Jim James – Regions of Light & Sound of God
Isolation can often lead to indulgence, but not for Jim James. In less confident hands, creative solitude could easily result in an unwieldy conceptual opus. Regions is the opposite: a svelte, sweet collection clocking in at under 40 minutes, the shortest album of his career. While addressing the same themes he’s been singing about with My Morning Jacket for more than a decade now. James adds a new trick to his ever-expanding repertoire: transforming the boundless possibilities of solo creativity into a cohesive one-man show.
From the opening track ‘State of the Art (A,E,I,O,U)’ you get the sense that James is going to build a journey, which ends up being one hell of a trip. With its sinuous piano figure and layered instrumental, gradually building into a groove that is helplessly infectious. The album swings through different moods and soundscapes like a pendulum, tackling feelings of solitude and isolation with one stroke, wonder and whimsy with the next.
The albums single and second track ‘Know Till Now’, sounds like a VHS recording of an old 16mm reel of a clipped sample of a long-unheard soul revue, “Know” took more than a few James fans aback as the album’s first single. But the smooth glam feel on Regions doesn’t alienate the James or MMJ fans. This could very well be up for album of the year already, at the very least it will top many year end lists.
For so many Hayden fans the four year wait has felt like a lifetime. Since his last album ‘The Place Where We Lived’ which had no press or touring, the wait has been excruciating. The dark vale has been lifted, the undeniable mystique still intact. Hayden lets us in on where he has been and where he is now on ‘Us Alone’.
The record is a beautiful collection of stories, bare bones and autobiographical. As many Hayden songs have always been. Written by a man who can’t mask the broken heart on his sleeve. ‘Us Alone’ shares the musings of adult life and parenthood. Where actions have consequences, and things rarely turn out the way one would wish – is at last, and inescapably, upon you.
From the album opener “Motel’ to the final closer ‘Instructions’ Hayden keeps the instrumental formula simple. Relying mainly on piano and organ, trustworthy guitar tones and chords. ‘Us Alone’ has Hayden starting the conversation with us about where life has taken us since those days long ago, sitting cross legged on the floor at the Moon Room in Oshawa. There’s a feeling of sharing provided by Hayden’s lyrics but also offering reflection for the listener.
‘Us Alone’ is as dense and subtle a record as you’ll find, its meaning unfolding endlessly as you listen again and again. We’ll likely see Hayden on the best of list for the year. What? It’s not too early for that sort of prophesying, is it?
The name Sean Lennon isn’t exactly unknown, Son of John Lennon and known for his pop ballads throughout the nineties. In his newest outfit Mystical Weapons, he teams up with old pal Greg Saunier, drummer for Deerhoof. Fusing noise rock, psychedelia, and avant-garde elements into an album that aspires to be abstract rather than immediately appealing- Yoko Ono would be proud.
Mystical Weapons focuses on primarily one agenda throughout its entirety, and that is to merely expand the boundaries of imagination. Think of this album as an elongated jam session, in which both musicians simply improvise with whatever ideas came to mind, and then try to sculpt them into something that stimulates the mind. Of course, within this open-minded environment, it’s rather inevitable to expect that all concepts of logic and harmonic appeal will often be ignored over innovative aspirations. It’s certainly an ambitious route to embark on, especially as an aspiring musician in today’s world, but this proves to be a rather grey area for Sean Lennon and Greg Saunier because their willingness to experiment proves to be both a strength as well as their most evident flaw. Mystical Weapons embodies a spectrum of musical concepts and artistic aspirations that at times seem to be unionized in a fashion that makes them appear underwhelming rather than magnetizing.
Mogwai have always had the ability to create a genuinely frightening or uncomfortable sound, but not all of Les Revenants is scary. While “Hungry Face” opens the album with a frighteningly severe lullaby reminiscent of some kind of paranormal child; “Special N” bursts with longing and ambition, fuel for a cinematic climax, the sound of feet moving across the world.
Composing a soundtrack might be the biggest accomplishment for a post-rock band, a genre defined by its ability to create an atmosphere, to craft a mood, to tell stories with sounds and nothing more. Originally released as an Ep, Mogwai follow it up with the full length album of the same name ‘Les Revenants’ the complete soundtrack to the French zombie drama. It is classic Mogwai in many ways, yet it does show signs of growth, or perhaps an ability to shape their natural talents based on subject matter.
These factors remain important as Mogwai reel from the flaccid response to ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’. There was a certain amount of experimentation and abandonment of the traditional Mogwai sound that occurred on the former album and the related ‘Earth division’ EP that did not succeed in creating a new Mogwai sound or album. With Les Revenants, the constraints of a soundtrack seem to aid Mogwai in getting back to the simple, complacent, elegance that enchanted their earlier releases.
Copenhagen’s Soren Lokke Juul is the man behind Indians. Back in 2012 he released a single titled ‘Magic Kids’. It quickly propelled him into the beginnings of an established musical career. In just under a year he has garnered enough interest to tour, signed to the 4AD label and has put together a live band.
Juul uses a combination of keyboard, piano, synthesizer and guitar to create great sonic depths, bringing to mind imagery of deep oceans and stretching skylines. Teamed with his unique vocals, which are sometimes mistaken for mournful, but are really glazed and reminiscent, always retaining a staggered yet melodic gentle quality, Indians achieves an alien yet intriguing sound, the use of the organic acoustic guitar with electronic effects, covered by melancholy vocals brings a sometimes psychedelic, but often a calming dreamy effect, like waves washing over you.
Ben Harper w Charlie Musslewhite – Get Up
It’s unlikey that Ben Harper ever gets tired. He’s like a hippy Elvis Costello. With nearly 20 years of travelling and communal road behind him, shared with the likes of The Innocent Criminals, The Relentless 7, The Blind Boys of Alabama and even a one-off project with Dhani Harrison. Harper returns to the stage with one of the most gifted harmonica players of all time, Charlie Musselwhite. The result, Get Up!, is a rowdy 10-track set that is as moody as it is delicate, as invigorating as it is subtle. And while Harper has made an art out of getting the best from his collaborators in the past, it’s here that fans can finally feel as though the guitarist and his guest are taking the notion of teamwork to heart, trading off solos like midnight confessionals.
Harper has never been darker and Musselwhite’s harmonica lends itself like a counselor to Ben’s vulnerable slide guitar. It’s like listening to a man bare his soul to someone who never even asked for details. With each track, Harper seems more and more like he was bursting at the seams to find someone who could give him the proper platform to confront these ugly emotions. With each track, Musslewhite’s harp proves to be the perfect sofa on which Harper could confide.
This is without question and will be one of the true great blues albums of all time.
Kevin Shields is undeniably one of the most influential and iconic musicians of the last 25 years. Releasing 2 albums and a string of ep’s between ’88 and ’91, My Bloody Valentine changed the concept of what rock music could sound like. Incredibly expansive guitar tones. The multi overdubs of washy reverb soaked guitars melting like waves over the propulsive drums, whispy vocals, subdued like special secrets. A sound that changed the face of rock, shoegaze and many other genres, forever.
After 22 years, nothing has been lost. Aural curiosity and innate musical genius, still fully intact. The 9 songs on ‘mbv’ feel like they come in 3 stages. The first tackles the sonic structures and tonal capacity that Shields helped to establish. That dream like tidal wave of distortion that was executed so gorgeously on ‘Loveless’. These first 3 songs are so densely arranged but maintain a breezy airiness. The second territory of ‘mbv’ moves into more playful and pop regions. There’s more combinations of swirling organs as opposed to guitar work. There exists a sense of journey in this segment of the album, but the listener never quite gets there, left with this alluring emotional mystique. The final third of the album is engulfed in the monstrous noise arrangements that MBV has always had a penchant for. It hits you like the stinging air of a winters night, that first breathe that punches you frozen. Cyclical drums, haunting combinations of distortion and woozy ethereal synth lines.
The album builds, relentlessly. Zero intent to hold back. A melodic road map through a windstorm of sonic bliss.
Pascal Terstappen is the dutch electronic producer under the moniker Applescal. A man of many strengths and talents. Any of which could build a solid aural tether. In the electronic genre, listeners often have to tussle their way through heaps of beats to find the gems. Applescal has positioned himself and his style as a safe bet.
‘Dreaming In Key’ has a slippery momentum, graceful curves and slants, supple rhythms, layered all in a humid over all tone. At the top of a long, warming rise, you’re as likely to find a frosty plateau or a side-winding shift as a sheer drop. This is the electronic tastiness for fans of Four Tet, Boards of Canada, Pantha Du Prince or almost anything off of James Holden’s Border Community label.
Townes Van Zandt -Sunshine Boy: Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971 – 1972
Music’s history is littered with the corpses of so many that left us before their time. Whether that be by way of drug and alcohol, accidents or by the hand of another. Most of which have passed in a time where they should have been in their prime. One of those folks, who slipped through the cracks of this world without making the deserving impression he should have was Townes Van Zandt. As a child Townes was designated with a genius IQ but was stricken with manic depressive disorder. Which later would find him institutionalized and receiving insulin shock therapy, erasing most of his long term memory. During his life most of his acclaim and success came from other popular musicians covering his songs. The likes of Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan all the way to Norah Jones. Steve Earle (close friend to Van Zandt) recorded an album in 2009 of Townes’ covers.
Townes’ creativity peaked between ’68 – ’72. Six beautifully crafted albums, full of stunning imagery and timeless poetry. Townes Van Zandt claimed songs literally fell from the sky. Words rushed through his body. They burned his hands. But like many artists struggling with dark inner demons, he baited them too closely. Substance abuse and his manic behaviour basically put a halt on his creative output.
The ‘Sunshine Boy’ collection shows one of America’s greatest ever songwriters at the peak of his creativity. A collection full of alternate takes, covers, outtakes and demos. Reminding us of the true gift and greatness that was one of the shaping gurus of Americana music.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Leave it to Nick Cave to actually bring something new to this well-worn artistic conversation. Some listeners want to desire Nick Cave on Grinderman terms, the psycho-sexual beast man, spitting fire into the mic. While others may prefer the ballad piano crooner. Neither of the aforementioned versions of the poet will be found on ‘Push The Sky Away’. The Bad Seeds have created a nearly beat-less , synth drone album with just a touch of guitar, buried alive in the mix with just enough soft loam to push back out for a breath. Nick Cave’s lyrical quality is subtle, working with less, yet achieving the grand gesture that he and The Bad Seeds are capable of, without ever considering conforming on any of their previous incarnations.
Working with the theme of memory stasis vs memory loss, while not being to heavy on the morality aspect, at first listen it bleeds through softly, but the album’s transgressions reveal themselves, calmly without being thrust upon the listener. The character narratives that Cave uses in the songs feel like they can’t seem to remember but they remember the same thing, ceaselessly. *Is this not how we generally might become? Delusional enlightened beings in the 21st century, the offhand knowledge ready to be recalled whenever we need it, yet never there for us to think upon in a combined selfish and selfless mind, living in our own fictions and “simulated rainy seasons,” crying with dolphins that don’t exist, left to float in a pool of our own mythologies?
Some upcoming releases to be excited about as well
Dawn McCarthy/Bonnie Prince Billy – What the Brothers Sang (Drag City)
Dead C vs. Rangda – S/T (Ba Da Bing)
Godflesh – Hymns (Reissue) (The End)
Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars – S/T LP Reissue (Jagjaguwar)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away (Sony)
Tune-Yards – As Yoko 10inch (Chimera)
Doldrums – Lesser Evil (Arbutus)
Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell – Old Yellow Moon (Nonesuch)
Hollerado – White Paint (Universal)
Johnny Marr – Messenger (ADA)
Syl Johnson – Dresses Too Short & Is It Because I’m Black LP Reissues (Numero)
Title Fight – Floral Green LP (Side One Dummy)
How To Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion (Columbia)
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced & Axis 200gram LP Reissues (Legacy)
Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell and Angels: Unreleased (Legacy)
Olof Arnalds – Sudden Elevation (Red)
Suuns – Images Du Futur (Secret City)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – The Specter At The Feast – March 18