Lust in Space
Recently while watching the captivating Youtube infomercial for "The Tenth Annual Gathering of The Juggalos" (look it up you will not be disappointed!) I came across the shocking news that GWAR Still Exist! The last time I had listened to or thought about Gwar was 1997 when at a house party my friend Trevor borrowed my "Scumdogs of The Universe" cassette tape and never gave it back. Somewhere in my subconsciousness my mind erased all mention of Gwar from of this traumatic experience. But Gwar never ever stopped and with the newly released "Lust in Space" marks their 15Th official album. So has anything changed about Gwar in the near twenty years since 1990's hit album Scumdogs? Hell no.. The prosthetic and polystyrene covered masters of party thrash metal and juvenile gross out humor still pound out the power violence and scatology and dick joke obsessed lyrics with much more ferocity and freshness then I ever remembered them having. So can one go back in time this many years later to when one wanted nothing more then to be sprayed with fake blood and pummeled with foam hammers? No not really. But 14 year old boys will always exist and so will Gwar. Amen.
On her much anticipated new album "Hunter, Hunter" Amelia Curran delivers the goods with her trademark rich sonorous voice and it's cool detached restraint. Restraint is the key word with this album, the arrangements are pulled back to tasteful swells of gently plucked banjos, slow muted trombones, accordions (etc) all making sure to never get in the way Amelia's voice and guitar. Even on the liveliest songs like the Tom Waits inspired jazzy romp "The Dozens" Amelia reigns it in with a smooth composure. While the album is designed for mellow evenings and I enjoy the laid back atmosphere; I feel it needs more of a kick in the pants here and there and seems to drag out a lot in the first half, but the album's standout tracks like "Mad World, Outlive me" and "Loves Last regard" are truly lovely and are the best examples of Amelia's craft. Amelia's tales of bad or doomed relationships wear a strong Leonard Cohen influence placing an emphasis more with metaphor and esoteric imagery rather then spelling out a narrative directly and as a result the album is a bit hard to absorb on the first listen and best rewards those who are willing to give it some repeated turns and it is an album that well deserves it.
Kim Barlow and Mathias Kom are Spring Breakup, a songwriting duo created during a Yukon winter devoted entirely to songs about the endings of relationships. The songs run the emotional gamut of true sorrow and despair, detached indifference, to almost happy and upbeat. The pair of them make ideal collaborators. Both share a sharp sardonic wit, a gift for intricate wordplay and simple but engaging melodies. The album is a bare-boned affair stripped down to just their Ukulele and Banjo and two voices, Mathias' deep baritone well complimenting Kim's rustic croon. The duo keep the strumming light and slow with just the minimum amount of bounce needed to keep the songs from devolving into depressing dirges when the duo croon sentiments like "you said we were Ginger and Fred, we were Sonny and Cher, but it was more like Tina and Ike then Rogers and Astaire". But while the sentiment may be dour at times the album is breezy and entertaining with a palpable charm. Their genuine chemistry when the two of them trade lines like "you're so beautiful I could stareat you all day/ you look strangely like me/ and it turns me on" make The Spring Breakup ultimately much more of a beautiful marriage then an ugly pro-longed divorce.
Wind's Poem first four minutes twelve seconds opens it's gates to the listener with a punishing rising tsunami wall of impenetrable guitar squall and blast beats coated in a thick lo-fi crust that Phil Elverum's fragile mumbling voice floats over, just barely audible against the violent feedback. On his latest album the prolific songwriter Phil Elverum has finally shed the a lot of the gentle and overly precious balladeering that had gotten a bit ubiquitous and stale for the last few years. "Wind's Poem" has Elverum finding that captivating balance between raw experimental ambition and listening accessibility giving Mt Eerie their strongest album in many years. The pace throughout is glacially slow with styles varying from dark minimal, ambient meditations to several brutally grinding tracks like "The Hidden Stone" and "The Mouth of the Sky" that straddle the line halfway between underground Black Metal and Kevin Sheilds style shoegaze. As always Phil's ear for arrangements is utterly exquisite as his lyrics mine complex narratives on the darkness of nature. Wind's Poem is a rich and uncompromising album that is not intended for casual unadventurous listeners.
Our Lady Peace
It seems in recent years Raine Maida; leader singer of Canrock staples Our Lady Peace has been taking vocal coaching to tame the adnoidal fury of his yelping weasel voice into a more mid-range modern-rock radio friendly croon. This is unfortunate. While in the early days listening to him sing was akin to piercing your septum with a burning drill bit, at least it made the band a bit distinctive. When their old songs would come on the radio you would say "Oh! it's that heinous singer from Our Lady Peace" nowadays he's been watered down to almost sub-Chris Martin boring, you don't know if you're listening to Our Lady Peace or some new Rob Thomas track. The songs on "Burn Burn" are so middle of the road, so painfully uninspired that desite all the uplifting lyrics about how "the sky is blue" and how "we all have wings" you'd just wish someone would shove him down a flight of stairs just to get some kind of interesting response from him (just for the record I'm not advocating anybody doing that).
Yo La Tengo
For the last few years New Jersey critic darlings Yo La Tengo have crossed the line from "introspective and hypnotic" to plain boring. The first half of their new album "Popular Songs" doesn't help much to rectify this. Apart from a few inspired moments like the upbeat rocker "Nothing to Hide" and the stately ballad "I'm on my way" (which is as beautiful as anything they've ever made) the trademark drowsy vocals of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley seem to be struggling to keep awake more then usual. While nothing on the first half is particularly offensive you could call all of it album filler to lead up to the last three songs which make a 35 minute suite of everything Yo La Tengo have ever been good at. The last three songs move from 9 minutes of pure trance inducing fuzzed out grooving to 11 minutes of delicious ambient rumination to 15 minutes of feedback soaked free form guitar histrionics. You could call it a great mini-album within a bloated major release.
In a world so filled to the brim, over-saturated and sick to death with acoustic guitar playing singer/songwriter dudes, it's hard to find a character as original as Hamilton Ontario's Wax Mannequin. The gruff voiced, rose covered balladeer's new album "Saxon" isn't much of a departure from his previous albums, maybe slightly sparser and more restrained then usual but it is an further refinement of his Tom Waits psychedelic folk by way of Foreigner sound. Every song bounces to a strange jaunty beat as he skillfully crafts very melodramatic verses around greedy volcano gods, oil barons and an apparent obsession for drowning. The album suffers a bit from a draggy middle section despite the hidden Cyndi Lauper quotes. The song "Treading Water" is a little too aptly titled maybe. But in the final third Wax Mannequin really shines in a strong one-two punch of fist-shakin'-boot-stompers that run his already coarse voice ragged in gleeful abandon. It's a stirring entry in the canon of a truly unique Canadian character.
The Hidden Cameras
One could be forgiven for shoving indie pop sensations The Hidden Cameras into that league of performers like T.Rex or Bon Jovi or Bob Dylan who basically spent their whole careers writing the same song over and over and over again. Previously one could only notice that the CD track changed when the chorus would switch from Ah-wooo-ah's to doo-doo-doo's. But you had to admit it was pretty damn catchy song. On their latest album The Hidden Cameras actually summon the bravery to change it up a bit. The arrangements get much more variety with keyboards and orchestras featured prominently, the tempos shift and slow down occasionally and many more genres and styles are explored. But while it's admirable and totally necessary that they moved out of the signature sound they've been pedaling for 8 years now there is nothing on this album near as catchy and enjoyable as their best earlier material. It's an unfortunate catch 22 where you either tread the same water you always have or move on to different areas you aren't as well adapted to. But it's a step in the right direction at least.
A solo offering of Tyler Lovell (bass player of local prog weirdos the AE Bridger band) YAIC is a brief but very potent Ep of intense and abrasive experimental rock music. The EP runs heavily on hypnotic rhythms and angular, menacing, repetitive lines which function as a trance inducer while more and more disconcerting and discordant ingredients are poured on top and shift in and out of the mix. The sounds are all heavily manipulated and and very densely layered in a way that recalls old school krautrock pioneers "Can" at their most aggressive or early "This Heat" with sharp piercing guitar lines like rain of needles skirting the edge of the periphery. There's a cinematic quality to the music but it wouldn't be a movie you'd bring grandma to This is not music for everyone, or even most people, but if you are someone who has a need for challenging but rewarding (also violent) music that is not afraid to throw some ugliness into the mix, you should seek this out.