Saturday, January 31, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: Prima Donna - Nine Lives and Forty-Fives

Prima Donna have been reliably pumping out scuzzy, Dolls-indebted rock for over a decade and have finally made the album they have long been threatening to.  “Nine Lives and Forty-Fives” is a step up for Kevin Preston and co., a rollicking 33 minute drive into the seedy underbelly of L.A…the songs are sharper, the attack both more precise and menacing, and the choruses reach for the rafters.  The spy-theme riff that underpins first single “Deathless” worms its way into your skull, and the driving “Rubbish” matches pounding keys with a staccato guitar slash that wouldn’t sound out of place on “L.A.M.F.”; when Aaron Minton’s sax bleats out a quick run in the middle, you’d be hard pressed not to floor the accelerator and just give yourself over to the rush. 

The production, courtesy of California punk stalwarts Bruce Duff (Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, Triple X records) and Paul Roessler (the savagely underrated Screamers, 45 Grave, dozens of others), is just the right amount of raw…this is a band that benefits from scuffing up the veneer a bit, and Duff and Roessler have a very good handle on how to keep one foot in the gutter.  Not everything here works – “I’m On Fire” is generic and too “bloozy” by half and “Tattooed Love Girl” seems to be a bit TOO in love with the riff and rhythm of Jim Carroll’s “Friends Who Died” - but album centerpiece “Rock and Roll is Dead” belies its own title and shows exactly how precise and powerful a band Prima Donna have become.  Roll down the windows, clap along  and play this fucker loud!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: Black Sugar Transmission - Violent Muses

Andee Blacksugar makes sexy music.  It’s really that simple.  Coming off a stint as touring guitarist for Peter Murphy, Blacksugar follows up 2013’s “The Glamour Pantomime” with an album that both hews darker than its predecessor while also being a bit more accessible.  All of the hallmarks of his past decade’s work in Black Sugar Transmission are here – the mechanical bump and grind, synths flittering around the mix, his high keening vocals, the Vernon Reid-like guitar runs.  But, like the kinky cover art, the album is concerned less about the feel of the NYC dancefloor and more the primal need for connection in a world that’s relationship with technology is complicated at best.  And sometimes that means breaking out the pink rope!

While there are a couple things here that harken back to Blacksugar’s past albums (the disco fantasia of “Hey Wildflower” being the best and most dance-worthy example, though he does allow for a squiggly bit of guitar heroics), he breaks new ground throughout with the Mr. Bungle-indebted “The World Is Yr Ashtray”, the late-90’s Bowie-esque “Watch the Windows” and the sheer ferocity of opener “Stripes”.  The more extensive use of outside musicians (particularly the use of live drums on a majority of the tracks and Ava Farber’s transcendent vocals throughout) gives the album a stronger and more consistent feel, as if Blacksugar is playing tug of war with some of his collaborators over the fate of his songs.  It’s beautiful, thrilling, and a nice step forward. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: Andrea Belfi - Natura Morta

If music has the ability to be both simultaneously menacing and beautiful, Andrea Belfi’s “Natura Morta” has the formula down pat.  Separated into 6 “movements” that bend and fold into one another, the Italian drummer displays an aptitude for the unsettling.  Piercing, treated guitars and synths ride atop the clattering percussion and tension is built and released through repetition.  There is little of the melody that Belfi displays with the Mike Watt-led il Sogno del Marinaio, and for a drummer the album relies less on his percussion than you would think….which is a GOOD thing!  This is a mood piece, and the album is reminiscent of composer William Basinski or some of the more challenging instrumental works of Mike Patton -  all creaks, squeals, buzzes and darkened rumbles.  The songs can be claustrophobic at times (probably intentionally so), so when Belfi’s cymbals suddenly crash halfway through “forme creano orgetti” it is welcome light piercing through the clouds.  “Natura Morta” is not the easiest listen, but it is a formidable work and a welcome insight into an exciting composer.