By the Life & Art editors
Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
Bright Eyes is the musical experiment of the highly gifted and prolific Conor Oberst, a young singer/songwriter from Nebraska. He grabbed the indie music world by the balls when he was just 14-years-old and headlined Commander Venus, singing and playing guitar. The band members started their own record label, Saddle Creek, which has released other Oberst projects, such as Cursive, Lullaby for the Working Class and three albums for the Bright Eyes collective. After working his musical potion for side venture, Desaparecidos, Oberst returned to the studio to create Lifted.
This third album includes a rotating line-up of musicians on each track, anchored by Oberst’s quaking, yet impregnable voice as well as his bittersweet lyrics and inspiring poetry. His impassioned, fervent delivery makes every song-headed by his poignant, strumming guitar and a conceptual orchestra in the background-convey a profound sense of meaning and leaves you, after each hear, with a soothing, cathartic feeling. His folksy guitar plucking and the high/low quiver of his vibrato, plus his tremulous accounts of teenage angst, have progressed reasonably since Commander Venus, yet what’s most impressive here are the authentic musical arrangements he has devised for this album. He gathers, for instance, an assortment of strings, slide guitars and a drunken choir to compose “Laura Laurent,” his words bleeding through the cracked holes of the tune, though the effects shaped by the orchestration are slightly stifled in order to not drain out Oberst’s piloting position.
On “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” a ballad with an ethereal piano melody, he sings for an unconventional appraisal of sympathy: “Life’s no story book/Love is an excuse to get hurt/And to hurt/Do you like to hurt?/I do, I do/Then hurt me.” He croons as if standing on stage in a smoky, penumbral saloon on “Bowl of Oranges” and ignites our emotive sensations with tender lullabies, such as on “Nothing Gets Crossed Out,” delicately sewn together with fragile bells, flutes, a soft electric guitar and Maria Taylor’s embracing hymning. “Don’t Know When But a Day Is Gonna Come” burns slowly down your throat like taking a shot of Jack Daniels, the remote guitar strums whispering in the distance until drums, bass and a string section hit you hard and build up that tingly feel of pre-drunkenness.
Undoubtedly, Oberst’s chilling effort to mend together broken hearts, lost souls and lonely spirits with provocative, melodramatic tunes inside skillful arrangements is quite moving, but he wouldn’t care about what I’m writing anyway because, as he clearly says in the last track, “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)”: “I do not read the reviews/ No, I am not singing for you.”
Singer and guitarist Christina Billotte, formerly of mod punk group Slant 6, is what makes this band sound somewhat genuine. Her gloomy, mournful chant is sweet and dark, accompanying well ominous harmonies of murky garage rock or mired, slowed-down Goth punk. However, the instrumentation is rather minimalist such as on “The Breeze” or “Tell it Like it Is,” which are typified by one-string notes on guitar or bass to produce melody, and sporadic cymbal-snare hits to keep an unobtrusive, steady rhythm.
QUIX*O*TIC has toured with fellow rockers, Sonic Youth, Papa M, Blonde Redhead, Fugazi and the Rapture, but Mortal Mirror lacks the dynamic, forceful energy of those groups, teasing your ear holes with 12 short tracks that fail to wash out your clogged-up ear wax.
The title song is perhaps their best and, with resonating, 1960’s psychedelic guitar sounds, as well as a deep, driving bass line, is reminiscent of a Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Sitting in the Park” may sink you into a daydream for a few minutes, and has the melancholy charm of a song by The Mamas and The Papas, but doesn’t succeed in fully entrancing the listener. Moreover, the group decided to cover a number of tunes on this album, which displays their range of influences, but pilfers originality from their sound. “Ice Cream Sundae” scrounges from Syd Barrett’s “Love You” (“Ice cream sundae, I’ve seen you looking good the other day”). Their version of Aaron Neville’s “Tell it Like it Is” is nice and sugary, but their cover of Black Sabbath’s “Lord of this World” is weaker than the original.
Maybe if you line up this album with a black-and-white horror flick from the ’50s and add the sheer sentiment of power chords, it may keep your ears ringing, but we at least encourage this group for not falling into the pit of rock glam and staying true to indie label, Kill Rock Stars.
The Funky 16 Corners
Long forgotten recordings never sounded so damn funky. Produced by Egon and his comrade, Peanut Butter Wolf, over at Stones Throw Records, this disc is an ancient medallion of jams. It’s the result of a massive crate diggin’ expedition that honed the fiery ambition and historical appreciation of Indiana Jones.
During their quest through milk crates the size of caves, the Cali duo unearthed and gently blew the dust off of 21 mint funk tracks (with a bonus by Cut Chemist) by various acts from the late ’60s and early ’70s, including Soul Vibrations and Billy Ball and the Upsetters.
Meticulously chosen, the tracks float and boogie down on genuine, deliciously thick, and often instrumental, soul.
Space won’t be used to dabble unjustly in the album’s vast background information. Instead rush over to www.stonesthrow.com, where each of these “unsung heroes of the funk revolution” is given their proper respect.
This compilation is highly recommended, and you might want to buy two copies as a safety precaution/gift, if your parents raised you on a strict religion of Soul Train and James Brown.
Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone
The bewitching cover art for Everyone Who Pretended… – a crisp black and white photograph of three well-dressed, underage lads smoking cigarettes – is a whispered pledge for what rests inside.
The Walkmen are a quintet based in New York and it shows – hearing them is experiencing deja vu mined from an urban dream – the setting: a decade lost in permanent midnight, slight wind-chill, all bands are hypnotic and melancholy, and underground rock clubs serve as cozy caves for social hibernation (or something pseudo-poetic). It’s an escape that skims two-thirds of the usual NYC pretension for natural musicianship and is served chilled.
To specify even further, their music is a concoction of U2 and the Strokes (keep reading) wrapped up in the emotional syllable stretching sorrow of Joy Division. Even when the second track, “Wake Up,” practically exorcises the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind,” it comes off like a casseroled musical homage rather than hip theft.
The silvery guitars on the poignantly dope “French Vacation” drift far from range, only to be iterated like nighttime ripples from a boat’s wake. “We’ve Been Had” is the prerequisite coming-of-age song about moving to the city, but vocalist Hamilton Leithauser’s bittersweet charm and clever lyrics like “We’ve been had, I know it’s over/ Somehow it got easy to laugh out loud,” update it with fresh gusto.
Everyone Who Pretended… is an album that doesn’t have standout singles, and most certainly wasn’t recorded for that purpose. This works to create a gorgeous, overlapping, rainy day mood, but also makes things feel a little redundant and sleepy (not purposely). If a later track like “Rue the Day,” on which Leithauser opens the shades a bit, were found mid-album, this blemish would vanish.
At most that’s slight criticism – the group’s notable self-production allows each record to flow with a lustrous presence crafted in pianos, drums and keyboards – a rarity.
Few people residing outside of NYC are familiar with the Walkmen (circa 09-02), since it’s a three member incarnate of recent ex- “it” band Jonathan Fire*Eater. That band suffocated prematurely from a million dollar deal at Dream Works and the loud boasting of jump-the-gun rock journalists.
Judging from this classy, low profile disc courtesy of Star Time International, the Walkmen wouldn’t stomp out three cigarettes for more Xeroxed hype. Of course, they’ll attract it regardless, just as the album’s cover memorably suggests. Whether this is classic New Yorker a la mode is for you to decide, but the music’s merit is unquestionable.
For more info: www.thewalkmen.com.