Benjamin Booker, the sensational new singer whose self-titled debut album of 12 songs was released last month, has such a whiskey-marinated and vintage-sounding voice that you’d never for a moment guess that he’s barely in his mid-twenties.
Metal is not my usual go-to musical genre. I find most head-banging musical styles repetitive, unnecessarily loud and even headache inducing. Yet, that door is not firmly shut to me.
If you think it is possible for a rock outfit to at once straddle a noise-filled, experimental, post-punk sound as well as a hook-laden, melodic, pop one, then Spoon’s your band. Even if you’re not seeking out such genre-hopping attributes in your listening fare, Spoon, really, should be your band.
CYHSY, as they’re known in short form, released their self-titled first album as a completely DIY project, aided only by a virtual buzz by fans, bloggers and websites. That buzz got deafeningly loud in indie music fans’ circles; the band’s first album became a hit; and critics sat up and took notice.
WATCH: Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah
That was in 2005. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the album, was sonically what you’d classify as art-rock – experimental, form-shifting, genre-hopping and, best of all, an album that you knew the band probably had as much fun putting together as you had when you heard it. Frontman Alec Ounsworth and his bandmates made art-rock, which can be notoriously self-indulgent and abstruse, instantly accessible, danceable and hummable too. It helped that Ounsworth had a medium-pitched voice that warbled with nervous excitement but exuded a pop-like happiness even when he sang about his deepest thoughts.
That first album with memorable songs such as Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away, The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth and Details of the War, was hailed as one of the finest in the music world and the band instantly got touted as one of the hottest ensembles to look out for. In the next few years CYHSY released two more albums – Some Loud Thunder (2007) and Hysterical (2011) – but although they were well received, they never really created the sensation that their debut DIY album had done.
In between those releases, Ounsworth did some solo work – his 2009 album Mo Beauty is like a CYHSY album with a couple of standout tracks – the low-key Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans) and the percussive South Philadelphia (Drug Days) are ones I like. Then, I gathered that four of the six-member band had quit in the past couple of years, reducing CYHSY to a duo with only Ounsworth and the drummer Sean Greenhalgh.
WATCH: Song For Miguel
Then, just as people were writing their obit, the band resurfaced and this year, in June, CYHSY as a duo dropped their fourth studio album, Only Run. Ounsworth and his remaining band-member do multiple duties on the album, which unlike CYHSY’s earlier ones, has a lot more keyboard use, synth lines and, in general, more polish than those earlier ones.
To some, that may be a disappointment. Or not. Only Run has interesting collaborators – one track has The National’s Matt Berninger doing a stunning cameo reminiscent of his band’s early albums such as Boxer and Alligator; on another, we discover the Canadian DJ and turntablist, Kid Koala’s contribution.
When I first heard CYHSY, their sound seemed very familiar yet new. Here’s why: on their early albums you discovered the influence of a rash of earlier bands on CYHSY – ranging from older ones such as Joy Divison, The Clash and Talking Heads, to relatively newer indie bands. Yet, Ounsworth and his band managed never to sound like a derivative of those. They had their own sound, characterised mainly by Ounsworth’s singular vocal style. On Only Run, the band sounds more evolved and sophisticated, though, interestingly, it is self-produced like their first album (the second and third had outside producers) but the CYHSY’s trademark – that of springing sonic surprises – remains intact.
If you’ve ever travelled on the New York subway then Moon Hooch’s rock-infused jazz music may seem familiar because it sounds as if they’re playing in an underground tunnel – in fact, the band says it plays ‘cave music’. Moon Hooch began as buskers in the NYC subway system and in front of the city’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art before being talent-spotted and then landing gigs opening for bigger bands. A record deal followed and their self-titled first album, Moon Hooch, which has 14 upbeat tracks, showcases their trademark sound: jazz with rock and dance music influences, all of it delivered by way of two saxophonists and a drummer. It’s a lively affair Moon Hooch’s music, instantly accessible and guaranteed to raise your spirits – jazz-rock-soul fused to make an exuberant cocktail. For a taste, head over to their Bandcamp page (moonhooch.bandcamp.com).
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Morrissey’s debut in Britain’s post-punk era was as part of the short-lived Manchester band, The Smiths. And although that band lasted from 1982 to 1987, it quickly spawned an ever-growing cult of followers. As the band’s lead singer and lyricist, his songs and views often flirted with controversy and he proudly wore his politics on his chest. His stance on issues such as the British monarchy, immigration, vegetarianism, Thatcher and Bush and Hillary Clinton has always managed to polarise people. Those who love him are devout loyalists; those who don’t, deride him for his self-righteousness and acute intellectual snobbery.
WATCH: Everyday Is Like Sunday
Morrissey’s new album is a set of 12 songs beginning with the title track, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, a strongly political number that derides people who vote because they do so for a system and political processes that don’t work for them or ones that they cannot change. Morrissey name-checks Ukraine and Egypt and Brazil and Bahrain and delivers a satire that is remarkably sweet musically. That’s quintessential Morrissey, though. He almost always manages to be a melodic rebel, not needing to snarl or growl and yet delivering a high-powered punch in the solar plexus. It’s like one of those thin but exceedingly sharp blades that you don’t realise you’ve been cut with till after it’s actually slashed you.
On The Bullfighter Dies, an ode to animal rights, it’s the bull’s survival that is, expectedly, lauded and not the death of its provocateur. And on I’m Not A Man, Morrissey’s oft-revealed misanthropy surfaces again as he clobbers the stereotype of the male as a jock. On World Peace, there are surprise turnouts as on Neal Cassady Drops Dead. Cassady was a prominent 1950s Beat generation figure and long-time lover of poet Allen Ginsberg and on the track Morrissey sings about Ginsberg mourning his death. Another song, Staircase At The University, points at the parental pressures to achieve that leads a young girl to leap to her death, but not without some of his characteristic satire and mockery… aimed at the girl.
I like most of Morrissey’s albums and over the years, I’ve got some that are my favourites: his first solo, Viva Hate (1988), of course; but also Vauxhall and I (1994), which I think is his best and many Morrissey fans may agree. Just listen to The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get on that album and you’ll see what I’m talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCj_C-Yb3xI is an album of songs with back stories and references, to films, to parodies of British TV shows and so on, but delving into that is better left to die-hard devotees of Mozza (as he is known to his fans; he’s also known as Moz; or, the one I like best, as the Pope of Mope!).
Getting back to World Peace, it’s not an album that I’d recommend to those who aren’t familiar with Morrissey’s music but it could be part of a nice trifecta that you can put together for a weekend: Viva Hate, Vauxhall and I and the new album.
This one’s strictly for hardcore Deadheads. It took me nearly 20 years to discover Grayfolded, a nearly two-hour-long album divided into two CDs – Transitive Axis and Mirror Ashes.
Dan Auerbach, the singer (who also plays lead guitar, bass and keyboards) sounds like a reincarnation of early black blues singers, albeit a white one who sings with a contemporary tweak, and Patrick Carney, the drummer, has the quintessential simple style of early blues band drummers.
That is, or was, till now. Earlier this month, The Black Keys, after an uncharacteristically long three-year interval, released a new album, Turn Blue, which is anything but minimalistic. Working with the famed producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) who has worked earlier with the band, including on El Camino, The Black Keys’ new album is almost like it belongs to a completely different genre. Yes, there is the ‘blues’ backbone and the ‘rock’ base but the end product sounds more like a polished, pop album than the minimalist, raw-edged blues that we’ve grown to expect from the band. At times, songs such as the nearly seven-minute opener, Weight of Love, seem inspired by the psychedelic sounds that recall the oeuvre of Neil Young or Pink Floyd rather than the stripped-down blues that this band is known for. There’s also a strange, new danceability to Turn Blue, as in the song, In Time, again something one didn’t expect from The Black Keys.
Unsurprisingly, Turn Blue will disappoint many a die-hard fan of The Black Keys who may miss the sound of Auerbach’s raw-edged guitar (or, more accurately, have to aurally peel away a lot of the additional layers of music to be able to get to it); or get used to his occasionally gratuitous deployment of the falsetto; and even have to resign themselves to some distinctly pop-sounding vocal refrains on some of the tracks. There’s an overall dreaminess in the music that The Black Keys have made on their new album that may not fit in well with what one has been used to hearing from the band. But listen carefully, and you get a dark moodiness in the lyrics of most of the 11 songs on the album. And while it left me – and I’m a big fan of the band – a bit befuddled, I’m willing to bet that Turn Blue will probably grow on me as I spin it a couple more times. It’s not easy to give up on a band that you like so much.
Nevertheless, with a sense of being unfulfilled after my first listen to Turn Blue, I had to feed my craving for unalloyed, untampered-with blues. So I turned to what I turn towards when I need to listen to the blues: the Bandana Blues podcast. When I checked the feed, it was their 540th episode, released on May 10, and it happened to be their Mother’s Day edition. Fittingly, it began with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: the song Directly From My Heart To You; the album: Weasels Ripped My Flesh; the year: 1970.
If you haven’t heard this fantastic album, I urge you not to miss it. Bandana Blues podcast episodes are famously long; this one runs for two hours. So there was a whole heap of blues musicians that I heard – a BB King and Robert Cray collaboration, the Vaughan Brothers (remember Stevie Ray and Jimmie?), a Dutch blues band called Sugar Boy & the Sinners, and many more. But one man who stood out was someone I’d never heard before: Oz Noy. An Israeli-born New Yorker, Noy is an obsessively improvisational guitarist whose music straddles jazz, blues and funk and whose guitar playing style has a unique stamp that I would simply describe as explosive. Check out two of his albums Schizophrenic and Twisted Blues: Vol.1. They’re keepers.
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