American Wrestlers – AW
AW by American Wrestlers is by far the most exciting new project I’ve come across the last few weeks. This is a band nobody seems to know anything about. The few articles/blogs that mention them tend to discuss their music in terms of yet another “weird self-recorded Bandcamp project”, which is quite understandable since it’s virtually the only thing anybody seems to know about American Wrestlers. But I don’t believe this is a band trying to be weird for the sake of being weird (and I wouldn’t be all too surprise if there are in-fact highly experienced musicians hiding behind this project). As far as I know, this is the only release by the band, recorded directly to cassette on an 8-track. But none of this really matter, all we should focus on is American Wrestlers’ highly eclectic and infectious “indie-pop”, bordering on genres with either a jangle- or psych- prefix attached. As a sales pitch, I would recommend AW to anyone who felt a connection to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s two stunning albums. And also the Mac DeMarco and Ariel Pink comparison I’ve been reading about probably works as well. Don’t let this one slip you by.
Shee Keeps Bees – Eight Houses
To give you a quick background; She Keeps Bees is a Brooklyn duo often referred to as a “reversed White Stripes”, mostly because they’re a boy/girl duo where Jess Larrabee sings/plays guitar and her boyfriend Andy LaPlant plays the drum. To some extent, their obvious blues-rock references – with raw and animated guitar riffs melted with lurching drums – validates the White Stripes-analogy. But that is merely one of many sides to their story; Larrabee’s voice possess an exceptionally dynamic range; sometimes with unerring full-throated strength, but mostly low-key yet powerful. And most of the time, their music is relatively reserved, bent towards sparse and darkened arrangements that display musicality far beyond easy ‘blues-rock’ taxonomy. Actually, Cat Power often serves as a more appropriate comparison. So does Angel Olsen. But most of the time they’re quite capable of holding their own, which now resulted in Eight Houses, the duos far most accomplished and ambitious work to date.
Although I haven’t yet seen any reviews of Eight Houses, I guess there is a risk that some publications might end up missing the point and ramble about the lack of originality or “nothing new under the sun” bullcrap. If so, don’t let that discourage you. There are occasions when She Keeps Bees stretches an idea too far without enough counter measure to grab hold, but most of the time, Eight Houses is an intense experience of true depth and honest craft. On their previous album, the dynamics between the animated parts and the more soft-spoken compositions got lost due to a subpar production. Here, the mistake is corrected by bringing in (for the first time an outside) producer Nicholas Vernes, who previously produced albums for Deerhunter, Dirty Projects, and this year; The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream and Whye Oak’s Shriek (that alone should really consider you giving this a chance). It’s so easy for this type of music to be stuck behind fuzzy curtains and compressed dynamics, but with Vernes behind the knobs, Eight Houses is brought to life in ways that are rare and exceptional. And oh, Sharon Van Etten is singing back-up vocals on several tracks.
Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
I’ve always had a soft-spot for Ryan Adams, but to be honest, he hasn’t really released anything of dignity since Jacksonville City Nights. His later-day albums Ashes & Fire, Easy Tiger even Cardinology served their purpose by being my guilty pleasures; background music I’ve put on when cooking a stew on Sunday afternoons, or when trying to introduce “country” to people with no extensive knowledge of music beyond commercial FM waves. What I’m trying to say is that I kind of like the guy; like a sympathetic team you cheer on even though you know they won’t stand a chance of winning anything. But while I’ve continued to listen, I’ve stopped getting excited for new Adams releases ages ago. Also now, despite his new record being a self-titled release, which often indicates content that best represents an artist’s career spanning aims, I didn’t care much prior to its release. But I should have.
I have no intention of reviewing this album; there are already a few decent reviews that capture what seems like the most exciting turning-point in Adam’s career in a long time. The Ryan Adams heard on this record is not the alt-country troubadour of Heartbreaker, nor the whiskey-stained ‘Nashvillian’ of Jacksonville City Nights, and certainly not the “I wanna be a rock-star” train-wreck on Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell. This is not a retreat to any clear former versions of himself (even if Gold feels like the starting point). Despite this, and for a lack of better way of putting it; this is Ryan Adams being the most Ryan Adams he has ever been. I believe it’s time to start paying attention to him again.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
For those of you unfamiliar with Hiss Golden Messenger (a.k.a the largely solo project of MC Taylor, together with longtime collaborator Scott Hirsch), Lateness of Dancers is, as far as I know, his fifth full-length; all almost equally brilliant, although very different inside of a broader definition of tradition American singer-songwriting and folk-rock in general. Bob Dylan is an obvious reference, mostly due to Taylor’s often nasal, dragging vocals. Allman Brothers are another. But there are about a dozen more names you could easily namedrop as a reference, and you still wouldn’t accurately pinpoint the many delicate nuances of Lateness of Dancers or Taylor’s lack of desire to firmly stick to tradition.
Musically speaking, Lateness is in my view HGM’s most diverse and strongest, even most cordial, release so far. Perhaps some would argue that it’s HGM’s most commercially accessible, which a newly signed record deal with Merge should indicate. But I don’t care what you think, being commercial doesn’t automatically juxtapose being artistic. However, Pitchfork accurately pointed out that Lateness is in-fact “a much less private record”, especially compared to Bad Debt, a near-masterpiece originally recorded in 2010 that saw most of its physical copies destroyed when the distributor’s warehouse was burned during the London riots. That record finally got an official release earlier this year, which also served as the entry point for many to Taylor’s music (due to raving reviews). In the timespan since Taylor originally recorded Bad Dept at home, HGM evolved into more or less a full band (even if Taylor remains the sole songwriter) and adopted lush expansive studio flourishes, to the point where this album has virtually nothing in common with Bad Dept. Point being, Lateness should be viewed as a natural progression from last year’s Haw, but ampler in orchestration, wider in scope and stronger in every aspect. As one review pointed out, there is a nagging sense that HGM’s masterpiece is yet to arrive, but on Lateness of Dancers, Taylor comes closer than ever before.