Thursday, July 10, 2003

88 lines (OK, considerably less) about 5 albums:

The Pop Group, Y. One of the least remembered of the great late 70’s English post-punk bands (their entire catalog is out of print at the moment), the Pop Group offered up a mix of dissonant funk, overeducated experimentalism of the Beefheart/Zappa school and left wing political screeds. Mark Stewart is a rather overbearing front man, and Y is the kind of album that’s hard to listen to in one sitting. But when their mishmash of influences cohered into a memorable groove like “Thief of Fire” or “She is Beyond Good and Evil,” the effect is undeniably powerful. And the epic “We Are Time” is a striking masterpiece - the band locks upon a insistent bass-and-guitar riff, while Stewart’s impassioned exhortations sound liberating instead of hectoring.

Steely Dan, Everything Must Go. While I should probably give this one a few more listens, my initial impression is that there’s too many songs stuck in the same midtempo autopilot groove without the memorable lyrics and arrangements of classic Steely Dan. I’d rank it a few notches below Two Against Nature, which had a similar sound but several songs that stood out from the pack. A solid album, though, and I’m probably judging it more harshly than I would otherwise because of just how brilliant the Dan’s output was in the 70’s.

Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music. I lost interest in the Jayhawks when Marc Olson left the group; the flat Midwestern harmonies of Olson and Gary Louris lifted them above much of the Americana pack, and without Olson the Jayhawks fell back into the pleasant but forgettable second tier. Rainy Day Music isn’t quite a return to form, but it has a couple of dead solid perfect country rock gems - “Save it for a Rainy Day” and “Eyes of Sarahjane.”

Godz, Contact High. Most famous for being hailed by Lester Bangs as one of the keepers of the rock and roll flame during the psychedelic/progressive era, the Godz haven’t quite gotten the same critical renaissance that’s been accorded to other Bangs favorites like the Stooges and the 60’s garage rock bands. The Godz were a little folkier and less reliant on loud guitars and straight ahead 4:4 beats than those aforementioned groups; at times, Contact High is reminiscent of a weirder and much less instrumentally and vocally adept version of Red Krayola or ESP labelmates Pearls Before Swine. It’s an interesting listen and they had their moments (particularly on the oddly affective “White Cat Heat” and Hank Williams cover “May You Never Be Alone Like Me”), but it’s not quite as timeless as the other stuff that Bangs championed.

Jerry Yester/Judy Henske, Farewell Aldebaran. I admit it, I’m a sucker for this folk hippie shit, and Farewell Aldebaran is one of the great lost classics of the genre. (Lost, that is, unless you‘re a colossal record geek, because it‘s never even been released on CD.) Enough has been said about the beauty of Judy Henske’s voice by Andrew Vachss alone, so I’ll just add that Farewell Aldebaran combines ageless folk melodies (“Raider” and “Charity”) with the melodic adventurousness that typifies the best psychedelia (“Farewell Aldebaran”). And “Snowblind” is the best Humble Pie song that Humble Pie never wrote. (Yes, I actually mean that as a compliment.)

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