When Braxton isn’t completely rewriting the math-rock playbook in Battles, he’s busy composing music for an orchestra and, well, playing with himself. As a solo artist, Braxton creates music using live loops. Handling all the instrumentation and vocal duties, Braxton’s solo work is at once complex, colorful and experimental. Central Market sees Braxton move away from a strictly loop-based, 100 percent Braxton-performed outing, to seven tracks composed for New York City’s Wordless City Orchestra. The combination of Braxton’s electronic tendencies and the acoustic element of the Orchestra makes for a record that is multi-dimensional and varied yet sonically cohesive. The first few tracks are purely cinematic—if the film imagined is a twisted, Technicolor children’s cartoon that takes place on the rings of Saturn. Strings swoop and swirl amidst marching, syncopated percussion, constantly shifting melodic motifs, jagged loops and Braxton’s trademark, pitch-shifted “munchkin” vocals. It sounds bizarre, and it is. Yet despite the seemingly chaotic shards of instrumentation within this album, Central Market is an impossibly interesting, engaging and enjoyable listen. (Warp Records, www.warp.net) Curran Faris
Combining country twang, garage fuzz, and rockabilly squeak, Bloodshot Bill manages to make vintage sound new in Git High Tonite! Montreal’s answer to Hasil Adkins, the one-man band sensation returns with 12 greasy, rockin’ numbers guaranteed to get you moving. Combining crazy barely audible Trashmen-esque voicework, jingly-jangly guitars, and raw classic rockabilly instrumentation, Bloodshot has perfected a sound very few can match. Standout tracks include “Leave Me Alone,” “Outta the Rain” and a great Steve Alaimo cover “She’s My Baby.” The album closes out with a devastating rockabilly ballad “Oh Honey Doll Baby Doll” and a fantastic acoustic bonus track. (Transistor 66, www.bloodshotbill.com) Kent Davies
BLK JKS hail from South Africa and sing in English, Zulu and Xhosa. They’ve fused together an ambitious rock record from an array of genres. Most striking on the album is the swooping brass and bombastic guitar solos, sometimes reminiscent of Frog Eyes’ best instrumentation and, at other times, the punch-work of Spoon. BLK JKS are often compared by the press to TV on the Radio; the resemblance, particularly in the percussion, is hard to miss. Yet After Robots is cohesive and idiosyncratic enough to resist being pigeonholed. All told, it’s a good album by an ambitious group that shows flashes of excellence in songs like “Skeleton” and “Lakeside.” (Secretly Canadian, www.secretlycanadian.com) Paul Beriault
While I don’t believe any of their subsequent albums have rivaled their 2002 album Amore del Tropico (Tropics of Love), the Black Heart Procession have nonetheless made a valiant effort to reach for those heights. Returning to the counting scheme of their first three records, the San Diego band also retains the foreboding tone they’ve honed through all their prior recordings—atmospheric strings, ominous, impassioned vocals and rumbling bass, all supporting vocalist Paulo Zappoli’s dark tales. Love, death and the intersection between the two have long been lyrical tropes for the Black Heart Procession, and Six finds them digging fresh holes in the same graveyard. “When You Finish Me” speaks of being buried by a lover and “Wasteland” finds the protagonist hearing “ghosts calling me back to the grave.” Things don’t end in the ground though, as characters pursue their lovers through “Heaven and Hell” and burn in flames (“All My Steps”). Clearly this isn’t a voyage for the faint of heart and neither is an album by the Black Heart Procession—though you’d expect nothing less considering their moniker and their catalogue. This is a bleak and troubled listen, but there’s a dark beauty buried in its heart. (Temporary Residence, www.temporaryresidence.com) Michael Elves
My Old, Familiar Friend marks something of a liberation for Brendan Benson. Finally stepping out of the enormous shadow of Jack White, Benson has returned to his solo career, and it’s a return that is most certainly overdue. It’s a shame that it’s taken him four records to finally get any attention, and even more shameful that his rescue from obscurity is largely due to his stint with the forgettable Raconteurs. But considering just how excellent My Old, Familiar Friend is, these facts are easy to ignore. Benson’s talent for creating punchy, infectious pop music has always been obvious, but this album in particular takes it one step further. At once, the record demonstrates raw energy and unabashed joy, and enmeshes every track with a certain heartfelt quality. “I fell in love with you /and out of love with you /and back in love with you /all in the same day,” repeats Benson on album opener “A Whole Lot Better,” a handclap- and hook-driven number that sets up the honest desperation and earworm traits found throughout the rest of the album. “Garbage Day” sounds as if it had been pulled out of any 1970s discotheque, laced with energetic strings and pulsing analog synths, and “Feeling Like Taking You Home” is a cut of new wave-inspired bliss. Benson doesn’t shy away from incorporating a wide variety of musical genres into his sound, which he manages to pull off with a level of style and finesse that makes it seem effortless. It’s never over-the-top, and when it works it works well, casting the record to sound exactly like the ambitions of a talented artist being realized, and makes My Old, Familiar Friend every bit the success that Benson deserves. (ATO Records, www.atorecords.com) Kevan Hannah
Based on this album’s title, it’s clear that the man behind Pedro the Lion wants to make a break from his past. He carved a niche for himself writing thought-provoking songs that tried to come to terms with the pitfalls of the Bush era by turning to theology. With discs like Winners Never Quit and Control, Bazan articulated a rethinking of what it meant to be a person of faith living in America. They were records that provided the listener with hope for a cure. With Curse Your Branches, the cure is the target. Apparently, Bazan has lost his faith, and wants the world to know it. But in writing about this, he comes off as trite and downright unconvincing. Take the lead-off track, “Hard to Be,” where he challenges the story of the garden of Eden (shocker!) and the fall of humanity, asking, “Wait just a minute / you expect me to believe / that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?” Or the closing track, “In Stiches,” where Bazan follows the story of Job to paint a picture of a God completely out of touch with humanity, singing, “You sound defensive like you had not thought it through enough to have the answer / Like you might have bit off more than you could chew.” The problem here is not that he’s lost his faith in God, or his faith in humanity for that matter. Rather, it’s that he apparently has lost his ability to articulate this turn to atheism (if that is what this is) in creative and engaging ways, turning instead to clichés and questions that aren’t really that interesting. It really is disappointing, considering recent examples of artists who have used Christian language in thought-provoking and engaging ways (e.g. the Mountain Goats), that Bazan, as a person of faith, has failed to do the same. (Barsuk, www.barsuk.com) Jeff Friesen
Gambling with God
(Last Gang Records)
Gambling with God is a disc by a Canadian group called Magneta Lane. It’s not very good. The tracks feature that Antichrist of a musical effect called “fuzzy guitar.” The sound is as annoying as a lawn full of grackles or an up-close buzz saw. I don’t know what the songs were about, as the instruments drowned the words out, and the advance album had no insert. I don’t think I was missing much. The group is a trio of women and they come from Toronto. This is their third album. I hope to God there isn’t a fourth.
I haven’t bought the re-released Beatles oeuvre yet, but my 11-year-old granddaughter is into their music, so I contacted my brother in the UK who, in 1968, filmed the Beatles as part of a BBC documentary called Music. He sent me a clip from that movie featuring the recording of “Hey Jude,” with close-ups of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Ringo, along with their eminence grise, George Martin. The session ended with the crew being asked to sing along with the final “Da, da, da dadada da,” so if you play that track, one of the voices on it is my brother Ian’s.
By Rob Vilar
After a brief washroom break, I get back to my refueled Dodge and pay the gas attendant for her service.
“Where you going?” she asks.
“I don’t know. Somewhere,” I answer.
“Getting away from something?”
“Maybe something like that,” I reply as I step into my Dodge Challenger and begin to drive off the lot.
“You come back again,” she says.
I return to the highway and re-adjust my rear view mirror. I notice that the procession of cop cars off in the distance has intensified since the last time I checked. I light a cigarette and turn the radio on. My favorite DJ is back on air.
“Well, after a much-needed break to relieve this old vein of mine, let’s get back to the narrative at hand. Vilar, you’ve done well until now but these are desert plains you’re approaching, my friend…and the heat which I’m sure you’ve noticed, has gotten hotter. Well, to make things a bit bearable, I’ll play you something off the recent Julianna Barwick EP, Florine. A small number titled “Cloudbank.” I hope there is a cloud bank on the horizon for you.” The DJ drops it. Upon hearing the song on the radio, my mind starts to drift to another time and place in the past, somewhere in a Motel 6…
She comes out of the shower and into our room while using up the last of our allotted towels. I lay on the bed, working on a crossword.
“Who’s this we’re listening to?” she asks.
“Julianna Barwick, a singer out of Brooklyn. Found her on some pay per download site,” I answer.
“You didn’t find her on Pitchfork, as with most things?” she counters.
“No, but eventually they jumped all over her. Which is cool I guess. It’s what you want if you’re making music these days. By the way, I don’t find most of my stuff on Pitchfork.”
“I like her. Her material reminds me of Popol Vuh off the Aguirre soundtrack,” she says as she searches for something to wear.
“Yeah, it does, but even better if you ask me,” I respond, slipping in a look above my crossword paper.
“Are you still going to work tonight?” she asks.
“Yup, you know how it is,” I answer.
“One of these days you got to tell me what you do. You can’t keep up this mystery forever…”
Back in my car, I notice I’ve successfully shook off the cops while driving myself deep into the desert’s heart…a place for no man. I stop the vehicle, turn the radio up, and take a sit on its hood. The song “Bode” comes on and I take in my surroundings. I stare out onto the desert plateau and watch the sun murder the skies red as it plunges into the dusk. The sweeping sustained mantra of the song eases the pain of this measured astrological kill. The DJ comes back on.
“I got to hand it to you Vilar, you shook them off good. With my little CB radio here at the station, I can tell you them coppers have no idea where you at. I know you’re hiding somewhere though… but the question now is… how long do you stay out there? We’re pulling for you, just keep a warm blanket close by…”
Back at the Motel 6, I watch her spread the blanket back on the bed. “You know there’s people who get paid to do that sort of thing,” I tell her.
“No matter. Just a frequent habit,” she says. “I’m really digging this Julianna Barwick more and more. What’s this song playing now?”
“It’s called ‘Choose.’”
“You know who else she sounds like? She reminds me of Enya.”
“Yeah—like a hipper version of Enya. Some people may find that comparison repulsing, some maybe not. It’s hard to know nowadays.” I finish off the last of the crossword. A short pause lies between us.
“Do you really have to go?” she asks.
“Yeah, I got to go meet someone. I told you,” I answer.
“When are you gonna let me know?”
“I’ll tell you about my job some time.”
“No. That’s not what I mean,” she says, as she slowly draws the curtains down and turns to face me.
Back in the desert, night has struck and coldness starts to take hold. The opening piano refrain of “Anjos” plays on the radio while I lay down and gaze at the stars for a moment. The DJ returns and chimes in over the song.
“Hey, Vilar, haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope you’re keeping those scorpions company. Word has it they don’t offer lifetime subscriptions in the place you at, so you best be getting back into the game now. You can beat the police, you can beat the road, and you can even beat the clock…but you can’t beat the desert.”
“Go to hell,” I respond as I roll off the hood of the Dodge, kick the remaining dirt from my boots, and get back in the driver’s seat. I start the engine and peel it forward to the road. With “Anjos” still playing on the radio, I look for the angel in the sky’s constellations to help find my way back. I start to coast into a vision of last night’s encounter…
I meet my contact Rodrigo by the river’s end.
“Eh, Roberto! Tudo bem?” Rodrigo addresses me.
“Tudo bem. Que pasa?” We exchange our special handshake.
“Well, the boss has got a special job for you,” Rodrigo says as he hands me an unmarked envelope. “Take a look. Looks like someone saw something they shouldn’t have, which can be messy for us. It’s a shit job but you know how it is, right? You got 24 hours.” I stand there, staring into the photograph for a while. Rodrigo says as he snaps me out of it. “Hey man? You OK? You know her?”
“No, it’ s cool.” I slip the photograph into my pocket. “I got it covered. Can I borrow your Dodge?”
The roar of the law enforcement’s helicopter shakes me out of my stupor as I race towards the morning sun. The ranks of the land vehicles have swelled tenfold since my last cigarette pack and I still have a carton to go. The radio is on and my DJ is still with me.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! You go, Big V! You out-race those blue Nazis! You don’t give up and let them catch you! No way, Jose, no way, you go for the prize, man, you go for it! Ha ha ha ha…all right, this is too much fun. I think we got to drop one more for the soul mobile before I go in for a break. So here’s a hymn for you, bro, called ‘Sunlight, Heaven’ by Ms. Barwick. Drive forth and let that camino del sol be your guide. Radio on and godspeed.”
With the song fueling my ride and the police closing in on me, I can see clear as the new day set forth, the path laid ahead. And as sure as I am aware of that incoming road block set up at mile’s end, I am certain now of what words can be said from one to another while under the veil of darkness in a small room near the edge of night. Without hesitation and without doubt. The true speed of will.