Tickle your eardrums with these new releases from three veteran bands. By Bob Mehr
The Living and the Dead
TEXAS-BRED, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Jolie Holland has always beensomething of a dark horse. She doesn’t have the high profile or lungpower of label-mate Neko Case, nor can she claim the hipster-coolstatus of fellow indie chanteuse Cat Power. Yet over the course ofthree solo albums, Holland’s managed to carve out her own niche on theroots-pop landscape.
Her previous efforts have been subtle butsurprisingly powerful mergers of prewar country, postwar jazz, andtimeless mountain music. Holland’s latest, The Living and the Dead,continues largely in that vein, adding some traditional Latin rhythmsand folk rock into the mix. She and producers Shahzad Ismaily and M.Ward fashion a mostly spare and haunting sonic tableau with the 10songs here -- an aesthetic that’s especially effective in thefinger-picked guitar and lonesome whistle of the ballad “You PaintedYourself In” and in the otherworldly warbling of “Love Henry.”
Lyrically,Holland’s songs are impressionistic and melancholy, with a kind ofethereal gloom hanging over the material. (“What’s that black smokerising?/Is the world on fire?/What’s that distant singing?/Is it aheavenly choir?”) Such lyrics make the songs more like intimateconversations than grand confessionals. Despite the overall downbeattone, Holland’s music does possess a sense of fun. It’s a quality bestcaptured on the blithe album-closing “Enjoy Yourself” -- a directivethat Holland, who cracks up at various points during the song, isclearly taking to heart. That kind of looseness has always been one ofHolland’s best assets and is another reason why these seemingly simplesongs work so well.
(Yep Roc, $16)
IN AMERICA,Mercury Rev has long been seen as the difficult baby-brother band topop fabulists the Flaming Lips. That’s somewhat understandable, sinceRev leader Jonathan Donahue and producer/auxiliary member Dave Fridmannhave close ties to the Lips. But elsewhere, particularly in the UnitedKingdom, Mercury Rev has been embraced on its own terms and feted forthe epic psych grandeur of its albums like 1998’s landmark Deserter’s Songs and 2001’s All Is Dream.
Althoughthe band has remained busy with releasing a career-spanning compilationand composing the odd film score here and there, it’s been four longyears since Donahue and bandmates Grasshopper and Jeff Mercel havereleased a new LP.
The New York combo’s seventh and latest studio album, Snowflake Midnight,feels, in many ways, like a creative rebirth. Again produced byFridmann, the album was developed during an intense period ofrecording, the nine final tracks edited down from many hours’ worth ofmaterial. (That process also yielded a companion instrumental albumcalled Strange Attractor, which is available as a free download at www.mercuryrev.com, the band’s website.) Less organic and more electronic than recent efforts, Snowflake Midnight is a deeply cinematic affair; it's sad, futuristic feel would make it the perfect accompaniment to a sci-fi odyssey like Blade Runner -- as the swooshing melodies of “Snowflake in a Hot World” and the vivid synths of “Senses on Fire” illustrate.
Atother points, the band brilliantly manipulates rhythmic figures,including the skittering marching-band beats that propel “Dream of aYoung Girl as a Flower” and the hand-clap percussion that carries“Faraway from Cars.” With Donahue’s aching Neil Young tenor andphilosophical lyrics sending the music into the stratosphere, the albumproves once again that Mercury Rev remains in a class of its own.
The Goodnight Loving
(Dusty Medical, $10 on iTunes)
FOR A CERTAIN KIND OF MUSIC FAN -- the one who cherishes his copies of Mr. Tambourine Man,Rum Sodomy & the Lash, and A.M.in equal measure -- the Goodnight Loving is something of a dream cometrue. The Milwaukee-based band is a five-headed monster, withmulti-instrumentalists Colin Swinney, Andy Kavanaugh, Andy Harris, ZachByrne, and drummer Austin Dutmer each taking turns writing and singingsongs. Collectively, they manage to conjure the jangling, dreamy pop ofthe Byrds; the ragged, boozy charm of the Pogues; and the bruised,boyish romanticism of early Wilco.
So far, that mix has resulted in two remarkable albums, 2006’s Cemetery Trails and 2007’s Crooked Lake.Rooted in the Midwestern hard-core music scene, the band’s membersbring a punk intensity to their music, infusing their folk- androots-flavored songs with a distinctly boisterous edge.
Theband’s new, eponymous third album keeps things moving in manifolddirections, seamlessly segueing between heartbroken alt-country (“NerveMountain”), ’60s girl-group pop (“We’re in a Place”), and storminggarage soul (“Cause a Scene”). The common elements remain an abundanceof sing-along melodies and infectious energy. With the materialexploring the postadolescent world of bad relationships, boredom, andconfusion -- the lyrics here are all broken hearts and broken bottles-- the band rarely misses the mark. The rotating cast of singers andsongs keeps the hooks fresh and the musical momentum constantlycharging forward.
Although the group has remained mostly anunderground phenomenon until now, it’s obvious that if the GoodnightLoving keeps making records this good, it won’t be a secret for muchlonger.
THE MONTHLY MIX
A playlist to get you through the creepy, kooky month of October. By Zac Crain
Band of Horses, “Is There a Ghost”
(Cease to Begin, 2007)
Johnny Cash, “I See a Darkness”
(American III: Solitary Man, 2000)
Albert Hammond Jr., “Spooky Couch”
(¿Cómo Te Llama?, 2008)
The New Year, “The Company I Can Get”
(The New Year, 2008)
R.E.M., “Supernatural Superserious”
Elvis Costello and the Imposters, “No Hiding Place”
The Walkmen, “In the New Year”
(You & Me, 2008)
The Smiths, “Cemetry Gates”
(The Queen Is Dead, 1986; Hang the DJ: The Very Best of the Smiths, 2008)
Neutral Milk Hotel, “Ghost”
(In the Aeroplane over the Sea, 1998)