Thursday, April 12, 2007

Review round-up April 07

Some reviews today, some new, some neglected.

A review of RJD2's The Third Hand from today's Eye Weekly.

A review of Low's Drums and Guns from the new issue of Magnet. I have other reviews in the print edition (my debut issue with them), but this is the only one online. Click here, then on record reviews and you'll see it; there's no direct link. Also: I contribute two reviews to their "75 Lost Classics" feature in the print edition (writing about Royal City and Jerk With a Bomb) but for some reason my byline isn't included.

A review of Tinariwen's Aman Iman: Water is Life from earlier this month in Eye.

A review of Vandermark 5's A Discontinuous Line from Eye back in Feburary.

A review of Deerhoof's Friend Opportunity from Eye waaaay back in January.

Some reviews from the mainstream daily Kitchener-Waterloo Record: Amon Tobin, Neil Young, Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid, Wayne Petti, Rheostatics Tribute Album.

Amon Tobin – Foley Room (Ninja Tune/Outside)

There are very few music makers who can lay claim to creating five albums in ten years without ever coming near a microphone. But Montreal turntablist Amon Tobin comes from the school of recombinant composition: every sound on Tobin's albums would be from a snippet sampled from an obscure vinyl release and morphed beyond recognition. Several different saxophone solos from different players might be spliced together and digitally processed to create something entirely new.

While technically impressive, the pressing question was always simply: why? Wouldn't it be faster to hire a few musicians for a day and cut up what they give you?

Tobin decided to find out, by inviting many of his immensely talented Montreal neighbours, including Patrick Watson and Bell Orchestre’s wildly inventive drummer Stef Schneider, to create sounds that he could then modify and shape into a beautiful and befuddling compositional concoction.

But sticking with mere musicians would make his job too easy, so Tobin set out to get sounds from various insects, safari animals, machinery and motorcycles to throw into the mix as well.Most of the process is shown in a gorgeous 20 minute documentary on an accompanying DVD.

All this makes for interesting liner notes, but Foley Room succeeds entirely on musical terms. You don't have to know what you're listening to in order to appreciate the unpredictable sonic narratives that Tobin spins here. He doesn’t play by any rules: not Tobin’s beat-splicing past, certainly not conventional songcraft, and not even the avant-garde world of musique concrete.

Crackles and growls and scrapes, oh my! Sometimes they coalesce around rhythms both jazzy and harsh, the likes of which Winnipeg breakbeat renegade Venetian Snares might unleash; sometimes they’re content to tickle your ear lightly with honky tonk pianos playing classical motifs, spy movie surf guitars, or the sound of the Kronos Quartet crawling inside their violins.

Foley Room is unquestionably dense, but it never feels like a chore or a conceptual exercise. Tobin is enraptured by the possibilities of sound, and Foley Room is just as rewarding at a low volume as it is when you magnify the minutiae he’s spliced into every track. (March 29, 2007)

Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise/Warner)

No one needs another live album from Neil Young. The man has almost as many official concert documents as he does original albums, with scads of bootlegs to appease insatiable collectors.

Yet this live performance—surfacing now for its first official release—is one of those ultra-rare concert recordings that stands on it own: much more than just alternate takes of well-loved studio recordings, much more than for the historical context through which it's inevitably perceived.

We're so used to hearing Young with his various bands—Crazy Horse, the International Harvesters—that we picture him as little more than a perfunctory guitarist, one whose sloppy solos are more about soul than technique. Here, however, Young sits alone on stage, proving to be an impressively delicate self-accompanist on both guitar and piano.

Hearing songs like Cowgirl in the Sand and A Man Needs a Maid stripped down to just one instrument and Young’s plaintive voice is a revelation; even Down By the River, the most loathsome song in his entire discography, sounds tender and heartfelt here.

But the biggest thrill here is knowing that only six of these songs had been released before he played this show. This audience had never heard Heart of Gold, Needle and Damage Done, or Old Man. And until now, only devout bootleggers have heard the songs Bad Fog of Loneliness (written for Johnny Cash’s TV show) and the clap-a-long kitchen party hoedown of Dance Dance Dance.

Those bootleggers might want to snap up this official release anyway, because it comes with a feature-length concert DVD, with Super 8 footage of the actual show mixed in with home movies. (March 29, 2007)

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid – Tongues (Domino/Outside)

Two musicians, two generations, two radically different approaches. Steve Reid is a drummer who started out at Motown (that's him on Dancing in the Street) and had many a musical giant stand on his shoulders: Miles Davis, James Brown and Fela Kuti, for starters. Kieran Hebden is a young Brit who's been remarkably prolific in the last ten years, first with the instrumental band Fridge, and then a flurry of captivating jazzy electronic albums under the name FourTet.

The idea of a collaboration is certainly intriguing, though with it comes the unlikely challenge of experimenting with laptops and banks of samples. Though the liner notes claim that this was all done live, without editing of overdubs, how spontanteous and improvisatory can Hebden actually be in such a non-physical environment?

To compensate for these concerns, Hebden vomits everything he has into the mix, while Reid sounds content just to play along with the ride. Whereas FourTet albums strike a near-perfect balance between abstract melodicism, abrasive density and jazzy grooves, here Hebden sounds mindlessly adrift while attempting to match a master.

At its best, it's mildly interesting. At its worst, you'll wish it actually was your CD skipping instead of an intended outcome. (April 5, 2007)

Wayne Petti – City Lights Align (Outside)

When Cuff the Duke released their debut album in 2002, it was a remarkable achievement for a band from Oshawa who were barely 20 years old, informed as it was by classic country music, 80s new wave folk and epic post-rock of the late 90s. That they pulled it off with economic arrangements and colourful textures only made it that much more astounding. To this day, it stands as one of the great debut albums from the last decade. (It’s recently been reissued on Outside Music.)

Sadly, very little of that invention was heard on the eponymous follow-up, which is why it’s such a relief to hear this stellar solo album from vocalist/guitarist Wayne Petti. Working once again with producer Paul Aucoin of the Hylozoists, Petti and Aucoin remedy much that went wrong on the Cuff the Duke album by recording quickly and sparsely. There’s very little instrumentation here, but Petti’s songwriting is strong enough that little embellishment is needed. His suburban cowboy melodies here sound stronger without a band behind them, his guitars filling every corner of the sonic spectrum on their own. We also hear the more haunting shades of Petti’s voice, and when he breaks into whistling or a tender falsetto, he’s never sounded lovelier or lonelier. (April 5, 2007)

Rheostatics Tribute: The Secret Sessions – Various Artists (

When they called it quits last month, the Rheostatics left a long legacy over Canadian music of the last 20 years. They inspired one of the most devout audiences imaginable, and along the way lent a helping hand to dozens of young bands and musicians.

So when it became known that the end was nigh, several of their highest-profile disciples rallied to surprise them with a parting gift of a tribute album. The cast assembled here, each of whom toured with or collaborated with the band at some point, is more than up to the task. With the exception of the Weakerthans and the Barenaked Ladies, both of whom play it straight with the most conventional Rheos songs, every other act reinvents the material to suit their own individual voice.

Prior to this I’m hard pressed to recall a single recorded Rheostatics cover, and with good reason: it’s not easy to do. The original performance of Shaved Head, for example, seems so singular and unique that covering it seems certain folly. Yet By Divine Right strip the song of its arching drama and make it more of a meditative mood piece, which suits the lyric just as well. Cuff the Duke pull off a similar feat with Claire, getting to the lonely heart of the song without any of the lush ornamentation of the original. Kate Fenner tackles the suburban desolation of Stolen Car with a rich, warm empathy, in one of her finest vocal performances in years.

Some of the Rheos’ peers reform for the occasion: Sarah Harmer’s Weeping Tile, The Inbreds, The Local Rabbits, and King Cobb Steelie all pay homage, while the recently resurrected Wooden Stars are also here.

You don’t have to be a Rheostatics fan to appreciate this; if you’ve ever enjoyed any of the aforementioned acts, then you’ve already absorbed a small kernel of what made this band so beloved. (April 12, 2007)

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