The Weekly Jive

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Posted September 17, 2008 in Music

oRSo—Ask Your Neighbor (Contraphonic) 

Look before you listen, and the instrumentation on oRSo’s latest—cello, violin, celeste, clarinet, trumpet, alto-sax, vibes, euphonium, etc.—anticipates lush chamber pop textures, maybe even the occasional throaty crescendo to rock out to. But the songs of ex-Rex member Phil Spirito, the oRSo braintrust, tap into far more esoteric founts: old school Appalachia, experimental jazz, La Monte Young drone, small ensemble classical. Remember: Spirito’s old slo-core band joined Red Red Meat (Califone’s precursor) for 1996’s Loftus, a self-titled one-off whose mix of studio chicanery, odd percussion bits and organic instrumentation anticipated the whole New Weird Americana thing and still reflects both bands’ guiding aesthetic. Here, fiddle scratches and subtle studio buzz, muted winds and horns, shakers and glockenspiel, plucked double-bass and marching snares blend with Spirito’s (mostly) charmingly off-key vocals in languid processionals that unfurl in hypnotic, near-drone patterns. These are built from the ground up on tenor guitar or banjo (or both), but Spirito and company (including the members of Califone) handle arrangements and accents with such deft touch it’s like drifting from one memorable conversation to the next, and easy to overlook just how radically this music’s DNA has been re-arranged. (John Schacht)


Cold War Kids—Loyalty to Loyalty (Downtown) 

A few years back, the music blogosphere was all abuzz about Long Beach-based indie rock band Cold War Kids. They built a steady following during a Silverlake Lounge residency and put out some well-regarded EPs. The 2006 full-length debut Robbers & Cowards was captivating—it sported a ramshackle style akin to the Walkmen (frontman Nathan Willett’s strangled vocals were reminiscent of the latter’s Hamilton Leithauser), peppered with Tom Waits’ fractured theatricality, White Stripes’ bluesiness and Velvet Underground-style darkness. Willett—a former high school English teacher—sang bleak, literary-minded lyrics about alcoholic fathers, church thieves and terminal hospital patients. Matt Aveiro provided unobtrusive percussion and added to the unrefined studio allure by rattling old pipes, bottles and pouncing on floorboards. On Loyalty to Loyalty, the group avoids the sophomore slump with another tense collection that’d be perfect background for a seedy, smoke-filled bar at 1AM. Several songs are the aural equivalent of film noir, thanks to fine echoey guitar work from Jonathan Russell. The jazzy “Against Privacy” takes gossipmongers to task, Willett’s rickety piano work drives the Spoon-ish crazy grandmother tale “Every Valley is Not a Lake” and “Something is Not Right with Me” is a paranoid stomper. Then there’s “Relief,” where Willett breaks out a rarely employed falsetto alongside Matt Maust’s thick bass groove for a cool change of pace. Not quite the same racket as before, but still enthralling. (George A. Paul)


Mogwai—The Hawk Is Howling (Matador)

The Scots’ sixth full-length is more of the same: brooding sections of minor-key melodies that play out as ominous soundtracks (“Local Authority”); epic transitions from kindling into full-crescendo conflagration (“I Love You, I’m Going to Blow”); and metal-inspired maelstroms of stomp-box mayhem and sonic apocalypse (“Batcat”). This is the Mogwai way: create (or reflect) a cold, uncaring universe, then spit in its face with anguished howls of rage and grief, resulting in epilogues of post-traumatic spiritual calm. What makes it transcend (1996 debut Young Team) or fall flat (06’s Mr. Beast) is harder to discern—though Beast’s brevity didn’t suit them—as their re-energized latest suggests. Here, as on the jaunty “The Sun Smells Too Loud,” Mogwai sounds fully engaged again: catchy rhythms, fat-bass rumble, synth-and-organ primer coats for a galloping guitar riff whose edges are smeared with fuzz; “Kings Meadow,” like crossing hallowed ground, subtle backward loops and synth whirrs the forest-green to the guitar lines’ hazy sunlight; the gentle vibes and Rhodes of “Thank You Space Expert” expanding into an acid-epiphany of universal oneness, like seeing a supernova blow. Post-rock is, we’re told ad nauseum, played out; Mogwai says “horseshit,” and does so magnificently here. (John Schacht)




 


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