Reviews, April 2014

Books

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_29_Image_0005RICHARD CAMPANELLA
BOURBON STREET: A HISTORY
(LSU PRESS)
Better known locally and in academic circles for his work on New Orleans’ geographies, Tulane School of Architecture geographer Richard Campanella has penned a reading on this city’s most famous street that manages to juggle statistics, geography, demographics, analysis, history and storytelling with brevity and wit. Campanella confesses at the start of Bourbon Street that he was inspired to study the phenomenon of the street as a much-revered-and-reviled entertainment center by the resilience of its shops, bars, and clubs in the immediate wake of August 29, 2005. His approach is threefold: beginning with Bourbon’s origins, Campanella dives into an examination of how the street became the repository for locally-owned centers of entertainment, libations, and many sorts of vices after the demise of Storyville, then brings readers to the present day on Bourbon with a series of essays on the street as a “social artifact” that will make even the staunchest enemy of the street reexamine his/her biases. Easily Campanella’s most accessible volume to date, Bourbon Street is an informative joy that peers past all the neon, music, and go-cups to shine a light not only on the street itself, but also on the commodification of pleasure and how it is regarded. —Leigh Checkman

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_29_Image_0006HOLLY GEORGE-WARREN
A MAN CALLED DESTRUCTION: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF ALEX CHILTON FROM BOX TOPS TO BIG STAR TO BACKDOOR MAN
(VIKING)
Reading A Man Called Destruction will make any fan of Alex Chilton’s music realize there has been far more written about his early years with the Box Tops and Big Star than about his life after ‘60s pop stardom and ‘70s disillusionment with the recording industry. Holly George-Warren sets out to remedy that oversight, attempting to present Chilton, intense insecurities and all, as a restless soul engaged in a lifelong search for the essence and art within blues, rock, and pop music. She is best able to convey this when addressing Chilton’s work in the studio as a musician and a producer, emphasizing his experimentation with Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers, his love of quick, dirty takes as heard in Like Flies On Sherbert and the refinement of his later solo work, as well as his laissez-faire approach to producing The Cramps. When it comes to Chilton’s live performances, though, George-Warren gets far too caught up in the minutiae of scheduling and sidemen––and women––with the exception of Chilton’s time in Tav Falco’s Panther Burns; it takes nearly 400 pages to get to any real feeling beyond the facts, as she recounts listening to the recently released Electricity By Candlelight live album and being transported back to that night at Manhattan’s Knitting Factory in 1997. Would that she had scattered the passion in the epilogue more liberally throughout Destruction; it would then be far more than a chronological assemblage of facts, quotes, and
discography. —Leigh Checkman

 

Music

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_28_Image_0002THE BAD PLUS
THE RITE OF SPRING
(MASTERWORKS)
Best known for its jazz and prog interpretations of many of the best known alternative and prog rock songs of the past thirty years or so, from the Pixies to Yes, the trio known as The Bad Plus takes its distinctive sound and gets to work on what is probably Igor Stravinsky’s most famous ballet. It may seem like a strange thing to go back to, but the group has somehow taken the sweeping, nearly overwhelming orchestral dissonance of the original and made it intimate and accessible without sapping the entire piece of its power. Pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Reid Anderson trade off on the main themes of The Rite Of Spring’s various movements, from the plaintiveness of the “Adoration of the Earth” introduction to the slow build of “The Sacrifice,” with drummer Dave King contributing just the right amount of percussive backing, as, in many ways, the bass and piano prove to be highly percussive on their own most of the time throughout the trio’s interpretation. This isn’t so much a straight-up jazz take on Spring as it is a chance for The Bad Plus to see how far they can take the original work while still remaining true to its cataclysmic intent. This version of Spring is quite the experiment: still not easy listening after over 100 years, but no less exciting. —Leigh Checkman

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_28_Image_0003BECK
MORNING PHASE
(CAPITOL/FONOGRAF)
It’s safe to say Beck Hansen is a long- established artist who has done it all. But his twelfth studio album, Morning Phase, is not just another notch on the belt; it is, rather, a rebirthing, as suggested by the title. It is a far cry from the slack-jawed “Loser” from 1994 or the neon-funk dance party of 1999’s Midnite Vultures. Tonally, it is probably most easily likened to 2002’s so-called “mature” (if you believe in that sort of thing) Sea Change. And while both albums share similarities as life- affirming introspection, the vision for Morning Phase seems much larger. The major themes of the album, echoed in song titles like “Waking Light,” “Heart is a Drum,” and “Phase,” suggest a total loss of ego to the unwavering cycles of our lives. Like all of his previous releases, the multi-instrumentalist’s song ’s are cast from a steady hand, but it’s the sound selection, airy vocal production and swollen string arrangements that separate Morning Phase from the pack. In a year that promises a ton of good albums, I believe we have just heard the first great one. —Kevin Comarda

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_28_Image_0004MC5
PART OF THE PROBLEM
(BELVEDERE)
As a big MC5 fan, I was intrigued when this album recently came out. These live tracks are rumored to be from the original demo reel John Sinclair (their manager at the time) mailed off to Elektra Records back in 1968. Take my advice––do not waste your money on this. The sound quality is terrible and in between songs it sounds like only three people in the audience are clapping. The selling point for this LP boasts three songs never before heard, but two are covers (“What’s A Matter Baby” by John Lee Hooker and “Slow Down” by the Beatles). It seems this material was unleashed so that some old hippie could try to cash in and make a few bucks. This awful release and the fact that their incredible documentary (MC5: A True Testimonial) can’t get officially released due to stupid legal (ego) problems just tarnishes the history of an otherwise incredible and legendary band. Simply embarrassing. —Carl Elvers

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_28_Image_0005ALEXANDRA SCOTT
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH ALWAYS
(INDEPENDENT/BANDCAMP DOWNLOAD)
Singer-songwriter Alexandra Scott has made the most of her time in New Orleans since relocating here from Virginia many years ago, as evidenced in the cross-section of fine local musicians backing her on I Love You So Much Always, from Alexis Marceaux to Rotary Downs’ Jason Rhein to fiddler Sam Craft, and even Tom McDermott joining in to contribute to “Hymn.” The real proof in the pudding here, though, is in Scott’s original compositions, many of them songs of longing without too much sentimentality dragging them down––sweet chronicles of the heart that don’t become saccharine. Scott’s touch is reverent on tunes such as “Stranger” (her ode to New Orleans that transforms the city into a near-benevolent presence), then softly, resignedly confrontational in the brilliant, movin’ on ramble of “Gas Station Lover.” The harmonies on songs such as “Smell Of Cut Grass” and the overall musicianship throughout Always is indeed great, but it is Scott’s singular presence shining through, a gentle, life-affirming strength, that makes the album a listen for the ages. —Leigh Checkman

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_28_Image_0006SIRENS
BLOSSOM TALK
(COMMUNITY)
The doubled voices of this folk-soul duo (Kimberly Vice and Michelle Ausman) are so smoky that they transport you to a mescaline-induced trip where you might find yourself trapped in a Mad Men boardroom meeting gasping for air. In this instance, it’s the women who are the alpha-dogs and the men are no longer domineering assholes, but are left heartbroken in the corner with tears diluting their Maker’s Mark old fashioneds. That being said, there is nothing on this album that is remotely close to being as terrible as Pete Campbell. It’s filled with beautiful harmonies that dreamily orbit around the plucking of dueling ukuleles. However, it’s truly the voices that are the star of the show. With a mostly stripped down production, Blossom Talk lacks pretension and over-thinking. It’s simple, beautiful, dreamy and rather steamy. It’s cargo cultish. Like Motown broke off and washed onshore to some remote island in the South Pacific and a new form of indigenous music was created. I want to find myself on that coastline being lulled into the body high that comes with one of Shanook’s “brownies,” the salt of crashing waves and the dreamscapes of these Sirens wondering if, like Pete Hogwallop, I might have been transformed into a toad. “Unfortunately” I will actually be lying on a beach in Bali when Blossom Talk is released at Gasa Gasa on April 18th, but it will certainly be playing on my iPod. If you can’t be on a beach that day, go get you some great beach tunes. —Kevin Barrios

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_28_Image_0007ST. VINCENT
ST. VINCENT
(LOMA VISTA/REPUBLIC))
With three solo albums and a critically acclaimed collaboration with David Byrne under her belt, Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) has quickly become today’s premier avant rocktress. But when it was announced that her self- titled, fourth album would be released on Republic Records, critics and fair- weather fans alike questioned her ability to survive the murky waters of the major label music industry. Would her quirky authenticity be compromised? Would her depth become one-dimensional? Fully aware of the microscope through which the album was already being viewed, Clark released the album’s first single, “Birth in Reverse,” a fidgety and fuzzy rock powerhouse, to quell the fears of the suspicious. Any lingering doubts were squashed by the second single, “Digital Witness,” whose obvious nod to the 2012 Byrne collaboration had naysayers clawing their way back to the bandwagon. While the entire album effortlessly walks a fine line between the beautiful and moody, “Bring Me Your Loves” reaffirms Clark’s ability to turn the sweet and sultry into downright salty. As she belts out the verbiage of the song title in a wicked vocal refrain, you can almost see the devilish grin forming on her face, as if to say, “Yes, Annie Clark is here to stay.” —Kevin Comarda

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_29_Image_0003THOU
HEATHEN
(GILEAD MEDIA)
Finally! These tracks were recorded over a year ago and have just now been released for public consumption. At first listen, it seemed extremely long and slow (ten songs, 74 minutes)––a lot to absorb. But, in my opinion, each album these guys put out is very well thought out and planned, so I understand why it took so long. Thou’s music and lyrics, which most people misconstrue as dour and gloomy, are actually beautiful and honest. I won’t get into the specifics of the lyrics, since I think every listener should form their own individual bond with each song to make it more meaningful and personal. I really love the addition of Emily McWilliams’ vocals on “Immortality Dictates,” which widens their scope of heaviness to another level. The band’s D.I.Y. work ethic (everything from recording, packaging, artwork, distribution, etc. is done on their own terms) is highly commendable and, hopefully, influential. Even though all of Thou’s music is available for free download, it hasn’t stopped their releases from selling out. The CD release is on Gilead Media, double LP in Europe on Vendetta Records (first pressing is almost sold out) and domestic version of the vinyl soon to be released on Howling Mine. Plus be ready for a whole bunch of new releases shortly from various labels. Please check out their next local show on sunday April 27th at the Mudlark Theatre (1200 Port St., 7 p.m., all ages). It’ll be the last show of their tour with the equally crushing Cloud Rat (from Mount Pleasant, Michigan). —Carl Elvers

 

antigravity-magazine-new-orleans_Page_29_Image_0004THE WAR ON DRUGS
LOST IN THE DREAM
(SECRETLY CANADIAN)
At times, ambient, atmospheric rock music can be a tedious experience for the listener. To be in the business of making such music without noodling around beyond six minutes a song or engaging in too much sound for its own sake is tricky. Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs thankfully serves up the atmosphere while infusing it with equal parts Dire Straits and Dave Gilmour- esque guitar work (plus the New Wave synths and piano of keyboardist Robbie Bennett) to create Lost In The Dream–– a record to excite as well as envelop listeners with a hard yet hazy, ethereal beauty. Frontman Adam Granduciel has mostly put aside sounding like Dylan (evidenced ad nauseum all through 2011’s Slave Ambient album, though “Eyes To the Wind” on Dream is an exception). He instead works to contribute vocals that fit far better into the moments each song creates, whether it’s rocking along in “Under The Pressure” and “Red Eyes” or wistfully crooning through “Suffering.” Dream as an aural document shows that the loose, albeit skilled, collective that once was The War On Drugs is now a far tighter quartet, seasoned by two years of touring and unafraid to rock out. Long may it continue. —Leigh Checkman

Verified by MonsterInsights