Friday, May 19, 2017

FIRST IMPRESSION: R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner - Make It Be



Collaborative albums between artists can be dicey propositions. Does it sound too much like one of the folks involved or do you split the difference between the two different styles/personas?  Can the sum possibly be greater than the parts?   Trust me, for every “My Life In the Bush of Ghosts” or “Madvillian” there are a dozen “Watch The Thrones”.  It takes not only an estimable set of skills to make the balancing act work, but also the ability to set aside ego to come up with something that works best for the songs.  Against a lot of odds, “Make It Be” (a nifty bastardization of the Fabs’ “Let It Be”), the collection of tunes birthed by the coupling of madly prolific lo-fi hero R. Stevie Moore and power-pop prodigal son Jason Faulkner gets it almost exactly right! 

Eschewing the scrappy homemade quality and murk of many of Moore’s releases, this is Faulkner’s sonic show.  Fuzzed-out opener, the deliciously misanthropic “I H8 Ppl” sets the stage, with Moore spitting lyrics atop Faulkner’s bed of guitars and synths and it sets the stage for an album chock full of deliciously weird and inventive tunes. While “Make It Be” can at times come off as lacking cohesion, the kitchen-sink experimentation more often than not produces a roller-coaster of sounds and styles, exemplified in miniature by the way the lo-fi prog instrumental “Gower (Theme From a Scene) bleeds into Moore’s spoken word diatribe “Prohibited Permissions” and finally segues directly into the buzzy garage stomp of “Stamps” (a Pixies-esque salvo about needing a roll of the titular object, natch).  At 18 tracks, it can be a bit dicey at times (the noodly, half-assed guitar interludes don’t exactly ooze necessity), but wonderful gems like the silly and delightful ersatz ‘50s juke-jumper “Don’t You Just Know” more than make up for any chaff amongst the wheat.  If nothing else, it makes me remember how much I miss and love Jason Falkner.  His “solo” contributions like “Another Day Slips Away” or the psych gem “Horror Show” would have fit perfectly on his well-loved 90’s solo albums for Elektra.  Also, his guiding hand has helped Moore to make the most of his gifts and provided structure to a songwriter whose own prolificacy sometimes works against him. “Make It Be” is not only a nice addition to both artists’ catalogs, but will also hopefully bring some deserved exposure. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Feelies - In Between

The arrival of a new album by Haledon, NJ’s favorite sons (and daughter) is always a cause for celebration – particularly when it can be punctuated by anywhere from three to twenty years in between!  What a treat, then, that “In Between”, the Feelies’ 6th album (and first since 2011’s comeback, “Here Before”) is such a lovely document of what the band does well. The newer, softer Feelies that have evolved out of their 20-year absence make increased use of acoustic instrumentation here – oftentimes, it’s the percussion of Dave Weckerman that is loudest in the mix, and the songs have a late-Velvets ease to them that bely the tension rippling right beneath the surface.  Autumnal in the best sense of the word, the album opens with the crackle of a campfire and the chirping of fauna and the title track sets the pace for most of the album – Glenn Mercer’s and Bill Million’s guitar strums nestling against one another, while Stan Demeski’s brushed drums and Brenda Sauter’s supple bass sagely keep time.  The band is in no hurry and the album is all the better for it.

Those only familiar with the band via its classic debut will certainly be surprised by how languid the band is here – most songs shuffle breezily by and the first appearance of Mercer’s biting lead guitar doesn’t rear its head until the fourth track, album highlight “Flag Days”.   All of this, however, is simply preamble to the 9-minute monolith that is the reprise of “In Between” that closes out the album.  A fully electric take on the title track, the song continues to build steam until hitting the three-minute mark, and then it goes off the damn rails.  Million’s churning rhythm guitar locks in with the rhythm section and Mercer’s skittering leads careen around it all; the sound they make is simultaneously hypnotizing and paranoia-inducing but never less than thrilling.  When both guitars nimbly (and loudly) solo over the last minutes of the jam, it reminds you of why this band is so fervently adored almost 40 years after their debut.  The culminating pick slide and feedback is all the reminder you need that age is nothing but a number and that the world is a better place with the Feelies rocking in it.  

...And We're Back!



Have you missed us?  Sure, you have!  After many false starts (read: laziness and ennui), the rockist reviews and fawning interviews you know and love are returning.  We promise to be less like that ne'er-do-well uncle who sometimes forgets your birthday and gives you wildly age-inappropriate presents (really, Uncle Barry, "naughty" playing cards?  AGAIN?) and more like an attentive lover, showering you with gifts that are both thoughtful and plentiful.  So, dig into the archives and prepare yourself for the awesome power of a fully operational mothership! (T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M for you fans of middling 90s George Clinton LPs...you know who you are!) Color Is Its Own Reward is back, baby, and it's about to get loud...

Friday, December 23, 2016

INTERVIEW: Sophe Lux

Photo by Julian Tobon

The new album "All Are One" (credited to Sophe Lux and the Mystic), is both a logical extension of your previous albums but also much grander in scope. You also recorded it with longtime collaborator Larry Crane, which lends it some continuity to your past work. What was the impetus behind changing the moniker and did it impact the way you approached this set of songs?

Adding "The Mystic”  to the moniker was inspired to give birth to the alter ego and bona fide character called “The Mystic" who shows up in the videos and narrates some of the songs.  The new moniker also reflects the ideas and  themes on “All Are One.” Lastly, the new moniker also represents my return to being a solo artist. 

The album was born out of a passion to create an alternative discussion to counter the rampant dystopic themes in pop culture. I wanted to construct a body of work that created a response to the violence, classism, sexism, and lack of compassion in the world. I asked myself “how can we love what could be, instead of hate or fear what is?”  The answer came to me in dreams, visions, and meditation sessions. These ideas then turned into the songs, characters, and music that make up the new album. Working with Larry Crane was a pleasure as always. 

You came out of a very fertile musical community in Portland - did that affect your development as a songwriter and performer?

Being in Portland has affected me in a very positive way in that it is a creative climate that supports individuality in creative expression. This is a place where it is safe to “let your freak flag fly.”  It’s also a place where you can also retreat into your bear cave hibernation chamber and go deep into your creative space. I cloistered myself away like a monk when I worked on this one. 

I recently spoke with Josh Haden (of the band Spain) and Petra Haden (a cappella singer extraordinaire, ex- that dog.) about the impact of siblings and family members working in similar creative spheres. Your brother Todd has quite a bit of acclaim as a filmmaker. How did that effect your artistic development? I have to imagine that there was a system of healthy competition and support there.

Growing up with Todd as a big brother has been a great gift. We were most fortunate. Our home was a hub of constant creative activity and discovery. Todd is one of the most creative and intelligent humans I have ever met. I have always looked up to him as an artist, human being and cultural educator. I think I learned about my creative process by observing his creative process. He exposed me to great art, music, and film. I never felt in competition with him. There is a tremendous love and support between us. 

Can you tell me a bit about your songwriting process - do you typically come up with the music first or a lyrical idea?

My songwriting process is primarily intuitive, but can be very intentional and practical. I usually set an intention for a song idea, do some research for inspiration, and then let my subconscious and intuitive faculties take over from there. 

What were some of your formative influences? I think that the easy longline would be to Eno and early electro artists, but the new album has some very strong Sparks-like moments as well.

My early influences: Eno, YES! David Bowie, Bjork, Radiohead, David Byrne, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Dead Can Dance, 4 AD Artists, Real World Records Artists, Laurie Anderson, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell. Classical: Beethoven, Strauss, Hildegard Von Bingen, East Indian Classical, Choral  and Chamber music. 

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you ?

"The Love Comet” is one of my favorites as it has achieved something I was looking for in having a song grounded in form and content. The video also helps anchor my good feelings about the song.

What's on tap for you next?

I have been planning, practicing, and dialing in the live performance of “All Are One.” It’s a big job, but is its going to work!!  I am working on transferring the tracks into Albeton Live and adding video screens to create an audio visual show that is fun to  watch while being super portable.

I have 32 songs in the queue waiting to be recorded. So I am excited to get back into the studio. 


Friday, September 30, 2016

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Mission - Another Fall From Grace


Wayne Hussey’s reconstituted The Mission (finally dropping the “U.K.” from their stateside moniker) have decided to celebrate 30 years as a band by releasing an album – “Another Fall From Grace” – that finds them reconnecting with their past. Produced by Tim Palmer, the man behind the boards for the band’s classic debut “God’s Own Medicine” and commercial breakthrough “Carved In Sand”, the album sits somewhere between return to form and retread.  Hussey has publicly stated that the album should sound like it was released in 1985 (a bridge of sorts from the Sisters of Mercy’s “First, And Last, And Always” – in which Hussey played a pivotal role – and the Mission’s own debut), and sonically Palmer does a fantastic job of creating a lush, gothic backdrop.  The drums boom, the bass is prominently throbbing and Hussey’s 12-string guitar (somewhat diminished on recent albums) chimes throughout.  It all SOUNDS like a Mission record, but there is an immediacy to the songs that is lacking. 

2013’s superb “The Brightest Light” showed Hussey moving past some of the trappings of the “classic” Mission sound and sounding somehow older but also more feral.  His voice - always a beautiful, pleading instrument - sounded like it was about to fall apart, reaching for notes that were always just out of reach.  He sounded desperate, rather than dramatic.  Here, the whole thing feels dialed back and a bit safe.  That’s not to say it’s a failure – “Tyranny of Secrets” is a driving winner and few do epic melodrama as beautifully as the band do on album closer “Phantom Pain”.  I just wish that the drama sounded more grounded and vital.  As a Mission statement for a band that’s survived for 30 years, however, it’s certainly more than good enough.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

NEW EYELIDS!


Portland's finest purveyors of psych-pop are back with their finest aural confection yet, the titular track from the recently-released "Slow It Goes" 7'.  Chris Slusarenko and Joen Moen have delivered what might be their catchiest tune yet, a 4-minute slice of pop perfection that is big on the jangle AND the crunch!  So, as the weather finally begins to feel like fall, celebrate one last blast of summer by playing this LOUD...

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Micronotz - 40 Fingers


The Midwest has spawned more than its fair share of melodic, thrilling punk music – the Minneapolis scene itself of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s can lay claim to no less than three seminal acts – but many scenes were under-documented and bands that could or should have been huge (or at the very least, influential) simply struggled along for a couple years before giving up the dream and taking on day jobs.  The Micronotz, spawned out of Lawrence, Kansas, were one of those bands.  Initially starting as a punchy, angular act that highlighted original vocalist Dean Lubensky’s nervy yelp, the band developed into a melodic punk powerhouse over the course of four full-length lps.  With the addition of new singer Jay Hauptli’s burly bellow, the band pushed into sonic territory similar to Husker Du or Chicago’s Naked Raygun.  Their second album with Hauptli at the mic, 1986’s “40 Fingers”, is a great distillation of mid-20s ennui and romantic frustration.  “Black and White” could be a long-lost Doughboys track and their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” brings to mind Overwhelming Colorfast’s version of Simon’s “For Emily” (Hauptli’s voice bears more than passing resemblance to OC’s great Bob Reed).  The absolutely pummeling title track sounds like it could go desperately off the rails at any moment and it’s breathtaking. 

Sadly, the Micronotz wouldn’t make it out of 1986 intact, splintering just weeks after the album hit shelves.  It’s too bad, because “40 Fingers” is easily their finest work and showed a band that had finally figured out how to harness its strengths.  Luckily, Bar/None has reissued all five Micronotz albums as part of its 30th anniversary celebration, so hopefully they will get some of the belated recognition that they richly deserve.