The Weekly Jive

Posted January 15, 2009 in Music

Volcano Suns—The Bright Orange Years/All Night Lotus Party (Merge)

If Boston cult-favorites Mission of Burma were overlooked in the ’80s, then here’s what it was like living in their modest shadow: despite seven LPs on three of the best labels in America—Homestead, Touch & Go, and SST—Peter Prescott’s Volcano Suns didn’t even manage the minor splash that accompanied Burma (where Prescott had also toiled in obscurity). But in reissuing their first two records (’85, ’86), Merge has made a statement: this band also deserves the revival treatment. Their debut is a wall-to-wall primer on American post-punk: Hüsker Dü speed runs (“Descent into Hell”), Burma bass-aggro (“Jak”), The Feelies’ intertwined guitar lines (“Balancing Act”), and chip-on-the-shoulder lyrics—albeit here with more snark and spleen than most. If anything, that encyclopedic approach worked against Volcano Suns, since they didn’t fit neatly into any one category. That trend continued with All Night Lotus Party, a lyrically darker record that adds Minutemen time-sig shifts (“Engines”), sludgy slo-core (“Sounds Like Bucks”), and X twang (“Four Letters”) to the quiver. For connoisseurs of ’80s college rock, these reissues—which include rare 7-inches, unreleased tracks and live cuts—are a reminder of what a fertile sonic Petri dish the American underground really was. (John Schacht)


The Black Ghosts—The Black Ghosts (Universal Republic) 

A few months back, the soundtrack to vampire flick Twilight entered the Billboard charts at No. 1 and went platinum. The Black Ghosts’ haunting, exotic song “Full Moon” was among the movie’s coveted music slots. If there’s any justice, success will also rub off on the British duo’s impressive self-titled debut. Former Simian singer Simon Lord and DJ Theo Keating (also known as Touche of The Wiseguys) met via the Internet and began collaborating on electronic music and remixes. Lord’s sleek vocals here recall Roddy Frame of defunct folk/pop band Aztec Camera. The pair has called the album a bunch of “slightly psychotic torch songs.” There’s definitely a tension-filled build-up on trip hop-leaning album opener “Some Way Through This,” thanks to some deft orchestral flourishes (think early Portishead or Mono). The zooming electronica of “Any Way You Choose to Give It” could give the Chemical Brothers a run for the money. Other standouts include “Full Moon,” moody Big Beat-styled “Until it Comes Again” (dig the obscure David Holland sample and Gregorian chants), the hi-NRG intensity on “Face” and slinky “Repetition Kills You,” which sounds like a cross between Zapp and Dandy Warhols, with New Wave synths and laid back guest vocals by Gorillaz/Blur main man Damon Albarn. (George A. Paul)  


Middle States—Happy Fun Party (Effen Records)

“You think you can push me around/but you can’t do that to me/I’m in charge,” Wes Morden declares on “In Charge,” the catchy opener to Middle States’ full-length power pop debut. You know it’s mostly musical defiance, of course, but that’s what gives it power: The Man may in fact push you around all day, but in these two- and three-minutes bursts of Rickenbacker jangle and rapid barre-chord changes, pulsing bass-lines and metronomic drums, embittered narratives and bursts of spastic lead guitar, nobody messes with you. It’s power pop’s aesthetic writ large: Punk-ish release from suburban monotony, minus punk’s menace and anti-melody agenda. Middle States tap a wealth of rock-solid inspiration: the jacked-up Big Star opener, Robert Pollard fronting “Eight Miles High” Byrds on “Winds of Eidertown,” the bilious Graham Parker/Nirvana mash-up “Thought Control,” and the wistful “Tumbleweeds,” which reads like an homage to fellow Twin Cities mainstream-rejects The Replacements. One or two songs may not measure up with the rest, but when Middle States hit all their marks—most notably on the cathartic, cuttin’ loose-at-a-weekend-gig anthem “Friday Night”—the life-blood appeal of power pop is as clear as it was in the hands of its most famous advocates. (John Schacht)




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