There's little chance that Woven Hand, the side project of former 16 Horsepower leader David Eugene Edwards, will become The O.C.'s next overnight success story. That might signal the end of the world. Then again, given the driving, tribal-gothic tone of Mosaic, Woven Hand's latest offering, triggering the apocalypse might not be out of the question.
To call Mosaic "haunting" is an understatement; the music itself sounds haunted, as if a wandering band of gypsy ghosts had inadvertently disturbed a sacred Indian burial ground. Edwards's voice is strong and otherworldly; full of sadness and longing. The music (all of which Edwards composed and most of which he played himself) is beautifully menacing and cinematic, and the lyrics continue Edwards's fascination with Biblical themes—although in an Old Testament tone, where redemption is always desperately needed and rarely guaranteed.
The album opens with the eerie instrumental, "Breathing Bull," transitioning seamlessly into the ominous, shamanistic "Winter Shaker." Halfway through the disc, Edwards picks things up with a lighter, more joyous instrumental, and then plunges back into darker territory with the lilting dirge of "Dirty Blue" and the sinister, Slavic "Slota Prow."
Mosaic is not the kind of record you'd put on at a party (unless you were trying to end the evening), but sometimes a soundtrack to a dark and stormy night—or a dark night of the soul—is exactly what the doctor ordered. BARBARA MITCHELL
Woven Hand play Tues Sept 19 at Neumo's, 8 pm, $10 adv, 21+.
Despite the fact that their members hail from several notable bands—Get Up Kids, Butterglory, and Thee Higher Burning Fire—Lawrence, Kansas–based White Whale fail to exceed the conventions of standard indie-rock fare on their debut album WWI. White Whale's big, saccharine choruses and soaring hooks imbue the album with a vapid sound that vacillates between the Arcade Fire and old Britpop bands like Dodgy and Menswe@r. But despite its orthodoxy, WWI does maintain a level of whimsy through the dramatic croon of lead singer Matt Suggs (Butterglory) and the incorporation of a few very catchy synth patterns.
Virtually lifted from Dead Prez's "Hip Hop," the bass line from WWI's standout single, "The Admiral," rumbles with an odd virility that's often absent from indie rock. While the verse-chorus-verse mold quickly tires, you can't help pumping your fist at Suggs's anthemic appeal, "Who throws parties like these anymore?"
In addition to "The Admiral," there are about three other critical tracks on WWI, although the album does offer sporadic moments of swashbuckling delight. But through all its layers of pop bombast, WWI fails to accomplish anything too groundbreaking. The band's brief dabbling in lo-fi psych rock on songs like "I Love Lovely Chinese Gal" and "King's Indian" uncouthly meander into anonymity, while tunes like "Yummyman Farewell" barely climb beyond bar-band jetsam.
WWI's few charming gems do warrant some attention, and for that, this is a decent soundtrack to our foray into autumn. STEVEN SAWADA
White Whale play Sat Sept 16 at the Paradox, 8 pm, $10 adv/$12 DOS.
Venus in Cancer
While Robbie Basho's contemporary and fellow guitarist John Fahey was known more as the kooky, belligerent character and Basho was seen as a monkish aesthete studying both the music and religions of the East, the cover for Venus in Cancer shows otherwise. Out of print since 1969, this CD reveals two naked hippie sylphs at play on the front, Basho's dedication alluding to the inspiration of one particularly "lovely Venus." Fitting then that the pleasures of his steel-string playing are both spiritual and physical. Whereas earlier Basho records were instrumental affairs focused on his fretwork, later albums (such as this one) feature the man's stentorian pipes, quite the shock on "Eagle Sails the Blue Diamond Waters" and downright testing on "Song for the Queen."
While the more renowned Fahey was steadfast and stoic in his guitar syncopations, orderly in his melding of the blues to Bartók, Basho's guitar is more impressionistic, likely to soar and wander up into unexpected plateaus. Here he draws on the traditions of Native America, Persia, and Japan for his inspirations. On the lengthy title track and the 10-minute "Kowaka d'Amour" (a live version of which appeared on Tompkins Square's fine Imaginational Anthem 2 comp a few months ago), Basho's lines seem less like orderly distillations and flourishings of technique. Instead, his exquisite fingerpicking and ringing harmonics take on the poignancy of haiku, the touch of each note resembling a natural object, like wind ruffling plumage on a crane, or a maple leaf landing on a still lake, which ripples outward. ANDY BETA
THE DIRTY PROJECTORS
Through four LPs and now an EP, David Longstreth (AKA the Dirty Projectors) has brilliantly crafted incredibly befuddling pop music. New Attitude stands as possibly his strangest work to date.
Longstreth's genius lies concurrently in his unusual timbre (characterized by an odd, sing-speak cadence and off-key caterwauling), as well as his ability to harmoniously mash up dissonant sounds and music genres—opera and glitch hop never saw a more mellifluous confluence than on last year's concept album, The Getty Address.
New Attitude has been conceived as a pared-down electronic counterpoint to the modern classical sounds of The Getty Address. On this seven-track EP, every cello bow and guitar pluck seems to bristle with bleeps and blurps (with the exception of two brief interludes that rely solely on Longstreth's vocals and string arrangements). His skill at creating attunement out of these seemingly uncomfortable situations carries tracks like "Two Sheep Asleep," where synthetic whorls and Longstreth's trademark handclaps augment a down-tuned blues guitar line. Overall, this new-wave jamboree feels otherworldly, yet supremely refreshing.
"At the Mall" purges all the remaining tension from Longstreth's experimentation with a kitschy, art-disco climax that perfectly concludes the disc. Longstreth's vision of a "rainbow of sound," where complex forms can coexist with melodic hooks, is impeccably achieved in New Attitude's brusque 31 minutes. The experimentation can be off-putting to the uninitiated, but if you persevere, your patience will be rewarded; you too will see the rainbow. STEVEN SAWADA
The Air Force
[Full disclosure: Sam Mickens's association with Xiu Xiu includes: former band member, roommate, string arranger, belligerent showgoer.]
Whereas once Xiu Xiu were one of modern music's most self-involved and internally focused bands, they have recently allowed more of their personal global furor to translate into polemic lyrical threads. Last year's La Forêt was the group's most consistently and explicitly political yet, but The Air Force finds Xiu Xiu again encamped in the trench of personal/interpersonal anguish.
Frontman Jamie Stewart's poetry is more intensely beautiful and florid than ever on Xiu Xiu's fifth album, favoring soul-grime filigree over some of the band's previous more economically bare catharses. On vario-speeded spoken-word album closer "Wig Master," Stewart winds on an inescapable romantic nihilism, from which thorough indulgence in the darkest and silliest corners of sexual desire seems the only respite. On the birdsong and bell-propelled bubble machine "Hello from Eau Claire," the hetero-relationship-themed pop song gets twisted beyond recognition: a song to a girl, written by a boy (Stewart), and sung by another girl (co-Xiu Caralee McElroy), all taking on a strangely multidimensional, tragic/farcical air.
The music of The Air Force (buoyed with tasteful majesty by producer Greg Saunier of Deerhoof) feels like a synthesis of Xiu Xiu's past, particularly of their dichotomous last two albums, the pop-sheen breakthrough Fabulous Muscles and the much denser discord overgrowth of La Forêt. Possessed now of a self-assured artistic inertia, Xiu Xiu refine the mining of their own personal well of misery. SAM MICKENS
Why I Hate Women
While any controversy over the title of this latest Pere Ubu redo ought to be crushed under the unassailable weight of the band's 30-years-on history of lefty art living, we'll let on that it's apparently taken from an unpublished Jim Thompson novel. And like the desperately simmering protagonists of Thompson's stories, Ubu leader David Thomas's lyrical character sketches (begun in earnest with his recent Two Pale Boys side project) drift through this record. Only with this most "rock" of Thomas projects, those characters and the band get to let their steam blow occasionally. Thomas's recent reunions with Rocket from the Tombs seem to have inspired some straight riffage here ("Caroleen," "Flames Over Nebraska") that is an interesting contrast to the songs' meekly desperate characters. But for the most part, this fine addition to Ubu's cranky, art-rock canon continues to surrealistically twist the conventions of pop songwriting we all figured had been twisted. ERIC DAVIDSON
MISS VIOLETTA BEAUREGARDE
Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo
"Digital hardcore" never got very far, and with good reason—most of it was shit. Wanky, cacophonous, unlistenable shit done by dudes who took themselves way too seriously considering they were making the musical equivalent of a sledge hammer smashing a Zaxxon console. Or maybe that's, eh, actually what was happening. Whatever. Point is, the style had been fractured, frayed, and buried for years by the time this 29-year-old European bedroom four-tracker dug up the pieces and made them more enjoyable than they ever were.
Violetta Beauregarde belts out polyp-producing vocals over epileptic beeps and guitar shreds in 90-second spurts; her second album, Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo, clocks in at 19 minutes and change. Simply put, it sounds like Atari Teenage Riot fronted by a shrieking Swiss-Italian woman instead of shrieking German men. But where ATR and their ilk had an air of self-importance and pretentiousness about them, Beauregarde knows that the stuff she's making is, as we said, shit. She even named her website ViolettaSucks.com. Liberated by this awareness, she has a good old time belting out silly lyrics like "I wish I could set things on fire with the power of my mind," or delivering volatile wake-up calls like the opening "Flanger When You Die," a blissful mess of Sparks-fueled psychosis and possibly the scariest-ever ode to an effects pedal. There are occasional moments of legitimate quality—"The Unbearable Lightness of a Farm Tractor" has a great dance-floor hook. Other moments are legitimately terrible. But what makes this record great is that, underneath all the hyperactive hostility, you can hear Beauregard fast and loose, having fun. It's something that was sorely missing before. JOHN VETTESE
Echoes of the Past
Oregon, you never had a chance. Sandwiched between California, entertainment nexus of the universe, and Washington, the left coast's rock 'n' roll Mecca, the Beaver State's music scene was destined to be overshadowed. Though Portland has long had an underground community teeming with talented eccentrics, what it largely has to show on the national front are just blips on the bullshit radar such as the Dandy Warhols and Everclear. I challenge anyone to find a band more bullshit-free than Clackamas's Dead Moon, whose name has become synonymous with DIY ethics, tenacious self-sufficiency, and scrappy garage-punk zeal.
Now well into their 50s, Fred and Toody Cole and Andrew Loomis have endured through a legion of rough-hewn rock combos; most notably Fred's 1960s outfit the Lollipop Shoppe, whose "You Must Be a Witch" is a standout track on the original Nuggets compilation. While Dead Moon wasn't born as an entity until 1987, the new double-disc Sub Pop collection, Echoes of the Past, delivers exactly what the name suggests: decades of sweat, whiskey, and hard living packed into ageless rock anthems. For the longtime fan, there are a few surprises here, though hearing classics like "54/40 or Fight" and "DOA" alongside lesser-known album tracks can offer some fresh context. To new listeners, if these blown-out punk benchmarks don't make you either want to pick up a guitar or quit your shitty band, then they're falling on deaf ears. JOSH BLANCHARD
Get Yr Blood Sucked Out
Kevin and Anita Robinson are Viva Voce—the husband/wife two-piece from Portland who are releasing their third LP, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, on Barsuk Records. It's honed, sinister, and arranged to be a rock record that breathes. Kevin says, "There are obvious dark qualities, musically and lyrically. We sculpted the EQ to mimic some of the darkest classic-rock records we knew. And we kept the compression to a minimum so that you could feel the rise and fall of everything."
The first five songs set the table with their Pixies-ish vocal harmonies, room-sound guitars, handclaps, and Queen-like transitions. The ghostly quiet piano interlude, "Bill Bixby" readies you for the main course.
"So Many Miles," the eight-minute centerpiece with horns, is where the record takes off. Vocal layers pile, the floor tom drives a kettle-bang pulse, and there is a swerving, slurring guitar solo. It climaxes, then implodes into drum frenzy and dissolving drone. They sing, "A lesson in lies, from fair-weather friends/Let's take a drive, the road never ends."
The signature of the record is "Helicopter." Distorted drum sounds peel off and decay in syncopated slow motion. Anita's guitar pours with the spacious geek funk of Flaming Lips, and with the slide, her chords spread into marooned bliss. This is the signature cadence of Viva Voce's unique sound. The title of the record may be Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, but the music puts blood back in. TRENT MOORMAN
AFRO-PUNK: THE ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGGER EXPERIENCE DVD
Dir. by James Spooner
Dealing pointedly with racial identity in the punk scene, Afro-Punk: The Rock 'n' Roll Nigger Experience is an absorbing documentary about what it means to be black in a predominantly white subculture. Afro-Punk's director,James Spooner, found that while DIY culture had taught him a great deal about art and politics, the essential aspects of his identity as a black man were suppressed and in conflict with being punk. It's with this baggage that Spooner traveled across the country interviewing other black musicians, promoters, artists, and fans involved in the punk/hardcore scene about their experience of race and punk.
In addition to live performances and interviews with the likes of TV on the Radio, Orange 9mm, Swiz, Dead Kennedys, et al., Afro-Punk closely follows four young black people who are active in the DIY scene, and at different stages of reconciling their dueling identities. Spooner explores many contradictions in the film, including the absurdity of a hardcore band whose lyrics deal primarily with reparations and black power, performing almost exclusively to white hardcore kids more interested in stage diving than in slavery and the abuses of the middle passage.
Some technical problems exist with the DVD, which range from minor (lack of chapters) to major (inconsistencies in audio quality). The lack of consistent mastering/mixing of the sound during live concert segments robs the film of energy in key places and is a disservice to some of the bands featured. Despite these flaws, the film is a powerful, messy, frank, and often hilarious discussion on racial identity, alienation, tokenism, and the greatness of Bad Brains. Highly recommended—even to white people. CHRISTOPHER HONG