Friday, December 19, 2008

Woven Hand - Ten Stones

Ten Stones (CD) – Sounds Familyre

David Eugene Edwards return, his ancient, funereal voice in tow for the eleven songs, which comprise Ten Stones, the solid, if somewhat predictable new effort from Denver's Woven Hand. He jump-starts the effort with “Beautiful Axe,” which contains the sometimes baffling admixture of Native American imagery and New Testament fervor we’ve come to expect from his band. He engages his dirgelike delivery on the sermonic “Not One Stone,” too, which references Christ’s apocalyptic prophecy of the destruction of the buildings his disciples had admired, so that “not one stone would be unturned.” If there’s one complaint to level against this effort then, it’s that Ten Stones begins to smack of a patented Woven Hand template: ominous vocals, redolent with foreboding religious references sung against raw rock. As if fearing this tendency himself, Edwards does throw us for a loop or two: The album’s riveting centerpiece “White Knuckle Grip” chronicles wild rides and Saturday night carousing via dirty, bluesy Southern rock. Even here, though, Edwards pauses to ask the man upstairs to keep an eye on him. The most startling entry is Edwards' take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars." Edwards allies his lilting drone to the samba song, modulating his tone, but still infusing it with enough of drama to throw a few threatening shadows across the starry skies.
– Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 29 (Winter 2009)

Joan as Policewoman - To Survive

To Survive (CD) – Cheap Lullaby

I saw Joan Wasserman open for Joseph Arthur a few years ago in Denver, Colorado before I could really appreciate her in toto. She played entirely by herself and was pretty riveting, but I wasn't familiar enough with her music then. Oh, to return to that moment back and appreciate it properly. Wasserman's latest effort under the Joan as Poilice Woman moniker doesn't pack the visceral wallop of her last effort, Real Life, but To Survive is a lovely, refined effort nonetheless. It’s an intimate affair, whether you're ensconced in the slo-mo drip of "Start of my Heart" or the sultry, almost funereal "Honor my Wishes." The dirty guitar on "Holiday" is about as noisy as the album gets, but it's distorted and mixed in far enough back not to disrupt the proceedings. On all these tracks, Wasserman’s tender, quavering vocals are generally the focus, as well as her hesitant, jabbing piano. She maintains this tone on the yin/yang duo of “To Be Loved” and “To Be Lonely” and on the title track, in which she addresses her childhood fear that she might meet the fate of her namesake, Joan of Arc. Eventually, Rufus Wainwright joins Wasserman on “To America,” a subtle, almost stately rebuke to her country’s recent recklessness, closing the album with a loping beat, and, eventually, fading skyrockets. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 29 (Winter 2009)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

The latest issue of Skyscraper has hit the stands. Here are three of my reviews from the previous issue, starting with my favorite album of the year.

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (CD) – Anti

The old-timey preacher may have warned that our arms are too short to box with God, but damned if Nick Cave ain’t gonna give it a shot anyway. “We call upon the author to explain,” he insists six songs into the emphatically titled Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Cave’s latest electric assembly with the Seeds. What follows is a rattling good album from the now 51-year-old Cave and his increasingly hoary disciples. In Cave’s topsy-turvy world, Lazarus, freshly raised from the dead, proves rather ungrateful, when confronted with the pace of “the dog-eat-dog world” and set offs for the left coast only to discover it equally inhospitable. From there, the threads are hard to follow, but who cares: Cave calls and we follow. Along the way, we encounter a cavalcade of sweaty meat lockers, receptive vulvae, hand guns, angels, and hotel beds. Against the crunch of guitars and The Seeds “Ooo-Ooo” background vocals, “Albert Goes West” follows three more men on their respective quests across America, and none of them seem to find what they’re looking for either. The song ends, however, with the narrator exclaiming, “I like it here!!!,” extolling the virtues of staying put. It’s a gentle reminder that wherever you go, there you are. And those pleasures you’re looking for may already be in your lap. Elsewhere, when Cave finds his bliss, it’s settled right beside him, too – and often in mundane places. The gorgeous “Jesus of the Moon” takes place within a hotel room. And “Moonlight” and “Midnight Man” place the onus on time to proffer pleasure, not place (nor religion, as the explosive “We Call upon the Author” declaims). Apropos of Cave’s disposition, beauty's often swirling within a cacophony. Tripping piano and snarling guitar propel Cave through “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl)” with the Seeds cooing and chorusing along with him. “Night of the Lotus Eaters” proceeds at a gentler pace, but not without an industrial clatter. So, too, the spookily beautiful “Moonland” creeps along, itchily, and “Hold on to Yourself” materializes within the subtle, circadic swirl of Warren Ellis’s looping strings. By the time we get to the album closer, “More News from Nowhere,” —and note that the place now is explicitly “nowhere”— Caves practically ambles through eight minutes of dense lyrics. Still, we’re in no hurry for him to leave. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 29 (Winter 2009)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

Here's my 10 favorite albums from the past year. There's a bunch of stuff I haven't heard yet, and I tend to buy a few disks near the end of the year, if I think I've missed something I'd like - so this may change. The order's somewhat debatable, too.

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig Lazarus Dig!
2. Elbow - Seldom Seen Kid
3. Hot Chip - We Were Made in the Dark
4. Joan as Policewoman - To Survive
5. Bug - London Zoo
6. Portishead - 3
7. Saul Williams - The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!
8. Steinski - What Does It All Mean?
9. Johnny Cash Remixed (aside from the godawful Snoop Dogg track)
10. Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree OR Spiritualized - Songs in A&E

What, no Vampire Weekend? I really enjoyed some of it, but to me they lacked the soul of the musicians whose music they templated: Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon.

Technically, Saul Williams was released late last year in its digital format, but it got a meatspace release in July '08. There's more soul in any 30 seconds of it, than in the whole Vampire Weekend set.

Your suggestions?

I know I'd like to hear more of TV on the Radio's latest, as well as Flying Lotus, Fleet Foxes, Hold Steady, Benga, Juana Molina, Randy Newman. I'm sure there's a slew of other great stuff I didn't get around, too, as well.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

CNN Vs. Science

In a bizarre and disheartening move today, CNN announced they are lopping off their entire science department, including technology and environment staff and their chief technology and environment correspondent, Miles O'Brien. In an age where there's so much misinformation and ignorance around important scientific subjects, I can think of other areas , which could've been cut (or at least reduced in their scope) and brought greater integrity to CNN as a news-gathering enterprise, rather than just another channel for entertainment. Call me an idealist, but news should be more about what we need to know and less about that which we simply want to know.

(Via CJR )