On paper, the Dead Weather, Jack White’s latest “side” project with Alison Mosshart (of the Kills), Jack Lawrence (White’s bandmate in the Raconteurs and former member of the Greenhornes) and Dean Fertita (also of Queens of the Stone Age), certainly looks like a winner—especially if you are Mr. White’s accountant. The White Stripes frontman has acquired a midas touch that can’t be tarnished, with or without Ms. Meg.
Of course, the danger here is that by taking up arms in a normal rock band, White and Mosshart just might create, well, a normal rock band. The White Stripes and the Kills are both most striking for being rock boiled down to its essentials—a lean guitar line, walloping beats and caterwauled vocals—going at it mano-a-mano. Fortunately, White, who mostly played drums and produced the record, is too smart to settle for normalcy. Horehound, recorded at White’s new Third Man facilities, proves to largely be a towering feat of efficacy. Like much of the band’s collective pedigree, the record is built from old blues motifs, but with a good deal of fuzz and volume to superglue it all together, it’s not anything that’s going to come apart very easily. “Hang You From the Heaven” is the best example of such handiwork, Fertita’s six-string buzz mortared to a heavy backbeat.
The album shows some cracks—on the overwrought dry funk of “I Cut Like a Buffalo” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother”—but it’s easy to look past to “Rocking Horse,” a scorching duet between Mosshart and White capable of parting waters and hitched to a swampy bassline and reverberating riff. Though instrumental, “3 Birds” is similarly riveting in a very primal way. Mosshart plays guitar since she’s not singing, but it’s hard to tell what’s what at times, a bevy of effects being plied to create its garage-noir complexion. Here and elsewhere, it’s the record’s sound that is most convincing, a mix of dirt and things more pristine. This tangent of White’s vision seems more black and white than candy-striped, but it turns out to be almost equally golden.
“Slow Motion,” the third song on Life on Earth, Jesy Fortino’s second album as Tiny Vipers, couldn’t be more fitting a title. Fortino’s gift as a songwriter is in her frame-by-frame projections of dread, doubt and stoic existentialism. By sculpting silence and the slightest resonations of empty shadow into tools for her undoing and by keeping her phrasing and tone in a near-constant hue of ominous muted silver, she’s created an album of transfixed beauty—either a black hole engulfing the depths of space or a glacier in an inching creep on a barren sea. Such imagery is not hard to conjure once hypnotized by Fortino’s subtle, yet enthralling, guitar playing. Every note is given room to escape into the ether so that each one is noticed. From the slight blues bends and meandering waltz that bookend the 10-minute title track to the fleeting Zeppelin III redux of “Time Takers,” it is hard not to imagine the seeds of loner folk coursing through her veins—just moving at a pace that allows for intent observations caught in lifeless blood. On “Development,” it almost feels as if the listener is privy to the song being written as its being heard.
So much of the album remains in isolation, sitting completely still, that it’s hard to gauge exactly where Fortino is standing, especially given the rare moments when she strays from her breathless wallow, like on the slight suffixed falsetto on the lines of “Tiger Mountain” or the two-voiced narration in “Twilight Property.” It’s the raw emotion spun in the end of “Dreamer” that provides the best insight with the words, “I’m going to live, but I’m living far away. I’m going to die, but I’m dying for a way out.” But even those verses imply a solitude void of human contact or the want for evocation. There are indicators that Life on Earth is less about pain and more about transcendence through a cathartic battle with negative-space: various drones the drift in and out of focus, her guitar as a compass for her temperament, the ethereal glow that comes with staring into darkness for too long. Like all records marked with this unflinching sameness, it takes a while to truly ingest and enjoy the minutiae, to take pause to explore, suspend your current conciousness and get lost in the head of the artist. But Life on Earth is a work that simply demands that type of patience and respect.
Kevin J. Elliott
By the time Wale releases his debut album, Attention: Deficit, later this year, the DC-born rapper will have already collaborated with the likes of Mark Ronson, 9th Wonder, Warren G, Cool & Dre, Black Thought, Bun-B, Pusha T, Lady Gaga, and Elaine Benes. Wale’s ability to attract such an impressive list of colleagues without an “official” release to his name says as much about his diligence, persuasiveness and formidable skills behind the mic as it does about the burgeoning legitimacy and popularity of free download-only mixtapes. Over the course of five online releases, Wale has accumulated an eclectic fanbase made up of fellow artists, industry insiders, underground hip-hop fanatics, and indie-philes. (This last demographic jumped onboard in 2008 with the brilliantly-conceived Seinfeld tribute album, The Mixtape About Nothing.) And as for Wale’s latest, the superb Back to the Feature should only do more to expand this ever-growing cult following.
On Feature, Wale’s final mixtape before he drops his proper debut, the rapper continues to lay down his unique free association flow over anything he can get his hands on, including old soul samples (“Life’s a Bitch”) Afrobeat (“Um Ricka”), baked out G-Funk (“Pot of Gold”), R&B empowerment anthems (“Sweatin’ Out Weaves”), and unabashed indie rock (“Nothing To Worry About”). Lyrically, Wale sticks mostly to old school tropes like girls, clothes, and his own superior flow; nothing here reaches the emotional and intellectual heights of “The Kramer,” last year’s stunning multi-faceted dissertation on the use of the N-word. But what distinguishes Wale from other throwback artists like the Cool Kids is his ability to subvert traditional hip-hop conventions even as he embraces them. Just listen to the extended rapid-fire battle-rap, “Hot Shyt,” in which Wale and a caravan of guest stars lament the fact that their flow and beats are so impressive that their songs literally take on a life of their own and reject the attempts made by DJ’s, record producers, and other rappers to commoditize them (a funny way to hold on to hip-hop braggadocio while complaining about how you rarely sell records or get air-play on the radio).
Some will view Back to the Feature as simply an 11th hour ploy to promote Wale’s upcoming debut. For example, the Lady Gaga-assisted “Chillin’” appears to serve no other purpose than to instruct listeners on how to properly pronounce “Wah-lay.” But it’s hard to complain about 22 free tracks when most of them exhibit all the spark and vitality you’d expect from a young artist on the brink of combustion. Wale may still sound a bit like a poor man’s Kanye (which I thoroughly welcome until Mr. West decides that he’s done exterminating sex-bots on Mars). But amid all of Wale’s accolades, accomplishments and illustrious associates, it’s easy to forget that the young rapper’s still just getting started.
Holding your breath for the newest release from Radiohead, the Verve, Spiritualized, Snow Patrol, and/or Coldplay? Breathe easy, friend. It is here. Radiohead’s new record starts 34 seconds into Alone. Spiritualized’s newest cut is titled “Death Processions;” it is the fifth track on Alone. I won’t belabor this point any further.
Derivative bands have been a fact of rock & roll since its inception, rock & roll a derivative of the blues itself. There’s no way around it. The problem arises when songwriter A gets together with drummer X and bassist Y, who instead of deciding to create something interesting, copy verbatim from their record collections. Unfortunately, this formula often leads to instant popularity and exhaustive radio airplay. The radio-listening masses just want to hear something familiar, and because all that Brit-rock has seeped into adult contemporary playlists, the Morning After Girls will have no problem marketing this record. At least the lyrics kinda sound sincere, while being husky and breathy, especially on “You Need To Die,” where Martin Sleeman suggestively sings, “You need to die so the rest of me can peacefully survive.” Heading all the way to New York from Melbourne to tour, they may soon be huge. More power to them. They will be able to afford health insurance, groceries, car payments and the rest—all from rewriting the stuff they love.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy
Summer Cats—not to be confused with the Brian Setzer–fronted rockabilly outlet, Stray Cats—are a spunky Melbourne crew whose music is about as deep and meaningful as their name. Yet, contrary to many bands’ musical mantras, the playfulness and naivete works well for this quintet. Perhaps that’s because it’s genuine: these Cats are by no means experienced, having only released a trio of records, one of which was a split 7-inch fittingly, with shoegaze aficionados and labelmates the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. While certainly not as buzzed about as the Pains’ debut, the sound found on Songs for Tuesdays is in that same vein.
Though ultimately Tuesdays lacks the depth that the Pains’ record was able to achieve, the album kicks off well enough with the jovial, guitar-driven “Let’s Go.” However, it soon plateaus from there, with the remaining dozen songs tending to blend into one another, rather than ebb and flow. The same steady melodies saturate every song, and sure, while it’s an enjoyable listen, you can’t help but being left with anything else other than a feeling of “oh, that sounds nice.”
But searching for a deeper meaning in everything is a little futile. True to their name, the Summer Cats have created a kitschy, catchy record that’s entirely satisfying for frenzied, warm days. No song exceeds the three-minute mark, and it’s with this formula that they have created an album full of unabashed, lighthearted pop songs, best left to be enjoyed for what they are, which in the end is much hipper than anything Brian Setzer is doing these days.
If you’re in a band called the Polyamorous Affair with an album titled Bolshevik Disco, you’re clearly setting up certain expectations. Prospective listeners might imagine that this record would be the soundtrack to a sleazy dance party with a strangely out-of-place Russian theme. Well, it’s not that. Bolshevik Disco is the second record from singer Sissy St. Marie and her husband, Eddie Chacon, who in a former life worked behind the scenes as a studio musician and had some success as part of a R&B duo in the early ’90s. And the order of the day is an electro-pop take on disco (with a strangely out-of-place Russian theme).
“White Hot Magic” is a pleasant enough mid-tempo stopper and the cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite Of Love,” while not essential, isn’t too bad. But most of the songs here—topping out at three and a half minutes—seem like they might have some potential if only given more time to breathe. Just when the duo hit on an interesting idea, the song ends or fades out
There’s nothing outstanding about Bolshevik Disco, and that makes it kind of frustrating. It’s like the fourth-tier version of an ’80 synth band. If the record had come out in that decade, it could have at least got some burn as being in the sound of the moment. Now it just seems hugely lazy.
Dorian S. Ham
MP3: “White Hot Magic”