Reviews: Said The Whale, Yukon Blonde, Caltrop

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Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Miles (Holidays For Quince)

Though it’s been four years since their last record, North Carolina’s Caltrop has not been sleeping on the job. “Birdsong” kicks things off with some throbbing guitar and bass, and while the vocals are a might shaky at first you can hear the monster awakening. On “Ancient” they start to loosen up and settle in and the stoned vocals are an instant upgrade, and here’s where the guitar splay begins. By the time they reach the third song, “Light Does Not Get Old,” they’ve hit their stride and found their groove. It’s not stoner rock, per se, but it celebrates some of the sludgy doom that sometimes accompanies it. For the most part, they also stay within a fairly narrow dynamic range, but there are also some freer prog/psych moves combined with a heavy blues/ southern hard rock posture, although that part is a lesser element of what they do. And while they’ve been compared to both Mastodon and Sleep, they are definitely more akin to the former than the latter. The freewheeling “Form and Abandon” breaks the form and ends up being sort of Meat Puppets-esque, the seven minute-long “Blessed” is solid old skool hard rock, and the very ambitious thirteen minute-long “Perhelion” is really two songs in one. Once they get it rolling this is a powerful machine.

Bobby Conn, Macaroni (Fire)

Fire continues their recent winning streak of releasing records by eccentric, thought-provoking, anti-social muse- chasers. In the case of Bobby Conn, however, you could almost swing the other way and call him hyper-social, as opposed to anti-social. Although his oeuvre exists well outside of the bounds of mainstream social comprehension, his presence and persona are seemingly made for the present-day hyper-media grab bag of images and sounds, what with our four-second attention spans. Call him childish, juvenile or immature, he doesn’t care. He’s a cultural de-constructor working in the realm musical communication. In the words of his own bio: “musician, misfit, cultural warrior and bullshitter.” Bingo. He’s cryptic and he’s all out there at the same time. “Govt” is clever and suave, and it lays the groundwork for a wild excursion. “Face Blind” and “The Truth” are both successful post-electro White soul and “Can’t Stop The War” is almost Ween-like. This thing latches on to you after a couple passes, and there are lots of surprises along the way, and some excellent, understated guitar riffs. As a singer Conn is above average, and while he plays it like he doesn’t take it all that seriously, the vocals never get too silly, pulling back before the sheer stupidity of going goofball derails an entire song. There is a point when some of it becomes “quirky and self-aware,” but Conn is adept at that balancing act, and that’s proof that he does take it all seriously, wanting the songs to hold up to scrutiny, which they most certainly do. The spirits of David Bowie and Marc Bolan show up more than once, and act as influential and supportive uncles, but Conn can do a lot on his own. I’d like to hear more “rawk” songs with more driving beats and more guitar noise, but that’s just me.

Said The Whale, Little Mountain (Hidden Pony/EMI)

This Vancouver band deals in quirky pop music that hovers between sort of fey and not so fey, and despite their confusing name they’ve captured the imagination of Canadian audiences and parlayed that mass popularity into a JUNO Award for New Group of the Year in Canada. Tyler Bancroft and Ben Worcester share frontman duties, and they do have a knack for dropping some elusive hooks in the mix and then getting the hell out of the way; “Loveless” being a perfect case in point. On more than a few songs they sound like they want to bust out of their paddock and run off, and they do display more needed energy “Heavy Ceiling,” but something pulls them back to the shore every time before they ever get too far adrift. They restrain themselves from going over the edge often before it’s necessary to do so, and this inertia results in songs that are stilted and not fully grown. If they can push the boundaries out further they may be surprised at what they can get away with.

Yukon Blonde, Tiger Talk (Dine Alone)

There are a lot of music industry-types and publications (Magnet, AP) falling all over themselves to praise the living heck out of this Vancouver band, and they have some redeemable qualities, but do they really warrant all that buzz? When people are dragging out Buffalo Springfield and Gram Parsons comparisons one should always be skeptical. They’ve also had a song featured on the sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, which is a truly awful show, so I’m not sure what that says about them. I will admit that I was moderately impressed with their post-Americana four-song EP, Fire//Water, which I also reviewed for Impose, and I was anxious to hear this full-length. After the first pass I wasn’t any closer to being able to review it than I was before hearing it. It’s a schizoid recording, bouncing back and forth between several strong songs and several sour songs that don’t totally gel. “My Girl” is a slick and tight number that has a tremendous vocal to recommend it, and it sets a high psych-pop standard, but they stumble right after it with the weak follow-up “Radio.” “Stairway” brings some sturm und drang to shake shit up a little bit, and it is quite good, and the simple vocal hook of “…I hear you calling out…” channels some great cosmic-pop. Then “Iron Fist” tromps on itself and sounds too much like nearly every other band that loosely falls in this general aural vicinity. And the 1960s rehash of “Oregon Shores” seems generic and predigested, and there’s some tinny post-new wave that smacks of My Morning Jacket that just doesn’t work. To their credit, there’s a lot going on underneath the surface, like the throwback vocal structures and arrangements. Overall, it’s a mixed bag that leaves you wanting more of the good stuff.

And, last, but not least…

Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside /Outside of AC/DC – Mark Evans (Bazillion Points) 288 pages

This enthralling book was published in the U.S. late last year, but it was at the bottom of a stack, and I didn’t get around to it until recently. The story is: “One day in 1975, 19-year old Aussie rocker, Mark Evans, walked into a local bar to check out a band…” And he later walked out as the bass player for what would become one of the biggest bands on the planet. Whether that is actually how it all went down at the beginning doesn’t really matter once the entire history is written, I suppose. It’s a wild ride any way you slice it. In the earliest days of AC/DC, their collective identity and personality as a band stemmed from their charismatic and larger-than-life lead singer, Bon Scott. It was his vision that the band seemed to be gathering around, and Evans was a huge fan of the man as well as being his band-mate. Evans’s depiction of Scott falls in the area of a “modern-classic-artistic-anti-hero.” Evans doesn’t delve all that deeply into the psyche of the band, or the psychology of the music, so much as he re-creates and re-explores the existential realities that swirled around him at that young, impressionable age. It’s a fun read with a definite personality of its own due to its author’s still genuine passion for those heady salad days. He is a modern classic icon himself as the one who leaves the band just before they take off into the stratosphere. He left the party just as it was getting started. He recalls vividly how he saw it coming at the time: “This really felt like the start of something, even if we were playing to thirty drunken punters at the Red Cow.” Fans of the band will have a fucking blast with this thing. Others will be thoroughly entertained. And the cover design and artwork is fantastic.