Author Archive

REVIEW: Kathryn Williams’ personal journey contemplative, intimate

Kathryn Williams’ latest release ‘The Quickening’ is a highly agreeable personal journey shared by the artist that fits like a favorite shirt and leaves the listener with a feeling of having spent a season contemplating some of her most intimate thoughts and experiences.  And being a better person for it.

Williams embarks on her current musical trip with “50 White Lines”, a rhythmic sing-along about tooling down the highway with the wind in her hair and troubles at her back while her travel partner carefully counts off the painted white dividing stripes to pass the time, offering possibly the album’s most obvious choice for a single.  That rhythm-of-the-road theme carries over to “Just a Feeling”, which leaves you with just that thanks to a cool, easy tempo and what sounds like possibly a 12-string guitar (I’m working off a demo copy with few liner notes) being deftly picked atop the casual cadence.


New Sophe Lux EP ‘Hungry Ghost’

The most important thing I can say about (and to) Sophe Lux is this: get your ass in a studio and put out a full-blown rock opera now!

These guys totally get it. And by “it” I mean the concept of modern music as serious art that still manages to entertain; something Freddie Mercury and Bryan Ferry and Peter Gabriel and I suppose even Peter Hammill got a long time ago. Gwynneth Haynes needs to credit Kate Bush’s muse in the liner notes of anything she ever records though – seriously, even if the resemblance is unintentional. That aside, this is about ten minutes of outstanding theatrical rock that lasts considerably longer, mostly because the two tracks on this EP will replay several times before you become a little concerned about attracting flies to your gaping mouth and pop the thing out of your CD player. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard such enthusiastically faithful attention paid to the critical factors that make serious theatrical rock work really well; with the ‘Hungry Ghost’ EP we get to witness what could become the birth of a new art rock classic if these guys can take it another step and use the EP to launch a full-length follow-up. I’m hoping they will.

I’ve read about these guys on various websites, a couple of trade mags, and even their own propaganda outlets, but the words don’t do justice to the music. Check them out on youTube if nothing else.

Lyrically both songs on this EP tilt heavily left; that is, if you consider taking umbrage at the past eight years and what they have wrought on America and her place in the world social order to be left-leaning. Haynes gets right to the point in the opening chords: “America she dreams, cracking at the seams; she ain’t what she used to be.” This is a skewering castigation of petulant arrogance and hubris as a nation employing a situational value system lumbers inevitably toward the disruptive change that must occur to restore harmonic balance. Sophe Lux deliver with panache and admirable showmanship, all the while making sure the message is not lost in the swirl of pageantry. Dead-on and breathtaking.

“Sophia Song”, on the other hand, is the rebirth: “the pendulum swings, and like begets like.” Briana Ratterman’s lush piano strokes dominate like dew and the overwhelming scent of freshness dominate a spring morning. The plodding rhythm and marshal drums paint a demon-and-dark skyline, but Haynes’ words and Ratterman’s piano float off Ken Yates’ persistent guitar riffs to draw chaos back to order in what will inevitably become the lead-in to the postlude of this rock opera I’ve already constructed in my head.

A tantalizing taste of what could be, Sophe Lux’ ‘Hungry Ghost’ EP channels the art rock greats of my youth and uses them to paint a new musical canvas for a generation with far more to worry about. The only thing that remains to do is finish the story and commit it to sound. Call me Gwynneth, we’ll do lunch.

Very highly recommended.

Sophe Lux

Melora Creager’s Rasputina metamorphasis

This limited-edition CD was my introduction to Ms. Melora Creager, and what an introduction it turned out to be . The resonant feeling I heard on the first playing sent me off on a web-surfing frenzy that ended with my debit card lying on the corner of my desk feeling violated, and several virtual shopping carts loaded with Rasputina discs on my laptop screen. I’m a willing sucker for pensive, sappy music, and Creager offers that in spades here.

Turns out ‘Melora a la Basilica’ is the pinnacle though, at least for the time being. Creager seems to have found that sweet spot that lies precariously just beyond artistic experimentation and onto the frontier of profound. In pouring through the Rasputina catalog leading up to this solo recording one can clearly hear the slow maturation of sound that culminates in an abandoned warehouse whose walls provide the perfect acoustics for these stripped-down offerings from Creager and second-chair Daniel DeJesus. The two of them leverage the incredible power of the cello to render any ordinary listener into an involuntarily weeping heap of rubble, and the combination exacerbates the experience by doubling the cellos and adding her intoxicatingly strong and emotive vocals to boot. The result is thirty-eight minutes of acoustic and vocal bliss that will either leave you drained or invigorated, and probably both.

All the more amazing considering there is literally nothing new here. Every track on the album is either a cover tune, a remade Creager original from her Rasputina days, or both. Creager appears to have a longstanding talent for making other people’s music her own through innovative covers, but here the lines between original and cover are blurred beyond recognition, and she breathes new and melancholy life into her own songs which benefit from more starkly mature arrangements and outstanding sonic qualities. Honestly, it took me almost three playings before it dawned on me that the opening “Clowns” is actually a cover of the more-famous Goldfrapp original, made here into a poignantly glum character sketch courtesy of her controlled wailing and purposeful string-bowing. The resonating strings barely fall silent before she rips into an inspired rendition of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” that captures, possibly for the first time, that song’ true meaning of a forlorn teen on the brink of suicide.

Other must-hear tracks include an absolutely heartbreaking offering of “Rose K.”, a terribly personal picture of age and decline: “…oh I don’t know why they have taken all my favorite things away; but one thing’s for sure, I don’t know what they were…”; “Rusty the Skatemaker” in which Creager sounds like a mad female cellist channeling Colin Meloy’s muse; and an a cappella rendition of the Eddie Vedder crowd-pleaser “Soon Forget”.

DeJesus’s high tenor vocals and anchoring cello accompaniment quietly complement Creager beautifully throughout, but he projects mightily on “Green Finch/Johanna” from the tragic Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, yet another cover that demonstrates Creager’s appreciable talent for making thematic connections between songs that on the surface seem to have nothing in common.

I could go on, but considering this is an individually-numbered, 1,000 copy limited-edition in a collectable tin case, you might miss out by delaying any longer in picking it. So go buy the thing now; my copy is number 986 so time is running out. Very highly recommended to dreamers, left-leaning naïve optimists and drama-club geeks.


Matteah Baim’s sophomore offering ‘Laughing Boy’ welcomes the spring

Ex-Metallic Falcon Matteah Baim follows her debut ‘Death of the Sun’ with ‘Laughing Boy’ this spring, an album that shows her moving away from longtime influence Devendra Banhart as well as into a more earthy folk tilt than the lipstick metal she and ex-CocoRosie Sierra Casady practiced with the Falcons. These songs are a bit more spiritual in tone, but Baim also manages to inject subtleties of variety that seemed to be lacking with ‘Death’. The progression of style suits her well, and portends an intriguing future of musical exploration.

Baim opens with “Pagoda”, a subtle acoustic track that sounds like an extension of the closing “Up is North” from her 2007 debut. I expect a repeat performance based on that opening; but Baim hits her stride full-on with the trance-laden “he turned my mind around”, an acoustic folksy tune that turns the corner with heavy psych guitar and lusciously hypnotic percussion. The lyrics appear to be inspired by an old Seneca Native American poem titled loosely “A Poem About a Wolf, and Maybe Two Wolves”, but the intimacy of sound is what makes this the most memorable composition on the album.

Elsewhere Baim delivers a delightfully surprising acoustic rendition of the prophetic and rather obscure Jim Morrison poem “Bird of Prey”, transforming it with harmonized backing into a rather charming modern Americana folk vignette ala the Roche sisters, but without the subtle East Coast quirky pretensions.

Baim is accompanied in the studio by an eclectic collection of friends, including Robert A.A. Lowe from one of my favorite math-rock bands 90 Day Men and more recently of Lichens; Japanese composer and multimedia artist Leyna Marika Papach (her eerie violin work is breathtaking, especially toward the end of the record); jazz experimentalist Butchy Fuego and several others. The blend of influences give a lift to Baim’s introspective and mildly dark singer-songwriter sensibilities and help to sprinkle this musical foray into something that causes the listener to happily spend nearly an hour of their irretrievable life cocooned in a blanket of soothing and thought-provoking sound.

And stretching the cocoon analogy a bit further, ‘Laughing Boy’ also shows Matteah Baim blossoming into a noteworthy force on the modern experimental folk landscape. Find this CD and rip it onto your iPod immediately – spring is coming and Baim’s musical wanderings provide a ready soundtrack to a new season and all its possibilities. Highly recommended.

Matteah Baim

“Well we’ll all be alone when we sing our final note”

For anyone who has experienced the genre-bending and ranging music of Cerberus Shoal any time in the past decade, this rebirth known as Fire on Fire should come as no surprise. That band seemed to make a habit of reinventing their sound every couple of years or so (or evolving might be a better word). A band that required loyalty and a healthy sense of wanderlust and adventure.

With Fire on Fire they’ve done it again, or some of them anyway, but this time unplugged and firmly entrenched somewhere in a dimension far removed from those musical roots. The trappings now are rough-hewn and varnished implements: guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, upright bass, accordion; plucked, strummed, pressed and purposefully bowed. But bubbling under the surface and woven in the words, that genesis of youth and anger and cynicism and sense of irony and sarcasm blend with newfound purpose like dandelion wine, and into something that wets the palette but leaves behind an aftertaste of bittersweet satisfaction. This is music for folks who may not be ready to stop being contrary and skeptical, but who have matured to a point where those emotions can be effectively channeled into something useful.

Fire on Fire

Right out in front of the toe-tapping acid bluegrass and new-generation Americana folk instrumental arrangements the band lays out a rich layer of vocal harmonies that’ll keep your ears glued to your iPod or Media Player or car stereo or to whatever portal-to-your-soul of choice this CD happens to land in. I’ve a bit of a soft-spot for sincere folk music (and what folk music isn’t sincere)? But this ain’t folk any more than Neil Young is a country singer. We’ve gone beyond that and more. The dirge-like apocalyptic lament “Sirocco” with its hypnotic fiddle and unrelenting bass lays a trance-like bed on which something akin to a post-apocalyptic and sickly gleeful chant issues forth: “and if we tear this kingdom down (tear it down!), let it be with a deserving and joyful sound”. I suppose this is close to what A Silver Mt Zion might have sounded like if they’d grown up just south of the border instead of on Mile End Street. And with a keener sense of harmony.

The years of experimentation and experience manifest all over this album, from the plucking bluegrass-tinged title track to the Jesus-freak throwback “Toknight” to Colleen Kinsella’s chilling vocals on the accordion tribute “Squeeze Box” to the all-acoustic post-rock (did I just say acoustic post-rock?) “Haystack”. An enchanting closer to a stunningly engaging album. All I can do at this point is hope like hell these guys somehow wind their way to South Dakota USA so I can see them live. Not likely, but you never know.