Album Round-Upby Mahala / 24.02.2012
Here at Mahala albums tend to pile up and clog the trestle tables. Mostly, they’re not exactly worth a full review but definitely a mention. Occasionally we compile a selection of music you should know about, either as a recommendation or a warning.
An Evening with…/ The Clippers/ AVW
While reviving the rasping emo reminiscent of Cap ‘n Jazz and early At the Drive In, The Clippers have kept a feeling of simplicity which eludes many bands. Their need for experimentation comes through in short spurts through vocal acrobatics and off-kilter time signatures. Their mixture of Boston angst with math rock virtuosity works quite well, but leaves me on the fence. And the release of their latest EP An Evening With…, though I was excited, shifted me to the left of that fence. The EP is cohesive in sound and complexity and moves from song to song swiftly with every time shift flowing effortlessly. Opener ‘Boku&chevre’ is a one minute epic with drums which roll through with a violent layer of guitar, sending forth a sense of drama and emotions which coats the entire EP. ‘Mulberry Cove’ seems to be the highlight, with vocals mixing with humble lyrics which embrace the need for calmness through a raging jolt. But one problem arises, it is a release which relies on noisiness and aggression but ultimately lacks the sincere energy needed. A trap drum and guitar duos often fall into. Like early Blood Red Shoes and every Two Gallants album, their two man setup has many gaps in its framework with the DIY mentality in their music failing them. An Evening with… exhibits the duo’s ability to write infectious pop songs, but through a major swing in genre, from a complex indie to straight forward pop, they’ve failed to match up to their previous body of work.
Chimes Of Freedom/ Various Artists/ PH
There are two types of people in the world, those who know who Robert Zimmerman is and those who do not. This is the basic tenant of Dylanism the belief system that discards troglodytes not familiar with the great troubadour and bard. I am an ardent Dylanist. For the last 50 years Amnesty International has advanced a general progressive human rights campaign, which (under the beliefs of its adherents) is supported by all courageous, good people who have civilized beyond troglodyte status. A joint fundraising effort is thus to be expected. After all, surely all non-troglodytes are literate enough to appreciate Dylan poetry and progressive enough to embrace Amnesty International and the general human rights crusade? Sadly, as a Dylan fan, this compilation does not warrant an extensive review. The performances are for the most part refreshing, but really only half a dozen tracks stick out. Knaan’s performance (probable redemption for polluting our minds with ‘Wavin Flag’ during 2010) of ‘With God On Our Side’ and its adaptation to the travesty that is contemporary Somalia is the most noteworthy. Michael Franti’s delightful adulteration of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ manages to take second place. We can wax lyrical – it’s an impressive and broad (if somewhat bizarre) collection of artists performing Dylan’s work in different ways – about its selection of pieces for the anthology and the matching of the songs to the artists. Ultimately though the album has no prospects of leaving an artistic legacy. It is fair to adopt the cynical view that the album is a money making exercise profiting off the name of Bob Dylan. But it is equally fair to view the album as a wonderful indicator of the diverse adaptations of Dylan’s work which are possible. And to the album’s credit, despite the adaptations, it is not likely that Bob will ask as his contemporary, ‘Melanie What Have They Done To My Song?’ Don’t buy the album because it is a good album, buy the album if and only if you wish to make a donation to Amnesty International.
Not I, But A Friend/ Markus Wormstorm/ RY
Not I, But A Friend, Markus Wormstorm’s orchestrally laced ambient album is at times haunting and creepy and at others deceptively light. From the opening track, ‘Lillian’, spooky voices, distant random pianos, plaintive strings and spidery beats drag you into a world that feels oddly like the soundtrack to a ninja tunes financed children’s book based on an idea by Tim Burton’s smarter brother, the one that’s been kept locked in a basement. ‘Secret/kid/glue/spell’ shuffles along it’s sub bass, like the missing member of 9 Lazy 9 emerging from Tangiers, ‘Sleep Ali’ is a tinkling lullaby for hip hop steampunks. The only track that feels unformed is ‘Beautiful Malema’, sampling speeches from Julius, which seems to derive it’s political position, or lack of one, from the sound of the cheering crowd alone, if it wasn’t called something else, then the riddle of it’s politics wouldn’t detract from the track itself, which is maybe the point. While it’s possible to make comparisons of Not I to Felix Laband, ‘Golden Rebreather’ shows that Wormstorm is a different kind of musician entirely, vibraphrone, operatic voice, clarinet, marimba, cello, all combine into a simple, minimal, classical, and far too short, wisp of yearning. It’s an album full of subtleties, that hover in the not-too-background of your subconscious, if you have a soundsytem adept enough to uncover them (ie: this is not a computer speaker album). From the lush and spacious ‘Red Queen’, to the lean and stifling ‘Eve’s Twin’, Wormstorm has managed to craft a journey that is, at once, soundtrack to a meltdown, meditation on an illustrative brief that is past deadline, and sunset cocktail background jazz for the post goth set.
Scars and Stories/ The Fray/ SM
Sometimes at Mahala we can be a bit guilty of being overly critical, but this is an album that cannot defend itself. It’s a musical experience based on artistic dogma and formulaic approaches to creativity. It is the soundtrack for pretentious emotions and nostalgic pillow talk. Lyrics peppered with words such as love and life in an attempt to make the album more insightful than it really is. The terror starts in earnest on track two; ‘The Fighter’. A song about a boxer in his last bout. It takes its cue somewhat from the film, but the riffs are low and lack the energy that could accompany the visual imagery one gets from the songs title. The only song that is even moderately interesting is ‘Run For Your Life’. A melodic study about two sisters torn apart by their own violent emotions. It has a dark doomsday quality about it that is a slight twist to the conforming parenthesis of this offering. The album however does have some nice cover art, which is about the most you can say about it. It adds nothing of value to the moist-rock genre beyond re-affirming the band’s status as Coldplay’s illegitimate brothers.
O, Devotion/ Liz Green/ SM
Cover music always has a problem because of its translative nature. Artists have a peculiar habit of either wanting to sound exactly like the artist who did the song before them or stray too far from the core melody in a bid to make the music their own. It almost always falls apart. The opening song of Liz Green’s debut offering is perhaps one of the most innovative cover renditions in recent memory. She employs her folky voice to a mixture of silence and horns resulting in a haunting rendition of ‘Hey Joe’. This is a song filled with space and has a sexually enticing obsessive quality about it that is hard to put in its place. It sets the tone perfectly for what is an album based primarily on the notion of musical simplicity. What we have here is musical thesis that has gotten out of its own way. Green has stripped of all the complications of modern folk music and made use of instrumentation, and captivating songwriting. On ‘Midnight Blue’ the emphasis is not on flow but annunciation. Green digs into her vocal repertoire to evoke a 1940’s jazz notion of using words as melodic benchmarks and letting them flow into the accompanying composition. On ‘Displacement Song’ Green’s voice becomes secondary, used only as a filler between the swaying horns section and the pink panther-esque trombones that invade the space. This is not a sensitive album built on emotional appeal but rather it is measured in its execution and is somewhat a throwback tribute to sensible music making in the tradition of Bossa Nova and even the likes of Astrud Gilberto. A genuine shame that this release will be largely ignored by an insulated crowd of consumers who are still caught in the wrath of flavours of the day, such as Adele.
AVW – Andrei van Wyk
PH – Paul Hjul
RY – Roger Young
SM – Sihle Mthembu