Photo by Simon King“It’s going to be headbangin’,” said Squarepusher, a.k.a. London’s Tom Jenkinson, about his new album shortly before stunning the fried desert masses with his live performance at Coachella a few months ago. “Headbangin’,” however, doesn’t truly befit the riotous originality of the jazz-obsessed Pusherman’s fourth album and his best effort yet.
Though Jenkinson’s previous discs played out more like exercises in spliced break beats and noodly, jazz-fueled drum ’n’ bass, Go Plastic reaches for something far more aggressive. Squarepusher’s dub ’n’ bass experiments are about absorption, letting the sound soak into every spongy layer of your brain and trying to make sense of it all. Take the record’s first single, “My Red Hot Car,” a stuttering, skittery two-step jam that would climb the U.K. charts if Jenkinson weren’t intent on tweaking the rhythms and layering on effects that distinguish his version of electronic music as “experimental.” As such, though, it’s damn catchy. “Boneville Occident”’s delirious beats flail like
a silver ball bouncing off bumpers and triggering flashing buzzers. The hyperkinetic “Go! Spastic” is a dub-drenched slice of jittery drum ’n’ bass that employs time-stretching to masterful effect.
Truly on some other shit, Jenkinson takes cues from
ambient gurus The Orb with “The Exploding Psychology,” embarking on an expansive time-space continuum of classic electronic music and hip-hop sampling before the breakdown. The less startling “Wish You Could Talk” is gripping, atmospheric drum ’n’ bass, coaxing the listener into passivity before “Greenways Trajectory” wakes him from his slumber to deliver some uneasy listening. That track will likely be hated for its dissonance, but it’s just another adventure in Jenkinson’s sound travels, and a sweet reward for patient listeners. Headbanging isn’t just for headbangers anymore. (Stacy Osbaum)
Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From the British
Empire and Beyond, 1964–1969 (Rhino)
Three years ago, Rhino Records’ four-CD expansion of Lenny Kaye’s renowned Nuggets collection gained massive acclaim and surprisingly strong sales, proving there’s still a widespread hunger for garage-spawned American lunacy of 1960s vintage. But while once-obscure U.S. acts like Love, the Sonics and the Chocolate Watchband have now been justifiably elevated to divine status, many music fans remain quite ignorant of their overseas contemporaries — the bands that emerged in the wake of the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds and The Who, but which were too freaky, confrontational or just plain clueless to make their mark on this side of the pond. Some, like The Move and the Small Faces, were huge in the U.K. but enjoyed only token U.S. success. Others, like the Creation, the Smoke and the Pretty Things, somehow fared better in Europe than with their British countrymen. And then there were The Mops, a.k.a. “Japan’s first psychedelic band”; Los Shakers, the “Beatles of Uruguay,” who all looked like Ringo; the Golden Earrings, the Outsiders and Q65 from Holland; Thor’s Hammer from Iceland; Os Mutantes from Brazil; and thousands more. America might have had more garages per capita than any other country on Earth, but the snot-encrusted spirit of garage rock obviously knew no national boundaries.
Nuggets II has the rather unenviable task of trying to make sense of this international explosion of garage and psychedelia. That it actually succeeds (or at least comes close) is a friggin’ miracle, considering that the licensing issues alone must have been an absolute nightmare. Like its predecessor, this four-CD box makes no attempt to organize its contents by style, origin or date of release; what you get instead is a kaleidoscopic vomit of psych-pop, mod R&B, garage fuzz, freakbeat and other forms of paisley-clad weirdness. Those already familiar with this stuff will quibble about what’s missing — like, say, Jason Crest’s “Black Mass,” or the Lea Riders Group’s “Dom Kellar Os Mods” — but the sheer quantity of assembled riches far outweighs any oversights. (And really, how can you argue with a set that gives you gorgeously remastered versions of Tintern Abbey’s “Vacuum Cleaner,” Wimple Winch’s “Save My Soul” and the Open Mind’s “Magic Potion”?) A word of advice for newcomers: If you’re suddenly seized by the desire to wear frilly shirts while smoking opium and searching eBay for a mint copy of Kaleidoscope’s Tangerine Dream LP, don’t say you haven’t been warned. (Dan Epstein)
Here and Now (Ikon)
“Ike Turner releases first new album in 20 years,” a recent CNN Headline News bottom-of-the-TV-screen nugget read, “wants us to forget he took drugs, beat Tina.” The arrogance of such a dismissal is mind-bending. Turner filled an essential role in American music: He played on Howlin’ Wolf’s first recording session, among numerous key Memphis blues dates; he’s the man responsible for “Rocket 88,” generally acknowledged as the world’s first rock & roll song; and he went on to conquer pop music in its entirety with Tina & the Ikettes. Maybe if Ike, as Al Green did after the gunshot death of his girlfriend, had spent a few years doing penance as a rural preacher, media-whitey might be able to take off the blinders and assess him as an artist, rather than relentlessly portraying him
as their favoritest batterer. Turner’s unsavory personal history can’t be condoned, but, when considering the sprawl of his extraordinary career, that’s another story. Disagree? Then add Sinatra (he bloodied Ava Gardner in ’52), Jackie Wilson and Jerry Lee Lewis to your list of violent dastards worthy of eternal vilification. Oh, don’t let us forget Jackson Browne.
Following the death of John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner is one of the very few veterans left with any legitimate bite and
drive, so Here and Now, a throbbing return to the pure R&B style Turner first made his name with in the early 1950s, comes along at just the right moment. Opener “Tore Up,” a boozy grinder he originally cut for Federal in ‘56 with vocalist Billy Gayle, sets the tone with a little down-home anguish and an atmosphere of world-weary funk that pervades the entire album. Ike throws in some deliciously flipped-out, whammy-hammering guitar solos, calls for breaks with “Rumble!” and “Get nasty now,” and sings with admirably grizzled authority. Featuring guest turns from Little Milton (whom Ike recorded with at Sun circa ‘53), the album also grooves through a fistful of instrumental gassers.
While Here and Now’s not exactly perfect (why dredge up “Rocket 88” again?), it’s Turner’s piano pounding that elevates the set. After years of flashy guitar work (an instrument he took up as a concession to public taste, but plays with unrivaled mastery), his long-overdue return to the keys signals a sort of rebirth for Turner — a romping version of Albert Ammons’ “Swanee River Boogie” showcases a natural power far too long buried. Even with a few misses, this record is as potent a mess of fresh-cut blues as we’re likely to get in this lifetime. (Jonny Whiteside)
ORI KAPLAN PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE
Gongol (Knitting Factory)
Ori Kaplan Percussion Ensemble
Real Audio Format
Ori Kaplan has invented a whole new way to play music. This saxist from Israel has great helpers, but he picked ’em. The Filipino-descended Susie Ibarra served an impressive stint as New York bassmentalist William Parker’s percussive colorist. Geoff Mann is one of those ridiculously versatile musicians (here on drums, mandolin and djun-djun) who can make intuitive leaps from C&W to avant jazz. And pianist Andrew Bemkey, out of Trane bassist Reggie Workman’s band among other places, wields classical chops without restricting his universal mind.
Kaplan’s compositions often hang on the simple lines of his dark, sandy alto; what’s different is the way he supports
the melodies — not with chord structures and tap-yer-foot rhythms, but with confluences of texture. “Slow Boat” mixes Ellingtonian African-Asianisms with indefinable metallic fleshiness and Bemkey’s dramatic sprays. “Prayer for Ramón” starts out plucky and folky (mandolin and sax), then layers all kinds of cymbals and piano rumbles till it’s really surfing through your head — but ultimately it’s the emotional tunefulness of the thing (think Gato Barbieri) that keeps you listening. “Shadow” is the ultimate in spatial design. And “Crisis Dream” sounds like Kaplan told everybody to listen to his line and then to each other, in series, so it’s both logical and individual; like some other pieces, it also stops suddenly, like a snapshot, putting all previous moments in perspective.
If this sounds too conceptual and weird, believe me when I tell you Gongol is very listenable and often even hummable. It’s a sin to tell a lie. (Greg Burk)
The Invisible Man (Matador)
As front man for American Music Club and more recently under his own name, Mark Eitzel has been rock’s reigning singer-songwriter maudit, a six-string-toting Baudelaire with the Mission District as his Montmartre. Ending a three-year recording gap, The Invisible Man follows the career arc of other ex-acoustic artists (David Gray, Everything but the Girl), supplementing the trad production values of his previous solo work with digital editing and prominent drum loops.
This move comes too late to be fashion-forward, but while one senses that, no, he wouldn’t mind a hit (who would?), it’s not entirely cynical either. Eitzel uses the new technologies as a cloaking device, not as a clown mask, and he’s gone to the trouble of learning Pro Tools himself rather than relying entirely on outside producers. (One song credits him with “staring at a screen.”) The elegiac “To the Sea” and one or two others are based around fairly stock samples, but most songs are more inventive: “The Boy With the Hammer” wraps its gay-culture lyrical references (Midnight Cowboy, no less) in competing, out-of-sync percussion tracks — one evokes jungle, the other jackboots. The effects-laden guitars and overall air of disorientation on “Christian Science Reading Room” (in which the narrator and his cat become disciples of Mary Baker Eddy) and elsewhere is, if anything, closer to the stumbling-drunk haze of midperiod AMC than it is to Eitzel’s two sonically safer Warner Bros. records. (Ex-AMC guitarist Vudi’s presence helps as well.)
One thing the computer hasn’t changed, fortunately, is Eitzel’s writing. The title refers to his choice of Halloween costume (in “Shine”), and much of the disc revisits pet themes: loss, the desire to disappear, self-awareness edging into self-loathing (“In bed, I was just a sweet nothing”). The single “Proclaim Your Joy,” a taxonomy of the human zoo (“Some keep bunnies, some pump tummies, and some court disaster”) with an intentionally no-brainer hook, is too tossed-off to dispel the gloom, but the combination of compassion and vengefulness driving “Seeing Eye Dog” (“I’m your . . .”) and “The Global Sweep of Human History” is far more convincing. Eitzel’s written with genuine warmth before, but it’s been several albums since he’s backed it with sounds that stand on their own this well. (Franklin Bruno)