The Go! Team
Rolling Blackouts
Memphis Industries

The Go! Team is an interesting beast. Live, it’s a six-piece party-rocking band that destroys stages. But on record, it’s almost wholly the sole creation of leader Ian Parton. Parton’s crazy quilt of samples has fueled two earlier releases, and now he’s fired up the sampler for another go-round with the latest release, Rolling Blackouts.

In many ways, the Go! Team is like the second wave of Big Beat that never quite happened. Not sleekly innovative like DJ Shadow or next level deconstruction like the Bomb Squad, it doesn’t matter if the jagged edges show as long as a good time is the end result. So even though the Go! Team debuted in 2004, it owes a tip of the cap to late-90s Fatboy Slim, Pizzicato Five and the like. Rolling Blackouts doesn’t shy away from that past aesthetic either, but Parton has eased up on the throttle and introduced more straight-ahead pop songwriting into the mix.

Instead of just relying on samples to be his voice, Parton brings in touring vocalist Ninja as well as Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Piano Magic’s Angele David-Guillou. The result is like a pep rally crossed with classic girl-group cool and a dash of Brit-pop. Parton makes sure to wrap his guests in the same sonic blanket as the more sample-based songs, and it works in a really unforced way. Like always, the Go! Team turns out to be the best of both worlds.
Dorian S. Ham

John Vanderslice
White Wilderness
Dead Oceans

The austere, often aloof folk of John Vanderslice goes unfortunately under the indiescape’s radar. He’s carved out a niche foundation of fans due to his incredibly prolific nature, but the bulk of his notoriety has come from his background as a producer for everyone from longtime friends the Mountain Goats to latter-day Spoon. But that should never undercut his own talent. His under-listened career has manufactured some great music, and for me, his latest LP, White Wilderness is the first entry into a canon that deserves the hushed admiration that his most devoted, near Jandek-ian followers grant him.

What we have is a peaceful, well-written 30-minute journey, with Vanderslice plundering into deeper depths of Americana. Horns, strings, and a minstrel’s disposition aren’t unheard of in his musical palate, but they’re put on a more prominent display here than ever before. “The Piano Lesson” is pure vaudeville, with sprightly violin plucks and deep bassoon blasts giving the track its body. The aforementioned strings appear again and again, austerely swooning to the top of the mix and giving the record a classicalist appeal that’s lost on most modern folk. There’s a fair balance of the chilled acoustics for which Vanderslice initially became known, but the highlights on White Wilderness come when he puts away the easy familiarity of the charming guitar numbers and throws caution to the wind with baroque, occasionally alienating, instrumentation. Naturally, Vanderslice is a talented enough musician to tie it all together.
Luke Winkie

MP3: “Sea Salt”

Not Yet
Drag City

Not Yet, the sophomore LP from Israel’s Monotonix, picks up where the band left off on its debut album. By now, the trio’s sound is pretty much set in stone: thick, crunchy guitar riffs that serve as the primary incendiary devices in the band’s sonic attack, flailing drums that manage to keep things moving along and vocals that sound like they’re coming from a sort of rabid prehistoric incarnation of Damo Suzuki before he found the keys to the other dimensions.

Perhaps in an attempt to fully capture the primal force of the Monotonix live experience (something that wasn’t really accomplished on the band’s first full-length, Where Were You When It Happened?), the group enlisted Steve Albini to record Not Yet at his Electrical Audio studio. While the album benefits from Albini’s signature drum sound, there’s still something missing. Montonix occasionally hits a nice groove on songs like “Nasty Fancy,” “Before I Pass Away” and “Late Night,” but there are too many dull, indistinguishable moments here. The songwriting lacks the sharpness that characterized the songs found on 2008’s Body Language EP, songs which likely benefited from having been honed over a longer period of time during the band’s incessant touring. Thus, while the Monotonix faithful will be sure to dig Not Yet as a collection of songs taken from the same well, it may be that, for most listeners, Monotonix is something best experienced in the flesh.
Ron Wadlinger

MP3: “Give Me More”

Sonny Smith
100 Records Volume II: I Miss the Jams
Turn Up

While Sonny Smith has made his name as the leader of the Sunsets, it is as the creator of an ambitious undertaking for which he may soon be best known. His 100 Records art/music project, which has been shown in San Francisco and New York, consists of sleeves for 100 singles created by Smith and a bevy of visual artists. Both the band names and song titles were completely invented by Smith.

Smith has written and recorded actual music for the records. He initially planned to press up 7-inch singles for the exhibit, but after realizing the financial impracticality of having single copies of 100 records pressed, instead refit an old jukebox with a digital music player. Subsequently, though, he’s been going back to his original goal of actually releasing these records, further blurring the line between fiction and reality.

100 Records Volume 2: I Miss the Jams is available as both a boxset of five 7-inch singles and on CD, and features cuts by 10 different Smith creations. What’s most impressive is how varied each cut truly is, as if it is indeed 10 different acts completely unrelated to each other. One imagines Smith dreaming up whole storylines for each. Zig Speck & the Specktones, which includes Ty Segall, might have been a lost Nuggets-era act, while the Cabezas Cortades (Spanish for “cut up heads”) sound like straight-up Euro-punk, perhaps from 1979. Meanwhile Versatile Kyle’s “Sick Girl” is frenetic, weirdo pop that might have been generated in the ’80s, and Earth Girl Hellen Brown’s “I Wanna Do It” could have been cut with Phil Spector in 1966. The Fresh & Onlys’ Tim Cohen joins Smith in the Loud Fast Fools’ closing rave-up that might be a current crop of garage rock. No matter the persona, in another parallel universe, any of these songs could have been classics. In many ways, they still could be.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Lia Ices
Grown Unknown

My initial thoughts upon hearing the new album, Grown Unknown, from Lia Ices were: that can’t be her real name (it’s not), and this is totally just Chan Marshall under another moniker (it’s not).

Grown Unknown sees the Brooklyn-based Ices transitioning from playing airy pop songs to becoming an elegantly eclectic vocalist, crafting songs and harmonies that conjure the kind of fantasy-land where wood nymphs like Stevie Nicks dwell. It’s an accomplished work of breathy melodies supplemented by lovely, lush vocal harmonies. “Love Is Won” is a soulful ballad that sets the tone neatly up front with its discreet, punctuated drums and breezy echoes. This same approach is perhaps best exemplified on the superb, “Daphne,” which, not surprisingly, recalls a subdued Fleetwood Mac.

“Little Marriage” is overly protracted, as are others, but the title track is replete with hand claps and plucky acoustic guitars that liven up the sluggish pace. Though the album itself is, at times, maddeningly slow, it’s well worth a listen, especially for the haunting final opus, “New Myth.” Unassuming at first, the song soon swirls with strings and melodies worthy of comparison to the magic of Emilíana Torrini’s evocative rendition of “Gollum’s Song” on the Two Towers soundtrack.

Not unlike female singers with whom comparisons can be drawn, Ices’ voice is charming and unique, but not terribly strong. Throughout the record, it wavers somewhere between assured and affecting; I can’t help but wonder how much of that was contrived to fit her Jagjaguwar-solidified left-of-center image.Grown Unknown, like Ices herself, isn’t actually breaking new ground, but it’s an emotive and exquisitely crafted minimalist’s wet dream.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “Daphne”