January: In Review

Justin Spicer / January 30, 2012

Every month, the world is inundated with innumerable music choices across all genres and styles. SSG Music can’t begin to cover the disparate strands of noise that graces this vast planet, let alone our desks. “In Review” hopes to remedy this by showcasing a few gems and clunkers that we’ve missed as a given month has passed us by. Consider it our humble offering to you.

This month we catch up on new offerings from the Mike Watt/Richard Meltzer collaboration, Spielgusher, the reunited classic line-up of Guided By Voices, Jessie Baylin, Windy & Carl, and debuts from Keepaway and From the Mouth of the Sun.

Score: 8.8/10

The premise behind Spielgusher is both mindboggling and frothing. The promise of a Mike Watt/Richard Meltzer collab has been floating in the ether since Meltzer’s heyday as primo rock critic, poet, and sometime saxophonist—an admirer of the Minutemen and in turn, admired by D. Boon and Watt. Boon passed before the poetry-meets-precision punk combo could materialize but we stand amongst the idealism of Manifest Destiny: what should happen will happen.

It’s taken a few decades and the additional of Cornelius’ Yuko Araki and Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu to make it happen but we stand face to face with beat poetry for a lost generation; a generation who has little idea as to what poetry is, rendered moot by baseless lyrics about love and sex spewed by every two-bit performer tied up in major label obligation.

Spielgusher has no reason to be as infectious as it is. Meltzer’s genius is a little too skewed, too outrageous for modern thought but it’s the sort of non-traditional communication missing from modern storytelling. Propped up with the micro jams of Watt, Shimizu, and Araki, Meltzer’s lyrical pastiche is given gravitas. The beatnik vibe is quickly replaced by an undiscovered mutation, punk and funk mingling with outrageous thought bombs and quirky observations into a cauldron of delicious poison. Spielgusher is mind-altering, over-the-top trans-generational jive that music critics should never emulate…unless you’re Richard Meltzer.

In the end, I’m a whore just like Meltzer; a fan just like D. Boon and Watt. But Spielgusher devour fandom and spit out memorable bytes. Whatever tongue-twisting tag is placed upon Spielgusher, it will do it little justice. Sixty-Three sheets of digestible introspection for the wounded, post-Douglas Copeland soul.

Let’s Go Eat the Factory
Score: 6.9/10
GBV Inc.
Guided By Voices

The ‘classic’ lineup of Guided By Voices returns and as one would expect, it’s a bumpy reunion. Complete with the highest highs and the lowest lows, Let’s Go Eat the Factory is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the fuel injected kick-to-the-ass needed to begin 2012 on the right, if belligerent, footing.

Most of the English teacher poetry spewed by Bob Pollard is best imagined as the ramblings of a drunken Midwestern bard, but even Bob has his sharp moments—most of which dot the first half of Let’s Go Eat the Factory along with some of the best Tobin Sprout GBV offerings to date. It’s not as if Bob needed competition from Sprout (his 2011 solo LP, Space City Kicks, one of Bob’s best in the years since the last GBV incarnation folded) but Let’s Go Eat the Factory sounds like beginning of a marathon (at least fans hope this is not a quick sprint to a petty cash out).

Let’s Go Eat the Factory is not without its faults. “Doughnut for a Snowman” is a little clumsy in its delivery, mimicking the uneasy stagger of an aging Pollard waltzing around a teeny club stage. “The Big Hat and Toy Show” shoehorns the band’s best 70s psychedelic garage ramblings into a collection of songs in which it doesn’t belong.

Ignoring the lows, however, is commonplace for any devout GBV fan and the classic lineup does its best to hide those moments with atmospheric highs. “How I Met My Mother” is the quick tongue-in-cheek punch to the groin Pollard does oh-so-well when any album needs a pick-me-up; “Imperial Racehorsing” is a staple in the making, scaling back the bright lights and scissor kicks for primal rock song with all the kitschy GBV trimmings. In the end, Let’s Go to the Factory achieves what it needed to most: letting us remember the best of GBV and allowing us to dream of more from the sharpest GBV grouping in hopes of something even better lurking around the bend.

Black Flute
Score: 7.3/10
Keepaway (MySpace)

Black Flute is a strange beast, created by the equally strange Keepaway. The trio, a part of Das Racist’s new Greehead label, tangles their infatuation with pop with surrealism. Much like pop music these days, Black Flute is lyrically hollow; a bunch of random words spliced together to create a meaningless yet catchy mélange. It’s unlikely that anything beyond the repetitive chants that snake through the choruses of much of the album, particularly the memorable “Stunner” and “Hologram.”

But this is why Black Flute shines. Buried within the cycle is catchiness inherent to pop lyricism. It doesn’t hurt Mike Burakoff, Frank Lyon, and Nick Nauman grasp the intricacies of pop through its many transformations in the past 30 years. “Faces Now” is a feverish Duran Duran dream, blending Simon LeBon cool with a slowed sound system chill akin to Soul II Soul. “Bomb Track” is out of the Panda Bear playbook, eschewing the endless summer for music with a solid expiration date.

Which brings us to the real negative of Black Flute: its shelf life is limited. This is music, as entrenched in the history of modern pop as it may be, that is going to age quickly. However, in this moment, the melding of shoegaze, chillwave, British soul and new wave, and hip-hop achieved with Black Flute is going to hit the sweet spot until it begins to sour. Gulp it up while you can.

We Will Always Be
Score: 8/10
Windy & Carl (MySpace)

There is no doubt that Kranky had a massive 2011. So leave it label mainstay Windy & Carl is pick up the torch in 2012.

Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren have been fixtures of Kranky since 1997, with We Will Always Be proving another touchstone in the band’s canon. If not for opener “For Rosa,” We Will Always Be would be untouchable. The level of organic resonance Windy and Carl coax from keys and strings is unparalleled, showcased like the grand prize of The Golden Road.

Though split into eight tracks, much of We Will Always Be functions as one continuous creation, Windy and Carl blending ideas without regard to real separation. Songs seamlessly connect, clasping hands with the ease of two elderly lovers walking to the bright light. We Will Always Be escapes conditional words of wisdom, it just is. In fact, the score is equally arbitrary. If you want to zone out but be engaged, here’s your album. It’s really that simple, but then again music is usually that simple—it’s just that Windy and Carl add elegance and class.

Little Spark
Score: 7.9/10
Thirty Tigers
Jessie Baylin

Here we stand, face to face with what is likely to be another woman who, by definition, is going to be strongly judged on appearances and beauty and only slightly on the music she makes. There’s no denying the girl-next-door appeal of Jessie Baylin when eyes first meet her visage but there’s much more beneath the charming crust.

Little Spark is the product of Baylin’s hard fought release from Verve, wearing the signs of a songwriter in equal infatuation with the legacy of her old label and the sounds of her youth. Required in such a nostalgia grab is Richard Swift, who was brought on to help Baylin arrange many of the songs of Little Spark and the results as a saccharine thick as those on Swift’s own throwbacks—again without the sticky residue of falling into the syrupy puddles of bygone eras.

Baylin’s voice is the true champion of her third album, buoyed by the tight A.M. gold conjured by Swift and the group of Nashville session veterans that call up the ghosts of Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building. The only downside of Little Spark is how dated the album quickly becomes, bar a few standouts (“The Greatest Thing That Never Happened,” “I Feel That Too,” and “Yuma“). The charge to capture Baylin’s older influences has caught her and Swift in a musical bind, and Baylin’s AOR-ready image places invisible barriers on her music keeping more in tune with the moods of Verve rather than the more expansive contemporaries (Stereolab, for example) she namedrops as inspiration.

It’s a petty argument considering the gentle melodies and catchy lyricism at display throughout Little Spark. It is indeed a little spark and hopefully Baylin is able to grow it into a raging fire as she continues to explore the depths of music in her young career.

Woven Tide
Score: 8.2/10
From the Mouth of the Sun

The newly minted combination of the man behind Jasper TX, Dag Rosenqvist, and composer Aaron Martin makes up From the Mouth of the Sun–and as any fan of either’s work can tell you, Woven Tide is going to be a stoic, somber ride through musicality.

Woven Tide is a calculating album, only showing itself in listless flashes better suited for headphones than an overpowering stereo system. Subtly is brilliance as it pertains to Rosenqvist and Martin’s own work, and as a duo the formula doesn’t change. The inherent crackle and antebellum appeal of Rosenqvist is gingerly melded by Martin into his fuller, yet reigned compositions. When the pair ratchets up the intensity (the album’s final ‘suite’ of “Like Shadows in an Empty Cathedral” and “A Season in Waters”), the payoff is well worth the patience.

Rosenqvist and Martin seem suited toward each other’s strengths, leaving us to hope more is produced from the formidable duo. Comparisons will be made to A Winged Victory for the Sullen and in some regard; the point won’t be far off. The larger issue is how wonderful it is that contemporary composition is returning to music—not as polish on a trumped up presence on a pop song—but as mood, melody, and substance that coexists with modern temperance.

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