BEAR CLAWSlow Speed Deep Owls(Sickroom)
This two-bass trio has been playing for four years without attracting much attention, but it looks like the pendulum is finally swinging Bear Claw’s way—if the buzz around bands like Pissed Jeans and Clockcleaner is any indication, angular, sludgy postpunk will be in fashion again any day now. Like those bands, Bear Claw are indebted to the Jesus Lizard, most of the AmRep roster, and Steve Albini (who recorded Slow Speed Deep Owls), but they aren’t as brutal and confrontational as most of their fellow revivalists—their sonic aggression doesn’t spill over into misanthropy, and I can’t imagine them pissing on another band’s merch or tackling somebody with cerebral palsy. Instead of playing up the angry caveman shtick and pounding on one note at a time, Bear Claw make frequent structural head fakes and sudden shifts in volume and tempo, and they’re fond of Shellac’s trick of destabilizing a rock beat by emphasizing the “wrong” notes. Slow Speed is tough and mean, but it’s also got the brains to be a real threat. Its combination of brawn and complexity is enough to remind you that, oh yeah, Slint was around in the 90s too.
As adventurous indie rockers venture in greater numbers into the world of programmed electronics, I’m sure we’ll see more bands like Future Rock. These three dudes make dance music that leans heavily on hip-hop breakbeats and a version of house that sounds like they picked it up from somebody who was influenced by somebody who was influenced by house—its icy brittleness has been worn away by all the hands it’s passed through, and the fuzzy production and warm analog synths make it sound almost intimate. It’s easy to remember that actual fingers pressed the buttons to make this stuff, and most of the rhythms could be duplicated without much trouble by human musicians. (They use mostly live instrumentation onstage, in fact.) In keeping with its indie feel, Gears relies on nuance and sonic detail, not bombastic anthems; I love how the pops and burbles on “God Nose” fade into Aphex Twin drum skitters, and “Die Junge Ein” sounds like acid house taking a Sunday afternoon off from frying brains to play video games and chill. Nothing on Gears would sound right at a big-time club, but its low-key funk could easily power a living-room dance party.
PLANEI See Love in the Future(self-released)
These days Plane is a six-piece band led by Edgars Legzdins, but a couple years ago, when I See Love in the Future was recorded, it was just Legzdins and Ed Anderson, who’s since left to focus on his main band, the 1900s. Anderson’s fingerprints are all over the disc, as you might imagine, but the 1900s play sunshiny pop with a subtle undercurrent of darkness and Plane does things the other way round. Tracks like “Save the Lost Its Past” and “Rundowners” are gothy synth bummers pierced by streaks of twee, and the opener, “Blood on the Waves,” almost buries its hooks under layers of moody effects. The cuts I like best are the ones that veer even further away from pop, like the strangely compelling “God’s Ants,” which somehow successfully pairs gloomy Joy Division guitar-and-keyboard atmospherics with steel-pan drums. If the 1900s are the popular girl in the Chicago indie scene, the one even the jocks can kinda get into, Plane is the sullen, eyeliner-wearing little sister who makes way better mix tapes.
DAVID SINGEREast of the Fault Line
(The Sweet Science)
I love musicians with big, outrageous ideas they can’t pull off, the kind of thing, like Neil Young’s Trans, that derails your notions about what an artist stands for, if not what a whole genre is about. But I also have a thing for people who can make themselves totally at home in the best-trafficked patches of the musical landscape. David Singer has set up camp in his own corner of the ever-growing shadow Elliott Smith casts across intelligent retro-pop, and almost everything on East of the Fault Line—the minor-key progressions, the multitracked ahhs, the unexpectedly hopeful guitar solos—would have sounded totally natural on one of Smith’s own albums. Even Singer’s vocal lines, with their long, elaborate phrases and sparing use of repetition, remind me of Smith in the way they make simple song structures seem impressively complex. In fact I can only hear one thing on the new disc that wouldn’t fit: Smith never got quite as low-down as Singer’s curious cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Iodine,” which he renders as a kind of jazzy gutbucket blues. But I don’t need Singer to waste his time hunting for virgin territory when he’s so good in the familiar little room he’s chosen.
YEA BIG & KID STATICYea Big & Kid Static(Jib Door)
To be honest, I decided to review this record because I was looking forward to tearing it apart. By no means do I expect or even want all my hip-hop to come from hardened drug dealers with gun fetishes, but when I got a look at the two goofy motherfuckers in Yea Big & Kid Static’s promo photo, even I immediately wanted to pistol-whip them. Of course when I got past the photo and actually put the disc on, my plan was ruined—these guys are actually totally decent. Producer Yea Big is brazenly adventurous, turning everything from dusty soul to subcontinental hand drumming into beats that sound less like traditional boom-bap and more like a sampler having a particularly funky seizure. As for MC Kid Static—well, I haven’t paid that much attention to his raps yet, since I’m always distracted by the beats. But with his forceful, robust voice, he’s no whiny dork rapper, and his flow grounds the glitchy tracks, providing a backbone that makes them sound like hip-hop instead of IDM—the “spring, summer, fall, winter” talk-chant in “Things Have to Change, Pete” even gives that part of the tune its core rhythm. Unfortunately I have no idea what he’s talking about yet—he could be a great lyricist, but I’ll have to wait till I get over Yea Big’s production to find out.v
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