Album reviews: Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, Carlene Carter, Ellis Island Sound, Kirsty MacColl, Timber Timbre, Oy
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks Enter the Slasher House (Domino)
While Avey Tare’s characteristic tendency to over-egg arrangements with obfuscatory effects and extra layers of sound sometimes overloads Enter the Slasher House, it’s far less indulged than on the last Animal Collective album. It’s the result, perhaps, of this new outlet being an actual band, Tare joining forces with keyboard player Angel Deradoorian and drummer Jeremy Hyman in a “jazz power trio” devoted to recording live with minimal overdubs.
The results are most impressively coherent on the slinky psych-funk single “Little Fang”, an exhortation to “embrace your darkness, never be ashamed” built on flanged rhythm guitar and a charming keyboard melody, with sundry samples and secondary vocals floating around the mix. It’s easily the most simple and direct pop song that Tare’s recorded in years – which isn’t to say it’s lacking ambition, just that his more outlandish urges have been reined in for the song’s sake.
Those urges naturally burst out in “A Sender”, where whooshing synth noises herald a bustling, pumping groove swathed in vibrato guitar and Tare’s garbled vocal lines, one running “and the spirit’s still inside you” while another warns “you’re going to die”. But reflecting the album’s corny horror-movie theme, it’s essentially a fantasy, done with fun foremost. Likewise, the more extreme musical elements, like the berserk waltzing toytown-keyboard figure of “Duplex Trip”, and the sudden directional shifts of “Catchy (Was Contagious)”, fit the ghoulish aesthetic, as does the overall hall-of-mirrors sound of the album, with things ricocheting back and forth, constantly distorting. Both musically and lyrically, the project cleaves to that kind of silly-spooky, funfair innocence, in a way that lends the album a freakish, cartoon unity denied to some of Tare’s previous projects.
Download: Little Fang; A Sender; Duplex Trip; The Outlaw
Carlene Carter Carter Girl (Rounder)
Carter Girl reaffirms Carlene Carter’s role as scion of country music’s leading family through a mixture of Carter Family classics and original material, plus shaky duets with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. The producer Don Was brings a potent contemporary feel to it, lacing together “Little Black Train” with pedal-steel licks. A metaphor for judgement day, it strikes a chord echoing throughout the album, from “Give Me the Roses” – a call for love during lifetime, rather than expressed graveside – to “Lonesome Valley 2003”, a depiction of her mother June Carter’s funeral. “Me and the Wildwood Rose” offers childhood recollections, while a posthumous family singalong is effected by grafting June and Johnny Cash’s voices on to “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”.
Download: Little Black Train; Give Me the Roses; Me and the Wildwood Rose
Ellis Island Sound Regions (Village Green)
Of all Pete Astor’s musical endeavours, as far back as Creation stalwarts The Loft, his alliance with David Sheppard may be the most fruitful. Their latest offering finds them conjuring up a blend of Krautrock motorik and West African guitar pop that crackles like space dust. The title “Nairobi/Köln” signals their intentions, its marimba figure growing into a shuffling groove sparkling with stitches of counterpoint guitar; “So Much Water Close to Home” adds peppery congas, trombone and dub echo to the mix, while “Intro, Airborne, Travelling” could be an outtake from a Neu! album. With Sheppard’s tuned percussion lending a gamelan feel to “The Letting Go”, Regions is replete with diverse approaches, as enjoyable as they are eclectic.
Download: Nairobi/Köln; So Much Water Close to Home; Intro, Airborne, Travelling; We Do Not
Kirsty MacColl All I Ever Wanted: The Anthology (Union Square/Salvo)
Now widely acknowledged as the Lily Allen of her era, Kirsty MacColl wielded a winning blend of strength and fragility, vocally and lyrically: even when lamenting losses in the battle of the sexes, her plaintive tones disguised an assertive spirit that relished the prospect of revenge. It’s a large part of the synergy that drives “Fairytale of New York”, and it also lends poignancy to earlier, Smiths-influenced songs such as “Free World” and the empathic refugee anthem “Children of the Revolution”. Her wry delivery later found natural harbour in the Latin American settings of the Tropical Brainstorm album, where subtle lyrics and elegant settings brought her close to the spirit of Brazilian Tropicalismo. Not bad going for this most English of talents.
Download: Us Amazonians; Fairytale of New York; A New England
Timber Timbre Hot Dreams (Full Time Hobby)
An undercurrent of despairing menace lurks beneath the calm surface of Timber Timbre’s fifth album, from the title-track’s urge to “follow through on all my promises and threats to you”, to the “phantasms fantastic” in “Beat the Drum Slowly”. The latter is an exquisite distillation of the band’s sound, with Taylor Kirk’s sombre baritone and an eerie soundscape of guitar, mellotron and chimes recalling both Tindersticks and Calexico. The cinematic Calexico feel continues on the Western nobility of “Bring Me Simple Men”, while the stolid groove, Farfisa organ and declamatory guitar of “Curtains?!” has a more European aspect. A bleak but alluring album, its mood is best conveyed by a line from “The Low Commotion”: “What does it mean to face desire so sadly?”.
Download: Beat the Drum Slowly; Hot Dreams; Curtains?!; Bring Me Simple Men
Oy No Problem Saloon (Crammed Discs)
A duo comprising Swiss-Ghanaian singer/musician Joy Frempong and drummer/producer Llelujah-Ha, Oy’s crossover Afro-electro style is akin to that of the Sudanese/American performer Sinkane. There’s a similar blend of sophisticated percussive patterns and simple melodic figures, like the descending pipe-organ motif that drives the conversational “Akwaaba”. Elsewhere, the celebration of afros, cornrows and dreadlocks in “Hallelujah! Hair!” is set to gently percolating balofon, while the beguiling fable “Doondari” employs a soundscape of marimba, waves and baby cries to underscore its humanist mythology: “At the beginning, there was a huge drop of milk/Then fire created water, and water created air.” Sounds reasonable enough.
Download: Akwaaba; Hallelujah! Hair!; Doondari
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