Smile Politely

Rock and Roll Music to the World I

As some of you may know, I was fortunate enough to host various shows on WEFT sporadically for something like 17 or 18 years. Most recently I co-hosted (and then solo hosted after my co-hosts split) a weekly two-hour stroll through all things rock called Out of Our Heads. The reality of balancing show prep and an expanding work schedule forced me to quit a coupla three years ago, and I can honestly say the one thing I really miss is the evangelical aspect of the airshifter enterprise, the simple pleasure of turning folks on to new stuff. In order to scratch that particular music freak itch, I will periodically jump off my blogging high horse and quick hit new things I’ve heard recently, things for which I can’t quite stretch my topical blather into full essay-form. Yakking about the records I buy is also a good way to semi-justify all the cash I dole out more or less constantly. At least, that’s this weeks’ rationalization.

One disclaimer before I leap: I’m not really about bagging on crap publicly. If you’re wondering why I am not talking about one thing or another, I either missed it or can’t say anything nice about it.

And lastly, if you ever come across something that seems to have that Stelt thing going on (and you’ll most likely figure out what that means as the months roll on), then give me a holler. I am pretty much always looking for something to knock my eyes back into my head.

Tambourine Freak Machine
(Bad Afro Records)

This 2008 release by the Baby Woodrose side project, their second, sees them continue to explore their space rock yin in contrast to their parent group’s garage rock yang. More trippy then heavy, the ‘Tears are all about cosmic soaring of the early Floyd variety, although there’s more than a little chug going on, as well. Earthly reality momentarily complicates the heavenly bliss when they glide into a spot-on chant of Dylan’s “Masters of War,” but they hit the afterburners immediately thereafter, repositioning your head somewhere up near the ceiling fan where it belongs. (Side note: how fucked up do things have to be for Danish Space Rock outfits to feel compelled to trot out protest covers?) Don’t let the sidetrip deter you: this is cosmic goodness through and through, from the slipstream effortlessness of opener “The River” to the Hawkwind-like thrust of “Sunrise,” to the glacial majesty of “The Freedom Seed,” to the electronic stew of “Dreamweaver 2.” It may just be the fairly obvious vocal similarities, but I hear the trippier side of Dopes to Infinity-era Monster Magnet, and that is not remotely a bad thing in my book.


Bon Iver
Blood Bank

In declaring that I was not entirely sold on last year’s much-lauded debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, I feel a little like the fifth dentist from the Trident commercials, somebody who must have had something horribly wrong happen to him or her in order to have “missed” such an obvious highpoint. All I can say is I didn’t hate it, but I never fell entirely head over heels either. I am more than willing to admit that I’m the source of the problem, that I suffer from a nervous distrust of album-length falsetto exercises in lovelorn soul-baring. Anyway, Bon Iver’s new EP, hodge-podgy as it might be, hits me harder, and I think that’s because it’s a teensy bit more direct. Opener “Blood Bank” has an insistence and textural richness I don’t recall hearing on the debut. Yeah, second track “Beach Baby” fits comfortably in the For Emma mold, but the experimental minimalism of tracks three and four point to a sonic playfulness that bodes well for future releases. And while I doubt it will lead anywhere style-wise, I really, really like the David Crosby-crossed with Marvin Gaye vocalisms of “Woods.”


Mattias Hellberg and The White Moose
Out of the Frying Pan into the Woods

Another one of those “perfect mess” deals. As readers of the Ron Asheton Tribute column will remember, I firmly believe there is an art to artlessness, an undeniable grace to dishevelment. Nothing swings quite like rock that sounds like it’s being written as you listen, music that sounds completely spontaneous and unplanned, and that’s something Mr. Hellberg does effortlessly. Late of collaborative efforts with Martin Hederos of Soundtrack of Our Lives fame, as well as stints with the Hellacopters and Nymphet Noodlers, Mattias Hellberg knows his way around a wide range of rock noise: Stones-like opener “Black Cat Fever” plops Soundtrack of Our Lives-like keys and “oohs” on top of maniac bass-propelled Keef strummery, while “A Good Day” basks in dobro-inflected acoustic rootsiness, a la III-era Zeppelin. Later they stretch out for extended psych jams on “Foggy Day” and “Final Call,” the latter riding a sitar-riff into the stratosphere. Crucially, these Moose dudes balance well-written and fully realized songs with the kind of stoned good humor that makes this kind of stuff work. Ultimately this is really, really good, thoroughly convincing old school shit.


MV & EE with the Golden Road
Drone Trailer

Read any description of MV/EE and at some point Neil Young shows up as a reference point. Ten seconds into opener “Anyway” and that allegiance is confirmed via barely-contained guitars carving out a rollicking bed for Elizabeth Elder’s child-like vocals. By the time you get to Matt Valentine’s “always-reaching-not-quite-getting-there” vocals and his harmonica on “The Hungry Stones,” the debate, if there ever was one, is over: this lot has heard Uncle Neil records and just as clearly they don’t care who knows it. But something happens when you get to track three, “Weatherhead Hollow.” The NY bounce gives way to a lateral drift, an earthy spaciness that recalls one of my favorite American music periods: the post-hippie experimentalism of late ’60s/early ’70s San Francisco. Dig out your copies of Blows Against the Empire and If Only I Could Remember My Name and toss this on immediately afterwards. I cannot be sure the drugs are the same, but the feel certainly is. The three-way guitar duel that snakes throughout the aforementioned “Hollow” sounds exactly like Garcia banging strings with Young and Kaukonen. In short, color me slain.

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