Fresh sounds from the indie rock world abound this week as we delve into new releases from Austin-based bands Spoon and Okkervil River, Jon Spencer’s latest side project Heavy Trash, and the latest from Down Under popsters The Go-Betweens.
Merge Records MRG265
Austin, Texas-based band Spoon checks in with its new release Gimme Fiction. Founded in 1994 by vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, Spoon parlayed its spot as underground art rock darlings into a flirt with the big time in 1998 and the very fine album A Series Of Sneaks which saw release on Elektra Records. The big label deal was short-lived as the band’s next album, Girls Can Tell released in 2000, found them back in the indie label corral with Carolina-based Merge Records. That record presented a band that was clearly hitting its creative stride with its inventive approach to rock. The 2002 follow-up Kill The Moonlight solidified the rep even further while at the same time doubling as the band’s commercial breakthrough album. In other words, Austin’s little secret was no more and Spoon found themselves with fans all over the place. Comparatively speaking, the new Gimme Fiction is the band’s most adventurous work to date. How it sits with fans will be interesting to see, but from what these ears hear, there’s nothing not to like about this new one. On it, the looks are many as it finds Spoon branching into everything from dance-beat pop (the appropriately titled “The Dance Pet” not to mention the goofy good fun of “I Turn My Camera On” which has an almost Prince thing going for it) to flap-happy rockers (the riffy rock exuberance of “Sister Jack”) to jaunty acoustic strummers (“I Summon You” and the ultra cool strands of “The Delicate Place”). Try not getting sucked in by track one alone, a languorous, Lennon-esque hunk of pop called “The Beast and Dragon, Adored”. That is followed by the equally catchy “Two Sides/Monsieur Valentine” chock full of big grooves and on which Daniels again sounds like the second coming of Lennon. He gets back into his own thing on the segueing number “My Mathematical Mind” which combines clever wordplay with a melody chock full of choppy strings and piano. Sure there’s a commercial sheen to much of Gimme Fiction, but the creativity runs amok approach to music making makes for sounds that are plenty appealing to the ears. Recommended. (Merge Records, P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, or www.mergerecords.com)
Spoon appears at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on Tuesday, June 7. The Paradise is located at 967-969 Commonwealth Avenue. Call 617-562-8800.
Black Sheep Boy
Jagjaguwar Records JAG80
Classify the fourth and latest longplayer from Austin-based Okkervil River called Black Sheep Boy the band’s most ambitious work to date. And if critical praise from esteemed rags from the New York Times to Rolling Stone, not to mention a cover story in its home town alternative weekly The Austin Chronicle, are any indication, Okkervil River just may be at the cusp of next big thing status. Whereas previous albums saw the band creating a gothic brand of creaky country noir with occasional climactic bursts of power, Black Sheep Boy finds the band boiling up a melange of sounds spanning mandolin to pump organ to lap steel to Wurlitzer to strings to horns to such out-of-character elements as children’s keyboards, digitally-manipulated field recordings, and distorted guitar. Taking its name from an obscure Russian story, at the heart of Okkervil River is the songwriting and uneasy tenor voice of band founder and leader Will Sheff. A talented lyricist in his own right, the lift-off point for Black Sheep Boy is the all-of-one-minute title song written by the late folk icon Tim Hardin. In an off-handed way, it provides the title character set-up for this sweeping suite of songs from Sheff touching everything from murder to revenge to retaliation and where candidness is in full bloom. Hosting a local weekly radio music program, when Black Sheep Boy first arrived in the mail I attempted to pick and choose single songs for airplay before ever taking in the whole enchilada in a single sitting. When I finally did experience the album in its sequenced order from first track to final, I quickly realized the “singles” approach is exactly not the way to experience Black Sheep Boy. Sheff has strung together the kind of dark, literate songs that have you contemplating them well after the record has stopped spinning. Both poetic in their make-up and cinematic in their power, they along with the adventurous instrumentation make for an evocative brew and an album in Black Sheep Boy which grows in leaps and bounds with each listen. On a local note with respect to Black Sheep Boy, the artwork adorning the CD booklet and tray card was all done by Providence artist and longtime Okkervil River collaborator William Schaff. (Jagjaguwar Records, 1499 West Second Street, Bloomington, IN 47403, or www.jagjaguwar.com)
Yep Roc Records YEP-2077
Yep Roc Records YEP-2105
A couple of recent releases from North Carolina indie Yep Roc Records rounds things out this week.
Newcomer band Heavy Trash is the duo of Jon Spencer of Blues Explosion fame and Matt Verta-Ray late of Speedball Baby. Along with a cast of likeminded cronies, cool sounds abound on the self-titled debut from this duo. A, loose affair, Heavy Trash is an album that has all the sound and feel of a raucous, freewheeling back room jam session where the spirits are flowing freely. Wads of killer riffs and big beats fill the 13 bad-ass tracks, all originals. As no frills of a recording as they come, it is an album that pushes the blues envelope as much as the rockabilly and punk ones while at the same time steering way clear of cow-towing to the mainstream. And that’s always a good thing.
At the opposite end of the of spectrum is the clean sounds found on Oceans Apart from Aussie pop vets The Go-Betweens. An on again, off again outfit begun back in 1978, Oceans Apart is only the third release from The Go-Betweens since founders Grant McLennan and Robert Forster reunited in 2000 after an 11-year split. A consistently great sounding record, Oceans Apart is arguably The Go-Betweens finest hour since reuniting. A big heads up to fans of the band that the initial pressing of Oceans Apart also includes a limited edition bonus disc containing half a dozen Go-Betweens classics recorded just a year ago at the Barbican Concert Hall in London. In other words, get this one while its hot. (Yep Roc Records, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, or www.yeproc.com)
Heavy Trash appears at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge on Tuesday, June 14. TT’s is located at 10 Brookline Street. Call (617) 492-BEAR for information.
We continue our look at summertime music festivals in the Northeast with one happening right in our own South County backyard, that being the eight annual Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret Music-Dance-Food Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown on Labor Day Weekend, September 2 – 4. Tickets for the event went on sale last Friday and are at a reduced price if you purchase before August 15. The lineup mixes plenty of familiar names with a worthy collection of newcomers to the Ninigret stage. Leading the way is Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys who once again are the host band for the weekend. Also on tap to perform are Keb’ Mo’, Little Feat, Marcia Ball, La Bottine Souriante, Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie, Donna The Buffalo, Sonny Landreth, Slaid Cleaves, Leroy Thomas & The Zydeco Roadrunners, Asylum Street Spankers, Paul Cebar & The Milwaukeeans, Reckless Kelly, Creole Cowboys, April Verch, The Wilders, Magnolia, the trio of Poullard, Watson & Adams, and River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs. The festival features a main stage, family stage, workshop stage, and two dance pavilions (one of which is located in the main stage area), not to mention plenty of tempting regional and ethnic cuisine. New items on the activity menu this year include a daily one-hour dance classes for kids, the first ever Rhythm & Roots Film Festival, and something the organizers are calling The Cajun Fiddle Academy for Kids taught by Michelle Kaminsky of the band Magnolia. For tickets or general information, call 888-855-6940 or visit the festival web site at www.rhythmandroots.com.