Primus : The Desaturating Seven

When Primus put out their musical tribute to the Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the aptly-titled Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Orchestra back in 2014, everything about the Bay area prog/funk/freak trio seemed to make perfect sense. Les Claypool, the elastic bass genius and singer for the band has secretly wanted to be Willy Wonka all these years. Even from the beginning Claypool has given off a vibe of playfulness mixed with something slightly sinister. It came out in the narratives of his songs, most of which were told in the voice of some bizarro character while the band made music that was part Parliament, part King Crimson, and part Looney Toons. You couldn’t help but be in awe while hearing songs like “John The Fisherman”, “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers”, “Tommy The Cat”, “My Name Is Mud”, “Mr. Krinkle”, and “Shake Hands With Beef”, while at the same time have a queasiness come over you thinking about how unsettling these people were in Claypool’s world.

But man, they could play(and no, they really didn’t suck.)

As Claypool has gotten older he’s become more comfortable as a storyteller. With Larry LaLonde, Claypool has created a library of musical oddities spanning over 30 years now. Pulling inspiration from his childhood was something of a eureka moment for Primus, so much so that they’ve based their newest record on a children’s book that Claypool himself read to his own kids. The Desaturating Seven is a concept record based on the Italian children’s book The Rainbow Goblins by Ul de Rico. This album continues the grand return of one of the most unique and uniquely strange American bands in the last 3 decades.

Like Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Orchestra, The Desaturating Seven is the primo-era Primus, with Les, Ler, and Tim “Herb” Alexander(along with Justin Chancellor as the Goblin Master.) There’s just something magical about these three when they’re together(nothing against Jay Lane or Bryan “Brain” Mantia.) The ideas of the book and the colorful artwork seem to flow thru beautifully on this record. There’s something heavier and darker here as well. “The Seven” is probably the most Crimson-sounding track Primus have ever committed to an album. Like 80s King Crimson. Those interlocking bass and guitar parts are magnificent, and Alexander has a young man’s power behind those beats. “The Trek” has the jauntiness we’ve come to love about Primus. Claypool delivers the story meticulously as the band kick into old school mode with LaLonde’s quirky guitar lines and Alexander’s tom abuse. “The Scheme” sports a drum and bass part that is both acrobatic and animated like some late night Bakshi find.

As a fan for the last 30 years my biggest issue with Primus was that there never seemed to be enough low end. The songs and musicianship were always there, but on album the songs almost seemed transparent they were so thin. Claypool has become a rather deft engineer in the studio sitting behind the board. He’s given their songs the meat and potatoes they’ve always deserved. When the stereo is cranked there is proper wall shaking going on.

Both “The Dream” and “The Storm” are a mix of art rock grandiosity and pure prog heaven with nods to Genesis, Rush, and even more Crimson make their presence known. It’s a fine way to end the journey.

The Desaturating Seven is a psychedelic musical trip that is heavy at times, funky most of the time, and shows Primus in top form. The Bay area trio have never followed trends or attempted to mollycoddle their fans. They make music that they’re inspired to create. That’s the best kind of art there is. The Desaturating Seven is inspired weirdness of the highest order.

7.9 out of 10

Godspeed You! Black Emperor : Luciferian Towers

It’s always been difficult for me to describe the listening experience involved with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Talking about their records as merely collections of songs doesn’t work. Each album is more like a visceral experience. A complex stream of emotions and feelings that come over you. Joy, menace, confusion, resilience, contentment, and chaos are just a few of the words that come to mind when I drop the needle on a GY!BE record. There’s a mysterious quality to the band as well. They’ve never seemed like a band, more than a community of musical nomads that come together to create chaotic beauty every couple of years. I know that the band is very much a collection of normal guys and gals with family, kids, homes, cars, and bills to pay, just like you and me. But in the musical bubble known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor they seem like one collective beast making noise which emanates from some earthy, existential place of knowledge and truth. I could be reading too much into a rock and roll band, but that’s what I do.

20 years ago GY! BE released their first album, F♯ A♯ ∞, and now we have their sixth LP titled Luciferian Towers. As far as Godspeed you albums go, this one feels about as upbeat as they get. There’s still the chaos and fury that comes with the territory, but there’s a decidedly upward swing here.

Like I said, I’m not much for digging into individual tracks on a Godspeed album. I like talking more about the visceral experience involved in their albums. Where they put me, the journey, what comes up in my head as I hear the album roll along. I think that’s where the real experience lies in a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record. I will mention a couple songs, though. Why? Because it feels right.

“Undoing A Luciferian Tower”, the opening track, is a swirl of musical chaos and folk-infused doom. This is the kind of piece the band has made a name on for over 20 years. How they meld these noises into something uplifting and prolific is a wonderful thing to behold. The 3-part “Bosses Hang” is more of that noisy and chaotic uplift. It feels like a storm of strings, feedback, hurdy gurdies, and exploding toms. Even the exquisite “Fam/Famine”, under the droning feedback and tribal build up has this air of triumphant starry-eyedness. Like we’ve hit the apocalypse and everything is smoldering rubble, but dammit we’re gonna be okay. We’ve got each other. “Anthem For No State” is also broken up into 3-parts. It’s an epic musical journy, filled with all the beauty, bombast, and sonic explosions that GY! BE have perfected. There’s almost a spaghetti western vibe when “Pt. III” hits.

Since their return in 2012 from a 10 year musical hiatus Godspeed You! Black Emperor have put me in mind of a commune-sized Neutral Milk Hotel. There’s this spirit of earthy, folk-sy abandon mixed with hardcore and punk tendencies. There’s also a dystopian, post-apocalyptic feel in these masterful pieces of music that comes thru. It’s like if the Weather Underground had been a radical music collective, I imagine they’d sound like Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Luciferian Towers would be their mission statement.

7.9 out of 10

 

Slow Dakota : Rumspringa

Last year PJ Sauerteig, under his musical moniker Slow Dakota, released the elegant and elegiac The Ascension Of Slow Dakota. That album was an aged musical narrative about people and the things that people do. It was part prolific chamber pop and part poetry in motion courtesy of spoken word segments strewn throughout. It was a magnificent musical statement that begged you to pay attention and fill your brain with what that album had to offer.

Slow Dakota has returned with the EP Rumspringa. Rumspringa takes that urgency of Ascension and has turned it into a bit of a dance floor jam. Chamber pop has been replaced with seductive beats and early New Order and Depeche Mode vibes. Each track is a tale about different odd characters that may be living among us in the Midwest. Or, they may have sprouted from Sauerteig’s imagination. Either way, it’s a fascinating character study with a hell of a beat.

“Abram, Indiana” announces itself as something separate from what came before in the Slow Dakota canon. Its groove and airy demeanor feels like glorious dance floor freedom. Subtle piano and synth touches bring elegance to the proceedings, while the drums make you want to get up and move. Lyrically it brings visions of open fields and toiling away the day in small towns, wondering what’s beyond the property line. “Elijah Yoder” has our subject leaving the small town life for the big city lights and reminiscing about those simple days, all the while a heavy electro beat and New Order feels carry the song along. More subtle regret permeates the world of “Cherry Mary Michigan” as she laments “Helicopters watch me through my window/Helicopters watch me close the blinds”, ending that thought with “I don’t know any of my neighbors’ names”. “Jebediah Iowa” talks of a young man telling his father he sees his future in the kitchen and not the courtroom, to which is father replies “Look into the future, then,” He told me hard and slow,/”And tell me if you’re happy there”/”Paid in pastry dough.”

Sauerteig recorded and wrote Rumspringa over his first year of law school. The EP was produced by Sahil Ansari, and mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi. The EP as a whole has a vibrancy of movement, which fits perfectly with the stories here. Stories of finding new soil to root in, but looking back and wondering if you made the right choice or not. The decision to go with a more electronic feel this time around works well to tell the tales of these characters. It shows new layers of sonic depth for Slow Dakota.

There seems to be a back and forth on this EP that Sauerteig seems to be fighting with, which is in order to follow your dreams you must leave behind what made you you. Trading the comfort of home for the unknown of finding who we can and will be can be exciting, but lonely. When miles are put between us and our past there’s a melancholy perspective that comes over us. In art we can look back and find a humanity and empathy towards characters we grew up with that couldn’t be found if we just “stuck around”. Sauerteig has done that here on Rumspringa and it’s a fascinating listen.

Grab a copy of Rumspringa or The Ascension of Slow Dakota over at https://slowdakota.bandcamp.com/

 

Protomartyr : Relatives In Descent

The Motor City’s Protomartyr sound like modern harbingers of doom. Singer Joe Casey takes the podium front and center like a prophet telling us the secrets of our demise as a society in riddles, suggestions, and proclamations. Guitarist Greg Ahee blends melodic moments with outright blasts of contempt, while bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard lay the foundation to which Casey and Ahee can blast us with poetic chaos. They’ve been building their post-punk brand for nearly 10 years now and with each record they’ve honed their desolation music with precision, coming to near perfection with 2015s The Agent Intellect.

Protomartyr are back and have jumped from Hardly Art to Domino Records. Their debut with Domino is the poignantly titled Relatives In Descent, a post-punk/noise rock art piece that seems to reflect the current state of disarray our country is currently in. This record cuts delicately, but it still cuts deep.

One constant in the music of Protomartyr is the sense of urgency that pumps through each track. And yet you feel you must push forward there’s still an elegance in the poetry of Joe Casey and the music the band backs his words with. “A Private Understanding” opens with tension. A feeling that something important needs to happen. It opens with busy drums and the guitars trying to find resolve. There is a resolve in the chorus as Casey keeps repeating “She’s just trying to reach you”. “Here Is The Thing” sounds like Pere Ubu on a Gang of Four jag. Casey does his best street-level preacher; a dystopian philosopher preaching his sermon on the mound. “Windsor Hum” wonders if things might be better across the river, while “Night-Blooming Cereus” is much more of a contemplative track. This is the most Protomartyr have ever sounded like Wire. On the other side of that coin, “Up The Tower” explodes into musical shards and shrapnel with hardcore vigor. Mark E. Smith is somewhere in this track, rearing his angst-y, curmudgeonly head. “Corpses In Regalia” has an angular feel with the airtight rhythm section while Ahee lays down some almost Andy Sommers guitar vibe. “Half Sister” sounds like doom and gloom for the coffeehouse crowd.

I think where Protomartyr succeed most is when they disengage the fuzz and noise and go for more of a fierce Smiths sound. Jangly guitars, tight rhythm section, and plenty of room for Joe Casey to spit his vitriol all over the place. When things get too noisy Casey gets lost in the mix and that’s a shame as he’s got plenty to say.

Relatives In Descent is a continued steady march towards something greater. There are moments that feel they need a little tweaking, but those are few and far between. These Motor City prophets are still as urgent as ever. We just need to open our ears and take it all in.

7.6 out of 10

The Clientele : Music for the Age of Miracles

Before listening to the new Clientele album titled Music for the Age of Miracles I wasn’t all that familiar with the London band. I imagined some dark, brooding group with pale skin and weathered suits playing music that was somewhere between Bauhaus and This Mortal Coil. Maybe there were goblets of blood and incantations involved, too. Turns out I was so off the mark it’s not even funny(well maybe a little.) The Clientele, at least in their current form, are regal-sounding. Pastoral pop with hints of 1970s breezy cats like Al Stewart, latter-era John Lennon, and even a hint of Gilbert O’ Sullivan in singer/guitarist Alasdair MacLean’s well contoured vocals. The band, which consists of MacLean, James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums, piano, percussion), and old MacLean friend Anthony Harmer, have churned out a beautiful collection of 12 tracks that display a concise and lush spirit. And from my point of view, no previous experience with the band is required.

One of the big changes on this record is Anthony Harmer’s use of string arrangements, percussion, and the use of the Santoor, an Iranian instrument that resembles a dulcimer. It’s use is peppered throughout the record. “Falling Asleep” benefits greatly from this instrument. The track builds with the santoor, guitar, and a loping drum. There’s an Echo and the Bunnymen vibe here too that gives the song a kind of classicist vibe. “Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself” has a breezy, melancholy feel to it. The music, while low key and pleasant, possesses a certain darkness that doesn’t make itself apparent on first listen.

Elsewhere, album opener “The Neighbor” sounds like a less pensive The National while “Lyra In April” has an almost chamber pop feel. If the storied walls of a century-old library could bleed music it might sound like this track. “Constellations Echo Lanes” sounds like a thousand lonely nights thinking of someone you want but can never have. Simply gorgeous and heartbreaking. Album closer “The Age Of Miracles” brings back a little of that National sound, but sparser and quieter like echoes of “Anybody here?” in a once warm home, now an abandoned house.

Music for the Age of Miracles is the first Clientele album in 7 years. It seems a chance encounter with an old friend gave new life to Alasdair MacLean’s musical outlet for the last 20 years. Good thing, as it’s an absolutely gorgeous return.

7.5 out of 10

Wand : Plum

Going into Wand’s Plum I was expecting a bit of the usual Ty Segall-inspired garage noise, much like what was on the three previous records(Ganglion Reef, Golem, 1000 Days.) Playing with both Segall and Mikal Cronin, Hanson does have a little of both hard-wired into his musical DNA. While there are moments where the weirdness of Emotional Mugger and harsh feedback of Twins rears its noisy head, Plum sees Corey Hanson and company attempting to make a sound all their own. Mixing 60s garage with a more pop flexibility this is a record that stands as its own beast altogether.

After a little noise, “Plum” opens the record with a jaunty piano and Hanson sounding like Thom Yorke doing his best Ty Segall while letting his pop side show. It’s a catchy track that seems to let some quirky tendencies show mid way thru with some grating feedback. The background vocals come in and I’m reminded of the great pop band The Owls from Minneapolis. Next up is the guitar-heavy “Bee Karma”. The guitar riff almost brings to mind 90s alternative figureheads Stone Temple Pilots and elements of Radiohead when they used to write catchy guitar stuff. “White Cat” is all post-punk menace as the guitars stutter in staccato shots as synths give it a new wave vibe. The drums are swift and the track has an almost progressive vibe to it. “The Trap” is the track where the dust settles and things become a little more tranquil. It sounds like something Hanson’s buddy Mikal Cronin might’ve written. It’s a pretty song, truly. “Ginger” is a quiet little guitar instrumental track with appropriate noodling and ambiance that gives the impression it was a moment caught in-between takes.

The last two tracks are the longest. “Blue Cloud” runs close to 8 minutes and comes together with guitar, piano, drums and bass. It sounds like Friend Opportunity-era Deerhoof with a jaunty togetherness. There’s elements of Allman Bros, Wilco, and even early Neil Young. It’s a great track that leads into melancholy and soul-driven “Driving”. Here’s where Wand distinguishes themselves from the cult of Ty Segall. They don’t sound like an arm of the Segall garage rock consortium more than a band putting their own stamp on the tried and true tradition of that thing we call rock and roll.

Plum shows Cory Hanson, Lee Landey, Evan Burrows, Robbie Cody, and Sofia Arreguin writing a new story for Wand. It’s a varied story where the world is at their disposal, and where they’re limited only by their own musical expectations.

7. 8 out of 10

Ty Segall Drops “Alta” And The World Thanks Him

Photo by Kyle Thomas

Okay, so maybe the whole world didn’t come together and thank the resident garage rock God for dropping a new tune. In fact, I think it was an equal split between guffaws with jaws dropping and “Who?” with a side of “Meh.” For those not in the latter camp, this is indeed good news.

“Alta” is a track Segall and his Freedom Band, which includes Emmett Kelly (guitar, vocals), Mikal Cronin (bass, vocals), Charles Moothart (drums) and Ben Boye (keyboards), have been playing live over the last year of shows and finally committed to tape back in the spring with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. According to Drag City, here’s what the track is about:

 It’s a nature jam as well – basically a “fuck-the-last-500-years” jam, which shows just how far back Ty‘s willing to go to get really back to nature. It’s a love song to the natural state of hometown grounds – and to convey the feelings, a wistful electric piano lick is ridden out on some crazy guitar horses and Ty’s heartstruck vocal.

The electric piano does add a bit of whimsy to the usual Segall crunch, and this song does indeed crunch. After that initial intro the band kicks in like a caffeine drip mainlined into a vein and they swing and sway like Crazy Horse in their prime. If you’re familiar with the Ty Segall formula, this song will feel like putting on that old, scruffy sweater you love so much on the first chilly fall day. Warm and fuzzies.

I’m slowly coming around to Segall. I never thought much of the lad in the early days, but in 2014 after hearing an interview he did with Marc Maron I had a change of heart. I bought Manipulator and things changed from there. Twins was next and that blew my mind. I may not fall for everything, but I’m definitely in the Segall camp now. “Alta” is a reminder why that is.