Reviews: And So I Watch From Afar and 3:33

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And So I Watch You From Afar, Gangs (Sargent House)

It’s a safe assumption going in that this is some kind of “anti-concept” album. The second full-length from ASIWYFA presents its songs in a thoroughly confusing manner, in part due to the band dumping 22 songs written over the course of a year following the first album. They proceeded to record Gangs in two months with new material- talk about heading from one extreme to another. At eight songs, it’s sub divided into two parts, with the first five listed together and the last three separated under the unusual heading “Homes: Ghost Parlor KA-6 to Samara to Belfast.” Big, loud, not unfriendly guitars come bounding in on the shoulders of “BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION,” and we’re off to a promising start. Once they hit their stride they’re moving from post-rock-isms to math rock before you can say, “New Jersey turnpike.” From jaunty to frantic and all points in between, from the sticky, blistery “Search: Party: Animal” to the more thoughtful and consequential “7 Billion People all Alive at Once.” There’s a load of Hum/ Smashing Pumpkins-era distorted guitar splooge, and it’s a pleasure to hear such shenanigans again. They end it all on a high note with the very strong “Lifeproof,” and they encompass so much of the musical landscape at times I would venture to call it “jam band math-rock.” You could even turn your Primus, Phish and Widespread Panic friends on to it. Well, okay, maybe not your Widespread Panic friends.

Black Pussy, On Blonde (Made In China)

Right from the outset you get of some sense of what’s in store from Black Pussy with the psychedelic cover art and the boss car graphic. And in a possible shout-out to Monster Magnet’s debut, Spine Of God, the very first thing you hear on this 6-song EP is a lengthy bong hit, which segues into a song entitled, “Marijuana.” Go figure. While it’s not as “stoned” as one might hope from the title, they can do more than one thing and they don’t stay there too long. The guitar lick that leads into “Can’t Take Anymore” is good, but the male/female co-lead vocal is really unexpected. Something trippier begins to take over on “Swim” and things take shape musically; the melodic structure/phrasing on this song stands out among everything else on the EP. They nail it, whatever it is. What they’re doing on this record is not really “heavy” at all, but, I’d surmise that’s not what they’re going for either. Think Fireball Ministry, as opposed to the aforementioned Monster Magnet, or maybe, if you’re feeling retro, more Grand Funk Railroad than Deep Purple, but a lot of fun nonetheless. And you gotta love their name. Sooner or later somebody had to do it.

Jupe Jupe, Reduction In Drag (Self-released)

On their second album Jupe Jupe go for some big 80s hooks and marry them to a dancey, nerdy, electro-pop. “Suspicion” has a swell vintage synthesizer sound that is definitely used to full effect. Unfortunately, the rest of the record doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as well as that song, and a lot of that is due to the difficulty in making the vocals work when playing this kind of music. You really have to have it in you; it’s got to be innate. “Headlong” feels more like a demo that needs a lot of work to clean it up. “Stalker” is too much marching in time without going anywhere. Where’s the pay-off? And I’m not tryin’ to hate on anybody, but “Olympic Gardner” is just plain weak. It’s not a total shit parade, however. “Hanging Rock” is okay; diving back in time results in some moments that draw from early new romantic-era Duran Duran, and it’s easy to get lost in the past. Some of the self-indulgence helps, and give them points for creativity. There’s a lot to chew on here, but in the end it’s all about the vocals and arrangements. If they don’t get that part right the song basically falls flat, and they’re batting about .500 on Reduction In Drag.

Slide To Freedom, 20,000 Miles (Northern Blues)

Eclectic cross-cultural musical exchange program, combining the malleable talents of roots/world music artist Dog Cox and Indian classical master Salil Bhatt, along with some talented friends like percussionist Cassius Khan, Calvin Cooke and members of the Campbell Brothers. There’s also the sublime BettySoo, a first rate Austin-based songwriter who also just happens to be a stunningly good singer. More on that later. Their cover of “Spooky” is pleasantly cross-bred, but only hints at what’s coming later. Super smooth slide guitar sounds (sacred steel) emerge from Bhatt’s satvik veena (a combination slide guitar and Indian veena), and that musical marker works to ground everything in a way, along with Khan’s tabla playing; the overall tossed salad mélange of sounds shift like sand. There’s an awesomely sad cover of Hank William’s “Angel Of Death,” which doesn’t feel out of place at all, and it’s one of the best songs on the album, and there’s an off-the-beaten-path reading of Chuck Berry’s “Wee Wee Hours.” Finally, the best song is BettySoo’s head-spinning “Revival,” a slice of art that could seriously raise her national profile and one of the songs of the year. I’m sure this album could find a home with a wide spectrum of the musical world if it gets the support from radio. At least people everywhere can now find it (and other things like it) on internet radio. BettySoo’s presence on this otherwise fine record is not just unexpected, it crosses up genres and confounds the mind. An entire album of her songs is just around the corner, somewhere, right? Right?

3:33, Live From The Grove (Parallel Thought)

This is a fascinating specimen. What it is, exactly, is hard to pin down, and so is exactly how they pulled it off, if it’s real. Is it real? Anybody? The Grove refers to the Bohemian Grove, which is evidently some kind of extra-super secret, heavily guarded enclave for the richest/most powerful men on earth. What they do here besides eating oysters and drinking over-priced liquor is shrouded in mystery and includes tales of bizarre rituals with some taking place beneath a massive carving of an owl. While they frolic and play like 8-year old boys in their underwear they also make deals with each other that amount to operating the puppet strings of the world. None of this has ever been proven. This recording is eleven tracks listed as parts 1 through 11 of “Live From The Grove.” It’s a skewed field recording that represents a weird, disconnected, conspiratorial, sub-cultural oddity, and it then becomes a sort of weird, disconnected conspiratorial, sub cultural oddity itself. Is that their intention? The “found sounds in the woods” are deceptive and it’s hard to tell what’s “real”, but it’s also hard to hear what’s going on in the distant background so it adds to the element of the unknown. The raw percussion is bizarre in its own right as there’s a good sense of rhythm which feels out of place. You have to hear it to understand. This is a recording you could find yourself going back to again and again, in short bursts or at length. Now, if the Grove really is all that clandestine how did these guys get in, if in fact they did. Or is this a fake? An artistic prank? Like any other conspiracy, that is something you have to decide for yourself.