THE BLACK ANGELS
(Light in the Attic)
Walking in the shadows cast by Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized mastermind Jason Pierce is a dangerous pastime. Narcotic space rockers who admire that cantankerous icon often risk sounding like they're wandering aimlessly in the celestial realm or hiding behind walls of droning guitars and forsaking structure and melody. However, along with their peers in the Warlocks and Black Mountain, Austin's Black Angels have avoided those pitfalls and made a stunning record that will undoubtedly top a zillion "best of" lists at the end of 2006. Their self-titled debut EP (also on LITA) was acclaimed upon its release last year, and though this proper full-length features three of the four songs appearing on The Black Angels, hearing them stretch out fully and utilize thoughtful sequencing makes for an even more satisfying listen.
Working with a solid flooring of Stephanie Bailey's creative, purposeful percussion, and elevating majestically via Nate Ryan's crystalline, acrobatic guitar playing, the quintet breaks new ground for sensual, neopsychedelia, alternating adroitly between Velvet Underground–like dirges ("Bloodhounds on My Trail"), acid-soaked spirals of colorful pop ("Manipulation"), and menacing dirges that recall 13th Floor Elevators' most lucid moments ("The First Vietnamese War"). Vocalist Alex Maas sounds like a clearer-throated version of Clinic frontman Ade Blackburn, and drone dame Jennifer Raines unfurls enough blood-curdling organ to disturb a mortician. Black Angels close things on a simple, somber note with a hidden track featuring Maas singing alone with only a tautly strummed guitar, offering solace to a dead Iraqi soldier's mother. HANNAH LEVIN
PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES
Whenever a band's debut is a visceral, slice of punk life that finds an immediate audience, the world expects them to keep delivering the same brand of adrenaline on their follow-up. Pretty Girls Make Graves had to weather this phenomenon after releasing 2003's The New Romance; many critics slammed PGMG when this sophomore effort came out on Matador. Granted, the prevalent assertion that they were tossing too many disparate elements into the mix and reaching beyond their grasp had merit, but if a band with this much imaginative drive and zeal for challenging themselves aren't allowed to experiment with sound and stretch with style, they can't be expected to survive for long. Thankfully, PGMG stuck to their guns, took their time, and came up with a balanced, thoughtful record that pushes them in new directions without sacrificing coherent and intelligent songwriting and musicianship.
Recorded in New York and Seattle by Phil Ek, Colin Stewart, and PGMG multi-instrumentalist Jay Clark, Élan Vital opens with a clarion call of militant drumming and tastefully reverbed guitar, punctuated with bursts of stop-whistle and discreet embellishments from Leona Marrs's accordion. With that attention-grabbing launch, they travel with confidence through piano-laced pop (the '60s-flavored "The Number"), salt-of-the-earth neofolk (the union-advocating "Parade"), and back-to-basics rock, with frontwoman Andrea Zollo singing from the soles of her feet with her trademark ferocity. The result sounds like a band coming into its own—and one that's capable of pushing itself even further in the future. HANNAH LEVIN
Pretty Girls Make Graves play Sonic Boom (Ballard) Sat Apr 15, 6 pm, free.
To Be Treated
Live in Japan, Vol. 1
The initial tracks on To Be Treated, the sixth release from the enigmatic Impractical Cockpit, are bait for the gullible, conjuring anticipation of some magical, contemporary Hüsker Dü/early Pere Ubu hybrid. Vocals recall a young, depraved Bob Mould; static percussion and glorious snare rolls mixed with geometric chord progressions and other such adrenaline-pump fodder convincingly betray what's to come. Then we get "Grails Golden Garden," and Treated quickly becomes the sort of abstract noise that earns me concerned looks from friends who drop in while I'm attempting to describe it in writing. Through what sounds like six minutes' worth of opium-den patrons attempting to tune stringed instruments, someone bleats: "When Grannie bakes those cookies/she bakes them gold." Shit gets increasingly weird and grating through "Lat: North 41-53-0, Long: West 70-45-46," a montage of what sounds like milkshake-straw manipulation, dentist-office found sounds, and a chorus of randomly chanted numerals. By "Where the Nagras Bloom," we're back to the forceful sound suggested by Treated's first minutes, but it's probably too late, the mid-record headfuck having likely alienated most who ventured in. Suckers.
Similarly, Diskaholics' Live in Japan, Vol. 1 is another practice in self-discipline (or self-flagellation), only it's administered by the less enigmatic Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke, and Mats Gustafsson, who offer two tracks, lasting 17 minutes each. "Bent Triangle Pinakotheca" is relatively innocuous, with Gustafsson's saxophone incursions being initially suppressed until they grow to dominate the track's last moments; Moore's guitar suggests he could have just arrived from Impractical Cockpit's mid-album opium haze; and O'Rourke's electronics avoid stepping on anyone's toes. Some might call it free jazz, others the soundtrack to a loss of sanity.
Then there's "Unreleased Voice." Alien invasion? Brain surgery? Take your own crack at describing the song's hairy progression. If you're still reading, you'll probably love it; if not, I didn't even need to write this sentence. GRANT BRISSEY
Symbionese Liberation Album
The title Symbionese Liberation Album reflects Third Sight's mind state. According to MC Jihad's liner notes, he and DJ/producers Dufunk and ex-Invisibl Skratch Pikl D-Styles are bound by symbiosis and intraband chemistry. "My family attended one of the food giveaway programs that the SLA demanded as ransom for Patty Hearst," writes the Bay Area–based Jihad of his experiences with the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army, whose violent tactics inspired this album. It's also a nod to the raw, aggressive music Third Sight makes.
Forming in the early '90s, Third Sight issued a handful of recordings—including 1998's Golden Shower Hour. They then slowly collected material for a second album while dealing with their respective careers and lives. The resulting Symbionese Liberation Album sounds as if it arrived through a time warp from 1995. The production quality is strictly bedroom level, which will be anathema to electronic gear geeks and manna to fans of dusty, golden-age hiphop.
Symbionese Liberation Album is hard and dark, with lumbering, bass-heavy beats laced with D-Styles's ear-lacerating scratches. Dealing with social and cultural affairs via dense metaphors conveyed in a stream-of-consciousness flow, Jihad's a cut above the average battle rapper. On "Tonto" he rhymes, "Your flow is like Jim Crow/My rhyme is like busing/Segregationists crushing my male gender/But they're tender like a young pig suckling/My sound is underground, Dig Dug tunneling/Deep like Aquaman, fish summoning." MOSI REEVES