Ink 19: Italian Horn

Italian Horn
The Bells of Spring

It’s rare that a music writer can cross the great divide between words and action and become a compelling musician. (Peter Laughner comes to mind immediately, and then…) It’s just as rare the other way around, for a musician to become a compelling record reviewer or historian. Anthony Pappalardo is one of those lucky few. An overview of his career would make the most manic overachiever feel like the dude in the old Charles Atlas comic ads getting liberal amounts of sand kicked in his dumb loser face. He’s performed with straight-edge hardcore stalwarts In My Eyes, written with Max G. Morton, penned the hardcore history-through-artifacts Radio Silence, works with the VDSQ label, and now has reinvented himself again as Italian Horn. Goddamnit, what am I doing with my life?

Well, what Pappalardo is doing with his life is writing albums of affecting lo-fi shoegaze that gets covers designed by Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices. The songs on The Bells of Spring avoid the majestic sprawl of the likes of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, instead going for a more barebones, more uptempo dive into the depths of heavily reverbed introspection. Italian Horn keeps it brief; heavy on the C86isms of Black Tambourine and Pond but also wonderfully redolent of early Ride and Field Mice. The album shimmers through a gauzy but thin sheen of delay and distortion and is all the better for it. Around 15 minutes and they’re out. How can one combine absolute economy with absolute decadence so easily?

Originally published ink Ink 19.

Ink 19: Peste Noire

Peste Noire
L’Ordure & L’Etat Pur
La Mesnie Herlequin

A musician friend of mine gushed to me about this album: “It’s so amazing how much this band loves being French!” Sold! It’s a fascinating new twist to the nationalism that runs as an undercurrent to so much black metal. Only this time, instead of singing the praises of icy fjords, on L’Ordure there are lusty screams and declamations about medieval French culture and… the Devil.

And if that weren’t enough (and it is), these words are coupled to some of the most creative, rugged individualist black metal I’ve heard in a long time. Not only do they gleefully incorporate French folk music tropes into their sound, the sounds of a farm (I’ve no idea), lightning quick tempo and timechanges that are jazzlike in their fell precision, straight up dance beats (in “Cochon Carotte Et Les…”), horns and strings, zither, fearsome metal savagery, and as a centerpiece, the totally unrestrained, almost method-acted vocals of La Sale Famine de Valfunde. Seriously, this guy is channeling Antonin Artaud in an insane asylum. Songs spiral into pure insanity, particularly the twenty-minute “Javais Reve Du Nord,” which contains ravens’ calls, a female vocalist, a lengthy zither breakdown, soaring power-metal-perverting riffery, and lycanthrope vocal abuse, with the last five minutes particularly harrowing in intensity.

It’s a dizzying, intoxicating, unpredictable brew of unstable sound. Oui oui!

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: PacificUV

Mazarin Records

Though every sage in the world nods, well, sagely, at the irrefutable notion that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” in underground music that’s just not often the case. For instance, if said cover is a bunch of skinny dudes in corpsepaint and bullet belts hanging out in a forest, the record is probably going to be good, or if the cover is a Ziploc bag filled with cowshit, it’s probably a safe bet that you, young sir or madam, most likely have a European noise record in your hot little hands. We can apply that same standard to anyone who designs an album sleeve in homage to Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. Which is what PacificUV has done with Weekends, housed in a digipac that invokes the pill insert of Ladies. A sterile blue grid of squares filled with letters and braille, halfway between the Periodic Table and an apothecary’s arcane chart. This is the only thing familiar about PacificUV’s record.

See, on 2008’s Longplay 2, PacificUV lovingly crafted an album’s worth of expansive, impossibly sad, orchestral shoegaze. And on Weekends, they’ve stripped it fucking down. Stripped down the lineup. Stripped down the palette of instruments to just some outdated electronics and cheapo synths, a Speak-and-Spell, and a blown-out guitar or two. Stripped down their influences to the classics, the weirdos, and dark maguses — Kraftwerk, Sonic Boom, John Foxx — keep it simple. Stripped down their songwriting to primitive electronic hymns and shimmering bursts. It’s an all-new, all-weird PacificUV.

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: Richard Thompson Band Live

The Richard Thompson Band: Live at Celtic Connections
Eagle Rock

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The initial signs are dire. A wide-angle shot of the audience catches row after row of bald pates, comfortably seated, every last one most likely outfitted with two (count’em, two) leather elbow patches, looking more ready to bury Richard Thompson (reverently of course) than praise him. And then out comes fucking “Whispering” Bob Harris — last seen castigating the New York Dolls as “mock rock” in the late Seventies — to introduce Thompson. It’s museum rock from here on out. Except someone forgot to tell Richard Thompson that. He strides out in a slim-fitting black wardrobe, dandy scarf knotted around his neck, and the dad-ified beret that he’s been wearing for a decade or so now suddenly looks instead like something that Che Guevera would wear. I’m heartened to see that visual extremity, the sharp edges, the air of anything goes that Thompson exudes, subtly striking back against a room full of people, hell, a whole record industry that wants him to be a good li’l nostalgia act.

It’s tough being Richard Thompson. On the one hand, he’s known as the “guitar player’s guitar player,” which would automatically make most musicians colossal douches (Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert) and/or terminal bores. On the other hand, he both helped invent electrified folk rock with Fairport Convention AND created one of the singularly great bitter breakup albums of all time with Shoot Out the Lights, which he is no doubt expected to relive during every single concert… what I’m saying is, he has a whole load of albatrii around his neck. Luckily he decides to disregard the past and stay firmly rooted in the now with a sparkling set of new songs. And, oh yeah, bait the audience just a bit, wryly noting the paucity of applause when he mentions his new album.

Actually he’s damn witty; poking fun when someone cries out “Ashley Hutchings,” only momentarily caught off his game when it turns out that Hutchings IS actually in the audience, noting the cheeriness of the murder ballad (“Sidney Wells”) he’s about to rip into, getting in a few digs at bankers (!!), and just generally throwing out surreal aside after surreal aside. Far more germaine for the purpoes of music writing, both his voice and guitar-playing are still in fine form, too. The new songs are spry and serviceable, if a good deal less enjoyable than classic albums like I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight and Mirror Blue. His backing musicians look like a bunch of college professors and often worry the songs to death with overplaying, but Thompson’s evident passion for writing and playing his songs carries the day. Affecting readings of classics like “Wall of Death” and “A Man in Need” are worth the price of admission and one feels none of the withering contempt that his folk-rock transatlantic peer heaps upon his audience. He wears advancing age as well as he does that guitar around his neck.

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: Liturgy

Freebird Live, Jacksonville, FL
February 9, 2012

This isn’t good. The lineup was puzzling to begin with… the whole premise, I mean. A Florida-only tour featuring Kills-lite Sleigh Bells, buzzbomb producer Diplo, and transcendental black metal overlords Liturgy begs disbelief. Especially in the South. This isn’t good. Two girls in glittery crop tops slither past me in line, try to sweet talk the bouncer into letting them in, fail utterly and then bounce over to the tour bus idling nearby, where they immediately start pounding on the door and squealing, “Diploooooooo!” This isn’t good. I’m hearing the white light/white heat roar of Liturgy burst to life from inside the cavernous Freebird Live and I’m stuck in line behind a bunch of clean-cut kids who look like the cast of How I Met Your Mother. A towering bro bends to the waist and asks me, “Which band is this? Is this Diplo?” This isn’t good.

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An eternity too long later, I’m rushing inside and soaking in the delirious strength through joy that is Liturgy 2.0. Frontman/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendricks has given the shove to longtime drummer Greg Fox, leaving himself and guitarist Bernard Gann tonight to reshape the triumphant roar of last year’s Aesthethica into something altogether more wild and uncontrolled. Fox’s punk-influenced blastbeats are long gone, replaced by rigid electronic beats, courtesy of a Macbook incongruously perched on a stand next to Hendricks, and their already unruly song structures are even further twisted up by a forbidding series of pedals and effects. This could very well be the new sound of U.S. Black Metal. A song ends. The most tentative of polite applause. The front rows frantically check their smartphones. The back rows look confused.

Hunt-Hendricks begins one of his vocal chants, but instead of the ecstatic energy poured into these vocal experiments in Aesthethica, the sound is mournful and disappointed. Eclectic bills like this may very well be a better idea on paper than real life, depending on the audience you’re courting. And Liturgy’s music demands an audience hungry to lose themselves in blinding sound. The music bursts back into life. Aesthethica may have refined and brightened black metal’s dark corners, but tonight Liturgy sound as ferocious and unhinged as Immortal in their prime.

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Hunt-Hendricks’ vocals are a self-loathing shriek (in the spirit of Satyricon and Burzum), the tandem guitar assault with Gann is a wondrous mix of clinical precision — stackin’ riffs like Jenga — and masochistic primitivism. For the briefest of seconds I’m reminded of Godflesh, in terms of harnessing technology to present a personal and intimate reshaping of heavy fucking metal to communicate truly heavy concepts and beliefs. As the music reaches a frenzied crescendo a burst of deep blue light sizzles the irises of everyone in attendance. And when we blink away the spots. The band is gone. Soon my fellow audience members will be relentlessly pandered to by Sleigh Bells, and they will have put this unpleasant business far behind them. Their loss.

Ink 19: King Khan And The Shrines

King Khan and The Shrines
Cafe Eleven, St. Augustine, FL
February 8, 2012

There’s a lesson to be learned tonight. Even though James Brown was resolutely fastidious in his appearance to the point of fining backing musicians if their shoes weren’t polished to his liking, he knew that the best soul, the real heavy stuff, was rooted in absolute chaos and high-tension disorder. Garage rock potentate King Khan (usually of the superlative King Khan & BBQ Show) has decided to push that latter point to its apotheosis with his auto-destruct soul orchestra, The Shrines. The scene’s already chaos inside the jam-packed Café Eleven… I don’t know man, the college kids that congregate in this venue are crazy to begin with, and they’ve already been whipped into a frenzy by opener the Jacuzzi Boys. To my ears it’s pretty lackluster stuff, the equivalent of the Stones trying to share the stage with James Brown at the TAMI Awards and looking like a bunch of preening kids.

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After an anxious wait, from all corners of the club various Shrines begin to materialize onstage. There’s the stick-thin keyboardist who looks like a mod Chris Kattan, perched on the very lip of the stage, his keyboard jutting into the crowd. There’s the horn section that looks like members of a German industrial band, but RAVE it up like The J.B.’s. There’s the drummer who looks like a member of Crowbar. There’s the percussionist who for real shared stages with Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. There’s the bass player and guitarist who look like they were in a Big Black cover band. The sheer visual anarchy of the players is in stark contrast to their fucking razor sharp tightness and is admissible evidence of King Khan’s mad genius as a (big) bandleader.

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And speak of the devil, Khan storms through the crowd and jumps up on the stage, a vision of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ regal madness in cape, feathery crown, glittery tunic, and necklace made of (human?) bones. Cue scenes of total batshit insanity. With a feverish intensity pitched midway between the Fabulous Flames, the Make-Up, and the Cramps, King Khan and the Shrines maintain an almost unbelievable level of intensity, without even a droplet of sweat between them.

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The keyboardist repeatedly launches his keyboard into the crowd. The horn section delights in noir blurts and free-jazz squiggles equally, and then all drop their instruments to pick up tambourines and stomp into the crowd for a good ol’ communal raveup. Meanwhile Khan strips off layer after layer of clothes until he’s left with just underwear, cape, and crown. He picks up a guitar occasionally like a lightning rod to harness the flashpaper energy in the room, but he’s even better when he’s going all Bela Lugosi with his cape or leaning forward into the front rows and preaching one-on-one soul-noise gospel to eager converts.

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They finally take a group bow and leave the stage, save for one sax player who keeps blowing until the rest of the band clambers back onstage. And the familiar three-note organ line of motherfucking SUICIDE’S “Ghost Rider” rings out. Yep, it’s a gloriously sprawling supercharged version and Khan has got all the Alan Vega-isms down COLD. Bliss, thanks for asking. They follow it up with fix or six more numbers before the band devolves into gleeful chaos. instruments are dismantled, band members throw themselves into the teeming crowd, and King Khan and the Jacuzzi Boys’ singer huddle up for some good old primal scream therapy. That’s a show.

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: Quintron

Quintron and Miss Pussycat
with The 2416
Nobby’s, St. Augustine, FL
February 7, 2012

Mr. Quintron is an American institution, a testament to all that is great in New Orleans music AND the most wigged out fringes of the avant-garde. Over a series of totally individual albums over the last fifteen years, Quintron has honed a stage act that channels and refracts Professor Longhair, Iggy and the Stooges, James Chance, and Jimmy Smith into a blinding wall of light and sound. Meanwhile, he’s like a mad scientist in his Spellcaster Lodge lab, inventing new musical innovations like the Dream Machine lookalike Drum Buddy drum machine and a house that is actually a musical instrument. Alongside soulmate and co-conspirator Miss Pussycat, he’s pushed his stage show into new realms of absurdity and delight; the puppet shows they copresent are as much Jim Henson’s Muppets on a shoestring budget as they are a living nod to Bill Hicks’ claim that drugs are, in fact, good for you. Lastly, Quintron reflects the resilient spirit of his hometown New Orleans; even though he was flooded out during Katrina, he emerged stronger and stranger than ever, and goddamn it feels good.

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First up, though, are Jacksonville’s garage-punk howlers The 2416. At the start of their own inaugural Florida-mini tour, the trio of Trenton Tarpits, St. Andrew, and Terry Davis Jr. are understandably beside themselves with excitement over sharing the stage with the mighty Quintron. The 2416 have narrowed/refined their sound over the past year into a serrated roar influenced by Motorhead and The Dwarves; their set is feral and messy and lightning-quick, like a windstorm blowing through the club. The drummer stands up when he plays à la Mo Tucker, so you know the music is quality. They collapse into utter chaos at the end; beer flying everywhere, band members tossing instruments aside and rolling around on the ground screaming. Glorious.

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 Finally, otherworldy music emanates from Miss Pussycat’s Pee Wee’s Playhouse-esque puppet stage, a sure sign that the evening is about to begin in earnest. Miss Pussycat presents a deeply surreal and oddly touching tale of a dragon and talking droplets of water — the puppets are charmingly homemade and I love the heavily treated voice effects, which are totally early Chipmunks. The show ends with, as so many of her shows do, a dance party, and hell if the whole stage doesn’t come alive (mouth arms and all) to join in the fun.

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Then the man (earlier sporting a cowboy hat because, well, we’re in the South) takes his seat behind an organ that’s kitted out with, honest to god, the modified chassis of a vintage roadster– headlights gleam from an auto grille — with his faithful, gleaming drum buddy to his immediate right and Miss Pussycat, maracas in hand, to his left. And then it begins! A glorious, soulful, ragged, punky, hoodoo roar. Two-fisted organ lines executed with total finesse and Liberace-destroying showmanship, underlying two gloriously untutored voices howling into the night. As much vaudeville as Max’s Kansas City. It’s adrenalin dance music that goes straight to your skull. The Drum Buddy demo is, as always, stunning, this time with some subtle hip-hop undertones. And I should point out that a mystery woman in a black-and-white outfit (split down the middle, Two-Face style) joins in on maracas for the last half of the set.

 And when they end the night with Quintron turning one of the headlights on his organ over to yours truly and saying, “We dedicate the next song…. to this guy” and launching into an utterly demented reading of “Place Unknown,” well, all pretense of journalistic integrity goes flying out a series of ever-bigger windows. This is the music that gets you through the day. And the night.

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: Chelsea Wolfe

Chelsea Wolfe
Pendu Sound

On Apokalypsis, Chelsea Wolfe brutally strips the one-voice/guitar template down to its most intimate essentials. As in Son House. As in Jandek. As in Diamanda Galas. And then, AND THEN, adds in a dose of black metal’s imperious frigidity. It’s not in terms of the sound — there’re no blast beats or goblin screams. And it’s not in terms of the thematics — no churches are burning. It’s an intangible, it’s a vague dread lurking in your peripheral vision, a feeling that this music is from older, altogether darker times. No wonder she’s gigging with the likes of Liturgy and Wolves In The Throne Room. When you listen, when you really listen, it makes perfect sense. Her powerful voice is swamped in reverb and recorded in such a way that it sounds murky and out of focus, unable to be captured or fully heard. The drums are great tribal blasts, intersected and slashed by dark telephone-wire guitar lines, blues drained of bravado. The whole album is recorded in the way a cult black metal album would be, physical and lo-fi at the same time. Any time you think she’s gong to take the easy way out with a harmony or a riff or a lyric, and maybe it will go into familiar boring territory, it veers wildly away. Quite an act of faith. Or heresy.

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: All The Apparatus

All The Apparatus
All The Apparatus

Look, maybe some people like Gogol Bordello, maybe some people have a nostalgic fondness for marching bands, maybe some people don’t mind irrational exuberance, maybe some people are still nostalgic for the Go Team, Dan Deacon, or even the naïve wonder of childhood that you only sense as an adult. But goddamn, it ain’t my bag. All The Apparatus channel Second Line and beer-hall waltzes through an indie rock prism and a steadfastly optimistic worldview that would give self-help gurus some pause. Seize-the-day whoops, exotic instrumentation, and a rough’n’ready gypsy/pep-squad vibe looms large. “THUMBS UP!” this album shouts. “GODDAMNIT! LIFE IS GOOD! THUMBS UP!” Make it stop…

Originally published in Ink 19.

Ink 19: El Rego

El Rego
El Rego Et Ses Commandos

In addition to putting out some of the finest new soul music this side of Sam Cooke, Daptone Records also scours the world in search of international sounds both new and old. For the new, check out the 2009 Daptone Gold compilation and the album by Charles Bradley. For the old, look no further than Daptone’s deluxe reissue of the works of West African soul legend El Rego. El Rego released a clutch of incredible sides in the ’60s and ’70s that merged the native sounds of his hometown Benin with rough-and-tumble American soul and more than a dash of Latin and funk grooves. Just check the man on the cover of the record, decked out in mod-ish suit and sharp-edged fedora, and you know you’re in for some heavy soundz. Pitched at that pefrect middle point between the domestic afrobeat of peer Fela Kuti and the combustible clockwork funk of James Brown, Rego immerses the American soul template in a heady stew of local music and experience, making it a very natural hybrid. And sweet mercy, oh how you’ll dance!

Originally from Ink19.