten some very cool talents to work for him in the past — Common, N’Dea Davenport, Tre “Slimkid” Hardson, etc.
Van Helden wanted to make this a “comedy album,” which explains a few things, and it might even direct you to re-evaluate the loony funk mastery of the album’s best track, “Kentucky Fried Flow,” complete with another catchy Van Helden–style hook. But say we did laugh a few times during this album — then what? (Tommy Nguyen)