Just Like the Fambly Cat
Guess Jason Lytle felt like he owed us an explanation. "I don't want to be a part of all the quality that falls apart these days," he sings on "Elevate Myself." "I gotta make an honest sound and watch it fly around and then be on my way." Maybe it's not the soundest rationale for dissolving his band, but if Grandaddy have to leave us, at least it's with something better than Sumday. When their last proper record dropped in 2003, these five sci-fi psych geeks from Modesto, California, appeared in a stagnant holding pattern, dangerously petering toward irrelevance. Then, out of nowhere late last year, came this excellent little EP, Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla. Great, Grandaddy aren't dead! Oh, no, wait, they are. Within weeks they announced their breakup.
If the back-and-forth got frustrating for fans, the posthumous Just Like the Fambly Cat makes the experience worthwhile. An air of melancholic finality is draped across the record—the existential Spanish guitar tale in three acts, "Summer... It's Gone," plays like a lumbering comedown from the youthful exuberance of "Summer Here Kids." But sad doesn't equal bad, since the songwriting on Fambly Cat (if you overlook the misguided refrain of meows in "Where I'm Anymore") is the best it's been since The Sophtware Slump put the rough-hewn promise of Grandaddy's early work in a proper context. "The Animal World" cascades into a lake of Juno synths and theremin, while a genteel choir closes out "This Is How It Always Starts." Wistful and nostalgic, Lytle brings up "Dumb choices from the heart," then counters, "Oh, shit, I can't let them see me like this." Whatever insecurity he's mumbling about, he can pipe down and forget about it. Grandaddy are gone, but they gave us something beautiful to remember them by. JOHN VETTESE
Hugh Masekela Presents the Chisa Years 1965–1975
When trumpeter, flugelhornist, and vocalist Hugh Masekela arrived in America in 1961, he was a man without a home. South Africa's apartheid government was in full crackdown mode, and activist musicians like Masekela were routinely harassed for their meddling ways. So he left the country for London, then on to New York City, where he enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music. There he met Stewart Levine, a Bronx-born aspiring producer who shared Masekela's love of jazz, booze, and drugs—not necessarily in that order.
The two men partied their way into a partnership called Chisa, which produced and released records by the Crusaders, Baranta, and Letta Mbulu, and they formed their own band, the Zulus, which played an updated take on South African township jive. Some of the results of Masekela and Levine's various collaborations are heard on The Chisa Years, a 14-track collection of rare-but-prime Afrobeat-cum-R&B cuts.
The three songs by the Zulus, along with "Awe Mfana" by Johannesburg Street Band, are swinging examples of mbaqanga, a buoyant and cyclical South African popular-music style. Other tracks are steeped in the edgy funk of the times, albeit with overt African overtures: Mbulu's "Mahlalela" is an ass-shakin' R&B tune sung in Zulu; Ojah and Masekela's "Afro Beat Blues" recalls Fela Kuti's mantric Afrobeat style; and Baranta and Miatta Fahinbulleh ride a dread-filled reggae groove on "Witch Doctor." Masekela may not have been welcome in South Africa, but at least he could bring the country's music to his new home. CHRISTOPHER PORTER
Masekela plays Mon May 8, Triple Door, 7 and 10 pm, $35 adv/$38 DOS.
Ethereal even while howling as if they were banshees from the native moors, Irish band My Bloody Valentine featured guitar mired in a chain of about a dozen effects pedals. MBV guitarists Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher's sludgy tone- and hell-bent rabidity still echoes in bands such as Serena-Maneesh.
On their 11-track debut, the Norwegian sextet slogs through some of the same sediment as My Bloody Valentine, offering a nod to the distinction of being indistinct. However, Serena-Maneesh never quite delve as thoroughly into the muffled, undiluted low end of the gradient. A prismatic counterpoint native to MBV contemporaries Lush is also evident, as is the tinny guitar acupuncture of the Velvet Underground. When MBV, the VU, etc. emerged, they seemed to exist as if in a void. Serena-Maneesh is more an occupied vacuum. Suspended throughout Serena-Maneesh's debut are atonal and tuneful contrasts that careen through almost two decades' worth of left-of-center rock.
"Drain Cosmetics" opens the CD with a shambolic, fringed intonation borne in the DNA of bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Spiritualized. Immediately following, "Selina's Melodie Fountain" features a cleanly delineated chug of parallel angularities and vapor trails (perhaps the mark of Steve Albini, one of the internationally recorded album's several producers). A song such as "Candlelighted"—a metronomic Krautrock descendent—sits next to the contorted furrows of garage-rocker "Beehiver II." Tense and untethered, overdriven and meticulously paced, Serena-Maneesh keeps your attention because the group can't keep its own. TONY WARE