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Three new iconoclasts from Polyvinyl

of Montreal
thecontrollersphere
Polyvinyl Records, 2011
www.polyvinylrecords.com
Review by Kent Manthie

After 10 great CDs by this genre-bending, androgynous outfit led by maestro Kevin Barnes, of Montreal has just released a little EP – thecontrollersphere, a five song experience that is typical of the gender-bending, hyper-sexual, disco-on-acid style wiggles that are at their peak in 2009’s Skeletal Lamping and 2008’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? The former, especially, a long, 15-cut CD, is a digital orgy of sorts, a disc that just has to be experienced in one long sitting, in order to feel the full effect of all the sweat, fever, chills and ironic decadence. Their previous full-length, last year’s False Priest was also in that same vein, but, to tell you the truth, it just didn’t have the same energy and intensity of the latter two, but nonetheless scored with a smattering of genius titles and a similar funk-disco-rave-ecstasy-on-the-brain orgiastic come-on. I was excited when I first heard it, but, unlike Skeletal Lamping, which I just couldn’t get tired of, I eventually soured a bit on False Priest. It seemed like Barnes & Co. had hit a brick wall in the creativity department and had just tried to hard to top their previous brilliant mind-warping imagination-sharpener. Still, there was not much at all that came close to the still-genius of False Priest.
Now, almost halfway through 2011 of Montreal has just released a teaser of an EP, thecontrollersphere and in case your wondering where they’ve been coming up with these interesting album titles – thecontrollersphere, False Priest as well as Skeletal Lamping are all bits of lyric from random songs on their breakout CD – the one that woke me up and said “WOW” – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? which came out in 2007.
thecontrollersphere starts out with a very creatively written, comically nonsensical (almost) “Black Lion Massacre”, followed by a succession of ups and downs – the 2 minute “Flunkt Sass vs. the Root Plume”, an 8 minute tune, “Holiday Call”, which is classic Kevin Barnes, in the funky orgasmic style that is of Montreal, followed up by two four or so minute tunes: “L’age D’or” and the EP ends with a very catchy “Slave Translator”.
So, just when you though they were on the verge of running out of steam (and/or amyl nitrate), of Montreal comes back swinging and punching hard with this sensible EP, thecontrollersphere. It shows that, yes indeed, there is no lost touch, no burning out, my judgment was only a subjective thing – maybe they wanted to do it that way for a reason – hell, if they did Skeletal Lamping over and over, now that would mean they definitely ran out of new ideas. But that little je ne sais quois that has so far made of Montreal, well, of Montreal has not faded at all and has bounced back into what I personally like best about the band. The one song they’ve done and I can’t remember which album it was on – if any – I know I just saw a video on You Tube of Kevin and a few bandmates playing in an alleyway, somewhere, a version of their tune “Forecast Fascist Future” – that was definitely hip, but not what you would expect to come out of False Priest or thecontrollersphere.
Bottom line: fear not, of Montreal fans – nothing has changed, everything is just groovy with them and I think there’s plenty of interesting and iconoclastic, poetic, androgynous material to come. Just hold your breath, I’m sure there’ll be another brightly colored gem around the corner. –KM

Starfucker
Reptilians
Polyvinyl Records, 2011
www.polyvinylrecords.com
Reviewed by Kent Manthie

Calling all of Montreal fans: if you dig the scene Kevin Barnes is tripping in these days, you will also love Starfucker. No, they’re not just a derivative band, copying of Montreal, they are quite original in their own right and mediocre is not in their vocabulary. Their latest CD is Reptilians, a disc full of eclectic, alterno-pop quirks.
Hailing from Portland, OR, this quartet, made up of Josh Hodges, Ryan Blomstad, Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran have been around for around 7 years or so and over the time that they’ve been making music they’ve developed a niche that is part flower-power, part-electro-synth-slickness, yet, even without the added synth-effects, studio polishing, overdubbing, etc, their songs, structured as they are, still stand up well, meaning they could abandon all the toys and just strip it down to the singer, an acoustic guitar, a small drum kit and maybe a piano and it would still be just as riveting and just as catchy.
In other words, the bright brilliance of the Starfucker sound is not just ear-candy because of its reliance on myriad effects, which I don’t mean to denigrate; in fact, I say kudos to them for the hard work on the summer-evoking pop spirit embedded in the trippy, light-fused electro-fueled temper. If Starfucker did an “Unplugged”-style performance, where they would’ve been stripped down to acoustic guitars, acoustic bass and maybe a limited drum kit, the songs here would’ve been just as compelling, which shows that it’s not just flashy gimmickry but well-done songwriting at bottom that endures.
The ones that are good enough to be stripped down are, in this author’s opinion, are “Born”, “Astoria” and “Death as a Fetish”. The others should probably stay the way they are and were meant to be – with electronics intact and the danceablilty they evoke left standing. But don’t just take my word for it – although take heed indeed – check it out for yourself and feel the waves of sound caress your body – it is a very sensual album.
Don’t expect to be hearing anything from Reptilians on some cookie-cutter, Clear-Channel “modern rock” station, as it probably wouldn’t fit into a heavy rotation mix. But that means nothing; Reptilians is a really strong, intelligent album, despite what some uptight middle-America prig might think. –KM

Deerhoof
Deerhoof vs. Evil
Polyvinyl Records, 2011
www.polyvinylrecords.com
Reviewed by Kent Manthie

Since 1992, Greg Saunier has been doing much to create his own brand of experimental music, initially it was an accidental flux that happened when his first band, Nitre Pit, which basically fell apart. Nitre Pit still had a few more gigs to complete, so what happened was bassist Rob Fisk stayed with Saunier and the guys continued the tour as a twosome. After that blessing in disguise, the two quickly developed an experimental, quirky, jazzy, improv style that, when they filled in for their former band, caught the attention of Slim Moon, founder of Kill Rock Stars, who signed them to record what turned out to be just one seven inch single. Soon Nitre Pit changed their name to Deerhoof, a name that Rob Fisk had used as the title for a homemade tape of improv bass and harmonica solos.
As a duo, for a time, Deerhoof recorded some very interesting, dark, psychedelic, experimentalia with heavy, distorted bass. In 1995 the duo released Return of the Wood M’Lady for Kill Rock Stars. But in 1996, after their instrumental and bombastic style they realized that they needed fresh vocals. Enter Satomi Matsuzaki, a recent émigré from Tokyo who had arrived in San Francisco to study film. I bet when she left Japan, she never thought she’d be fronting a band, singing in a very cute, albeit talented manner. Meeting through a mutual friend, Grux, from one of Deerhoof’s favorite bands, Caroliner, Satomi was a perfect fit for Deerhoof and now, on their new release on their new CD, Deerhoof vs. Evil, a 12-song disc that is filled with cute but inventively written album.
Some of the best songs on the disc include: “The Merry Barracks”, “Let’s Dance the Jet” and “I Did Crimes For You”.
If you’re into bands like Stereolab, Shonen Knife and other J-pop bands then you’ll dig Deerhoof. The band name sounds like it’d be some heavy metal band or the like, so I don’t know where they got the name, but I must say, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that the band is a slick, experimental indie band from San Francisco.
Currently the band is made up of John Dieterich, Satomi Matsuzaki, Ed Rodriguez and, of course, Greg Saunier.
If I had enough space to write a small book, I could give you a more complete history of Saunier & Co. But suffice it to say, where they are now is where they should be and let’s hope they keep doing things their way – improvisationally, inventive and very, very catchy. For more information, you can read their bio on Wikipedia, their MySpace page or www.killrockstars.com/bands/factsheets/deerhoof. -KM

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