With its third release, the Portland-based sextet formerly known as Swords Project abridge their moniker and streamline their sound. Their songs, while still spacious, seldom sprawl past the six-minute mark. However, with compositions as intricately overlapped as these, individual running lengths mean little. The group insert the same phrases into different songs, craft lines that loop like infinity symbols (What happened in the beginning/to cause the beginning of the end?) and conceive one track as a three-piece suite, eventually uniting the lyrical fragments.
All this clever wordplay puts a human voice on the group's droning instrumentation, which places a similar emphasis on repetition and timelessness. Ryan Stowe and Jeff Gardner harmonize their ringing riffs, violinist Liza Reitz adds orchestral accents, and a potent blend of assertive drums and electronic rhythms provide the alternately steady and skittering pulses. The music, rather than bassist Corey Fickens's feathery voice, dictates the tone. One tune pivots on the phrase "in a darkening world," but not in a predictable way: It becomes brighter in a flash of psychedelic color. Swords now convey their moods with minimalist efficiency, turning an ominous held note and the intonation "not all right" into an immediately poignant portrait of desolation. ANDREW MILLER
Swords perform Sun Oct 16, Chop Suey, $8, 8 pm.
Little by Little
"Cream and Bastards Rise" is the second track on Harvey Danger's third full-length—and the one most likely to appeal to fans of the band's two previous albums. It's the only one here with the kind of fluorine guitars that made Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? both a commercial hit and a favorite for subversive-pop connoisseurs. Flagpole sitters may be a bit thrown by the more piano-based panoramic rock of the rest of Little by Little.
The album gets its title and themes of greed and moral failure from a Homer Bannon quote, "Little by little, the country changes because of the men we admire." Thus, a grand statement with bold music to match it. An intellectually acerbic but emotionally resplendent song cycle about romantic tears and the tear gas of actual battle, it's reminiscent of the Kinks' parochial but powerful Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. Lead singer/songwriter (and Stranger writer) Sean Nelson loves to pun and play with images, and though he probably subverts a cliché too many, his observations are redeemed by the melancholy minutiae. For example, lines like "Hell is other people, some people never learn" (from the elegiac closer "Diminishing Returns") along with "Now I study the poetry of a studio apartment" (from the keenly urgent opener "Wine, Women, and Song") display his ability to make a statement and still create poetic detail. Tellingly, they showcase Nelson's good taste and critical judgment, at the same time featuring the elegant fire of the evolved Harvey Danger. CHRIS ESTEY
Harvey Danger perform Sat Oct 15, Crocodile, 9 pm, $10 adv/ $12 DOS.
Again & Again & Again
New local band Speaker Speaker (featuring members of Vermilion and the Murdered Housewives) are bringing back the beloved sound of the early '90s, when power pop was spiked with punk and the songs were all about awkward boys getting crushes on too-cool-for-school girls who really weren't all that awesome in the end. Just like Weston, early Superchunk, or even Sicko, Speaker Speaker concentrate more on having fun and playing something snappy—and less on getting the harmonies so perfect. Their well-crafted tunes are sloppy enough to be endearing and innocent, but also loud enough with distortion to be bitter and edgy. The occasional handclap breakdown and lyrics like "I need barbeques in the sun and kisses just for fun," remind us they're just happy-go-lucky softies at heart, though. And even though their debut EP, Again & Again & Again, is only three songs long, it's still an impressive introduction for the band. It's also a great reminder that good music doesn't always have to be so serious. MEGAN SELING
My Machine, Princess Superstar's fifth album, is a futuristic mockumentary of the artist as an obsessive fame-seeker. It's really just a thinly veiled conceit, however, an excuse to wax ad infinitum about celebrity, sex, money, and power.
Princess Superstar, who was recently named by New York magazine as one of the Big Apple's 50 most beautiful people, has been making distinctly feminine rap records like this for nearly a decade. Much of her current notoriety, however, stems from her reinvention as a trashy electro(clash) personality, vocalizing on tracks such as Disco D's "Fuck Me on the Dancefloor," and performing as one half of the tag-team duo DJs Are Not Rock Stars. There is more dance music on My Machine than on her previous efforts, thanks to beats from Armand Van Helden, Junior Sanchez, Arthur Baker, and Jacques Le Cont. Otherwise, Princess Superstar's formula remains unchanged—her familiar motor-mouth delivery and aggressive intellect fuel a nonstop stream of wit throughout this hour-plus disc.
Much like the works of her onetime influence Kool Keith, Princess Superstar's My Machine is best absorbed as a self-contained piece, unrestrained by expectations over what a rap or dance album should sound like. Some of its songs, particularly "Bad Girls NYC" and "On Top Bubble," are extremely effective satire, though the disc does falter near the end when she's forced to wrap up the "storyline." MOSI REEVES
Superlungs is a great way to describe Terry Reid's vocal prowess, even if the titular song on this collection ("Superlungs My Super Girl") is actually a cover of a Donovan original. As the rock-n-roll lore goes, guitarist/singer/songwriter Reid was offered the job of lead singer in two different bands, but passed up both opportunities owing, essentially, to a messed up contractual situation. Which would be no big deal had the groups not been the New Yardbirds (which would become Led Zeppelin) and Deep Purple.
It's impossible not to compare Reid's voice with Robert Plant's, for they are certainly similar. But Reid refrains from the sort of wailing-diva vocal runs that Plant thrives on and stays on the subtler side of the equation. His songs blossom from a sparer sort of instrumentation (mainly elegant interactions of guitar/organ/drums). Actually, all of Superlungs sounds kind of like Zep without the histrionics or quite as much self-confidence—had Plant covered his smoldering "Stay with Me Baby," the girl would certainly be frightened off.
Reid was also a bit of a dandy back in the day—at least if we're to believe his incredibly upbeat persona in "Sweater," which conjures images of the singer skipping while singing. He just doesn't seem the type with the stomach for the Page 'n' Plant "rock out with your cock out" hedonism Led Zep had at its peak. But, then again, Plant never played guitar and Page isn't much of a singer. Nope, Terry Reid's not a rock star, but he is an incredible rock artist. TAMARA PALMER
XXL (XIU XIU LARSEN)
Xiu Xiu never stop. If they're not recording or releasing an album, they're touring. This spring, while making their way through Europe, Xiu Xiu made good on a promise to collaborate with the experimental Italian art/noise band Larsen. Over the course of two weeks at Larsen's studio in Turin, the group followed a ritual of writing, recording, and mixing (and a little sacramental vino at night).
Ciautistico! seems an impossibly natural handshake between the two bands. Glockenspiel, synth, accordion, and theremin all remind you that Xiu Xiu are present, but their usual glaring, forward sound is burnished by a gentle Mediterranean pace. Impulsive electronic beats and xylophone flourishes pepper a cauldron of instrumental drones, dissonant chord clusters, and on occasion, impassioned hollers (are they Jamie Stewart's or Larsen's?). On "Minnie Mouseistic" Caralee McElroy recites a broken monologue in phonetic Italian over treacherous guitar tones and the dry heaves of a harmonium. The result is like an enamored child trying to describe her first glimpse into her future as a fabulous whore. But there are truly gorgeous, expansive tracks, too; "Distorted Duck" plays like a five-minute instrumental serpent uncoiling in the late afternoon sun.
It's difficult to proceed into fall without the overcast of regret for not having lived it up more during the summer. XXL provide a way out, though. Put on Ciautistico!, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in your happy place (a villa on Lake Como, perhaps). You'll be warmed and ready to face everyone the next day. NICK SCHOLL
(Kill Rock Stars)
Rudimentary, fractured electro-beats jostle for space with consumerist and lovelorn slogans, shouted and sometimes sung briefly by drummer Indra Dunis. Guitars distort spasmodically. Squelchy Moog synthesizers battle for supremacy. Silence intrudes, before being brutally broken by jarring, grungy guitars. Whereas before San Francisco's disconnected trio Numbers drew their inspiration from the jagged minimalist rhythms of Erase Errata and ESG, now they've dug deeper, spread their net wider, and slowed the punky Krautrock down a jot.
They were great already. Now, they're bordering on genius: not quite up to the full-on anarchic spurge of the Slits but, man, as good as (and similar to) proto–Riot Grrrls, Swiss '70s female punks, Kleenex/Liliput—and I don't bandy such compliments lightly. Their third full-length is sexy, staccato, deadpan, furious, and politically charged—and you can shake a tail-feather to it. Fucking sweet. EVERETT TRUE
Lightning Bolt are perfectly named. The Rhode Island duo's music slashes and crackles into your sensorium with alarming velocity and wattage, flooding your body with sinew-snapping adrenaline. It's impossible to listen to Lightning Bolt casually—just as it's inadvisable to enter into war nonchalantly. Make no mistake: Lightning Bolt (drummer Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson) will put you through a bellicose ordeal. If you hanker for extreme volume, terror-alert tempos, skin-flaying bass lines, and possess pronounced masochistic tendencies, you may find yourself warming (literally) to Lightning Bolt.
Like previous Lightning Bolt albums Wonderful Rainbow and Ride the Skies, Hypermagic Mountain rarely allows the pedal off the metal. In fact, the new disc may be more intense than anything they've ever done. "Captain Caveman" rides a seesawing, prog-rocky chord progression on bass that meshes with threshing drumbeats as furious as the knocking of someone mistakenly sealed in a coffin. "Megaghost" starts with some Black Dice–like echoed howls before shifting into fantastically swift and complex drumming and heroic bass shredding that'll give Slayer fans raging stiffies.
Throughout this collection of intelligently designed sonic catastrophes, Lightning Bolt ratchet up the intensity as they go; just when you think it can't get more pressurized, it miraculously does. The nine-minute "Mohawkwindmill" encapsulates Mountain's hyper magic: Propelled by furious drum tattoos à la Hella's Zach Hill, the song is like French prog immortals Magma jamming with now-wave hell-raisers Flying Luttenbachers before a malfunctioning nuclear reactor. Anyone know how to clean brain matter off a computer screen? DAVE SEGAL
Those who remember Dawn Smithson from her days singing and playing bass with blissful space-rockers Jessamine may be surprised by the tenor of her first solo album. Although she's recently contributed bass to glowering drone merchants Sunn O)))'s White 2: The Libations of Samhain, Smithson here goes for an intimate, bedroom-recording vibe that translates well to coffeehouses, but without succumbing to the annoying tics concomitant to singer-songwriters who make those rounds.
"Because this album is so personal and intimate, I think it is best listened to alone—like watching a melancholy movie that deeply affects you," Smithson says in the press notes—and she's right. From the opener, "Safer Here," it's apparent we're in for some serious introspection and lugubriousness. Smithson delicately plucks acoustic and electric guitars, and sings in a hushed, forlorn voice that suggests she's emerged on the other side of a traumatic experience, shaken but not defeated. This and the eight other songs on Safer Here (especially the accordion-enhanced "Somewhere Far") will appeal to fans of Jessica Bailiff, Edith Frost, Hope Sandoval, and other dejected alt-rock sirens. These are draw-the-curtains, huddle-under-blanket songs that can nurse you back to normality after personal tumult—bittersweet consoul music. DAVE SEGAL
The Weight Is a Gift
"Fame, fame, fatal fame/It can play hideous tricks on the brain," sang Morrissey in 1986. Ten years later, Nada Surf got a firsthand taste, via their lone MTV hit "Popular." But the trio has fared far better since being freed of unrealistic industry expectations (i.e. that intelligent pop can consistently move millions of units) and repeated Weezer comparisons; their 2002 album, Let Go, was a critically lauded gem, and justly so. Its follow-up, The Weight Is a Gift, is equally praiseworthy. The 11-song set kicks off with a blueprint-perfect example of Nada Surf at its straightforward best: The rhythmic, peppy "Concrete Bed" packs a chorus that hits like a California earthquake, and frontman Matthew Caws renders sentiments like "to find someone to love/you've got to be someone you love" with as much winning conviction as any obscure '70s power-pop contender. But as the record progresses, so does its subtle attention to detail (enhanced by co-producer Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie): "Your Legs Grow" opens with textured drones, then slowly adds sonic layers, yet even as the intensity mounts, it eschews the formulaic alt-rock "explosion" one anticipates. Tricky, yes. Hideous? Far from it. KURT B. REIGHLEY
Nada Surf perform Wed Oct 19 at Neumo's, 8 pm, $15 adv, all ages.
The Language of My World
Though he currently resides in Olympia, Macklemore raps almost solely about Seattle—its neighborhoods, its hiphop scene, its politics, its racial dimensions. The music on the CD, which is primarily produced by Budo, is a solid mix of commercial polish and dirty underground-hiphop beats. Macklemore's raps are deeply personal and honest, particularly on the question of being a white rapper. The opening track, "White Privilege," stands out as one of those rare moments in hiphop when a rapper is addressing a very important issue directly and intelligently. It is hiphop discoursing on where hiphop is at this point in time—the racially complicated post-Eminem era. Hiphop is no longer black, nor white, but is everywhere and can used by anyone, be they poor or from a privileged Capitol Hill family. Macklemore also knows how to have fun (one track is called "Fake ID," another is called "Penis Song"), but the ultimate substance of his CD is the language of hiphop, which has become the language of the world. CHARLES MUDEDE
Children of Nuggets
The first two Nuggets box sets (1998, 2001) were fine goldmines of mostly obscure 1960s garage rock that later influenced the '70s punk movement. The goal of this Nuggets update is unearthing the disparate, '60s-styled misfits of the 1980s.
These all-encompassing compilations are born to be debated, so let's get the gripes out of the way first. This set was primarily compiled by two British garage rock historians who predictably lean toward the pop/psychedelic end of the spectrum, odd since the most lasting revelation of the original Nuggets double-LP (compiled by Lenny Kaye in 1971) was the unmasking of the dirty, mostly American underbelly of the flower-power era, be it the power-chord crunch of the Sonics, Count Five, etc.; or the overt drug/sex freak-outs of Thirteenth Floor Elevators or Electric Prunes.
As usual there are plenty of worthy shouldabeens (Real Kids, Big Star) and household names (R.E.M., the Go-Go's) left out, probably for monetary reasons. The forays into early '90s progeny offer some good tunes (especially the great rare Teenage Fanclub track), but feel extraneous. Finally, let it henceforth be decreed that if a box set hopes to cover such a vast schematic, no band shall get two tracks.
Fair enough, every dog has his day. And this one belongs mostly to the revivalists, bands of lanky lads who scored lots of the paisley shirts, striped pants, and Vox amps plentiful at the thrift stores of the day. True spirited practitioners—Flamin' Groovies, the Fleshtones, the Three O'Clock—and cornball copycats—Plasticland, the Miracle Workers, Tell-Tale Hearts—rub Nehru-jacketed shoulders. Grittier punks punch through—DMZ, Nomads, the Cynics, Lime Spiders—proving it wasn't all about "I'm more Beatles than you."
There are some surprises, even for those who may have heard this stuff the first time around. It's amazing how well the Church channeled the Byrds just four years removed from the punk explosion. The Bangles were pretty good actually. And surf music is best left to history.
While not chock full of ultra-rarities, much of this music has never been digital. And of course you get the exceptionally cool, big booklet of notes and pics.
Ultimately, Children of Nuggets works best as much-needed proof that there was a mess of fiery guitar-rock classicism being revamped in an era largely assumed to be devoid of "real" rock 'n' roll. ERIC DAVIDSON
If Songs Could Be Held
(Sub Pop Records)
Rosie Thomas has a keen grasp of what makes a great folk song. Her beautifully melodic, confessional piano ballads are intimate in scale. Her crystalline voice is always on the verge of some bad wisdom. She also possesses an acute sense of facing difficult truths, with a gritty side of her world-view allowing generosity and harsh reality to coexist—even if it's an uneasy cohabitation.
On her third album, Thomas has collaborated with musicians outside her circle of friends and family, including Liz Phair, guitarist Dino Meneghin, film soundtrack string arranger Josh Myers, and Ed Harcourt. This turns out to be a mixed blessing. The other musicians add a professionalism to the songs that saps some of her homemade intimacy. After two albums of pretty, mid-tempo balladry, If Songs Could Be Held has a poppier production gloss. The bones of the songs can support the sheen, but there is a loss of immediacy here. In the end, though, Thomas's voice saves the day and carries the album. While some have disingenuously and derogatively compared her to Lilith tea-drinker Sarah McLachlan, it's a far quirkier Canadian she draws more from here—Jane Siberry, in the mode of Canuck-turned-California icon Joni Mitchell (pre- bitterness and fog of self-regard). NATE LIPPENS
Rosie Thomas performs Sat Oct 15 at the Triple Door, 8 pm, $12.