Photo by Noah Georgeson
It’s like this: You’re stumbling home from the pub late at night, and your tam-o’-shanter falls off as you hop a low fence while shortcutting ’cross the pasture, and you have to try on half a dozen tam-o’-shanters before you find the right one. Discovery can be messy, as each of these new or recent arrivals makes clear in shockingly pungent ways:
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, Peace Love Death Metal (Rekords/Rekords) Let’s bag all that art-rock Queens of the Stone Age twaddle and get into these panties: Talkin’ ’bout Carlo Von Sexron (a.k.a. Baby Duck a.k.a. Josh Homme) and his pansy-wannabe chum J. Devil Huge’s engorged bag of sextastic hairy-rock goo, which ain’t death metal and don’t much glow orangey-brown like the Eagles. This’s a good ways toward some new (and bracingly old) territory where the ruff-riffs and groovy rock beats (Von Sexron on the tubs), cowbells, tambourine and horndog falsetto vocals conjure BTO, for one, and if that doesn’t make you want to dance — or nod droopy-eyed w/ your mouth open, option yours — then you ain’t been around, or big and round. Trashily tarted and recorded by local genius Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider of Eleven (more about them in a couple of weeks), all this bashed-out power-poo started as one of Josh’s “Desert Sessions” a while back; now that he’s booted Nick Oliveri outta QOTSA ’cause he’s sick of lardass music-biz ’tudes and maybe he just wants to rock without thinking so much about it (though this one isn’t as dumb as it pretends to be), EDM’s cover of “Stuck in the Middle With You,” for one righteous example, becomes a furry boogie rocker. Yes, much of the disc is “Spirit in the Sky”–meets–Lynyrd Skynyrd porks . . . aw, forget it. Press the button, crank it up, throw a coupla logs on the grill and shake it, dude, shake it. “Now let me demon-strate, baby. Oh!” Oh!
15.60.75, Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town (Hearpen Records) With liner notes by David Thomas, the Pere Ubu guy. It seems that 15.60.75 is a “blues” band who’ve been around since 1970, lineup intact, pumping it out at little shithole bars in a place called Kent, Ohio. Undaunted, true to their “vision,” they see the blues as an evolutionary form, not an incessantly samey set of formulas and phraseologies, but something to dissect and obsess over and wildly wrench the stock constituent parts of — in the sweatiest way, of course. Sax sections bleating, guitars a-whirling, extending, dizzily trancing and you’re seeing circles crashing in your eyes. This is where “blues” is more like jazz or in fact rock, with their original intent intact and thriving: liberation by obliteration of the form itself. Now, that makes it a true blues, according to my opinion, ’cause it sounds nothing like a beer commercial, concedes its whiteness but makes no issue of it, pummels/cacophonizes/believes the blues like that nice weirdo down the street who adds four stories onto his classic midcentury bungalow, paints each one some gross shade of pink and builds a scale replica of same for all the birds — it looks terrible, but he did it and no one else did.
THE THERMALS, Fuckin A (Sub Pop) Mainly ’cause I like the title, truth to tell, summing up stuff so very, very well. The trio Thermals “hail” from Portland and just play a full-on punk rock with everything in perfect place — fury, I mean, 100 percent commitment & belief, blah blah, but you know they’re perched on that precise point when it means the very utmost. This medium-fi ragnarok was no doubt bashed out in a couple of days, the singer just yells everything all the time (but doesn’t sound dumb, there’s none of that faux idiocy involved, though the Ramones will inevitably be referenced). Fulla hormones and brains, 13 very short blasts about the state of things and people that get ’em real steamed, coming at you like one enraged bowling ball.
CHRISTIAN VANDER, Les Cygnes et les Corbeaux (Seventh) Not all music like a fuzzy sweater is this . . . thing. Vander is the drummer/vocalist/visionary of the revered/snickered about (by American rock critics, heh-heh-heh) French Gypsy-metal-jazz cultists Magma, who’ve made a dark and obsessive quest for spiritual purification via grand Orffian concept albums, operatic vocals, trance-inducing repetition and rabidly raging electric-Bartok rhythm sections for over 30 years now; oh yeah, what got the Yanks was that Vander did it all in a language he made up, a craggily mellifluous Germanic tongue called Kobaian. Be that as it may, Les Cygnes et les Corbeaux (Swans and Crows) is “like nothing you’ve ever heard,” I don’t think (but let me know — I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong). Vander plays a synthesized post-Schoenbergian orchestra and braids insistent choral peals with his own luxuriant, trilling basso vocalese in free-symphonic pieces that have no mechanical meters, no set structures; they wave and spiral, clumping in dissonance, flanging out into fragrant opulence. Spine-tingling, exasperating, so very, very insular and strange. Vander says, “I have found in the motion of swans and crows a parallel with the inner motion of the Kosmos itself.” The critics can’t relate, but I’d say Sun Ra would’ve approved.
JOANNA NEWSOM, The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City) She’s a singing harp player originally from Nevada City, now based in San Francisco. Simply stated, she’s invented a world of mesmerizing, way alternative lullabies, tiny-voiced like a 100-year-old woman in the body of a little girl. Her harp playing must be based in Appalachian strains, but she’ll splinter the rhythms, the chords and their order can be heart-wrenching but unsettling, and her harp fingering is more like the plucking of African instruments such as the kora, though to my ear she never blandly demonstrates world music “influences.” Apparently Newsom grew up as a neighbor of Terry Riley, and knows about Pauline Oliveros, and that respect for spacious minimalist means shows in these magical vignettes. And so smart: She already knows that if she’s not perverting the American folk music tradition, she’s just not doing her job. (She’ll be playing and singing at the Alterknit on Saturday, April 3. Drag yourself down there to lift yourself up.)
BOHREN & DER CLUB OF GORE, Black Earth (Ipecac) A bit like being wrapped in a damp wool blanket on an urban winter night, or, if you scored some change, huddled over the blue-lit bar, musing alone. Buncha Germans putting the gloomy, noirish twist on spacious acoustic jazz ruminations; subject matter: “Constant Fear,” “Skeletal Remains,” “The Art of Coffins.” Smoky sax, brush drums and double-bass place it in ostensible jazz, yet the keyboardist supplies not mere cool chordal comps but dolorous, dank Mellotron to plunge the Everyman’s life into something far more drippingly morose and unto the overtly sinisterrrrrrr . . . “Jazz” becomes the ideal new language to image impending doom, or at least our love of mystery; your reference here might be Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks scores. Hey, fella: If you turn from the bar and look closely, in the corner you’ll see hollow-eyed Death nursing his tea. He slowly raises his head and smiles. At you.