MP3: Annie With Your Green Eyes Darkening by The Whiles
It seems ages ago that The Whiles released their first album, Colors of the Year, and captured the attention of Columbus in-the-knows. In those three years, the band landed a song (“Song for Jerry”) on the soundtrack for Murderball and lost singer Zack Prout. The latter no doubt had a greater impact on the band: Prout’s breathtaking vocals were the perfect vehicle for songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist Joe Peppercorn’s melancholy-tinted pop and the centerpiece of the Whiles’ three-part harmonies. With the loss of their singer, Joe, who sang lead on a couple songs on Colors, was forced to become the band’s vocal point while writing the songs that would become a new album.
The resultant record, Sleepers Wake, released on local imprint Anyway, is in many ways the perfect successor to the band’s debut. Peppercorn remains a gifted songwriter, and the album’s dozen songs retain the delicate balance of fragile beauty, saddened lyrical bent and pop hooks of those of its precursor. But the band also seems to have adjusted to Prout’s loss, adding country tinges that meld better with Joe’s tranquil singing style than the sparkling tones of Colors would have. Only older songs like “Light in August” and “Spanish Steps” seem to yearn for Prout’s soaring voice. Tracks like “Songs We Used to Know” and “Sink Beneath Your Smile” show a greater intricacy in terms of arrangements, but even more straightforward cuts like “Sister Mary” prove affecting. Maybe this is not the same Whiles of three years ago, but this one has made another stunning album.
Chances are if you are even remotely interested in the arts in Columbus, you know who Zach Starkey is, if not by name, then at least by sight. In promoting both his music and his photography, his face has been plastered around town. Starkey’s also been an active observer, and chances are you’ve seen him at a rock show or an art gallery; he’s hard to miss in his Robert Smithian styled coif. And if you’ve spent any time on the Donewaiting message board, you’ve probably also read his divisive rants as well.
But why does any of this matter? It doesn’t really, other than there are probably plenty of preconceived notions about the guy. So with that said, he’s releasing a record and it’s time to put all that aside and take the record at face (er, no pun intended) value.
The appropriately titled Solitaire was largely played by Starkey himself, with Ray Gunn helping out on guitar for a few tracks. Relying on synths and machinated beats for his backing, Starkey’s points of references come from the early ’80s, situated somewhere between Vincent Clarke-era Depeche Mode (see leadoff cut “Nuclear Star” and “In the Dark”), Human League (see “The Eyes of Gold”) and Gary Numan (“Bye Bye Love”). He only breaks from this motif for “I Don’t Live in Washington Beach,” a chicken-scratched, punky jab at Columbus’ fabricated hip locale, and ironically enough, it’s one of the record’s best cuts. While the album is musically engaging, its shortcoming is Starkey’s vocals, which, especially when contrasted with the electronic lushness, sound flat (with a bit of karaoke-quality echo only making matters worse). When Starkey’s musings are pushed back in the mix (as on “Not Enough”), the results are better, his weaknesses masked by his strengths. But that’s too often not the case, and hence the record’s failings are just as apparent as its successes, making for an off-putting mix.
MP3: I Don’t Live in Washington Beach
Though he’s made a dozen records in the past 17 years, Bill Callahan’s name isn’t exactly widely known. Under the guise of Smog (perhaps not to be confused with the football coach of the same name), he’s created a stunning breadth of music that began as skeletal folk and has blossomed into nuanced pop still informed by those initial sketchings. So perhaps that’s why he’s decided to go with his birth name for his thirteenth and latest full-length, Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City). Like past gems such as Red Apple Falls and Dongs of Sevotion, Whaleheart shows Callahan’s gift for language and ear for song. Leadoff cut “From the Rivers to the Ocean” builds from a fragile piano line into a powerful paean to transcendental love and understanding. “Footprints,” takes a similar lyrical bent, but matches such musing to a propulsive tempo and Elizabeth Warren’s fiery fiddling. Elsewhere “Sycamore” puts amorphisms like “There’s sap in the trees if you tap them. There’s blood on the seas if you map them.” to a sparkling guitar melody that calls on Phil Spector as well as Pete Seeger. Like all his records, Whaleheart reveals an artist that’s become one with his work, music that’s become as much a part of his being as his being is part of his music.
Over the course of eight years and five albums, Calla has morphed from a largely electronic studio outfit carving out urbane mood pieces to an indie rock force creating no less adventurous and otherworldly music. The band’s fifth and latest record, Strength in Numbers (Beggars), is a dish best served cold, Aurelio Valle’s chilled vocals and icy guitar centering the album’s 13 cuts. Where Calla’s previous effort, Collisions, glittered with flying emotional sparks, Strength is a more sedate affair, though of no less brilliance. Valle’s six-string spray is tethered to the atmospherics the band erects, and the overall effect is like the calm before the storm, striking moments marked by a sense of something else looming. “Rise” is awash in desert colors, and “Bronson” shows noir pop hues. Elsewhere, “La Gusta El Fuego” is a darkened dream haunted with tones of luminaries like the Gun Club and Loop. Even when keeping their sonic hysterics in check, Calla shows the underlying limitless capacity to everything they do, and Strength in Numbers is powerful evidence.
Locals the Black Canary open.
MP3: “Bronson” by Calla
Being touted as a return to the form of past glories like 100 Broken Windows and The Remote Part, Idlewild’s latest, Make Another World (Sanctuary), is indeed built upon the guitar noise fits of fancy that were largely grounded on 2005’s Warnings/Promises. But more than a return, the album takes off from the Scots’ past vitriolic cadence to venture further abroad. “In Competition for the Worst Time,” is probably the best the band has ever sounded on record, injected with a good deal of youthful wallop and Thermals-like mantras. The album’s title track recalls Boy-era U2 (a good thing), while “If It Takes You Home” is two minutes of pure spitfire. Idlewild’s greatest asset has always been finding catharsis for their taciturn themes in walls of rock bliss, turning doubt and unhappiness into almost joyful cascades of sound. So if Warnings/Promises was the sound of Idlewild maturing, then Make Another World is the band realizing that growing older doesn’t mean being quiet.
Listen: MP3s at Hype Machine
In the never-ending argument of nature vs. nurture, Gowns lend argument to the latter with their debut album, Red State (Cardboard), released earlier this week. Recording in South Dakota, the trio’s created aural encapsulations that seem influenced by their natural environs. The record is eerie as the Black Hills, as hard-crusted and otherworldly as the Badlands, and windswept like the vast grasslands that make up a good portion of the state. Still, it’s the natural ingenuity with which they apply such soundscapes and which they no doubt brought with them from their former endeavors in Amps for Christ and the Mae Shi that make the record’s mix of folk, noise and rock notions jawdroppingly jarring. So call it a moot point. Cuts like “Rope” and “Subside” creek and clack like ungreased, industrial clogs, while Erika Anderson’s and Ezra Buchla’s vocals give the songs a face and a heartbeat. Or in the case of “Mercy Springs,” it’s the sound of man and machine pitted against each other, escalating into a maelstrom of frenzied sonic cavorting before quieting into an almost robotic mantra. So to come full-circle, perhaps this is the sound of that old dilemma played out.
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MP3: “White Like Heaven” by Gowns
Tonight’s bill at Little Brother’s brings together two bands that in many ways are at either end of the spectrum. It’s east and west, dark and light, bliss and fury, making for a night of contrasts.
The Broken West, hailing from L.A., are the former of those dichotomies. Following opener Ferraby Lionheart, they’ll play songs from their recent full-length debut, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (Merge). The record is a warm gale of breezy pop that hearkens to Teenage Fanclub, Jay Bennett–era Wilco and others of that persuasion. The band breathes plenty of life into their songs, most noticeably on “Brass Ring” and “Big City,” which traverse along bouncy keyboard lines . The Broken West play with their sunnyside up, only veering lyrically at times into sadder territory.
Conversely, headliners the Walkmen have made a name for themselves with a tempestuous brew of exorcised emotions. On records like last year’s A Hundred Miles Off, the Brooklyn-based band mixed moody atmospherics with a frenzy of sparkling melodies and guitar cataclysms. Even their recent cover of Harry Nillson’s Pussy Cats, while generally a lighthearted romp, revealed their ever present brood. Live such mixed commotions make for manic thrills.
MP3: Down in the Valley by The Broken West
Arcade Fire’s much heralded full-length debut, 2004’s Funeral, traversed big issues like love and death and the terrain in between, adeptly wrapping such grand topicalities in an equally powerful musical uplift. Towing a paradoxical line, it was as much about purging loss as it was celebrating life’s little victories.
The Canadian band’s much anticipated follow-up, Neon Bible (Merge), doesn’t back down from larger concerns. “(Antichrist Television Blues),” despite its title, is more Springsteen than Dylan, a blue-collar lament to God for a job that both pays the bills and fortifies the soul. Elsewhere singer Win Butler concerns himself with the foreign policy of his neighbors to the south. “I don’t want to fight in a holy war… I don’t want to live in America no more,” he sings in his Byrned warble on “Windowsill.”
Of course, it was Arcade Fire’s mix of organic pop sounds and post-punk thrust that captivated so many ears, and in that regard too, Neon Bible is every bit its predecessor. Darkened hues clash with sparkling melodies, with Butler calling out from somewhere within the vortex, singing with equal vulnerability and ardency. Without being redundant, the band has conjured an album undeniably magical.
MP3: “Black Mirror” by the Arcade Fire
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Following close on the heels of their signing to indie powerhouse Matador, Times New Viking release a new EP on Siltbreeze, the rejuvenated lo-fi standard setter that released the band’s full-length debut, Dig Yourself. Present the Paisley Reich reinforces TNV as heir apparent to Ohio’s lineage of DIY aesthetes (e.g. GBV, V3, TJSA, etc.). The band’s fusing of high-art ideology and gleeful fuck-all attitude is heard as they posit cultural figures as archetypal deities to be torn down (“Imagine Dead John Lennon”) and draw lines between creation and destruction (“New Times, New Hope”). But such pedagogy wouldn’t amount to much without the harried and gloriously fuzzy rock-us the scrappy trio divines. The band compacts a whole album’s worth of pop melody, art-school noise and punk rambunction into the space of nine songs and about 16 minutes. “Devo and Wine” and “Teenagelust!” stand out as perfect songs for an imperfect world, with lyrical musings about love, music and restlessness laced with sweetness and cynicism. For all the thought that underlies each song here, though, it is the sense of abandon and sonic curiosity guiding the Vikings that makes this record resonate with certain amplitude.
Times New Viking will celebrate the release of Present the Paisley Reich on February 24 with a one-night musical smorgasbord at Cafe Bourbon Street in Columbus Ohio that also includes Mike Rep and the Quotas, Ron House, Envelope, Hugs & Kisses, Cheater Slicks, Psychedelic Horseshit, Sword Heaven and Clockcleaner. Note the EP is available on CD with extra tracks from a couple 7-inches and on vinyl with music on one side and the lyrics etched in the other.
MP3: Devo and Wine by Times New Viking