The Fall
Your Future Our Clutter

I was a Mancunian tooth away from interviewing punk rock’s perpetually disgruntled working-class anti-hero. Whether you believe he’s a modern Dickens or that he’s merely a punchline in the twilight of his career (never quite understood on our shores), there is a persistent cult that considers the Fall’s Mark E. Smith a god among men. I was nervous about my nervousness. Could one easily transcribe his coarse garble about slaving 18-hour days and minor British political history? Or have the ability to ask him about reunions of better times or even which era is his favorite? Maybe he’d turn out to be a real sweetheart in conversation? Regardless, if that conversation happened or not (it didn’t), Your Future Our Clutter would be bought, listened to, wrung through a Fall-nerd analysis, and sub-ranked. Not bad, not great—that’s how the last decade has seemed for Fall fanatics. Beloved for certain, despite the “band” making albums that appear more as hash marks to solidify the (now) monolith MES legacy. In his wake, the man has hastily assembled a number of different bands in the ’00s, each with varying results. (Not that he hasn’t done this in the past, now it’s just at a faster clip). But he can do what he feels 24-7. As he constantly pushes on, it feels akin to the rollercoaster trajectory of Robert Pollard’s body of work.

For reasons unknown (must be the MES-band dynamic on full tilt), YFOC sounds like the most unrelentingly and fierce Fall record since The Unutterable (sorry, nerd reference). In “Mexican Wax Solvent,” there’s an authentically guttural groove—the kind that informed classics like This Nation’s Saving Grace—as he’s found a perfect Brix-esque foil in keyboardist Eleni Poulou. Perhaps it’s revealing of why Smith operates with a fresh crew for each successive album. “Bury Parts 1+3” is recorded in three parts, starting with a distortion splayed demo and ending in dulling automaton grind, the ring leader taking center stage. (It’s telling that he went from wheelchair to his ol’ sea legs in the course of the sessions.) There’s both a sense of confession and desperation to the record, and in that, something lighter and unhinged. Even among the more plodding moments, there’s a visible smirk in everything Smith lays to tape here. “Weather Report 2” sums up the demeanor of YFOC, giving us the spectrum of Smith’s prose from “I watched Murder She Wrote five times,” to “You gave me the best years of my life” and ending the album with a whispered “You don’t deserve rock & roll.” With a sonic template that proves his bandmates have recently heard some Psychedelic Horseshit bootlegs, you’re left with a hope there’s a similar future to his clutter.
Kevin J. Elliott

The New Pornographers

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the New Pornographers released their debut album, Mass Romantic. In a year when Radiohead and Modest Mouse recorded freezer-burned apocalyptic masterpieces, Mass Romantic kept the world safe for sugary, irresistibly catchy power-pop. And while AC Newman and company haven’t made any drastic departures from the sound that first earned them their stars, they’ve tweaked the formula just enough on each successive release so that every new album is a reason for anticipation. Electric Version (2003) upped the guitar amperage to live up to its title; Twin Cinema (2005) toyed with rhythm and song structure to become their most sophisticated (and best) record to date, and underrated Challengers (2007) proved they could pull off “laidback” as easily as “hyped-up.”

But their latest, Together, is the first New Pornographers album to feel like a slight regression, as nothing here would sound out of place on either of the band’s first two records. And while the Pornographers still do power-pop better than anybody since Big Star pratically invented the genre, you’d be forgiven for feeling like the band is merely going through the motions.

Of course, when a band like the New Pornographers goes through the motions, it still puts most other artists to shame. There are few pleasures in rock & roll like the first three songs of a New Porn album, and the troika that kicks off Together is no exception. “Moves” revels in the tension between a raunchy fuzzed-out guitar riff and immaculate string arrangements. “Crash Years” is a churning Neko Case anthem in the spirit of “The Laws Have Changed.” And “Your Hands (Together)” is so effortlessly melodic you’ll be able to hum every note by the second chorus. Elsewhere, “Up in the Dark” features some of Newman’s strongest lyrics to date, and secret weapon Dan Bejar’s “Jenny Silver Dollar” is a... oh man, who am I kidding? It only took me three paragraphs to talk myself into loving Together. Forward-motion is something we crave from our favorite bands, but the New Pornographers, like Guided by Voices or Tom Waits, write such great songs that it’s difficult to find fault when they just stick to the formula. Does the world really need a new record by Newman’s Canadian supergroup every two or three years? As long as there are still guitars and pretty girls, the New Pornographers will never go out of style.
David Holmes

Minus the Bear

The term “omni” has multiple meanings and connotations, from a luxury hotel chain to a fictional time-travel device. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is its association as the title of a now-defunct sci-fi magazine put out in the late ’70s and ’80s. With this factoid and the relatively far-out (well, in the ultra-restrained Minus the Bear universe) offering that was 2007’s Planet of Ice, it would seem that Omni would find the band embarking further into their respective journey into musical experimentation. Alas, this is not the case. There are hints of progress, however, that aren’t necessarily progressive, so to speak.

On the whole, Omni is but another piece in the Minus the Bear puzzle. The band’s strength lies in its attention to detail and instrumental prowess, and Omni is a clean offering of the former. From the smooth, guitar rhythms on “Summer Angel” to the electro-pop beats on “Animal Backwards,” the sound quality is spot-on no matter what genre the band happens to be emulating, though Omni veers into a funkier, slightly sultrier territory, for better or (in this case) worse. Accompanying this groovy new territory comes heavy synth overlays and a general loss of originality. Guitarist Dave Knudson has precious few moments to showcase his dexterity, which would certainly improve the record’s credo and augment the lack of originality. Much of the album sounds like the same base track recycled over and over again, and Dave Snider’s vocals and lyrics come off bland and overplayed. In many ways, Omni is a customary offering, but on the creativity spectrum, it takes a big leap backward.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “My Time”

Batusis ep
Smog Veil

In an era of reunions, it’s always good to see rock icons working on something new. Batusis is a new collections of old faces, with Cheetah Chrome of Rocket from the Tombs and Dead Boys fame and Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls taking the lead roles. While their self-titled debut EP is deeply rooted in classic rock & roll and will instantly seem familiar to old fans, the sounds on Batusis are quite fresh.

The group’s name was inspired by the Batusi, a play on the Watusi ushered into pop culture via Adam West’s Batman. It’s fitting then that the opening salvo from Batusis is the instrumental “Blues Theme,” a groovy surf song built around a sizzling guitar riff. Sylvain takes lead vocal on “What You Lack In Brains,” a heavy rocker that takes a playful look at the type of woman who uses what’s she got “in the tush” to make up for her lack of intelligence. “Bury You Alive” is the record’s high point, though, featuring some spot-on vintage Dead Boys guitar leads and a gritty vocal from Chrome that serves as an understated counterpoint to the song’s angry attack. It’s often tough to judge a band based on four songs, but the hard-hitting Batusis shows that Sylvain and Chrome still have a good amount of gas left in the tank, and this EP leaves you thirsting for more.
Ron Wadlinger

Flying Lotus

To classify California-born musician Steven Ellison (a.k.a. Flying Lotus), you would need to invent a whole new genre title that captures the producer’s disparate influences, from turn-of-the-millennium experimental electronica to instrumental hip-hop to jazz-fusion to classical. Get Boards of Canada, Madlib, Miles Davis and Bernard Herrmann in a room together, and you’d have some idea of the creative breadth hinted at on 2008’s fantastic Los Angeles and now brought to full fruition on the staggeringly great Cosmogramma. At a time when the notion of originality is often considered a myth and its pursuit a fool’s errand, Ellison has created something undeniably unique by adapting the techniques and sonic palettes of artists past and present to his own freewheeling, unpredictable “more is more” musical philosophy.

Offhand, I can’t think of any album openers more abrupt than the first few seconds of “Clock Catcher,” an 8-bit box to the ears that sounds like a mini-boss battle from hell. A simple, yet frantic, drum & bass beat enters the mix to lend the listener some footing before the whole thing deconstructs into an ambient soup of found-sounds and plangent harp. It’s all over in a minute or so, which some might describe as impatience or the result of untreated A.D.D. But unlike some artists who bounce from riff to riff in an effort to mask the fact that none of their ideas are all that interesting, Ellison actually has far too many great ideas to stay on one for longer than necessary. In fact, only four of the 17 tracks surpass the three-minute mark, one of them being “...And the World Laughs with You,” a Thom Yorke collaboration aptly full of post-millennial dread and uncertainty. The song finds the Radiohead frontman in Kid A/Amnesiac form, asking “Are we truly out there?” over a bed of his own eerily processed vocals. But the album’s finest moment is “Do the Astral Plane,” which begins with a man scatting over a string arrangement straight out of some lost Hitchcock classic before morphing into a dancefloor burner that lays trumpets and sirens over thick keyboard basslines and insectoid percussion.

Even if electronic music or instrumental hip-hop isn’t your cup of tea, Cosmogramma is far too rich with surprising aural concoctions to ignore. And if Ellison’s strange brew makes you scratch your head occasionally, that’s when you’ll realize you’ve been bobbing it up and down the rest of the time.
David Holmes

Little More Lived In

Snowglobe is an Elephant 6–influenced band currently stationed in Memphis. Though they actually hail from Georgia and they never actually released anything under the Elephant 6 label, they spent their formative band years hobnobbing with enough members of the independent powerhouse to pick up a few sound bites. While these interactions with the psych-pop cache heavily influenced their sound on previous releases, with Little More Lived In, Snowglobe is embracing their surrounding Southern routes and moving away from the scattered collage-pop offerings of their past.

The album as a whole is a bit scattered, though this isn’t necessarily a hindrance. The genre-skipping allots each band member a smidgen of the spotlight, while at the same time allowing them to utilize a wider range of musical instruments. Horns, banjos, string samplings—it makes for an interesting listen, which is undoubtedly something for which Snowglobe is known.

Yet acid flashbacks remain, with flits of folk intertwined with dreamy psych-pop landscapes, especially on “Love” and “Worksong.” Such hues quickly fade, though, in favor of straightforward down-home twang, which is a surprisingly suitable and ultimately successful endeavor for Snowglobe. Indeed, this newfound direction produces some of the standout songs on the record. “Teenage Queen” pays homage to Nashville in its heyday, recalling the deep-rooted myths of glamorous country lives of yore and mixing in flourishes of modern pop. “Dad” is a simple, earnest folk ballad that would make even the most stone-faced of fathers proud. It would have been interesting to see Snowglobe expound upon this motif throughout, but the end of the album finds them back at square one with slow-moving trance-pop offerings.

A Little More Lived In finds Snowglobe at a crossroads. It’s anyone’s guess as to which direction this unconventional band will take next, but they’re certainly blazing a promising trail. All in all, this album truly does sound a little more lived in.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “Love”