Category Archives: the recorded music reviewed

Gomez and Whatever’s On Your Mind

3 out of 10: Moments of typical Gomez blues marred by treacly, sentimental schlock

Gomez are a blues band who don’t have much to be blue about. Like many bands who aren’t much chop at evoking emotion with their music, Gomez are at their best when they’re inventive, playful, quirky. Whatever’s On Your Mind continues in that inventive vein, but they’ve overreached: instead of quirky and fun, they’ve tried for quirky and emotional — and come off as vapid and maudlin.

The joys of Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone and Get Myself Arrested are over ten years old now, and they still stand as deft, light-hearted reinterpretations of the blues for this more comfortable modern age. Options, the first track from Whatever’s On Your Mind, begins with those same hallmarks, but deft soon turns to daft with a deathly detour into Coldplay strings and twee electronics that is sadly indicative of the entire album.

Lines as execrable as “I’m just as lost as you are”, “please hold on to your heart of gold” and “you’re the song in my heart” are but three examples of Gomez’s primary mistake: sentimentality substituting for fun. There’s not a jot of emotional weight to any of their songs, not a scintilla of old-school soul to their sound, and the canned strings over cliched lyrics that is alarmingly common throughout will render sickly the sweetest of musical tooths.

Gomez should have known better. Misplaced sentimentality is the young man’s goof, not the old hand’s. What’s most disappointing is that Whatever’s On Your Mind features many moments of musical canniness, but moments they remain overwhelmed as they are by missteps into the maudlin mundane.

Ronnie Wood’s I Feel Like Playing

7.5 out of 10: A solid release from an elder statesman of the rocking world

Ronnie Wood, the perpetual sideman, has nonetheless already released six solo records to go along with his latest, I Feel Like Playing, which yet again demonstrates what seems so unlikely: Ronnie can actually sing. Sure, there aren’t any lilting melodies to trip him up, but Wood’s gnarled, rich voice feels like aged scotch whiskey, the warm, woody spirit this album of bluesy rock and roll evokes from beginning to end.

Wood wrote ten of the eleven songs on I Feel Like Playing, and no doubt his writing method differs little to how teenagers in garage bands the world over have always written songs: stick down a riff, get the rest of the band to follow and mash together some words. There’s a big difference in Wood’s case, however: he’s been churning out riffs since time immemorial, and the hamfisted lyrics on songs such as Lucky Man, Fancy Pants and 100% go by unnoticed next to the sound of rock and roll so professionally distilled.

Although I Feel Like Playing features a whole bunch of musicians who, ironically, end up as Wood’s sidemen, you’d never know that the likes of Flea, Eddie Vedder, Billy Gibbons, Kris Kristofferson and Bobby Womack are playing. Except for a bunch of stylish Slash solos on about half the tracks and the luscious Bernard Fowler vocals on the duets I Gotta See and the stand-out Forever, this is a Wood record through and through — and all the better for it.

I Feel Like Playing is a million miles from the edgy new thing; it’s stodgy, square and solid, the kind of thing you can rely on. That’s almost an insult in the world of rock and roll, but not everything needs to be revolutionary, and not everything is nearly as good as this solid Ronnie Wood release.

Misinterprotato and The Gentle War

8 out of 10: A fine, inventive jazz record

A brilliant Coltrane record is still a brilliant Coltrane record. The music hasn’t changed; what the kids are to listening to has. Jazz used to be the “noise” kids listened to that their parents couldn’t understand. Now jazz is the “noise” that parents listen to that their kids can’t understand.

It’s unlikely then that Misinterprotato, a Brisbane piano, bass and drums trio, are ever going to lock in a place on Triple J’s Hottest 100. Despite a number of their songs featuring nods to modern-day indie rock, The Gentle War is still a jazz album – and refreshingly so. It’s energetic, full of movement and rhythmically inventive, a far cry from the staid version of jazz that befouls the genre’s reputation. What impresses most is the album’s constant play — no drum beat settles without textural fills, no bass pattern remains on repeat, the piano doesn’t just vamp over a chord. Even on the slower numbers, the instruments feed off each other, guide each other.

Wrestle is perhaps the standout, a song that highlights the band’s strengths: a masterly control of dynamics, piano that is both melodically and rhythmically appealing, and Pat Marchisella’s sublime bass, which, just like Mingus’s, is sometimes aggressive, always majestic.

Generally speaking, the album is best when the band works more as an ensemble. Sync and especially Tailgater demonstrate how well Misinterprotato can create so much of interest to the ear, the instruments interweaving rambunctiously across ebbing and flowing passages. Time buttresses the same point from the opposite direction: it’s mostly a solo piano piece that fails to fire without the band’s inventive interplay.

The Gentle War is a fantastic record — a happy change from what the litany of guitar, bass and drum rock trios are offering around the traps, and far more interesting to boot.

Endless Boogie’s Full House Head

1 out of 10: Rock and roll never sounded so dull

Three major chords on a Gibson gold top still haven’t gotten old. Amped up to eleven, the pummeling sound of rollicking guitars remains a primal joy, the riff still the lynchpin of bonerattling rock-and-roll abandon.

No doubt Endless Boogie, who named themselves after a John Lee Hooker record, frequently intoxicate themselves on rock’s sonic ambrosia. Formed in New York, the foursome have kept stars well away from their eyes and devoted themselves purely to swampy-blues riff construction, completely unconcerned with whatever might be hip and only bothering to grace a stage when invited.

Such devotion, which would ordinarily hold a band in good stead, has  nonetheless come at the expense of considering the listening public and writing anything resembling a song. Full House Head is seventy-seven minutes of aimless riffage and teenage-boy-in-a-bedroom noodling broken up into eight “songs”, the music’s lacklustre repetitiveness inducing boredom rather than hypnotising. Every now and again, the monotony is interrupted by Paul Major’s inconsequential rasping; every now and again, the monotony doesn’t sound so bad in comparison. Hardly anything has changed since their first album of two years ago, and one would think that a band so lacking in ambition will never change their ways.

All in all, Endless Boogie are like the bird that wishes the air away thinking it a hindrance to flying faster and higher, only to discover, tragically, that without air there is no flight. Divorced of any kind of structure, divorced of any kind of build up or tension, Full House Head relentlessly meanders, an album lost on a limitless plain, no heights, no troughs — no nothing really.

Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane

7.5 out of 10: The music of Italy’s past beautifully recreated and updated even if Patton could do with a bit more sincerity

Mike Patton’s muse leads him down musical byways long left fallen by the wayside. He’s an aural adventurer, as intrepid as Magellan, and on this occasion fateful crosswinds have blown him towards Italy.

Bologna was Patton’s home whilst married to his Italian bride, and, amongst other things, his time there had him speaking Italian fluently and falling in love with what amounts to Italy’s golden oldies from the 50s and 60s. Mondo Cane, a mildly profane Italian saying that means more or less “the world’s gone to the dogs”, is Patton’s paean to these songs. He gathers together a 40-piece orchestra to faultlessly recreate their lush musical backdrops and a 15-strong band to add a more modern and Pattonesque touch to proceedings. And although the band sometimes overdoes the modern and zany, the orchestra is a stunning thrill ride, the violins swelling the melodies of Ore D’Amore and Senza Fine to dizzy heights, and songs such as 20 Km Al Giorno and Deep Down positively swing.

These songs, however, show up Patton’s one overriding weakness: while he’s capable of singing pretty much anything, Patton is an arch-ironist, more at home singing pastiches and experimenting sonically than with any kind of sincere conveying of emotion. In this, he shares company with the likes of Frank Zappa and Ween, encyclopaedic experimenters who never seem to be taking anything at all seriously despite how much they love music. The songs on Mondo Cane, though, are overdramatic and emotional — and they’re meant to be sung that way. L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare translates to “The Man Who Didn’t Know How to Love”, and the way Patton sings, you begin to wonder if it mightn’t be autobiographical.

Nevertheless, the arrangements and orchestrations are so delightful, the melodies so memorable, that Mondo Cane is a triumph. Like Loveage and Peeping Tom, the product of this Mondo Cane project is an album that people who aren’t Patton fanboys can still love, even if the radio dial on these antipodean shores has never before heard the likes of it.

Betty Lavette’s Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

6 out 10: Professional covers from a professional soul singer

Most every black performer of the 60s and 70s covered a song made famous by someone white at one stage or another, and, with the exception of Nina Simone, most every black performer sounded awkward singing songs that were unsuited to their voices. So many missteps in the past make an album of British rock songs sung by the seasoned soul singer Bettye Lavette seem positively ghastly, but, to her credit, Lavette makes every one of these songs her own.

Lavette had never heard any of the original versions of the songs on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook before recording them, not even I Wish You Were Here, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood or Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. Without years of admiration weighing her down, Lavette has been able to interpret these songs freely, transforming each and every one of these relatively traditional rock songs into prime soul and funk.

Such free turns from the originals are always of interest, but interest soon wanes as one discovers that many of the very elements that made these songs great are lost in the process. On The Beatles’ The Word, there’s no innocent glee; on The Rolling Stones’ Salt of the Earth, there’s no cracked, common-man singing that evokes working-class solidarity. Instead, everything is turned over to the soul-101 treadmill, Lavette’s exceptional rasp nonetheless a genre cliche.

Lavette’s approach does, however, work well on songs that have dated poorly. Shorn of their awful production, Led Zeppelin’s All My Love and George Harrison’s Isn’t It A Pity shimmer more brightly with their freshly-applied soul sheen. Overall, though, while Lavette reconfirms her status as a true soul professional, she fails to make any great impression despite how adeptly she interprets material made in a foreign style.

Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here

5 out of 10: Lacking polish, lacking direction, yet still reasonable

Gil Scott-Heron is one of the progenitors of rap. In his heyday, he was an angry, lyrical artist who eloquently catalogued the travails of African-Americans over what were usually sparse rhythms, quietly funky, that evoked the wilds of his enslaved forebears’ home continent.

Scott-Heron’s last album, the solid Spirits, was released in 1994. The years between then and now have not been kind: he’s spent them in and out of jail on drug charges as if a character in one of the stories he used to relate in his much-heralded musical past. Nevertheless, the years between then and now have added to the croaky, baritone resonance of his voice which render his poetic pronouncements so believable, urgent and soulful.

I’m New Here is Scott-Heron emerging from a dark place to find himself immersed in an unfamiliar world. Gone is the sound of defiance that was a hallmark of his earlier work, the sound of resignation taking its place. Unfortunately, much of that sound is created via humdrum electronica of the kind that’s preprogrammed into the latest piece of gadgetry. His lyrical themes, of death, of lives wasted, of heartbreak, take on a tacky hue with such accompaniment, a maudlin evocation of downcast subject matter.

The departures from baleful electronica are highlights, however: I’ll Take Care of You is a stand out, stark and affecting; while the messy handclap loop and Scott-Heron’s ragged vocals on New York is Killing Me feels exactly like the confusion of a mind recoiling from too much big-city stimulus.

I’m New Here is more a passable return rather than a triumphant one: it’s too short, it feels hastily put together and it lacks polish. Sixty-one years of age and now out of jail, one hopes Scott-Heron remains that way, at least so his next album can be the triumph that we know he’s capable of producing.

The King Khan and BBQ Show’s Invisible Girl

2 out of 10: Garage rock that should have remained in the garage

Like a Hindu deity’s avatar, Indo-Canadian King Khan pops up most everywhere. On this occasion, he’s teamed up with Mark Sultan, aka BBQ, and mixed in doo wop with the revivalist garage rock that has become synonymous with his name.

Revivalist, too, is perhaps the best description of King Khan’s vocals: he’s manic, hypnotic, out of tune and most likely inspired by something greater than himself when he gets on the mic, issuing forth filthy smut to raise his congregation up to a higher plane where the good-time splendour of his dirty rock can be best experienced.

In the best of Khan’s previous incarnations, collected together on the fine The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines, this good-time rock and roll is loud, punchy and fun. On Invisible Girl, though, there’s no volume or raucousness to hide the lack of musicianship. All that’s left is bad jokes and cheesy stories of boy meets girl that are as cheap as the staid garage-rock chords that they’re sung over. Sure, Tastebuds is a funny bad joke – it’s about tastebuds on parts of body that aren’t the tongue – but all Invisible Girl amounts to is trashy lyrics and trashy music that might be described as refreshing or edgy by Triple R listeners who equate roughy and ready with cutting edge.

The King Khan and BBQ Show is a poor man’s Ween. Don’t be that poor man – go get yourself Chocolate and Cheese, The Mollusk or La Cucaracha rather than this amateurish excuse for musical ribaldry.

Forro in the Dark’s Light a Candle

7 out of 10: Light-heartedness and warmth from Brazil via New York

Forró (pronounced fo-ho) is a simple, jolly and danceable musical style straight from the barnyards of the north-eastern expanses of Brazil; Forro in the Dark are a band of Brazilian expatriates living in New York who introduce jazzier, more sophisticated elements into the music style that adorns their name and forms the basis of their work.

David Byrne discovered Forro in the Dark gigging in New York, and we have him to thank yet again for bringing to prominence some splendid, little-heard music. Of course, New York should be lauded in equal measure, for the world’s largest melting pot no doubt had a lot to do with the melange of styles and instruments heard on Light a Candle, all of which make it more than just an album of forró.

The melange is best exemplified by Nonsensical, a surprisingly well-worked forró-reggae whose lyrical theme all fans of Jamaica would be sympathetic with: the singer proclaims that if you’re not into Bob Marley, then “you better stay away from me.” Even when not in English (Perro Loco is about a crazy dog), the rest of the album’s lyrics are equally lighthearted in keeping with the upbeat musical style, while the melody lines supplied by flute or saxophone on instrumentals such as Lilou, Caipirinha and Forro de Dois Amigos are a refreshing treat.

Light a Candle is a delightful summer record, perfect for the urbane dinner party where cosmopolitanism, winsomeness, conversation-starting curiosities and the possibility of a dance are always desirable. In certain quarters, such characteristics would be construed negatively as typical of the staid values of the middle classes. Damn politics and just enjoy I say, especially when an album is made as professionally as has Light a Candle.

Cymbals Eat Guitars and Why There are Mountains

9 out of 10: A brilliant distillation of what can make indie music thrilling

Why There are Mountains is the quintessential indie-rock album: the singer can’t really sing, the lyrics are often incomprehensible, there are few tunes to speak of, guitars squall and solos are fractured, song sections abruptly collide into each other and discordance is not a sin. But like the best of the indie-rock bands – Pavement and Sonic Youth the classic examples – Cymbals Eat Guitars somehow manage to make something refreshingly alluring out of what could accurately be described as a mess.

Why There are Mountains does have one thing going against it in this day and age, though: you have to listen to it as an album. Like a great My Bloody Valentine or Radiohead record, most of the songs on their own won’t grab you. Why There are Mountains wins you over on repeated listens as the mood, pacing and texture of the album drifts you off into an aural kingdom of the album’s own making. And what’s even more impressive for a debut album by a bunch of scruffy New York young’uns is its sheer musical scope: it’s not just guitars and skittish rock as you’d expect, but also keys, violins, synths, brass and even glockenspiels running amok through at times elegiac, spacey and melodic sonic atmospherics.

Why There are Mountains serves up everything that makes indie music thrilling. The album follows its own course, free from the strictures of traditional song conventions, and does so without self-consciousness, as if sudden shifts in tempo and unexpected brass are par for the course. This should be the first of many more albums to come – I strongly advise you be there from the start.