Produced by Sonic Boom and featuring a varied supporting cast that counts Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo) within its ranks, Blip is only the second album in 17 years from Hamish Kligour’s slightly elusive outfit, the Mad Scene. Perennial live favorites in Kilgour’s home base of New York City, where he moved from New Zealand in the early ’90s, the Mad Scene’s pick-up-band approach has apparently kept it out of the studio for much of its existence, with the group’s previous release being 1995’s Chinese Honey on Merge.
From the opening organ line of its first track, “Cupid 2,” Blip envelopes the listener in a warm, buzzing blanket of sound. A flowing, casual feel pervades much of the album, though Kilgour hasn’t strayed too far from home stylistically. The sounds one would expect from a founding member of beloved kiwi legends The Clean, The Great Unwashed and Bailter Space are all present and accounted for: from the shambling strum of “Nasty Girl” and the VU swagger of “Cupid 1” to the slinky DIY pop of “Fontaine” and the soporific dream pop of “Quiet Day,” which recalls a hazier version of what can be found on Hamish’s brother David’s recent record, Left by Soft.
Blip is far from scattershot or mere pastiche, though. There’s a decided cohesion here that speaks to just how fully formed Kilgour’s vision is despite not having been realized on record in nearly two decades. The drumming is minimal but steady and, alongside a similarly insistent bass, anchors the entire album. The guitars come in two varieties: either chiming and dreamy or dirty and chugging along like a subway train. The vocals and lyrics are an essential part of the whole but are never served up as the primary focus. But the most obvious unifying element here is the production. Kilgour’s songwriting is simple enough that its true impact really comes out in how it is packaged sonically. Sonic Boom, who’s created his own diverse, drugged-out walls of sound in the Spacemen 3, Spectrum and EAR (among others), wraps these songs in a gauze of reverb and fuzz that’s never suffocating or distracting. The end result is a gentle, narcotized vacation.
The experimental threesome collectively known as Battles formed in New York City during the math-rock revival of the early 2000s, while drummer John Steiner was on hiatus from Helmet. They had a breakout moment with 2007’s über refreshing and completely frenetic Mirrored, but after instrumental (literally and figuratively) guitarist and vocalist Tyondai Braxton left the band, Battles underwent a reinvention of sorts, the results of which can be heard in the decidedly groovier, yet still chaotic Gloss Drop, released in 2011.
Enough with the background, though, because this is where the spoonerism becomes relevant. Earlier this year, the band began releasing a series of remixes on vinyl, en masse entitled Dross Glop. The fourth and final installment was released, appropriately enough, on April 21. Yet the question I find myself asking is, “Is it worth it?” Though in most cases, I find the concept of a remix album a bit self-indulgent, in this instance, the sheer audacity of the undertaking merits at least a few listens. To wit, Gloss Drop in its original form was so complex and layered that it was hard to envision how anyone could remix songs that already sound like remixes.
The most successful of these tracks include Gui Boratto’s haunting, wildly subdued version of the artfully deranged “Wall Street” and the masterfully warped remix of “Ice Cream” by BDG (of Gang Gang Dance). Kode9’s choppy reworking of “Africastle” highlights the inherent syncopation, but I can’t help but miss the hazy guitar riffs on the original. There are certainly a few inane tracks on here (Kangding Ray’s version of “Toddler”) that make me either want to roll all night or slam my head into a wall repeatedly.
In the end, I guess Dross Glop proves that it’s possible to remix the unremixable. Yet “possible” does not equal flawless. While admittedly, I found myself preferring the original versions on occasion, this ambitious endeavor is worth a listen, if only for curiosity’s sake. It’s yet another step forward on Battles’ already almost-complete departure from the past.
Sidi Touré is much more interesting than the bland, forgettable world music fare that squeezes it’s way across the oceans and influences privileged conservatory-taught musicians. Perhaps this is why he’s a labelmate with bands like A Minor Forest and the Boredoms, and why he’s been gathering attention well outside of the NPR world. As with other world-renowned Malian guitarists like Ali Farka and his son, Vieux Farka Touré, it is Sidi’s impressionistic fingerpicking that is the attraction. But Koïma has more in common sonically with Led Zeppelin III than records by his fellow fingerpickers. Koïma, in Malian folklore, is also the place where the most powerful wizards in the world meet up, and the record is a tribute to that magical place. As far as lyrics go, they’re sure not in English, but the haunting and joyously mystical delivery of Sidi’s voice made me wonder if maybe it was about magic even before I read the description of the title. This one is a step up production-wise from Sidi’s debut, Sahel Folk, in that he uses more players—in this case a calabash and a violinist, as well as a back-up singer—and takes a few cues from the blues and American folk music. Like Zeppelin III, a strong, but maybe not conscious, John Fahey influence runs through the record, especially on the title track and on the closer, “Euzo.” Koïma is a great record to sit with and absorb, but even from the first note it’s clear it will reveal more with each listen.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy
MP3: “Tondi Karaa (The White Stone)”
Marissa Paternoster’s reputation as “one of the female shredders” proceeds her, but this fact is usually followed by a couple unnecessary details (her diminutive stature and lesbianism). The info makes for interesting copy and gender intrigue is only natural, but it all seems remiss upon hearing Ugly, the fifth album from Paternoster’s Jersey based trio, Screaming Females. The soundbite should be, “She is one of the female shredders—and she can write a song too,” as such a trait is increasingly rare, regardless of gender.
Ugly is 14 agitated pop essentials, relentlessly carved from classic-rock technique and melded back together through the band’s metaphysical urgency. It all calls for a go at holistic listening, at least once, but be forewarned, Ugly is filling: musically, lyrically and most of all, in intensity, recalling PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. This resemblance is no doubt exacerbated by the band having recorded the album with Steve Albini, but it is pain and passion that are the commonalities to both albums as much as sound.
The first and second songs make this most apparent. “It All Means Nothing” is a power-pop anthem if nihilism ever had one, and the sudden blast of “Rotten Apple” starts with a riff that almost makes you forget it all means nothing. This song also serves up the call and response obligation of any rock record, with Paternoster penning inflections of “I’m a rotten apple” against herself. But the repetition is never in vain. Her distinctly varied vocal palette, racing to lay hooks alternate to her guitar, mobilizes vindication in romance and self-awareness with an agility in phrasing. Jarrett Daugherty’s skillful drumming introduces a bulk of the songs that follow, providing a much needed respite before Paternoster and bassist Mike Abbate unfold the thematic attack at hand. Each song pulls all it can hold from a seemingly bottomless cache of aced stylings: catchy indie riffing, angular skree-form soloing, surf rock, punk rock, and Middle Eastern motifs. This montage is almost hilarious in its breadth, yet it never seems a post-modern disaster in the moment. Perhaps that is authenticity, perhaps it is the band’s united front. Ugly is a full record, but there is no excess. The real fight is elsewhere. It is a revenge record in the form of power-pop from New Jersey, reading like it has something to prove.
Sometimes a band’s press release can be its worst enemy. Of course, there will be bit of hyperbole, but at its core it expresses how the artist (or at least the label) sees himself or herself. So it’s jarring when that description is so far off-base. Such is the case for Toronto’s Lioness and the accompanying documentation to its debut full-length, The Golden Killer. After releasing its self-titled EP in 2008, the band went quiet. At the time of the EP’s release, the band—Ronnie Morris (bass), Jeff Scheven (drums and electronics) and Vanessa Fischer (vocals)— was esconsed in the dance-rock movement of the time. However, in 2012 that means something slightly different. Still invoking the description of The Golden Killer as “Daft Punk meets Black Sabbath” seems to make sense.
That is until you listen to the record. Make no mistake, there are some surging basslines, get-up disco drums and gurgling synth work, but the record isn’t as dancefloor-focused as you would be led to believe. Instead, The Golden Killer is more rock-heavy. The sound of the record is epic and a force of nature. Fischer’s vocals are big and almost shocking in their power. Yet Scheven and Morris keep things agile while maintaining a balance to the sound. But it’s not all sonics, the songs are just as strong. The Golden Killer isn’t the type of record that will bring out the glowsticks, but it will rock your world.
Dorian S. Ham
MP3: “The Night”