30 October 2013

“Give Yourself to Dreams”: On Wax Idols

In this season of mists and spookiness, now is the best time to discuss Wax Idols. As much as I hear different influences through punk, post punk, and riot grrl or even specific vocal influences like Corin Tucker or the occasional Joey Ramone, I’m not interested in comparisons as a way to critique. Hether Fortune is more than capable so let’s leave it at that. There’s only one Siouxie, one Blondie, one Wire – so let there be one Wax Idols. I will single out influences, but only to indicate how well the band uses them. Capable musicians refine with intelligence rather than reproduce mechanically. Wax Idols is exciting because of its talent not its record collection.

No Future is quite a winning record because it’s an exciting sprint through their strengths. It’s also an incredibly fun album because of its lack of bullshit. The point of the debut is announcing itself and doing so without fuss. Sparse production and bare arrangements like any great, classic punk record of yore are evident much to its power. “Dead Like You” is a fine introduction with some strong guitar playing, but the next song “Hitman” really shows the band’s style. The song builds to two climaxes: the exclaimed “Let’s go!” (who on earth wouldn’t want to follow?) and the closing repeated “Kill ‘em all (kill ‘em kill ‘em).” Already two songs completed and you want to hear more – or hear them again. Another blast of the same energy ending with a frustrated scream ("Dilno") and the record has made its challenge. Then you get "Gold Sneakers" with “I I la-la-love you” as its refrain – quite a change, but a welcome one after the opening intensity. “Nothing At All” features an acoustic performance that gives way to the band roaring back. “Human Condition” opens side two with some feedback reminiscent of latter-day Mission of Burma. A manifesto on social torpor, it’s followed by a more dynamic evaluation of the first world working week, “Bad Future”. Engaging and unrelenting, whatever the lyrics each song is excellent.

Truly amazing is the cover of Wire’s “Sand in My Joints” because of how the band punches it up. It bristles with even more energy and attitude than the original. It’s a great instance of musical scene chewing and it works so well. Then with easy enthusiasm, they close with one of the record’s most exciting songs: “Grey Area”. This is a wonderful anthem showcasing No Future's strengths.

Discipline + Desire then came as quite a surprise. Stylistically, it felt like the band had jumped from The Damned (Damned Damned Damned) to Interpol (Turn On the Bright Lights). That said, by no means is it a sophomore slump. Actually, the increase in quality is more pointed as it’s a forward stride in imagination as much as sophisticated production value. The element that stands out immediately is the drumming. A feature of both records, it’s refreshing to hear a band with such a great sense of rhythm. The guitar feedback and singing prove to be even more explosive. It’s a superb blend of strengths that make the album such a tour de force.

Discipline + Desire is an appropriate title in terms of album sequencing: the first half aggressive and the second half more seductive. The Teenage Jesus vibe that announces the record – aggressive and stabbing a la “Orphans” – only begins to scratch the surface of new influences as well as unique talents within the album. The menace of side one begins with “Stare Back” as it stares into the recesses of humanity. (A typical day at work?) The playing like the singing is cold and imperious. Never aloof, the songs are exciting and brash much like No Future. It culminates in “Scent of Love” with a remarkable performance worthy of Jarboe circa Sacrificial Cake. The second side eases back on the sonic assault, but stays strong on its influences. A less abrasive side of songs, they’re among my favorites. Chief among these pleasing characteristics is the ballad-like nature of the songs. Engaged with the subjects of the songs, the singing is more introspective and highlights the beauty of Fortune’s voice. This culminates in “AD RE:IAN” with some excellent Daniel Ash-like guitar playing. A contrast to side one, the nuance in the guitar playing is beautiful to hear. Ending on a high note much like No Future’s “Grey Area” is the introspective “Stay In” which caps the many strengths of the album's new directions.  Self-seriousness is no crime so it’s nice how the album ends on a silly note with an unlisted track called “Dead Boys Can't Say No”. Part of me wondered if it was a cover of some lost 45 Grave song. It takes some confidence to end such a dark, brooding record with dry humor like this.

Which album is the best? I think this is the wrong question - especially as both albums showcase different, excellent sides of the band. No Future says "Kill 'em all" and Discipline + Desire says "Dethrone them all" with equal amounts of malevolence. The reason for artistic change is continued growth and here Wax Idols shows its talent. Consistent to both records is the quality of singing. The singing is genuine and effective without being too earnest or distant. No Future is effective to the point of little nuance although that works very well to show where the band and the songwriting excels. Clipped, but not diffidently so. The emotion carries each song to provide extra force. No Future, contrary to its title, explores what the band can do. Their next record, however, threw down the gauntlet. Discipline + Desire is colder, but the vocals have a richer palette. Bewitching, nuanced, and layered in a way that only practice and confidence affords. She knows that we’re listening. On the strength of these two albums so will we.

19 October 2013

Angel Olsen in Lexington

Angel Olsen with her guitarist and drummer played in Lexington a week ago. Based on her album, Half Way Home, I wasn't sure what to expect in the live setting. The album is stark, dark, and introverted. The spare musical accompaniment seemed like it could not be bested at a concert. I was wrong. Not only did Olsen play electric guitar, she was complemented by a drummer of great capability. I cannot overstate how wonderfully these songs bloomed on stage that night. All traces of Tarnation - whom I love, incidentally - that I heard on her album were stripped away to reveal a lean, fierce, smoldering fury. Something had pissed her off; I was riveted. Under the spell of the musicianship and the singing, I had no idea what would happen next. Her eyes sometimes locked on me as I sat near the back, all the hairs on the back of my neck tried running away. Sadly, soon something would piss her off. Playing at a bar, the number of patrons was much greater than the number of her audience. No-one in the bar would shut up to make space for her songs. It was heartbreaking and infuriating. Just the way she played guitar scared me so god knows what fate an errant barfly would meet were the artist beyond good and evil. The set was cut short, unfortunately. She ended the night solo on that electric guitar playing a song of Polly Jean Harvey or Townes Van Zandt levels of fatalism. Contemporary examples would be Cat Power or Sharon Van Etten, but in terms of musical terror and lyrical potency I'm thinking PJH and TVZ. Her playing was simple but fluent. It was an attack with exact grace. I was stunned, but I didn't want it to end. Still, it did end. This was one of the best evenings that I've ever witnessed. 

For another perspective and a full set, let me defer to Jennifer Kelly's review.

03 October 2013

Frank X. Walker

Walker spoke here the other day. I was unfamiliar with the man's work so I wasn't sure what to expect other than a lecture. I couldn't have been more impressed.First, he spoke about the diversity of Appalachian culture and some of the specifics of Affrilachian history. My familiarity with the history of Black America was lacking here so his introduction was helpful. Second, he read from his poetry. The canon of Western poetry did not prepare me for Walker so here he blew me away. He read Death By Basketball, My Boy D, In Hell Exhale, Rock Star, Cold Still, and My Poems Been Runnin' They Mouths Again. A live reading never hurts, but the formal beauties of the work couldn't be louder: subtle emotion, warm humor, and straightforward expression. Walker turned on a light and as your eyes adjust you see the details. The poems were not complicated or abstract. They were narrative, but boiled down to the emotional subtext we intuit when we get down to what another is saying. He records the struggle of life with great sympathy. Rock Star was especially impressive in its assured use of metaphor to discuss drug use as bad candy that eats away at you. My Poems Been Runnin' They Mouths Again was also impressive in how Walker simply showed the ways art communicates back to us just as we try to use it to communicate with others. Straightforward, measured craft that expressed the maximum of emotional and truthful nuances of life and our relationships with others. Walker's work opened my mind to new ways of expressing love and truth.

page daily hits
Promo Numbers