by Casey Dolan
The Lonely Forest
“We Sing the Body Electric!” (Burning Building Recordings)
When people say of Kurt Cobain that he had a pop composer’s sensibility, I never quite understand what they mean. He may have loved the Beatles, but he didn’t write like Lennon & McCartney. Bridges and choruses ape verses, dynamic changes become a predictable soft-loud-soft-loud paradigm, melodies stagger half-drunkenly over mumbled poetry. Maybe Nirvana was a necessary cathartic purging for a generation.
The Lonely Forest (terrible name, guys), a young Anacortes, WA band that takes many cues from Nirvana (the angry gargle, the occasional sonic roar), adds piano and that extra dimension of complexity in pop songcraft (true bridges, imagine that!). Their new album, “We Sing the Body Electric!” (another unfortunate choice for a title, taken from one of the lyrics but, more importantly, borrowed from Ray Bradbury, who had been previously pillaged by both Weather Report and Since by Man), merges the two often conflicting worlds of raging punk and chamber pop. John Van Deusen writes memorable tunes — “We Sing in Time” has the potential to be a big single — but it’s his voice that grabs center stage, ranging, like the music, from the strangled Cobain to the purest falsetto. The only concern might be that some of the prettiest harmonies are sung by Van Deusen himself and thus not replicable live. There is a hint of emo in Van Deusen’s delivery and one shudders to think what a grand emo producer like Howard Benson would do with a band like this. I hope they keep it hairy and raw like this album, which is not to say these guys aren’t tight. Drummer Braydn Krueger is a powerhouse, coming up with some surprising accents and parts but always grounding the band.
If there is a weakness, it is in the lyrics which occasionally smack of cloying sentimentality and pithy idealism: “When will the world start moving forward?/Let’s lose the hate and drown the sorrow!/Give love/Just live love!” sings Van Deusen in “Golden Apples of the Sun, Part II.”
“We Sing in Time” live at Folklife in EMP’s Skychurch, 2008:
“Bromst” (Carpark Records)
The album begins with the slowest fade-in in history– a dramatic entrance, sounding like an alarm from the dystopian world of “Minority Report” and opening into one of the most varied sonic topographies this listener has heard in a very long time. “Bromst” beggars description and is an easy candidate for one of the year’s best.
Dan Deacon, the Baltimore wizard of sound, explores a full spectrum of sonorities — from a jagged sawtooth to the purest sine wave, an impossibly fast drum n’ bass groove to mid-tempo Kraftwerkian vocoder pop — but he never stays in one territory long. Inevitably, the glistening mercury turns to sand. The layers multiply exponentially. Loops are edited with a composer’s ear for detail; samples defy source identification. As any good symphonic composer, Deacon mixes timbres, instruments to surprising effect. “Paddling Ghost” begins with something close to a kalimba sound on overdrive, and then, of all things, a Farfisa organ enters. “Surprise Stefani” suggests gamelan, but filtered through the post-rave landscape. Ambient series Brian Eno finds an unholy union with the synclavier-era Frank Zappa (and all his obsessions with VSO) and the American shaman composer, John Adams.
For those who think that Aphex Twin and Squarepusher were really on to something in the mid-90s, Dan Deacon represents the next step forward. His previous outing, “Spiderman of the Rings” (2007), is almost as good, so it is clear that he’s on a roll. Catch him when he hits the Troubadour on April 22. The live shows are legendary.
The entire record can be streamed here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101150484
“Rearrange Beds” (Mom & Pop Music)
Fresh from an appearance on David Letterman last week, this Brisbane duo (bassless, naturally) of Kate Cooper and Damon Cox play songs that read like diary entries from an anguished, overwrought teenage girl, but they still manage to make things rock and not sound like adolescent whinings. Tagged by Tegan & Sara to open for them on tour, it’s easy to see why the Canadian duo liked An Horse so much — a strong frontwoman songwriter in Cooper with emotional direct simplicity in the songs. Even guitarist extraordinaire Kaki King has covered an An Horse song. Cooper is the focal point and, as can be seen in the video of their Letterman performance of “Camp Out,” she doesn’t really have to even look at the audience to be riveting. The album packs a stark but aggressive punch.
Here is the Letterman performance of “Camp Out”:
Micachu & the Shapes
“Jewellery” (Rough Trade)
Magnificent little engines in a Rube Goldberg contraption run in perfect syncopation, their square gears setting off whistles. Cymbals pin the meters into white noise and a slightly adenoidal English teenager starts yammering. There’s a bit of hysteria throughout the debut album of Micachu & the Shapes, like a giddy Noel Coward on a gin and pills jag and don’t we really all want that in our lives? Noel weaving down the hallway, martini glass in hand?
Can music get more fun than this?
The toyshop explodes in “Eat Your Heart” until a yodeling chorus brays about eating your heart. The guitars on “Lips” sound like outtakes from Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” rehearsals. “Calculator” starts off as a low-fi garage beater, but then all these strange sounds appear and it devolves into a subway busker.
Mica Levi, a.k.a. Micachu, is all of 21 years old, thoroughly grounded in composition at the Guildhall School of Music, a violist and is a fan of Harry Partch, Bela Bartok, the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Al Green and Johnny Cash! Bully for her to bring such iconoclasm and individuality to the table. Fundamentally, Micachu and the Shapes are pop, albeit a skewed, funhouse mirror version of the genre. They’re in SXSW this week. Here’s hoping they get heard by discerning ears.
Here is a performance of “Lips”:
Dukes of Stratosphear
25 O’Clock and Psonic Sunspot (Ape House Records)
There are many compelling arguments for the claim that XTC is one of the two or three most important bands to come out of post-Seventies England. These two albums, made under the moniker of their psychedelic alter-ego, contribute to that claim. Strangely out of print for a long while, Andy Partridge’s cottage label, Ape House, is resurrecting them. Fans can discover that the albums work as musical statements far more than mere pastiches of Beatles, Who, Kinks, Hollies, Small Faces, (Syd Barrett era) Pink Floyd, Beach Boys and Byrds. The excellent songwriting of Partridge and Colin Moulding that made the parent band revered (particularly among musicians) is evident on these albums. “25 O’Clock” is more consistent a disc, but each contain demos, extra songs and a video as bonus items.