Distortion by Magnetic Fields

Mail & Guardian reviewer Lloyd Gedye listens to new music releases

The Magnetic Fields
Distortion (Gallo)

The Magnetic Fields’s chief songwriter, Stephin Merritt, waxed lyrical about his love for the Jesus & Mary Chain’s debut album, Psychocandy, in promotional interviews for the album. Merritt talked up the joys of distortion-dripping pop, which is exactly what you can expect from his latest album. Distortion is typical Magnetic Fields fare; theatrically camp pop tunes heavily influenced by the likes of 1960s surf-rock and girl groups. But this time they are drenched in skuzzy, wall-of-sound fuzz rock. Although the noise element is a little disconcerting at first, time spent listening to this album will reveal its true greatness. Please Stop Dancing, The Nun’s Litany and Too Drunk to Dream are among the finest songs Merritt has written, and Distortion is his best outing since the 1999 epic 69 Love Songs.

My Morning Jacket
Evil Urges (Just)

Jim James is determined to push through sonic boundaries, even if it means leaving his fans kicking and screaming in his dust. My Morning Jacket’s new album, Evil Urges, is proof of this. Opening with the bizarre Prince-esque title track, it is clear that James and crew are heading in a weird new direction, one that will leave the fans of their early Americana-tinged albums distraught. But should we really be surprised? The band’s last album, Z, hinted at some of these developments and the fact that the reissues of their early out-takes included a number of questionable covers by artists such as Berlin, Pet Shop Boys, Elton John and Erykah Badu provided a clue to James’s pop-loving sensibilities. So though Evil Urges might see James embracing a “poppier” sound that references Prince, The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac, you can’t claim that you weren’t warned. While I might be one of the fans that refuses to go with James on this journey, but his single-mindedness to push things is something to applaud.

Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities
Lucas (Kurse)

For the adventurous listener, Matt Mehlan’s project Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities offers a wealth of sci-fi blips, fuzzy bleeps, horn stabs, jazzy percussion, throbbing bass and handclaps. Imagine Talking Heads and Brian Eno circa 1978 to 1981 effortlessly blended with a dash of John Coltrane’s experimental jazz freak-outs and touches of velvety Prince, reinterpreted for the electro-funk audience of tomorrow. This is definitely music that is way ahead of its time. Layer upon layer of sonic groove, which combine to create a cacophony of frenetic dance music. Stand-out track has to be Hay W’Happns?, a monster that will have you swaying around the room and stomping your feet in fits of glee.

The Breeders
Mountain Battles (Just)

To say The Breeders’s first album in six years was eagerly awaited might be an understatement, but to say that it is the best thing they’ve done since 1990’s Pod is not. Before everyone gets antsy defending the virtues of 1993’s Last Splash, which contained the single Cannonball, I believe Mountain Battles pips that album to the post consistently across all tracks. Maybe what nudges Mountain Battles to the lead is that The Breeders have recorded a great album 15 years after their prime. Bang on and We’re Gonna Rise are among the band’s best recorded songs and the great diversity offered across the whole of this album makes it an absolute winner. As the old sporting cliché goes, form is temporary, class is permanent.

Disco Not Disco: Post Punk, Electro & Leftfield Disco Classics
Various artists (Kurse)

This compilation is about five years too late, considering that the disco-punk revival was all the rage back then. But while this might curtail sales figures, it is no reason to dismiss the album. Disco Not Disco is a treasure trove of interesting Eighties new wave and post-punk underground dance anthems that would have had club dance floors throbbing back then. Opening with Vivien Goldman’s Launderette, followed by Delta 5’s Mind Your Own Business, it becomes clear where electroclash darlings such as Chicks on Speed and Ladytron got their inspiration, while Konk’s Your Life is reminiscent of Devo and Talking Heads. A great album for a Saturday night.

Four Tet
Ringer EP (EMI)

Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden, has been a busy boy. Keen to dismantle the folktronica labels that greeted his album Pause, Hebden has been remixing the likes of Björk, Radiohead, Battles, Madvillian and Beth Orton. He has also produced the album Fire Escape for Massachusetts psychedelic outfit Sunburned Hand of the Man, as well as collaborating with American jazz drummer Steve Reid on his album Daxaar. His new EP, Ringer, sees Hebden heading in a more techno-based direction, which would normally have me heading for the door, but the hypnotic grooves on Ringer really sucked me in and won me over, as did the sci-fi blips of Ribbons and the ambient krautrock-infused beauty of Swimmer. This is 30 minutes of some of the best electronica you will hear this year.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (EMI)

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have followed up their magnificent work on the score to 2005’s Australian western The Proposition with a beautifully paced score to this tale of American outlaw Jesse James. Once again Ellis’s violin takes centre stage, but this time Cave offers no vocals, instead contributing some of his finest piano work to date. The film’s slow-moving nature and its focus on the landscape as much as the characters have allowed Cave and Ellis to craft a melancholic body of music that intrinsically carries the story forward.

Although the score works as an album on its own, a moody one at that, when viewed in tandem with the snow-capped landscapes that dominate this eccentric western it comes to life in a truly spectacular way. Whether it be in the latest Bad Seeds album, their Grinderman project or their film score work, it is clear that Cave and Ellis have an incredible musical understanding, which allows them to push each other in unexpected and rewarding directions. A must-have for any serious music fan.

Jonny Greenwood
There Will be Blood (Gallo)

Radiohead’s guitar virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has a penchant for classical composition, which was more than likely sparked by his teenage love of French composer Olivier Messiaen and Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. His first solo album in 2003 was the score for Simon Pummell’s film Bodysong, and in 2004 he was hired by the BBC as its composer in residence, where he composed three works, one of which, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, fed into this his latest, offering the score to PT Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood. It was the fact that this score incorporated parts of Popcorn Superhet Receiver that led to it being disqualified from the running to win an Oscar, after being widely touted as the favourite.

On the whole Greenwood delivers a moody score dripping in loneliness, that perfectly accompanies the tale of oil prospectors in California. His use of dissonant string arrangements, especially in the piece Henry Plainview, is breathtaking and proof that although he is the guitarist in one of the world’s most successful rock bands Greenwood has a promising career as a composer ahead of him.

Flight of the Conchords
Flight of the Conchords (MIA)

First it was the television series and now the debut album. For those unfamiliar with New Zealand’s fourth-most-popular guitar-based digi-bongo a-cappella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo, where have you been? Flight of the Conchords are comedians Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, whose HBO television series documenting the exploits of the band’s attempts to make it in New York City has become a cult classic. The TV show punts itself as a musical shot using the fly-on-the-wall documentary style of shows such as The Office and is truly one of the funniest around.

This debut album features songs from series one. By taking them out of the context of the television show you realise how talented Clement and McKenzie are as musicians and satirists. Their MC alter-egos Hipho­popotamus and Rhymenoceros are priceless; “My rhymes and records they don’t get played/ because my records and rhymes they don’t get made/ and if you rap like me you won’t get paid/ and if you roll like me you won’t get laid.” The album’s highlight has to go to A Kiss Is Not a Contract: “Just because you’ve been exploring my mouth/ doesn’t mean you get to take an expedition further south.” Check it out and make sure you get your hands on the DVD at your nearest rental store.

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