Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last "Real" Post Of 2011


“Lady Wisconsin”

* * * 1/2

“Lady Wisconsin,” the first Local Hero tune to feature their new four-piece lineup (multi-instrumentalist Maya Laner has been added; Max Hirtz-Wolf of Rikoché has stepped in on bass), is an unlikely choice for a single. It’s incredibly simple, consisting of little more than some clacking percussion, gentle piano, a sparse guitar arrangement, and the dual voices of Laner and singer-guitarist Alex MacKay. While much of the appeal of their previous singles came from how the evocative lyrics and the complex musical textures never threatened to overwhelm one another, “Lady Wisconsin” is all about the lyrics--which are, thankfully, more than up to scratch. It’s a neat little love story--boy meets girl, girl isn’t that interesting, boy meets another girl--delivered in uncharacteristically blunt but effective language (“I kissed her once, but it wasn’t that great”). MacKay’s singer-songwriter persona seems capable enough, but by stripping the Local Hero sound down, much of what made the band’s earlier recordings (particularly on their Aldgate EP) so great is also absent. The layers of Afropop guitars, the faint psychedelic tang to their lyrics, their seamless blending of disparate influences--these elements are nowhere to be found on “Lady Wisconsin.” If this is an indication of a new direction for Local Hero, it might take me some time to get used to it, but this is as good a start as any.


Carrion Crawler/The Dream

* * * 1/2

Thee Oh Sees’ previous album, Castlemania, was fun as a avant-rock novelty, but Carrion Crawler/The Dream, the veteran SF garage-rockers’ second album of 2011, is nothing more or less than Thee Oh Sees at the height of their powers. As opposed to his largely solo work Castlemania, John Dwyer has assembled a killer backup band to help realize his songs. This is a great group capable of keeping a solid groove up for however long or at whatever tempo or volume suits Dwyer for maximum yelping-and-shouting potential. However, many the songs on side one of Carrion Crawler are basically really, really long garage-rock songs that remind the listener that most rock actually played in garages does not come in the form of 2-minute pop tunes but rather aimless jams from which effective musical ideas are later cherrypicked. However, this particular garage band is ridiculously skilled and willing to stray outside set grooves and vamps, and were this particular incarnation of Thee Oh Sees any less skilled, Carrion Crawler would be far less effective an album.


“White” (feat. Watsky)

* * 1/2

It was destiny that Frak and Watsky would eventually come together and record a song about why God should allow middle-class white people anywhere near a microphone. While there are more skillful or experienced rappers than either of these two, they make a fairly convincing argument with lines like “I love words, I love music, so why the hell can’t I combine ‘em?” or “Maybe I don’t understand Wolf Gang or Wu-Tang/But the spirit of the lyrics made my mood change.” How do they pull this off? Well, “White” is hardly a serious song, rattling off the punchlines one after another and thus falling into the truth-disguised-by-joke category of rap of which Watsky is a proven master. And as a rap song, it’s nothing remarkable--neither really bothers to flow, preferring to focus on the stereotypically “white” voices in which they deliver their verses. Still, one has to give credit to Frak and Watsky for writing what could be a definitive white-privileged-rapper manifesto without tripping over the sociopolitical pitfalls that come with any discussion of the issue. (Oh, and the beat is awesome.)

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