Like a lot of bands their age, three-year-old Austin quartet Literature has a penchant for jangly pop that owes as much to records released a quarter century ago as trends au current. Their rambunctious debut full-length, Arab Spring, owes a debt of influence to the C86 acts of late-80s Britain and their likeminded American contemporaries. On tracks like the snappy “Lily” and the comparatively shimmery “Grifted,” Kevin Adickes shows himself to be part of a lineage of non-singers, his warbly vocals ably conveying enough sentiment while also hitting notes by approximation. The band is similarly slapdash, their imperfection part of each track’s charming demeanor.
Of course, such adjectives could be thrown at a lot of acts mining past decades for inspiration, but what sets Literature apart from their peers—and their forefathers—is a lax attitude that insures they never come off as too precocious for their own good. “Push Up Bra” is part arch pop-tune and part post-Buzzcocks punk, a good mix of snot and sweetness. “OJ” is as close as Literature gets to sounding sincere, but even here they mask any emotion with obtuse lines. This kind of innate smarts is the band’s most valuable asset, and they elevate Arab Spring over being just another repeat.
MP3: “Criminal Kids”
If there’s one thing that can be gleaned from listening to Black Is Beautiful, it’s that Hype Williams by any other name is still Hype Williams. And with Black Is Beautiful, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s ambiguous nature remains firmly in place. Did they use their real names to posit the record as something more matured and studied than in the past or is the casual nature of these recordings not up to snuff for the Hype Williams brand? It’s a reasonable line of questioning. Besides the record’s first song, “Venice Dreamway,” which comes complete with an exaggerated sample of Sabbath’s imfamous “Sweet Leaf” coughing fit, Black Is Beautiful is composed—rather cut—into 14 untitled vignettes, all of which are unmistakably borne of the duo’s penchant for dubbed-out pranks. Gone are the eight-minute opiate jams, replaced by quick, condensed synth freak-outs, ambient shenanigans met with G-funk elasticity, and smoky R&B deconstructions made for pan flute enthusiasts.
In many ways, Black Is Beautiful could be a pillaging of the duo’s obviously endless well of tapes. Each track has a distinctive feel, the sense of experimentation and mistakes only adding to the Hype Williams mystery and prankster motif. Which takes us back to the central question: is this all a joke? Or are these carefully calculated arrangements, no matter how dope-conceived they seem. The album could also be looked at as a stepping stone, an all-encompassing manifesto of what has come so far. Amid the woozy beats and sampledelic pastiche with Inga vamping Euro-radio pop, “Untitled 2” gives vision that the duo is composing actual songs. “Untitled 5” takes it even further, transmitting as Italo-disco, discovered and pumped in from some jungle lounge in Southeast Asia. These gauzy, infectious stop-gaps work well amongst the usual barrage of hypnagogic meddling employed by Blunt and Copeland. I like to think of what they do as mirage-hop, as they are well-equipped to give the illusion of electronic grandeur even when they’re probably just stoned immaculate, ladling out mouthfuls of melted synths and broken drum machines with little regard to the ingredients. In a better world, this could even be paralleled with Sun Ra’s Arkestra or The Faust Tapes, but for now we’ll chalk it up to a case of the KLFs.
Kevin J. Elliott
Where can a musician turn after he’s written every type of song ever? Similarly, at this point, what can the fan that has everything expect the ever prolific Robert Pollard to give him that feels new? Mouseman Cloud is the 9,000th album—okay, 18th proper solo longplayer—from Guided By Voices front mage Robert Pollard. While some fans may prefer he spend his time touring older GBV material, or working on new GBV records, it’s pretty clear that Pollard just has too much in that silver-shocked grape of his to hold back. This is one of those good problems. It’s also obvious that he just wants to rock, and nothing will stop him, not even his fanbase wondering if he has anything novel in him. New or not is irrelevant, because most of Mouseman Cloud feels comfortably indie-rock, some of it even Dunedin Sound, and some goofier than you’d expect. Maybe Pollard is giving a little nod to Dana Carvey’s “Choppin’ Broccoli” at the end of “Bats Flew Up?” Or maybe it’s a meta-referential nod to his own penchant for anthemic fist-pumpers on the first track, “Obvious #1?” Maybe Pollard is just so good at what he does that it’s not a matter of what’s new or not, but skimming off the good stuff that floats to the top.
On Mouseman Cloud, Pollard seems to have picked up where The Who left off with A Quick One. There are silly turns of phrase delivered in all seriousness, bombastic drums and precisely placed percussive accents, as much darkness in the guitar work as there is bright hopefulness in the vocal melodies, and the production feels larger and roomier than even Do the Collapse. Would it be blasphemous to wish Pollard would tour these songs instead of Bee Thousand? It’s pretty obvious that this new record has prompted more questions than answers, but that means it will require many more listens to actually get to the bottom of it. I know this much, though: I won’t get bored.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy
Though they describe the songs they create as “spaghetti western jungle pop anthems” and it’s hard not to see some humor in tracks with titles like “My Poor Old Parrot” and “Relax, There’s a Ghost in Charge” (or the band’s moniker), it’s also easy to hear so much more in Dante Vs Zombies’ output. With the band comprised of members of The Starlite Desperation, Jail Weddings and We Break Cameras, perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The band’s new record, Buh, is a mix of wrinkled pop and swaggering garage that seems dead-eyed even when indulging in such frivolities.
Indeed, even when singer Dante White-Aliano is warbling something as seemingly meaningless as “Watermelon Iodine” there is a degree of intent. And with the band as tight as a duck’s arse behind him, it’s hard not to take him seriously even when crooning, “The dump is all I really know. The dump is where true lovers go,” on “The Dump.” But the song that really stands out is “Horror Stories for Whores.” Change a few lines (and the title, obviously) and it would not be out of place on Hatful of Hollow, at it’s flush with a beauty of a melody and Gabriel Hart’s jangled guitar lines. Ultimately, it’s impossible to ignore the lyrical content, but still such kinks do little to diminish the album’s magic.
While the ’90s are normally associated with grunge and the assembled pop sensations of the latter decade, who can forget the electronica and raves of that era? (Well, a lot of people probably don’t remember much of the raves at all.) In the quirky fringe of electronic music, Lords of Acid held court with their Eurotrashy, industrial techno and hypersexual—and often filthy—tongue-in-cheek lyrics. But perhaps the sound of the group, which gave the world songs like “I Sit on Acid” and “Rough Sex,” was best described last April by neighbors of the group’s Belgium studio, who complained of “hedonistic chantings.”
Group founder Praga Khan is back with a new line-up for Deep Chills, the first Lords of Acid record in 12 years. But many of the new tracks could have come straight from a decade and a half ago—not necessarily a bad thing. After all, who wants a Lords of Acid dubstep album? In keeping with the group’s sound, the first single and song on the record, “Little Mighty Rabbit,” starts out with moans over house beats, and it’s not about a bunny. (Surprisingly, “Mary Queens of Slots” is actually about slot machines... I think.) There’s more moaning in “Drowning in Ecstasy,” and guest vocals from porn star Alana Evans in “Pop That Tooshie,” which could be the group’s “I Must Increase My Bust” (one of the band’s most popular tracks from 1991’s Lust) for the new millennium. Zak Bagans, host of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge, provides guest vocals on “Paranormal Energy” over a spooky melody that Khan claims was created when his computer inexplicably rearranged the notes by itself while he was editing.
Obviously, the Lords of Acid have never taken themselves too seriously and perhaps the most over-the-top, overtly silly songs tend to be the best, such as the rock-flavored, reality-show conjuring “Love Bus,” the Ron Jeremy crush confessions of “Surfin’ Hedgehog,” and the cross-dressing fetishist lyrics of “Long John.” And for the most part, Deep Chills offers plenty of cheesy fun on its trip down a hazy memory lane.