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KRCC’s Delvin Neugebauer reviews new releases from Bibio, The Curious Mystery, Dengue Fever, Erland & the Carnival, Bob Geldof, Meat Puppets, Thao & Mirah and TV On The Radio. All the albums reviewed are recent additions to KRCC’s music library. Tune in to any of the Music Mix programs on KRCC to hear selections from these new releases.
This is the sixth album from British singer/DJ/producer Stephen James Wilkinson, who records under the name Bibio. (The album’s title comes from the Japanese word boke, a photography term for an out-of-focus point of light.) A few of Mind Bokeh’s songs are structured as mini-suites. The opening number, “Excuses,” begins with a rhythm track constructed from sampled rainfall and water drips; a subdued bass and electronic percussion come in, along with a coolly muted keyboard melody. About halfway through, though, the song switches to a more abrasive synth track. “Pretentious” starts out with synth bass, sampled percussion and guitar, plus a melodic hook that sounds a little like steel drums, but it ends with a sax melody over a graceful keyboard hook. From its opening of a flute over jazzy synth chords, “Anything New” develops into a vocoderized la-la-la hook over chimes. “K Is for Kelson” is a peppy number with folky guitar, an escalating synth hook and dah-dah-doo vocals over nimble percussion; it includes a middle section that sounds as if Bibio found some junk metal that was perfectly suited to a percussion solo. Throughout Mind Bokeh, Wilkinson’s tracks are inventive and tuneful, and he always keeps things moving. You can find yourself listening and grooving to one of his songs, only to realize by the time it ends that it developed into something totally different before you noticed it. He sings, too, in a pleasing, light tenor, but that just displays the disc’s one weakness: his lyrics. Over the laid-back funk rhythm of “Wake Up!” Wilkinson sings, “Wake up to the light/The light that’s always there … Run your fingers through your bristling beard or hair.” In “Light Seep,” an ultra-funky song built around guitar and bass, the singer asks “How will I know that you’ll save me?/Your little hands are getting shaky.” “Take Off Your Shirt,” a song featuring hard-rock guitar over dry drums and cowbell, includes the chorus, “Sinners and rebels will feel the pain/Satins and silks and golden chains/Take off your shirt and give it to/The one with the coats and shiny shoes.” For any pop fan who doesn’t take the lyrics too seriously, though, Mind Bokeh is a listenable, fresh-sounding album that never puts its sense of exploration or invention before its tunes.
The Curious Mystery
The Curious Mystery specializes in a haunting, moody style of rock, with plenty of blues and Indian flavorings. “Up in the Morning” opens the disc with sitar and piano over a dry, slow, deliberate drumbeat. “Hear the Break,” another slow tune, features bent-stringed electric guitar, autoharp and a synthesized string section, with guitarist Nicolas Gonzalez singing, “We’re trying to redefine what we have to say/Please try to keep a fire in the house we’ve made/There is no turning back/Once your heart is set on the choice you’ve made.” Following the song’s last chorus, a harsh guitar chord strikes unexpectedly, as if to symbolize the final rupture between the protagonist and the person he’s singing to. As effective as those first two songs are, an entire album in this style might wear on the nerves a bit. Don’t worry; We Creeling offers more variety than that, along with a few surprises. “Night Ride Reeling” is a bit faster, with a lead vocal from guitarist Shana Cleveland and a drawn-out snake-charmer guitar solo. “Hot Port” is another fast one with a more conventional rock feel and good harmonies by Cleveland and Gonzalez. “Taste It” starts off fast, with surprising Santana-like guitar leads, but then abruptly slows to a crawl; Cleveland’s vocals approach Björk-like abandon on this one before the song speeds back up at its ending. “Cool Kids in the Valley” is a faster number with a flamenco feel; “Rocky XVII” is a sitar interlude that Sonic Youth would’ve been proud to call their own. The album-closing “From the Garden” is a banjo-driven number with Adam Kozie’s complex drumming shifting gears every few measures between slow blues and faster rock. The echoey production and overall mordant feel of We Creeling make it a good choice for late-night listening.
If the notion of mixing rock & roll with Cambodian pop sounds like too much (or too pretentious) of a mismatch to work, then check out Cannibal Courtship and prepare to be surprised and more than just pleasantly. On its fourth full-length album, the L.A.-based sextet delivers robust, energetic rock & roll with surf and psychedelic underpinnings and a tart Asian flavor that doesn’t just show up by accident. That tang comes not only from Cambodian-born singer Chhom Nimol’s high, slightly twangy tone and undisguised accent, but from the tunings and chord structures that the musicians incorporate. The title track starts the album on a laid-back note, moving along on classic-sounding electric piano and organ from Ethan Holtzman; then Ethan’s brother Zac kicks in hard on guitar, building the song to a frenzy that suits the heat and intensity that go along with Nimol’s siren-like enticement: “Be my sacrificial love.” Most of the lyrics on this disc, in fact, examine similarly dark aspects of relationships. “Family Business” is a noirish rocker with lyrics about a family that’s busy with arms smuggling, drug dealing and espionage. “Only a Friend” has a Brazilian feel to its rhythm (courtesy of ace drummer Paul Smith), along with some throaty sax from David Ralicke and a chorus (sung by Zac) about a guy who watches over the protagonist’s girl back home: “I’m overseas flirting with girls/And catching diseases/He makes her laugh/And he keeps her from falling to pieces.” Despite its more upbeat tone, “2012 (Bury Our Heads)” has a similar brooding edge, with the two singers harmonizing about doomsday fears: “So many predictions in 2012/Let’s dig a bunker under the ground/And bury our heads/Let’s dig a bunker under the ground/And just play dead.” “Thank You Goodbye” is another poppish rocker, in which Nimol tells a departing lover, “Kiss me goodbye/You’re just another stamp in my passport.” In the sinister, sax-and-organ driven “Cement Slippers,” the two vocalists assume the roles of a couple you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with: “My boyfriend loves everything in the bar/But the music, the smoke and the booze … My girlfriend loves everything at the beach/Except the water, the sand and the sun/My boyfriend loves everything about me/Except the endless hours of therapy.” Dengue Fever explores the more explicitly Asian side of its style more thoroughly on “Uku,” “Mr. Bubbles” and “Durian Dowry.” Nimol’s voice ululates through the exotic tunings of these songs. And “Kiss of the Bufo Alvarius” is a great instrumental that sounds as if it emerged from the soundtrack of some forgotten Sixties spy flick that’s just waiting to be rediscovered. Cannibal Courtship is a fully realized, thoroughly entertaining album from a band that’s come up with a fresh, fun approach to rock & roll. Don’t miss out on this one.
Erland & the Carnival
(Full Time Hobby Records)
Former Verve guitarist Simon Tong and vocalist Gawain Erland Cooper lead this London-based quintet. The group’s second album, Nightingale,, offers plenty of rich, complex instrumental drama, along with a worldview that comes only from advanced training at Morrissey College. The lead-off track, “So Tired in the Morning,” rocks out in 5/4 time, with a tremelo-heavy guitar hook, Andy Bruce’s haunted-house organ, distorted vocal, tremelo-heavy guitar riff and a guitar solo in the bridge that sounds as if it’s played on calypso-styled steel-pan. Cooper sets the tone of the album right away, singing in his soft, somewhat muted voice, “The saddest thing in life/Is to love and not be loved.” In the synth-pop number “Map of an Englishman,” the protagonist uses geography as a metaphor for his own life: throughout all the vast landscape, with all its variations, love is nowhere to be found. “Emmeline” opens with a creepy keyboard and guitar intro, but then builds into a galloping rhythm with banjo strumming on the verse and a lyric about searching for a mysterious missing girl. “I’m Not Really Here” is sort of the flip side of that song’s story, as the singer tells an adoring fan: “Far away/And so long ago/I slipped into your dreams/Before the end of the show … I’m not really here/It’s just the afterglow.” “East and West” is built on light acoustic guitar and a nagging keyboard riff like a modern alarm clock’s wake-up tone; Cooper goes deep on this one: “Where are the minds of my generation?/Destroyed by the time that they’re wastin’/I drag myself through our last conversation/I sit myself through my own dissection.” In the closing track, “Nothing Can Remain,” over a finger-picked guitar and a spare beat, Cooper opines, “Some lessons you learn/Some lessons you don’t/And why am I still here? … The message, when it came/Cut softly to the vein/The point of no return/From which I had to learn.” If Nightingale sounds like your kind of carnival, step right up.
How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell
Bob Geldof has indeed composed a few popular songs, including his early Eighties hits with the Boomtown Rats and, most notably, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” That single became not only one of the biggest sellers in UK pop history, but a modern holiday standard. Still, the Irish singer hasn’t put an album or song in the UK Top Fifty for more than twenty years. His humanitarian efforts certainly have been significant, including the charity ensemble Band Aid and the Live Aid concerts. But no one in the mainstream music industry’s cherished 18-to-34 demographic will remember most of them. On this album, Geldof doesn’t pay any attention to pop music trends, but he shows he can still write an interesting song or two. The disc-opening “How I Roll” sounds like a gloomy blues rendition of the Young Rascals’ “Summer in the City,” right down to the lyric: “Hot town, trying to make a living/You wake up every morning in the unforgiven/Out there, somewhere in the city/There’s people living lives without mercy or pity.” “Blowfish” is an electric blues number with raw, distorted harmonica, thick, heavy guitars and a synthesized string section that could be showing up on holiday from “Kashmir.” “She’s a Lover” is a subdued, solemn funk number with a jittery keyboard riff; the singer moans about the romantic interest who’s left him: “She’s a lover and she won’t be back/She’s a lover and I got the sack/I can take it/Or take her back.” “To Live in Love” would sound at home at a French sidewalk café, right down to the mandolin and accordion (not to mention Geldof’s nasal vocal delivery). “Dazzled by You” is a gospel number that the singer could be addressing to a lover or a savior; “Mary Says” is a lighter song played mostly on finger-picked acoustic guitar, with an odd theremin-like keyboard. Along with co-producer Pete Briquette (the former Boomtown Rats bassist), Geldof gives most of these songs a light treatment, with plenty of breathing room in the arrangements. How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell is a listenable, enjoyable album. The artist may not be following the lessons implied in the title, but he has nothing to prove, and never has shown any inclination to listen to anyone’s advice. And let’s face it: if a listener is that concerned about whether a song is popular or likely to sell, well, those songs are always waiting out there on some other radio station.
Lollipop, the thirteenth album by this veteran trio from Phoenix, takes a little time to warm up to. Specifically, it takes four minutes and nine seconds the length of the opening track, “Incomplete.” The song isn’t bad, but the synthesizer crowds in on the guitars and ends up flattening the whole track. The disc picks up from there, though, with a lot of tasty guitar work and plenty of good melodies from singer/songwriter Curt Kirkwood. After the piano intro on “Orange,” a heavy beat comes in, with fuzz bass underneath and a sprawl of psych-kissed guitars. “Shave It” alternates between a sunny reggae groove on the verses, with subtle, bubbly organ backing, and some cool classic rock moves in the chorus not to mention a nicely surreal lyric: “Drawing of the sunshine/An x-ray of a dream/And a boat that’s hauling water/Up the river made of sand.” “Baby Don’t” is an acoustic country hoedown with more of Curt’s whimsy: “Honey dripping from plastic flowers/Timeless spaces between the hours … Fancy footwork/Shoes for snakes/Cars designed so you cannot use the brakes.” “Hour of the Idiot,” “Way That It Are” and “Vile” all offer some fine guitar effects with an Arabic flavor to their riffs. The more sprightly “Damn Thing” has some nice interweaving electric guitars over acoustic strumming and piano chords, along with the funniest lyric on the disc: “Here’s a question/Which one is right now?/Now replying/Chicken equals cow … Put my ass on the line in this song/And you can kiss this if you think that I’m wrong/And I don’t know a damn thing anyway.” Curt’s singing voice has mellowed considerably from his early strangled yelp; at times, when his voice is mixed deep, he sounds as if he might be trying to imitate the way Michael Stipe sang on R.E.M.’s Eighties albums. His harmonies with his bassist brother Cris Kirkwood are always supple; Cris and drummer Shandon Sahm make a solid rhythm section as well. Long-time Puppets fans may pine for the more manic sound of the band’s Eighties work, but come on, few groups can stay that close to the edge for thirty years. Besides, even back then, albums like 1985’s Up on the Sun included plenty of hints that the group eventually would take this mellower direction. Call them journeymen, or call them old and mellowed-out if you want … but Lollipop is the sound of a band aging more gracefully than anyone paying attention would have expected.
Thao & Mirah
Thao & Mirah
This is the first recorded collaborative effort by Thao Nguyen and Mirah Zeitlyn (following a tour last year). Both musicians currently make their home in San Francisco Zeitlyn as a solo artist and Nguyen as the lead singer of The Get Down Stay Down. The songs on this album are performed in a playful, loose style, with plenty of homemade-sounding percussion, tape loops and folky guitar. The opening track, “Eleven,” is a celebratory song full of rattly percussion and undisciplined synthesizer, with Nguyen and Zeitlyn trading lines and coming together for the chorus, “When love is love/Don’t let it go away.” (Co-producer Merrill Garbus, the musical mastermind behind tUnE-yArDs, co-wrote this one.) “Little Cup” features Zeitlyn’s voice ranging from soft and fluttery to high and airy, over quiet guitar and a whispered vocal rhythm fillip. “Rubies and Rocks” is a faster number with jazzy bass, busy percussion and swinging horns. “Teeth” is similarly upbeat, with Nguyen’s voice breaking out on the chorus over handclap rhythm. In the teasing, playful “How Dare You,” the singers trade lines in the roles of negotiating lovers. One sings, “I’m coming over to remind you of me”; the other retorts, “No, you can’t lay there/That’s where we used to sleep.” “Squareneck” closes the album with bluesy slide guitar over junk percussion. It all adds up to an energetic album with plenty of variety and a fun spirit. Hopefully it won’t be the last collaboration we get to hear from these three talented musicians Nguyen, Zeitlyn and Garbus, whose contributions are a key part of the album’s success.
TV On The Radio
Nine Types of Light
On its previous album, 2008’s Dear Science, TV On The Radio consolidated the eclectic, occasionally anarchic elements of its sound into a funky groove that still left room for musical experiments. On its newest effort, the Brooklyn-based quintet now reduced to a quartet, tragically, with the death of bassist Gerard Smith from lung cancer last month tightens up its sound a bit further, and puts it to the service of excellent, thoughtful songwriting. A few of the songs on this disc seem to address recent world events, and how those events can drive an individual to denial. Singer Tunde Adebimpe opens the first track, “Second Song,” with the lines, “Confidence and ignorance approve me/Define my day today/I’ve tried so hard to shut it down, lock it up/Gently walk away.” Then a funky guitar and an elegant piano come in, and the song builds into a soulful groove, with an understated horn section and blending falsetto vocals from Adebimpe and guitarist Kyp Malone. On “No Future Shock,” a funky track with fast-cranking guitar, the singer addresses a deep sense of desperation at home, as well as the desire to escape it: “After the war broke your piggy bank/All the bastards broke the world … So we sleep with our guns/And the job won’t get done/But we’re happy and high.” “New Cannonball Blues” moves to a faster, harder beat, with a spare bass groove and clean, zooming guitar; Adebimpe opens this track with the lines, “Hey girls, hey boys/No, don’t mind the noise/It’s just the sound of being dragged to hell.” Not all the songs on Nine Types of Light address such issues, though; the disc also includes the most straightforward love songs the band has recorded to date. The protagonist in the modern-sounding soul groover “Will Do” addresses the object of his desire with both challenging directness (“It might be impractical to seek out a new romance/We won’t know the actual if we never take the chance”) and beautiful poetry (“Oh my reddest rose/Caldera/Set it off/How your fire grows”). Although Nine Types of Light may be a tighter album that TVOTR’s earliest efforts, guitarist/producer David Andrew Sitek hasn’t given up his will to experiment with the sound. “Killer Crane” builds from a stately organ and piano intro and clocklike rhythm into a song with a Sixtiesish baroque feel, with a blend of flutes and banjo on the verses and a string quartet on the chorus. “Forgotten” starts with a slow, tapping beat before developing into a waltz-time number with cool synthesizers and a string quartet melodic hook; it ends with whistling harmonies over percussion that suggests firework blasts. Nine Types of Light is the latest dispatch from a talented band that’s grown continually since its debut. Here’s hoping the loss of Gerard Smith won’t derail that growth. (The CD includes two remixes of “Will Do.”)
Contact the reviewer at email@example.com.