Anenon, Inner Hue (Non Projects)
Brian Allen Simon is Anenon, and to call what he’s doing “stripped down” is an extreme understatement. It’s soul-suckingly minimalist and (often) horribly sad; moaning and wallowing its way through a black hole of disembodied keyboard tones that vibrate like deep memories in outer space. It’s weirdly hypnotic and cryptic, as tracks like “Eight Four” and “This Is What I Meant” present creepy, cold and black waves and washes of sound that flit around the room like ghosts. There’s an aspect of this that also makes me think of a lot of the somber experimental bands that grew out of the early 90s indie rock world. Parts of this recording may dredge up tears you didn’t even know you still had inside you. Also available on LP.
Johnny Bertram and the Golden Bicycles, Neon City (Esperanza Plantation)
This is Johnny Bertram’s second album, after having moved back to the Pacific Northwest following five years in Mississippi. I haven’t heard the first album, but, according to reports, he’s fleshing out from the sparse acoustic sound of his debut. They recorded nineteen songs in Jackson, MS, and then Bertram re-worked the tracks in a makeshift studio in his childhood home in Boise, ID. The press kit says “He pulled a Fender Rhodes out of storage…” and he added other instruments and laid down vocals, and he kept the songs that best fit the project. The title track is excellent; a flawless offering and hands down the best song on the album, but several other songs make a noteworthy showing in the arena of mildly countrified, post-Americana roots rock. “Wave,” for example, is good, but it illustrates the dilemma they find themselves in. While there are some lingering moments of moodiness and melody that bend the sound the whole affair is decidedly straightforward. For the most part, musically speaking, over the course of an album there is nothing to separate this band from so many other similar bands. In the final analysis it’s always about the songs. Can a band write better/more imaginative/more artful songs than their counterparts? More songs like “Neon City” will propel JB to the next level.
It’s A Musical, For Years And Years (Morr)
Sly, laconic and deceptively catchy, this is one of the most surprising albums of the year so far. The title track by this mysterious male/female duo builds from a cute keyboard riff to an insistent rhythm and opens the floodgates as one super-cool song after another come tumbling out. Comparisons to the Eurythmics and Everything But The Girl are being bandied about, probably due in large measure to the fact that they are a male/female duo, but as jumping off points go those two bands are only peripheral to all the other delicious bits these two bring to the picnic. The songs mostly center on a simple keyboard riff, and on every track they come up with an inviting melody that sticks to your cranium on the first try. And they never seem to run out of melodic ideas or fresh sounds. The vocals of singer Bobby Blumm (Ella Blixt) are damn near note-perfect; ingratiating but slightly aloof in tone. Like her pal Peaches, she’s not lacking in musical confidence, but her presentation is much more tempered and controlled. Her partner, Robert Kretzschmar, must be her musical soulmate because every move they make hits the mark. “As Soon As I” is loopy Sea & Cake-type post-modern pop, but it goes way beyond what a one-sentence description can convey once it takes over. “The Nap” is jittery and unsettled post- new wave that sounds like no other band right now. And despite the limited instrumentation, “Pictures” has a warm, organic quality; and “Ljubljana” is fabulously lounge-y and morose all at once. This is some exceptional quirky indie pop, the best I’ve heard in a long time. It will most definitely be among the best albums of the year.
Rusko, Songs (Downtown/Mad Decent)
British producer/DJ Christopher Mercer’s second album opens with “Intro,” a brief diatribe declaring “what music is about.” The answer: building on a foundation of what came before. That is an intriguing entrée given the reaction against the “dubstep” scene that swirls around these days. This stuff does draw on previously revealed texts and sub-texts, but it doesn’t ever settle in one place for very long. I’m not sure what my 20-something raver friends would think of this, but some of it isn’t bad at all. “Somebody To Love” supplies creamy vocals by Nomvula Malinga (Vula) layered over pulsating rhythms, with a speeding up and slowing down of the “tape” for full queasy effect. “Pressure” also shows off a decent vocal turn by Dirty Rodio, with handclap percussion driving a sleek hook that works around a bed of synthesizer noise that percolates upward every so often. I would imagine that song will see some club action this summer. Danielle Wells’ vocals on the clever “Asda Car Park” are also worth mentioning. The dub/ska-flavored “Skanker,” however, relies too much on gimmicky, bubbly vocal effects. Some of the keyboards are too obtrusive as well, like on the squeaky squawk of “Opium.” And while I don’t care for the vocals of Oje Olliverre and Michael Dunn on “Be Free,” or the choppy staccato of “Whistlecrew,” the ravers could do a lot worse than this if they happen to stumble into a dance party somewhere in Riverwest.
Siddhartha, If It Die (Self-released)
Marlon Hauser is a borderline musical genius. I say borderline because I don’t want to saddle the guy with that far-too-frequently used epithet in a way that might backfire on him. That notwithstanding, he is an inspired and fucked-up post-modern songwriter who occupies some kind of niche all his own and reps a certain kind of avant-garde post-everything rock that is so mind-blowingly creative it’s impossible to corner it and label it. It just keeps moving and every time you think you have it pinned down it slithers away. Some people are using the phrase “dashiki shoegaze” to describe it, but that is so dumb it’s ridiculous, so I won’t go there. Hauser met his band mates in ‘09 while “wandering the streets of San Francisco, in the middle of a permanent existential crisis.” They evidently developed some kind of instant musical symbiosis with one another because this stuff is the shit, and this album stands out as one of the most outrageously entertaining records of 2012 up to this point. “Diamond Dust” is excellent weird new rawk. “Her Useful Dream” is slow and creepy, with a handclap/footstomp over a zither. “I Who Can Recall Past Lives” revs up the guitars and deconstructs some rock tropes. “Blood Laughter Kisses” just lets the guitars wail, and “Is Not What I Used To Be” is just a synth/organ part with vocals, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t absolutely nail itself to the wall. There have been comparisons to Arthur Lee and Love swirling around this guy, already, and that may be a reach musically, but as an artistic compliment it’s not an overstatement. Marlon Hauser is a radical visionary and there is something very special in the braveness and boldness of this record. Drive on, soldier, drive on.