January 20 , 2005  




Skygreen Leopards
Thai Beat A Go-Go Vol. 2
Andrew Weatherall (Fabric Mix)
Ranking Dread (reissue)
BJ Nilsen


Jeff Parker
Archer Prewitt
King Jammy (reissue)
Alvin Curran (reissue)

Magnolia Electric Co







Child God in the Garden of Idols

I first became aware of the Skygreen Leopards last year when Soft Abuse released their sophomore album One Thousand Bird Ceremony. Some larger indie labels came a knockin' soon after that, and the San Francisco based duo signed to Jagjaguwar with the stipulation that they could release a limited edition vinyl-only companion to their proper album. For those of you who are not yet familiar with them, the Skygreen Leopards are the resident pop group affiliated with the drone-loving Jewelled Antler Collective, a community of Bay Area musicians known for traveling into the wilderness to record improvised experimental music.

Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn (who record individually as the Ivytree and Verdure) specialize in spontaneously composed acoustic pop songs. Wistful and childlike lyrics and melodies transport the listener into a lysergic wonderland where the birds, chipmunks, and insects constantly seem on the verge of joining along in harmony. Child God in the Garden Of Idols is a great record that won't be around forever; so don't put off picking up this tremendously lovely LP for too long. The companion album Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow is due on CD and LP in the next couple of weeks. I, for one, cannot wait. [RH]





$15.99 CD


Volume 2/Various
(Subliminal Sounds)

"Yok Yok" - Viparat Piengsuwan
"Wairoon" - Kabuan Moogda

Volume One of the Thai Beat A Go-Go series introduced us to the vibrant pop scene coming from the Land of Smile during the '60s and early-'70s. Inspired by the western sounds being imported from American tourists and visiting GIs on leave from neighboring Vietnam, many Bangkok nightclubs and hotel lounges featured local acts covering American and European hits. With traditional Siam music overtones blending in with the western pop sounds, the new versions sounded wonderfully exotic. Sadly, not much is known about this era and the fact that most of the records pressed during this time are so hard to find is a testament to Subliminal Sounds and this series.

The second volume of Thai Beat A Go-Go is just as strong as the first. This time out, the compilation pays more focus to female vocalists -- quite possibly Thailand's answer to France's Ye Ye Girls. The liner notes introduce us to the beautiful and prolific Viparat Piengsuwan. Included here is her playful "Yok Yok" (translated means "Jump Jump") as well as three other tracks, one a cover of Tony Orlando's "Knock Three Times." Tuangchai Booparaksa's "Mahn Kao Lah" ("What a Fun") is 100 percent groovy with funky horn stab melodies leading the charge. Also featured is Sodsai Chaengkij, one of Bangkok's most popular singers of the time. Her versions of Neil Diamond's "The Boat I Row" and the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" may sound primitively recorded, but both are hyper paced and more fun than the originals.

Volume 2 isn't exclusively made up of girl singers however. Sakarin Boonpit delivers an inspired Elvis impersonation in his version of "All Shook Up," while the sex-charged Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin duet "Je T'aime Moi Non Plus" gets a unique reworking. Sung by male vocalists, the Thai lyrics are changed (tamed) to reflect concerns about the environment. Other standouts include the downright spooky "Nang Maew Pee" ("The Ghost of Catwoman") the Zombies inspired ballad "Let Your Life Be Free" and the moody funk of Kabuan Moogda's "Waroon" ("Teenager") with its eerie wavering falsetto vocal refrain.

Surf, go-go, funk, psych, garage and pop, it's all here uniquely reinterpreted with an exotic twist, yet absolutely accessible and often just as catchy as the western music which was inspiring it. Thai Beat A Go-Go's final volume is slated for release as early as February. [GH]








Fabric 19

"I Need a Freak" - Sexual Harassment
"Time Out (Acid Dub)" - DJ T.

A great new mix from Andy Weatherall. Let's just get this straight right now: this is a solid, fun, un-ironic, funky, disco-synth-jack electro mix that will make you do that ass-cupping dance with your girlfriend. There, I said it. Now that that's out of the way...

Somehow, electro has been mistakenly redefined for the masses as "new wave electro." It 's great to hear someone make a mix that brings the jacking robot-funk of Egyptian Lover and Cybertron and blends it with the synth-funk of Italo disco with mostly NEW tracks. The songs are super-well picked, programmed and blended. (Nice to see that Weatherall digs through all the new tracks and can still deliver a signature style.)

The whole mix is killer. The first three-quarters of the album are basically flawless. The disco-schaffel section in the middle will make your jaw drop. (Track 9: Jesper Dahlback's "Robot Dance" into Steve Bug's "That Kid" is SICK.) Other high points: Sexual Harassment into Egyptian Lover. A minute of Metope which goes into Miwon and then into Black Devil (remix). There is a lot more. A modern day Italo Derrugiero. Sick. Undeniable. Get this one for sure. [SM]








In Dub
(Silver Kamel Audio)

"Bom Dub"
"Give Them Dub"

Dub reggae madness from 1982 produced by tough guy Ranking Dread. Ranking Dread was an associate of Tappa Zukie's and both men had a propensity to tangle with the law. The present album was apparently recorded at some point after he'd broken out of prison where he'd been incarcerated for shooting a police officer. Ranking Dread in Dub is evenly split down the middle with rhythms by Sly and Robbie and mixes by King Tubby on the first side, and rhythms by Roots Radics and mixes by Scientist on the second.

I'm not sure if Tubby and Scientist were having a competition to see who could come up with the most bananas mix but Tubby clearly wins with the lead track "Bom Dub," and that one piece alone is worth the price of the whole album. Featuring a completely out-of-whack and rickety keyboard sound, "Bom Dub" ends up being one of the most idiosyncratic reggae tunes these ears have ever heard.

Ranking Dread reprises the same melody again for the final track on side one and Tubby responds by adding even more deep end than before and further scuttling the key phrasing. Plaudits to King Tubby aside, Scientist still manages to kill it on the half he's responsible for. A wild and interesting sidebar in the unconventional history of dub reggae. [MK]







Fade to White

"Let Me Know When It's Over"
"Grappa Polar"

Last year, Touch Music brought us fantastic albums from Fennesz, Johann Johannsson, and Oren Ambarchi, among others. They're starting off 2005 on the right foot with a fine new release from BJ Nilsen, who has been recording under the name Hazard for a number of years. The incredibly powerful and dynamic tracks on Fade to White were created by layering field recordings from Central and Eastern Europe over studio recordings of acoustic and electronic instruments. Nilsen's editing and processing renders the original sounds virtually unrecognizable, transforming them into beautifully resonant and complex drones that gradually build to overwhelming crescendos. BJ Nilsen's compositions have a unique naturality. Though they don't exactly sound organic, they never drift too far in the direction of the cold digital world of laptop music. Fade to White is nuanced, melodic and highly listenable, an especially bright highlight in the Hazard discography. [RH]







$11.99 LP


The Relatives
(Thrill Jockey)

"The Relative"
"Toy Boat"

There's this thing about musicians from Chicago; they like to play. You can find a lot of crosspollination going on throughout the windy city. Jeff Parker, better known as the guitarist in Tortoise, has been playing musical chairs for a while with the AACM, Chicago Underground, Isotope 217 (RIP) and Tricolor, as well as guest spotting on new records by Ken Vandermark and Diverse. This new full-length on Thrill Jockey, The Relatives follows 2003's Like Coping.

Parker's a seasoned guitarist able to jump from Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and Sonny Sharrock to John McLaughlin, George Benson or Kenny Burrell with the flick of his wrist. A great improviser and user of harmonics, his feel is steady and melodic. This set sees him in the Green/Benson/McLaughlin style of jazz guitar, with slight tints of blues and bossa. This would be a fresh addition to the overwrought Blue Note excursions of late. Here we have solid, accomplished players that are able to offer a shimmering splash of organic color and melody. Very rich in sound and texture, yet all within a song structure, rarely does the band go out (which they apparently can do with ease).

Engineered and mixed at John McEntire's Soma Studios, Parker is joined by drummer Chad Taylor, Chris Lopes on bass and guitars, and Sam Barsheshet on Rhodes and Wurlitzer. The sound is soft, contained, playful, soulful and engaging -- never too far out nor too safe. It rides the line between in a very purposeful, enjoyable and memorable way. At times reminiscent of Miles Davis' modal and post-bop periods, yet with a style and era of its own. (And it's not post-rock, it's a jazz record). Recommended. [DG]







(Thrill Jockey)

"Way of the Sun"
"Judy, Judy"

Wilderness, the fourth album from Sea and Cake/Cocktails' Archer Prewitt, opens with a quiet, inviting music box sounding introduction which instantly draws you into the addictive first track, "Way of the Sun." The next 11 songs proceed with a gentle lull but also pick up in all the right spots; "O, Lord" has a bit of a McCartney quality, while many others are reminiscent of Beck's Sea Change. Prewitt's orchestral tracks borrow aspects from both chamber pop and post-rock and he shows his strength at creating unassuming songs that have beautiful, complicated arrangements while still remaining catchy. All in all, another personal, pleasant and very satisfying release from Prewitt. [CP]








In Roots

"King of Israel" - Hugh Mundell
"Born Free (Extended Mix)" Michael Rose & Jammy

Auralux is wasting no time in 2005 as they continue their select reissue series. King Jammy productions are the order of the day and In Roots is the style at hand. Thirteen tracks with several extended mixes included to keep the party dubbing, vocals come from Johnny Osbourne, Hugh Mundell, Michael Rose, Junior Reid and Barry Brown. King Jammy (a/k/a Lloyd James) is most recognized for producing Under Mi Sleng Teng in 1985; this set however shifts the focus to his pre-digital productions, hence the In Roots title.

These warm, sometimes familiar sides are a great selection of Jammy's earlier productions before he became the king of reggae's digital era. Utilizing some foundation players of the roots and rockers style -- Sly, Robbie, Gladstone Anderson and Ansel Collins -- he moved from Harry Ja's Channel One to Waterhouse to King Tubby's, and then finally on to his own self-titled studio. The mythic soulful sound he produces is crisp, punchy and creatively mixed and supported by some seriously deep grooves.

This quote from Jammy may put it in perspective best: "I was the young producer coming up in the area, everybody think about supporting me…they just did songs for us, we were just experimenting in those days. Some of those songs became legendary songs." Features great liner notes from David Katz. Recommended. [DG]







Canti Illuminati
(Fringes Archive)

"Canti Illuminati Pt. 1"
"Canti Illuminati Pt. 2"

Overdue reissue of American composer Alvin Curran's third record. Following his involvement in the live electronics performance group Musica Elettronica Viva, Curran embarked on a more personal pursuit utilizing his own voice and a patchwork of minimal synthesizer and field recordings. The two parts of Canti Illuminati show clear affinities to the vocal style of Pandit Pran Nath and Poppy No Good era Terry Riley, while also coming off like a denser version of Takehisa Kosugi's Catch Wave. Curran has had a lifelong affinity to the resonances of foghorns and their sonorities seem to serve as the general underlying drone and pulse of the first section. Curran's vocals, however, are what give the piece its rhythmic push. His tapestry of tape work and synthesizer delays matches the vocal intensity of his delivery; Canti Illuminati pt. 1 ends up most resembling the shimmering dronescapes of late-era Boredoms.

For the beginning section of the second half of Canti Illuminati, Curran brought in a choir; this is probably the least successful section of the disc. That may just be a matter of taste as I generally find chorus' of extended vocal technique to be somewhat corny. However, at about the 10-minute mark of the 24-minute piece the chorus fades away to an exquisitely beautiful extended passage comprised only of Curran's wordless vocals and lyrically minimal piano phrasing. Memorably haunting stuff that devolves at the final two minutes to a little bit of piano improvisation that seems to have been taken from the Great American Songbook. Recommended. [MK]







$17.99 CD (Limited Edition)




"Blood and Thunder"

I find it appropriate to reintroduce 2004's metal opus to pave the way for the now sound of 2005: LOUD and HEAVY. Or at least that's what's in the forecast to rock and rattle our bones -- anticipated albums by High On Fire, SunnO))), Dead Meadow, Early Man, and many more. Not to mention that this is a long overdue write-up of one of my favorite releases of the past year (and of fans and critics alike) that diverged proverbial barriers between the sanctified world of metal purists and loitering indie rockers, serving as a ligature to forge the bridges between respective genres. Consequently, Mastodon poised themselves as a universally celebrated band in the modern music world.

This young and energetic foursome from the Deep South -- and the prolific Relapse roster -- is rewriting the Metal Bible. This is exceptional contemporary metal that transcends the manic-panic white faces, aggro meat-metal and emotive drivel that happens to bleed/fall/dream (something to do with the sky, I think). Leviathan is an intelligent and grandiloquent epic soundtrack to the classic novel Moby Dick. It is a musical allegory to man's inevitably futile (and fatal) timeless mêlée with godly iniquity and interference.

While this is not a band with your average ACT score, these musicians take into consideration what works without superfluous bombast and with a keen insight into their audience's delectability. In fact, Mastodon may have over-estimated your brain cells, so don't be taken aback if your wits enter paranormal territory. They weave through dark melodies and marathon soundscapes with complex guitar riffage and stellar shredding power.

Backboned by seemingly Magma inspired prog-percussives, these multi-talented rockers simultaneously conduct Voivod-ish, Slayer-esque, and Prong-ian thrash orchestras that lick out Southern boogie jams which would even make Eyehategod jealous. With superb songcraft and instrumentation, anybody with any regard for hard rock, metal, and things smart will not be disappointed. Essential listening. We also carry a special limited edition deluxe version that includes a bonus Audio DVD and features 5.1 Surround Sound mixes and live tracks. [MT]







$14.99 LP




Trials & Errors
(Secretly Canadian)

"Dark Don't Hide It"

Recorded in 2003, Trials and Errors captures a live Brussels performance by Jason Molina and his new band, Magnolia Electric Co. Completely unedited, includes several unreleased songs. Full review next week.




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[DG] Daniel Givens
[GH] Gerald Hammill
[RH] Rob Hatch-Miller
[MK] Michael Klausman
[SM] Scott Mou
[CP] Carrie Pierce
[MT] Mahssa Taghinia

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