Categories
Music Reviews

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Before Today

4AD Records

I approached this album with a fair degree of hesitation, mostly because of all of the attendant hype that surrounded Ariel’s decision to drag his toy orchestra and ragtag band of minstrels into a proper studio, leaving the ol’ tape deck/boombox to molder in a corner, unloved. Nightmare visions of Pink engaging his inner Yes and a lingering sense of disappointment over Wavves’ similar “proper studio” gambit, made it all forebodings all the time until I finally just listened to the goddamn thing. And all I can say is, you’d have to have little fucking Phil Spector ears because I can’t detect much of a difference in fidelity between Before Today and The Doldrums. And that’s a GOOD thing.

Like Sebadoh or Daniel Johnston, an Ariel Pink album is still a grab-bag of weirdo goodness, but whereas the contents of the Sebadoh bag were “ARGH! SELF FLAGELLATION! OUTER LIMITS!!,” Ariel Pink’s albums are more of an experience of music through shared memory, an attempt to (re)create your own popular culture where you are your own superstar. Listening to Pink’s new album is like traveling through the radio dial circa 1984-7, new romantic pop, college radio, AOR and all, funneled through Pink’s singular aesthetic imagination and given his own voice. The best two tracks on the album are the warm, organic synth fuzz of “Fright Night” and “Round and Round,” icy as early Normal demos, but smoky and dark enough to be the perfect soundtrack to a roller-rink date.

Categories
Print Reviews

The Art of Classic Rock

The Art of Classic Rock

by Paul Grushkin

Collins Design/ Harper Collins

Not everyone is a collector, but if you collect, here are three rules: Keep focused, learn everything possible about your collection, and always buy the best material you can afford. Rob Roth did this in spades. Once he won his first Tony, he set out to buy up every promo item from his favorite bands. That would be the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who. His collection includes album art, backstage passes, record shop stand-ups, posters, and ticket stubs, and the more obscure the better.

The book and the collections are overwhelming. At 250 glossy pages and six pounds, you’re not likely to fit this in your Kindle. The printing and graphics are superb, the chapters are well organized in chronological album and tour sections, and there’s clear and useful explanatory text by Grushkin. At least I think Grushkin wrote the text; not all sections flow together and certain key events such as John Bonham’s “death from the effects of alcoholism” don’t read consistently from page to page. Scandal is avoided, but there’s a clear thread of who was responsible for the Rolling Stones’ lips and tongue logo, the Led Zeppelin Hindenburg cover, and the Queen Crest designed by Freddy Mercury himself. There are subtle echoes to other threads of rock history as well. See if you can find the scene in Spinal Tap that makes fun of the Queen logo and its creation.

As print drifts to e-books and mobile phone apps, there is a still a place for the glossy, artsy coffee table books. These posters need to be seen in maximum size; that’s where they reveal the glorious detailing and love that went into their creation. While a poster is a commercial advertisement on one level, it’s also a peephole into the spirit and drive behind an artist, a demonstration of the collaboration that’s needed to make something special for the fan and reminder to pick a catchy graphic and hammer it home when you’re building an image. Overnight success can take years, but try to make art on the way. Someone out there is collecting.

Harper Collins: www.harpercollins.com

Categories
Print Reviews

Rock Connections: The Complete Family Tree of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Rock Connections: The Complete Family Tree of Rock ‘n’ Roll

by Bruno MacDonald

Collins Design / Harper Collins

Can you define rock ‘n’ roll with just a few dozen artists, a handful of labels, and three or four clubs you wished you’d visited but never did? That’s the task Bruno MacDonald set out to tackle, and by reducing most artists’ careers to trading card size, he does a fair job. The big name Gods of Rock: Elvis, Mick, Bowie, and Iggy get star treatment with two page spreads, but Michael Jackson scores three pages. You may not like his pastimes, but damn, he moved product. While the occasional scandal gets a passing comment and the spectacular deaths by OD, HIV, or DOV are alluded to, this book is an upbeat, “let’s focus on the positive” publicist’s version of the past 60 years of rock history.

MacDonald aims for a paper wiki of rock history, showing the connections that casual fans might miss — the stylistic influences of clubs, producers and labels, chance meetings between acts, and to a very minor degree, who was sleeping with whom. Yazoo and Justin Timberlake find a common point in David Bowie. The Chemical Brothers and The Beach Boys link via Daft Punk. Elvis influenced everyone, but to get to Waylon Jennings you have to get off at the Johnny Cash interchange and go past the Dylan bypass for three more exits. Wait, you were supposed to turn at Carly Simon a mile ago…

Each page has a dozen tags with other page numbers you can refer to for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” journey, and that’s an annoyance. Just like tvtropes.org or Wikipedia, the crossed threads of information tie together in odd and unexpected ways. Online, it’s a perfect way to explore, but in print it gets confusing, and books work best if you read them front to back. I tried the jumping around concept, but finding precise pages wasn’t as fun as just opening at random. Flipping paper to trace out the world of CBGB alums or David Bowie’s influences seemed more work than I wanted to expend and this book demands a web page and a dedicated army of fans to update it and keep it fresh. But it’s a great concept, one I’d like to see pushed farther than mere ink on paper.

Harper Collins: www.harpercollins.com

Categories
Print Reviews

Independence Days

Independence Days: The Story of Independent UK Music Labels

by Alex Ogg

Cherry Red Books

Indie rock is a hot trend, but what does “indie” really mean? Before it became a marketing slogan, the term referred to all those little labels that didn’t have their own pressing plant. The independent labels were run by record collectors, music fanatics, and specialists who saw and serviced a small niche as a hobby or side business. The labels were scattered through small town and big cities, and occasionally operated out of hair salons or real estate offices. In this extensively researched compendium, Alex Ogg traces the Indies way back to the first format wars. I’m sure you recall the time when the “Lateral Cut Recording” competed with the Edison Cylinder. Even Mr. Edison tried to monopolize the recording industry with his patents and money. He failed, but his idea is still firmly ingrained at the major labels: We control the artists, the means of production, distribution, and how and when you listen. Indie thinks differently — “This is a completely cool record, ya gotta hear it!”

The book begins in America, but quickly moves to the British side of the pond with stories of Chiswick and Ace. These labels came to life to provide record shops with more material to sell. Artist development wasn’t the issue; the recording agreements were typically for one song, a reasonable profit split, and no regrets. As punk appeared on the scene, the major labels were uninterested, and it fell to these guys in record shops to record and distribute the music. The Simple Minds began as Johnny and the Self Abusers, the Buzzcocks first record was intended as a memento of a summer’s work, and even Bowie and U2 began in these scruffy shops. The list of band names goes on and on, and for every name you might have caught here in 1979, there are three or four more that you missed. How could you not buy a disc by The Desperate Bicycles?

Ogg is thorough and focused, splitting chapters partially by time and partially by genre — punk, New Wave, industrial, and Goth are all treated with dignity and detail. The rise and fall of Stiff, Cherry Red, Mute, and 4AD all get fair treatment, as do the stories of bands that hit and bands that missed. The Indies weren’t much better at paying artists than the majors, stories of rip-offs and failed trust are just as gory here as in any music industry tell-all. Vital new bands paid their dues in these indie trenches, and occasionally went on to greater success and greater rip-offs with the majors. The Indies were the farm teams of the late 20th century.

While this book is a dense 560 pages with no pictures beyond label art, it’s an essential reference to the era and very readable. Since Ogg stovepipes his stories, occasionally the same story is told twice from different sources. That’s fine, flip this open and read at random for a free-form history lesson. If you love music, collect vinyl, or might start your own band, you can’t do better than study this history. Sure, you’ll make the mistakes of your predecessors, but if you didn’t, what fun would it be?

Cherry Red/IPG: www.ipgbook.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Hello=Fire

Hello=Fire

Schnitzel Records

Dean Fertita you may know better as the guitarist/keyboardist of The Dead Weather, or as the guitarist/keyboardist of Queens of the Stone Age. Perhaps, if you’ve got a really keen eye, you may recognize him as an extra body onstage with The Raconteurs the last time they toured. Of course, if you’re a fan of any, or all three, of those groups you were most likely paying more attention to the charismatic front man genius of Josh Homme, or the duel-for-the-front sexual tension of Jack White and Alison Mosshart (or Jack White and Brendan Benson). You may have missed the guitar wielding prowess of one Dean Fertita, and that would be a shame.

You can make up for your oversight now, while Fertita is in between collaborative projects and fronting his own band, Hello=Fire. This time around, it’s Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs), and the rest of Queens of the Stone Age that aren’t Josh Homme who are the secondary players.

So what’s the sound? Sort of what you’d expect based on Fertita’s work history: bluesy garage rock with a healthy helping of psychedelic sixties flavored pop melody. The kind of music you can shake your ass to, drink a beer to, or flirt with an anonymous stranger in a dark club to. It’s nothing new, but it’s comfortable and undeniably groovy.

Opening up with “Certain Circles,” the download-ready single complete with a sexy guitar riff and handclaps ( which, let’s face it, make any song even more awesome!), this self-titled debut begins with a burn that simmers, boiling hot here and there. “She Gets Remote” rocks like the poppier side of Beck, with a cowbell; “Mirror Each Other” highlights Fertita’s abilities to massage some madness out of the guitar; and “Parallel” eases us out of the garage at sunrise with a sweetly psychedelic love song that somehow recalls both Weezer and David Bowie.

While it’s as yet unclear whether or not Hello=Fire is a mere break between other things for Fertita, Benson, and the QOTSA boys, it’s a fun ride worth taking while it’s being offered.

Hello=Fire: www.helloequalsfire.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Gary Numan

Gary Numan

with Battle Circus

Firestone Live, Orlando, FL • October 17, 2010

The bastard British lovechild seemingly born out of a likely (stylistic) union of David Bowie and Brian Eno, Gary Numan returned to the U.S. concert trail this fall just in time to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of his groundbreaking record The Pleasure Principle. Any novice who would naively dismiss him simply as a one hit wonder, exploiting his 1980 chartbuster, “Cars,” would have been hard pressed to convince the die-hard Orlando crowd of that assessment.

Gary Numan

Todd Charron
Gary Numan

New Zealand’s modern day prog rockers Battle Circus opened the show, hitting the stage at around 7:45 and delivering a rather lackluster performance. Offering non-stop, mind-numbing and (painfully) hookless five-minute ditties, the band had difficulty connecting with the audience as intermittent physical and verbal debris flew onto the stage throughout their forty-minute performance. However, their drummer was on fire throughout the entire set, proving to be the band’s one entertaining element. But Battle Circus did seem to somewhat find a groove by their last tune. Although also hookless, the unannounced number at least possessed a hint of energy.

The Pleasure Principle revisited” alt=”The Pleasure Principle revisited”/>

Todd Charron
The Pleasure Principle revisited

After a nearly sixty-minute layover between acts, Numan took the stage at 9:30. With fabulous-looking, multi-colored LED lights flashing brightly and FOUR keyboards positioned throughout the stage, the synth-pop pioneer finally appeared, much to the delight of his rabid, four hundred-plus devotees. Wearing a simple black button-up dress shirt and dark gray slacks with a seemingly freshly dyed black coif, the fifty-two-year-old ’80s icon looked more “Mellencamp” in 2010 than his well-known Bowie-inspired appearance of the early MTV era.

Gary Numan

Todd Charron
Gary Numan

As promoted, Numan, along with his five-piece band, immediately proceeded to meticulously recreate the entire Pleasure Principle record, song-for-song, note-for-note, in order — and it was awesome, man!

Upon the completion of The Pleasure Principle, Numan’s set switched gears from glory days retro to modern day industrial. Quickly, stagehands removed two of the four keyboard set ups, ushering in the guitar work that would be the foundation of a darker, heavier and more angst ridden, Reznor-like second half.

Offering little (if any) in-between-song banter, but flashing many a toothy smile along the way, Numan successfully showcased a wide array of material from various periods of his stellar career, including such crowd favorites as “Are Friends Electric” and “Down in the Park.”

Numan gets industrial.

Todd Charron
Numan gets industrial.

At times, Numan’s vocals became rather muddy-sounding and occasionally even inaudible. At other points, his vocals didn’t appear to be live at all — sounding clear as a bell despite being a good distance from his mic.

All in all, Numan delivered an impressive set, receiving a near deafening ovation at its conclusion.

Gary Numan: www.numan.co.uk

Categories
Print Reviews

Sparks: No. 1 Songs In Heaven

Sparks: No. 1 Songs In Heaven

by Dave Thompson

Cherry Red

When the roll call of legendary rock critics is read, Dave Thompson will not be rubbing shoulders with Nick Kent, Lester Bangs, and Lilian Roxon. Known best for cranking out boilerplate like The Chris De Burgh Story, Go Phish, and I Hate New Music, Dave Thompson works cheap, fast, and current. Which is good if you’re a publisher hankering for a completed Kurt Cobain biography THE MONTH AFTER HE KILLED HIMSELF, but bad if you’re a reader hankering for insightful music writing. However, every so often, an assignment comes across Thompson’s desk that is something he can really sink his teeth into, and lucky for us and Cherry Red Books, Dave Thompson is a HUGE Sparks fan.

Sparks are brothers Russell (rock star hair, pretty boy looks, impossibly high falsetto) and Ron (keyboard enthusiast, Charlie Chaplin moustache, deadpan demeanor) Mael, musical mad scientists extraordinaire. Inseparable since 1970, they’ve made more than twenty albums as Sparks, with no signs of slowing down — indeed their last madcap gambit was reprising 21 of their albums over 21 nights in London. Sparks are best known for Kimono My House and its mindbogglingly weird signature number “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us,” but they’ve also crafted albums of icy Italo disco with Giorgio Moroder, highbrow/ lowbrow collison of Lil’ Beethoven. In the process, Sparks have influenced everyone from Queen to Morrissey, Cheap Trick to the Pet Shop Boys, Smashing Pumpkins to David Bowie. The characters of the Mael brothers are almost as fascinating as their music. Living in their hermetically sealed world, shut off from the overdrive meatgrinder of the celebrity-industrial complex, the Maels are that rarest of things in our popular culture — enigmas. Fuck me man, this book almost writes itself.

Disappointingly, though not surprisingly, the Mael Brothers do not participate in this project, making this a less than authoritative record (though they are well represented by reams of interviews over the years), but Thompson secures interviews and reflections from key members of every Sparks lineup, which, let’s face it, is a fucking coup and fills in a lotta blanks about the Maels and their oeuvre. And I gotta tell you, despite some typos, a few embarrassing turns of phrase, and a design gaffe that renders one chapter almost physically unreadable, this book is Thompson’s strongest piece of writing yet. He hits the perfect balance between journalistic reporting and impassioned fandom (some would call it new journalism), going way in depth on Sparks’ long and checkered history. We end up with a story that up ’til now begged to be told, a story of the last of the pop outsiders — fucking essential music, necessary reading for any student of pop music.

Included as well is a fairly exhaustive discography, and tons of archival photos, press clippings, and memorabilia, which this book woulda been pretty fucking disappointing without.

Cherry Red: www.cherryred.co.uk

Categories
Screen Reviews

U2: Let Them Be

U2: Let Them Be — The Second Chapter

Executive Producers: Rob Johnstone, Andy Cleland

starring U2, Mark Wrathall, Angus Batey, Nigel Williamson, Stuart Bailie, Paul Gambaccini, Mat Snow, Andrew Mueller, Lucy O’Brien, John Hutnyk, Gavin Martin, Simon Osborne, Johnny Rogan, John Street

Chrome Dreams

Let Them Be is a pair of fairly well done “unauthorized” documentaries about two distinct periods in the history of these Irish superstars. The first takes us back to 1991’s Achtung Baby to assess the band’s first attempt at reinvention following the epic pomposity of Rattle and Hum. The second looks at their post-millennial comeback with All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. While inessential for all but the most hardcore U2 fan, this two-DVD set does do a good job of making you want to listen to those records with new ears and re-evaluate them within the context of the times and their chronology in the band’s career.

The first of the two DVDs is entitled U2: Achtung Baby: A Classic Album Under Review. It intersperses clips of the band from their live performances with interviews with rock journalists and writers. Among those we hear from are former Mojo editor and Andy Partridge look-alike Mat Snow and George Harrison look-alike Nigel Williamson.

These talking heads offer some interesting insights and long forgotten facts about the band, the record, and the times. Among them: • U2 recorded the album in Berlin, as the Berlin Wall was coming down. • They recorded in Hansa Studios, where David Bowie and Brian Eno cut the so-called “cocaine and paranoia” album trilogy of Low, “Heroes” and Lodger back in the ’70s. (One of the rock critics interviewed suggests playing Achtung Baby side by side with “Heroes”, which sounds like one of those cool record geek things I’ll probably never get around to doing like cueing up Dark Side of the Moon to the start of The Wizard of Oz.) • The Manchester scene with bands like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays may have influenced the record’s more groove-oriented moments. • The title of the album was likely inspired by a line from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

We’re also reminded that Bono was discovering irony at the time and trying on new personae in the new songs. But the longtime do-gooder received some criticism for proclaiming that “a conscience can sometimes be a pest” on the album’s unexpected first single “The Fly.”

Of the album’s other tunes, we learn that: • “Zoo Station” is a subway station in Berlin that is halfway between the stop where the opera house is and the stop that is a center for the city’s counterculture. • With a remix by Paul Oakenfold, “Even Better Than the Real Thing” gave U2 its first real dance hit. • “One” was the song that gelled the band at a time there was a split between them with Bono and The Edge on one side and Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. on the other. It has become a song popular at weddings despite dark lyrics like “You gave me nothing now it’s all I’ve got.” • “Until the End of the World” is told from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, attempting to justify his actions in a conversation with Jesus. • Bono’s singing on “So Cruel” may have been influenced by crooners like Scott Walker, an American expat who oddly became part of the ’60s British invasion and recorded great doomed romantic classics like “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” • Live performances of “Mysterious Ways” at the time featured a belly dancer, who The Edge ended up later marrying. • “Love Is Blindness” is the sound of The Edge, who had gone through a painful divorce before taking up with the belly dancer, playing his heart out.

The rock critics interviewed also remind us that what made Achtung Baby such an interesting and timeless record is that the songs can be read as being about faith in love or faith in God and for the first time in the band’s career, that faith was wavering.

Disc two in the set is entitled The Rebirth of Cool: U2 in the Third Millennium: A Review and Critique. Broader in scope than the first, it tackles not only the band’s first two post-millennium efforts but also tangents and side projects like The Million Dollar Hotel, a poorly received Wim Wenders film that Bono had sketched out the idea for and that starred a Mel Gibson called, in a typically profane moment, “as boring as a dog’s ass.” Well, at least clips from the film do give us a glimpse of a pre-Lost Jeremy Davies and the soundtrack features the band’s terrific “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” with lyrics by Salman Rushdie and pedal steel by Daniel Lanois.

There are also clips here from a 60 Minutes interview with the band conducted by the late Ed Bradley. During one interesting segment, The Edge talks about why he’s never really considered doing a solo project. (He’d just end up reconstituting the band).

There are plenty more live clips of the band as well, most of which don’t last long enough but do whet the appetite for more. We also learn a bit more about the band’s collaborators, including Brian Eno, seen in a cool vintage clip wearing a ridiculous sparkly jacket in his Roxy Music days. One of the talking heads amusingly (but accurately) calls Eno “a great polymath… with a giant throbbing brain.”

Of the songs on the band’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, we learn that: • Although “Beautiful Day” was a brilliant first single and reintroduction to the band because of its uplifting quality, its bridge part bears a striking resemblance to “The Sun Always Shines on TV” by twinkie Norwegian pop band a-ha. • “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” became a tribute to then-recently deceased INXS vocalist Michael Hutchence. • “Elevation” is also the title of a song by Television from the classic album Marquee Moon, which was a big influence on the band. Bono also uses several lines and song titles borrowed from Bob Dylan on the album.

The DVD reminds us that the events of 9/11 gave the album new life as music fans looked to the band and the album’s themes of death, hope, and righteous indignation. One journalist calls it “almost a compilation album of the 9/11 experience.” The song “New York,” which was Bono’s tribute to Lou Reed and Frank Sinatra, was among the songs that took on new meaning and seemed prescient in retrospect.

Of the songs on the band’s 2004 album How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, we learn that: • “Vertigo,” the album’s brilliant lead-off single, was The Edge wanting to find the perfect riff for the 21st century. One rock critic compares it to great punk-era singles like The Clash’s “Complete Control” and The Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant.” Bono, in another clip from the 60 Minutes interview talks about how The Edge has created a whole different spectrum of feelings and colors the guitar is capable of. • “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” is Bono’s song for his Dad, who had passed away. • “City of Blinding Lights” was inspired by U2’s first post-9/11 gig at New York’s Madison Square Garden and the energy they got from the crowd. • “Crumbs From Your Table,” a tune about third world debt relief among other things, is described as the album’s true masterpiece by former Mojo editor Snow.

In addition, the DVD also includes comments from Simon Osborne, who engineered the record and who offers some interesting insights on the recording process. We also see a clip of U2 playing Live 8 in 2005 with Paul McCartney and the video of the band’s collaboration with Green Day on “The Saints Are Coming.”

Let Them Be is ultimately a worthwhile ride for the ethnomusicologist and hardcore completist U2 fan alike. It will make you want to dig out your records all over again and watch your live DVDs, too. I, for one, look forward to the documentary about whatever the band does as a palette cleanser to follow last year’s bloated No Line On the Horizon and its career nadir first single “Get On Your Boots.” Because, as Snow puts it on disc two, “If they fail, they’re going to fail interestingly.”

Chrome Dreams: www.chromedreams.co.uk

Categories
Event Reviews

Miniature Tigers

Miniature Tigers

with Tiger Weather, Chris Rowland

Backbooth, Orlando, Fl • August 21, 2010

The only thing small about Miniature Tigers is their name. Their bold blending of sounds (indie electro crashing head on into grandiose Of Montreal-style compositions sung with a cool and breezy shoegazer manner) is poppy enough to be easily accessible, yet eclectic enough to earn respectable recognition. Their recent release, Fortress, was one of the most solid albums of the sunny season and it’s this they push as their headlining club tour brought them into Orlando’s Backbooth one quiet Saturday night at the end of the summer.

Miniature Tigers

Jen Cray
Miniature Tigers

Local songman Chris Rowland held the room enthralled with his aggressive acoustic strumming, heart-on-his-sleeve vocals, and easy charm. Like Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba, Rowland’s voice tends toward the highly emotive, but he’s got such presence that it doesn’t bother me one bit. A brief cover of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” made him even more likable, for that song will forever make me think of Heath Ledger’s adorable performance of it in 10 Things I Hate About You. Well, that and Denise Richards performing it while dancing with Jesus in Drop Dead Gorgeous. Either way, good stuff!

Chris Rowland

Jen Cray
Chris Rowland

Turning the dial in an entirely different direction, Tiger Weather piled on the groovy emo pop that was nearly overwhelming with positivity. With smiles on the stage, smiles on the faces watching, and lyrics that could have been chapters from The Power of Positive Thinking, the new band would fit in at both a beach party, or a church youth rally. Front man Ryan Simpson juggles a ukulele, a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, and a vocal style somewhere between Jack Johnson and Saves the Day’s Chris Conley. Surf emo with a Jesus twist, you could say… or you could just say that it was fun, and that the band has serious promise.

Tiger Weather

Jen Cray
Tiger Weather

Miniature Tigers’ stage dress is as mix and match as their sound. You’ve got band members with Sesame Street characters silk-screened across their chests, a lead singer rockin’ a cut-up Lady Gaga tee and a Dharma Initiative symbol on his guitar (LOST reference!), and a drummer dressed as a bear sans the head. Hey, it works. At least none of them were wearing flip flops (a personal pet peeve).

Miniature Tigers... and bears.  Oh my!

Jen Cray
Miniature Tigers… and bears. Oh my!

Like pressing play on their record, the band opened up with tracks one and two off of Fortress, “Mansion of Misery” followed by “Rock ‘n’ Roll Mountain Troll.” That second song is brilliant not only for its Bowie meets Flaming Lips composition, but for its fantastically ridiculous name. Before even hearing it for the first time, it had me at the title. It starts off slow and a capella, and then the music comes in and the insistent drum beat pounds a one-two punch for the next three minutes as singer/guitarist Charlie Brand lets out the melody as simply as a nursery rhyme. Upon hearing just that song played live, I could have gone home happy!

Miniature Tigers' Charlie Brand

Jen Cray
Miniature Tigers’ Charlie Brand

Songs from the Phoenix group’s first album Tell It to the Volcano and the pair of EPs that followed (“The Wolf” had an extra special stomp to it) were thrown into the mix, but it was the brilliance of the new songs like “Gold Skull” and “Egyptian Robe” that shone brightest.

This unassuming band will be sneaking its way into the spotlight as more listeners get their ears around this album. An upcoming opening stint on Neon Indian’s tour should begin the process of indie world domination.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

Miniature Tigers: www.miniaturetigers.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo

Street Songs of Love

Fantasy Records

Alejandro Escovedo has been producing solid work for so long now — from the punk rock of The Nuns to stops in Rank & File and the True Believers, and his great run of solo work — that it is all too easy to see a new release from the Texas troubadour as just another great record in a long line of the same. And while this is true, it doesn’t make Street Songs of Love any less vital. Continuing with the cast that made 2008’s Real Animal such a success, collaborator and guitar slinger Chuck Prophet (Green on Red) and über-producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T Rex, and a million more), Escovedo lays his heart bare, served up by a red SG and a poet’s soul. Opening with the rousing “Anchor” (“I’m in love with love”), he makes this stuff sound effortless. The cut “Street Songs” bubbles with a New York City street keyboard riff and slashing guitar with Alejandro hanging back and spitting out wry observational verse. Ian Hunter joins on “Down in the Bowery,” a song about growing into yourself, written about Escovedo’s punk rock son, Paris. Bruce Springsteen adds fuel to “Faith,” but with a performer as strong as Alejandro, guest stars aren’t really necessary.

By the time the record ends with “Fort Worth Blue,” an instrumental nod to the late great Texas musician Stephen Bruton, you know you’ve been listening to something special. Alejandro Escovedo is a major American artist, of a sort rarely encountered anymore. Passionate, literate, a rocker who paints cinematic landscapes of word and sound, he stands alone.

Alejandro Escovedo: www.alejandroescovedo.com