Wire Post to Wire
With so many Brit bands trying so hard to be the next Radiohead and failing so miserably -- the toothless Coldplay, the anemic Travis, etc. -- it comes as a very pleasant turn of events that the heirs to the throne are an unknown American quintet from Portland, OR.
That's what this beast of a recording suggests, only not in the manner you might imagine. By trying to recreate their raw live sound, The Standard's third full-length became a shiny new hybrid, equal parts Bends-era Radiohead and Brian Eno-era Roxy Music. It's a sprawling, brooding, epic and undeniably gorgeous disc.
Wire... is all shimmering keys and lush synth washes, guitar squalls, thundering drums, pulsing bass, breathtaking arrangements and quirky time changes. Like any memorable record, it conjures up all sorts of contradictory images: it's raw, polished, moody, joyous, gentle and aggressive, usually all at once.
Ritchie Young and Tim Putnam (guitars), Rob Oberdoerfer (bass) and Rob Duncan (drums) all play essential roles, but Jay Clarke's keyboards leave the deepest imprint on the listener's psyche, and producer Jeff Saltzman (Stephen Malkmus, Death Cab for Cutie) wisely puts him front and center.
Putnam's vocals also make their mark, though that may constitute a hurdle for some. It's a tremulous singing style -- a cross between Johnny Rotten's twitching sneer and Brian Ferry's frayed quaver (that's pre-slickster, "More Than This" Ferry). But the hesitant, pleading, intimate style is entirely suitable for both the music and the urgent nature of the lyrics -- it's not Thom Yorke, but he'll spring to mind immediately.
The back-story goes a long way to explaining the record's coherence and the band's undeniable tightness. The close-knit group moved to Long Island, shared the same living space, worked at the same lobster restaurant down the street, and wrote and recorded the disc over a two-year stretch.
The Standard played an incandescent set at The Room (they'll be back there in May) a couple of weeks ago; only a handful of people showed up, putting the lie to Putnam's ironic declaration in "Runway Week" that "we can sell anything." Now maybe if they were British...
Track to burn: "Even Numbers"
Grade: A---John Schacht
The music of the catchily named band Xiu Xiu is pretty dark, intensely personal stuff. But how to get that across, without making them sound like any number of the whiny emo bands currently clotting the market?
There's an old journalistic credo that you may have heard of -- "show, don't tell." Well, the folks who came up with said credo likely never heard troubled-young-man Jamie Stewart's lyrics.
To wit: "Cremate me after you cum on my lips/horny boy place my ashes in a vase/beneath your workout bench." Oh, and "I can't wait "til you realize your mommy's heart is broken/I can't wait to watch you grow up around the people who broke it." You've heard of Dashboard Confessional? This is head-through-the-windshield confessional, though Stewart's many lyrical shards are set off nicely throughout by washes of electro-acoustic noisepunk.
In short, not a party record, and probably not even a party of one record (you may need at least one other person lest you go on suicide watch). It is fascinating, however, and real as the blood in your veins, and that alone makes it worth recommending.
Track to burn: "I Luv the Valley"
Grade: A--Timothy C. Davis
Joseph Patrick Moore's Drum & Bass Society
Blue Canoe Records
Joseph Patrick Moore has served as a member of Col. Bruce Hampton's Fiji Mariners and Blueground Undergrass. The bassist and multi-instrumentalist, currently based in Atlanta, produces solo records and also appears on numerous projects as a sideman. Moore has a knack for bringing disparate musicians together into a collective that somehow manages to click. In Volume 1, the guests coax Moore's seven original compositions into up-tempo pop, contemporary jazz, and world fusion. There is also exotica in "Rain Dance," funk with "Cheesefrog Funk," and groove-rock hints in "Heavy Things." Sure, there are tracks that would be at home in a lounge somewhere, lurking in obscurity, but most of the record works quite well. The engaging takes on several covers include The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another," where George and Caroline Pond from Snake Oil Medicine Show add their own obtuse dimension. The Specials' "Ghost Town" gets a jazzy treatment and covers of Phish, Men at Work and Tony Williams also get refurbished. Moore's bass lines are supple, funky and don't overwhelm the rest of the crew playing slide guitars, violin, horns, woodwinds and mandolin. His bass especially shines in a dedication to Herbie Hancock simply entitled "Herbie."
Track to burn: "Ghost Town"
Grade: B---Samir Shukla