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Best Albums of 2011 Series: “Elephants at the Door,” Dumbo Gets Mad

9th December


Read nearly anything about Elephants at the Door by Dumbo Gets Mad—the nom de plume adopted by a twenty-something kid out of Northern Italy whose dreamy eyes and killer ‘stache bring to mind some younger, hipper understudy of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will be Blood—and you almost certainly will come across the following descriptive: psychedelic. Let’s be clear, Elephants at the Door is a terrific record deserving of much of the praise lavished upon it since “Plumy Tale” blew the fuse box of the music blogosphere last year. But to slap it with the “psychedelic” tag both undermines and mischaracterizes its achievement.

The term “psychedelic” is tossed around so frequently these days it’s become about as helpful a way of describing a band’s sound as “indie.” Anyone who has listened to After Bathing at Baxter’s, Skip Spence’s brilliant Oar, or even “Jugband Blues”—the lone Syd Barrett track on Pink Floyd’s 1968 sophomore effort, A Saucerful of Secrets—knows that genuine psychedelia is not something you bob your head to in your Prius on the way to the wheat grass bar. It’s something you hear before shouting “what the #@*% was that?” and looking funny at the friend who played it for you after lighting another roach.

 

Even some of the most deliberate stabs at psychedelia that emerged from the era in which the sound was invented—records likePet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers—still indulge the abandon, whimsy and discord that comprise the fundament of true psychedelia. What we have in Elephants at the Door, on the other hand, is far more calculated than all that. That it nonetheless keeps the listener dazzled for the span of at least eight of its ten tight tracks is an accomplishment that cannot be overstated. Simply put, this is a pop record, and a damned good one. Albeit with elephant noises and a band name taken from the hallucination sequence in the Disney classic Dumbo.

Elephants wastes no time winning you over with its peculiar and warm-hearted charm. Sure, you swear you heard the opening track’s burst of birds and bubbles somewhere on the first MGMT record (Hint: you did). And OK, maybe “Plumy Tale’s” gorgeous organ riff sounds an awful lot like somebody slipped some Ambien into the cocktail that once brought The Caesars’ “Jerk it Out” to an iPod commercial near you. But so what? No record that boasts its influences as abundantly as this one is aiming for originality—and thank God for that, since most records that do are pretty much bound to suck.

Dumbo is not the guy who breaks the ground; he’s the guy who shows up after the ground’s been broken and plants the most amazing daffodils in the cracks left behind. “Ecclectic Prawn” channels Odelay-era Beck while “Why Try” plays like a Portishead track filtered through a Tindersticks song. The ghost of John Bonham haunts several tracks with throbbing drums straight out of “When the Levee Breaks,” and some distinctly Bowie-esque vocals erupt out of the frothing, intergalactic stew that is “Harmony.” With its dueling synthesizers laid over a low-fi feast of jangling guitars and cymbal-heavy drum machine beats, “Harmony” sounds as much at home on a record as it might be in the Labyrinthe Zone of Sonic the Hedgehog.

This is a record for those who stumbled late to the altar of The Flaming Lips upon hearing The Soft Bulletin, music for people who stuck with last year’s Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti record for long enough to recognize its brilliance. Elephants never comes quite as unhinged as either of those records; these songs are composed, tightly packed things that never stray far from their creator’s guiding hand. But Dumbo’s stated affection for Captain Beefheart and his ardent embrace of the “psychedelic” label—however imprecise it may be—suggests that more daring experiments may be on the way. If Elephants is any indication, whatever he comes up with next will be well worth the wait.

Oh, yeah, and you can download the whole thing for free–as long as you promise to Tweet about it first. Check it out here. And if you’re yet to hear the sick “mix tape” Dumbo Gets Mad put out, you owe it to yourself. Check it out over at Anthony Fantano’s blog, The Needle Drop.

Gianmarc Manzione
gmanzione@culturespill.com

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Introducing: Bastard Lovechild of Rock ‘N Roll

10th February

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You think you know what you’re in for when “Boy You Need Jesus,” the opening track of Bastard Love Child of Rock ‘n Roll’s debut EP, BimBom, erupts with its frenzied delirium of cymbals and slide guitar, vaguely psychedelic vocals that echo like strange voices from the other side of a canyon at night, and a blast of organ that brings it all home with such aplomb you actually wonder if that’s Augie Meyers on the stool.

You think it’s a young band that’s listened to lots of early Zeppelin and White Stripes, digs the stream-of-consciousness abandon of a Neil Young guitar solo, and actually knows what they mean when they toss around terms like “Psychedelia”—that it’s a sacred and glittering temple inhabited by the likes of Moby Grape, The Seeds, or Quicksilver Messenger Service, and not the sorry crutch it’s become for big-label bands groping for any hip cloak to dress their music in.

You would think these things—and on all accounts you would be right. But you also would be tempted to believe that you’ve just surmised the extent of all this Florida duo has to offer—that they’re a pair of young rockers flicking on their lighters at the altar of the long-gone bands they worship, and that’s that. And you would be wrong. Dead wrong.

“Boy You Need Jesus” fades into the second track’s galactic freak-out of synths that sound like a chorus of crying ghosts. One can hear Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright shaking his head in his grave, muttering “Why didn’t I ever think of that!?” The track plays with all the gusto that its epiphanic title promises–“Hallelujah I’ve Been BLORRN Again,” it’s called–and it keeps I Monster’s “Hey Mrs.” chained to the kitchen sink of its ambition, only without the predictability and polish that those beat masters bring to their club-quaking trip-hop.

Several tracks on BimBom play like many songs packaged into one. It’s no secret that most debut EPs document the sound of a young band on the verge of discovering the identity they’re searching for, and, in a way, BimBom is no exception.  The opener’s conventional blues-rock with a hankering for psychedelia gives way to that gorgeous, psych-synth weirdness of “Hallelujah”; “Seven Sisters,” the track for which the band recently completed the video above, calls to mind the haunting soundscape with which Led Zeppelin’s “In The Evening” begins; the shuffling, jazzy licks and percussion of “My Blushing Grape” or “My Poor Delisa” would make just as much sense on some lost Sade record; and the blistering romper “Booty Making Mama Shakin'” glazes its anthemic riffs in a coating of space rock.

“Booty Makin” raises hell with more of the gloriously snotty licks these guys delight in one minute, and dims the lights with the jangling flutters of guitar that call the whole thing softly home the next. The EP is at once bipolar and measured, as self-contained as it is likely to burst. It’s tempting to suggest that Adam Winn and Chris Hess, the brainchildren behind BLORR who prefer the stage names “Cookie Sugarhips” and “Hot Damn Sweet Huckleberry Winn,” have more ideas than they know what to do with, as the record radiates in all directions at once like some sonic solar storm. But by the time the hammering percussion and piercing guitars of its dreamy closer wrap these nine tracks in their fluorescent ribbon, you hear at last the cohesive vision that’s sewn these songs together all along–a vision as committed to looking back at the pioneers that made it possible as it is to thrusting into the future whose road they paved.

This is no typical EP that meanders through a grab-bag of sounds in the hope that something sticks; this is the work of a band that knows what it wants to do and isn’t afraid to do it. And if these nine tracks prove anything for sure, it’s that they’re having a hell of a lot of fun in the meantime.

Gianmarc Manzione
gmanzione@culturespill.com

Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely

19th May

by Sara Mrozinski

Raconteurs

In 2006 Jack White broke my heart. He released an unsatisfying album with a newly formed side-project of friends and crowned the endeavor “what he has always wanted to do”. It seemed nothing but an abandonment of Meg and a half-hearted attempt at proof of self worth. Jack said himself that he would be nothing musically without Meg, that it was her childlike hammering that made each bluesy chord of his cohesive. So then, why Jack do you wish to dilute your talent with superfluous accompaniments and banal verses? The single “Steady As She Goes” was mildly catchy at most while the album as a whole fell short of the Whitelicious masterpiece we were accustomed to. It pretty much sucked. Just when all hope was surely lost, Icky Thump was born and life was good again.

Needless to say, I was more than skeptical of the newest Raconteurs project. I accept and love that Jack White is a man of many escapades, including plastic camera and speaker manufacture, collaboration with the Gods (Loretta Lynn and Bob Dylan), cell phone protestation, and home movies of snoring band mates (sorry Meg). With the exception of the premier Raconteurs album, he hits all these ventures out of the park. Therefore, I gave him an open, yet highly analytical second chance.


Raconteurs: “Salute Your Solution”

Consolers of the Lonely, HOT DAMN! I’m sorry my lord for ever doubting your ability. I grabble at your feet in repentance! The Kinks got busy with Icky Thump and conceived Consolers of the Lonely, plain and simple. This album delivers Jack White’s signature raw energy viciously burned with blistering horns and riffs to rival Zeppelin. The band let the album speak for itself, doing zero promotion and allowing the content to leak on iTunes and the like. Bravo boys. White and company have created radio-soluble tunes capable of pushing facileness overboard. So long Linkin Park and Flobots! This album is a must for summer and pairs perfectly with open-windowed driving. After all of Jack White’s eccentric pursuits, he again proves his tireless ability to win my applause.

Rock on Raconteurs!