Neil Young- Hitchhiker | Exclaim! | September 2017

Neil Young

Hitchhiker

Neil YoungHitchhiker
8

Although Hitchhiker isn’t Neil Young’s first abandoned album to be unearthed later, it’s certainly his most realized — impressive, given these songs were recorded quickly in a single session in 1976. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica (and a studio piano for “The Old Country Waltz”), Young left the studio that evening having recorded some of his strongest songs to date; he envisioned the lo-fi recording to be released as is before Reprise, his record label, flat-out objected.

After he abandoned the recordings, Young used rerecordings of eight of these songs on a series of future albums between 1977’s American Stars ‘n Bars (“The Old Country Waltz”) and 2010’s Le Noise (“Hitchhiker”). Elsewhere, songs like “Pocahontas” and “Powderfinger” (both redone with Crazy Horse for 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps), along with the underrated “Campaigner” (re-recorded for 1977 collection Decade) and “Human Highway” (later on 1978’s Comes a Time) show just how fertile and adventurous of a songwriter Young had become by the mid ’70s.

Although it would be easy (but erroneous) to overlook this collection as an unessential novelty (especially since one of the two unreleased songs, “Hawaii,” stands as a bit of a throwaway), it’s fascinating to hear these songs sequenced together, as the album takes on a bit of a new narrative that shows 1976-era Young as a man out on his own, fearing the unknown while dealing with the harsh realities of life, as laid out by songs like “Powderfinger,” “Give Me Strength” and the title track.

Although Young’s had plenty of highs and lows throughout his sprawling discography, there’s no question that each of his 38 studio LPs were results of a particular vision, and Hitchhiker benefits greatly from this fleeting vision captured over a single evening in 1976.

Dive into Neil Young’s back catalogue via Umusic. (Warner)

Advertisements

The Fresh & Onlys- Wolf Lie Down | Exclaim! | August 2017

The Fresh & Onlys

Wolf Lie Down

The Fresh & OnlysWolf Lie Down
7

When the Fresh & Onlys released their 2010 LP, Play it Strange, the group were affectionately lumped in with the then-burgeoning San Francisco garage rock scene that included Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Sonny & the Sunsets. The Cali quartet immediately responded by distancing themselves from that scene, releasing a duo of LPs that instead embraced ’80s jangle pop, college rock and even goth. For Wolf Lie Down, the band’s latest, the Fresh & Onlys have curiously enlisted two Bay area garage rock locals, Kelley Stoltz and Greg Ashley, to produce.

But what makes LP number six so engrossing is that fact that they use their rekindled relationship with garage rock as an ingredient to move even further ahead musically, as nothing here (aside from the early ’80s Misfits sound of the title track), truly sounds like it was recorded by this group of musicians.

It’s always been an issue that Tim Cohen lacks dynamic vocal delivery, but on tracks like “Qualm of Innocence” and “Walking Blues,” he uses his vocals as a mood piece instead, giving listeners a range of emotion through phrasing and melodic stretches. Wymond Miles’ guitar seems to be in sync with this emotion, as the duo trade licks throughout the short eight-track album.

It’s remarkable that the Fresh & Onlys have yet to make a disappointing album, but even more that they manage to keep the streak alive given their level of experimentation. (Sinderlyn)

Iron & Wine- Beast Epic | Exclaim! | August 2017

Iron & Wine

Beast Epic

Iron & WineBeast Epic
6

Upon first listen, Beast Epic — the first album of new solo material from Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam in four years — seems a bit too easy to dislike. His last album, 2013’s Ghost on Ghost, was marred by production and arrangements that favoured smooth jazz and AM gold, and his latest LP seems to move even further into dad rock territory; Beam seems to be channelling the Deadhead inside of him, filling the 11-track LP with slick production and loose structures that defined the worst of jam band schlock.

Yet, there’s something about strong core songwriting that can save an album that sounds this annoyingly self-conscious. While the grit, intimacy and studio hum of Iron & Wine’s early material is gone, it seems as Beam has moved into a new era of composition; he knows exactly where to take a melody, as he makes apparent in tracks like the mantra-like “Claim Your Ghost,” the shimmering, sunlight-drenched “Song in Stone” and the wonderfully structure-less “Last Night.”

Elsewhere though, the whispered background vocals of “Bitter Truth” and the horrendous lyrics of “Thomas County Law” unfortunately distract the listener from the great songs Beam has written. It’s noble to see Iron & Wine trying to take his songs into a different direction, but it’s a shame that he lacks the confidence to allow these great songs to show off their personality without the help of inane studio glossiness. (Sub Pop)

Blondes- Warmth | Exclaim! | August 2017

Blondes

Warmth

BlondesWarmth
7

On Swisher, the captivating 2013 LP from Blondes, the Brooklyn duo managed to capture the tactile sentiment of their fabled live performances on wax. On Warmth, their aptly titled third release, Blondes repeat the feel of their last record, for better and for worse.

Kicking off with the slow build and scrambled oscillations of “OP Actual,” Warmth segues into a loose and bright pair of motoric beat-keepers, “Clipse” and “Quality of Life,” giving Blondes their most well-sequenced and digestible thread of songs to date. But as they get into a mid-album run of similarly structured tracks (‘Trust,” “Tens” and “KDM”), it’s clear that they’re working within a certain aural structure that borrows from Swisher as much as they do from one another.

That’s not altogether a bad thing; for the initiated, there’s not a single moment throughout the album’s ten tracks and 65 minutes that falls below the standards Blondes have laid out up to this point, as “MRO” utilizes a low-end synth hum that sits underneath (and brilliantly contrasts) a crashing and rising denouement, gorgeously flowing into the busy but tranquil album closer, “Cleo.”

On Warmth, Blondes haven’t drastically improved on their sound, but they feel at home delivering ten more high-quality textural cuts. (R&S)

Bridget Christie- Stand Up For Her | Exclaim! | August 2017

Bridget Christie

Stand Up For Her

Bridget ChristieStand Up For Her
9

Netflix has helped bring attention to a number of British comedians, with specials from Jimmy Carr and Stewart Lee gaining a wide North American audience over the past five years. But if anyone deserves the exposure the streaming service can bring, it’s Bridget Christie, the celebrated humourist, writer and standup.

On her first special in both North America and England, Christie chooses to shape her entire act around one specific theme (a common practice in the UK), brazenly skewering the stereotypes, issues and inequality faced by women throughout history.

In 50 completely absorbing and acerbic minutes, Christie never comes off apologetic and she never makes the viewer feel like she’s saying something out of line or taboo, as her scope moves from the Biblical Adam (“Eve was created to laugh at Adam’s jokes”), the Christopher Hitchens’ essay on how women are not funny (“He tried to prove his theory by not putting any jokes into his essay and then dying”) and the ridiculous Bic for Her pen (“Before they were invented, women could only use their menstrual blood”).

Performing at London’s 320-person capacity Hoxton Hall, Christie keeps the gracious crowd captivated with her quick-fire wit and intelligence, demonstrated by her unique narrative style that often finds her coming off as if she’s discovering these truths in real time, helping her deliver the absurdity of men’s ideals around women, in which she sums things up brilliantly: “I’m not going to stop talking about feminism until short, fat, bald, pissed, sweaty women have the level of self-worth and self-confidence [as men do].”

Even if you find Christie preaching to your own personal choir, Stand Up for Heris delivered with such a level of confidence, intelligence and common sense that you can’t help but coming out of it feeling a little more enlightened, informed… and sore from laughter.

Controlled Bleeding- Carving Songs | Exclaim! | August 2017

Controlled Bleeding

Carving Songs

Controlled BleedingCarving Songs
5

Last year, Controlled Bleeding released Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps, a solid return-to-form LP that found the Long Island extreme noise band dabbling in ambient and free-jazz music under the slightly altered moniker ‘The Controlled Bleeding.’ Their 2016 output saw founding member Paul Lemos (along with new members Chvad SB and Mike Bazini, alongside longtime drummer Tony Meola) pulling together a cacophonic blend of sounds and genres, so it makes sense that these new compositions are perfect remix treatment fodder. And although Controlled Bleeding have brought in an enviable, intriguing and accomplished stable of remixers (including Merzbow, Justin K Broadrick, Monolake and Crowhurst), Carving Songs, the band’s 21-track, two-hour-plus remix album, is simply too indulgent and indistinct to lend itself to repeat listens.

After opening with a brand new composition, the surprisingly rhythmic and melodic “TROD (Defiler’s Song),” Carving Songs moves from percussion-heavy reworkings (“Carving Song (Monolake Remix)”) to cello-led suites (“As Evening Implodes (Barnacles Remix)”) to electro explorations (“Swarm (Remix by Justin K Broadrick / Godflesh)”) and punk explosions (“The Controlled Bleeding – Perks pt. 1 (Perv Mix)”). But with multiple remixes of identical tracks (“Carving Song” is represented six times) and with the omission of key Larva Lumps tracks, including “Return of the Quiet” and “Trang’s Song,” the strong material on Carving Songs is severely hampered by poor sequencing and an overall inessential concept. (ArtofFact)

Tracy Morgan- Staying Alive | Exclaim! | July 2017

Tracy Morgan

Staying Alive

Tracy MorganStaying Alive
8

Staying Alive, Tracy Morgan’s glorious return to the stage, isn’t just a recounting of his 2014 near-death accident, it’s a celebration of his recovery. Kicking off with a wonderfully executed title card showing Morgan strutting down the street to the music of the Bee Gees, à la Saturday Night Fever, Morgan inserts a joke where he pays for an lavish coat in cash, pulling money from a cloth Walmart bag, while giving the viewer insight into just how real and honest this special is willing to get.

Walking out in front of the crowd at the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey, Morgan wastes little time getting real. Decked out in a white John Travolta suit, the Bronx-raised comedian delivers a touching and riotous set that often resembles a one man show, as he recounts his life-changing experience, beginning with his time spent in the afterlife, musing on how he met God, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jackson.

Throughout the 60-minute special, Morgan’s material never comes off entirely mind-blowing or astute, but it does come from actual events that Morgan never shies away from reciting, from asking his doctor if his dick still worked, to recovering from brain trauma and informing his speech therapist that “This is the way I’ve always talked.”

But Morgan is resourceful enough to avoid sticking completely to his accident and its aftermath, instead he uses this experience to parlay into jokes describing family members who visited him during his hospital stay, about how his wife shamed him out of feeling sorry for himself, and how, when he returns to heaven, Jesus will be the cool guy at the party hanging with his comedian friend, Jimmy Mack (who perished in the same crash).

Although there are stretches that finds Morgan rambling and unfocused, there’s truly no other special out there quite like Staying Alive for its candour, swagger, intelligence, touching truth and for its ability to laugh at mortality and to revel in beating death.