New Music Reviews
report my Kent Manthie
Joan of Arc: Flowers
Polyvinyl Records, 2009
Legendary Chicago scenesters, Joan of Arc, have just released Flowers, their latest CD. Amazingly it is another brilliant, innovative and unique (which goes without saying) album.
In 2007 JOA put out Boo! Human an equally great CD that they had no trouble following-up. That album, Boo! Human, was chock full of what seems like contrived, well-thought out, wry songs, but in reality Tim and company, the revolving door that is Joan of Arc and probably one of the things that has kept at least the name alive all this time, for Joan of Arc has released a LOT of CDs.
In the incarnation for Flowers, Joan of Arc, this time around, consists of frontman and songwriter Tim Kinsella as well as Cale Parks, Sam Zurick and Tim’s brother Mike, aka Owen, playing drums on at least many of the tunes and doing a damn good job of it too.
This new release, Flowers, has been noted in some areas as being a little more coherent than its predecessor, Boo! Human, but to anyone who has heard some of their past, more experimental recordings such as Dick Cheney, Joan of Arc & Mark Twain, The Intelligent Design of Joan of Arc and the studio album (it’s not “live”): Live in Chicago: 1999, which Flowers seems to drift back towards since the more “structured” Boo! Human, in 2007, which, while still very unique and not at all following any formula but what happened to be in Tim’s head, which can vary wildly.
Yes, Flowers has a more experimental feel and a slowed down pace as well, that departs from their previous disc. Nonetheless, there are great songs on this album, in fact, it’s another JOA CD that is perfect for listening to from beginning to end, never getting tired or stale. The same goes for the solo work of both Owen and Cale Parks, who have both had some excellent solo albums that they did completely on their own, Owen, in his boyhood bedroom.
Songs that stick out, as far as being more “structured”, hence more easy to get in your head, are, for one, the super-catchy “Explain Yourselves Part 2”, the opening cut, mellow and performed with only singing and synthesizer, “Fogbow”, the penultimate song, “Life Sentence/Twisted Ladder” and the closing cut, “The Sun Rose”, which, if you listen closely, is an acoustic guitar solo that does some sly finger-picking, playing variations on the theme of the opening cut, the aforementioned “Fogbow”, which was exclusively done with synth. From beginning to end you discover lots of diverse ways to express oneself and some damn catchy hooks!
Trespassers William: The Natural Order of Things (EP)
Gizeh Records – release date: 6/08/09
Relatively new as a duo, Trespassers William have just released their second CD, this one an EP, entitled The Natural Order of Things, the follow-up to their debut, Different Stars, which was released on Bella Union Records, which makes The Natural Order of Things their debut for Gizeh, an indie label, based in Leeds, England, UK.
If there is any flaw one can point to about this CD it’s that it is too short! It only has five songs on it, leaving one wanting more when it’s over.
The music is a warm, glowing balm with bold beats: bare boned, white knuckle drumming, keeping a perfect beat as well as providing an anchor, a center of gravity. Over the primitive drumming is everything from sitars to synths, guitars, bass, etc, but mostly it is the voice of Anna-Lynne Williams; not in an overwhelming, loud way but because the mixer turned up her microphone louder, bringing her vocals into the forefront, becoming part of the music, not just accompanying instruments.
Anna-Lynne’s is a powerful voice, one able to enunciate and vocalize symbiotically and one that doesn’t get lost, overtaken by loud guitars or sampled noises, etc. Musically, one couldn’t ask for a better partner in Matt Brown, Anna-Lynne’s her perfect match in a musical way: Brown puts together these beautiful soundscapes and Anna-Lynne fills them in with extra vivid colors: soft pink pastels and neon lime greens.
Together they put together an angelic album: ethereal yet earthy and elegant; Matt Brown’s magical musical machinations and Anna-Lynne’s beautiful vocal musings have combined to produce something that will take the listener on a transcendental journey just lying on a divan with this on the stereo.
Sometime around the fall of this year Trespassers William will head to Europe to play a few gigs and then eventually they’ll make their way over to the US for some select dates (don’t forget Southern California!) which will probably be late in 2009 or early next year. For more information on the band, check out their website at: trespasserswilliam.com or, for more information on Gizeh Records, go to gizehrecords.com – you can also find MySpace pages for both band and label.
After releasing two EPs in their own, “DIY” style, entitled EP01 and EP02, the duo, worriedaboutsatan, made up of two Brits: long-time friends, Gavin Miller and Tom Ragsdale were snatched up by the UK’s Gizeh Records and it was for them that this dynamic duo recorded what was to become their full-length debut: Arrivals, a CD made up of 11 songs that go into one another without any stopping, just segueing right into the next tune. This works quite well, as there is no pop songs on this record, no three ½ minute little slice that one can cut out and play like so much laundry soap or French fries on your average commercial radio station. Go away radio, you’re anachronistic. People who can think for themselves don’t need to be told what is “hip” or “cool”, I would like to think that people go out and buy stuff that they really enjoy, not something as an accessory (but then that’d mean that Hannah Montana and Britney Spears really do have an appeal, limited though it may be to pre-teens, not yet exposed to drugs and DIY bands at cool clubs). For that, just stop listening to the radio. I haven’t listened to the radio for 9 years or so now and I don’t have any problem with finding new stuff to listen to not to mention all the great stuff that’s been made or composed in the last 400 years or so.
On Arrivals, worriedaboutsatan make a bold debut, they don’t sound hesitant or unsure. There is a seeming place that they want to take their sound and it shows by the structure of the songs and the continuity of the music on the CD, the way the tracks were laid down.
Track seven, “History is Made at Night” is a minimalistic jaunt that has this infectious hook/groove through it. While it’s repetitious, it is so in a cool, entrancing way. For a time the same beeps are looped over and over then in a progressive way, a fluid organ sound insinuates itself into the minimal beeps and drum machine sequence. After the wave of atmospheric ephemera rushes over everything, it just as magically wanes away, leaving in its wake a quiet wake of guitars providing a tinny melody above and over a windy synth machine. Before you know it, you’re in the middle of “Your In My Thoughts”, the next song, seamlessly born from the previous track. Track number eight, “You’re In My Thoughts”, starts off with a crackling beat, intricate percussion: two spoons being deftly manipulated, really coming to the foreground until it’s then weaved in with more drum machine programming.
Track 10, “All Things But You Are Silent”, is a tune with the imagery of a generic urban downtown setting, late at night, when streets are deserted and the lack of any people, of traffic or of anything lighted up or moving give the empty streets this look of pre-fabrication, as if it were merely a Hollywood movie set. It’s weird. So the song starts out and for about the first four or so minutes it flows with an eerily slow and minimalistic soft velvety wave of quiet stirrings, a tinkering of a bass guitar, noodling around the neck with bubbles of anchorable melody. Things get wound up some toward the end, edging it up about ¾ of the way through and then coming back to the way it began, back to the slow, quiet peace that was the gist of the theme of the tune.
The title track, song number eleven has this plaintive, wailing, sobbing guitar with just enough distortion to provide a bit of fashionable feedback (just a touch, mind you, not Jesus & Mary Chain-style feedback. But underneath is a lush, fluidity of constancy; waves of synthesizers that anchor the wandering, crying guitar.
The last two cuts are just “edits” of previous tunes: songs 12 and 13 are “edits” of “You’re In My Thoughts” and “Evil Dogs”, respectively. I, myself, could never understand the need to put extra takes, re-mixes or “edits” on CDs, something I’ve always found to be repetitive and not needed. I guess, one could justify it by saying that it allows the listener the choice between two versions, or if one really likes it, they can hear it twice in one album, mixed two different ways.
Here’s hoping that with Arrivals, worriedaboutsatan will be sticking around a while and wracking their brains to follow this up with something brave and new in the near future. Until then… -KM