February 2, 2005  




Antony & the Johnsons
Skygreen Leopards
Cass McCombs
Arthur Verocai (reissue)
Run the Road (various artists)
Alva Noto
Keith Hudson and Friends


Bill Fay (reissue)
Lady & Bird (featuring Keren Ann)
15-16-17 (reissue)

Campfire Songs







$14.99 LP


I Am a Bird Now
(Secretly Canadian)

"For Today I Am a Buoy"
"My Lady Story"

In the five years that have passed since their first self-titled album was released on David Tibet's Durtro label, Antony and the Johnsons have developed a reputation for being one of New York's greatest musical groups. Last year Secretly Canadian reissued that album, introducing the band to a much wider audience. Antony undoubtedly won over a legion of new fans, myself included, after his stunning performance alongside Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom to a packed house at the Bowery Ballroom last summer. Not only is Antony an amazing songwriter with an instantly recognizable warbling and soulful voice, he is also an absolutely incredible performer, like some eccentric and otherworldly cabaret act, a latter-day Klaus Nomi.

The artists that chose to perform alongside Antony and the Johnsons on this new album are a testament to the tremendous respect that Antony has earned from the musical community. Lou Reed, Devendra Banhart, Rufus Wainwright and Boy George all make guest appearances on different tracks, each guest perfectly and unobtrusively complimenting the music. This album is full of alternately haunting and uplifting piano-driven songs with beautiful and subtle arrangements that deliver an incredible emotional wallop. To describe it as a masterpiece is no exaggeration. I Am A Bird Now is destined to be one of this year's most acclaimed and beloved albums. [RH]





$14.99 CD


Life and Love in Sparrow's Meadow

"Mother the Sun Makes Me Cry"
"Belle of the Woodsman's Autumn Ball"

The Skygreen Leopards take us on another whimsical trip through the forest with their amazing new album, Life and Love in Sparrow's Meadow. Featuring Jeweled Antler Collective's Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn, their new full-length isn't as collaged as 2004's One Thousand Bird Ceremony; this time the Skygreen Leopards stick to their slightly more buoyant side leaving the more mellow and atmospheric tracks for this release's limited vinyl only precursor, Child God in the Garden of Idols.

The strummed guitars render a spellbinding rhythm to which one's feet might just get addicted to tapping. A listener's imagination is further inspired by the use of playful instruments like the Jew's harp, dulcimer, and an array of percussion (I think I may have even heard an Irish bodhran somewhere).

After hearing the train whistles in "Belle of the Woodsman's Autumn Ball" and "Careless Gardeners…" even I found myself dreaming of a summer trip traveling by rail through the low mountains. The bucolic lightheartedness of "Mother the Sun Makes Me Cry," the mesmerizing "Egyptian Rosemarie" and the eddying "A Child Adrift" invited my mind to take to the woods with Donaldson and Quinn, where girls dance in patchwork gowns and the sounds of crickets invade your ears, pleasantly of course. It may be freezing outside, but Life and Love in Sparrow's Meadow will definitely simulate a beautiful summer day in your very own home. [CP]









"Sacred Heart"
"She's Still Suffering"

With his second full-length taking inspiration from '80s music, Cass McCombs has shed his alt-country tag. PREfection's opening track "Equinox" is reminiscent of something you'd hear coming from early Creation Records (a la Felt). With its deadpan, monotone vocal delivery, subtle but beautiful guitar work and "far away" production, it is a beautiful opener. Then the second song "Subtraction" kicks in with a Motown beat, Johnny Marr-inspired guitar lines and Morrissey-like vocal inflections. I can picture the Moz belting out lyrics like, "If I could, even for a moment/I would strip the hue out of my hair/And I'm not the kind, I'm not the kind to care." This song is amazing and would have easily fit on the Smiths' debut.

The opening guitar line and vocal melody of "Sacred Heart," the album's first single, could have been stolen from the Cure circa Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. But about a minute-and-a-half into the track it morphs into a chorus that is pure Morrissey again. A brilliant song which, in a just world, would be played in heavy rotation on American top 40 radio. Then there's "She's Still Suffering," with its swirling synth line and lovelorn lyrics. This could be the tortured anthem featured in a John Hughes film. (I can picture Molly Ringwald sulking in her bedroom while this plays in the background.)

Cass McCombs has come into his own and established himself as a timeless singer-songwriter with one foot in the past and one in the future. I have played this album at least once (sometimes twice) every day since I got it. I know it is only February, but this record is guaranteed a spot on my year-end list. PREfection is that rare album that took me by surprise and reinstilled my faith in music. [JS]








Arthur Verocai
(Luv N Haight / Ubiquity)

"Presente Grego"

I couldn't be more excited to write about this reissue, which is shamefully about to go out of print again. Arthur Verocai's eponymous debut is one of my all time favorite Brazilian records. By the time this album was released in 1972, Verocai had already composed scores for television programs and had written orchestra arrangements for notables like Jorge Ben and Gal Costa; he had also produced Ivan Lins' Agora.

Impressed by his work, a record company executive gave Verocai carte blanche to create an album of his own and the guitarist/producer set out to make a boundary-pushing record which would marry a myriad of his musical influences -- from Brazilian contemporaries like Milton Nascimento and Ben, to a wide array of adventurous American artists like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Frank Zappa, as well as elements of bossa nova, rock, funk and soul. He enlisted a 20-piece string section along with many seasoned musicians including Robertinho Silva, Luiz Alves, Paulo Moura, Oberdan Magalhães (later of Banda Black Rio), and Nivaldo Ornelas from Nascimento's backing band.

Like many Brazilian songwriters of the time, in order to get by the censors he used cryptic language to mask his protest messages against the country's repressive dictatorship. It's one of those records that makes me want to learn Portuguese so I can get a full picture of the music within. The liner notes describe the record as the Brazilian equivalent of Shuggie Otis' Inspiration Information, and while it's not off base, I think the musical versatility in Verocai's arrangements is more expansive. The album is as sweepingly cinematic as Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges' Clube de Esquina or Borges' self-titled record, but Verocai also travels a slightly different path often layering Latin grooves over deep doses of funk. There's a looser feel as he and his backing band experiment with extended horn, guitar and keyboard solos, light bits of spacey electronics, and a heavier influence of jazz.

After spending years as a pricey collectible, then finally getting reissued a year or so ago, I can't comprehend why Arthur Verocai's lone album of the '70s is going out of print again. This is truly a record that once gone, you'll be sad you missed. Don't sleep on this one. [GH]







Run the Road
(679 Import)

"P's and Q's" Kano
"Cha-Ching" Lady Sovereign
"Let It Out" Roll Deep

Never thought I would feel like some artist or band that has been hyped at all had in fact been UNDER-hyped, but now I have this Dizzee Rascal character to contend with. The panoply which constitutes Run the Road is remarkable, and is certainly the most comprehensive recent sampling of nouveau UK pirate radio (and otherwise) MCs to be registered for retail perusal, but it is especially in the context of which that Dizzee's bizarre and amazing voice becomes underscored. Not to mention his preternatural ability of seeming to know exactly what to do with it. There are some shining lights, including Dizzee-in-waiting Tinchy Stryder and the awesome Lady Sovereign, but he is clearly the leading one. His crew, Roll Deep, turn in a stone jam too, possibly the one to end up a true classic, with "Let It Out." Stryder's track (and the one I've personally danced drunkenly to on a couple of occasions now), "Move" is a fun one, though I have since heard some sparser offerings from him, and ones which are more in keeping with this field.

Now what is this field? "Grime," many will say, and I suppose they're right, but as someone who has followed UK music since youth I know that it is definitely the WORST place for something actually new and exciting to be springing from. The next big thing is always allegedly springing up over there, and it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff from the insane territorialism from the automatic press sensationalism, so to speak. Wiley, who is the de facto Godfather of Grime, even had a track on his (decent) solo record from last year that ruminated on what this music scene was to be labeled. As I recall, he was generally mocking, and left it open-ended, but then again I can't say that I understand what these guys are actually saying a good portion of the time. I was told it is important though, and integral to the appeal of the MCs that rise to prominence. Which makes perfect sense obviously, but it has taken my falling for the whole picture of this music form to be able to return to its examples often enough to find myself finally parsing much of the lyrical content. Perhaps you'll soon have the same experience. [DHo]










(Raster Noton)

(Raster Noton)

Alva Noto has released two new CD-EPs, each beautifully packaged and printed in a cardstock, fold-over pocket manual sized booklet. The CDs themselves look a lot like the 20' to 2000' CD-EPs from a while back with a few added graphic lines imbedded in the clear plastic. Very nice. Thankfully, the high expectations inspired by the design are rewarded with music that matches the simple intricacy of its package.

The first noticeable quality is its simultaneous closeness and distance to hip-hop. Ultra-sterilized (clinical), isolated bass-bumps, clicks, buzzes and beeps (smaller than 'bleeps') bump, scratch and climb themselves into breakbeats fit for the biosphere -- not that that idea worked, but you know, imagine a manmade atmosphere. (Take the sounds Carsten Nicolai added to the Noto/Sakamoto album and arrange them in fresh, lively, active beat arrangements.)

After hearing both EPs for the first time (and feeling them immediately) it took me a while to realize the obvious: these tracks bear a striking resemblance to recent Pan Sonic releases. I realized that the difference, and the reason that I didn't notice right away, is that here, the hi-fidelity of the sounds is much more inviting; the tracks 'swing' more and are much less static with many buildups and breakdowns -- if Panasonic and Jan Jelinek jammed in a parking lot. [SM]







"The Hudson Affair"

"Old Fashion Way"
"Don't Think About Me (I'm Alright)" Horace Andy & Earl Flute

For decades, the myth of Keith Hudson has been shrouded mostly in legend. A largely underground reggae hero, he allegedly produced his first record with members of the Skatalites at the ripe old age of 14. He was an early innovator in so much of what is now reggae history and tradition, helping to develop dub production; and he was also one of the first producers to record DJs. Early on he paid for sessions while working as a dental technician. The modest earnings from this allowed him to record at his own pace, and he often recorded multiple versions of songs, essentially recycling rhythms to add new vocalists, DJs, instrumental overdubs, new intros or dub mixes. This became known as a "version" which is now commonplace in reggae production. At 55 tracks, The Hudson Affair is a serious collection of music and encompasses early rocksteady, R&B and DJ versions, as well as dub, roots reggae, and psychedelic soul.

Opening with the "Old Fashion Way" rhythm, a smoldering rocksteady tune shuffles along under a sparkling keyboard line amidst big choppy drum sounds. Ken Boothe's title version sounds like it could be a southern R&B tune from the mid-'60s while on "Dynamic Fashion Way," a swinging sax slithers in between U-Roy's rhymes. And over a very low recording of Boothe's original vocals, DJ and frequent early collaborator Dennis Alcapone delivers an inspired version of uptempo dancehall madness. This collection shows that Hudson really had a way of getting amazing performances from some of the top vocalists of the day.

The second disc gets a bit slower, almost bluesy at times. Thick dub production is applied to vocal tracks as they lumber along in a hazy cloud of psychedelic atmosphere and throbbing basslines. Often drum kits were accented with hand drums reflecting the style of rural Jamaica. A who's who of talent can be heard here: Horace Andy, King Tubby, Johnny Clarke, I Roy, Augustus Pablo and Alton Ellis. But it's Hudon's own vocal tracks that really shine. He wasn't an especially good singer, but he was able to use what he had to great effect, singing with deep conviction and honesty. He had an almost sloppy delivery, a kind of slacker-lovers-rasta style.

Often his songs were deeply spiritual meditations on Biblical and Rasta history, personal relationships or black awareness. And on songs like "Satan Side Version" he shows that he couldn't be confined to the conventional parameters of reggae music. Smears of keyboard workouts bring to mind Sun Ra's ecstatic meanderings while on "Class and Subject" a bottom drop rhythm anchors his lazy singing and could easily come from a scorched northern soul tune. He truly had a unique style. While there are far too many great moments to mention here, he should be viewed as one of the great outsider musicians in the spirit of Lee Perry's most radical work, but also in a more metaphorical sense like Jandek, Prince or Sun Ra. Highest possible recommendation! [GA]

For further listening I highly recommend the albums Rasta Communication, Playing It Cool and Flesh of My Skin, Blood Of My Blood.








"Bewley in White"
"Puddled in the Morning"

Bibio is in fact an Englishmen named Stephen Wilkinson, who not only has an affinity for playing beautiful, finger-picked guitar passages, but also for impressionistic production inspired by electronic auteurs like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, and what sounds to be a love of his four-track. The latter explains the brief, nonsensical album title Fi. His debut album actually blurs the line between hi-fi and lo-fi, Wilkinson processing and layering his cassette recorded guitar passages with unrecognizable drones, tape loops, and nature sounds. During "Puddled in the Morning," the precise fingerpicked notes are almost unrecognizable, overtaken by his guitar's overtones. As the distant melody fades away, what one would assume to be the clicks and pops coming from a stuck groove of an old record suddenly turns into a campfire's crackle.

Warbled tape recordings of Wilkinson's circular folk guitar passages give the album a mysterious, almost timeless quality. One can imagine these songs coming from an unlabeled cassette that had once been covered in moss, unearthed in a damp, English forest. Boards of Canada's Marcus Eoin is actually responsible for introducing the young musician to the Mush label. But while adjectives like hazy, soothing and pastoral can be used in describing both BOC and Bibio, Wilkinson's approach is much more minimalist. Deprived of beats, picture Fennesz processing loops from old British folk recordings or Kevin Shields on a camping trip with Jewelled Antler Collective. [GH]







(Hydra Head)

"Walk on Water"
"Tired of Me"

J K Broadrick of Godflesh dreams of tranquil laden whirscapes converging into a palette of warm abyss. Embodying a sort of spiritual transcendence and holistic positivity, the sonically tepid arrangement and evasive vocals soar into otherwordly rapture. Though Broadrick doesn't stray too distant from his previous outfits' obliterating industrial assault with pieces like "Friends Are Evil," however, his miscellaneous assail throughout Jesu is poised to soul-melting proportions, in contrast to soul crushing. Maybe one can parallel Broadrick's plight to Ogre's departure from Skinny Puppy as a solo ingénue. Or not, as Broadrick's creative forays post-substance ill use are of an uplifting, meditative proclivity as opposed to a splenda-happy flippancy. Fans of Mogwai, early Swervedriver, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and even M83 would enjoy this angelic venture. Totally divine. [MT]








Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow

"Strange Stairway"

Seven years after the release of the last of his two Deram albums, well past what might be considered the pinnacle of his career, the fantastic British singer-songwriter Bill Fay began a three-year-long collaboration with a band of young musicians who admired his work. The quartet produced more than enough material to fill an LP, but the recordings have never seen the light of day before now. Tomorrow Tomorrow And Tomorrow includes all of the completed songs that would presumably have made up their album along with a handful of song sketches and early demos. Fay's songwriting abilities don't seem to have diminished one bit during his musical hiatus.

By the late 1970s, Bill was making the gradual switch from acoustic pianos to electric keyboards; both instruments are heard extensively on this release. The best of the keyboard-based tracks have an absolutely wonderful Robert Wyatt feel to them, while some of them seem a bit more dated and possibly a tad overdone. Many of the album's highlights are the apparently unfinished and truncated early recordings of Bill Fay's songs, untainted by the sometimes overbearing influence of his collaborators. As evidenced by last year's utterly sublime collection, From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock, it seems that he was a musician who was at his prime when he was completely on his own. While this release may not be quite as essential as the earlier compilation, it will be an invaluable treasure for those who know and love his other work. [RH]








Lady and Bird

"Walk Real Slow"
"Run in the Morning Sun"

French singer-songwriter Keren Ann joined forces with Bardi Johannsson (of the Icelandic rock group Bang Gang) to create this lovely folk-pop collaboration called Lady and Bird. The tracks are a well-balanced variety of soft and gentle, and vivid and sudden. Keren Ann's soothing, raspy voice meshes perfectly with Johannsson's airy, slightly accented tenor. The eponymous record loosely tells the story of two childish creatures stuck in grownup bodies (played by Keren Ann and Johannsson) struggling with their estrangement from "the outside." The listener’s ears are immediately hypnotized by the swirling and lush harmonies of the vocally powerful first track, “Do What I Do,” followed by the mystical second track which tells the story of Lady and Bird through harpsichord and experimentation with voice-distortion.

The album surges on "Run in the Morning Sun," where staccato chords from a Rhodes piano chase the album's characters through European wheat fields. It then collapses into the Beth Gibbons-esque "Blue Skies" and the finale, "La Ballade of Lady & Bird," where the two characters cry for help. There's also a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says" that pleasingly doesn't stray too far from the original, and an eerily comforting rendition of the M*A*S*H theme, "Suicide is Painless." Let's hope that Keren Ann and Bardi Johansson work together again in the future. [CP]








Different Days

"Better Than Bleeding"
"Different Days"

The Windy City has never been lacking in musical talent. Right now its electronic scene in particular is experiencing a creative boom with acts like Telefon Tel Aviv, Pulseprogramming and Slicker, the musical alias of John Hughes Jr., who also runs the Hefty label. L'altra, is another name that deserves to be near the top of this list. Originally a five-piece ensemble, co-founders Lindsay Anderson and Joseph Costa -- who ended a several year romantic relationship while recording this album -- scaled back the official line-up to just themselves, but among the nine or so guest musicians listed are recognizable names like avant-cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, horn player Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley), and Pulseprogramming's Marc Heller.

Produced by Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis, the duo's third full-length, and first with a Hefty logo, isn't exactly electronic in the traditional sense. The programmed beats and sonic textures are rounded out by the warm accoutrements of acoustic and electric guitars, Rhodes piano and bass. It all comes together creating a gorgeously restrained, at times heart-tugging, musical foundation for Anderson and Costa's intertwined vocals. Their sad, hushed melodies are quite sincere, the interplay between the two singers at times reminiscent of Ida's Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell.

It's all about slow-building dynamics. L'altra utilize subtle crescendos much in the same way as Efterklang; the lulling tempos of the songs emphasize the lush textures of instrumentation that flow in and out, be it layers of horns, strings or a rare blast of guitar feedback. Emotive without the 'emo,' this is a perfect late night chill-out soundtrack for those looking for something slow, seductive and a little bittersweet. [GH]








The Magic Touch

"The Weather"
"Magic Touch"

A great collection of late-'70s lovers rock sung by three British teenager girls who happened to be aged 15, 16 and 17 when this album was recorded. The Magic Touch, released on Dennis Brown's DEB Players label, is a subtle, smoky and soulful slice of reggae aimed at the heart. It's also a great glimpse into the roots of UK reggae (check "The Weather" for some pre-Slits, New Age Steppers vibes). Produced by Castro Brown and engineered by Dennis Bovell, Sly and Robbie, Dennis Brown, Bingy Bunny, Cedric Brooks, Winston Wright, Sticky and Ansel Collins make up the band.

Lovers rock is a subgenre of reggae that could be considered the equivalent to American R&B's slow jam or quiet storm -- the roots of which later became the foundation for groups like Massive Attack, Soul II Soul, Loose Ends and even Sade. The genre is littered with inspired covers of such US classics as "Just My Imagination," "Baby Love," and "Emotion," all which are included here.

Fans of vocalist like Ari Up, Neneh Cherry, or even Keith Hudson's slow, unorthodox, vibe-filled singing style should find ease in the voices of these girls. Not mind-blowing, but solid with quality and the all-important vibe (check the title track, "Magic Touch"). Buy it now and save it for a hot July night. [DG]









Campfire Songs
(Catsup Plate)

"Queen in My Pictures"

Back in print! Members of the Animal Collective collaborated on a porch in rural Maryland to record something sonically different and very intimate. Acoustic instruments buzz and pulse beneath spontaneous melodies and nature sounds.




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[GA] Geoff Albores
[DG] Daniel Givens
[GH] Gerald Hammill
[RH] Rob Hatch-Miller
[DHo] Dan Hougland
[SM] Scott Mou
[CP] Carrie Pierce
[JS] Jeremy Sponder
[MT] Mahssa Taghinia

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