Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fables of the Reconstruction: Grab Bag of New Weirdness

I did same new music gambling recently and hit the jackpot a few times. Here are a few of the big winners:

Rangers – Pan Am Stories
One of my favorite hipster bloggers wrote that this sprawling double LP “evokes something one would expect to hear if Stephen Malkmus led Pink Floyd, fetishized Chic instead of The Fall, and invited Curt Kirkwood to tag along on tour.” Honestly, I can’t hear a preponderance of any of those referenced artists on this album, but that doesn’t mean the blogger wasn’t correct. Pan Am Stories sounds oddly familiar throughout, eerily similar to dozens of different musicians and genres that I can’t quite put my finger on, and, as a result, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The vocals are somewhat low and flat, like a posturing new wave band from the early 80s (think: “Don’t you want me baby. Don’t you want me, ohhh-oh”) that’s been souped-up with a healthy dose of echoes. Comprised entirely of drums, bass, electric guitar, a bit of low-end synth and an array of effects pedals, the rangy songs here are simultaneously melodic and droning, stimulating and trance-inducing, spritely and dark, bright and brooding, punk and hippy. Which is utterly contradictory and absurd, I know, but it’s true, and on this album it works. I’ll describe it this way: I like to play it late in the evening after I’ve dimmed all the lights except for the one I bought in Mexico that is made out of a gourd with tiny holes drilled into it in the shapes of flowers through which light streams and casts glowing flower shapes on the wall that seem to breathe and shift colors in my increasing mellowed-outedness, like homemade nebulous orbs at the edge of my universe. It’s that kind of record.

Rangers: Pan Am Stories (LP1) by alteredzones

Quilt – Quilt
The full-length debut from this Boston band has an undeniable “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” 60s vibe, due mainly to the boy-girl vocal harmonies that soar through all ten songs, calling to mind the Mamas and Papas or It’s A Beautiful Day or Jesus Christ Superstar, with a few turns here and there into more artsy East Coast territory a la Nico or Pearls Before Swine. The tunes have a lot of that 60s folk-pop structure, too—upbeat melodies woven with jangly strands of lightly amplified guitars and a bit of tambourine thrown in here and there. But it’s also unmistakably new. Despite all the peace and love cheeriness, there’s a brooding, droning quality that lurks just below the surface and exposes Quilt as a product of the contemporary underground, especially on side two, where the song structures start to mutate into more unusual configurations. Some of the songs are slowed and stretched nearly to the point of being ambient or gothic, while others are quicker and shorter, fast and edgy enough to make a crowd black-clad Brooklynites start bobbing their heads. What I love about this album, though, is all the weird little psychedelic interludes they mix into the tunes. A song will be bopping right a long when a spaceship sound will come swooping in to subsume the melody and deliver the song to the chorus, or the song will break down all together into clouds of spacey-ness. Very groovy.

Quilt - Quilt by Mexican Summer

Wet Hair – In Vogue Spirit
Remember the Dieter character Mike Myers played on Saturday Night Live? Dieter was a disaffected German artist talk show host who would tell his guests “"your story has become tiresome," exclaim "liebe mein affe-monkey!" and jump up and dance to spazzed out synth music. I think Dieter would love Wet Hair. Their music is very synth heavy and artsy almost to the point of pretentiousness. The vocals are similarly European sounding and extremely weird, kind of a cross between a flat 80s new wave voice and punk and an Eastern European psychopath. Honestly, I wasn’t sure at first whether I even liked this album because the “singing” seemed so bad on the first few listens, and the overlapping patterns of synth sound seemed so overdone and, like I said, pretentious. But the music is continually shifting into new territories, seamlessly switching from one song to the next, so just when I would think I couldn’t stand it any more it would become borderline good or, at very least, interesting, so I’d stick with it. I’d get distracted and start surfing around on my laptop or flipping through a book when the music would suddenly swell into a cacophony of mesmerizing freakiness that completely commanded my attention. Then the record would end I’d be wondering what the fuck just happened, and I’d put it on again to see what I missed. By and by, the album opened up to me, to the point where it’s now a strong contender for my album of the year. For one, it’s unlike any album I’ve ever heard in my life. Second, once you crack its code, so to speak, it transports you to an exquisitely otherworldly place, which is, in my way of looking at things, the ultimate goal of psychedelic music. And lastly, the vocals aren’t really that bad after you’ve listened a few dozen times and kind of get used to them. You have to put on your punk ears. If you come at the singing from that angle, the vocals actually sound quite lovely, and for the right weird-music-minded person, it’ll became one of those records you keep coming back to and hearing something new.

1 comment:

FRNJ said...

The sound from the video reminds me of a happier joy division.