"Falling Off the Sky" by the dB's
"Ascent" by Six Organs of Admittance
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: September 28, 2012
The dB’s – Falling Off the Sky (Bar/None Records) 2012
About 20 years ago I fell for a somewhat obscure album called Mavericks that was put out by Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, who were formerly of the Southern guitar-pop band The dB’s. At that time The dB’s were on “hiatus” (they were a little before my time when they were in their prime) and Holsapple/Stamey’s Mavericks disc was an example of the Dixie-beatnik musical genius that had attracted R.E.M. fans and record-store nerds alike with releases like 1981’s Stands for Decibels.
Thirty-or-so years later The dB’s are reunited – Holsapple & Stamey, along with drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder – with Falling Off the Sky. Being an immense fan of Mavericks and jangle-pop of a Southern persuasion in general, I was really looking forward to this album.
Dang it if I wasn’t disappointed. “Before We Were Born,” for instance, a chunky rocker (as an idea, anyway) comes off as flat and uninspired. The brassy “The Wonder of Love” is repetitive and, frankly, annoying.
Stamey steps things up a bit on the pretty, baroque-pop of “Far Away and Long Ago,” shakily hitting some notes he probably hasn’t hit in a while. “Send Me Something Real” has a subdued jangle about it, while drummer Rigby offers up a solid “Write Back” that would fit comfortably alongside the dB’s best songs. And I could also mention that “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore,” about a Katrina evacuee struggling in the aftermath, is good but not as good as it could have been.
And then there are Fountains of Wayne-esque castoffs like “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” that annoy more than they inspire.
Falling Off the Sky is a mixed bag, for sure. I think I’ll be keeping Mavericks in the CD changer instead. I love “Geometry.”
For more information go to www.thedbsonline.net.
The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (Warner Bros.) 2012
Oklahoma City’s very own Flaming Lips have been stretching, snapping and utterly destroying the boundaries of rock music and the recording process of said music for some time now, so their latest project The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends – already garnering attention for the “ick” factor of bloody LP’s and a Twitter battle with a prickly Erykah Badu – is a collaborative effort including psychedelic recordings by Ke$ha, “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded) which also feature Biz Markie,” “That Ain’t My Trip” by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James is a heavy burden and not one I like. However, fans of James need to check out 2009’s Tribute To George Harrison, recorded under the name Yim Yames. We reviewed it here.
The Lips collaborate with these artists. Bon Iver’s “Ashes in the Air” is actually rather haunting, while space-themed tunes (“Supermoon Made Me Want to Pee” by Prefuse 73, “Children of the Moon” by Tame Impala and Lightning Bolt’s “I’m Working at NASA on Acid”) seem to dominate. Neon Indian’s contribution, “Is David Bowie Dying?” is like something out of a Tesla-inspired nightmare. There’s even a tinge of early Bowie guitar towards the end.
And despite its offensive title, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Helping the Retarded to Know God” has a certain beauty about it, while Nick Cave’s contribution, “You, Man? Human???” is startlingly bad,save for a few harp chords. Whatever.
The shrill Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band – yeah, Yoko’s “fwends” with Wayne Coyne nowadays – offer up the percussive “Do It!” Not one of her best.
Badu’s dreamy-yet-dirge-like cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” turns the well-known 1972 Roberta Flack single on its ear and shoves it into a bottomless cave.
Hardcore Lips fans will dig Heady Fwends, but I don’t reckon I’ll be popping this one in the disc changer too many times in the near future.
For more information go to www.flaminglips.com.
Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent (Drag City) 2012
First off, Ben Chasny, lead singer and guitar player for space-n-acid rock band Six Organs of Admittance, loves a heavy psych guitar solo. Just listen to the brutal opener “Waswasa” and tell me his Comets on Fire days are behind him.
But Chasny and his partners – guitarists Ethan Miller and Noel Von Harmonson, bassist Ben Flashman and drummer Utrillo Kushner – work well together as a band. Listening to :”Close To the Sky” and what starts off with a solid bass line and drum rhythm, builds into a Neil Young & Crazy Horse-like frenzy before slowing back down. And that Neil reference is deliberate. There are plenty o’ nods to 60’s-era psychedelia and early-to-mid 70’s guitar soloing and Hawkwind-like space noodlings. That would make sense. Chasny says Ascent was inspired by a dream he had – a dream about a man who escapes Earth, seeking life elsewhere and drifts through the cosmos. Far out!
“One Thousand Birds” rises – or,perhaps “ascends” – to the occasion, particularly with the feedback-drenched solos, and that hypnotic bassline (thanks, Ben Flashman!).
The finger-picking acoustic guitar sounds of “Your Ghost,” with Chasny doing his folk thing, sings “When you arrived from deep space / They gave hellos / from a sick world / living as a ghost.” Eerie.
And then there is the transcendant, raga stylings of “They Called You Near.”
And on the ethereal rock of “Visions (From Io)” (check out the cool painting on the album cover of a skeletal astronaut on a Jovian moon), Chasny tells a story of a trip, presumably to Jupiter’s fiery moon of Io where “Winds are clawing at my suit / Satanic rockets have launched / men through the void.” Trippy imagery and Chasny and the Six Organs handle it beautifully. While we get only 8 songs, each one is worth repeated spins. A real psychedelic gem!
For more information go to www.sixorgans.com.
Bloc Party – Four (Frenchkiss Records) 2012
Britain’s Bloc Party, best-known for 2005’s sold Silent Alarm album (back when a new crop of Brit-rockers were making a splash – think Franz Ferdinand, for instance. Where are they?), have finally gotten around to putting out their fourth record – Four, get it? – and while there are some splashes of arty-rock ascendancy (we liked the sinister “Octopus” and the horror-film overtones), it doesn’t quite stack up next to their earlier material.
This could be that the quartet, still smarting from singer Kele Okereke’s near bail from the band, is still trying to figure out where they fit in in the twenty-teens. Russell Lissack’s licks on “Real Talk” are sharp and chiming in spots while on “Kettling,” Lissack gives us an all-out guitar assault amidst Matt Tong’s brutal drumming that bring to mind American alt-rockers Chevelle.
“Day Four” sounds like early 80’s, Police-esque New Wave, while “V.A.L.I.S.” is Bloc Party at their sci-fi toppermost and with a dance beat. Of course they are referencing Philip K. Dick’s mystical novel “VALIS.” Very cool literary reference and Four’s strongest track, with Okereke’s vocal sounding bold against bassist Gordon Moakes’ backing vocal and “Show, show me …” lines.
And when Bloc Party finds time to be musically reflective, they come out with dreamy numbers like “The Healing.” But don't think they're going soft. On the album closer, "We're Not Good People," the thrashing, alt-metal here has Okereke asking, "If God is God, then why is he secret?" Hmmm.
The strong songs outweigh the weaker ones. Perhaps BP will build upon Four and give us Five – an album we’ll unlikely forget. Until then …
For more information go to www.blocparty.com.
Copyright 2012 Red Dirt Report
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
"Four" by Bloc Party