Thursday, April 26, 2007


Fluorescent Grey EP

The Fluorescent Grey EP is a companion to Deerhunter’s second full-length, Cryptograms, that arrives not as a collection of outtakes, but a glimpse at the band’s evolution-in-progress. Whereas Cryptograms stretches abstract moments in rhythm, emotion and nostalgia across an entire album, Fluorescent Grey switches gears by focusing on concise song structure. Songs like “Wash Off” and “Like New” echo the shimmering distortion of Cryptograms, but there’s a discernable departure in both the clarity of the recording and the tempered pace of each number. As such it is a pop counterweight to the proper album's long, sustained ambiance. The fact that the vinyl edition of the EP arrives packaged together with the the full-length only underscores the relationship between the two recordings; both are best experienced side-by-side.

The title track harnesses shoegazer overdrive as frontman Bradford Cox layers high falsetto and deep baritone vocalizations, achieving a subtly pandrogynous effect. The death-afflicted lyrics, juxtaposed with the shimmering, sonic qualities of the music jam the senses with both sadness and elation. “Dr. Glass” builds around the noises of antiquated fidelity and drums that glow with a warped pop hue. The EP serves as an epilogue to Cryptograms by expanding on the album’s finest moments, and bringing Deerhunter’s sound to a sharp, cohesive point.

--Chad Radford

Peter Brötzmann, Marino Pliakas, Michael Wertmüller

Full Blast

Since the release of his acclaimed 1968 album, Machine Gun, Peter Brötzmann has pushed free jazz into deeper, darker realms of raw visceral expression. Full Blast arrives nearly forty years after his chaotic beginnings, finding that after all these years he still tussles with the same fiery and aggressive drive. And the album does indeed live up to it's name, taking shape as the explosive equivelant of a chest-bursting caffeine buzz that hits hard the height of rush hour traffic. As such this ablum is not recomended for interstate of inner city driving in any capcity. Listen to this one in the privacy of your own home, for the safety (and composure) of not only yourself but anyone else who wanders within striking distance.

The album’s five untitled numbers were recorded live with the rhythm section of Michael Wertmüller (drums) and Marino Pliakas (electric bass). The simple pairing of Brötzmann’s teeth-gnashing skronk with bass and drums draws-out new dimensions of body for his typically high-end squalls. The group doesn’t experiment with new musical form, but dives head-first into Brötzmann’s dogged jazz dirge with a simple, powerful rhythmic chatter that underscores what makes Brötzmann such a brilliant artist, from a slightly different angle.

--Chad Radford

Ed Gray: No Depression

Ed Gray rises above self-doubt, one step at a time...

Self-deprecation is a double-edged sword in the hands of a singer / songwriter. A healthy amount of insecurity draws out the most compelling qualities of a musician. But without a small dose of confidence, uncertainty can keep songs from seeing the light of day. Ed Gray has struggled with this imbalance for nearly two decades; a time that’s seen him lingering in obscurity while contemporaries, like Bright Eyes, William Elliot Whitmore and Simon Joyner have found varying degrees of success. To say that Ed Gray is his own worst critic makes light of the situation. He is his own jailer, who rarely lets his musical ideas come to fruition. But with the arrival of his latest full-length The Late Gray Ed Great, Gray shows signs of transcending his self-imposed embargo, one step at a time.

His career began in earnest when he bought a ukulele at a junk shop in Iowa City, IA circa 1991. He was drawn to the instrument because he’d heard it was what Lou Barlow of Sebadoh was playing. His first CD, titled Sore Eyes appeared in 1998 on Iowa City’s SKAM Records. The disc documents Gray’s distorted anti-folk dirges that plunge into the depths of caustic depression. In 2003 he released an LP, titled Fall Song that slows the pace to a hazy drone. Vocals morph from whispers into screams over drummer John Crawford’s slow motion tribal pounding.

Gray embraced the role of the emotionally damaged troubadour long before Bright Eyes and Cat power were performing on Letterman. Early on he had the reputation of the weird guy playing a funny little guitar through a small amp and screamed his words without a microphone, and it was still too loud for the uninitiated. He was even known to shed a few tears during particularly intense performances. The affect was a captivating part of his show, but a social killer. “People weren’t coming up and saying ‘wow cool,’ they just weren’t talking to me,” he chuckles.

Over time Gray’s songwriting evolved into a more stable form and he shed the ukulele for the nylon strings of a classical guitar. With The Late Gray Ed Great, he moves past the damaged sounds of his early recordings by leaning toward lumbering, country-tinged inflections that replace awkward indulgence with melancholy and symbolism.

In the summer of 2005 Gray was invited to Omaha by JagJaguawar recording artist, Simon Joyner and collaborator Chris Deden to record. Joyner was rehearsing material for his album, Skeleton Blues and planned to record Gray using the same players. The sessions were wrought with technical difficulties and Gray’s inability to communicate ideas became an obstacle. “There were times when I was beside myself, thinking this is going to be terrible, and I just sort of gave up,” Gray admits. “I was tired of trying to make people see what I wanted to happen.”

Joyner recalls how he intervened during the recording. “I had a plan because I didn’t think that Ed did,” he laughs. Joyner brought order to the process by organizing a full-band treatment of Gray’s songs.

“It turned out great, but when we sent him rough mixes he was full of doubt,” Joyner deflates. “There were e-mails where I just said ‘this is really good and you should be proud. Just put it out and stop worrying about it!”

Gray caved-in and released the songs on Hot Potato Records. An EP, called A Fresh Coat on the Powder Keg followed on Unread Records, incorporating many of the same musicians, and further refining the path Gray started under Joyner’s guidance. “He’s one of my favorite songwriters who is just kind of unsung and it’s a real crime,” Joyner adds. “But a lot of that has to do with Ed overcoming his own sense of doubt. He wouldn’t keep doing this if he didn’t think he was any good, and this record could do a lot for him. But at some point you have to drop the insecurities to reasonable level.”

--Chad Radford

Top photo by Chad Radford
Bottom photo by Jonathan Crawford

Sister Vanilla

Little Pop Rock
Chemikal Underground

The horrible band name is only one of the many obstacles that Sister Vanilla throws at listeners with Little Pop Rock. The project was conceived by Jesus & Mary Chain siblings William, Jim and Linda Reid, and long-time cohort Ben Lurie. Though the album is not an entire failure, it is the weakest link in the Reid family catalogue thus far… Yes, it’s even worse than Munki if that’s possible.

Opening number “Pastel Blue” is a sweet and day dreamy number that would work well in a Sesame Street montage, and “Jamcolas” could have easily been culled from some long-forgotten cache of Psychocandy outtakes. But as soon as little sister Linda’s airy croon takes shape, the album’s finer qualities are stripped away.

“Can’t Stop the Rock” is the discernable breaking point. Linda’s voice bares an unmistakable family resemblance, evoking the most brilliant moments of her brothers’ careers. But amidst the inane lyrical chatter and the circa 1997 alternative rock radio melodies her singing is quite tormenting. The slinky, sultry grooves and druggy sneer in “Totp” and “The Two of Us” reeks of the studio pop song-craft once taken to the airwaves by the likes of Garbage and the Cardigans. This aesthetic carries over from the songs to the shitty slick Photoshop cover art. Everything about Little Pop Rock screams ‘90s alternative chic when a blast of ‘90s noise would do this brand of pop a lot of justice. These guys should know; they pioneered the sound.

--Chad Radford

Henry Flynt & Nova’billy

“I Was A Creep (Soul Mash)” b/w “Left Ear (Greensboro Senior High Song)”
Locust Music

In 1975 Henry Flynt was the hillbilly of the NYC avant-garde scene. The Greensboro, NC native embraced the drone music that emanated from the likes of La Monte Young and even did a brief stint in the Velvet Underground. Both played powerful roles in shaping his musical vision, but he had no problem poking fun at them with a wave of his fiddle stick.

Flynt retired his fiddle circa ’83 and for a time his recordings slipped into obscurity. But as his catalogue is slowly unearthed his Southern fried sensibilities culminate in hours of graceful minimalism. However, these live cuts, recorded in 1975 capture a sound torn between the Velvets’ heroine haze while eyeballing no wave looming on the horizon. Flynt breaks the tension with a rollicking country-blues strut.

“I Was A Creep (Soul Mash)” is a funky number that explodes with Saturday Night Live-style saxophone exuberance. Flynt’s Muppet voice honks through the muddy recording qualities that sand off the detailed edges.

The flip side, “Left Ear (Greensboro Senior High Song)” is a tangle of high and lonesome twang and hooks. Flynt shreds the strings with a passion that transcends the uptight arts of the times. Rockabilly guitar licks go round-for-round with the violin in a high energy exchange. Nova’billy’s line-up remains anonymous, but the record is a monumental blast in the secret history of Henry Flynt; one that casts a raucous light on his aesthetic.

--Chad Radford

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid


Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid share a silent telepathy that draws strength from intense exploration of each other’s natural rhythmic tendencies. Tongues follows their marathon two volume Exchange Sessions of free-form rhythm and noise in which Hebden (Four Tet) and Reid (James Brown, Miles Davis) undergo a cultural, generational and stylistic collision.

This live session brings their discourse to a point sans any edits or overdubs. There are plenty of rough edges, however in songs like “Left Handed, Left Minded,” where Reid’s organic sensibilities tangle with Hebden’s electronic textures. Mono-rhythmic drums in “Greensleeves” and “The Squid” are rife with human imperfections.

Likewise, Hebden’s noises are cold and psychedelic in their mechanical motions. Both are steadfast in a complimentary push-and-pull reminiscent of the classic John Coltrane / Elvin Jones dynamic circa My Favorite Things, but carried to the fascinating fringes of abstract communication.

--Chad Radford