We’re already halfway through the ninth month of the year and everything seems to just fly right by. I finished watching The Defiant Ones on HBO, where the focus was on Jimmy Iovine (Interscope) and Dr. Dre (N.W.A.) That was a merging of two minds there but I found humor in it. Dre made mention of Hip-Hop being a young man’s game, which is something I’ve heard voiced over a year ago by Foreign Exchange’s Nicolay. I didn’t agree with it then and I don’t agree with it now. Considering Public Enemy released Nothing Is Quick In The Desert a couple of months ago, I’d call bullshit on it. This album finds P.E. reinvigorated, in-your-face, using just the blunt force of their words and music. Like Rakim, it’s no joke. And of course, let’s not forget last year’s astounding A Tribe Called Quest album We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. With the members slowly closing in on 50, they ain’t young bucks anymore. But now if age was indeed a factor, wouldn’t the same apply to rock music? At what point do we tell artists they’re done being creative and influential forces on people or a culture? Coexisting of both young and old(er) in, whatever genre, can and does happen. In the case of music, criticism of age should never matter, only if the creative edge has dissipated.
Listening to Young Jesus I keep asking myself, “what the fuck is it about this band that just seems to remind me of so many different things?” Are they indulging and ingesting indie rock of days past when artists actually gave a rat’s ass about how good their music flowed instead of thinking about the corporate sponsorship so many other artists are able to land themselves? Possibly. Or maybe their self titled release (Gigantic Noise) was just given so much care and thought into it that the band simply wants to share their musical journey. The band from the west coast released it’s sophomore release a couple of days ago, which follows-up their debut, 2015’s Grow/Decompose. While Young Jesus has been pigeonholed with an assortment of bands as their contemporaries, I hear something different. The band opens this release with “Green,” one of the best true indie rock songs I’ve heard in some time, which is saying a lot there. The band’s hook filled track is laid back, much like an early Pavement “In The Mouth Of A Desert” but here, it’s bouncy with harmonized vocals. They carry a song like “Eddy” with a sharp edge, letting it freefall – or freefall – on its own. The band moves easily and definitely freely, incorporating a few varied subgenres. There was a time when differences in locale could be found in bands from around the country. Southern indie rock was different from northern, you could tell if a band was from the Midwest, etc. From the sounds on this release, Young Jesus is clearly influenced from a vast array of artistry. Elements of slow-core infect their minds on “Feeling” without succumbing to the style itself by moving “slow,” but they’ll let the track drag on into an oblivious beauty. Oh how I’ve missed groups like this. On the closing “Storm,” after 2 minutes of a proper song structure, the band moves into a self-indulgent jam that holds onto the same melody for over 4 minutes before moving back into the actual song. It may be self-gratuitous but it’s damn near worth it. It goes on like this for over 12 minutes but you can’t turn it off because it’s something great that’s going to require your full attention.
My own musical tastes are constantly shifting, and as well they should. Now, this is my introduction to Matthew James and The Rust Belt Union, what I’d like to think are a group of miscreants that picked up their instruments on a whim and decided to play together one drunken evening. Of course, it’s not difficult for me to identify the style(s) of music the group attempts to try its hands at. It’s a haphazard concoction that’s truly as American as it gets: bluegrass, blues, country, jazz swing, soul, gypsy and a few others. The band lays waste in some dark land where P.W. Long is governor and Tom Waits lords over, but he doesn’t give much of a damn about it. It’s like the Rust Belt Union; they care not what ya’ think of them, they just play whatever the hell they want. Comparisons are cheap but this is where the band hangs its hat, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Why? Well, the band’s album Impromptu Musicals For The Skeptic (Sump Pump Records) is a damned good time! They do have those smooth and chaotic melodies from time to time and I can understand why they’ve dubbed themselves “Midwest Junk Soul,” it’s because they throw it all in the fire and just let it burn man…just let it burn. The opening “Goodbye” is reimagined 70’s country and blues that’s held together by a sweet, sweet bassline accentuated by that guitar. “Little Light In The Big Rust” could be another challenge to the devil, taunting the adversary to attempt to steal their souls. They’re not too drunk to beat the shit out of him. That’s the tone, not the actual language of the song. It’s one angry ditty. But it’s “Enthusiastic Apathetic” that’ll have you coming back for more. That punked-up vibe is just cathartic yet easy flowing. The slide guitar just adds so much flavoring to an already packed meal of soul food. Can I tell you I LOVE this song?!?! You’re not even halfway through the album and your senses are hit with so much. The band is able to filter in a number of textures to every song. There’s layer upon layer of something new you’ll find. Then there’s “Dying Dogs In South Carolina,” which is the dirge that’ll probably be playing at my funeral. The timbre of sadness surrounding it makes you want to cry but when James songs his “Oooooohhhh!” it shifts momentarily. But “Tough,” this song is probably the best working man’s anthem you’ve never heard. Imagine your Friday receiving your paycheck, heading to a bar and turning on that juke. You sit there listening, wallowing not in misery but thinking, “Ain’t it the truth Mr. James, ain’t it the truth.” The music behind his words keeps you from crying but rather keeps your head nodding, just like B.B. King would make you do. Yeah, James and The Rust Belt Union have touched on something here. Impromptu Musicals… is pretty amazing. Next stop: greatness.
So this week Lee Ranaldo released Electric Trim (Mute) which is the Sonic Youth guitarist’s 12th release under his own name. Now while he’s known as one of the two guitarists for SY, Ranaldo has released a healthy catalog on his own. His last couple of albums like Acoustic Dust and Last Night On Earth were easy listening experiences where Ranaldo allowed his pop sensibilities to shine through, even when he wallowed in feedback which was mostly left in the background. You still got a sense of “yeah, we’ve got some noise here!” Now Electric Trim though is a bit different. It seems this go around he’s taking more chances, challenging and allowing himself to do what just seems to feel right. Taking more chances? Yes, while Ranaldo and his cohorts were famous for pushing the envelope with walls of guitar feedback and dissonance, here he moves at a more leisurely pace, eschewing most of the dissonance for alternate instrumentation and song structures. His spoken word delivery on “Moroccan Mountains” keeps him grounded doing what he does best but the musical backdrop sets a tone, giving you a sense of middle-eastern love. Or he may gallop into a faux-spaghetti western vibe on “Uncle Skeleton,” which has a charm to it. One thing does hold dominance though, and that’s the pure, unadulterated songwriting throughout that keeps your attention. He has a lovely duet with Sharon Van Etten on “Last Look,” filled with fluttering background noise, acoustic/electric guitars, and beautiful melodies. And the noisy pop jams like “Circular Right As Rain” and “Purloined” are as addictive as they are compelling. Ranaldo lets songs take on lives of their own, with tracks like the lengthy “Thrown Over The Wall” having an underlying middle-eastern feel as it slowly drifts in and out with vibrato and overdubbed guitars. I quite like this new Lee Ranaldo that lets tracks drift on but gives them clever directives for Electric Trim. The album is captivating without attempting to bash listeners over the head with anything that’s unnecessary. For lack of a better word, the album is perfect.
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