Posts Tagged ‘Bella Union’


June 4, 2013

Where to begin with Mark Lanegan’s voice? It’s a melted-down chainsaw. Soft beams of light shooting across a bubbling tar pit. A rusted tractor set ablaze amidst heavy downpour. Rich. Ragged. Ridiculous. It’s also one of the most uniquely expressive voices in American music – arguably similar to that of Tom Waits in its ability to extricate a sumptuously soulful croon from the sound of over-zealous vocal cord scrapings. But unlike the perma-hatted veteran, Lanegan never gives into the gnarl. He’s simply a vessel for sorrows that are resigned to their fate: in other words, the blues.

For all the raw feeling summoned by those rattling pipes, Mark has always worked best in collaboration with others. Sure, he’s made stand-out solo records since making his name as the Screaming Trees’ frontman (Whiskey For The Holy Ghost and Bubblegum representing particular career highlights), but sparks have truly flown when rubbing shoulders with the likes of Isobel Campbell and fellow Gutter Twin Greg Dulli. On Black Pudding he’s enlisted the help of multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood, and the results are often stunning.

The opening title track introduces us to Garwood’s nimble guitar work, which is both delicate and yet subtly powerful, paving the way for the tone of the rest of the album. Basic blues motifs serve as a peg on which to hang his ideas, which make songs feel like meditative explorations of mood rather than linear stories. Nothing is resolved. Instead we find textural experiments like the quick bursts of guitar drone that scorch ‘Mescalito’s arid shuffle, coalescing and gradually evaporating like sunspots in the desert heat.

Then there’s the tumbling, intuitive piano that stumbles dizzily around the drunken lament of ‘Last Rung’, brashly beautiful in its plaintive chaos. In the midst of all this, Lanegan offers thoughtful whispers of lost loves and portents of doom – “Death rides a white horse,” he sombrely intones, “But I ain’t seen him yet.” If that reads like a defiant claim of invulnerability, the song’s fooling no-one. The line is practically shrugged into your speakers, grimly accepting the inevitability of mortality: a spine-tingling moment.

‘Black Pudding’ works best at its most sparse, which is why flute-drenched psych ballad ‘Shade Of The Sun’ is infinitely more arresting than ‘Cold Molly’s loose-limbed, stoned groove. Minor quibbles aside, however, it feels more like the product of two minds in sync than a collection of contrasting ideas thrown at the wall, which tallies up with Lanegan’s admission that Garwood is one of his “all time favourite artists”.

With an over-saturation of pseudo-folkies grabbing acoustics and aiming pointlessly for some intangible sense of ‘authenticity’, it’s easy to feel that there’s an over-saturation of terrible faux-Americana in this day and age. By plunging impassively into their own hearts of darkness, Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood have demonstrated that there’s still plenty of life lurking in the muddy waters of the blues. (7.5/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 17/05/2013)


I Break Horses – Hearts (Bella Union)

August 19, 2011


“I Break Horses”? Good lord. Ever feel like the well of decent band names has run dry? Still, this Stockholm duo’s English is infinitely better than my Swedish, so maybe that’s worth taking into consideration.

Breaking with their country’s long-running indie tradition of ‘twee’ (for want of a better expression) and powerpop, IBH favour an impressive blend of shoegaze and electro-pop, and the results are pretty interesting. In fact they’re somewhere between Julee Cruise, Jenniferever and M83; familiar dense waves of throbbing, textured electronic noise dripping with sadness and reverb. No need to dredge up those horrible ‘sonic cathedral’ cliches (whoops), but this is definitely the sort of thing that’s going to sound utterlyfuckingphenomenal through beerdrunk ears at live shows. At its best it’s utterly beautiful.

Not every track here’s a winner, but there are certainly no out-and-out stinkers. A pretty promising debut, all-in-all.

I sure hope they tour this record.

Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

August 18, 2011

Forest City beardie Jonathan Wilson seems to have quietly built up a decent reputation as a producer and session player, having worked with the likes of Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello and Robbie Robertson. Impressive CV then, and it’s only natural that someone whose natural roles should make music that slots so comfortably into the background. Gentle Spirit isn’t a bad record, by any means – it’s just not especially engaging. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of solid playing (the chiming guitar on Can We Really Party Today? is utterly lovely) and far-more-than-competent musicianship. But that’s not enough.

For a start, Wilson only really has one modus operandi: slow, understated, lengthy folk-rock. Not a problem in itself, but without particularly memorable hooks or dynamic variation, it’s difficult to retain interest from one over-long track to the next.The best moment by far is the pretty (and relatively-brief) Ballad Of The Pines, which conjures up images of Roger McGuinn camping in his back garden whilst declaring himself ‘the outdoor type’.

This record will surely appeal to a certain type of traditionalist muso (the sort who like REAL music played by REAL people with REAL instruments made from REAL trees), but the meandering solos and uninspiring mood are very definitely not WHTB’s bag. Wilson’s hushed voice – like The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean on a particularly reflective rainy day – is certainly bewitching, and there are moments dotted hither and thither that suggest he has a lot more up his sleeve than this album suggests. It’s just a shame he doesn’t demonstrate it fully.

Kitty Empire reviewed this album for The Observer recently, suggesting (not unreasonably) that “calming music attracts scorn”, despite it being a skillful artform in itself. That’s true, but the calmness itself isn’t the reason that this album won’t make it onto your stereo very often. Artists don’t need to be Black Flag to be interesting. The problem, simply, is that not a lot happens over 78 minutes, and what does happen doesn’t feel essential.  A little chutzpah doesn’t go amiss from time to time.