Reviews, September 2013



One February night at New York City’s Knitting Factory, the power went out. An Alex Chilton solo performance slated to go on that night was initially cancelled, and rain-checks were offered––but some stragglers chose to stay in the darkened club and were treated to one of the most unusual and poignant Chilton performances ever caught on tape. Electricity By Candlelight captures Chilton on an expansive evening when he felt comfortable enough to pull the crowd into his orbit, tease them a little about their requests (“Still looking for that magic folk song that shuts this thing down,” he half- jokes after his rendition of “Raining In My Heart,” having performed a full set earlier when the power was still on) and strum some beautiful cover renditions of classic American songs. Things get down to business once Richard Dworkin sets up the drums, brushes along to “The Girl From Ipanema” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” then reaches for another rhythmic level along with Chilton on Loudon Wainwright’s lonely, needy “Motel Blues.” By the time Chilton brings things to a close with “If I Had A Hammer,” even his flubs (like forgetting the words to “Case Of You”) are a charm. The intimacy of that night casts its spell so well, the addition of the studio recorded “You Can Bet Your Heart On Me” at the end of Electricity is rendered pretty unnecessary, but is still a nice bonus for Chilton aficionados. —Leigh Checkman



Formed as Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk in 2003, this funk crew is making anything but throwaway music, despite its lack of full-length album releases. Though Dirty Word is only Dumpstaphunk’s second album, it’s packed with soulful, rocking funk credited to the entire band, with the exception of  two covers that are transformed by the band’s loose instrumental expertise into music all their own. At times, the album takes on a go-go vibe, as in the sassy, back- talking “I Know You Know,” then switches into more standard grooves reminiscent of ‘70s era funk folded into New Orleans soul. A foray into rock goes all-out in “If I’m In Luck,” the Betty Davis cover that includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and shows off new band member Nikki Glaspie’s vocals to full effect. Though there are more than enough faster-paced songs on Dirty Word, some of the stronger tunes on the album are the ones that carry messages: the “look out for yourself ” of “They Don’t Care” and “Take Time” and the funk lamentation of “Reality Of The Situation” linger long after the updated takes on Sly and the Family Stone have come and gone. Seems everyone who passes through Neville’s presence in the quasi-revolving cast that is Dumpstaphunk gives their time and comes away richer for the experience– –and that includes listeners.  —Leigh Checkman



The Horse’s Ha began in 2002 as a Chicago-based collaboration between James Elkington and Janet Bean. Their second album, Waterdrawn, is a cheery but low-key set of songs that is equal parts jazz quintet and duet-style folk pop. The Bossa Nova beats and crystal clear guitar production on opener “Conjured Caravan” evoke the poppier moments of a Jim O’Rourke solo album, while the title track sounds like it could hold its own with a young Neko Case. That is not to say these songs don’t carry their own sound and weight. They are beautifully crafted, catchy and probably achieve maximum potency on a Sunday morning bike ride. The English folk revival influence, for which they have made themselves known, is most prominent on “Stick Figure Waltz” and “Bonesetter,” but there is something unsettling about them that makes me think of the 1973 soundtrack for The Wicker Man––eerily cheery, maybe? Overall, Waterdrawn is a pleasant listen but be warned, before the album sends you off to start your day, “Sea Shanty” might just have you digging up that old melodica or revisiting those ukulele lessons. —Kevin Comarda


saul-williams_Page_30_Image_0005HUNX AND  HIS PUNX

Hunx has got just one full-time punx these days: Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams, who splits singing and songwriting duties with Seth Bogart, AKA Hunx, gay prince of lo-fi. Whether from lack of personnel or sheer sexual excitement, the third album under the Punx name runs a grand total of not even 20 minutes. As long as it lasts, Street Punk features a newly roughed-up, noisy sound with hardly a trace of ’50s girl-group jangle. But Hunx never took bubblegum seriously—he played it because it’s feminist pop canon, and because it’s funny. Loud, fast, aggressively light- hearted and a little bit silly, Street Punk seems like a sensible next chapter. The title track is pure, unadulterated rebellion, opening with a siren-like riff and leading into a string of profanity that could make a juvenile delinquent blush. On “Born Blonde,” Hunx leads a sloppy power-pop anthem to slackerism and tacos as body shots. And at 25 seconds of rocking and screaming, “Don’t Call Me Fabulous” follows the example of an extra-extra- short riot grrrl single like Bikini Kill’s “In Accordance to Natural Law.” I only wish it weren’t over as soon as it begins. —Anna Gaca


saul-williams_Page_30_Image_0006JANET WEISS, MATT CAMERON,  ZACH HILL

The premise of Drumgasm is simple: get three of indie rock’s best drummers together in a room with three drum sets and record what happens. No preconceptions of what to do. No plans. According to Sleater-Kinney’s and Wild Flag’s Janet Weiss, there were many more takes of their “psychotic drum circle” that didn’t make it to release. What did make it is a 39-minute-long free-form bash flowing from chaotic drum rolls to barely controlled beat-keeping that has the air of one wild drummer with twelve limbs at work to create explosions of pure abandon, all of it sounding incredibly heavy most of the time. Since this is a vinyl release, the one break in all the drumming comes with the flip from side A to B. For those who need the break, having to flip Drumgasm will come as a relief, but for those into the groove of endurance that Weiss, Soundgarden’s Cameron and Death Grips’ Hill throw down, it will be an unwelcome interruption. Drum lovers will get continued rewards from repeat listens of the rough and tumble fun everyone was clearly having; don’t look for a particular song or theme in Drumgasm: revel in the jam. ––Leigh Checkman



II is the much-anticipated sophomore full-length from Moderat, the German- based electronic supergroup featuring members of Modeselector (Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert) and Apparat (Sascha Ring). Even though this project doesn’t quite sound like its component parts, fans of either will surely be pleased. “The Mark” is an airy intro to the album single, “Bad Kingdom”—a dance tune whose driving beats effortlessly rip through vocal hooks and synthy soundscapes. “Let in the Light” and “Damage Done” follow suit to reinforce the group’s strength in creating beat-heavy dance tracks whose choral refrains are as catchy as they are moody, while “Ilona” sounds like something you might hear Thom Yorke spinning at some hip New York nightclub. II has its share of “zone-out” moments, but tracks like “Milk” and “Versions” are massaged with enough warm production and clever texture to keep themselves from drowning in repetition. Even as this electro-trio is seemingly built for the studio, they are currently gearing up for an extensive world tour, so expect to hear a lot from them in the coming year. —Kevin Comarda


saul-williams_Page_31_Image_0002PONY  BWOY

In previous incarnations, Minneapolis’ Jeremy Nutzman was a member of experimental noise band Marijuana Deathsquads and a party rapper called Spyder Babybie Raw Dawg. Pony Bwoy, a new project with producer Hunter Morley, comes from another place. On their debut album, Nutzman and Morley blend an unnaturally smooth mix of alt-rap, R&B stylings and deep electronica. It’s significantly weirder than recent influences, like Shabazz Palaces and Frank Ocean, yet accomplished with far too much self-assurance to be accused of mere schtick. Nutzman’s verses can switch from carnal to creepy on a dime, but in reflective moments, Pony Bwoy recall the brooding existential angst of Majical Cloudz. Standout track “Ævum (Time Crawls)” builds from a hushed choral arrangement into a slow jam packed with disco loops. Three- quarters through, Nutzman breaks in with a question: “What am I, an echo already?” Even boasts come tinged with the psychologically profound: “I don’t sleep, I live my dreams,” he coos on “Fata Morgana.” Here and elsewhere, one hears how Pony Bwoy might appeal to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, co-curator of the newly relaunched Totally Gross National Product label. There’s ample fucking and pot smoking, too, but the real weight lies in the dark hours after the party. —Anna Gaca


saul-williams_Page_31_Image_0003THE STOVEBOLTS

To the Top is the debut album by Hattiesburg’s newest rock supergroup, The Stovebolts. The band features both a founding and a current member of hardcore scumpunk band Before I Hang and members of the Early Graves and Face on Mars. They put on a positively electric live show, and that sound and energy have translated well through the recording process. At times, the band grinds out gritty, bluesy Southern stoner rock, such as in “Comin to Jesus” and “Out of Town.” Both of these tracks conjure images of a hot, sleazy redneck stripper in an off-road biker bar. “Cocaine Lube” is straightforward rock‘n’roll. Some of the songs are anthemic, arena-style rock, and you will find yourself  singing along with frontman Jamie Vayda to the chorus. Other times, they bring personal favorites and inside jokes to the table. “Compadres” is an ode to a local Mexican waitress with a real ‘80s party rock vibe à la Poison (guitarist John Littlejohn surely channels C.C. DeVille during the solo). If you want to treat yourself to a fun album that rocks from the first note to the very last (hidden!) note, you can’t go wrong by picking up a copy of To the Top. ––Jenn Attaway



saul-williams_Page_31_Image_0004ROYAL TEETH

The sextet that makes up Royal Teeth has been working steadily towards Glow for quite some time now, honing their electric live performances and releasing the track “Wild” to whet their fans’ appetites. If any one song hinted at the heights this band could attain, “Wild” pointed to the stratosphere and beyond so well it was difficult to see how an entire album could measure up to the knowing innocence of its assertions, much less how studio recordings could replicate and emulate the band’s energy onstage. Glow manages to do it all and then some, serving up a pop confection of a debut that stirs in some soulful singing via the alchemical blend of Gary Larsen and Nora Patterson’s voices; layered, lush percussive work by nearly all the band members, and synthesizer sounds that bolster the atmosphere of soft longing running through the set. In the context of Glow, “Wild” becomes one of many anthems, among them “We Can Glow,” (featuring a rare solo Patterson vocal), the run and rush of “Vagabonds” and the “heh-eys” of “Mais La.” If the album has one shortcoming, it’s that it is anthem-heavy; the ballad “Waiting For You” appears close to Glow’s end, showcasing some near-acoustic chops for a brief moment that could’ve been explored a bit more. Despite that, Glow remains a joyous experience. —Leigh Checkman



saul-williams_Page_31_Image_0005TY SEGALL

Somehow, touring relentlessly and recording a full-length record for a new project has made 2013 slow for Ty Segall. After his blitz of thunderous record-after-record in 2012, we’ve had to wait ten months for Sleeper the, ahem, sleepy  younger brother to Twins’ space-glam freak out. Like a long- haired hippie, Segall thinks he can just strip away the feedback and play out his melodies on acoustic guitar and everything will be wonderful… which it is. Segall’s instantly recognizable blend of ‘60s pop riffs and stoned swagger melt into the sing-a-long of Sleeper effortlessly. With all the shouting toned down and the thick gobs of distortion scraped off, the songs are left to stand on their own: “6th Street” glides like blue honey on a puffy cloud of slide guitar and vocal harmony and the brief, silly “Crazy” milks a bit of gold each time the hook swings back around and Ty Segall hits that high note again. Even more than Goodbye Bread, Sleeper is reliant on the songwriting and once again Ty Segall has made a newer, better record. Get lost inside the beautiful black hole of “Queen Lullabye” as its lilting, strained vocals and lonely acoustic strum filter through miles of echo before they’re swallowed entirely by a swarm of sound. There’s always room for more records like Sleeper, beautiful, expansive and a bit bent. ––Mike Rodgers