Reviews, November 2013


handcrafed_artisanal_despair_Page_35_Image_0004RAY DAVIES
Ray Davies has made a career out of a vaudevillian sensibility for mining the lives of various characters and immortalizing them in story and song, but it’s been a while since he’s turned his sardonic, sensitive eye onto the greatest character of them all–– himself. Davies’ second solo album of new songs, 2008’s Working Man’s Café, included a DVD in the deluxe version  that hinted at the subject matter he explores seemingly disjointedly in Americana, a chronicle of his years spent conquering the United States  with the Kinks interspersed with his time spent in New Orleans, with the only constant being the creative forces that fuel his music. Beginning with a glimpse of Davies in Charity Hospital,  recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during a 2004 mugging, Americana then time travels back to the Kinks’ first go-round in America nearly 50 years earlier, after which they were banned for four years. Those unfamiliar with the history of the band or of Davies may get a tad impatient with Americana’s literary jump-cuts, but there is a method to his madness.  Between ruminations on the rough and smooth ways of the touring road, the dissection and disintegration of many personal and business relationships, and a great deal of introspection forced upon him by his convalescence, lyrics from Davies’ songs both during and after the Kinks years are scattered throughout the book in a manner that  recalls the music and spoken word of Davies’ Storyteller shows promoting his “unauthorized autobiography” X-Ray. It’s a formula that works in performance more than it does on the page, but the way Davies wrestles with the disparate threads of his life still make for a fascinating read. Cue up the music as you go along. It reads better that way. ––Leigh Checkman


handcrafed_artisanal_despair_Page_35_Image_0005REBECCA THEIM
 When the Times-Picayune’s closed-door meetings, reduced weekly printing schedule and “digital first” strategy were exposed on May 23, 2012 by the New York Times’ David Carr before the T-P’s parent company, Advance Publications, announced it to their own employees, it brought home all of the terrors of the effects of the digital age on daily print media. The beauty of the digital age, however, is that former  T-P reporter Rebecca Theim saw it all unfold from her home near Las Vegas (thanks to social media), founded the organization dashTHIRTYdash to support those T-P employees affected by the layoffs and restructuring that took effect later in 2012, then turned her reporting expertise to the entire situation. Hell And High Water, the results of Theim’s efforts, aims higher  than merely retelling the ongoing story of New Orleans’ connections to what had been its sole daily newspaper for many decades. Beyond the local issues surrounding the T-P’s restructuring––the role the events of August 29, 2005 played in the employees’ and the community’s responses to Advance’s moves plays a big part––are some lengthy examinations of key players in this drama and their motives. Of particular interest are what editor Jim Amoss, publisher Ricky Mathews, and the entire Newhouse family are thinking in making these moves. A detailed look at the numbers involved in “digital first” is also key to Theim’s analysis––though reading that chapter may prove dizzying for the more numerically challenged––and a great deal of astute conclusions based on interviews with current and former T-P employees, John Georges (the new owner of The Advocate), and the words of many others in local and national media make this a confounding yet compelling musing on how we get the news and how those means are changing us all. ––Leigh Checkman



It was inevitable that I’d reach the moment when I felt a little thrown by how much I liked a new, young pop band. The Bones of What You Believe is so shiny, though, I just couldn’t resist.  Chvrches is a Glaswegian electropop trio, dabbling in hyper-neon eyeliner  and the kind of metal machine heartbreak that filled dance clubs in the ‘80s. The shuffling, pneumatic clap of “Lies” is a dirty angel smile like early Ministry, born from the same stew of house, hip-hop and the Moog. The sugary synth lines that weave through “Recover” are light as cotton candy and the song is undeniably catchy. Up here  in my old man’s tower, I have long since lost touch with what’s “popular,” but how can the kids not like this? There’s enough tension in the new wave bass sequencer pulsing beneath “Night Sky” to drive the stake right through its own heart, and that pace is immediately picked up by “Science/Visions,” a white knuckle, high speed fuel injection careening down the Autobahn. Here I am, the graying critic, recommending a bubblegum record to the unwashed Millennial masses; but Bones is just too bright, too beautifully robotic, too good not to praise. ––Mike Rodgers


If ever a record demanded to be played on vinyl, it’s just gotta be Fuzz. I mean, look at that record sleeve; it looks like Falcor’s cooler older brother who eats nothing but mushrooms. And do you hear those goddamn riffs? This record is like a hunk of slag and old Captain Beyond discs hurtling through space. And why not? Lead shredding is handled by Charles  Moothart, who forged his blend of doomed-up garage rock with Ty Segall on the bloody Slaughterhouse; Segall lends not only his punk rock Lennon vocals but also his meaty drumming. As thick as those guitars are, the drums stay underplayed, if still hit hard––like Segall wants them dead. The record free-form jams its way into glorious crescendos like the distorted harmonics at the tail of “What’s In My Head?” Fuzz make punishing riffs like the boogie down metal of “Hazemaze”sound so effortless, that  when the band veers off into noodling, mind expanding diversions, there’s always the ever present threat of the track ripping into life again as a surf punk freak-out! Fuck polish, Fuzz treat every distorted note, every hiss, like a source of power. The bat shit intensity of “Preacher” and its ghoulish  undercurrent feeds off the broken amps it leaves behind and “Raise” slinks around like Bobby Liebling. Fuzz makes a case for best stoner metal record (or any rock record) to crash land from outer space this year. ––Mike Rodgers


handcrafed_artisanal_despair_Page_34_Image_0004GILLET SINGLETON DUO
Recorded on two dates in March 2013, cellist Helen Gillet and bassist James Singleton teamed up to give a set of audiences a sonic experience at the Marigny Opera House, allowing their work on the strings to inhabit the space of the former Holy Trinity  Church on St. Ferdinand Street. The results of those performances as heard on Ferdinand walk a fine line between “had to be there” and more fully realized works that stand  up well as album tracks. The album begins with the blistering “Heavy Western,” its sounds reminiscent of Copland’s triumphalism held in check by a tragic intensity, followed by the elegant drama of “Tangoid.” A great deal of percussive experimentation is featured in “Bow Creek,” in which the instruments screech and groan as though being pushed to their physical breaking points, almost as though  they are going up those proverbial rushing waters. The climax of the tracks, “Birimboo,” merges the strings and the percussion in a way that is wonderful in the recording but must have been stunning to hear live… which is when the discrete tracks seem to give way to packets of sound  that happen to have names assigned  to them, a.k.a., the “had to be there”  part of Ferdinand. Somehow, Gillet and Singleton’s mutual deconstruction pulls itself back together for “Pocket Promenade,” which concludes this work with Singleton’s plaintive pocket trumpet, Gillet’s plucked strings, and the approval of the crowd. Ferdinand will make you wish you were actually enjoying the music at the duo’s feet, but there’s enough on the album to bring you to your knees. —Leigh Checkman


Much of what criticism breaks down to is categorization. It’s reductive, yeah, but what are you gonna do? Just when it seems like the doldrums have set in and routine is becoming rote, along comes a record like Days Are Gone, an out-of-the-blue splash of color at the end of summer. Haim were totally out of my loop, so the moment the record  began and those fluttering drumbeats of “Falling ” sprang to life, while that husky voice appeared out of nowhere, I knew this was something unexpected. Imagine my surprise when the song seamlessly wound its way through ‘80s soft rock, new wave and ‘90s R&B. Days Are Gone is that rare album that  manages to be everywhere at once: throbbing, white boy soul like vintage Hall and Oates (“Don’t Save Me”), strutting rock’n’roll (“The Wire”), and even sunshine-tinted Fleetwood Mac-meets-TLC (“Forever”). I find myself unable to turn this record off; each new spin gives me a new guitar  riff I missed, a funky bassline hidden beneath a bridge, or another chance for those glistening harmonies to hit that  perfect pop spot. Haim can certainly be accused of being “light,” but what’s insignificant about writing a record full of excellent songs that blend classic ‘70s rock with honey dipped R&B? ––Mike Rodgers


Picture this: future New Orleans––you’re digging through the digital –you’re digging through the digital archive of a vintage mp3 store when you spy a neon-orange tiger. You swipe to the tracklist. Japanther made a bounce EP? In fact. A souvenir of the Brooklynites’ stay with Rusty Lazer in New Orleans several weeks back, each song on the Donut Shop Bounce EP prominently features a local star. “Olly olly olly oxen free,” calls out Cheeky Blakk, trilling her R’s over pulsing samples of crowd noise on the skin- tight lead track. “I’m from a small part  of the N.O./I mean a part of the city you don’t know,” Sissy Nobby raps over a minimal, old-school beat on “Messin’ Wid My Brain,” as the upper range of her rasp fuzzes out with the raw quality of an unreleased demo. Nicky Da B closes out the EP with “Body Parts,” a stripped-down anthem to oral pleasure. Donut Shop is a trio of quick-and- dirty tracks that share little with the Japanther discography except sheer  catchiness. It’s at this point one begins to wonder: in what way, exactly, is this a Japanther recording? Their hyper-  energetic, lo-fi punk style is nowhere to be heard. The spontaneous joy of the weird one-off burns bright, but the credits could be rightfully reversed. —Anna Gaca


handcrafed_artisanal_despair_Page_34_Image_0007MAZZY STAR
Most notably famous for the ‘90s love ballad, “Fade Into You,” the shoegazing collaboration between Dave Roback and Hope Sandoval is finally reawakened with their fourth  studio album, Seasons of Your Day––it only took them 17 years. The problem  with the weight of that time frame is that anticipation starts to look a lot like expectation. If you’re a Mazzy Star fan hoping for a glimpse of growth, then you might catalogue Seasons as an anticlimactic disappointment. But if you listen to the album for what it actually is, you will hear the re- establishment of intimate songwriting and an unparalleled sound for which they became known––moody dream- pop drenched in creamy reverb. Lead singles “California” and “Lay Myself Down” are some of the best songs in an already stacked catalogue. Roback’s eerie slide guitar on “Flying Low” sounds as swampy as ever, while the breathy vocal delivery on the title track reminds us why there is only one Hope Sandoval; and if her presence on “Common Burn” doesn’t still melt your heart, then I fear your soul is beyond salvaging. —Kevin Comarda

Sample-master, DJ, and producer Ramble John Krohn––aka RJD2––  chooses to begin his latest album of beats, electronic dance music, and other songs rather subtly and gently with “Suite 1,” a contemplative piano solo that seems to barely hint at what is to come. When followed by the stepping-out he gives Phonte Coleman’s soul-tinged vocal on “Temperamental,” the spiraling, stringed beats and deft bass of “Behold, Numbers!” and the social commentary samples sprinkled through “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request,” it’s clear that the musical blender is on and will keep listeners hanging on every track. What sets RJD2’s work apart from most other DJs and producers working in EDM is a feel for the song as more than merely a bunch of beats strung together; hip- hop was his springboard and he still pays ample attention to it in songs like “Bathwater,” but turning from one type of beats to another as he does from “Bathwater” to the suave bounciness of “Milk Tooth” manages to make sense, somehow. More Is Than Isn’t speaks to how well RJD2 is honing what could be throwaway music (and, for too many in EDM, pretty much is) into a major  craft that seems to shape the vocals of singers as much as it cradles them, while also creating nearly cinematic sonic-scapes (his “A Beautiful Mine” intros AMC’s Mad Men for a reason),  paying as much homage to the past as turning it on its ear (“See You Leave” being a prime example) and bringing  electronica right back to where it began: the satisfaction of our impulses  to make and listen to new music that  gets our hearts and our hips jumping. ––Leigh Checkman