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Just Arrived! Music. | March ’09

Just Arrived! Music. | March ’09

The Smiths | The Sound of The Smiths (2008) | Rhino

Listening to The Sound of the Smiths –a project overseen by the singer and guitarist– though, it’s Morrissey who still makes an impact. There remains the cold-water shock of their early records– the rainswept romanticism of “Hand in Glove”, the double-bluffing whimsy of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, and the heartbroken empathy of “William, It Was Really Nothing”, perhaps their saddest song of all. More than anything, the compilation rehabilitates the band’s anger. From “Still Ill” through “Nowhere Fast” to “Panic” the record is full of manifestos, masked by bravado or comedy but with a thread of bloody-minded rage running through them nonetheless. When Morrissey finds a specific target, it results in the band’s fiercest music: “The Headmaster Ritual” is a thrillingly venomous treat, but Morrissey’s agonized howls of “No, no no!” on a live “Meat Is Murder” are as uncomfortable as intended. If you sympathize, you might find it cathartic; if not, you might think it over-the-top– a miniature of reaction to the group in general. []

Sigur Rós | Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust (2008) | EMI, XL Recordings

Sigur Rós’ fifth album is the Icelandic band’s most worldly, varied and –considering the usual ice-floe speed of their rock– impetuous. Co-produced with Flood (Depeche Mode, U2), the record was made quickly mostly in New York and London, with a trip to Havana for some vocals –and it opens with the closest this group will ever come to boogie-woogie: “Gobbledigook,” a cheerful tumble of acoustic guitar– and drum-circle percussion. The album also features singer-guitarist Jónsi Birgisson’s first venture into English-language whisper and falsetto, the closing piano-and-brass suspense of “All Alright.” []

Dinosaur Jr. | Live in The Middle East (2006) | DVD

The Middle East concert is pretty good. The location appears to be pretty small and the stage is tight. The songs are not all perfectly played, a missed or off key vocal here and there and the occasional miss strummed note, but the flubs are more caused by the band being loose rather than half-assing it. The middle portion of the set works best, and the highlight, for me, was the crescendo that ends “The Lung.” Murph and Barlow arrange the beautiful rocking backdrop while Mascis adds the flair, still after all these years proving he is one of the most brutal string punishers in music. There is no travel or behind the scenes footage or banter between songs. They are not a banter band. The set keeps moving with nary a pause. The opening credits show a little, nonsensical, immaterial backstage stuff, but mostly it just gets to the music and that’s it. []

Robyn Hitchcock | This Is the BBC (2006) | Hux Records

Robyn Hitchcock has the lyrical vision of a latter-day Syd Barrett and is one of England’s most enduring contemporary singer/songwriters and live performers. Hitchcock started his recording career in 1979 with the post-punk psychedelic group, The Soft Boys. His solo discography includes over 20 albums, released over the past quarter century, culminating in the 2004 LP, “Spooked”, a collaboration with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. “This Is The BBC” was compiled by Robyn himself and features the best of his BBC radio sessions, recorded between 1995 & 1999. This compilation features unreleased versions of many favourite Hitchcock originals, along with Robynís unique interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” and the traditional folk tune, “Polly On The Shore”. The accompanying 12 page full colour booklet includes photos and paintings by Robyn, song lyrics and an original Robyn Hitchcock poem. []

Mojave 3 | Spoon and Rafter (2003) | 4AD

Spoon and Rafter is warm and intimate through and through, reassuring without being as quietly unsettling as the records before it. And while not much on it could be classified comfortably among Halstead’s best work, its gentle tones of haze and tranquility, at once lush and sparse, pardon what it lacks in innovation. []

Pulp | Hits (2003) | Island

Pulp has suffered the twin misfortunes of releasing an era-defining pop hit in 1995’s “Common People” and a boasting a gangly, instantly recognizable frontman in Jarvis Cocker who is better known than his songs. The years spent as an indie land produced some fine (and not-so-fine) songs. It’s easy to forget just how brilliant the band can be, as witnessed by the shimmering, slow-burning beauty of “Last Day of the Miners’ Strike.” With a dignity that few of his contemporaries could muster, Cocker sings “Some joker with a headband is getting chicks for free” and name-checks kids spitting on the town hall and frightening old ladies. “The future’s ours for the taking now, if we just stick together.” Let’s hope for the future of guitar pop that they do. []

M. Ward | Transfiguration of Vincent (2003) | Merge

M. Ward’s Transfiguration of Vincent is nothing less than spectacular. From the buoyant, late-Beatlesque “Vincent O’Brien” to the dank, shuffling, south of the border groove on “Sad, Sad Song,” the troubadour manages to capture a timeless folkiness and match it with a surreal and sparkling sense of nostalgia that clearly echoes Tom Waits. Recorded with the Old Joe Clarks as the backup band, Transfiguration is rooted firmly in old-time Americana, yet M. Ward’s take on country and particularly his vocals somehow fit perfectly with Giant Sand, Sparklehorse, and California’s surreal, pastoral psych-pop outfit Grandaddy (whose Jason Lytle contributed some field recordings). []

The Filth and the Fury | Julien Temple, 2000 | DVD

The film proceeds chronologically through this familiar history by juxtaposing footage of the Sex Pistols ó much of which fans will be pleased to know is previously unreleased ó with clips of contemporaneous British television (including news segments, weather reports, advertisements, game show clips, etc.). As a result, the context for punk (which is conflated throughout with the Sex Pistols) is very clearly British pop culture, and particularly British mainstream media culture. Consequently, the Sex Pistols’s intrusion into an otherwise banal media culture is presented as a clash of styles. This strategy formally severs the link ó suggested by the film’s opening ó between British punk and the social relations that produced it. []

Cocteau Twins | BBC Sessions (1999) | Rykodisc

Cocteau Twins have always been a love ’em-or-hate ’em kind of band ó to some, Elizabeth Fraser’s cool, chirpy warble, the shimmering multi-layered guitars and bass of Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie, and the affectless electronic percussion that always accompanies them combine to approximate the music of the spheres. To others, it’s all frosting and no cake. This two-disc compilation of live and radio studio recordings (some of which are previously unreleased) probably won’t change anyone’s mind either way, but if there was ever any doubt of Fraser’s vocal virtuosity, that doubt can be laid to rest now: imagine a cross between Emmylou Harris (without any twang) and Sinead O’Connor (with discipline). []

Spacemen 3 | For All the Fucked-Up Children of This World We Give You Spacemen 3 (1995) | Sympathy 4 the Records Industry

An unexpected peek into the band’s earliest possible roots, For All the Fucked Up Children preserves Spacemen 3’s first ever studio recording work from 1984. Though there are seven cuts total, only five songs are on offer — the remaining two are alternate mixes of some recordings, interesting but not notably different. Outside of a completely fried take of “TV Catastrophe,” those expecting Playing With Fire, or even Sound of Confusion, will have some (pleasant, happily) surprises at hearing where the group was and had yet to go. “Things’ll Never Be the Same” readily demonstrates how the trio changed more with time. Where the version on The Perfect Prescription is a viciously compressed, psychotic monster of a track, here it’s almost easygoing, Pierce’s voice swathed in the appropriate echo while all three lay down everything in a country/blues-with-feedback approach. “Walkin’ With Jesus” is even more radically different from either of the more familiar later takes, again cooking up a slow and steady blues twang and stomp with plenty of ambient space, Sonic contributing harmonica while Pierce does his best imitation of Lou Reed-sings-Muddy Waters. “Fixin’ to Die,” meanwhile, may share its title with other tracks but is its own little beast, an early take of “Come Down Easy” with different lyrics and backing vocals but the same general low-key gospel groove. []

Jeff Buckley | Eternal Life EP (1994) | Columbia

This is, perhaps, one of the best EP’s available to showcase Jeff Buckley’s musical prowess and diversity. The “Road Version” of the title track is harder than most “hard rock” or “alternative” bands that fall within these labels. I think, given the empathic nature of Jeff’s music, it lends the song an edge that most other “harder” bands lack; there’s also a maturity in his sound and songwriting that seems infinitely wise beyond his youthful countenance. My two favourite tracks, however, are the live/acoustic renditions of “Last Goodbye” and “Lover You Should’ve Come Over”. Both songs are beautifully crafted and powerfully moving. The recording quality is immaculate (probably live-in-studio) and the performances are electric! Essential listening for devoted and casual fans alike. []

Cat Power | You Are Free (2003) | Matador

It may be her most beautiful album, as well as her cagiest: There are gaunt rock songs and ramshackle ballads, all painted with bold, sure strokes that belie her ambivalence. Chan Marshall doesn’t lean into her words the way she used to, and even at its most passionate, her voice has an aching flatness that matches the lyrics. “We can all be free,” she sings, but the song is called “Maybe Not.” Eddie Vedder adds backup vocals here and there, and Dave Grohl drums on three songs. []

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