PopMatters home | short takes home | archives

PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases

e-mail print comment

07 July 2006


Kush Arora, Bhang Ragga: Dancehall Bhangra in Future Dub (Kush Arora Productions)
This beguiling but enthralling release from San Francisco born Kush Arora combines Asian rhythms and Bhangra with dark, dubbed out reggae, and is well worth hearing. It's the sound of Indian music ending up in Jamaica, in a dark sweaty dancehall, and taking over the dingy soundsytem. The fusion of Asian vocals over relentless dub reggae beats and bleeps sounds strangely natural and frequently comes as a thrill. That the whole thing works is mainly down to the fact that Kush Arora has dove right into the dark heat of this reggae, and free from any commercial pretensions, the fearless conviction of the record means it sounds progressive and authentic. And though there's little here to match the slap in the face of the first four tracks, it sure as hell is an interesting ride through some the most banging dark delights that reggae and Bhangra has to offer. Track two, "Sex and Violence" in particular is a fractured, frayed hybrid of invention, featuring galloping Indian percussion and gruff, heavy dub vocals. The Indian and Jamaican styles on Bhang Ragga... are battered and burnt often beyond recognition but this treatment, for the most part, results in a fresh and vital sounding underground music. Maybe it's just that I haven't ever heard anything quite like this record before, but on this hearing Bhang Ragga... could well be a release worth investigating. [Insound]
      — Michael Lomas
multiple songs: [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
world / bhangra / reggae  

The Lucksmiths, A Hiccup in Your Happiness EP (Matinee)
Released as a second single from their newest album Warmer Corners, "A Hiccup in Your Happiness" shows that twee Aussies The Lucksmiths are more than just your average Belle and Sebastian acolytes. "And it hurts even more than you thought/ The words get caught," Tali White sings in his upbeat, hopeful tenor. "Hiccup" is a wonderful piece of pop music, using guitars, horns, and its sweet lyrics to melt listeners' hearts. Even better yet, perhaps, are the three near-perfect bonus tracks on this EP: "From Macaulay Station", the delicate "Rue Something", and the stunning "To Absent Votes", a harmonica-laden lullaby you won't ever want to end. Evocative lyrics add quirk and warmth to the somber melody as White sings, "We took some beers down to the landlocked jetty/ And looked across the lake/ At the detritus of election night/ In a town without a traffic light/ Curling at the edges/ Like a pre-loved paperback." The Lucksmiths' gift is in writing songs whose melody captures your attention, but whose lyrics manage to hold it. And their ever-present optimism is just icing on the cake. "To Absent Votes" wins mine for song of the summer, and A Hiccup in Your Happiness proves that The Lucksmiths know what it means to take a sad song and make it better. [Insound]
      — Maura McAndrew
"A Hiccup in Your Happiness": [streaming]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Pop  

Various Artists, Elektronische Musik Interkontinental 5 (Traum)
It's minimalizm! Sorry, after all those k's and z's in the title, I couldn't resist. Less minimalistic than just plain progressive, this German compilation, released each spring on the under-the-radar Traum label, has consistently introduced new artists with innovative takes on the microhouse sound, and a heartwarming vision of one sound, one world. The mix proceeds from Lars Wickinger's "Ghostrider" like this: with very soft percussion, held up by a swooping synth and a building energy, it's the kind of track you forget is having a precise, calculated effect because the changes are so small; suddenly you turn around and it's booming with late night sonics. There's not much by way of melody here, and songs don't follow the accustomed textural arc, but when the synths tug in syncopation with the beat on Linus Quick's "Tri-State", or on Gabriel Kogler's "Romantisch Im Westend" when the layered electro melody bends away just as it comes together to form a chord, it's a distinct and trippy pleasure. In an attempt to counteract the perceived over-saturation of masculinity in house music, Interkontinental 5 is feminine and optimistic: a precise, complexly patterned chamber piece for techno aficionados. [Insound]
      — Dan Raper
multiple songs: [streaming]
electronic  

Scott Solter, One River (Tell-All)
You might know Solter for his work behind the boards or backing artists such as John Vanderslice or the Mountain Goats. With One River, his second release, he's still not pining for attention, having crafted a gorgeous ambient work that, true to form, shouldn't make you take notice. But maybe it should. Solter employs his field recordings, processed guitars, and drones in a manner that can be as engaging as it is soothing, turning the lights down without shutting them off. Solter's writing for a very particular audience, and they should like this. At the same time it's the sort of ambient record that might be more accessible to those unfamiliar. The shifts aren't slow, the sounds are lovely, and you can follow the music. Plus, it's effective as ambience, and everyone has a need for that at times. [Insound]
      — Justin Cober-Lake
"Antique Brothers": [MP3]
Indie  

.: posted by Editor 5:20 AM


05 July 2006


Feathers, Feathers (Gnomonsong)
"What's that sparkling light out in the yard honey?" Cover your eyes for a second and you'll miss Feathers emerging from Nowheresville with a hobo stick and a half busted guitar. Epitomizing the drifter lot with predictable traces of ethereality, and with a surprising amount of substance, this band of nouveau hippies effectively preys upon the wanderlust mystique in psych folk music. Shimmering, beguiling harmonies layered over murmuring guitars with tribal drums kicking up the dust behind a patchwork of harp, sitar, violin, banjo, and chirping birds. Recorded in co-founder Kyle Thomas's bedroom in Vermont by eight likeminded longhairs, this debut recording definitely carries with it a hush of intimacy and a playful looseness. Laid down on an old 1/4-inch eight-track reel-to-reel, this record sounds like a remnant of the '60s acid folk faction. And even more than other contemporary torchbearers, like Animal Collective or collaborator Devendra Banhart, it has no mark of the present. It's completely ass-backward, but Feathers total non-cooperation with contemporary music production is charming. And ultimately the rear-guarded perspective doesn't alienate. Feathers drifts and darts like a firefly -- its movements, unrehearsed and instantly mesmerizing. By the same token, the glow of these eight songs extinguishes nearly as fast as it ignites. But I don't think the point of this record is to get people humming the songs after their gone. Feathers are just visiting, shining their light for a few minutes, before they're gone as quick and inexplicably as they came. [Insound]
      — Liam Colle
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Folk / Rock  

Surel, For My Good (Comin Atcha)
Has anyone coined the terms neo-gospel or R&G (as in "Rhythm & Gospel")? How about "geo-soul"? Those labels could be used to describe Surel and her debut For My Good. It's not straight "gospel" and, yet, it's not party or dance music. It's gospel with a chaser, a righteous mixture of the singer's belief system and spiritual viewpoint set to music you can groove to and melodies you can croon to. And it's a splendid effort, from the boot-stomping, devil-taunting "You Can't Have It" to the Temptations-flavored "Daddy's Little Girl" remix that turns "Papa was a rolling stone" into "Papa wasn't in the home". Skillfully, Surel appropriates the sounds and devices of secular music and reorients them to fit her message. Sure, it's been done before, but Surel's take on it is seamless, patterned after the so-called neo-soul movement with a voice that sounds most like Erykah Badu, particularly on the title track. Other solid numbers are the romantic "My Vow to You", the uplifting "Beyond My Faults", the funky "Pleasing", and "Gold". The album consists of 12 songs, plus the "Daddy's Little Girl" remix, and finishes just under 59 minutes. [Insound]
      — Quentin B. Huff
multiple songs: [streaming]
R&B  

Violins, Pink Water (Contraphonic)
You can't blame a band for emulating the Decemberists, but on Pink Water, Violins' attempts at it can distract attention from the band's own winning persona. Ringleader Michael Lyons drops plenty of Meloysian melodies and lyrics, occasionally to his own detriment (one cloying line, "Twin princesses sing incessantly," makes me grit my teeth and long for less shrill wordplay about the Duchess's luscious young girls), but over the course of a few listens the album reveals itself as a winning set of indie-pop confections, bandwagon-hopping or not. Lyons' literate verbal dexterity is quite impressive when it's not invested in showiness, and the band can go from twee to rocking out in a single song -- or in an opposite direction, as on "No Talent for he Infinite", which evolves from an AC/DC-style riff to an outro straight out of Pulp's "Common People". Perhaps best of all is the playfully perverse narrative of "Sophie and Pierre", which plays out like a more humane version of Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things". A bloated eight-minute bonus jam-track adds little, but these concise, witty, hook-filled songs overcome their first-impression doldrums to pull Violins into the category of upstarts with real potential. [Insound]
      — Whitney Strub
"The Two Simonas": [MP3]
"Sophie and Pierre": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie  

The Remote, Too Low to Miss (GU Music)
Eighties synthpop, we've got no more time for you. Our new synth heroes have all moved on - The Knife into 'haunted' electro-house; Goldfrapp into voluptuous electro-sex; Roysopp into blessed-out electro-ice. So, the Remote, if you give us straight, slow synths, Pete Shelley from the Buzzcocks-esque vocals, and melodies that try a tad too hard to be nonchalant, we just mightn't respond the same way we once did. With a tad more rock, the Remote could be Interpol; with more dance, maybe Underworld. Instead, here's the "Closer"-like industrial dance-beat, twiddled vocal line of "Creeps"; or the Grand Nationalisms of "Please Change Your Mind". Pleasant stuff, sure, but nothing revolutionary. [Insound]
      — Dan Raper
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Electropop  

.: posted by Editor 7:17 AM