Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Jitney – 86-300

Budget-conscious fans of edgy new indie rock should bookmark Rockproper, the online Chicago label that’s making all sorts of intriguing stuff available, absolutely free. Their latest release is the new one from Chicago indie songwriter Casey Meehan – a real life taxi driver – which takes its title from his cabbie license. To use the word “hack” here would be inaccurate. Jitney is a pleasantly melodic rock project with a heavy 80s/90s British influence that aims to strike a somewhat noir pose from time to time. The songs are terse and smartly crafted with layers of keyboards and guitars, Meehan playing almost all of the instruments himself with the exception of some bass and drums.  

 

After a brief intro, the first song is Butterfly Knife, an imagistic 6/8 ballad recounting an ominous car ride (in the cab?):

 

As he tried to keep his blood red and his money green

She’ll never know the secret life

Of his butterfly knife

 

The next track, Love Draws Blood sounds like 60s backbeat Kinks as covered by New Order, 1985. Dizzy Spells contrasts pounding piano and slinky 80s synth over aptly tricky rhythms: “You were casting dizzy spells.”

 

The album’s best cut is Twilight, a pretty, glimmering, janglerock ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in the Madrugada catalog:  “Don’t mistake the twilight for the dawn,” Meehan casually warns. There’s a nice solo on electric piano using a vibraphone setting, then a variation on the theme, Twilight Laser Battle, a synthy sci-fi flavored instrumental. Tricky Be is upbeat, ornate piano pop that reminds of Pulp with nice layers of keys in the playful, tongue-in-cheek style of Candida Doyle. The rest of the album is a basically quick run through what appears to be Meehan’s most-played list on his ipod: late 80s Cure, Tom Waits and the Velvet Underground’s third album. Even so, most of it’s quite pretty.

 

The album’s only drawback is the vocals. Your conformist indie rock crowd won’t notice or care, but for purists they could be a dealbreaker. Much of the time Meehan sings in a cliched, affected, languid drawl that’s as real as a Chinatown Rolex. It’s not clear whether he’s trying to be Richard Ashcroft or that moron from Coldplay, probably the latter. Songs this intelligent shouldn’t sound so clueless in places.

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April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ray – Death in Fiction

Sweepingly majestic and savagely beautiful, a serious contender for best rock album of 2008. This cd ought to establish British rock quartet Ray as frontrunners for this year’s Mercury Prize (at least that’s how it looks from five thousand feet). With a big, anthemic sound that manages to be accessible without sacrificing intelligence or intensity, both in abundance here, Ray draws deeply from just about the darkest possible well of 80s influences. Their sound could be described as a mix of Bauhaus minus the, you know, “Alone, in a darkened room, The Count!!!” along with the big, potent anthemic sensibility of vintage, early 90s New Model Army and perhaps Madrugada albeit without that band’s Hollywoodisms or Stooges obsession. Death in Fiction is a concept album of sorts about dissolution, despair and missed opportunities. Frontman Nev Bradford has the baritone delivery that’s all the rage, but like his forerunners Peter Murphy and Nick Cave, he’s confident, completely unaffected, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the uptight, constipated posers of the National or Interpol. There is nothing whatsoever cold or detached about Ray’s music: John Rivers’ magnificent, epic production only serves to elevate these songs’ passion, tension and resolution, the clash of hope up against the cruel barbwire of reality. The trendoid crowd over here on this side of the pond will not get this band (although the cool kids will).

The album kicks off with a ferocious blast of sound on the opening hook to the catchy Five Times Cursed, what quickly becomes characteristically howling, anguished lead guitar over a lush, roaring, pounding wash of sound echoing and glistening with reverb and digital delay. The following cut Days to Come nicks the bass lick from the Alarm Clocks’ 60s garage rock classic No Reason to Complain, although they take it completely in the opposite direction. Lead guitarist Mark Bradford plays with an extraordinarily terse ferocity, like Peter Koppes of the Church in his most dramatic moments while the rhythm section of Martin Tisdall on bass and Chris Lowe on drums holds this relentless juggernaut to the rails.

The title track methodically builds to a crescendo over a propulsive Sister Ray groove: “This is the price you pay for believing that/A death in fiction would be fine.” After that, Roulette Sun raises a glass of absinthe to Pink Floyd’s iconic Time, Mark Bradford’s anguished lead lines painted stark against a somber Hammond organ background. The tense, desperate minimalism of Little Joy (“For a little joy…to call your own, what would you do?”) evokes nothing less than Joy Division at their most guitarish, again punctuated by another deliciously screaming, reverberating solo.

Next, Great Strange Dream is a meticulously arranged anthem that once again sounds a lot like the Church. Sound of the End is a snarling, slowly crescendoing broadside at conformists and their entertainment-industrial complex, building to a heartbreakingly beautiful, recurring hook, only to slip away gracefully at the end. Begging Like a Dog rages out at mindless consumption:

They have a lot of ways of placing
A godless advert on your shrine
They have a lot of ways of thieving
What was yours and what was mine
They have you begging like a dog

The album ends with the majestic Cut Out, both cautionary tale and a sort of requiem for a dream unfulfilled. All things considered, this a terrific ipod album, although its lush sonics benefit greatly from loud volume and big speakers. For readers in London, Ray next plays Sat June 21 at 8 PM at the ULU Duck and Dive Bar, 1st Floor, University of London Union, Malet Street London WC1E 7HY, five quid / £3 for students.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment