Does You Inspire You?

At this point it almost seems cliche. Apple picks a frothy indie pop song to anchor its latest ad campaign, Google goes crazy with “What’s that song?” inquiries, and suddenly blogs the world over are swooning over its new pop darlings. So after Chairlift’s “Bruises” became the soundtrack for the next generation iPod Nano, it seemed like business as usual. But you know what they say about assumptions.

Those buying Chairlift’s debut album, Does You Inspire You?, reissued with two new songs by Columbia, seeking more of the giddy sing-a-longs of “Bruises” are in for quite a surprise. The easy breezy styling you’d imagine Chairlift would deliver is in short supply, while darker, more atmospheric tones seem to be the order of the day. Instead of a record full of “1, 2, 3, 4” (Feist) or “New Soul” (Yael Nam), you instead have songs steeped in the 4AD tradition.

Make no mistake, the Brooklyn-based trio is trafficking in pop songs, but PJ Harvey and Siouxsie and the Banshees are the muses here. Does You Inspire You? is not all dour reverb soaked vocals, though, as for every song like the Goth slow dance “Planet Health,” there’s the goofy electro-pop of “Evident Utensil” and the bastard French disco of “Le Flying Saucer Hat” to show that “Bruises” wasn’t a total bait and switch. There’s an effortless way in how Chairlift switches between the seemingly incompatible styles that makes a weird kind of sense. Sometimes it’s better not to get what you expect.
Dorian S. Ham


It’s more than appropriate that Pterodactyl’s records are released on Jagjaguwar’s little brother label Brah, as they sound nearly identical, if not a Muppet version of Brah curators Oneida. That of course is not a knock; any band half as good as Oneida deserve attention, and the fact that on their sophomore album, Worldwild, Pterodactyl play in the style of a seemingly disjointed, looser, version of Oneida is a welcomed surprise. Sometimes Oneida can become too intense for the casual listener.

Pterodactyl likely would embrace the comparison; they sound well aware that their songs take time to open up and bloom. There’s no initial verve to Worldwild, no distinct identity, only echoes from beyond the hills, some distant tribe beckoning the supernatural. The group spends a majority of the record reveling in kraut jams for the morning sun, an art-punk with a bohemian ethos about groove and rebirth. Fluctuating between the bongo ’n’ campfire psych of “Alex” and the disorienting guitar scribbles that ravage “Lawrence,” Pterodactyl work with bursts that aren’t all that vivid but nonetheless stain the mind in mild pastels. This is most evident on “One With Everyone,” where atonal industrious clatter and jigsaw reverb collides nicely with quaint pop harmony. The voices that rise and fall in helium tradewinds is what saves a tune like “December” from being the bastard child of the Flaming Lips and Parts and Labor. Though Brah may be a blip below its prestigious benefactor, the grotesque array of releases they’ve presented so far, the best of which may now be Worldwild (but don’t forget Home’s overlooked Sexteen), demand a second glance.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “First Daze”

Eat Skull
Wild and Inside

I sometimes wonder what labels are thinking when they sign a band to one of these long-term deals. Some are trying over and over to catch lightning in a bottle, hoping to ride that into sales and newfound popularity. Others will call up established acts into the big time, hoping to continue the success said band found without its new label’s help. Rarely does a label sign with hopes of longevity, hoping to nurture a band through all the growing pains and tribulations it may stumble upon during its arc. It is just too easy to live and die by the word of the internet youth and leave the bands’ fates in the hands of the popular schmuck opinion. In many ways, modern musicians have begun to believe these ways, becoming fickle with a style or genre after a few years only to reinvent themselves with whatever may be on the verge of getting a write-up in Spin.

Let’s be glad that there are bands like Eat Skull who think nothing of this business. They’re a band with what the old-timers would call “staying power,” imbuing a tried and true formula (good songs with interesting lyrics, recording purity) with fresh ideas (surf elements, inventive album structure), creating something wholly original in the process. Their rise to the top of the heap has been steady since their self-released debut single slipped out into the public less than two years ago. Luckily the good people at Siltbreeze realized this early on, before anyone else got their filthy paws on ’em.

I’m guessing the members of Eat Skull have been playing this style of music for years and will keep doing so until it falls completely out of fashion again, so calling this kiwi- or hardcore-inspired lo-fi (as I have previously) is pointless. What you have here is the amalgamation of four dudes with good taste trying to make a good sounding, original record—and succeeding wildly. They’ve hit all the right spots with Wild and Inside.

It’s not that together the four heads have created something mind-blowing. In fact, this may be the charm of Eat Skull: they’re great without trying to re-write the book. A song like “Surfing the Stairs” might sound like overkill in the hands of others, but here, near the tail end of Wild and Inside, this simple surf-guitar instrumental pushes the mood into an unforeseen direction, where singer/guitarist Rob Enbom carries the final two songs through surfer-cowboy terrain, amidst guitar twang and strums and lighthearted keys. These last three songs, boy are they great.

But there is plenty to like with the previously nine numbers, amounting to a record heads above their debut LP, Sick to Death, which I loved. “Stick to the Formula” is a perfectly suitable title for the album opener, though the hooks are anything but formulaic. Two songs prominently feature drum machine, lending a stoic grace (a breather from the fierce drums) to parts of the record. And like any good rock band, Eat Skull are unafraid to let their influences fly, from the Strapping Fieldhands and Crass (“Who’s in Control?”) to mainstays like GBV, Meat Puppets and the Great Unwashed. Wild and Inside will pull you in immediately, give you a big smooch, smack you around and then pet your head as you fall to sleep. I’ll be surprised if I hear a better record this year.
Doug Elliott

Mr. Lif
I Heard It Today
Bloodbot Tactical Enterprises

Mr. Lif (who Pitchfork calls “the first rapper with dreadlocks and Harry Potter glasses”) can spit fire fast, loud, and passionate. I’ve seen him do it on more than one occasion. So why does he come off more like Mushmouth on his latest records? Actually, that’s not really fair. There’s not much problem understanding what he says, it’s that his monotone delivery that makes it so hard to follow his train of thought. A little emphasis here and there, Lif? A little break in the ready-steady flow?

It’s the same problem that plagued his Def Jux release Mo’ Mega, which had the advantage of nearly-always incredible production from El-P. This time out, Lif’s not so lucky, so get ready to suffer through the crunchy, mail-order beats of the man known as Batsauce. Though I guess we should be thankful that his accompaniments are a little less eclectic than usual for Lif, because it does allow his lackadaisical flow to rise to the top of the mix on the album-opener (“Welcome to the World”) and the ultra-cheesy “What About Us?”

“Collapse the Walls,” the album’s most intriguing cut, is produced by Edan (Where has he been?) and features a ’70s Santana-sounding sample fed through delay pedals and twisted into a grimy version of some Animal Collective leftovers. But even that supreme funk fails to bring out Lif’s inner beast and it sounds like he’s riding the atmosphere more than the beat. But it’s one track later, on “Folklore,” that the rhyming reaches new lows. Lif is so lazy on this track that he gets shown up on the guest spot by a guy named Dumbtron. Seriously, DUMBTRON.

That’s followed by yr token police brutality skit (titled “Police Brutality”) and a homecoming scene (“Homecoming”) in which Lif returns to Boston and buys some weed. Indie neck-snapper Headnodic provides a heavy-handed, synth-drenched beat for the album’s most upbeat effort, “The Sun,” on which Lif sounds positively wide-awake. (I like to imagine he got up in the morning, saw the sun, wrote the rhyme, and recorded it before he had a chance to get blunted.) One man on this record does seem to be working hard, though, and that’s Willie Evans Jr. It’s hard to be the stand-out on an album with an Edan track, but Willie meets the challenge with fuzzbox drums and electric pianos on hip-hop’s first housing crisis epode. If only Mr. Lif took Evans’ innovative work as provocation to rise to new heights of his own. But here again, he sounds ready to nod off at any moment.
Matt Slaybaugh

Super Furry Animals
Dark Days/Light Years
Rough Trade

After 16 years of existence, it’s amazing Super Furry Animals aren’t as heralded for their body of work as they deserve. Then again, their genre-hopping, ultra-fantastical wünder-pop is incapable of taking itself seriously (other than the melancholic Mnwg).Since Phantom Power the only conceivable parallel universe in terms of puzzling high concept is perhaps the Kinks’ output post-Muswell Hillbillies. The concept’s never quite clear, and Dark Days/Light Years is just as confusing, but as fun and engaging an album they’ve released since Rings Around the World. Among songs about futuristic city planning, conquering mountains and Neil Diamond, it might as well be telling the story of a robotic Care Bear puking through a meadow in Wales. That’s what it sounds like to these ears: a rainbow exploding on the canvas, which is why on these later releases it’s been better to pick and choose the favorites rather than try to interpret how the mediocrity fits into the grand scheme. But when the highs peak as frivolously and deliriously fucked as on Dark Days, one begins to just let the tepid tracks pass by the wayside.

Part of the joy in listening, and possibly in creating this album, seems to stem from the band’s lack of a singular vision. Gruff Rhys said this record would be free of pretentious songwriting and acoustic ballads and based more on getting loose in the studio, celebrating youth and ignoring structure. That carefree injection manifests itself almost immediately in “Crazy Naked Girls,” basically an orgy of heavily progged riffs, mindless gang chants and squawking synth armies. There’s also the future-thinking kraut in “Inaugural Trams,” as light a track as “Juxtaposed With You” with doomsday predilections. Still, much of what makes the Furries one of England’s most beloved bands is how their parts (which are joyous odes to England’s formerly beloved bands) reach an incredibly buoyant sum.

The eight-minute opus, “Cardiff in the Sun” builds like a fluorescent Pink Floyd, before careening towards the nearly symphonic sine-wave of My Bloody Valentine, all the while maintaining their trademarked tongues-in-cheek without sounding like a joke. Even on the most obvious of nods to Pet Sounds or attempting to steer Electric Light Orchestra’s great space coaster on the effervescence of “Helium Hearts,” the combo of Rhys’ sharp Welsh accent and the band’s collective creativity continues to be fresh and intuitive among pop’s ever-shifting landscape. Regardless if you get the concept, you’ll surely get the hooks.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Inaugral Trams”

Ashley Beedle & King Britt
Southport Weekender: Volume 8

While electronic and dance music remains a blip on the radar in the U.S. overseas DJs that may have trouble filling a club can play to thousands. Likewise raves, seen as a ’90s relic in the States, they remain alive and well in England. One such event, the Southport Weekender, is celebrating its 21st year of existence. What makes the Weekender interesting is its focuses on “soul” in its varied incarnations, all of which have a home at the Weekender’s three-day parties.

Over the course of the Weekender’s 21 years, they’ve had a staggering amount of performers and DJs touch the decks, and in 2004 they started to release compilations as a way to commemorate the events. Eventually they turned to the DJs themselves to mix CDs that could serve as an accurate depiction of what you could expect if you found yourself Southport way. For the eighth edition, they turned to Philly native King Britt and the legendary Ashley Beedle.

King Britt is an eclectic DJ/producer who can move through a variety of genres without breaking a sweat. He kicks off Southport Weekender: Volume 8 with a set that seems to be Afrobeat inspired. Mixing a variety of artists—from his fellow Philly native Ursula Rucker to underrated crooner Glen Lewis—Britt builds the momentum with deep percussive grooves that don’t quit. Beginning with the Fela Kuti-esque remix of Edwin Starr’s classic “War,” the only proper response is to dance around with an idiotic smile on your face.

Ashley Beedle has been involved in a little bit of everything in dance music since the early ’90s. As a DJ and in his work with Black Science Orchestra and X-Press 2 (among many, many others), he pretty much has a bulletproof reputation for quality. While his disc is a much less mixed affair than Britt’s, his selections are rock solid. Imagine it as the comedown where the Dells’ “Walk On By” and Beedle’s remix of Isaac Hayes’ “I Can’t Turn Around” sit comfortably next to heavy disco edits of Peven Everette and Black Ghosts. You’re still dancing, but now the sun’s coming and you couldn’t be happier about that fact.

If the Ashley Beedle & King Britt version of the Southport Weekender is even a fraction of what’s in store for partygoers it’s time to book a flight.
Dorian S. Ham