Roundup: Tim Lee 3, Lord Huron, The Good Ones

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messy desk

Hello, everyone! I’m a little late in getting around to these, but it’s been a hectic few months. I decided to drop a final installment to clear the desk of the last of the worthwhile releases that had been patiently awaiting coverage of some kind. Of particular note is the Tim Lee 3 record, Raucous Americanus. Tim is a genuine underground musical legend. He’s a walking, talking, singing, playing embodiment of modern musical history, and a damn fine-ass songwriter to boot. Check out anything he’s ever done and I’m confident you won’t be disappointed. So, without further adieu…

Beans, End It All (anticon) A “digital collection” of tracks that features a bunch of different producers giving us their take on the new, deconstructed hip-hop, and the varied results are rather mixed. The opener “Superstar Destroyer” is clumsy, clipped rhyming that’s not atypical in this setting, but it starts things off on a shaky foundation. The next track, “Deathsweater,” offers a smoother flow. “Gluetraps,” produced by Four Tet, provides a glimpse into other musical possibilities, but it ends way too soon, clocking in before the pay-off at 1:23. “Electric Eliminator,” produced by members of Tortoise, sports the old skool, talky style. And Sam Fog (i.e., Sam Fogarino) of Interpol produced the wickety whack “Electric Bitch,” which states a case for more of the same, but we get nothing of the kind the rest of the way. This could have been a real mind-fuck, but it’s nothing more than a passable sound effects sampler.

Copal, Into The Shadow Garden (Self-released) This globally-minded five-piece is the creation of Hannah Thiem, composer, vocalist and violinist. She’s played with Kanye West and opened for the Rolling Stones. She also produced this album, and she explains the genesis of it: “This project is deeply personal – a merging of textures, sounds, ideas, melodies and the internal landscape of my thoughts and dreams.” They journey from a mystical garden in the Middle East across Europe to the shores of the North Atlantic all in one pass. The eight-minute and forty-four second long opening song, “Roots,” sets the tone. Emotive violin parts are the bait for several songs that take a few minutes to build towards somber beauty. There’s a slowly seductive quality brought to life by the cellos of Isabel Castellvi and Robin Ryczek. Of particular interest is the Gaelic jazz of “Ceutara.” Thiem’s vocals are an extension of the overall approach. Every song is a conglomeration, and she has the ability to disappear into the tune as she does when singing in German on “Ether.” Available via CD Baby and Bandcamp.

Tim Lee 3, Raucous Americanus (Cool Dog Sound) Man, oh, man, ya gotta love Tim Lee. He’s a national musical treasure. He helped to give birth to the jangle-rock revolution when he co-founded the quasi-legendary Windbreakers with Bobby Sutliff, and they became seminal, albeit brief, college radio staples alongside R.E.M. and the like. Their recordings stand as timeless, shiny gems chock full of soulful, southern white dude rock, and always with some amazing 60s pop-flavored hooks. Their music had no precedent and was impossible to describe to people not in the know at that time. To think that Tim Lee is still at it is an inspiration to those of us old enough to have seen his musical arc. This 2-disc package traces the common law marriage that went down between the jangly contingent and American roots music, to form alt-country. Joined by wife and co-songwriter Susan on bass, vocals and piano and Matt Honkonen on drums, they offer up 21 songs, half of which are flat out great examples of a healthy mutating of roots rock with an indie attitude and a proper sense of twang. There’s also a psych-blues strain running through a lot of this stuff. The guitar work on “What I Have Not Got” is great and the blaze of “Long Way To The Ground” is aces, as well. Mitch Easter recorded seven of the tracks and plays guitar, drums and synth. Several of these songs will join hands with Lee’s best work: the tastefully humble “Bigger,” “Kerosene/Matches,” “Hit The Ground,” “Anywhere That’s Not Here.” The down to earth, no bullshit reality of Tim’s musical life is summed up with a line that appears inside the CD cover: “Playing around on the pulled-pork circuit… burning up miles, making racket and eating barbeque…” Sounds strangely like the life of a lot of American bluesmen after the brief glimmer of celebrity had gone away.

The Good Ones, Kigali Y’ Ihazabu (Dead Oceans) The Good Ones are Jeanvier Havugimana, Stany Hitimana and Adrien Kazigira, and Kigali Y’ Ihazabu was recorded on “Margot’s back porch” on the night of Wednesday, July 15, 2009 in Kigali, Rwanda. How, exactly, this album came to be starts with producer Ian Brennan who happened upon The Good Ones while traveling through Rwanda. The story goes that when he met them they had nothing but an acoustic guitar that didn’t even have all of its strings, but they had some good songs. They borrowed another guitar and did a live set, stripped bare in the finest tradition of spontaneous, impromptu backyard, campfire recordings, and it absolutely has that you-are-there presence. Brennan refers to these as field recordings. The Good Ones sing in the traditional Kinyarwanda dialect and despite the language barrier the subtext comes through just as if it was being carried by a Mississippi Delta blues song. The opening track, “Sara,” is immediately appealing, with a plucked acoustic guitar and multi-part lead vocal, with an earthy melody marked by a singular plaintive quality. The acoustic guitars and three-part harmonies are as universal as anything in music, but, having said that, it’s hard to discern just how much the Westernization of African music has dampened our ability to hear the real depth in these songs. The lilting melody lines belie the painful underpinnings of a place where death was so commonplace when these men were in their youth. Great art is often born out of intense pain, and the emotion in these songs represents a catharsis, and a peacefulness worth sharing with the world, but the sadness in the space between is heavy and hard to get out from under. You may need to go hug someone you love after listening to these songs. A portion of the proceeds from the record are going to several Rwanda-focused charities.

Also worth mentioning:

Lord Huron, Mighty EP (Self-released) Chris Robbins already reviewed this record for Impose, but since their publicist was kind enough to hook me up I figured I should make mention of it as well. Lord Huron is a “nom de musica” for 27-year old Ben Schneider, a Los Angeles by way of Michigan multi-media artist who has a penchant for stepping out of bounds. This is EP number two this year for LH, following the release of Into The Sun. The first impressions of it are chilly, distant, queasy, and those are its more attractive points, but then more is revealed and the spider web-like wonder of these compositions emerges. Several writers have pointed to a unique, post-modern Afro-Caribbean or Calypso tendency. Pitchfork called it a “bloggy bedroom product” and “a stylistic superball.” All the songs have multiple layers beneath the immediate surface. For example, “The Stranger” trickles in a little apprehensively before becoming a full-blown Miracle Legion-flavored experiment. All in all, this material bodes well for the future of Lord Huron. If he can push the lines even further away he’ll be standing on ground that is completely his own. That’s all I got for now… Until next time… AMH