New Music Reviews
by Michael Caldwell
With their third album, Swedish heavy rockers Witchcraft earn points for sounding like an authentic and obscure group from the late 60’s and early 70’s, i.e. Pentagram, Wishbone Ash, and Atomic Rooster. But they lose points for sounding like an obscure group from the era. Based on your preference, additional points can be added or subtracted for lead singer/guitarist Magnus Pelander’s voice, which can sound like he’s channeling Jim Morrison via a watered down Glen Danzig.
High scores are obtained when the quartet resign themselves to emulating Black Sabbath. “Hey Doctor” is the new “Snowblind” with a hint of “Hand of Doom.” But it’s when Witchcraft taps into Sabbath’s more eccentric explorations that they find their winning formula. Case in point, bongos accompany the opening drumbeat on the grooving “Samaritan Burden” which ends as acoustic folk. And the chugging, instant classic, “Remembered” contains a sweet sax solo. The album concludes with the ten-minute title track. Here the quartet combine the sum of their influences and in the process create something more uniquely their own.
It must be hard to date—much less be married to—someone with multiple personalities. Everyday provides the possibility of waking up next to a stranger. Likewise, loving the music of Charles Thompson has gotten a little more complicated. To music fans, Thompson is best known as Black Francis, main man of the incomparable Pixies. Thompson also records by the name Frank Black, solo artist and leader of The Catholics. Now three years after the Pixies short lived reunion (the group broke up over a decade ago) Frank Black, um… Charles Thompson, is now Black Francis again. The result is Bluefinger, an album of 11 songs inspired by the late Dutch artist and musician Henry Brood.
The logical question is, “Does Bluefinger sound like a solo album Black Francis would have made if he’d released it during the Pixie’s heyday?” How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? The answer to both inquiries is, “We’ll never know.” What is clear is that the rousing lead off track “Captain Patsy” sounds just like a Pixie fan would hope a solo Black Francis lead off track to sound. Over a raw guitar and brisk drum roll, Francis’ first words are “Ahhhhhhh” as in “Ahhhhh yeah! This sounds like what you’ve been waiting for.” “Threshold Apprehension” sounds even more Pixie-ish. Wait a minute! Is that Kim Deal’s voice lending backup! Nope, it’s just a great imitation. One thing sorely missed is Joey Santiago’s atonal guitar lines.
But that’s right. This is not 1993. As Frank Black, Charles Thompson has had a lengthy solo career in which time he’s covered new musical terrain beyond what he created with the Pixies. In recent year’s he’s also gotten a little sleepy sounding. “Test Pilot Blues” slows the tempo of Bluefinger and simultaneously the rush of excitement that the prodigal son has returned. Black Francis is back but he’s still also Frank Black. The 1950’s rock n roll vibe of “Lolita” is a nice Frank Black type song. The really cool, “Tight Black Rubber” goes both ways. Ping pong baby. That’s what it must be like living with a split personality. And so the album goes, back and forth between Thompsons’ personas.
Charles Thompson doesn’t always strike gold, but he consistently creates precious music. His lyrical wordplay, guitar tones, chord choices and multiple vocal manipulations (in league with Bad Brains’ HR) can do little wrong. He’s an American treasure, which means he tries news things. This also means occasionally he fails. Bluefinger is not one of his failures. It’s a combination of his musical personalities to date and brings us around the bend of his career. Perhaps we won’t come full circle until he releases an album by his given name.
Love for a Strange World
Expectation is a bitch. When you order vanilla and get strawberry, it’s easy to be disappointed; no matter how much you like strawberry. When you expect your electronic music to have a sub-woofer kick, and all you get is mid-range and tweeter, the clouds descend and the skies grow dark. Initial spins of Love for a Strange World may leave uninitiated listeners twiddling the knobs on their stereo and wondering, “Where’s the freakin’ bass?”
The first song, “Troubles I’ve Seen,” sounds like Moby recording on a four-track while immersed in the depths of depression. Over the next seventeen cuts, it becomes painfully apparent that Love for a Strange World is nothing short of Jay Haze’s diary entries set to dark and reduced ambient tracks.
Haze’s bottomless techno blues work better through a set of headphones where his manipulated vocals and minimalist accompaniment can be whispered into the ear. On track seven he breathes, “Don’t want to feel your pain. Don’t want to know your name, because it’s all the same, everyday.” Such selfish sentiments and Haze’s preoccupation with his own misery reduce the album’s listen-ability. There is little room left for the listener to interject his or her own experiences in order to empathize. Unlike traditional blues that often manage to maintain a sense of hope and provide up-lift, Love for a Strange World should come with a warning sticker alerting those with suicidal tendencies to stay clear. Masochists, who want to take an audio peek at Haze’s digital diary, would do well to listen for short segments at a time, and after ensuring sharp objects are out of reach.
What Have We Become
(Equal Vision Records)
Seemless is a Massachusetts based super group of sorts. Vocalist Jesse Leach and guitarist Pete Cortese used to play with Killswitch Engage and drummer Derek Kerswill was a member of Shadows Fall. Musically however, Seemless share more in common with Soundgarden and Kyuss than any member’s previous metal project. The quartet—rounded out by bassist Jeff Fultz —produces heavy straight ahead rock with lots of chunky, low tuned riffs, a la Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger.
The problem is Leach often sounds more like Glen Danzig than Chris Cornell, yet he lacks the latter’s fist clenching range. Likewise, Seemless’ songwriting doesn’t meet the standard much less improve upon the catalog produced by their influences. The first two tracks from their second album What Have We Become are pure filler. Though there are worthy moments throughout, it’s not until the final cut “…Things Fall Apart” that the quartet evoke anything unexpected and reveal greater depth.
Make no mistake, Seemless can throw down. Listeners new to the genre will find the group more than capable of rocking their speakers. Experienced aficionados, however, will have already been there and heard it done better.
Stick out your auditory tongue and say ahhh! Let Luke Vibert drop some Lover’s Acid on ya-baby. Bug and chill-out to the up-tempo, downbeat, futuristic, retro, space age-bachelor pad, stoner, trip-hop, drum n bass, acid-jazz, electronic melting pot that is Vibert’s latest concoction – and his fifth full-length album released under his own name (he has also recorded as Wagon Christ and Plug).
Maybe if the Beastie Boys had continued in the groundbreaking direction of Paul’s Boutique (minus the raps) their instrumental album might have sounded a lot like this. Come to think of it, a few cuts from Lover’s Acid do sound like Beastie instrumentals (minus some of the live instruments). There is a quirkiness that pervades Vibert’s work. Yet, the idiosyncrasies seldom come at the expense of the songs.
Like LSD, the major downside with Lover’s Acid is that at times you might not be in the mood for the unpredictable ebb and flow of sensory stimulation performing calisthenics between your ears. Vibert’s subtle genre jumping can be jarring when one track, lurking on the periphery of awareness, gives way to another that sets about boring straight through your forehead. To Vibert’s credit, the change in dynamic is largely achieved through his selection of sounds and tones, versus volume or tempo. It is possible to go along for the whole trip in one sitting, and when you’re on the right wave length what a cool journey it is. Now, try making love to it.