James Elkington. Photo courtesy of Timothy Harris
JAMES ELKINGTON: Wintres Woma
A resumé is a document of qualification, and James Elkington has quite a superb resumé. The British guitarist and vocalist has played with Steve Gunn extensively and has lent guitar to everyone from Jeff Tweedy to Tara Jane O’Neil. And last year, as Jeff Parker had to sit out some shows, Elkington even filled in as a member of Tortoise. It’s also worth mentioning the criminally overlooked album Ambsace that he collaborated on with the equally fantastic Nathan Salsburg. I say all of this as an unnecessary selling point to Elkington’s solo debut album, Wintres Woma, a collection of mainly acoustic gems that is as musically magical as it is at times slightly humorous. One advantage of playing with others is understanding how to accent a preexisting base. And by coloring within established lines, Elkington helps to define and detail his compositions, and this is a strength of his playing. Even with the use of one guitar, the songs sound fleshed out and full. His track,“Make It Up,” has a percussive base without actual percussion, and it moves along with a pace and rhythm that reveals Elkington’s prowess. A similar effect is used on “Greatness Yet To Come.” Even flourishes of pedal steel, cello, or viola present themselves only as falling leaves or slight hues next to the plenitude of Elkington’s sound. There is also a keen understanding of tone and celerity on this album. Additionally, there are some pretty magical moments in the tracks “Sister Of Mine” and “Grief Is Not Coming,” sentimental ballads that are more about beauty than dexterity. The lyrics of the songs in this album are chock-full of observational humor and understated elegance. It’s a wonderful album, absolutely fucking wonderful.
Bedouine. Photo courtesy of Bedouine
There are times when music is massively human and moving in a altruistic way. Syrian-born, LA-based artist Bedouine has a new self-titled album that accomplishes that feat by creating and emoting beauty and presence in a simple, understated way. Take, for instance, “Nice and Quiet,” a song of exiting a relationship. “I’ve tried so hard to be there for you, It seems that may mean disappearing for you,” read the lyrics of the song. Or consider the equally resplendent “Back To You,” a song of love within the bombast of the everyday. “They talk in exclamation marks, I’m still dying to know what’s so exciting,” go the lyrics of that song. It’s about the feeling of disconnect with your surroundings while relying on the connection with another. “Can lives so designed be sustained?” asks Bedouin. Wrapped in Van Morrison/Dusty Springfield soul, with tinges of jazz and country, these songs are tunes of quiet afternoons and mystic nights. Bedouine’s voice is calm and assuring, easing you into each tune. The brilliant “Solitary Daughter” extolls the joys of alone time, of the world of the mind and peace. “I don’t need your company to feel saved…Leave me alone to the charcoal and the dancing shadow,” read the lyrics to that one. And then there’s “Summer Cold,” that in spite of its tranquility still protests “I’ve had enough of your guns and ammunition.” This album is excellent in that it fits that part of life that is needed to makes sense of the world. It cannot be all extreme (sadness, anger, or joy), and it is not all running. Sometimes there is a stroll that is needed, and sometimes there is a need to take it in and consider it more instead of always acting and responding. These are songs for thinking, songs that provide space for thought. “Never thought I’d see the day that I would be at ease to say that everything around me is exactly as it should be,” muses Bedouine in one of the songs.
The Peacers. Photo courtesy of the band.
THE PEACERS: Introducing The Crimsmen
The Peacers are purveyors of rock n’ roll, the particular class of rock n’ roll that is made in bedrooms and garages and in the minds of those who see song and form as instrumental to the magic of rock n’ roll. I stress rock n’ roll to suggest tradition because The Peacers cover ground from Big Star to The Beatles, and from Pussy Galore to Cream, on their new album Introducing the Crimsmen. It is rock, but haunted by the ghosts in the room. The track “Hoz” floats into the room and shakes the curtains, flicks some lights off, and on and disappears. It is strange but also grooving. The Peacers embody the implied line between the present and the otherworldly, and their track “ Child Of The Season” is reverbed balladry, sweet and blues and mystical. “D.T.M.T.Y.C.Y.M” is pure, it is the Lennon/McCartney (more Lennon), and as soon as it grasps you, it lets you go. It’s is a tease and you leave titillated. Meanwhile the track “Aboriginal Flow” is skronk and T. Rex, it is a trashcan fire outside of the blues club. The Peacers are rock n’ roll illustriousness. We make so much of things, but magic is always magic — abracadabra motherfuckers.
Ohmme. Photo by Sarah Hess
Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart comprise the duo of Ohmme. Influenced by avant-garde rock and the improvisational music scene of Chicago, Ohmme works on many levels. And the songs on the self-titled album use space, rhythm and contrast to create a feeling of depth, which is what most great songs do. A great album is atmosphere, it is feeling transported, taken to a place with the lyrics sort of guiding that journey. And Ohmme does just that on this EP. “Woman,” the first song on the EP, is a perfect example of this and of the band’s aesthetic of patience and expansion, fuse and explosion. The track “Fingerprints” shares this magic. “Ithaca,” another stellar track on the album, has a similar simmering quality. It burns and spreads. The songs have lives and are at once still and quiescent before another wave comes in. It’s similar to how “Furniture” lulls you in and then attacks. This album is all about excitement. It is all sparks and flashes of light, all rumble and rustle, suspense and anticipation. I feel it all.
MICHAEL NAU: Some Twist
As someone unfamiliar with Michael Nau, the opening track “Good Thing”ushers me into the magic. It’s a tune of appreciation, of recognizing that which shines in the darkness. Life is imperfect, but I have a “good thing going on.” Some Twist, Nau’s latest, is the kind of album that espouses an understated wisdom. The song “Wonder” is like opening a curtain to a beautiful day, a love song that talks of all the things one can see in the world. There is all of this, and there is also you. Maybe I’m trying to be distracted from you, or I am distracted by you. Nau does this splendidly. It could miss you, but the more times you hear it, the more bewitching it becomes. A mellifluous affair, it perfectly compliments a woozy evening. And “Scatter” is like a Shuggie Otis movement. It’s a slow jam with neon glow. The real star is Nau’s tone; his singing voice is always a sugar sprinkle or a honey glaze, and it continually rewards because it is so comforting and effortless. You sort of float away within it. Soul music penetrates, it’s goes beyond the surface, and his is an album that a day or year removed results in another angle. It is perpetually good. There is always another color, there is always a gem to discover. Get on the boat and sail this into the horizon.
Katie Von Schleicher. Photo by Bao Ngo
KATIE VON SCHLEICHER: Shitty Hits
The album Shitty Hits has many connotations in relation to Katie Von Schleicher’s first real album, Bleakspoitation, which was a beast. First of all, the quality of the 4-track recording, with its limitations and adaptations of sound technology, can be said to sound shitty. But it’s not shitty in the way of bad music, just in quality. So there is that. There is also the idea of feeling shitty, and songs like “Midsummer,” “Paranoia,” and “Life’s A Lie” lend themselves to the notion of feeling a bit, well, shitty. Now let’s add the second word, “hits.” What is a hit song? Theoretically it’s a song that works and that sounds good. And while there is subjectivity to taste in the process of successfully writing and recording a song, the completion itself, when done right, sometimes equals a hit. So there you have it, in a way, and with that out of the way, my opinion is that this album is fantastic. Imagine Wings using a 4-track, or great Syd Barret, or a weirder Linda Rondstat. “Soon,” a killer track form the album is a beautiful ballad, and “Isolator” also moves me in a major way. Beatle-esque is an adjective here that fits nicely. I am all about the majesty of this album. This shit is phenomenal!
SHABAZZ PALACES: Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines / Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star
The double album is sometimes one of the most ambitious — some might say even indulgent — features of recorded music. Problem is, very few artists can really fulfill the commitment of making one great album, not to mention two. But Shabazz Palaces has never been associated with giving a fuck, so I will respect the sentiment. Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines is the album that originally was going to be the only one. A concept of the alien Quazarz and his arrival and adventures in “Amurdica,” the album is a treatise on the representation of technology in our world and how that affects us culturally (love, attention, the isms), like in the track “Gorgeous Sleeper Cell.” “Effeminence,” another track on the album is like a slow jam sung by an alien, but it’s still romantic. The track “Julien’s Dream (ode to a bad)” is also of this motion. Meanwhile, “30 Clip Extension” is all hip-hop in the time of whatever we call this Musically it is the Sun Ra hop that Shabazz Palaces rock so well. It’s a trippy record if you will. Meanwhile, Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star is a bit like a more song-structured album, to use the term loosely. And “Eel Dreams” is like Arabian Prince, and then it turns into a kind of smoothed out jazz thing, but rapping.
“Fine Ass Hairdresser” should beat down the block, and “Moon Whip Quaz” is sort of like Parliament Kraftwerk (the tune of “The Model” is sort of embedded here). Whether or not you get one one of these albums, you will eventually get both because the exposure to one will spark curiosity in the other.
Dasher is mainly the brainchild of drummer Kylee Kimbrough. A mixture of punk spirit, metal squall, and pure energy, these songs embody lightning and fire. The opener “We Know So” is the proverbial brick through the window. Meanwhile “Soviet” is the accompanying smokebomb. “Teeth” is a slower affair, crisp guitar and dark cloud, psychedelic but dangerous, a beast rising from the ocean. Kimbrough has mentioned an inability to keep a job or residence and the frustration of seeing something that others can do easily coming so difficult to her (something she attributes to a recent discovery of autism). The tension is apparent in the songs, and the album speaks to that sort of fight between the world in your mind and “proper” world. These songs are full-on assault weapons drawn. This is gut, blood drawn from the vein. Let’s burn this motherfucker down.