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by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

25 Feb 2011


Klinger: I’ve said in the past that artists’ big statements tend to garner the most attention. And here we are, Mendelsohn, covering our fifth double LP. By my math, just under one quarter of the albums we’ve examined have required two slabs of vinyl and a gatefold cover suitable for separating seeds and stems. And every one of them, at one point or another, has been described by some critic somewhere as “sprawling”.

But there’s the rock & roll rub—boring, generic suburbs are also described as sprawling. So are winos. The backlash against these albums is practically built right in. And so with the 22nd album on the Big List, we’re once again asking the question: is Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland a bridge too far? The tight, structured feel of Are You Experienced? has been replaced with 16-minute jam sessions (“Voodoo Chile”) and sound effects widdley-woo (“. . . And the Gods Made Love”). Does this retooling of the Hendrix sound still work?

Mendelsohn: In a word: no. I’m usually the first one to go to the word sprawling. But for me, “sprawling” indicates a monotony of sameness. Electric Ladyland is a mish-mashed fuster cluck of ‘60s rock music. An ADD-riddled trip down memory lane. A hit-and-miss package of shoddy production values and even shoddier songwriting by a tiny, British, bass-playing imp who had the gall to ask the Jimi Hendrix to play lead on some sub-par Brit-pop drivel.

I mean, it’s Hendrix, so he’s got a pass from me, carte blanche, but this record is completely devoid of rhyme or reason. Except for the 16-minute “Voodoo Chile”, which is just awesome. He should have just stuck with that. You want a big statement? How about an album where all of the songs clock in around a quarter of an hour and feature two five-minute guitar solos apiece.

by Daniel Ross

24 Feb 2011


The Acorn (Rolf Klausener, middle)

With their latest LP, No Ghost, Canadian folk-poppers the Acorn have done a strange thing: scaling down and de-glorifying their craft (after the immaculate Glory Hope Mountain from 2008), making it seem like a wonderful progression towards a woodsy, utopian breed of rock. There is an awful lot of joy in the record, as if time spent recording it in the wilderness—they retreated to an isolated cabin to piece the tunes together—was as freeing an experience as it should be, and the heaviness of Glory Hope Mountain had been lifted. Rolf Klausener was on hand to curtly and efficiently answer a few questions about No Ghost and shed a little light on its gestation.

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No Ghost—first things first, it’s not a concept album. In fact, there aren’t really any large themes drawing it together as such. Did you want to move away from the scale of Glory Hope Mountain?

In short, yes. The process of writing and recording No Ghost had little planning being it other than the location. Writing GHM was an all-encompassing affair which, creatively, dominated the better part of two years. For better or worse, we wanted No Ghost to be a lot less premeditated and commit to whatever came out of the cottage sessions.

by Stefan Nickum

23 Feb 2011


To pair Jamie XX’s interest in this territory with a musical figure like Gil Scott-Heron makes even more sense than perhaps the original conceit of I’m New Here. On Jamie’s official, Scott-Heron-approved remix record poignantly titled We’re New Here, Jamie bring Scott-Heron’s voice into the underground in the spirit of Heron himself. The breakbeat sounds of dubstep, hip-hop, and UK garage are at work here, and their relevancy to Heron’s spacious, spoken-word jazz material is essential.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX - We’re New Here (XL Recordings)

Last year poet, proto-rapper, and avant-garde jazz pillar Gil Scott-Heron returned to the fold with his first album in decades. Released on Richard Russell’s inimitable XL Recordings imprint I’m New Here is a collaborative affair between Russell and Scott-Heron that saw the revolutionary artist in the context of a sparse pastiche of 21st century electronic sounds. The result seemed to celebrate Scott-Heron’s legacy with a dose of nostalgia at the same time it launched Scott-Heron’s graying, monolithic voice into the future. The title said as much, re-casting Scott-Heron as a timeless figure, his visionary soul as new and fearless, as it was old and wise.

I’m New Here was undeniably Scott-Heron’s record, despite the musical crafting by Russell, and yet the potential for exploring the tensions between Heron’s legacy and his relationship to the underground of today could be mined even further.  Enter Jamie XX of breakout London R&B rock outfit the XX. Jamie is the band’s principal producer and supplier of the group’s electronic elements, and has—since the group’s meteoric rise—been making a name for himself as a member of the UK’s underground “bass music” scene.

by Evan Sawdey

22 Feb 2011


Photo: Hama Sanders

Alex Ebert has had a hell of a career, and he should know: he’s actually had two of them.

Ebert’s first career was in the early 2000s, when his electro-rock group Ima Robot released its eponymous debut album to decent success.  Lead by the snappy single “Dynomite” (which had a delightfully outrageous video to go along with it), the group picked up a decent following, touring with the likes of Hot Hot Heat while getting promotional support from the likes of MTV2’s underground-exposure program Subterranean.  The band’s 2006 follow-up album Monument to the Masses, however, received a much chillier reception than expected, and single “Creeps Me Out” stalled, with Ebert eventually releasing the gender-bending (and amazingly well done) promo clip for album-highlight “Lovers in Captivity” on his own, much to the chagrin of his label.  Needless to say, things got cool between artist and label at that point, and Ebert disappeared.

by Corey Beasley

21 Feb 2011


“Bankrupt on Selling” is a rare breed in Modest Mouse’s gruff bestiary: an acoustic ballad. The Lonesome Crowded West previously had the acoustic guitar take the forefront on “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child”, but that track is just as raw and seething as the most plugged-in material on this record. “Bankrupt on Selling”, on the other hand, takes things into definitively different territory. Isaac Brock has written a few of these in his tenure—“Lives” from The Moon & Antarctica(2000) and the much-maligned “Blame It on the Tetons” from Good News for People Who Love Bad News(2004) come to mind. But where that Good News track teeters dangerously on the edge of tedium, “Bankrupt on Selling” manages its melancholy with an expert hand, making it one of the most moving songs on an album full of full-steam heartwrenchers.

Rarely one to use minor chords to carry the weight of his most lacerating lyrics, Brock indulges on “Bankrupt on Selling”. The song’s basic four-chord progression does use the minor key in the way typical of perpetually lachrymose singer-songwriters, but the resonance of the track rests in the other elements of its composition. Original guitarist Dann Gallucci provides an airy, subtle accompaniment to Brock’s foundation, his clean electric picking through the melody and supplementing it without overtaking the mix. In fact, Brock shoulders the whole brunt of the performance, without Eric Judy’s rhythmic counterpoints or Jeremiah Green’s busy drumming to provide support. He does so with grace, a word not often associated with Modest Mouse’s squall.

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