Reviews, April 2013



antigravity_vol10_issue6_Page_41_Image_0005It’s amazing, the capacity that one word can still have to shock, to titillate, to hint at the sacred and the profane all in one utterance. The poets that take on the word, the act, and the meanings of them all in Fuck Poems have taken on a mighty task in deeming fucking to be their subject. As a curse, it can lose its power from overuse, yet regain it with the intent to hurt or to roughly seduce. Toss it off in one instance to remove worth, but the delicious surprise when fucking is somehow exalted while still in the gutter (as it occasionally was in the words of the mightiest of the Beat writers and poets), is a sublime moment. The effort to bind many of these experiences together is at the heart of what editor Vincent Cellucci began at his Baton Rouge-based River Writers reading series: poetry intended to celebrate the vernal equinox grew to become a project that postulated, deconstructed, and re-animated the noun, verb, and very idea of “fuck.” What results includes the work of those who are famous and not, writers as near to us physically as David Parker Jr. and as near to us all in spirit as Anne Waldman, contributing to what is a fascinating body of work in scope and in spirit. –Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol10_issue6_Page_40_Image_0003After a decade of public anonymity with only the odd sighting here or there to confirm that, yes, he’s still with us, David Bowie has returned from early retirement with his most cohesive, accomplished and just plain great record in over 30 years. It’s impossible to overstate the importance David Bowie’s back catalogue has had on modern pop music. From pioneering the gender-bending extravagance of glam, to exposing the avant-garde electronic compositions that were brewing quietly in 1970s Europe, Bowie has had a hand in many of the trends that have most affected 21st Century music. So it comes as no surprise that, like the rest of us, Bowie himself is interested in what new angles his past work can be viewed from and The Next Day is nothing if not especially self-referential. In both style and tone, The Next Day most closely resembles Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, Bowie’s 1980 capstone to his most creatively fertile period. Like that album, The Next Day is a seemingly diverse set of tunes that finds cohesion in its artful combination of crystal clear pop music and art rock. From the mid-tempo lope of “The Stars Are Out Tonight” and its dissection of fame’s voyeuristic underside (a popular Bowie theme), to the Beatles-esque “I’d Rather Be High” and even to the surprisingly muscular “(You Will) Set the World on Fire,” there’s a wide diversity to be sure, but everything calls back to some moment in his past while making something fresh. The debut track “Where Are We Now?” is probably the song most unlike the rest of the record, its slow burning piano recalling the dour …Hours, but it soars where its antecedents simply wallowed, with Bowie running down memories from his time as an artistic exile in Berlin. For the astute, there are references to earlier Bowie records littered across The Next Day. The electric organ from “Sister Midnight” is buried deep in the mix of the magnificently bouncy “Dancing Out in Space.” The stop-start cadence and synthesized plastic-funk of “Dirty Boys” again calls to mind his partnership with Iggy Pop while the jaunty pop rock of “Valentine’s Day” wouldn’t sound too out of place on Hunky Dory. Lyrically,  the record often cuts against its outwardly light sound. Bowie has rarely been as concerned with not just death, but loss in general and much of  The Next Day weighs both the memories of days lost and the never ending march of time. Bowie’s voice retains its signature power as well, showing more dynamic range than he has in years. The opening title track lets his vocals break into a brittle, English snarl whereas the album closer “Heat” lets Bowie dip into his crooner voice and drag it slowly over the song’s ethereal haze. If there’s a complaint to lodge against the record, it lies in Tony Visconti’s production. Cohort to many of David Bowie’s most celebrated albums, Visconti’s production was responsible for so many of the lasting contributions of those great records. It’s a shame that the production here is so glossy and without surprise. The edges are well sanded and that “adult contemporary rock” sheen permeates The Next Day. Despite those minor shortcomings, the record is a roaring success. It is filled from top to bottom with tunes that, while not quite up to par with the crown jewels of his catalogue, at least rank head and shoulders above most of Bowie’s post-1980 output. After the relative merits of both Heathen and Reality, The Next Day is either a fitting swan song for one of rock’s most enduring legends or a new burst of creative vitality from one of the most important musical artists of our time. –Mike Rodgers

Fried, the new album from New Orleans club scene stalwarts Egg Yolk Jubilee, is a healthy mix of original tunes and well- chosen covers. The band pays homage to its NOLA roots with Professor Longhair’s “No Buts, No Maybes” and gives a nod to the most classic of classic rock with a horn-heavy run at Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” Willie Dixon’s “Close to You” dives into your ear canals as a straight- ahead brass band number and the record closes with a deep-space freakout on “A Call for All Demons” by Sun Ra. The seven original compositions delve into heavy New Orleans funk with a healthy dose of Frank Zappa. Album opener “Kingfish” hits the groove hard with a rolling and tumbling rhythm section supporting staccato horns and fiery lead guitar work, and they keep the pace up from start to finish. The Yolk distills itself down into a single song with “Wftb (For the Pungency),” charging faster, louder, and with more and more horns and a chorus of “Whatever floateth thou boateth.” These cats have been doing it their own way for almost 17 years now, and they sure seem like they’re having fun along the way. It’s also important to note that the art on the physical CD is a 1970s-era mag wheel with the band name and album title in white block letters on the tire. If you know how cool that is, then you know. If not, that’s fine too. Whatever floateth thou boateth. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson

It’s difficult not to listen to the first few tracks of The Messenger and start picking out guitar licks from them that are reminiscent of bands that Johnny Marr has been a part of; as a founder of the Smiths and the architect of their sound and a guitarist in the Pretenders, Modest Mouse, and a few other seminal bands of the last couple of decades, Marr has woven his distinctive playing into alternative and pop music without most people even realizing it. Get past “The Right Thing Right,” the wish to get past hardware to a life in the rhythm in “I Want The Heartbeat,” and the vague identity-establishing of “European Me,” though, and listeners will hear that Marr isn’t resting on his laurels at all. His voice, reminiscent of a more subdued Ray Davies, teeters on the verge of being overwhelmed by the instruments, a mix which occasionally smacks of a ploy to mask lyrics that aren’t always on par with the guitar work, but when it all comes together, as it begins to on the anthemic “Upstarts,” hitting its stride with “Lockdown,” and triumphantly winding down through “New Town Velocity,” it reveals there is far more to Marr than his wielding an axe. Give the man another chance at a solo album and he will likely take every trick and then some that he’s picked up since the early ‘80s and really give us something to talk about. —Leigh Checkman

antigravity_vol10_issue6_Page_41_Image_0001The stage name that Aly Spaltro chose upon forming her first band would lead you to believe she’s all hearts and butterflies. But that surface sweetness belies the bile within. Her debut album Ripely Pine is, in many ways, like a lot of singer-songwriters’ first material. It deals mostly in heartbreak—the ups and downs of letting go. But her sly way with words and teetotaling devotion to throwing her guts out on the table for all to see are what set her apart from the pack. There are a few songs that remain mellow and melancholy throughout, but most of the tracks are picture-perfect examples of how to use the quiet-loud-quiet trick to pull your audience even further in. Opener “Hair to the Ferris Wheel” is two minutes of dreamy illusion before it blows wide open, showcasing a discordant shredding guitar and barked vocals, only to slip back into a dream for the final minute. On “Aubergine,” Spaltro repeats “absence makes my heart grow hollow,” with such conviction that you can’t deny its truth. The sucker punch is easily “Bird Balloons,” followed closely by “You Are the Apple;” both snarl and stomp with pure rage alongside swelling strings and strained guitar licks. Lyrics like “I still need your teeth ‘round my organs” and “I’m a ghost and you all know it” should put to rest any assumption that this album is a collection of whiny breakup songs. “Regarding Ascending the Stairs” and “Little Brother” are sandwiched with the aforementioned tracks and both provide a perfect down-tempo counterpart, allowing the listener to experience Spaltro’s full range of emotions. Other standouts include “Florence Berlin,” a sparse little waltz full of delicate “oohhhs” and “The Nothing Part II,” a joyous romp including a backing gospel choir. If you like the idea of marrying the sounds of Lissie and Lucinda Williams, pick up this album. ––Erin Hall

antigravity_vol10_issue6_Page_41_Image_0002I will be the first person to admit that listening to an early Strokes album is akin to closing my eyes and being 18 again. So many people have strong ties to that sound and that time in their lives that the idea of Julian Casablancas, drunken, hoarse and wailing into the microphone, is the only way they can frame the band. Unfortunately for the nostalgic among us, people do grow up. I knew Comedown Machine wouldn’t be a rehash of Is This It. And in many ways, I’m grateful. Sure, part of me will always wistfully pine for that time of youthful freedom, but these guys took a massive risk on this album and I’m in the business of respecting that, even when it’s uncomfortable for me. And of course they are painfully aware that a huge chunk of their fanbase wants to stay in that place, so I find it delightful that the opener, “Tap Out,” begins with a searing guitar lick before giving way to a delicious waterfall of synth. It has great punch and is the first hint that Julian will be taking especially large risks on the tracks to come. “All the Time” and “One Way Trigger,” released as the first two singles from the album, couldn’t be more different. “All the Time” is textbook-– classic Strokes. Something to help stubborn fans shimmy out of their comfort zones. But be warned, this is as comfortable as you’re allowed to get. “One Way Trigger” received major backlash in large part due to some confusion about just who the hell was singing. That would be Julian…tapping his falsetto. It’s exactly as weird as it sounds, but it has quickly grown on me. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to pull off singing in this range in a live setting, but kudos for stretching your cords. The rest of the album jumps all over the map, remaining largely like nothing you expected. “50/50”  is a hot, quick starter with a more punk edge than any of their previous work while “Slow Animals” is a Hot Chip-esque lulling groove with extremely clean and soft vocals, save for the shuffling chorus which feels more familiar. The vocal olympics don’t always work out though. Case in point: on “Chances,” an odd mix of strained vocal jumping sullies an otherwise lovely and rather tender song. “80’s Comedown Machine” also falls a bit flat, relying on a delicate ambience too heavily to support its length (at five minutes, it’s the longest track on the album). The song that brings the experience to a close, “Call it Fate, Call it Karma,” plays like a distorted dream in black and white. And when it stops, you will find yourself a bit stunned, considerably confused and, hopefully, happily intrigued at what you’ve just experienced. My advice? Play it again. Forget what it’s “supposed” to be and enjoy what it is. We all grow up sometime. ––Erin Hall


antigravity_vol10_issue6_Page_41_Image_0003On Wyoming, Water Liars polish all the rough edges that were left on their debut record, Phantom Limb, last year. Drummer/producer Andrew Bryant reined in some of the noise that seemed like an afterthought on the first LP and wove it into the fabric of the songs. The music is still spare and echoey and stark and beautiful, but it’s just a little bit more together. The slop that had sometimes been present previously has been mopped up. While the first record was admittedly a slapdash effort and a total accident, these 11 tracks are arranged thoughtfully and coherently and give a much clearer indication of what this band really is: goddamned magnificent. Writer/  guitarist/vocalist Justin Kinkel-Schuster’s lyrics are just as introspective, poetic, and throat-catching as ever. On “Linens,” he paints a picture of euphoria—“We were kissing in the kitchen and I was listening/ to the coffee and the bacon drippings sizzle/ there was flour on my hands/  from the biscuits in the pan/ and I was happier than I thought I could be” – only to destroy it with his narrator’s own brokenness while quoting Paradise Lost. On album opener “Sucker,” one line captures perhaps the entire ethos of the band: “Thank you for the cigarettes, but never mind the coffee/ throwing out the old regrets and crawling after glory.” Water Liars just keep moving. They can’t do anything else. —The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson


antigravity_vol10_issue6_Page_41_Image_0004“Ambient psych-pop” is not a phrase that I often utter without a certain measure of disdain, but some worthwhile things are happening on Wondrous Bughouse, the sophomore effort from Youth Lagoon, which is really just the stage name of Trevor Powers. Deeply introspective lyrics dealing with mortality and psychological turmoil sparsely populate some truly gorgeous and verdant soundscapes. The arrangements most closely resemble a duet between a circus calliope and a jet engine, played under water, and heard while at the peak of a serious psilocybin trip. It’s very fluid, never violent, and extremely evocative, but it’s not a party record by any stretch—booties will not shake, feet will not stomp. It might or might not translate to a live performance, but this album certainly makes the listener feel something, which is the point of music, after all. Powers’ ear for melody and sense of orchestration set his music apart from the self-indulgent schlock that represents such a huge portion of the electronic genre. These songs build and change and grow and breathe. They’re thoughtful and thought-provoking, and they truly take the listener on a journey. The beginning and ending points are rather ambiguous, and it’s not entirely clear what you learn or hear or see along the way; but after the last note plays, you feel different from how you felt at the start. ––The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Jackson 


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