“Axes” – The Low Frequency in Stereo
To begin with we get a surf guitar over a crisp beat. Another guitar joins in for a few measures, then leaves. Surf guitar riff re-establishes itself. Next to enter is a Doors-like organ. At this point I for one would not have understood that exactly what was missing was a trumpet but what do you know: the trumpet, appearing at 56 seconds in, is utterly perfect. The whole song, as a matter of fact, seems to unfold with impeccable charm and precision all the way through, as each sonic element—the surf guitar, the organ vamp, the trumpet, and Hanne Andersen’s breathy, somewhat distant vocal, when she finally starts singing (over a minute into the proceedings)—contributes its own distinct ingredient to the musical stew. The band, from Norway, seems to call themselves, interchangeably, Low Frequency in Stereo, and The Low Frequency in Stereo. Not a big distinction but I’m kind of a stickler for details; I’m going with “The” at this point. Reading about them a bit I see that they’ve been tied since their founding in 2000 to the so-called “post-rock” genre, but I personally have trouble with that label, which seems an unnecessary way to distinguish fresh sounding rock music (interesting instrumental combinations and song structures) from previous sounds, overlooking the fact that rock music at its best is always growing and stretching. “Axes” is from the CD The Last Temptation Of…, scheduled for release next week on Gigantic Music. The MP3 is available via the band’s site.
“Fata Morgana” – Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters
A fast-picking bluesy, slidey shuffle with an odd sort of homespun character. Lucas sings of the legendary enchantress with a cartoony sort of croon on top of the almost old-timey music; the combination of the rapid-fire acoustic guitarwork, the old-fashioned melody, and Lucas’s vaguely unhinged presence creates an unexpected blast of merrymaking. Lucas is something of a cult-hero guitarist, with experience ranging all the way back to playing with Captain Beefheart during the last incarnation of his Magic Band in the early ’80s; among the impressive array of musicians he’s collaborated with are Lou Reed, Patti Smith, John Cale, Bryan Ferry, Matthew Sweet, John Zorn, Dr. John, Jeff Buckley, and (yes) Leonard Bernstein. Gods and Monsters is being billed as a sort of New Wave supergroup; certainly its members are of interest, since Billy Ficca (Television) plays drums and Ernie Brooks (the Modern Lovers) bass. What’s more, Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads (and previously also the Modern Lovers) had a hand on the knobs in here (and is playing with the band on the road). And actually Jonathan Kane (Swans) plays drums on most of the songs although Ficca’s here on “Fata Morgana.” The song is from the CD Coming Clean, which was released at the end of September on Mighty Quinn Records.
If “Circles” is as vaguely pastoral, skillfully produced, and giddily melodic as an old XTC song, this is no accident. Peter Block and Caleb Sherman, doing business as Porter Block, are the first to report that their biggest influences are the Beatles and XTC. It’s wonderful enough to see a new band that understands XTC’s brilliant but underrated contributions to rock’n’roll history; it’s all the better when the band in question handles its influences this comfortably. I hear a lot of indie bands that seem to have this unconscious need to sound exactly like their musical heroes, down to out-and-out vocal mimickry. I am relieved right away by Porter Block in that they write XTC-ish songs without having a singer who sounds at all like Andy Partridge (or Colin Moulding, for that matter). In any case, the chorus here in particular offers winsome XTC resonances, both musical and lyrical (including the very Andy Partridge-like word “whirligig”), and if you don’t have any particular knowledge of or interest in XTC (but why not??), it doesn’t matter, as the lilting 3/4 melody stands beautifully on its own two feet. “Circles” is from the CD Suburban Sprawl, scheduled for release next month by Engine Room Recordings. The MP3 is via the band’s site.