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Tag: janglerock

Lush, Majestically Jangly Art-Rock and Spacerock From Guitar Icon Marty Willson-Piper’s Space Summit

Space Summit picked a good bandname: they’re a trans-global collective of spacerock and art-rock luminaries. Marty Willson-Piper, this era’s foremost twelve-string guitarist, pulled the project together. He’s the architect of the many, luscious layers of guitar and bass on their new album Life This Way, streaming at Spotify. The obvious comparison is Willson-Piper’s old band, Australian legends the Church in their energetic early years. If melodic, impeccably crafted guitar sounds are your thing, this is your holy grail.

Interestingly, the opening track, I’m Electric comes across as a more direct, snarling take on the kind of drifting midtempo spacerock the Church played throughout the 90s. Willson-Piper brings the roar down on the choruses, where Dare Mason’s keys, Olivia Willson-Piper’s strings and Nicklas Barker’s mellotron float in.

Harmony singer Phoebe Tsen shadows frontman Jed Bonniwell on the album’s title track, Willson-Piper’s quasar guitars and the mellotron providing a lushly textured backdrop. Ancient Towers has an aptly majestic minor-key jangle and clang, austere violin blending into the mix, drummer Eddie John adding the occasional tumbling flourish.

Queen Elizabeth’s Keys is a coyly strolling, chiming look back at 60s British psychedelic pop with a current-day digital sheen. Uneasily close-harmonied vocals float over the increasingly bristling guitar intertwine and insistent beat of Deep Paisley Underground. Then the group shift gears with Fold With the Light, its more broodingly anthemic acoustic-electric layers giving way to more of a sunshine pop feel.

They mix up the riffs, from lingering steel guitar to gentle chime and drifting atmosphere in Marlowe, one of the album’s more intriguing narratives. The Four Horses of Venice has more of an orchestral folk lushness, Willson-Piper finally firing off a tantalizingly brief, savage solo.

The dreamiest track here is Dome of Light, Willson-Piper’s sinuous leads piercing the veil. The band bring the album full circle, more or less, with the allusively ominous If You Believe. Now for the surprise: all this was recorded in diverse sonic environments all over the world. Credit Mason for pulling this together into such a lavish, contiguous mix.

Brilliantly Catchy Rock Tunesmithing on Noga’s Debut Album

The way songwriter Noga’s bassline winds and leaps around the catchy chords of the title track to her new album The Alchemist is absolutely sublime. She also plays acoustic guitar on it, parsing the loaded nature imagery of the lyrics in a gentle, uncluttered delivery. The main theme here is finding inner calm and holding on to it. Stay centered, we’re going to win this, Noga seems to be telling us: words of wisdom for 2021, for sure.

The rest of the album – streaming at Bandcamp – is just as catchy. The second track, Any Kind of Dream has subtle layers of keys from Frank LoCrasto, steady bass from Scott Collberg and lithe syncopation from drummer Jason Nazary behind a tune that reminds of the Cure at their mid-80s poppy peak without being a total ripoff.

LoCrasto’s swirly organ and twinkly glockenspiel patch blend together in the tenderly expectant Special Friend. The last song is Tides, Nazary’s subtle, anthemically rising riffs fueling a long. increasingly intense upward drive with Noga’s layers of Velvets-style guitars. Her tunesmithing is uncommonly smart, she doesn’t waste notes and she could write a catchy hook in her sleep. Let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

A Richly Lyrical, Understatedly Haunting New Album From the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris

With his usual modesty, Gary Louris would probably call himself the co-leader of the Jayhawks. But the reality is that they didn’t become one of the best bands in the world until he took over as their main songwriter. And that’s not meant as disrespect to Karen Grotberg, Marc Perlman and Tim O’Reagan, whose harmonies became so crucial to Louris’ eclectic lyrical brilliance, which blends influences from Big Star, to Bowie, to all sorts of Americana and psychedelia.

Beyond the Jayhawks, Louris has released plenty of material, notably with Golden Smog. His latest solo record, Jump for Joy is streaming at Spotify. The title could be taken at face value, or as total sarcasm. It’s definitely an album for our time: the spectre of death and impending doom hangs over many of the songs here, although there’s some upbeat material as well.

He opens with Almost Home, a cheerfully shuffling, Tex-Mex flavored, band-on-the-road saga livened by his usual colorful narrative detail. Living in Between could be the Jayhawks: gorgeously Beatlesque vocal harmonies, bittersweet changes, some George Harrison-ish slide guitar and an allusively troubled look at the bewildering state of the world. “All the books that I have read didn’t get me through,” Louris concedes. Ain’t that the truth.

Set to a hypnotic web of open-tuned acoustic guitars, White Squirrel is another typically imagistic number, a hopeful anthem for anyone who feels alienated and atomized by encroaching New Abnormal fascism. It’s Louris’ Rock N Roll Suicide.

Driven by a sunshiney keyboard riff that wouldn’t be out of place on the Jayhawks’ Smile album, the fourth track is titled New Normal. It’s surreal to the extreme, although Louris finally drops the facade as his guitar solo goes sputtering over the edge, the world outside “gathering like slow death, nipping at your heels.”

He salutes John Updike in the glamrock anthem after that: it brings to mind Ward White‘s most literary work. The guitars chime and shimmer throughout the Merseybeat-flavored next cut, Follow. The rest of the record alternates gloomy numbers with contrasting optimism, beginning with the richly textured, wintry guitars of Too Late the Key, a somber contemplation of missed exits with potentially catastrophic results.

One Way Conversation is an enigmatic, pensive, possibly elegaic number with tinges of Kraftwerk, Indian music and the Grateful Dead. The album’s chiming, lush title track is very guardedly exuberant: “Hip hip hooray for the longue dureé, bearing this parade of souls.” He closes with the eight-minute, late-Beatlesque apocalyptic epic Dead Man’s Burden. It asks more questions than it answers. Do we have it in us to transcend the residue of unsustainable evil left over from the Cold War, from centuries of ravaging the environment and anything else that got in our way? We’re going to have to figure that out this fall and winter when the toll from the needle of death starts to skyrocket.

Iconic Guitarist and Bassist Release a Blissfully Gorgeous Duo Record

The preeminent jazz guitarist of our time and one of our era’s greatest and most distinctive bassists played a gorgeous 2017 duo session originally released as part of a box set which is now available for the first time as a stand-alone vinyl record. Bassist Skúli Sverrisson wrote the music on his album Strata – streaming at Spotify – for guitarist Bill Frisell, whose resonant lyricism and judicious, terse overdubs are a perfect fit for these sublime melodies. Frisell likes working in a duo situation and in 35 years of recording, this is his best album in that configuration. Pretty much everything Frisell has ever done since this blog went live has ended up in the ten-best list at the end of the year and this should be no exception.

The first track on the record is Sweet Earth, a lingering, echoey, jangly, distantly Britfolk-tinged theme. The bass is typically so sparse that it’s almost invisible…or simply seamless. The second song, Instants has the feel of an arpeggiated Nordic space-surf instrumental: right up Frisell’s alley, or one of them. Again, the intertwine of the two instruments is such that it’s often impossible to figure out who’s playing what, especially as the song takes on a more fugal feel, or when the bass is shadowing the guitar.

Frisell plays twelve-string on the ravishing, chiming, bittersweet Vanishing Point, a waltz pulsing along on a steady, emphatically minimalist bassline. Ancient Affection is more complex, Frisell adding ominously psychedelic fuzztone resonance beneath the increasingly intricate, glistening thicket overhead. Sverrisson’s spare chromatics add suspense to his steady arpeggios beneath Frisell’s spare, echoey riffs in the austere, moody Came to Light, which closes the first album side.

Side two opens with Cave of Swimmers, a slow, rapt, warily strolling theme with distant baroque echoes. There’s also a spare, gently emphatic fugal sensibility in Amedeo, Frisell’s low accents adding a warm resolve to this otherwise rather opaque tune.

Sverrisson’s variations on a staggered, loping riff hold the foreground as Frisell fills out the picture with a lingering bittersweetness in Afternoon Variant. The simply titled Segment is an echoey tone poem of sorts. The duo wind up the album with Her Room and its gentle echoes of a well-known David Lynch film theme. Whether you call this jazz or jangly rock – it’s both, in the best possible ways – this is one of the most unselfconsciously beautiful albums of the year.

Theme From a Twisted Summer Place

Irene Pena‘s new single The Summer Place – streaming at Big Stir Records – is a venomously hilarious powerpop gem, the missing link between LJ Murphy’s Pretty For the Parlor and that famous Squeeze song. Behind the chalet, this holiday is never complete with some sick drama.. If JD Salinger had been a janglerock guy, he would have written this. “Injuries fade but the memories last a lifetime.”

Unmasking One of the Most Deviously Brilliant Rock Hoaxes Ever

Working over the web last year, the Armoires decided to release a whole slew of singles under a bunch of assumed names (you bastards, you snagged October Surprise, the best bandname ever!). Despite widespread interest online and on radio, nobody ever got wise to the fact that it was really them. Finally, the muzzle is off, and this alternately hilarious and poignant, erudite mix of originals and covers – inspired by the Dukes of Stratosphear‘s immortal parodies of 60s psychedelic rock excess – has been released as an official Armoires record, Incognito, streaming at Bandcamp.

Based in California, the harmony-rock band found themselves stymied in attempts to pull the whole group together under dictator Gavin Nuisance’s fascist lockdowner restrictions. Fortuitously, the core of the band, keyboardist Christina Bulbenko and multi-instrumentalist Rex Broome, also run a very popular specialty label, Big Stir Records, so they have access to a global talent base. Drawing on a rotating cast of guitarists and drummers, the result is the most eclectically delicious album of the year so far.

The Armoires are more likely to slyly quote from late 70s powerpop than 60s psychedelia, although pretty much every rock style since then is fair game for their sometimes loving, sometimes witheringly cynical satire. What differentiates this album from the Dukes of Stratosphear’s (a.k.a. XTC’s) mashups is the cleverness of the lyrics.

Say what you want that “October Surprise” turn John Cale’s iconic proto-goth Paris 1919 into bouncy Penny Lane Beatles: that’s the spirit of punk, right? The B-side, Just Can’t See the Attraction, is an acidic original immersed in schadenfreude and driven by Larysa Bulbenko’s violin. “She was maybe too much, too demanding/She was surely too much in demand,” and the haters abound.

As D.F.E., the band give themselves several fictitious shout-outs in their A-side, I Say We Take Off and Nuke This Site From Orbit, a seethingly Beatlesque critique of social media. The quote at the end of the song is too good to give away. But the B-side is sobering, a lively, deadpan cover of Zager and Evans Hall of Famers Christie’s 1970 pentatonic folk-rock hit Yellow River, a post-Vietnam War anthem told from the winning side of that pyrrhic victory.

Bagfoot Run, the A-side of the single by “The Chessie System” is an irresistibly funny bluegrass escape anthem. You’d think that somebody would have figured out the joke from the subtly venomous anti-lockdown flip side, Homebound, a Louvin Brothers sendup, but nobody did.

As The Yes It Is, their jangly, anthemic cover of new wave band 20/20’s The Night I Heard a Scream, a portrait of an unsolved hit-and-run is infinitely more chilling. The cover of XTC’s Senses Working Overtime blows away the original, raising the Orwellian ambience several notches with piano and violin. Likewise, the line about “we’ll give it pause to breathe the air” in the triumphantly jangly, unlikely cover of the Andy Gibb rarity Words and Music.

Jackrabbit Protector, released under the name Zed Cats, is part Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir parody, part metaphorically-loaded populist throwdown. “I can count my friends on the palm of my hand,” Broome laments in the Beatlesque Walking Distance, awash in searing guitar multitracks. The lyrically torrential Sergeant Pepper-esque stroll, Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place, by the “Ceramic Age,” follows in the same vein: it could be a parable. Their B-side is Magenta Moon, a gorgeous, lushly swaying kiss-off anthem and cautionary tale (and maybe a Nick Drake shout-out). This eerie orb is “My one and true companion in the way you never were,” as Bulbenko relates in her simmering, mentholated mezzo-soprano.

Great Distances, by “Gospel Swamps” will rip your face off: over a tense twelve-string janglerock pulse, the band salute a time, and a person, lost to transcontinental barriers. It’s the great lost track from the Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies record. The concluding cut, Awkward City Limits makes an apt segue, an irresistible, metaphorically-loaded road narrative set to simmering backbeat roadhouse rock, the New Pornographers mashed up with early ELO.

But wait! There’s more! There are bonus tracks including a hilarious Lou Reed reference; Nashville gothic gloom transposed to early Trump-era lockdown; and Babyshambles retro garage rock recast as Burroughs cut-and-paste novelette in New Abnormal hell. Was it worth risking being unmasked as pretenders throughout these wild adventures into the furthest reaches of the band’s creativity? “We’ve always believed that art without risk isn’t worth doing,” is their response in the liner notes.

Celebrating the Spanish-Language Side of a Great Mexican-American Rock Bandleader

Patricia Vonne has been a fierce advocate for immigrant rights since bursting onto the Americana scene right around the turn of the century. She has an artistic bloodline: her great uncle, Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro, was an acclaimed Mexican poet, and her brother is filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. For those who aren’t already acquainted, a good way to get to know her fiery anthems and poignant ballads is her 2015 career retrospective, Viva Bandolera, streaming at Spotify.

It’s a long record, seventeen tracks. It’s missing one of her best songs, the escape anthem Blood on the Tracks (a title that took a lot of nerve to appropriate, but Vonne validated that hubris). Still, it’s packed with plenty of big concert favorites. Vonne’s richly arranged and orchestrated catalog comprises songs in both English and Spanish, this collection focusing on the Spanish material.

The self-described “blood drenched love song” Traeme Paz (Bring Me Peace) opens the album, Vonne’s wounded, full-throated delivery over a lushy syncopated web of guitars. The similarly aching, swaying minor-key ranchera rock anthem Dulce Refugio (Sweet Refuge) draws on an Aguirre y Fierro poem, Insomnio. Vonne flexes her signature castanets in El Marinero y La Sirena (The Sailor and the Mermaid), looking at the lure of the mermaid archetype from both male and female perspectives.

The album’s bristling, mariachi-rock title track celebrates a female bandit who gets sweet revenge on the Texas Rangers who murdered her husband. The lusciously jangly Qué Maravilla (How Marvelous) may be a love song, but there’s a persistent dark undercurrent. With its spiraling leads and inventive drums, Guitarras y Castañuelas – the title track from Vonne’s second album – is a sultry shout-out to her cultural heritage on both sides of the Atlantic. Lowlit by accordion, violin and a glimmering piano solo, the subtly bolero-tinged (The Orchard of St. Vincent) is a salute to Federico Garcia Lorca.

The one song here that hasn’t stood the test of time is Torera – it’s no less gauche for an armed woman to kill a defenseless animal than it is for a man. Vonne builds a suspenseful Sevillian flamenco atmosphere in La Gitana de Triana (The Triana Gypsy) and follows that with one of her most searing rock anthems, Mujeres Desaparecidas (Missing Women), memorializing the scores of Juarez women abducted and murdered in transnational drug wars.

Echoing with ominous tremolo guitar, the briskly pulsing Fuente Vaqueros (Fountain of the Cowboy), reflects on Lorca’s early years. Vonne follows that with a couple of drinking songs, the crescendoing, reggae-tinged nocturne Fiesta Sangria and the reverb-drenched southwesten gothic anthem Tequileros, a salute to bootleg hooch.

La Lomita de Santa Cruz (The Cross on the Hill) has a similar, moodily twangy energy, a reflection on keeping cultural traditions alive. With its somber trumpet, the breakup ballad Soledad has a towering angst. The last vocal number here, Severina, is Vonne’s tender dedication to her grandmother. One side of Vonne that’s been overlooked is that she also writes great instrumentals, underscored by the album’s closing spaghetti western theme, Mexicali de Chispa (Mexicali Spark), one of several collaborations here with her filmmaker brother.

A Savagely Spot-On Album of Holiday Protest Songs From the Pocket Gods

The Pocket Gods – British songwriter Mark Christopher Lee’s mind-bendingly prolific rock project – have a spot-on new album of protest songs, No Room at the (Holiday) Inn, out just in time for the last month of the year and streaming at Spotify. In the same vein as last year’s punk rock Xmas album, Lee has penned a collection of pro-freedom anthems that span a whole bunch of styles.

The best song on the album is the Beatlesque I Can’t Breathe, sending out a shout to the late George Floyd in a global context. “Like every battered wife strangled in lockdown…from oppressed singers to the homeless vying for patronage….it’s real for those with PTSD,” Lee reminds. Seriously: ask anyone who’s survived a building fire, a serious car accident, a near-drowning, or a violent assault that involved strangulation or asphyxiation. An awful lot of those people can’t be muzzled because muzzles are a PTSD trigger.

And what’s the most effective way to get a PTSD attack under control? Deep breathing. You do the math.

On the pissed-off, punk side, there’s the sarcastically galloping COVID Cavalry, part carnivalesque anthem, part phony Xmas carol, Lee speaking for a whole country full of people missing their significant others – or the kind of fun they used to have dancing in pubs, which they can’t have now, because it’s illegal.

“If you sing along to this catchy Christmas song in a pub you will be shot,” is basically all the lyrics to the sludgy, Jesus and Mary Chain-ish single COVID Christmas. I Saw Mommy Doing Track and Trace is a cynical, Ramonesy dis at Boris Johnson, “A big fat scrooge.”

The saddest song on the album is the title track, a gloomy psychedelic rock tune: “This used to be my town, now they’ve shut everything down,” Lee intones, speaking for urban dwellers around the world. Surplus Population is an ersatz funk number with a sample of Scrooge himself asserting that “If they would rather die they’d better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

On the optimistic side, there’s Celebrate, a pretty, jangly lo-fi folk-rock number. There are also a couple of careening, noisy, metalish horror themes and a horror surf tune titled Shitter Was Full.

Good to see the tireless Lee joining Jello Biafra, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown on the front lines of the pro-freedom movement.

A Gorgeous, Prophetic Protest Anthem From the Jigsaw Seen’s Dennis Davison

After years of fronting the brilliantly lyrical, psychedelic Jigsaw Seen, Dennis Davison made waves with his similarly tuneful solo debut album earlier this year. As it turned out, he has a lot more material in the can than just the tunes on that album, including his visionary latest single, The Monuments, a name-your-price download at Bandcamp.

The cover alone will creep you out: a corpse-like statue in tribute to the “Confederate States of America 1861-1865.” But look closer: the statue has been splattered with paint. Over a lush, brooding web of twelve-string guitar and bass, Davison warns of a paradigm shift. The dictator at the center of the story won’t budge:

You live in peace
Upon the gift of my consent
I’ll set you free
The day that they topple the monuments

But Davison knows that they’re going to be “ground into powder, the graven marble recast.” Take off that muzzle, hug your friends, we’re free! Watch for this at the top of the best songs of 2020 page here at the end of the year.

Girls on Grass’ New Single: Blazing Layers of Guitar and Sharp Lyrics

New York’s best janglerock band, Girls on Grass have a delicious new single streaming at Bandcamp. The A-Side, Who’s Gonna Cry, is the missing link between X’s Motel Room in My Bed and the Yardbirds at their jammiest – in less than three minutes.

“Gonna hurt yourself more if you’re trying not to get hurt, like when you hesitate before you jump,” frontwoman/guitarist Barbara Endes sings in Spill Your Guts, a triumphant coming-out story set to a swaying G-L-O-R-I-A vamp with honking harmonica by Glenn Spivack over Dave Mandl’s bass and Nancy Polstein’s drums. Imagine Van Morrison’s Them with a woman out front…and better guitars.