Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My New Fav'rit Rekkid and Other Recent Bits

Between Yo La Tengo, Nick Cave, and the fabulous sophomore outing from Unknown Mortal Orchestra (simply titled II, and also my new fav'rit rekkid), 2013 is off to a pretty delicious start, I must say.

A couple of years ago, a muso friend of mine boldly stated that most music today (and in fact most music from the past four decades) is what he calls "melody-free music". I thought that was a rather narrow and largely inaccurate view and I told him so. There is plenty of quality melody in current music. I should know, I hear it every day. Case in point, Portland-by-way-of-New-Zealand psychedelic rock trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

When I first heard their debut album about a year ago, I was blown away by their sound. They were clearly well-versed in classic British psychedelia of the Soft Machine-Syd Barrett ilk, as well as 90's lo-fi and Elephant 6 indie-psych, and capable of standing beside such current masters as Dungen and Tame Impala while possessing a signature sound that also helps them stand out. Their new rekkid, while it did not hit me with the immediacy of their debut (the first cut, as they say, is indeed the deepest), repeated, somewhat obsessive listenings have shown it to be at least the equal of its predecessor.

Kiwi frontman Ruban Nielson has a true gift for melodic invention which at times seems to belong as much to a chamber ensemble or jazz combo as to a psychedelic band. Beefhearty harmonies and guitar fills that call to mind Hot Rats or Grand Wazoo era Zappa abound throughout. Almost classical arpeggiation - "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)" - fits nicely alongside crunchy power chords - "No Need for a Leader", and many tracks like the stunning "The Opposite of Afternoon" seem remarkably through composed for and indie rock act. Holding all of this together is the sound. All of these elements are emulsified by a psychedelic soup of compression, echoes, tremolo, and reverb that allows for every track to seem part of a cohesive whole. The entire production has a deliberately murky consistency that makes it sound like it is simultaneously being broadcast from the depths of the sea and the same corner of outer space that Lee "Scratch" Perry calls home.

Other Recent Activity

The new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away is a more brooding and less rock-inflected than his last couple of masterpieces, but is magnificent nonetheless.

Pepe Deluxe's whacked out, goofy, prog-psych-rock-opera epic Queen of the Wave is choice bit of fantasticness that would easily have cracked my top 10 rekkids of 2012 had I heard it in time.

Dutch indie stalwarts Bettie Serveert have a new rekkid out. It is called Oh, Mayhem! It rocks. That is all you need to know.

Slits guitarist Viv Albertine has emerged from the darkness with her solo debut The Vermillion Border after over two decades out of the music business. It's an arty, angry, post-punk affair. I likes it.

In a similar return from obscurity, Adam Ants clumsily-titled new album Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter is a bit of an odd duck. It should please hardcore fans, but may baffle others.

Finally, grand old man of the industry Eric Burdon has a new solo album out entitled 'Til Your River Runs Dry. It's a pretty festive bit of old school blues laden rock from one of the last surviving greats of the British invasion