Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Cementhead – Dementia

Their career-defining moment. Hindsight being 20/20, Cementhead’s previous cd February Girls foreshadowed this: New One for Sale, from that album, is a genuine classic. Even so, it’s always good to see a band really taking it to the next level and fulfilling their potential. Most of the songs here are short and fiery: much of this cd is the ballsy guitar album that REM seems to have always wanted to make but didn’t. The cd’s overall feel is frustration boiling over into exasperation. Frontman/guitarist Gordon Smethurst’s lyrics are fragmentary: sometimes they make sense, sometimes not, but the energy level is consistently high, with a sometimes biting cynicism.

 

The cd kicks off with a cut that could be Social Distortion if not for Cementhead’s trademark counterintuitive harmonies. Exene is the only other songwriter who writes high harmony lines like the ones here: the high notes are never what you’d expect. The second track, I Should Go builds from a 80s post new wave melody – and is that a synthesizer in the background? Track three, Lay Low is one of the best here, REMish as it builds from a mostly acoustic verse flavored with sparse electric accents, Smethurst using a vintage repeater box for something of a psychedelic effect.

 

The cd’s title track begins with the bass playing a melody suspiciously evocative of the Kinks classic David Watts, layers of watery chorus-box guitar on the chorus. Track five, Attached is fast and slashing with those eerie harmonies again: “Let me know when you’re ready to go, all fucked up on vodka tonic,” Smethurst snarls. The song after that, Shaker works off a catching descending progression straight out of the Wire classic Outdoor Miner. The following track, You and I is killer, a wicked minor-key garage rock number with one of Smethurst’s trademark raga-esque solos, tossing a melody off a reverberating open string and closing with a cute false ending.

 

The best song on the cd is Elevator, a cleverly constructed, REM-ish number with the same dark garage rock feel and more harmonies. Exquisite and then Graduate, which follow, rule via their choruses. The cd ends on a strange unresolved note with the mostly acoustic Weak Hotel, the most overtly indie of all the songs here. “Leave your laundry down by the old limousines,” Smethurst instructs [???]. With the snarl of vintage 90s indie bands like Versus but the tunefulness of sixties rock, there’s plenty for everybody here. Cementhead, predictably, are also great live: watch this space for upcoming dates.

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Cementhead at Mercury Lounge, NYC 11/9/08

It wouldn’t be accurate to call this Brooklyn indie rock vets Cementhead’s best-ever show – technical difficulties put an end to that possibility early on – but they’ve definitely never had better songs. Their accurately titled new cd Dementia is a career-defining moment, but ultimately this is a band that’s best enjoyed live. Frontman Gordon Smethurst threw flickering embers and flames from his battered Gibson SG guitar all night while the rhythm section behind him was tight and inspired, whether that meant giving him a pummeling punk stomp or a casual backbeat, the bassist contributing spot-on high harmonies whenever the songs would hit a crescendo.

 

The bass cut out during the band’s first song, and despite the soundman’s impressively strenuous efforts (getting it unplugged and plugged back in with a new cable in seconds flat), it took a couple more numbers before the sonics were finally ironed out. Despite his indie background, Smethurst is a terrifically innovative guitarist, fond of noisy, upper register fills against an open string, raga-style, flinging bits and pieces of melody against an acid wash of sound. Much of this band’s most recent material has the same kind of tongue-in-cheek humor (and creepy stop-and-start melodicism) of early Wire, but without the Anglicisms. Virtually everything they played tonight had some kind of immensely memorable hook, whether that meant the ominous, inescapable descending series of notes on Exquisite, the eerily counterintuitive harmonies on Wintertime or the determinedly blazing minor-key melody of the remarkably complex midtempo ballad Lay Low, which they ended with a mighty and marvelously satisfying heavy metal outro. The highlight of the night, also from the new cd, was Elevator, a ferocious, garage-fueled anthem, Smethurst’s Fender Twin amp roaring evilly as the band methodically burned through its catchy changes all the way to another completely over-the-top ending.

 

Mid-set, Smethurst revealed what he does before gigs – this one, anyway. “Killing time. Went to Toys in Babeland. Every kind of dildo you could imagine.” He made a face. “It was sensitive.” He paused. “Fuck that!” Which pretty much sums up what this band is about: sardonic, defiant and funny at the same time. Catch them next time around when the sound is bound to be better.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment