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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

M. Sean Ryan

sean@hashmagazine.com

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Monica So

monica@hashmagazine.com

PHOTOGRAPHY: Finraz

finraz@gmail.com

Frances Sera Kim

francesserakim@gmail.com


CONTENTS LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

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PLUS 1

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Q&A:

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Little Dragon, The Strokes, J Mascis, The Budos Band, Destroyer

The Return of Nostalgia

FEATURE:

The Stepkids: Searching for Feel-Good’s Music Lost Soul

NEW ALBUM REVIEWS LOONEY BIN THE HASH

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A

LETTER FROM THE

EDITOR

Thank you for taking the time to explore our fledgling magazine (and not skip the foreword). We hope that where and how HASH distinguishes itself from the endless wad of music blogs, sites or aggregates will be immediately evident in each issue. But for the sake of first steps, what we, the creators feel sets HASH apart can be stripped to two essentials: content and grip. HASH is something you touch and feel. Our aim is to create a magazine experience, one of which you are continuously aware. Music and playlists will be embedded (soon) and accessible within the pages of the magazine, allowing you to hear what you’re reading about. The musical content is itself a hash of unique musicians, local or promising (hopefully both). Lastly, this is a quarterly magazine; you can expect our second issue in three months, but in the meantime view what’s on our radar via Twitter and Tumblr. Before a brief overview of how we organize your experience of HASH, I want to use this real estate to extend my thanks to the contributors who helped shape this issue–and project at large—by volunteering their creativity and time. On behalf of HASH, I thank Frances Sera Kim for her effortless style and grace—and for her photos of The Stepkids before and during the show. Thanks also to Christian D. Capestany for the brilliant illustration atop our pages on J Mascis and Kurt Vile. And last but certainly not least, I am hugely grateful for the fantastic shots and overall collaboration we received from Brian Collins, aka Finraz, our chief photographer. I’m indebted to my family for their curiosity in and support of this project. The same can be said of my teachers and friends. I want to save the biggest hug for my counterpart: A formidable amount of the sound and 100% of the touch and feel of HASH is the work of our stylo-dynamo, Designer in Chief Monica So—without your inspiration, and legwork, HASH could not exist… who knew?

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And now, the sections of our magazine: Plus 1 The live reviews section, features unique events or musicians. HASH is as concerned with deserving musicians as it is with overlooked clubs, cafes or bars. Q&A We interview an artist who ought to be in your music library. Artist Feature The artist, scene, band—whatever—that we feel is most worth an extended look and listen. Album Reviews HASH covers albums that were released within the past three months, which we think deserve more attention or evaluation than they received. Looney Bin Salvation Army and brownstone-stoops: those are the platters from which we’ll be scraping old records, LP’s or singles in this section. The good, or at least odd (because if you can’t be good, why not be interesting?) music that we pulled from the bins in the months leading up to each issue will receive some attention in this section. The Hash Our assorted playlist: a rundown of music featured in the issue as well as an overview of standout tracks. Our playlist is a mix, split between New and Old. Any tracks within this quarter, the past three months, are New; everything else is lumped into Old. This is the last morsel we offer to leave a lingering taste until next time. If we succeed in bringing new music to light, we’d be thrilled for you to share pages from HASH with friends or interested parties on Facebook. At its root, HASH is about spreading the good word, so please join us in that effort. Or, if you’d be interested in literally joining us as a writer, we would love to hear from you at hello@hashmagazine.com! My sincerest gratitude for dropping by, and reading--

M. SEAN RYAN

Editor & Writer in Chief

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PLUS YUKIMI NAGANO OF LITTLE DRAGON AT BOWERY BALLROOM • JANUARY 24, 2011 PHOTO CREDIT: FINRAZ


A STROKE OF LUCK: ‘FIRST IMPRESSIONS’ OF THE GARDEN Nathan came out of his office and casually raised a ticket, asking if anybody wanted it. It was the first of the month, April Fool’s Day, but the ticket was real and the gods of generosity—or karma, as I like to think—smiled favorably upon me: Three hours before The Strokes were set to play their most important concert in at least five years, I had in my hands a ticket to Madison Square Garden. Nathan happens to be Nathan Brackett, the Deputy Editor at Rolling Stone, where I just wrapped up my six-month residency as an intern and a mouse. Why couldn’t Nathan make the show? Beats me. This was the first time we had ever spoken—maybe even made eye contact. As far as I knew he might have had a long week, or some records to listen to—maybe a Friday night bowling league—whatever editors do. All my thanks to him, though—The Strokes’ Madison Square Garden debut would be mine as well. This would also my first opportunity to see them live. But more importantly, it was the New York fivepiece’s first headlining concert since the official release of Angles, the erratically received fourth LP you’ve likely read all about if you’re reading here, too. The new album was somewhat showcased back in mid-March when The Strokes played a massive show in Austin, TX during the South By Southwest festival. They reportedly worked a few Angles numbers into that performance. But this, the homecoming, would be the legacy gig—and more to the point, the proving ground for the new songs. Whichever Angles tracks didn’t make the cut for MSG would not so subtly be relegated either to the un-playable or the non-essential bin. Neither of those furthers the case for the Strokes as the still-relevant, let alone marquee, rock band of the current decade. They were still building a case for that rank coming into this show. Their late-2009 reunion was fortuitously on the heels of the big rock outlets publishing their Greatest Albums of the 2000’s lists, reinvigorating the Strokes-myth with near-unani-

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mous canonization of debut album Is This It. Some months later, the band’s first live appearance since reforming commanded a top-slot at Lollapalooza 2010 and, as recent interviews have brought to light, an unprecedented pay grade. They wrote some music, recorded and re-recorded, unleashed the slick “Under Cover of Darkness,” which they played on Saturday Night Live. Julian, as it turned out, was still cool; he slipped in an F bomb after a dropped lyric, just before the ending. And then there was the overblown South By show in Austin. Then Angles. Here now they were, in New York City. The Garden’s lights went out, the shrill screams erupted, and out stalked the five shadows, moving slower than anyone I’ve seen in New York before or since. Drummer Fab Moretti uncorked the champagne with the cymbal stroll of “Is This It,” and we were underway, though the lights never rose above a dim, nocturnal blue. “Can’t you see I’m trying / I don’t even like it,” began Julian Casablancas, the pace of his supporting cast equally lethargic—save for Fraiture’s rise-and-fall bassline. Always loved that. This is the way a Strokes show begins: Not with a bang, but with a whimper. It was the perfect tee-up, and made the flawless dash through “Reptilia” that came next sound more like a nitro-explosion than a pop song. With Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.’s guitars still locked in a Thin Lizzy-handshake, the radio rock continued with that well-oiled “Under Cover of Darkness”. It’s still among the stronger tracks from Angles, even if it has the bearing of a band going through the


motions—and pales to the song that comes before it. (“Machu Picchu” would not be played tonight.) Continuing the dynamic charge, they moved back to the comfort of the first album, abating on “Hard to Explain”. Casablancas, showing more enthusiasm than normal—which is to say, any at all—bantered between and during numbers. He announced “Last Nite” then proceeded to launch into the opening chorus several bars too early. By this point, The Strokes had gathered too much steam for such a miscue to matter. It took all of twenty minutes to mount a triumphant return to form as the vampire-cool gang of popular rock, curiously as world-weary in their thirties as they were ten years ago. They transmuted the carelessness fit for, if not demanded by a small club into the big arena show at MSG, unmaking The Strokes as a streamlined band known more for its polish than it’s raw energy. They were anything but stiff; Casablancas walked into the crowd at the close of a faltering “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight.” He remained there as the remaining four shifted to “Juicebox.” The singer sauntered through the pit, muttering verses and straining upward for the acerbic “You’re so cold” refrain of the chorus. He made it back to the stage and finished the song from there. “Thanks, I guess,” he said, “You guys were supposed to rip me apart. We had a deal people!” If there was an April Fool’s prank during the set, it wasn’t Elvis Costello coming out to join on “Taken for a Fool,” though his sheer presence may well have perplexed the unmistakable mass of tweens at this show. Unless it’s a permanent fixture at The Garden (it probably is), The Strokes jacked the four-foot glitter ball belonging to disco-punk crew LCD Soundsystem, whose farewell show was the following evening. Either way, The Strokes put it to use for what may well have been the high-water mark of their concert. That disco ball plunged Madison Square Garden into a whirling dream-sequence for a languid, prom-night incarnation of “Under Control.”

They played that after the weakest song from Angles, “You’re So Right.” A pure dud, it encapsulates where The Strokes’ scrapping for rebirth is manifest, where they sound anything but blasé. Snagging the bass ferocity of “Juicebox” without the same creative push in melody, it’s vocally monotonous too: “Get off on the same floor, get off on the same floor, get off on the same floor…” Lyric-wise, Casablancas is usually leaving or just arriving to the party. Here, there’s no setting, event, or human to grasp. The irregularity of Angles stems from a different root though. By this point, the authoritative tenacity of guitarists Hammond Jr. and Valensi is pretty much taken for granted. Their sharpness couldn’t be ignored during this set at The Garden, which, looking forward, I think underlines where the occasionally missing confluence on Angles needs to occur in order for the band’s next string of songs to transcend merely interesting textures. Continuing in similar form, sprinkling new songs with essentials like “The Modern Age,” the show wrapped in under 90 minutes. Is This It, their debut, still loomed large, comprising roughly half of the concert. I was surprised by that number of concertgoers who looked as though they would have been in kindergarten when that album was released. Given this chunk of the audience, it would seem that The Strokes are oddly enough a new band—not eternally conscripted to the last decade. Enough of their tear through Madison Square Garden was fueled by new music for my questions and exclamations to be aimed at the future too. Sure, I was sad to go without hearing the guitarpointillism and sheer teamwork of “Machu Picchu,” but between this show and reports of The Strokes already being back at work on album number five, there may well be more chances to see them try that tune live—or maybe even surpass it with what comes next. www.thestrokes.com

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TOURING NEW MUSIC WITH A NOD TO THE PAST At 45, J MASCIS is a veteran virtuoso of metal-borne fretwork— as unassuming as they come. Still the leader of intermittently extant noise-rock trio Dinosaur Jr., Mascis is also a busy collaborator with bands J Mascis + The Fog, Witch, even drumming for Sweet Apple.

Mascis appeared at The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn late last month for a snug acoustic set that balanced the songbook of Dinosaur Jr. with new songs from Several Shades of Why (Sub Pop), his first solo acoustic album. In light of Several Shades, Mascis’ setup was simplistic and in line with singer-songwriterly convention. He sat alone, a book of lyrics on a music stand to his side. At a glimpse it was a bizarre rendering of some idyllic storytime scene: a silvermaned warlock in lieu of a

Rockwellian father figure, the epicenter around which an eager—and youthful—audience gathered. Never one to indulge in quaint convention, Mascis avoided fanfare. He accorded nearly every song a half-handed ending, cutting them off rather than allowing them to resonate or land with authority—as if doing so would appear too precious, too sentimental. That was odd in relation to Mascis’ latest LP. Several Shades of Why—by Mascis’ or really any standard—is a sensitive record of acoustic ballads that beg mention of Neil Young and Nick Drake in both tone and arrangement. But where those two figures found a wellspring in themes of helplessness or isolation, Mascis’ take fails to convey its sources of discontent. “And I’ve tried my only hand / And I’ve tried to keep it simple / You just couldn’t understand,” goes one chorus. The lyrics hamstring Several Shades, but its erratic tunefulness is more often a detriment (See “Too Deep”). At The Music Hall of Williamsburg, Mascis used older tunes to build a trajectory missing from his new album. Playing only acoustic guitars didn’t stop J from tapping hardcore distortion, his fuzzed-out forte. Illustration by: Christian D. Capestany

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J MASCIS AND KURT VILE BROUGHT THEIR SOLO MATERIAL TO A SHARED STAGE IN WILLIAMSBURG. In a more recent Dinosaur Jr. tune, 2009’s “Not The Same,” Mascis varied pedal effects at key moments, quoting the overdrive and gain of his typically gnashing solos while untempered acoustic chords looped beneath. The approach was less suited to the new material. His pyrotechnics outran the choppy riff of “Can I” but as with his unceremonious endings Mascis appeared not to notice. Barring a few such exceptions, his unaccompanied playing offered the brightest moments of the set. He was more than happy to share the spotlight though, half of his new songs featured flautist Suzanne Thorpe, and she was not the only guest. Mascis appears to have selected a protégé of sorts in rising indie-songsmith Kurt Vile, who played a mild opener at the Music Hall and guested on roughly half of Several Shades of Why, lending vocals and guitar work. Until his most recent release, Vile projected an off the cuff approach as a lyricist, as suited to introspection as it was confrontation. “Freak Train,” from 2009’s Childish Prodigy (Matador), opens, “Go ahead, tell me ‘Hello’ or ‘Fuck you,’ whatever introduction suits you / I ain’t trying to fight I’m just trying to ride this train to make it home tonight.” It builds to a dizzying momentum, Vile grumbles,

“Fabrication’s my best friend but I ain’t been so insulted in my whole life,” before a pause and then a livid, “SHIT!” His rage is palpable; you see him shaking with anger when you hear it. But at other points of that album he’s as entrenched in placid temperament—one he delves entirely into with his most recent album. Also released last month, Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador) is a coherent drift through sleepy guitar jangle and Vile’s most contained singing to date. “I wanna sing at the top of my lungs for fun,” he drones during “On Tour,” underlining a new direction—with the prior album, Vile would have simply sung at the top of his lungs. But refinement is the guiding ethic behind Smoke Ring, which, despite its bummed intonation, casts a mesmerizing spell. However hazy the wisps of guitar, Vile’s knack for vocal melody remains in focus. And he still bears a bedraggled-underdog charisma— however less petulant he sounds in voicing it—as on “Puppet to the Man” when he sneers, “This one goes out to all those who want the rat to survive.” Vile returned to the stage and joined on two songs, notably “Make It Right,” the definitive gem from Mascis’ Several Shades. Its performance wobbled between chaos and euphoria

once both guitarists branched off, chord progressions circling in loops and Thorpe continuing on flute. The dreamy timbre of Vile’s effected acoustic billowed spacious phrasing and odd punctuation—in and out of sync with Mascis’ rhythm track, the intersections sounding as accidental as intentional. The uncertainty in their duet became the entertainment. Neither Vile nor J betrayed a sign of satisfaction at a harmonious crisscrossing or, in the case of J, at the yowling pinnacle of a string-bending solo. Periodically compelling but perpetually absorbed, their sets underlined the differences in their oddball idioms. An effective foil to Mascis, Vile is anything but an heir-apparent despite the pair’s shared ambition for straightforward, musical statements—however bumbling they sound when voiced.

http://jmascis.com/ http://kurtvile.com/

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TAO OF THE BUDOS THE 12-PIECE COMBO RODE ITS UNRELENTING WAVE FOR A TWOHOUR BURST, IN THE HEART OF BROOKLYN. THE BUDOS BAND

concocts a rare breed of instrumental afro-funk. If ever there was a group that rigged out the melodies of a snake charmer with Tower of Power bombast, it’s these guys. Anchored by a five-man percussion section, the ten-man combo finds a forceful drive in a minimalist engine of guitar and bass. But with the Budos, the crucial authority lies in its horn section. And nowhere is this more evident than the live setting. With its oppressive trumpet and baritone saxophone frontline, The Budos Band whipped a capacity crowd into a raucous, dancing maelstrom last month at The Bell House in Brooklyn; for two hours, the collective churned out polyrhythmic and tightly wound grooves with unfaltering vigor—to the detriment of their own instruments, in some cases.

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“Most of these songs are from our new album, I don’t know if you know it,” Jared Tankel said early in the set, bari sax hanging heavily from his neck. “It’s called The Budos Band III. It’s got a fucking cobra on the cover of it.” True enough. Released last summer, the Staten Island band’s latest album (Daptone Records), also underlines the iron cast template that informs The Budos Band. Even more than prior records, its songs are almost exclusively cast in the favored minor tonality, invoking a blurry lexicon of East African and Middle Eastern music. It also continues a legacy of albums that, five songs in, sound indistinguishable from one tune to the next. Like prior records, The Budos Band III ropes roughly ten instrumental tracks into a 40-minute knot. All three of the band’s LPs would seem unpretentiously, if not vacuously titled (The Budos Band, The Budos Band II, etc.) and are fronted by so-oafish-it’s-righteous album art: an erupting volcano, a scorpion, and, yes, a cobra. There is a brash irreverence in every gesture of The Budos Band, and it informs the single, intense dynamic level at which the group plays. That constant only heightened the effect of the downtempo tunes the Budos stirred into their set at The Bell House. “Nature’s Wrath,” a choice cut from Budos III, slowed the motions of the crowd but not the momentum. Its full-bore horn wallop was just as present in the swift, more representative songs. “Adeniji” and “Golden Dunes” established their themes and strict feel before moving into improvisatory sections where, again, any lyricism was an afterthought. Sax player Tankel appeared to be struggling to get sound from his horn by the final song—its valve issues seemed all too likely a result of fierce overplaying.


It was a kinetic event. Congas player Robert Lombardo, who may well have been hammering with even his elbows to generate his propulsive patterns, could be seen repeatedly goading his band mates, mouthing across the stage: “My side [of the floor] is winning.� The outcome on that front was irrelevant, though. The decisive result of the evening was clear almost immediately: The music of The Budos Band transcends its template in concert. http://www.thebudos.com/

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DAN BEJAR OF DESTROYER AT WEBSTER HALL • APRIL 3, 2011 PHOTO CREDIT: FINRAZ

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DAN BEJAR OF DESTROYER AT WEBSTER HALL • APRIL 3, 2011 PHOTO CREDIT: FINRAZ

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THE RETURN OF

NOSTALGIA

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Nu-jazz innovator BENEDIC LAMDIN has been busy. For four years. The British guitarist and multi-hyphenate, better known as Nostalgia 77, released a two-disc roundup of unheard remixes and B-sides, produced Raise The Roof by vocalist Lizzy Parks in 2008, and her follow-up in 2009. He collaborated on Nostalgia 77 Sessions featuring Keith and Julie Tippett and co-founded Impossible Ark Records with Riaan Vosloo that same year. Nostalgia then went on to produce albums for Sara Mitra, Jeb Loy Nichols and another side project, Skeletons—all under the Impossible Ark umbrella.

Nostalgia 77 has finally updated his own catalogue with a fourth LP, Sleepwalking Society (Tru Thoughts), released March 22nd. Reining in the adventuresome jazz-spells of Everything Under The Sun (2007), it finds crisp, shuffling rhythms and compact grooves in tracks like “Blue Shadow” or “When Love Is Strange,” and reassurance in the sultry baritone of singer Josa Peit—on seven of its nine tracks. Checking in from home soil, Nostalgia 77 discusses how his past few years compounded into a record, as well as additional projects in both Afro Cuban and Guinean jazz. HASH: Can you talk about the title of “Sleepwalking Society”, or the concepts at work? Benedic: One of the tunes on the record is called “Sleepwalker”. It came from a conversation one morning I had with Josa [Peit]. She said she used

to sleepwalk, and it just kind of came right back: Sleepwalking Society. It seemed like a nice little play on words and a visual image as well. H: Did that idea inspire “Simmer Down”? BL: That’s more of a lullaby. When you’re writing songs things kind of seep in from one side to the other. You might be writing a fresh song but a little seed of what’s been in your head from the other one kind of creeps across. But it’s not a thematic record; it’s not written on themes—if they’re there, it’s accidental. H: How long did the album take to complete? BL: About 18 months. I was doing lots of recordings with different people over the last two or three years. I was writing songs in between, trying to build up a set of songs for this record. I wrote quite a lot of instrumental music that didn’t end up going on there as well, more in the style of the old records.


Q& H: What was your role as the composer-producer with this new album? BL: Well on this record all I’m playing is the guitar with a couple of bits of percussion. I think added organ on one tune. Really I’m just producing the project and writing. I guess in contrast to older things where I played a bit more instruments, now I’m just lucky I’ve found some people who do that a lot better [laughs]. I’d rather take that directing role and give a more polished performance, which I think we get in this compared to, say, the first couple of albums. H: Lots of people argue against genre these days. What are your thoughts? BL: Well you can’t ignore it. People are very quick to say, “That’s that, then.” I think the argument that genre is less and less relevant to what style of music something is, is a fairly good argument. There are plenty of people in jazz whose music doesn’t sound like jazz anymore, but it’s made in the spirit of it. Why shouldn’t you make whatever it is you feel like making? H: Do you think it’s fair to classify your solo records as a somewhat linear shift from more produced hip-hop jazz, to live-jazz instrumentation and tracks? BL: Yeah, in my solo records it has been a slow movement. Each project presents you with a challenge or gives you a glimpse of something else that you want to be, and the next record is like a response to that. With this record there was a load of songs that I think in a way I was trying to work out the way I write. So hopefully the next set of songs will be a bit more mature, better executed— or worse [laughs]. It’s either, “I’ve done enough with that,” or there are lots of little things I think I did well that are intriguing about the last record—and I want to have another go at that. That applies to working in projects with other people; you get a glimpse into what they’re doing and that can be inspiring as well. I’m always recording with different jazz groups, and with each thing you have a little glimpse of something in somebody else’s music.

H: Are there any songs from the new album that are an example of that? BL: Not really songs, no. I did a record with Jeb Loy Nichols called Strange Faith and Practice (2009), which made me want to have a go at songs that were simple and direct. I also recorded with The Golden Age of Steam, an English three-piece. During that recording I met the sax player who I got to lay parts down for Sleepwalking Society. It is just a long trajectory, isn’t it? Whether it’s music or something else, all of these little odds and ends sum up to a whole. It’s very natural to want to do something different each time—improve. By the same token we definitely have our types, or moods. Though this record is kind of far away from songs from my first record [Songs For My Funeral] as you could go—the way I made it was very different—there are still tunes that, next to each other, have similar atmosphere. The consistency is accidental. H: What can you say about your project with Hugo Mendez—the self-titled album that’s coming out from The Rhythmagic Orchestra? BL: Hugo and I met in Brighton at a record stand we both went to. He was into various world styles and Afro Cuban in particular. About three or four years ago we did a one-off and recorded about half the album, and it sat around. A year and a half ago we finished all the music. It’s great: There are kind of two sections—one is more Afro-Cuban, the other straight latin: rumba, cha-cha. It’s a mixture of fairly well known, leftfield jazz. I’m very proud of it. It’s fun—different from what I normally do. H: Are there any similar projects that have been shelved but might see the light of day? BL: I did music with a load of Guinean musicians and another friend of mine, an Australian sax player. So that’s more of an afrobeat, traditional African thing, which might see the light of day. That’s been going on for a year and a half… It’s always a bit of a juggle. http://nostalgia77.com/

Q&A

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T H E

STEPKIDS PHOTOS: FINRAZ & FRANCES SERA KIM

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SEARCHING FOR FEEL-GOOD MUSIC’S

LOST SOUL

The story is in the sound when it comes to the rising triumvirate of songwriters known as The Stepkids. With a debut LP already wrapped and on the way, the concern of the soul-rock outift is unquestionably in continuing their story­ —so long as it means a crack at upbeat music that will make you think.


one of us are actually step-kids,” Dan Edinberg admits backstage between bites of potato chips. In a few hours his band will be swathed in a psychedelic spectrum of color, playing a brand of soul music just as vivid and elaborate. But for now, Edinberg and the other two Stepkids are still of this earth, relaxing in the cozy lounge before their show at Littlefield, a small music and arts venue in Brooklyn. Hinting at the spectacle that is to ensue, Edinberg is frank about the nature of his band-mates: “We’re music studio nerds; we geek out about stuff... If we tour, we’re at Home Depot.” They even give Plato a shoutout on their new single. The Stepkids—also guitarist Jeff Gitelman and drummer Tim Walsh—are among the most recent additions to the indie and mostly hip-hop label Stones Throw, based in Los Angeles. “After looking at their roster and hearing a lot of good things about them, we started to get excited,” Walsh offers. “But I think we got more excited when we got to know everyone there. Every one of them is pretty nerdy like we are. They’re all very well studied in the history of music—funk and hip-hop specifically. It felt like that was perfect because we are in that same vein. That’s nice: to shake hands with somebody who understands it from that historical perspective, too.” When Edinberg or Walsh refer to themselves and Gitelman as ‘nerds,’ what they really mean is that The Stepkids are scrupulous—in their reverence for musical forms, from jazz to rock, funk to pop, and in their craft and presentation. Even more than meticulous, what defines in the Stepkids sound is its ebullient twist on classic

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soul pop, enriched with quirky trimmings. This is true of “Shadows on Behalf,” that Plato-referencing single of theirs. Compact and singable with a rhythmic push and antiquated air of nostalgia, the lead-single is as valid an emblem as anything from the Brooklyn trio’s forthcoming studio album. Scheduled for release in September, their self-titled debut smacks of sounds and movements long gone: optimistic yet conscientious funk indebted to Sly Stone as much as it is Motown (“Legend In My Own Mind”); disco-polished harmonies and string enhancement (“Santos and Ken,” “Suburban Dream,” “Wonderfox”); jocular, R&B-inspired falsetto bends toward zany parody (“Brain “Ninja”) as effortlessly as it does to utter immersion (“La La”). The music is surprisingly coherent, a quality the band connects to the music’s genesis. “As soon as we started The Stepkids, it was writing together by recording,” says Gitelman. “Recording was the medium that allowed us to sit down in the same room and write the same verse together.” Instead of a chief writer or duo,

all three members contributed to every song from The Stepkids. “Two writers can get in a room and do that together, but I’ve never heard of instances of three writers,” says Edinberg, adding, “We’ll agree on a melody—and that could be written by anybody.” Each Stepkid sings, too; that’s another duty rotated from song to song, if not verse to verse. “It’s always just a round robin, really. It goes through each of our filters before we all sign off on it,” says Walsh. Even more fundamental than the democracy in songwriting is the musicality of each player. For years, Edinberg sang and played bass with Providence, RI punk foursome Zox—a group he co-founded during his college days at Brown; Walsh spent the better part of the past decade releasing solo albums and playing jazz internationally; and before completely devoting to the trio, Gitelman was the touring guitarist for Alicia Keys. Growing up in Connecticut, all three had known and played with each other for years, but touring and respective projects kept them apart for years.


(L-R) Fred DiLeone and Dan Edinberg (Below) Tim Walsh

Is the Stepkids sound nostalgic or progressive?

It wasn’t until a fortuitous overlap in schedules, roughly a year and a half ago, that Gitelman, Edinberg and Walsh had the opportunity to all play in the same room. When they did, “it just clicked,” remembers Edinberg. “We made a whole record, under a different band moniker with two other people and we finished it in 2009.”

What was that group? Dan: I think we were calling it The Bells at that time, but legally… Jeff: We couldn’t even call it The Bells, but that’s a whole other conversation! Dan: We didn’t care; the whole album was basically a preparation for The Stepkids stuff. We immediately started recording Stepkids just the three of us,

and that felt so good that we decided to not look back. We didn’t play live until we were done with our album.

And you recorded it to analog tape? Dan: Neither of us had recorded to tape prior. Jeff found his old four-track in his parents’ closet. Just to experiment, we ran things through it and were so pleased by the sound that we chose to write to the sound. Jeff: But we didn’t want to be another Lo-fi band—even though we might be perceived that way—we wanted to go beyond that: not do what Ariel Pink already did. Then in that process we felt it was a little too Lo-fi, and we Hifi’ed it up during the mixing. Dan: Like a middle-ground…

Dan: It’s both. We don’t try to just imitate an old sound. We have an idea of a style we want to emulate, we’ll do that and when it looks like a photocopy we’ll try to go a step further and pick some other influence or sound that doesn’t have anything to do with it—then we’ll try to make that connection. We never try to just replicate something old and leave it at that. Jeff: We wouldn’t be very good if we did that; people back then—they were very good. If we tried to emulate Marvin Gaye, we’d probably fail miserably. We do what we can. The Beatles knew there was a Little Richard out there; he already sang like that so they took it to another place, and that’s all we can hope to do. Given their priority on recording, playing concerts would appear unimportant to The Stepkids. “Before we played one show, we felt we needed to have an idea that would separate us,” claims Edinberg. Their

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answer to that challenge has since proven as definitive to the group’s burgeoning reputation as their novel integration of genres. Coursing through their patchwork is that ‘Mid-fi’ aesthetic, an aural veil owed to the analog recording. But when the band performs there is an actual veil; it covers Walsh’s drum kit and the keyboard stand of Fred DiLeone—who fills out their ranks on tour. The linens are there because The Stepkids realize the vivacity of their retro sound. To accentuate that vibe, they round out their shows with a full-fledged projector rig, draping drums and keyboards in white, wearing matching suits—Gitelman and Edinberg even play white gui-

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tars—The Stepkids play amid a dazzling whirligig of light and color. Steering those projections is visual artist and Stepkids friend Jesse Mann. He explains how he and the group arrived upon its use of visuals: ”We came up with that concept in one session. We sat down and watched some William Kentridge videos where he actually puts himself inside of a film that he creates—he’s a South African animator. We tried some experiments with the projector.” Gitelman interjects that he asked to do something with a projector and was promptly dismissed by Mann, “Jesse was all, ‘It’s been done. Every band does that.’ I was like ‘Yeah,

you’re right.’ Then someone was saying to have other objects besides just a screen onstage that could be a part of the projection, and I said, ‘Why don’t we all wear white and you just project on us?’” The idea resonated. In its current arrangement, Mann suggests the role of the projector during a Stepkids show as, “a light source—this way of creating narrative, visual elements. It falls somewhere in between what you’d expect out of film and actual stage lighting.”

How preordained is it—are you listening and reacting? Jesse: I wouldn’t say that it’s completely intertwined with the music, but I can really


(L-R) Jeff Gitelman and the hands of Jesse Mann

respond to what’s happening on the stage—move things around so it hits properly. Sometimes I want it to be really bright and have them flying toward the audience—very connected. Other times, the music is more psychedelic and distant; it’ll be a fuzzy kind of projection that makes them recede back into the distance, then pop forward again during more exciting moments. Jeff: It’s never been the same two performances, ever.

Do you just have one white suit, or a couple different pairs? Tim: Nah, we have pretty much just one. Dan: It smells bad.

As the projector screens on them, The Stepkids meld into a shifting kaleidoscope—at times Tron, at times the trippy rivertunnel in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. By all accounts this should strip the individuality of each member onstage: painted over, one with the cosmic tapestry. For the most part, it does. During solo sections though, their honed intensity is enough to keep both frontmen entirely in focus. “We’re huge jazz heads,” says Edinberg, “That’s the first thing we like to mention. For us, that’s the most important influence.” Though they adhered to a concise verse-chorus pop form at this Brooklyn show, jazz slipped in

through the latticework of both Gitelman and Edinberg, deft and nimble. At times it was explosive—as in the brimming finale “Cup Half Full,” or “La La,” which had Gitelman unleashing angular streaks of guitar attack and Walsh singing, drumming and operating a stalk of brass bells. Ending their Brooklyn gig at Littlefield as they normally do, The Stepkids bobbed through the cheeky doo-wop of “Cup Half Full”. In a move reserved only for live renditions, they flipped into a double-time R&B sendoff where the song normally ends. Gitelman and Edinberg traded gospel-style “Yeah”s back and forth, moving on to alternate short but bristling solos in

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similar call and response. “The Stepkids sound is jazzy, but it’s soul music,” Gitelman asserts, expounding, “We’re very influenced by British rock as well. Pink Floyd is a huge foundation of this project.” The English can probably be held responsible for the zany sounds and experimentations populating the album. Aside from percolating string arrangements, it contains its share of subtle creaks and swoops, rattles and skronks (See “Santos and Ken”) for the most attentive—or nerdy—of listeners. When asked about the weirdest effect committed to a track, the group offers a volley of responses: Jeff: What was that sound on “Suburban Dream” where you sampled…? Dan: [offers a whoop uh whoop uh whoop pattern]. Right, because I noticed there was this sound when someone pushed ‘STOP’ on the tape player-Jeff: Yeah we had the fourtrack tape—it made that sound when you pushed ‘STOP’ and then ‘PLAY’ real quick again. We sampled it and it’s all over “Suburban Dream.” [Keys player] Fred has been very instrumental in contributing some vintage keyboards that are basically extinct now. Dan: Fred built a clavinet from scratch. Fred: That’s probably that spring sound in “Santos and Ken.” Dan: No I think what he means is that [imitates a vibra-slap].

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Tim: A vibra-slap! Jeff: There’s a real clavinet on there, a real Wurlitzer. Fred is one of the biggest electric piano technicians in the world. He just invented this new kind of electric piano, and partnered up with Vintage Vibe. When you see us live we have a real electric piano, not just a digital piano: a real, electric anode. Fred: We have a white one in the works—won’t have to hang a sheet over it anymore.

“We’re huge jazz heads... That ’s the first thing we like to mention. For us, that’s the most important influence.”

Bolstered by the depth and number of effects, the music The Stepkids have prepared for their debut is rich. But additional material is already being drafted, and tested in concert. One, “Sweet Salvation,” offers a rich stride of funk indebted to Parliament-Funkadelic. “Black Oil,” the other, quotes slavespiritual “Wade In The Water,” whisking its melody into a neopolemic against BP. Similar but less overt conscientiousness is scattered throughout the songs they’ve already recorded on The Stepkids. “Legend In My Own Mind,” explores and charts inflated ego, sketching “a Shakespeare of his day,” “a prophet and a sage,” born into a crib of rainbow sprinkles. When asked about the song, Gitelman again points to Pink Floyd, and “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 2),” “That was the feeling we were chasing: Make feel-good party music but make people think. I feel that way about ‘Legend.’” In their first formation in 2009, the trio was influenced by the indie zeitgeist of harmonizers like Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes, and Grizzly


Bear—citing the “emphasis on collectivity” as a draw. Praising folk for its beauty, Gitelman contends, “That path was very sullen—kind of dark stuff.” The immediate sensation struck by “Brain Ninja”—their first song as The Stepkids—was one of relief. “I liked that even if it wasn’t a dance song there was a vibe to it that wasn’t morbid—an okay-to-have-fun kind of thing. For years I was writing songs: ‘Oh I’m feeling depressed—let me write a song.’ This was the first time where it was a different theme, a different reason to write songs.” The harmonies stuck, but Gitelman, Walsh and Edinberg moved on—to upbeat songs set amidst electric-haze, where a line like “You’re shockin’ and jivin’ me baby” is less a punch line and more a snippet of expected dialogue. Just as they look backward for a spirit in sound, so too do the Stepkids advance: with an eye to their own past, finding traction in the lessons learned there. www.thestepkidsband.com

NEW ALBUMS LÁGRIMAS MEXICANAS

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária There’s a telling sequence in the opening track of Lágrimas Mexcianas (eOne). “Mi Declaración” descends gently, its arrangement careful not to impose upon the delicate singing of Vinicius Cantuária. Frisell’s guitar-vapors pour forth after a string of verses, addled by sonic twitches that warp and fuse his playing to a myriad of ineffable scratches and swells. Venerated jazz performers though they are, guitarist Bill Frisell and vocalistmulti-instrumentalist Cantuaria aren’t conspicuous about their chops with this album, choosing instead to inundate its bossa grooves with subtle flecks of color and mystery. Paced dynamically and stretching to a healthy forty minutes, this is a plaintive album—‘lágrimas’ are ‘tears,’ after all. Cantuária sings of heartache in Portuguese and Spanish (save the out of place, final ditty “Fo-

rinfas”). Meanwhile, cheerful instrumentals like “Cafezinho” or “La Curva” flit away after about two minutes, leaving meatier, stormy tracks like “Aquela Mulher,” “Mi Declaración,” and the fantastic title-track to shoulder an ethos. “Lágrimas Mexicanas” glides with purpose over a robust pulse; even when paring down for Frisell’s (and presumably Cantuária’s) lithe runs and peculiar squawks, it continues its push forward. Wandering is left for ambient track “El Camino.” Cautiously executed, its theme ripples against sighing vocals, spiraling while faint harmonics dance in and out of focus. It’s artful and rich, though it lacks the serenity of Cantuária’s bossa nova intonation as an instrumental track. Throughout their reconfigurations on Lágrimas Mexicanas, Frisell and Cantuária fashion an inventive balance of traditional styles and experimental modulations, well worth a listen. http://www.billfrisell.com/

NEW ALBUM REVIEWS

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LOW COUNTRY BLUES Gregg Allman

Low Country Blues (Rounder) is Gregg Allman’s first solo album in 14 years and almost exclusively one of blues covers—a lone track is the joint effort of Allman and longtime playmate Warren Haynes. Spanning Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B.B King and others, it’s a useful guide to the originals, as covers records typically are, but Low Country Blues has merits all its own— though they surface sporadically. Omni-producer T Bone Burnett assumes the helm and heaps on the halcyon R&B horn support, dusty drum production and spare, fuzzy guitar licks—most effectively on Junior Wells’ “Little By Little”. The brass-swagger of “Blind Man” and “Checking On My Baby” awakens the gruff vigor that Allman keeps too concealed in this record. Sax and trumpets ablaze, Allman snarls “I’m hooked / Lord I can’t let her go,” during “Blind Man,” electric guitar sympathizing and responding in blues filigree. A near identical arrangement undergirds “Please Accept My Love”, but Allman’s placid vocal fails to register as convincingly.

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While he’s engaging when he digs into that ripcord brio, the overwhelming spirit of Allman’s performance on Low Country Blues is a tentative one. The singer is kept at a distance throughout, mixed by Burnett as an equal stratum with the other instruments. More straightforward, acoustic takes like the superb “Devil Got My Woman” might have pressured Allman’s vocals to stretch for different emotive currents, and served this album well.

FIXIN’ TO DIE G. Love

With his fourth release on Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, G. Love sheds the oft-slapdash façade of prior work with Special Sauce. Aided by rising folk phenoms The Avett Brothers, who produce and play throughout the record, Love has crafted a sparingly arranged and sharply executed album of acoustic numbers. And though a handful of cuts cover blues and pop staples—notably, the potently reworked title track by Bukka White—Fixin’ To Die holds its own, a credit to G. Love’s (real name: Garret Dutton) direct songwriting and conviction

in the musical roots that spill across this album. Of the originals, opening track “Milk and Sugar” is the most brazen. Loose in tone and form, it romps over a basic march and ragged guitar work. Dutton is conversational (“They say the best part about wakin’ up, is ‘Folgers in your cup’ / I don’t know ‘bout that, but I know what I like”) then equally casual once he settles into melodic blues, whooping up to accent the occasional lyric. Beneath it all is a driving beat, stomped and clapped by Dutton and his collaborators. As producers and performers, the Avetts inflect Fixin’ To Die with tasteful harmonies and accompaniment. At points they fill tracks out; the bustle of “Get Going” recalls Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with its bustling rhythm section and vintage organ. Most often, though, it’s the restraint in production that extracts a rustic charm from Dutton’s songs—the drum-bass tandem from “Ma Mére” comes readily to mind. Most of these songs operate over simplistic, stomp-clap rhythms instead of a drum kit, but that doesn’t circumscribe which ones succeed. Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” brings some of G. Love’s Special Sauce band-mates back into the fold to recast the original’s complex drumbeat. The treatment is faithful until the careening coda: a breakneck hoedown that Dutton nearly runs off the rails in a fit of fuming harmonica improvisation. It’s an indelible peak—far from the only one on this album, but certainly the only of its sort.


DEMONS

Cowboy Junkies

The most recent Cowboy Junkies effort is the second in a fouralbum stride begun last year with Renmin Park. The Junkies dubbed the long-term project The Nomad Series, and its second installment, Demons (Latent/ Zoe), is blanketed in somber context. A memorial to the late Vic Chesnutt, Demons tours 11 of his songs and rarely escapes the shadows cast by the singersongwriter’s suicide. “Wrong Piano” distinguishes and begins the album, sparked by long phrases on electric mandolin that bring longtime collaborator Jeff Bird to the forefront. Bird wields multiple instruments on Demons but his electric playing doesn’t open up as eloquently as in live shows— “Wrong Piano” marks his closest realization. The opener channels an air of disillusion and defeat that permeates the album; as ever, Margo Timmins sings with level, honeyed precision: “Some sexual / Turned into some biblical, and then became a game of just trivial pursuit.” “Flirted With You All My Life” is less ambivalent. Chesnutt’s lyrics recount flirting and kissing death, offering, “to this

LOO NEY BIN day I swear it was nice,” but resolving at the chorus, “really, I’m not ready.” Undeterred, the Junkies drive ahead in straightahead-rock form. Later in the album, morbidity weighs as heavily on the musical arrangement as the lyrics. On “Square Room” Timmins weaves a serene vocal melody into a bed of tender organ tones and sustained strings, singing of a cold and lonesome night spent drinking and ”staring at a wooden floor.” It’s a taxing listen—more so than anything else here—but most at the heart of Demons. The second half of the album plods similar to “Square Room” without achieving the same gravity—perhaps for the better. The country-gospel of “Strange Languages” interrupts the sedate latter tunes with a brightened tone and tempo, but still pales to the elegiac “We Hovered With Short Wings”. For a Cowboy Junkies record, Demons offers variety in sound, but that’s often eclipsed by the precariousness that—with the reality of Chesnutt’s fate—burdens even his ambiguous lyrics. “I used to gnaw on every word,” goes a verse from “Wrong Piano,” “But now I don’t, what’s the use?”

WHEN THE WORLD RUNS FAST

Honor Among Thieves 1987, Flaming Pie Records Point of extraction: Salvation Army’s doorstep Reason Picked: “This couldn’t possibly sound as bad as it looks. And if it does, I’ve already found two Marvin Gaye records…” Sounds Like: • Blues rock (The eighties variety, not sixties). • Stevie Ray Vaughan without the snarl. • The older, more obscure—but somehow no cooler as a result— sibling of Dave Matthews Band or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Err—I mean it sounds like, Golden Earring. • Barbecue Blues: The stuff of summer picnics, where your coworker’s band shows up even though no one asked for music. • What probably comes after the first 7 seconds of Huey Lewis I can bear to listen to. You Had Me At: The boy wears a raincoat / He keeps his heart dry “Mondo Andrando” Track #4 Worth Checking: Side One: Track #2 “Let it Out” Side Two: Track #9 “When The World Runs Fast”

NEW ALBUM REVIEWS/LOONEY BIN

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THE HASH

NEW SONGS LOVIN’ YOU, BABY Charles Bradley

The former James Brown imersonator tries a little tenderness in the verses, but it’s his pining outbursts that vividly conjure Sixties soul luminaries. Bradley crackles, swooping up to sing, “When you touch me,” holding onto that last word—and moment. “Lovin’ You, Baby” comes from the 62-year-old’s debut, No Time For Dreaming (Daptone). On a socially conscious record— “The World (Is Going Up In Flames),” “Why Is It So Hard?”— he treads no new territory with words here, but Bradley’s perforated vocals makes this track among the most arresting on the album—a feat, considering his penchant for high-flying gravel and grit.

CHINATOWN Destroyer

“Chinatown” is slow to unfold. The opening 30 seconds alone are a fantastic mélange: harsh electric-snare punching through a sequence of plucking effects and acoustic strumming. “You can’t, believe / The weather was talking to the sea,” begins Dan Bejar, the mastermind behind Destroyer. Bejar continues in hushed, perhaps feigned wonder—of inescapable circumstances from which he “can’t walk away.” The injections of

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smooth jazz horns lend “Chinatown” an almost-cornball flair. It would have worked well as mall Muzak some time during the eighties. But self-awareness peaks through multiple lyrics across this album. Rich with textures and beautiful in its understated vocals, everything sounds intentional. The lead track, “Chinatown” establishes the album’s coherent balance and character.

VARIATIONS

Nicolas Jaar

It’s all in the title: Through constant tweaks and reimagination, Jaar crafts an urgent track from an obstinate, abbreviated riff. The incessant groove warps a two-note phrase through filters, splinters it across different instruments, voices and sounds. Beneath the sutured fragments bounds a techno-meets-reggaetón beat, which Jaar keeps High Highs hidden for over a minute—its entrance may be faint but its For some time, “Flowers Bloom” impact is paramount. was the one song High Highs made available as a free download on their official web page. Like (CGI Rethe other tunes in the Brooklyn mix) The Coach Phase indie-trio’s small catalog, its melody is invasive, flowing over For “Boots Weather” The Coach a simple pulse and a spacious Phase gets existential on the arrangement of guitar, bass, dance floor. Bantering with an and a synth line that crackles off-kilter drum loop that sugwith the warm hiss of vinyl. The gests The Flaming Lips in “Slow contained singing here evokes Motion”, singer John Barrington a sonic intimacy akin to the XX rattles away: “Is this the end? / yet more earnest. Songwriter The end of what? / Is this really, Jack Milas coos breathy verses all that I’ve got?” In this remix, and oceanic references before re- the song’s contrasting sections are peatedly submitting to the cho- patched together in abrupt fashrus of swooping “ooh”s, which ion, as with the skittering guitar echo with satisfying elegance. interruption in the beginning. Elsewhere, bluntness is precisely the aim; the falsetto bursting through a jumbled organ run just before the end is a surprise and definitive highlight.

FLOWERS BLOOM

BOOTS WEATHER


SHE WANTS Metronomy

At first glance it would appear the English four-piece has forsaken its bubbly dance rock with this bass-driven pop dirge. Its yawning bass swells are pure gloom, and Joseph Mount chimes through the verses as if narrating film noir: “If she’s dreaming deep tonight / I’ll lie with her by reading light.” But the chorus introduces a buoyant stride familiar from past Metronomy standouts (“A Thing For Me,” “Heartbreaker”); thin guitar funk and a lofted harmonies invert the tone. That bait-andswitch is superficial though— together those voices sing, “I call her shots, till you wake up / Count every second, on every clock.” Thematically, little has changed—but the musical curveball is effective in masking that fact.

ing me,” he lilts, the dense drive underneath suggestive of Cave’s Grinderman project. UNKLE adds alluring flesh, bolstering the pulse and stripping it away, but rather than sounding attentive, Cave’s command makes those dynamics seem catered to his singing—mesmerized and fraught with anxiety: “There goes the Jigsaw Man, stuffing you in the pockets of his pants.”

HENYA

Ambrose Akinmusire

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire optimizes the force of faint playing on this ballad, from the 28-year-old’s debut on Blue Note. Akinmusire’s entrance showcases a captivating, airy intonation, matched stride for stride by Walter Smith III on tenor. Lulling in their emotive, unfurling phrases, repression enhances the players’ choices to leave a slow-moving line unresolved, or bend it just when it appears to have come to (feat. Nick rest. In the hush, those decisions are more blatant—and provocaCave) UNKLE tive. The ending is as sublime an Nick Cave joins a long list of example as any: Akinmusire and vocalists to guest for UK pro- Smith conclude in a warbling duction-duo UNKLE—who have unison, dotted with plinking consistently proven masters at electric piano and the perpetumeshing cameos into the fabric ally haunting strain of a cymbal of their electro-rock bricolage. being bowed. Cave’s dark and bizzaro operatics threaten that streak: “I don’t wanna go there, I don’t wanna see / Every time I come down here, somebody is bent on kill-

MONEY AND RUN

SONNET IN SEARCH OF MOOR Delfeayo Marsalis

The trombone player in the Marsalis jazz family, Delfeayo’s merits as an orchestrator and producer are as weighty as his playing on this record—an extravagant recreation of Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder. Dropping the “a” from the original title (‘Search of a Moor‘) is Marsalis’ first move with this tune. After an orthodox recapitulation, woodwinds convivial and intertwining with Marsalis’ horn, a crack triggers the open solo-section that’s sustained for seven minutes. Between solos from Delfeayo and brother Branford on sax, pianist Mulgrew Miller optimizes the spotlight with changeups in rhythm and register that are brilliant in their dialogue with the heated tempo and pops of snare—the work of another brother, Jason Marsalis. He spurs “Moor” for its heated duration, capping it with a dizzying minute of percussive heroics all his own.

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THE HASH

OLD SONGS MESSAGE FROM HOME Broadcast Work and Non Work [1997]

One of Broadcast’s earlier songs is a poignant reminder of the tragedy it was to lose the group’s singer, Trish Keenan, earlier this year. Over dingy, sixties retrofuturism, Keenan is unhurried by the waltzing tempo and impervious to the seesawing bassline. Insulated and stoic, she observes in a winter that seems just as internal: “Now the leaves are off the trees, the view is clear this time of year / And I watch as you go out,” she sings. If there’s longing in her gaze, it’s buried deep: “Why do I open my mouth / Where I know silence should have been?”

DANSE MACABRE Kraak & Smaak Boogie Angst [1996]

If you’re unsure how to pronounce it, worry more about what titling such a lively and beguiling tune “Dance of Death” says about its producers. A marvel of colors, “Danse Macabre” is a collage of bossa, Africana and lounge jazz—naturally it should come from the Netherlands (where Kraak & Smaak call home). It’s a luring combination, though. It simmers in its rigid form, developed by trills of marimba and flugelhorn before loosening and totally unraveling in warped keyboard tones and New Age incoherence—the

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languid singing begins, “There’s a beautiful sound that is playing,” and quickly blurs into indecipherable aimlessness after that.

IT AIN’T NECESSARILY SO Miles Davis Porgy and Bess [1958]

Miles is abundantly cited as the vanguard of a less-is-more approach to jazz improvisation and phrasing. On this chart, space shapes the impact of his playing along two fronts: in the measured pauses between Davis’ conservative runs, and the actual dimensions of CBS 30th Street Studios—nicknamed “The Church”—where Porgy and Bess was recorded. The ineluctable symbiosis of the two is utterly engrossing once the feel kicks in, Miles licks coasting above Jimmy Cobb’s ride-cymbal and echoing rim shots. Though Gil Evans’s orchestral score can be abrasive at other points on this record, here it’s entirely complementary—the ascending sendoffs a launching pad for Davis’ next move.

POSITIVE AMPUTATION

No Age Everything in Between [2010] More often than not, No Age’s last record is glittering beneath its veneer of static. Like most of the neighboring tracks, then, “Positive Amputation” might

take as many as a handful of plays to eke its way to endearing status. This bleary ballad winds down a repeated cadential path; it sounds like it has been dolefully looping in the void before it begins—somewhere behind the clanging guitars of preceding track, “Dusted”—and like it may continue forever without end. Call it the minimalist nocturne My Bloody Valentine never wrote.

OXFORD GRAY

Shuggie Otis Here Comes Shuggie Otis [1970] This instrumental leadoff track is also the best from Shuggie’s debut solo album. It ensnares psychedelia, Delta blues, prog, even baroque and other classical flourishes in its near-seven minute span. It’s less haphazard than it sounds: Otis’s guitar odyssey is among the most directed he ever recorded—never veering too far from the crunching, main riff, despite a series of key changes. That’s true at least until the mid-song foray into 12 bar blues by way of full-blown symphonic backdrop. Late Sixties rock-organ transmutes into a harpsichord passage before Otis reenters with brutal bottleneck playing on an acoustic guitar. Then come the horns and strings. The structure is a bit clunky, but Otis’ pose as a peer of the sixties electric guitar luminaries is convincing enough.


2GETHA BABY

Ghostface Killa Apollo Kids [2010] “2getha Baby” snaps the opening horn descent of “Together” by The Intruders (via Gamble and Huff) into a hook, and milks all of its menacing potential. A walloping boom-clap drives this track, the Intruders’ original chorus offering brief intermissions. Alternating in this fashion, “2getha Baby” is packed into a succinct threeminute window that keeps its urgency from going flat. The entire album can be summed similarly: tuneful soul samples bullied by rugged, hewing beatproduction. Ghostface raps with familiar urgency, sketching the good life-by-night: “Spraying champagne, scopin’ out biddies”. The mood is light, Ghost wooing: “She look like she got it from her mama / That’s right Michelle, I’m Obama.”

MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT

Howlin’ Wolf Moanin’ In The Moonlight [1959] Sometimes three or four lines were all Chester Arthur Burnett needed to cut a compelling track; the distorted and aggressive huskiness of Chicago blues-often epitomized by overblown harmonica—was simply the cadence of Howlin’ Wolf. His humming, appropriately enough, is the first thing to come into focus on this signature song. From

there it’s snatches of harmonica between more smoky bellows and scratchy blues paranoia, “Somebody callin’, callin’ my telephone / Well keep on callin’, tell ‘em I’m not at home.”

GOD WILLIN’ & THE CREEK DON’T RISE

Ray LaMontagne (and The Pariah Dogs) God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise [2010] As a songwriter, Ray LaMontagne believes wholeheartedly in the power of setting. His latest, perhaps best—and definitely overlooked—album starts with the lament “New York City’s Killing Me,” and has a fantastic fourth track not far behind that begins: “So your hometown’s bringin’ ya down.” Between those tunes comes this, the title track, which drags melancholy steel-pedal over lethargic cracks on the snare and toms. “Caroline in the mountains, Sun sets up in ribbons high,” Ray paints, charred vocals staggering against the tempo. It’s a place he’d hate to leave (“I don’t ever wanna get old, Never wanna die”). With its staggering chorus making only one appearance in the entire song, you’ll wish you could stay here longer too.

RED HORSES

Thieving Irons This Midnight Hum [2010] The opening bars are misleading; “Red Horses” is far from another wistful acoustic ballad anchored to equine metaphors or imagery. The opening progression is a melodic climb, a pattern that’s quickly challenged by a spectral organ; slipping in after 12 seconds, it gently plunks through sluggish chords, complicated and obscured by indistinct, distorted overtones and a chugging bottom-end. The opening procession crystallizes an album teeming with meticulous subtlety. “We are boys with red horses in our path / This can not come easy and the pills won’t last,” goes the garbled opening line. Nate Martinez, aka Thieving Irons, keeps things vague, singing of being “young again,” before dismissing sentimentality, “Walk on, walk on, walk on.”

OLD SONG REVIEWS

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Š 2011 HASH. All rights reserved. www.hashmagazine.com

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the stepkids, nostalgia 77, the strokes

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