Reviews: The Dandelion War, Mission of Burma, Jesca Hoop

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Hey, y’all. Still diggin’ out from under the mountain o’ music here. Lots of interesting records released this year. Among this bunch is the new Mission Of Burma, which I have only seen reviewed in a couple publications. I’m a little behind the curve, I know, but I felt compelled to weigh in on that one. One more big housecleaning session and we’ll be caught up, more or less. Lots of work for us all to do in the 64 days until the election. I’ll shut up and let you get to it. Thanks for reading.

The Dandelion War, We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes (Deep Elm)

Oaktown’s Dandelion War can be a confounding consideration sometimes. The first two minutes of “Drifters” is suitably morose for a great sad-sack creep-out, and, in fact, a few breaths of it could be rather brutal and depressing if taken a little deeper, like a dissonant, minor-key Blue Nile on downers. After that song melts away the beast inside awakens. This brings about a squishy, prog-rock-cum- slo-rock, with some space-jangle guitar sprinkled on top, where psychedelics and ambience inhabit the same cosmic quadrant, and the Flavor Crystals and Sigur Ros come to mind. On “1848” there’s a Sun Kil Moon quality, but it doesn’t stick around very long. Every so often they pop up from sleep mode and stretch and yawn really big on a song, but then they usually settle back down again. The dreamy melodies don’t help when they lose the tune, like on “The Wanderers and Their Shadow.” Nevertheless, there are passages where this beguiling album holds attention better than just about any of its comparable contemporaries. If they’re going to continue to pen lofty, challenging songs like this, and go beyond slo-rock and post-rock, some serious experimentation with the vocals could propel them even further.

Edmund II, Floating Monk (Self-released)

Edmund II is Edmund Pellino, who formerly played with Megafaun, Bowerbirds and The Rosebuds, and this is his solo debut full-length. This exceptional, eccentric record opens with “Golden Lung,” which enters on a thrumming, bassy acoustic guitar, with some rich, throaty vocals, and it instantly feels heavy without being heavy. There’s something cinematic about the sound right from the outset. “Knock Out” ups the energy level a little and more complex sound shapes begin to appear. A wave builds slowly as the songs all melt together, and by the end of the album it completely overtakes you and you’re ready to jump back and play it again. He pulls from lots of different elements and alchemizes it all into a coherent but queasy whole with sneaky melodies, and chilling, sublime undertones seemingly floating in and out of the room. The excellent “Woven Throat” is rather Swans-like, and some pretty sexy psychedelia grows out of the instrumental “Ocitine.” If I had to nail it down, I’d say vocally he sounds like a cross between a youthful Bryan Ferry and, possibly, Richard Buckner. And I’ll even go for broke and declare that Elliott Smith is also present in spirit at various intervals throughout the album. Yes, that’s certainly a lot to live up to, but Edmund II evidently has it handled, no prob.

Jesca Hoop, The House That Jack Built (Bella Union)

On “Born To,” the first song on THTJB, Jesca Hoop immediately shows off her multiple skills, and this track should see some airplay on independent radio. It’s forceful, energetic A-grade ethereal post- pop rock, with her soaring, atmospheric vocals leading the charge. “I was boooooooooorrrn to…/I was booooooooorrrn toooooo…” This song is one of the indie singles of the year. She reels things in much tighter on the lilting and airy “Pack Animal,” with vocals that are far more restrained and feminine- evocative. Then she cranks it up again on “Peacemaker,” but as she gets more expansive melodically the band keeps things fairly sparse in the background. And then there’s the clipped vocal on the clever metro-pop of “Ode To Banksy.” “Hospital” is not great, but “When I’m Asleep” is Kate Bush-like, at times, and adds another vocal notch to her gunbelt. By the end you realize that she brings a different vocal sound to virtually every song. It’s not always drastic, but it’s at least somewhat distinctive. If she can push the envelope further with her songs she could then use that instrument she so wields so well even more effectively.

Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys, Luke’s Dream (Rip Cat)

Johnny Mastro is a living relic. He should have been born thirty years earlier, and he would have been playing in bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He’s a So-Cal-based blueshound whose band can occasionally sound like a less noisy and fuzzy Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion, but, mostly, he’s more of a straight-up alternative R&B/blues rock kind of guy. “Luke’s Stomp” is a powerful opener, and they wrestle with Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker’s Blues” like it ain’t nothin’. “Tonight We Ride” is a pretty groovy Chicago blues, and I’ll even go out on a limb and say “Hurt” is sort of like the great Zen Guerilla, without the super-thick distortion. And the almost eight-minute long “Temperature” is a heavy duty closer. Guitarist Smokehouse Brown is the other bright star in this galaxy. His take on “the blues,” as they utilize the concept, seems effortlessly cool. There’s nothing rote or mechanical about his playing anywhere on this album, with a lot of twists and turns along the way. And Mastro folds several blues harp styles into his playing, which also feels unforced and effortless. Together, on “Knee High,” they are both off the charts excellent. These two are obviously fanboys of the music they play, and they’re talented enough to put their own spin on it. One of the underground blues world’s best kept secrets. It’s time for that to change.

Mission Of Burma, Unsound (Fire)

Is it okay to admit that I don’t really love the new Mission Of Burma album? Will I be forever drummed out of the society of college radio disc jockeys? During their original run from ’79-’83 I was all in. I love the early stuff and I think it still holds up well today. Roger Miller, Clint Conley and Peter Prescott are now among the wise old men of the post-punk/indie rock world and their vision still comes across as authentic. The last “comeback” album wasn’t bad. I own a copy and appreciate the energy contained in most of it, but something is missing now. It’s just not all there. The itchy/scratchy guitar of “Dust Devil” is okay, but then it gives way to a terrible vocal part that turns the song into mush, and things don’t improve much from there. “Semi-Pseudo-Sort-of Plan” is a great title, but the song itself has trouble finding a direction and, ironically, parallels its title in a weird, self-referential way. It feels like the half- baked version of a song from the sessions for the last album.

“Sectionals In Mourning,” with Prescott on vocals, is like a reanimated Volcano Suns song with a weird guitar reverb effect running through it, and it’s not bad, but there’s no real pay-off. “This is Hi-Fi” might be a wonderfully disjointed mess of post- noise rock when it first pops up, but, it too, loses steam. One problem is that the vocals don’t live up to the standards of their previous work. “Part The Sea” will garner some attention, and “Fell H20” is also an enjoyable thumping. But “Second Television” is just tepid and aimless, and “What They Tell Me” is so clumsy it’s enough to compel you to get up and skip to the next track. In trying to “stretch musical boundaries” Roger wrote a couple songs on bass instead of guitar, but that’s not exactly revolutionary; and they don’t really need to stretch boundaries. Their core sound is an encampment all its own. There was never anyone else around them to begin with, in terms of sonic vocabulary. They make a point of saying up front that this album was not intended to sound like any other Mission Of Burma record, but that’s the problem. They tried consciously to not be who they are. That never really works, no matter what your intentions. You’ve just got to let it happen as it will. Maybe they were so intoxicated with the thought of being back in the studio with all the newfangled recording technology at their fingertips that they forgot to finish the songs before recording them.