New Soundbites: May 29-June 5


Matthew Gordon absorbs the romantic neo-Americana on Silver Jews’ excellent sixth offering. Elsewhere Mudhoney return, Islands frustrate and David Karsten Daniels reveals his fears.

Silver Jews: Look Out Mountain, Look Out SeaAlbum of the Week
Drag City
Silver Jews are still rolling round the back-streets of American indie on their sixth album.
The lo-fi Pavement sound is still there from earlier records, but this time SJ have fully embraced the country-rock they’ve been constantly steering towards. Not so much like a runaway bull, as a determined ox ploughing it’s own furrow – and what a fertile furrow it is. There are hints of personal hardship throughout, about rehab on Suffering Jukebox and family on the excellent Open Field.
The lyrics are dark and poetic, like a modern-day Johnny Cash gone grunge, but there is more humour and elation than ever before, especially on rockabilly tracks like San Francisco B.C. and Party Barge.
More prominent than ever is the sound of post-romantic new-wave, with the diverse sound of Sisters of Mercy and the Meat Puppets swallowed up by SJ’s own style of alt-country. It’s all held together by poetry and atmosphere to create a great piece of neo-Americana.
For fans of: Hangover remorse, The Flying Burrito Brothers

Mudhoney: The Lucky Ones
Sub Pop
The original Sonic Luddites return to celebrate their twentieth anniversary, abandoning the unappreciated experimentation of recent albums to return to the furious meltdown of their earliest records.
Opening track I’m Now explodes like it was still 1988, telling us that it might as well be since it doesn’t matter anyway.
The whole album is raw and fuzzy, with brutal muff-soaked riffing at the heart of every track, and Mark Arm still sneering like an angry kid – especially on The Open Mind and Inside Out Over You, which wouldn’t sound out of place on the band’s debut.
If Mudhoney stand for anything its simplicity and energy, but whether that’s what rock music needs at the moment is a question they won’t be asking.
For fans of: Drunken brawls, feedback ear-ringing

David Karsten Daniels: Fear of Flying
Fat Cat
People tend to get over phobias in the end, but for those who don’t psychoanalysis will tell us that it all stems back to childhood.
Childhood trauma seems to be the dominant theme on singer-songwriter David Karsten Daniels’ new album, but he obviously has no such fear about attempting to create epic indie on a four-track recorder.
There are stripped down folk songs, like opener Wheelchairs where the textured voice of Daniels is the main focus, and heavily arranged pop-epics, like the Arcade Fire-style The Knot Unties? and Jeff Buckley clone A Myoclonic Jerk. We are told without tact that “heaven is a lieâ€? on the stomping country-rock of Oh, Heaven Isn’t Real but ends on the equally straight-faced Evensong, which is a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.
For fans of: Jeff Buckley, Badly Drawn Boy, an afternoon episode of Doctors

Islands: Arm’s Way
Rough Trade
Islands have got more ambitious since their debut Return to the Sea and the quirky days of the Unicorns.
Opening track The Arm is soaring prog-indie, with a theatrical cowboy feel like Scott Walker ‘s The Rope and the Colt.
The orchestral flourishes and disjointed structure seem like an attempt to update Love’s classic Forever Changes, but as the album goes on it gets increasingly confused and overbearing.
Everything is soaked in orchestration from start to finish, not leaving any room to breathe until track five The Creeper, which is a funky piece about a serial killer living under the stairs.
Abominable Snow repeats Sun Ra’s “space is the placeâ€? with soaring chorus, and may suggest that the Islands in question are something like Le Orme’s magical cloud islands, totally detached from reality.
Islands have tried to create a baroque rock epic, like the Mars Volta have achieved more than once, but they don’t have the style or depth to pull it off.
For fans of: Silverchair, Fortean Times, lucid nightmares

The Sword: God’s Of The Earth
The Sword have changed from bong-metal stoners into full-on thrash revivalists in the space of an album.
Their debut was clouded in the white haze of down-tempo Sabbath riffs and beyond-the-grave vocals, but this time there is a definite influence from NWOBHM bands like early Judas Priest.
The vocals are still low in the mix, making them sound weak and inconsequential, but the riffs are crisp and crunching. The Sword have managed to integrate thirty years of heavy metal history, with high-speed shredding from Megadeth on tracks like Lords alongside bluesy stoner from Pentagram and Witchfinder General on the hilariously-named Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians.
There is even some melodic At The Gates-style death metal thrown in for good measure on The Black River.
The Sword are sharp and intense, but I’m not sure whether they are taking metal into the 21st century or simply creating a post-modern pastiche of the past.
For fans of: Black Sabbath, even after Ozzy left, ‘Kubla Khan; or a Vision in a Dream’

Vetiver: Thing of the Past
Fat Cat
Vetiver are a loose collection of musicians who played whimsical freak folk on previous records, but have pulled it together for a foot-stomping covers album.
There is a rolling alt-country feel throughout, influenced by bands like The Byrds despite the origin of the covers.
Although many tracks are second-hand shop eclectica so there is no way to know what the original was like, such as the Bobby Charles cover I Must Be in a Good Place Now.
Some tracks are faithful and respectful covers not made into Vetiver originals, like Loudon Wainwright’s The Swimming Song, but others are ambitious and surprising, like the rollicking folk of Hawkwind’s Hurry on Sundown.
Vetiver have achieved more direction and consistency with this excellent covers album than they ever have with their own material.
For fans of: For people who like: Huckleberry Finn, banjos on the porch.




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