Cass McCombs’ sprawling recent release Big Wheel and Others is the latest in a line of excellent and intriguing albums from the enigmatic singer-songwriter. Boasting 19 songs, Big Wheel also has the distinction of being by far the longest album McCombs released. On Friday, you can catch him at the Empty Bottle. Judging from his recent set lists, McCombs is going back years, drawing from all his albums and usually playing no more than three or four new songs in a night. This intimate setting should be a perfect venue.
One of the best songs on Arcade Fire’s latest album Reflektor is Afterlife, an epic piece of work that has to be on a short list for best tracks of the year. It’s a song that evokes emotion and deserves an equally moving film to go with it. The Spike Jonze-directed video for the YouTube Music Awards early last month didn’t quite do the song justice. But this recently released video produced by the Creators Project and directed by Emily Kai Bock is really stunning. Watch it below.
Bock has made memorable videos for other artists from Grizzly Bear to Grimes to Majical Cloudz. Read an interview with her here.
London producer Jon Hopkins is getting a lot of attention for his latest album Immunity, and the notice is well deserved. Hopkins built his career working with others, notably as Brian Eno’s co-producer for Cold Play’s Viva La Vida. On Immunity, Hopkins actually makes a standout electronic album in a crowded field of decent artists.
Hopkins is the middle act of a lineup including headliner Clark and opener Nathan Fake, all playing Saturday night at Lincoln Hall.
If you’re a fan of Waxahatchee (like me), chances are you’ll like Swearin’, the band led by Allison Crutchfield. Allison is the twin sister of Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. The musical styles of the two projects are not exactly the same (though they’re not radically different, either).
Where Waxahatchee may remind you of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, Swearin’ summons another ’90s icon, the Breeders. Neither of these Crutchfields are knockoffs, but the mid-90s reference points are obvious. Born in 1989, the Crutchfield girls began playing in bands together in their teens in Alabama.
Certainly, Allison Crutchfield and Swearin’ deserve to be more than a footnote to Waxahatchee’s great release this year, Cerulean Salt. Swearin’ made a fine album itself with the recently released Surfing Strange.
Swearin’ plays Township Thursday.
Chicago’s Radar Eyes is about to rerelease its 2012 self-titled album next month on cassette! Check out this video for Side of the Road.
Brooklyn’s Barbez is an avant-garde outfit led by guitarist Dan Kaufman. On Barbez’s latest album, Bella Ciao, Kaufman draws from an ancient Roman Jewish musical style to pay tribute to the resistance movement during the Nazis’ occupation of the Italian capital.
Barbez plays Hideout Saturday night and that should be a very intriguing show.
Nightlands is the project of Philadelphia bedroom musician Dave Hartley, who makes some pretty compelling music on his album Oak Island. You can check him out Sunday night at Township. Hartley is also bassist for the great Philly band the War on Drugs.
Lou Reed, who died Sunday, recorded a Halloween song for his excellent 1989 release New York. Of course, Halloween Parade, wasn’t really a spooky-fun song. Rather, Lou lamented friends and others lost to AIDS.
Read the Village Voice’s 1989 review of New York here.
Here’s a new video from Islands for Wave Forms off the new album Ski Mask.
New York singer Hayley Coupon performs her take of Tame Impala’s Feels Like We Only Go Backwards. And she does it unplugged sitting in an apartment!
Take a look at this new video from Diane Coffee, the solo project of Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming. The song is Green from Fleming’s debut My Friend Fish.
Here’s a new video from Los Angeles band Obliterations for the song Wage Slaves. It’s pretty subtle. So you’ll have to pay close attention.
There’s no shortage of hype around Arcade Fire’s new album Reflektor. The thing is: The hype may be justified. An Album of the Year Grammy winner, The Suburbs was a fine release but Reflektor is far more adventurous and interesting. With the help of producer James Murphy, Reflektor blends Caribbean beats, disco, punk and pop to create a mish-mash of musical styles that actually do form a cohesive album. As a fan of Murphy’s work, I hear the influences throughout and wholeheartedly embrace the production even as a longtime Arcade Fire loyalist. This is a much different sound than the earnestness of Neon Bible.
Early reviews (both derisive and favorable) for Reflektor point to comparisons with the Clash’s Sandinista! That was the first thing that struck me when I heard Flashbulb Eyes followed by Here Comes the Night Time on the first ”disc” (the physical versions are released as a double album). Those two early songs, one dub style followed by a calypso-sounding number, is reminiscent of the multi-genre Clash classic made more than 30 years ago. But I never feel that Arcade Fire is aping the Clash or anyone else on Reflektor. There are so many good songs, from rockers Normal Person and Joan of Arc to the more dancey Afterlife, We Exist and the title track, that there’s a lot to like here.
I was really skeptical about this album given how commercial success has spoiled so many bands. But Arcade Fire delivers a thoroughly enjoyable record.
The music of Lou Reed and his band the Velvet Underground was so far ahead of its time that the extent of influence wasn’t widely acknowledged for more than a decade after the group’s demise. It wasn’t until bands such as R.E.M. and U2 achieved commercial success in the ’80s that the Velvets’ effect and importance to the underground, alternative, indie music scenes was truly appreciated. Reed, who underwent a liver transplant earlier this year, died at age 71, according to multiple media reports.
Reed, of course, pushed on for decades as a solo artist following his band’s breakup in the early 1970s. His solo career was at times brilliant or maddening. But those years with the Velvet Underground were incredible. While the 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, was hailed as groundbreaking, the release was just the beginning. The studio albums White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground and Loaded, and a pair of early live releases also were masterpieces of experimental, raw, gritty, boundary-crossing, hyper-aggressive music. The band is truly one of the most important in the history of rock music and Reed is among a handful of individuals that honestly deserves the label legend.
Here’s a clip from the early ’90s Velvets reunion.
Check out this new video from Beach Fossils for Generational Synthetic.
If you’re going to the Men-Fuzz show at Logan Square Auditorium Friday, go early for openers Purling Hiss and CCR Headcleaner. San Francisco-based CCR brings the heavy, psychedelic and slightly scuzzy muck on the band’s debut Lace the Earth With Arms Wide Open. CCR, the first band, will definitely get the crowd warmed up. The show is presented by Empty Bottle.
Here’s a can’t-miss show: The Men and Fuzz, the latest project from Ty Segall, play Logan Square Auditorium Friday. The Men, which again made one of the best albums of the year, headlines. It should be loud and rocking.
Cass McCombs opens his ambitious new album with (partial) title track Big Wheel set to the tempo of a big ol’ trucker song. “I dig the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” McCombs sings as he starts us on a journey through almost an hour and a half and one of the more intriguing releases this year. Big Wheel and Others is not a concept album and, really, the only unifying aspect about the lengthy record is that it’s a lot of good songs by one of America’s best singer-songwriters. Like most of McCombs’ work, the songs sound personal and from the perspective of an outsider. Country and blues are the most common musical influences running through the record.
Among the many highlights: Morning Star, Joe Murder and Angel Blood. There are far more hits than clunkers on Big Wheel despite its girth.
That’s not to say this is a perfect album. Everything Has to Be Justified is way too long. The jazzy instrumental It Means a Lot to Know You Care doesn’t work for me and seems out of place. When you record 19 songs for a single album, it’s hard for all of them to succeed. And then there are the snippets from Sean, a 1969 short film that features an interview with a 4-year-old boy in San Francisco whose parents are hippies. There are three roughly one-minute sound bites from the movie.
The late actress Karen Black made an appearance on the album, singing Brighter! It’s another highlight of Big Wheel. The song also appears earlier on the album performed by McCombs, but Black truly puts the exclamation point on the song. Black, who died in August of cancer, also appeared on McCombs’ 2009 release Catacombs, singing on Dreams Come True Girl.
Big Wheel closes with Unearthed, a softly delivered country-blues number. Musically, it’s a quiet song and not a particularly strong finish, but, thematically, Unearthed complements the tongue in cheek manliness of the opener, Big Wheel. “I moved seventy-five thousand tons of earth with my teeth.” McCombs, who is notoriously media shy, doesn’t lay out an easy map to read with Big Wheel but that’s part of his mystique.
Last May, Bill Callahan played Garfield Park Conservatory, a unique venue for a Chicago show. On Monday, Callahan is back to support his new album, Dream River, and this time he’s playing another unusual spot, Alhambra Palace west of downtown. It’s an early show and should be a good one. The new album gets better with each listen. Read my initial thoughts on Dream River here.
Radar Brothers is a Los Angeles band that got started in the early ’90s. Reflections is a perky song off the band’s eighth album, appropriately titled Eight, released earlier this year.
Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, has sampled a lot of hip hop songs on his mash-up albums and shows. Now he’s planning a release, an EP called Broken Ankles, with rapper Freeway. More details will be coming later.
Watch a very chaotic video below from a recent New York show.