Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Cool Devices

Particularly appropriate that this would come over the transom a couple of days after seeing the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House: the debut seven-track album by Chicago band the Cool Devices shares a no-holds-barred, roaring ferocity and a smart, riff-oriented post-Stooges vibe with the recently reunited LES New York legends. This effort has more of an authentic Detroit feel than most of the innumerable Stooges imitators out there, frontman Jason Frederick assailing the mic with relentless, snotty energy. The whole thing has a live-in-the-studio feel, well-rehearsed but with a spontaneity that’s hard to get just doing the songs track by track.  Right off the bad, they take it to redline with (This Is Not A) White World, muted guitar chords sputtering with natural distortion with more than a bit of an early Jon Spencer Blues Explosion feel. Some fiery tremolo picking kicks off the second track, Fatso, snarling riff-rock with trebly Farfisa or what sounds like it by Casey Meehan of Jitney (another good band recently reviewed here). 

Once I Became One Of Those is careening and atonal in the Chrome Cranks vein, practically death metal but with swing instead of stomp. Come Get Me has the guitar punching a single chord over and over again as Frederick rails and the organ kicks in at the end of the verse, an effects pedal left oscillating wildly at the end. The absolutely evil, chromatically-charged The Line Starts Here staggers along with growly Stranglers bass over some tricky time changes. The big, obvious hit is Primitive, dark second-generation minor-key garage rock also evocative of the Stranglers with that oldschool organ swirling as the chorus hits a peak. The album winds up with Someone Stop Them, running a1-3-4 riff over and over again like a less sludgy Thee Hypnotics as the organ distorts, then hands over the reins to the guitar which eventually goes apeshit while Frederick screams the tortured mantra of a title. A Guantanamo parable? 

Another triumph for upstart Chicago label Rock Proper, who in a remarkable spirit of generosity make their albums available for free download: get the whole thing here. If this is any indication, they ought to be a great live band: Chicago fans ought to go see them at their cd release show on May 28 at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W Belmont.

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May 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize

What a harrowing way to start the new year. This cd hits you with a gale force, bitter, brutal and direct. Even if you try to get out of the way, Jay Bennett – the talented multi-instrumentalist who for all intents and purposes was Wilco until he left the band and Jeff Tweedy decided to become Brian Wilson – will still knock the wind out of you. Most of this cd – Bennett’s fourth solo album –  is just voice and acoustic guitar, occasionally embellished with organ and bass that are so good that you’re left wanting more. While the songs on this album scream out for a full band to flesh them out, even if this is as far as they ever get, that’s fine: they still pack a wallop. Stylistically, Bennett evokes Matt Keating or Richard Buckner in particularly energetic mode: this is smart, terse, gorgeously melodic Americana rock with equally smart, tersely unwinding lyrics. It’s a concept album about a relationship gone awry, spectacularly: this one was doomed right from the start, and if Bennett is to be taken at face value, it’s something of a miracle he got out alive.

 

The cd starts with a road song, just a bit of ominous foreshadowing in the same vein as the Wilco classic Far, Far Away (from the Being There cd), followed by the matter-of-fact, dismissive I Don’t Have the Time. Bennett knows there’s drama coming down the line and he wants no part of it. “I don’t have the good looks, but I know yours won’t last,” he caustically tells the woman. With the next cut, I’ll Decorate My Love, the genie’s out of the bottle, Pandora’s out of the box and all hell breaks loose, setting the tone for the rest of the cd:

 

There will be no profit in protection

Even when you’re walking miles in the rain

I will curse the day I met you

And you will curse the day I lost control

And there will be no reward for your actions

Even when you’re trying to save your lover’s soul…

You were down before me

 

The themes that recur again and again here are missed opportunities and wasted time (go figure), notably on the cd’s towering centerpiece, the big, crescendoing 6/8 ballad The Engines Are Idle:
 
The engines are idle and the trees are all bare

And the issues are clouded and hang in the air

The best part of the story is the part that you missed…

The best part of the record is the part where it skips

And she lost the lyrics and the jacket is ripped…

Cos it’s ageless and timeless but beauty must fade

And you looked so much better when the picture was made

 

The pace picks up and emotions reach a fever pitch on How Dull They Make the Razor: Bennett wants to wait this one out, but he ends up getting dragged in anyway:

 

It don’t matter how dull they make the razor

You won’t feel it when you’re dead 

 

On the next track, Without the Benefit of Sight, Bennett likens himself to a block of ice on a Chicago rooftop in early spring, loosened just enough to become deadly. Exasperation and despair take over center stage:

 

If you want to weigh me down there’s just one layer left

I’ve been repainted so many times it’s anybody’s guess

 

And that’s pretty much where it’s left. Bennett muses on how Hank Williams might have written this story, then throws up his hands and lets that work as a smokescreen: he’s through with trying to cut through the smoldering underbrush, and the songs follow suit. “I lost my best friend last night, I’m working on number two/Won’t you give me a chance cause your chances are through,” he warns on the stark, mandolin-spiced ballad Talk and Talk and Talk. The cd ends with a lament for the world as a whole – the relationship seems to be a microcosm of something far worse – and then with the understatement of Little Blue Pills, “that don’t make you ill – someday they will.”

 

Intensely personal yet not the least bit self-absorbed, this is the best thing Bennett’s ever done. And the best thing about it is that the cd is absolutely free: Bennett is giving it away as a free download at rockproper.com, click here and then hang on, this is not exactly easy listening.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments