Music

Dump: I Can Hear Music + Superpowerless

Even when the amps buzz, these suit one's own bedroom rather than the family garage.


Dump

I Can Hear Music

Label: Morr Music
US Release Date: 2013-05-19
UK Release Date: 2013-04-08
Amazon
iTunes

Dump

Superpowerless

US Release: 2013-03-19
Label: Morr Music
UK Release: 2013-03-11
Amazon
iTunes

James McNew's solo moniker plays off his talents in typically sly form. Does "dump" mean a heap of lo-fi recordings piled up and left for us if not him to sift? May it allude to defecation and its results? He's not telling, but Morr Music releases, for the first time in wider distribution, his 1993 and 1994 albums. Recorded on a four-track cassette recorder, the choice of these as remasters by skilled technician Bob Weston may seem odd, given the quite humble origins of McNew's side project.

When the former bassist for Christmas joined Yo La Tengo for their album May I Sing With Me (1992), he gave Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley the additional talent of a third multi-instrumentalist. That eclectic indie-rock band, with its core duo of husband and wife, now added its solid anchor. McNew's wistful voice, if seemingly at odds with his stance on stage compared to his bandmates, continues to enrich YLT. Some of these Dump tracks feature Yo La Tengo, but as I was only provided a download file by the label, I cannot ascertain who contributed what to which of the many tracks.

Meanwhile, McNew's work under the Dump title continued with for his cassette of Prince covers That Skinny Motherfucker with the High Voice? (2001) and Grown-Ass Man (2003). As alongside Kaplan and Hubley, McNew on his own veers between many moods and explore sharply detailed or woozily vague song styles. As with YLT, McNew possesses a vast knowledge of music, able to pluck out odd or obscure songs to cover, along with fresh takes on more familiar tunes from rock and pop.

The blend of his quiet voice and pastoral wonder, as heard on a cover of Hoboken, N.J.'s Fish and Roses' "The Letter" on 1994's I Can Hear Music to splendid if modest effect with organ accompaniment, recalls the mid-period ballads of YLT, or its near-neighbors The Feelies. "Flap My Arms" chimes along with an effort, shifting between assertive guitar and more composed singing under the bashing. "Don't Let On" clatters on in the shambling style of New Zealand bands from the '80s on the Flying Nun label; the fidelity also recalls the limited budgets shared by that label's roster and McNew's tape.

"Wanted Man" from Bob Dylan has a bare-bones yee-haw jangle in Dump's version; I reckon McNew's selection to serenade with the Fugs' "Morning Morning" may surprise fans even if they can match his vinyl collection. "Vienna" by Ultravox keeps the metronomic drone of the original, but strips away the sheen to reveal a drum and organ, with "this means nothing to me" as if sung to one's self, enhancing the desolation and increasing the impact, sans New Romantic gloss.

The homespun nature of this collection ambles along in similarly unassuming form. The Eno-esque "Dear Betty Baby" sustains the New Zealand marine swirl of its stoic pop. Even when the amps buzz, as in the title track, these songs suit one's own bedroom rather than the family garage.

However, as the second disc's later tracks such as a pricklier "Acupuncture" insist, it's clear McNew listened to Pavement and Archers of Loaf as many of us did who gravitated towards the smarter side of post-punk, lo-fi, literate, and quirky indie rock 20-odd years ago. The Pavement-friendly, caffeinated yelps, strained phrasings, and lyrical swoops frequently appear on the previous year's Superpowerless; I note as a coincidence that McNew grew up in Charlottesville, where Stephen Malkmus had graduated in history from the University of Virginia before heading back to California.

There's even more covers on this single-disc album, assembled between 1991 to 1993. Its Pavement-like air ("Secret Affections" could have been a fine b-side off Westing by Musket and Sextant) may be a recommendation to many, or a dissuasion to a few. For me, this spunk conveys very well McNew's mutual influences. It's difficult for me to imagine those who don't like YLT liking Pavement or vice versa, but I betray my affections. "Moon River" gets a polite treatment, that's all. Sun Ra's "Outer Spaceways, Inc." freaks out in expectedly wobbly fashion -- I found it annoying, but I am also annoyed by YLT's cover of Sun Ra. "Ode to Shaggs' Own Thing" reverberates with McNew's echoed guitar twang and organ pitched tribute to an even more eccentric ensemble.

Quincy Jones co-wrote with Georgia Hubley's animator parents John and Faith "So Sedimentary". Suffice to say it's a curio. Wreckless Eric's "Just for You" earns the underwater, tremolo treatment; NRBQ's "Throw Out the Lifeline" nods as did that band to the Grateful Dead. Don't come to this pair of albums with any more wish for high-fidelity than the Pavement b-sides from their reissues a few years ago. All the same, under Weston's attention to whatever detail could be rescued from four-track tapes, the results should meet the expectations of listeners who know what to expect from McNew.

Overall, while Yo La Tengo fans will naturally welcome these reissues, others eager to hear these covers may wish to seek out Dump's return to the stores. As originally these records were even by indie standards hard to find, it's a pleasure to hail their unassuming airs and off-beat excursions into the influences which continue to inspire Yo La Tengo and its nimble bassist and co-conspirator when it comes to switching instruments and kicking out jams or shuffling out unpredictable rock standards.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.