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Tag: 60s

Snapshot Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes [4AD]

If you took Jello Biafra from his Dead Kennedys heyday and put him into a band that plays distorted and weird renditions of AM Gold sounds of the ’60s, you’d come reasonably close to what Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti are all about. While Ariel Pink never goes for the throaty yelp and ferocity that Biafra often had during those times, his strange perception of the world around him often pushes his vocals to take on different personalities and affectations. Simultaneously you’re also stuck with the challenge of trying to determine if Pink is actually being sincere or not. He cracks a lot of jokes and sings a lot of nonsense, many times in voices that sound dismissive or idiotic, yet there are also love songs that often have tenderness and genuine emotion attached to them. The many flights of fancy that suit his variety of whims at any given moment can make listening to Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti records a very difficult task, if not a chore. It’s almost always fascinating if you can stand it, and on occasion he’ll hit on something truly brilliant, such as the song “Round and Round” off of 2010’s Before Today. There was little funny about that song, but its hooks cut so deep they could leave scars on your ears if you weren’t careful. Such is the dichotomy of the man and the band behind him. Nothing on their new album Mature Themes ever hits the way you might want or expect it to, but if it did then it wouldn’t be a proper APHG record. If you’re looking for the most oddly engaging record of 2012, congratulations you’ve found it.

One of the smartest things you can do when listening to Mature Themes is to surrender your will and control and simply let it take you where it wants to go. Questioning a shift in direction or a lyric will leave you frustrated time and time again, because so much of it fails to make sense. Pink is operating on his own level here, and whether you think that’s above or below your own is irrelevant. Lines like, “The bad breath of a cross-eyed goat/ Eating children for a Monday morning,” on “Driftwood” aren’t supposed to make sense (to us at least), just like how “Schnitzel Boogie” stops mid-song so Pink can place an order at a drive-thru. “Is This the Best Spot?” is like some mad science experiment gone awry, bouncing between G-spots, H-bombs and a Rocky Horror-esque reference to time warps in under two minutes. And as you sit there scratching your head about what planet the guy is living on, songs like first single “Only in My Dreams” and the title track come in with some earnest folk-pop you might have gotten from Simon & Garfunkel or The Beach Boys. Of course the bipolar and challenging nature of this album isn’t anything really new for Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. They’ve been releasing records steadily over the last 10 or so years that carry a whole lot of similarities to what they’re putting out now, only the quality, fidelity and exposure has improved over time. Before Today was the band’s first album on 4AD and their first to feature clear studio recording. They also simplified and blended their various eccentricities more than ever before to create something more easily digestible than ever before. Mature Themes is by contrast both a step forward and a step backward. The band sounds more polished than ever, but the strangeness is back in its fullest effect. In some respects it’s serving to weed out the new set of fans that have discovered the band in recent years, trying to scare them away from a good thing. But if you find Pink’s oddball sensibilities gripping, there’s more than a fair share of reasons to keep paying attention. On the song “Early Birds of Babylon,” Pink keeps asking, “Hey, how does he do that?” Listening through this record, you’ll likely find yourself asking that same question of Pink over and over again.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Only in My Dreams

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Album Review: Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost [True Panther]

We’ve learned so much about the band Girls in the past two years since their debut “Album” was released. The headlines almost always started by noting that frontman Christopher Owens grew up in a cult. The next attention grabber was the extremely NSFW music video for the song “Lust for Life”, featuring persons of various genders and sexual orientations lip syncing to the song while naked. And yes, one guy did use another guy’s penis as a “microphone”. In spite of these apparent distractions, the music itself was the ultimate selling point, a retro-fitted pastiche of 60s and 70s pop that was extremely earnest and often heartbreaking, equal parts familiar and catchy. It’d be easy to level criticism at the band for staying so firmly rooted in the past, but Girls have done great work trying to make the sound their own while also mixing it up just a bit to avoid getting too trapped in a certain style. One moment they’re channeling 3 minutes of Beach Boys pop, and the next they’re on a 7 minute psychedelic journey that’s a closer cousin to Pink Floyd. Somehow they’ve managed to make it all work, with Owens’ nasally voice playing the anchor and even proving that they can progress to bigger and better things with last year’s “Broken Dreams Club” EP. The hope with their new record “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” was to continue that forward march. By all accounts, they very much appear to have succeeded.

The record opens with the galloping “Honey Bunny”, taking a few cues from surf rock in the way the drums roll along and the guitar riffs tumble over one another like waves washing up on the shore. There are moments where it sounds like a team-up between Dick Dale and the Beach Boys, and the best part is it’s nearly as great. Pop culture aficionados should hopefully also associate the song title with the classic film “Pulp Fiction” and may note the sonic similarities to the first track of that movie’s soundtrack, the Dick Dale-riffed “Pumpkin and Honey Bunny/Misirlou”. In the case of Girls though, this is just a delightful pop song with cool origins. As a matter of contrast, “Alex” feels born straight out of the 90s, taking a much more shoegaze-like approach with some fuzz-inflected chords and some noodling electric guitar solos. The band does it without blinking an eye, and for whatever reason it works beautifully. The fuzzy guitars get a hefty burst of energy and a touch of prog rock ethos on “Die”, a track that rages for 3 minutes that are reminiscent of classic Badfinger or Deep Purple. Things get a bit more spaced out and trippy towards the end though, as a gently strummed acoustic guitar and a flute show up for the final two minutes of subdued instrumental that brings an unexpected grace to something that was so sharp at the start.

If you’re looking for the truly psychedelic though, look no further than the middle of “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”. Starting with “My Ma” and progressing through the two epic 6+ minute cuts “Vomit” and “Just A Song”, let’s just say that it would appear the band has been taking crib notes from some of Pink Floyd’s finest moments. The canyon-splitting guitar work and organ ring out very nicely on “My Ma”, though that’s relatively standard compared to what follows it. Everything hits harder and feels even bigger on “Vomit”, with the organ slamming in the chorus and the gospel choir backing up Owens’ intensely mellow vocals. There’s every chance that things could have gone completely overblown in the 6.5 minutes the song goes on for, but it’s Owens that keeps it grounded and within reason by being more Elliott Smith than Roger Waters. A nice solo acoustic guitar instrumental break for the first 90 seconds of “Just A Song” provides a welcome, intimate respite and introduction to the ballad. By the halfway point, Owens is chanting, “Love, love, love/it’s just a song” as violins, flutes and harps are woven between the acoustic guitar and drums. The song itself is gorgeous and drifting, very much akin to what you’d hear on a Spiritualized record.

Waking you up from the proverbial nap the middle of the record provides is “Magic”, a jangly guitar, AM pop number that operates with a certain Elvis Costello-ish aire about it. It feels very specifically placed in that position on the album so as to serve as a buffer between the nearly 7 minutes of “Just A Song” and the 8 minutes that make up “Forgiveness”. You don’t want two ballads of such length (let alone 3 if you count “Vomit”) piled on top of one another. Unlike some of the other massive songs on “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”, “Forgiveness” doesn’t pull any punches or play around with a whole lot of sonic textures. It is first and foremost a relatively sparse acoustic ballad, pushing us to pay close attention to exactly what Owens is singing about, something most succinctly summed up in the song’s title. For the final 2.5 minutes though, Owens takes a vocal break and thrashes out an electric guitar solo that sounds like pure catharsis. Here he is, begging to be forgiven, and that guitar ringing out into the somber melody is like the burden of all his problems being lifted from his shoulders. It is the album’s true highlight, to the point where it makes the final two songs left feel nearly unnecessary additions. Still, the organ and choir on “Love Like A River” makes it very much classically inspired by gospel/soul music, bringing yet another fascinating twist to what’s already a highly engaging record. Things close out with the somber “Jamie Marie”, in which Owens spends almost the entire track on his own, just a gently picked electric guitar and his voice. In the final minute of the song, an organ and the drums break through, but Owens has said his piece already, and they’ve simply shown up to play him off the stage. It’s an underwhelming way to close, but in light of all that came before it, it feels almost fitting.

There’s so much about “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” that you deserve to find out about yourself. Spending time with the lyrics, which are more often than not musings about relationships be they romantic or familial, only enhance the depth and character of the record. There are small, transitional moments too that you’ll uncover and hopefully find delightful the more times you listen to this album. It rewards your time and commitment to it, a quality that only the best of the best seem to have about them. For a band that apes a lot of classic sounds, Girls sure do an awfully great job with them – to the point where you almost think these guys would be huge were they around in the 60s and 70s. Imitating your idols is one thing, but to cut out your own piece of land among them, that’s impressive. Impressive to the point where “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” appears ready to be annointed as one of the finest records of 2011.

Girls – Vomit

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Album Review: Black Lips – Arabia Mountain [Vice]

Two years ago, Black Lips reached an impasse. The fickle world of music lovers spat them out in a violent fashion akin to how the band members themselves often do with their own saliva on stage. If their 2007 album “Good Bad Not Evil” won them legions of new fans, the follow-up two years later with “200 Million Thousand” had close to the opposite effect. It seemed as if they were destined to become victims of the dreaded hype cycle, once beloved but soon after abandoned. Part of the problem with that last album (their fifth) was how content it seemed to be staying the course. The lack of ambition and conscious choice to maintain the same fuzz-riddled lo-fi sound from their last few records reeked of uninspired madness. Essentially it was a “fuck you” to those that thought Black Lips would change their sound now that they’d found success. With that plan having backfired, the band’s next move would need to be smart not only if they wanted to reclaim what they’d lost, but save what they were in danger of losing, which was their record deal. That explains why their new album “Arabia Mountain”, coldly calculated though it may be, is exactly the thing that Black Lips needed to revive everything they’d worked so hard to gain up until that point in time.

If you want to call anybody a hero in working to give Black Lips the kick in the teeth needed to make the necessary sonic adjustments for “Arabia Mountain”, Mark Ronson is the guy to point the finger at. The guy has worked with tons of people, most notably plenty of pop stars, to which he’s added a certain sheen to their sound that more often than not comes off as over polished. Still, he knows how to pull back on those reins when it’s warranted, and in the case of Black Lips, it absolutely was. You can’t go from super lo-fi to super clean without doing some serious damage to your long-time fans that love that no frills aesthetic. Yet the pairing of the two entities wasn’t nearly as earth-shattering as one might believe. Dust off some of that poorly recorded fuzz and buried underneath you’ll find a bunch of guitar pop songs. That and a mutual respect for the classic sounds of the 60s ultimately proved to be the bond necessary to bring out the best in Black Lips. Cleaner but not overly polished, lighter with more of a smirk than a frown, supercharged, addictive and more wide-ranging than ever, this is the band upgrading to version 2.0. Ronson may have had a fair share to do with it, but this record is still distinctly Black Lips through and through. These dynamic songs didn’t write and compose themselves, though somebody did throw a nice coat of wax on top to reveal the diamonds hiding underneath.

Saxophones really spice up opening track “Family Tree”, bringing a little madcap retro spice to a track that’s not only energetic, but downright danceable. One can envision girls in go-go boots on multi-colored dance floors doing what might otherwise be lovingly referred to as “The Pulp Fiction” (peace signs across the eyes). The buzzy guitar on “Modern Art” is eerily reminiscent of The Beatles or The Yardbirds, but the light touches of xylophone help bring a more contemporary feel to what’s ultimately a song about taking the wrong kind of drugs and wandering around an art gallery. If only all bad trips were this good (and addictive). The acoustic guitars providing the assist on “Spidey’s Curse” are a great addition to the track, and something that would likely have gotten lost in the mud of poor production quality in the past. If you’ve seen enough episodes of the old cartoon version of “Scooby Doo”, you’ll feel a special kinship to “Mad Dog”, primarily because it feels like one of those songs they’d play during a lengthy chase sequence where the mystery solving team keeps running and hiding from the monster that’s after them. That association isn’t brought up by the title of the song either, it’s mere coincidence, and matching that 60s-era sound doesn’t hurt either. Continuing to pull from that direction, “Raw Meat” sounds like a long-lost Ramones gem and the opening to “The Lie” comes weirdly close to copying Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” before taking a decidedly more psychedelic direction. And you’d be hard pressed to not think of The Rolling Stones when “Dumpster Dive” arrives, it apes that style oh so well. Even when their songs don’t recall specific and classic bands from the past, there’s plenty to get hooked on. “Go Out and Get It” and “New Direction” are hyper-catchy songs that will stay with you despite having so many other memorable highlights. It’s relatively easy to imagine massive crowds hearing songs like these when walking past the stage at a music festival and stopping in their tracks to keep listening.

Very legitimately, “Arabia Mountain” has suddenly become the piece de resistance for Black Lips. The winds have changed direction and now more than ever they’re on track to take over the world. They sound completely reinvigorated and more vital than ever. It’s amazing the creative spaces some artists will reach when the right sort of pressure is applied. Alternatively, “200 Million Thousand” is where an artist might go when the wrong sort of pressure is applied. When truly fighting for their livelihoods, these guys have stepped up and knocked one out in the best sort of way. Even completely ignoring the circumstances behind how they got to this point and judging this record as if it were some unknown band from Anywhere, USA, this is an album that is such a joy to listen to. Above all else, that’s the point: to have some fun, bounce around a bit, and go home tired but with melodies still running through your head. The only real issue “Arabia Mountain” has is with the sheer amount of music that’s on it. Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, it’s definitely not too long of an album, but there are probably a few too many tracks. A couple of the album’s 16 songs sound pretty similar and could have been cut without much of a problem. 12-14 songs would have been ideal, even if a 30 minute run time might have felt a little short. Quality over quantity, as the phrase goes. Other than that though, this is Black Lips operating at a level that nobody thought they could effectively reach, which is why “Arabia Mountain” is one of the most pleasant and best surprises of 2011 so far.

Black Lips – Modern Art

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