Reviews: Shilohs, PUJOL, The Rebel Set

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Hello, everyone. Spring is finally here in flyover country and that means some cleaning up of the yard. Along with some new releases, I’ve included a few reviews of records that have been out for a while, but their overall quality and general appeal warrant coverage, even if it is slightly behind the curve. As always, thanks for reading.

Pujol, Kludge (Saddle Creek)

What have we here? A totally indescribable, bounteous platter of offerings on this second album by Nashville’s Daniel Pujol. He’s got it going on all over the place with a broad view, but also with a real flair for the flashy at times. The David Bowie meets Jay Reatard description that’s been bandied about is actually a mild descriptor. He’s leaps and bounds beyond that limited comparison. The fabulous first song , “Judas Booth”, it turns out, is only a suggestion of what lies ahead on this record. “Manufactured Crisis Control” overpowers the listener with brassy vocals atop some kind of squeaky electronic squall pressed down like a grilled cheese sandwich. And “Pitch Black” actually sounds a like mid-tempo Dickies, or maybe a slightly younger Dickies tribute band, believe it or not, and it’s a really cool summertime tune that should make more than a few DJ's playlists. There’s also the tinny and disorderly clang of “Post Grad”, and the wondrously odd charms of “Dark Haired Suitor”. If that isn’t enough, and it really should be, “Small World” sounds like it’s about a hair’s breath away from becoming Two Gallants. And that’s high, high praise in my world. PUJOL really is all over the musical map, covering a continent’s worth of sounds in an album, but the kid’s got moxy, or chutzpah, or something, and he’s pulling it off with aplomb. The minimalist streak that tends to run through everything is also woven into a denser sound on the “noisier” songs and that really adds another layer that makes it all the more arresting. You can’t pin this cat down anywhere. This album is an aural pleasure ride that challenges the senses nicely. Saddle Creek has a track record of releasing some really great records that, unfortunately for them and the artists, remain well below the horizon and don’t ever garner the notoriety they should. Here’s hoping this won’t become one of them. It’s looking promising.

The Shilohs, The Shilohs (Light Organ)

This Vancouver four-piece can straddle four decades of music with their dynamic, jangly, cosmopolitan pop. They released a self-titled EP in 2010, and their debut album, So Wild, came out in 2013. Of the 12 songs on this album nearly all of them are exceptional in some way or another, each exhibiting a knack for deconstruction and reconstruction. The earthy and muy excellente “Palm Readers” calls up The Feelies immediately with its guitar sound /tone, and in the process it churns out some very fine, unpolished guitar pop that sets a high bar. By the time that song is over you can already hear the influence of Big Star and subsequent acolytes of the power-pop kings rumbling around in the background. Then, suddenly, “Student of Nature” turns away from that form and serves up a surprisingly more polished 60s-flavored pop confection that drips with AM radio cache. Then “Ordinary People” takes us in another new direction again and sounds like Paul Kelly and the Messengers, Australia’s unsung and underrated hero of slinky, smartboy rock. The bittersweet harmonies on this album really do stand out as advertised, but there’s an uneasy tone beneath it all that works well for them, as evidenced by the slightly askew “Sisters of Blue” that almost dances with Mercury Rev when all is said and done. “Days of the Wine” rattles around pretty good with appealing, but uncomfortable, sickly sweet male-female vocals that are a little bit like John Doe and Exene from X. And “Down at the Bottom of the Bottomland” goes so far as to make one think about the possibility of the Jazz Butcher joining Roddy Frame and Aztec Camera. That’s covering a hell of a lot of ground in a handful of songs. A few tracks do meander a little and get lost on the way home, and they tend to not have that kick you come to expect from them based on the others, but eight or nine damn fine songs out 12 is certainly not bad. These guys are on to something.

Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else (Bloodshot)

People have been falling all over themselves to praise the previous recordings by Ms. Loveless… CMJ, Spin, Boston Globe… She hails from Columbus, Ohio and on her third album she’s settin’ ‘em up and knockin’ ‘em down like it ain’t nothin’, with one outstanding post-modern country-fied meta-song after another. “Really Wanna See You” is a winner, “Wine Lips” another winner, “To Love Somebody” a grand prize winner. Every note, every move, every beat presents itself as clear-headed and confident. Believe the hype you’ve read about her, if you’ve read about her, she’s that cool. Some people come across as having been born into music, as songwriters, musicians, and some people appear to be born to play a certain kind of music. Lydia Loveless was born to play this kind of music. It’s in her bones, it’s in her belly, it’s in her soul. This record represents a part of the music world that exists despite the world itself. I have no earthly idea how many copies of this album Bloodshot will sell in the U.S.. I couldn’t even venture a guess, but it’s not just about sales numbers with a gifted, important artist like Lydia Loveless and of course Bloodshot knows how the business works, being the artful dodgers that they are. Her talent and the appeal of these songs will continue to open doors and ears, but her music will not be embraced by Nashville or New York. She might perform on a late night talk show and bring the house down, but she won’t be on the radar of the narrow mainstream commercial market, for what it’s worth. This music exists beneath the surface of the marketplace at large. It exists in an almost parallel universe that is more graceful and sublime. Her song, “They Don’t Know”, could be an anthem for this particular state of things in popular music today. The more you listen to this record the more it calls you back in a symbiotic exchange of consciousness. The more you hear the consciousness of that other universe reaching out to you. Sorry it took so long for me to unearth it and review it among all the rubble here.

The Rebel Set, How To Make A Monster (Burger/Silver Hornet)

Arizona’s Joe Zimmer formed this band in 2007 and they released their debut 7” all the way back in ’08. Their first LP, Poison Arrow, came out in 2010. This assemblage of roadworthy 90s lo-lo-fi/garage rock/ punk-a-billy parts harkens back to the 1950s it’s so au natural in its appearance. So good that it doesn’t need an identifier, really. For the uninitiated you could reference Supercharger of the Oblivians, but not really, and all three of those bands have a very distinct approach to interpreting the original blueprint so it’s not really fair to go there. You wouldn’t call this polished, but it’s sleek, and also somewhat ghostly and atmospheric. Hook-laden throughout without trying too hard, and tight when they need to make a point. Katey Trowbridge on organ and Bronson Goehner on bass know just where to place the emphasis. And it feels enough like you just walked in on them at band practice. Link Wray and Gene Vincent, along with The Sonics and The Monks, form the superstructure of what any band like this is doing, but there are infinite possibilities for where you can go from there. Recorded by Ward Reeder at an “undisclosed location,” things kick off with the fantastic “Drop Out” a timeless track with vocals squished well into the mix. “Planet Katey” is like some space age voodoo music from a 1950s teen flick with lots of reverb hanging in the air. “Ghost Writer” is just fucking awesome, and is destined to be one of the best songs of 2014. “Back In Town” features Trowbridges queasy organ vety effectively, and “Old Heart” is super-cool with a wired punk sound that might remind of a lot of bands, but non you can name. Just when you write off bands or get complacent, a really good band will come along and knock you on your ass. Consider me knocked.

Bad History Month/Dust From A 1000 Yrs, Famous Cigarettes Split LP/Cassette (Exploding Sounds)

This split recording features four songs by BHM and five songs by DFATY and the two bands are touring together throughout the summer. BHM is Jeff Meff, and he recorded his contribution at a studio called the Sex Dungeon. People are calling this stuff “experimental folk,” and it is that to a certain degree, but in the case of both bands it’s also a lot more. BHM’s “Thank God for the Ground” opens the proceedings and sounds sort of like Two Dollar Guitar (Tim Foljahn), with some flat, disinterested vocalizing that actually fits the song perfectly. Then he loosens up a little and “Staring at My Hands” stretches the boundaries as it also sports a smartly simple, minimal five-note guitar break. The freak-folk element rears its head at different points on various songs, but there’s always just enough gunk in the gears to throw things off; abstract, but not totally unhinged, free but not formless. There’s a side of Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy that also shows up occasionally, as is to be expected since he helped to write the book on how to piece sounds like this together in all sorts of awkwardly new and fun ways. DFATY is Ben Rector (Bone), and this is a solo effort on his part as well. You could label what he does slow-folk early on, kind of like Codeine with the guitars turned down, but it’s not all sluggish and morose. The splendid “Smoke Em Up” offers some great dual-tracked vocals and has a curmudgeonly edge. The instrumental “Jamalamadingdong” courts the late great Grifters, “Don’t Bleed for Them” gets kind of squirmy as Rector twists the melody around, and My Dad Is Dead shows up to end it all on the clumsily elegant “Party Song”, which doesn’t really sound like a party song (read: sarcasm), and includes lines like: “Let’s party every day/Shaded by our shame.” There’s a decrepit aspect to all of this, with both bands sounding more than a little disillusioned, and it suits the (musical) times we’re living in. This live double bill should be a blast with the two bands augmenting each other quite well.

Various Artists, Sombras: Spanish Post-punk and Dark Pop 1981-1986 (Munster)

Here’s another gargantuan compilation from Munster, consisting of 42 tracks on two discs, along with a very hefty bi-lingual booklet loaded with great liner notes. This set includes a lot of the most prominent bands from the era like Paralisis Permanente and Decima Victima, but there also are some bands no one outside Spain would likely have heard, or heard of. The majority lean more in the direction of dark pop than post-punk, per se, and because the songs are written and sung in Spanish and there are subtle linguistic differences between Spanish and English that can make differences in phrasing and intonation quite striking. This was a difficult period in Spanish history. There was a vicious heroin epidemic (aren’t they all?), and there was a seething undercurrent of (musical) unrest. On November 13, 1982 Alaska y los Pegamoides played a show in Madrid and the course was set for the future when they gave away a flexi-disc that contained two unreleased songs. In fact, history was made. One of those songs, “El Jardin”, is included in this set. There’s a consistently minimalist, keyboard-laden, pre-gothic, new wave kind of thing happening with a lot of if being quite free of restraints. The post-punk stuff is jittery patchwork guitar and keyboard with some challenging vocals at times, for both singer and listener. Despite the language barrier for non-Spanish speakers, the ideas and themes being conveyed on a lot of these songs comes through just fine. Even some of the band names will give you a heads up on what’s contained here: New Buildings, V2 Berlin, Ceremonia, Beirut la Noche. A high level of quality runs through it and demonstrates how prolific and diverse this scene was. No rank amateurs found in this collection. Many of these songs, like Agrimensor K’s “Principio y Fin” and Donacion Agnelli’s “Asfixia” could have been in rotation on MTV in those early halcyon days.