Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Jesus Lizard - "Club" DVD

We all have, at the end of the day, great regrets in life. One of mine is not seeing The Jesus Lizard live in their prime. This tremendous live DVD goes a little ways toward righting that wrong.

Filmed during the band's 2009 reunion, "Club" is a wonderful up-close-and-personal, pro-shot experience. The band is as tight (and shiny?) as ever, and frontman David Yow is manic and driven like a madman. The band trounce through most of their early-catalog favorites like "Seasick", "Mouthbreather", "Then Comes Dudley", "Monkey Trick", "Glamourous", and 17 more. It's a full-on frontal assault, with precise, math-rock like grooves and Yow's strained, gargled, and feral vocals. In other words, prime Jesus Lizard. This is a dirty rock show minus the spilled beer and body odor. 

These guys still kick ass years later. Serious fans need to pick this up, as do those who never got the chance to see them. And if the 70-ish minute DVD isn't enough, they've included bonus MP3 files of all the tracks, so you can kick out the Jesus Lizard jams on your ipod, too! Rock on, boys.

Jarboe presents The Sweet Meat Love And Holy Cult - "Mystagogue" 2xCD

Though it's semi-billed as a Jarboe album, this double-set is actually a selection of 28 psychedelic and freak-folk songs that only sometimes include the participation of the legendary chanteuse herself. "Mystagogue" features, for the most part, a revolving door of artists and personalities, Jarboe being just one of many.

Opening with a re-recording of Jarboe's own "Ode To V", there's also a curiously straight-forward cover of Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" (also sung by J. herself). "First Utterance" is a realistic audio portrait of a smoky opium den, both intoxicating and mysterious. Other standouts include Antic Clay's lovely and anthemic "Take This Tongue", which in my world would be a radio "hit". Henry Derek's "The Big Mouth" is cool and charismatic haunted blues. Derek's "Ballad For Blind Joe Death" refers to, and is most certainly an homage to, legendary guitar master John Fahey, and it all closes out with the voodoo blues-folk of "The Clasping Of Hands". A solid and trippy set of tunes for end times and new world awakenings alike.

Stranglers - "On Stage, On Screen" DVD

Having not been familiar with this legendary punk band (they've been around for 40 years!), this comprehensive live set was positively educational for me. Featuring a 79-minute electric set and a 29-minute acoustic set, the pro-shot "On Stage, On Screen" DVD presents many of the band's greatest tracks, including "Always The Sun", "No More Heroes", and their cover of "All Day And All Of The Night". 

It all looks and sounds fantastic. The band is rock-solid, though (now former) vocalist Paul Roberts' rock-star swagger is a tad annoying. But that's splitting hairs. This is an exceptional set for Stranglers fans. 

As an added bonus, there's a short 18-minute film ("Norfolk Coast") starring the Stranglers' Jean Jacques Burnel that's quite good, detailing a bizarre love affair and a man's struggle against some wicked personal demons. Perfect for serious fans, but casual followers (like me) should do further research.

"American Reel" DVD (director: Mark Archer)

Starring the great David Carradine as a down-and-out country singer who gets a second chance with a predatory music industry, this fittingly-obscure film bears a strikingly close resemblance to the far superior "Crazy Heart". But it's no fault of Carradine, nor co-star Mariel Hemingway, who, like Carradine, does her best with the awful script and wooden dialogue.

The supporting characters in "American Reel" are, in almost every instance, total stereotypes, and their roles are little more than predictable and even over-the-top cartoonish. Sure, the record industry is, more often than not, shady and corporate. This film doesn't so much expose any truths or tell a tale with any level of subtlety. Instead, it hits the viewer over the head with a rubber mallet. It's insulting to the viewer, and to the actors themselves. It seems a shame that Carradine and Hemingway's talents were squandered here. No, thanks.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ciders: Crispin, Original Sin, and Redd's

As the cider market in America opens up, more brands (some corporate and "faux- craft") are stepping in, hoping to cash in on the growing trend. Here are several varieties that I've sampled lately. 

This smallish California craft cidery was bought out in 2012 by MillerCoors, but you won't see that on the bottle labels. Trickery!

Nonetheless, this one pours very clean and clear, almost watery. It's got some serious fizz, but no lace. As with the brand name, this is a crisp cider, refreshing and light, with a dry finish (It is a solid 5% ABV). I'd say this would be perfect on a sweltering Midwest Summer day. 

Ah! This independent cidery is based in New York, but contract brewed by Florida Beer Company. Original Sin is marked by a cool, hip, even sexy image of a temptingly nude "Eve" on their website and a devilish bottle presentation. 

It's a dry and delicious cider that pours clean and nearly clear, with a hint of yellow. Original Sin is not too cloyingly sweet, either, and it's even brewed with champagne yeast, so expect a light and almost champagne-like body. At 6%, it's one of the stronger mainstream ciders, and a delicious one, as well.

Brewed by "Redd's Brewing Company" (aka MillerCoors in disguise), this isn't technically a "cider", but it's certainly a play on the cider formula, presumably a middle-ground drink for casual beer drinkers. 

Pours a caramel-amber (but then again, there is "caramel coloring" added here). Points off. Very little suds, and absolutely no lace. More like a cider than a beer, the aroma is straight-ahead apple juice, even though the "ingredients" include "natural apple flavor". So this is less than a cider, presumably sans any real apple juice! Heinous! Taste is very cidery, but less sweet than most, and a slightly more malty "beer-like" finish. Not horrible to the taste, but I wonder about all the seemingly artificial ingredients, and still question how this qualifies as "ale".

In summation, pick up an Original Sin, Woodchuck, or Sam Adams' Angry Orchard cider and avoid Redd's for sure.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Neurosis - "Honor Found In Decay" CD

The long-awaited studio album from influential "post-metal" group Neurosis offers much to those who listen. In the wake of other heavy music (don't call them "metal") mavens like Pelican, Isis, or the formidable Russian Circles, Neurosis are like grand-dads now, re-asserting their throne after a 5-year absence.

Neurosis begins with the subtle textures of "We All Rage In Gold", which takes a few minutes to build. By the end of it's 6+ minutes, the band is in full-on sludge mode. This is just about as heavy as rock can get. "At The Well" is initially as plodding/grueling as early SWANS, all slow-motion pummel and agonized wails, before erupting outwards. "My Heart For Deliverance" is a huge 11-minute monolith of down-tuned riffage, scathing vocals, and ambient effects that climax with soft strings and mountainous guitar churn. 

Neurosis haven't missed a beat on "Honor Found In Decay", proving that this former Bay Area hardcore band has evolved well beyond what anyone could've ever imagined. This is a monster of an album, complete with huge riffs, subtle introspection, throat-searing anger, psychedelic textures, and massive drums. Play this one loudly and absorb. 

Jastreb - "Jastreb" CD

Yikes! This new project debuts with a searing 38-minute, single-track attack. Billed on their website as "New Kraut Occult", the sound here is more of a heavy-handed psychedelic doom rock vibe, with repetitive Krautrock elements. The track, titled "Yggdrasil" (after the Norse tree that joins Earth, Heaven, and Hell), is a scalding guitar-and-drums based mantra that will simultaneously appeal to fans of drone-rock like Spacemen 3 or doom-metallers alike. 

There's not a lot more to say about this, but the track opens up a bit halfway in, allowing some breathing room before it launches into a seething, fiery finale of raved-up astral entropy. Brilliant, transformational, and physically potent work here.

Branca - "Songs '77-'79" CD

Collecting 8 tracks recorded by Glenn Branca's early New York "no wave" groups The Static and Theoretical Girls, this 32-minute set shows 2 distinct faces of the post-punk legend's history. Since then, Branca's "guitar symphonies" have become a well-known part of underground music history, and he's inspired countless avante-rock bands and artists (some of which include SWANS and Sonic Youth -- both of which include members who, at one time, performed as part of Branca's symphonies). These early works show hints at what was to come, but remain firmly attached to the "rock" paradigm.

"Don't Let Me Stop You" and "My Relationship" are both songs from The Static, and the resemblance to early Sonic Youth is uncanny. Clearly, a large part of Sonic Youth's inspiration came from Mr. Branca. These tracks (which pre-date SY by several years) are evidence. There are weird, de-tuned walls of guitars, primal drumming, and quirky vocals. Excellent and seminal work.

The remaining 6 cuts are Theoretical Girls, and are more artful slices of odd post-punk weirdness. "You Got Me" is a bouncy bit of art pop, and "Jill" is a twisted attempt at  acoustic pop, whereas "Fuck Yourself" could almost be very early Swans with it's repetitive riffs and nihilist simplicity/single-mindedness. Simply said, this is a historically viable, if brief, look at an underground inspiration in his earliest permutation. Very cool and unique work.

Beer: O'Fallon Rager Red

O'FALLON BREWERY (O'Fallon, Missouri) - RAGER RED - 3.5 

O'Fallon Brewery, based near the beer mecca of St. Louis, Missouri, has been crafting fine ales for 12 years now, and is a sort of fixture locally. Distributed throughout the Midwest, O'Fallon has released a new Spring seasonal, Rager Red, an Irish-style red ale, in 6-packs and kegs. I was lucky enough to enjoy a bottle not long after release.

Pours, naturally, a ruby-amber tone, with fair carbonation and thin, wispy lace on the inside of my pint glass. Aroma is caramel and toffee malts. Not bad. Taste is sharp, toasty grains. I also get a hint of fruit and a little hop tinge at the finish. 

Really, a deilghtful, eminently drinkable session ale that's both accessable and flavorful. Nice one!

Enabler - "All Hail The Void" CD

All hail indeed! These Milwaukee-based terror-core kings (also known as Enabler MKE) here release their full-length CD debut after a number of split EPs and vinyl releases. Coming from a breakneck metal/hardcore direction, Enabler's 12 tracks run roughshod over the listener with seriously throttled riffs, huge drums, and scarred-throat vocals.

The only respite here in the whole 34 minutes are the track breaks. "FATH" opens it up with a moment of acoustic guitar before launching into a fearsome tirade of complex rhythms and guitar mayhem. "Speechless" is punk-metal that absolutely annihilates others who may have similar inspirations. "Fuck Today" has a math-metal breakdown that would make the mighty Meshuggah proud, even. Well played. 

There's not a whole lot I can say about Enabler's "All Hail The Void", aside from the fact that this is a smoking-hot debut from a band that could be among the best out there if they continue this trajectory. I am stunned.

The Oratory Of Divine Love - "ARCHangel" CD

This experimental sound project of John Gore (of Cohort Records, 'kirchenkampf', etc.) has been silent for several years, but this 2-track, 60-minute album is a worthwhile bit of listening, and quite refreshing after too many black metal blastbeats and free jazz skronkings. 

Utiizing "only radios", and with "no overdubs", the album begins with "Part 1", which is a sort of urban ambience. It's full of subtle reverberations, laced with sounds you can almost make out, but it's all a swirl of foggy grey. It may even appear static to some ears, but upon closer listening, there's a lot going on. Imagine a busy intersection at rush hour, put the sounds into a blender and listen from the inside of a thick glass jar, if that gives you any indication.

"Part 2" is similar, but to these ears seems somehow darker, more spacious, and more forbidding. The deeply-resonating collage here resembles a cosmic disturbance, or a lonely journey down the fuselage of a deep space station. I consider that a good thing. 

"ARCHangel" is a work packed with depth and understated mystery. Definitely worth a listen.