Last Friday, February 20, Rick Harte of the legendary Ace of Hearts record label visited the WZBC studios to talk with James, host of friday-morning “Kick out the James.” The topics of conversation ranged from Rick’s earliest recordings of the Neighborhoods, Mission of Burma, and many other Boston greats to his most recent work with the London-based Heat From a Dead Star. If you missed this fantastic interview, or caught it live but to want listen again, you can find an audio-archived version at James’ radio interview page.

And, speaking of the Neighborhoods, check this one out …

Abe Vigoda – Reviver

February 20, 2009

I really liked Abe Vigoda’s album “Skeleton” from last year, so when their new 5-song EP, “Revival,” came out this week I had high hopes. And I was certainly not disappointed by the high-energy opener, “Don’t Lie,” followed by the slightly noisier “House” that followed. Both of those tracks rank up there with the standouts on the earlier “Skeleton.” They sound like what I’d imagine some tracks off of Deerhunter’s “Microcastle” might have sounded like if Bradford Cox had decided to lean towards punk instead of ’50s-era pop and rock ‘n’ roll. Excellent!

“House” fades into the short but haunting “Endless Sleeper,” a substantial and interesting reworking of the track by the same name off of “Skeleton.” But none of that, as great as it was, prepared me for what came next. Track 4, “Wild Heart.” Listened to it once – wow – this is something entirely different. Listened to it again – man – this is really powerful stuff. Then the third time through, it finally hits me: this is a cover of the STEVIE NICKS song! Awesome! A totally amazing reinterpretation that, even though a cover, takes the band’s already high level of creativity a big step further.

“Reviver” is a great EP, and its brevity – uncut by filler, throwaways, or half-baked ideas – only adds to its considerable prestige. This is pure, distilled beauty.

Animal Hospital's Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues, just out on Mutable Sound Records

Animal Hospital's Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues, just out on Mutable Sound Records

My favorite Brian Eno album always has been and always will be “Another Green World.” Anticipating Eno’s ambient work that soon followed in its use of meditative repetition and quiet electronics, that 1975 lp has always been more interesting to me because of its added complexity: the way, for instance, that guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional vocal allow the music to retain contact with the standard rock format even as the compositions moved far beyond. So you might call “Another Green World” an “ambient” album, but it’s much more than that; and you might call it “experimental rock,” but it’s much more than that, too.

And so it was Eno’s “Another Green World” that came to mind when I listened to Animal Hospital’s (aka Kevin Micka’s) new cd, “Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues.” On each of this superb album’s nine tracks, guitar, bass, drums, and the occasional vocal get electronically treated and layered on. The sensation produced is like when a camera, initially zoomed in so far that its image is abstact and blurred, gradually backs out so that an entire, complex, moving landscape comes into focus. So, yeah: you could call it “ambient,” but it’s much more than that, and you could call it “experimental rock,” but it’s much more than that too. And so it strikes me as no small coincidence that the album cover, shown above, depicts what looks like yet “another green world.”

You can download one of the loveliest tracks, “March and June,” from the Mutable Sound website. But this is an album that you really have to hear all of. Put in on, right after “Another Green World” and right before side two of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” It’ll fit right in.

The Shrinking Islands put out one of my favorite local albums of 2006, called “In the Black Carpet,” and so I was delighted to hear a newly-released track from the band on this afternoon’s edition of WZBC’s Flyweight, and even more delighted when the entry from Ravioli’s playlist plus a quick Google search led me to an Inman Street Records page where the entire EP can be downloaded for free! “The Slow-Moving Aftermath” includes three tracks that are as good if not better than the very fine material on the previous full-length. And while this post from the band’s Myspace page compares their sound to that of Guided By Voices and the Feelies, I also hear echoes of REM’s early Chronic Town, still my favorite by them. Highly recommended!

Fire on Fire, from South Portland, Maine, have a new full-length album out, titled “The Orchard.” Or, rather, they have had a new full-length out since the middle of last December, and the only thing I regret is that I waited two months to pick it up and have a listen. If you enjoyed their appropriately-titled “5 Song EP” from late 2007, as I did, you’re sure to like this one too, for both records feature the same intricate, all-acoustic instrumentation and beautiful vocal arrangements. “The Orchard” still sounds new and original – and in fact I think I actually prefer it to the earlier EP – in large part because, by quieting just a bit of the delightful clamor of songs like “Hangman” and “Amnesia” from 2007, the new album can sustain its flowing energy over 12-tracks lasting, together, more than an hour. And the whole thing culminates with the absolutely stunning 8-and-a-half-minute closer, “Haystack,” in which Colleen Kinsella’s voice floats gracefully over hypnotically repeating melodies and beats. I’d recommend that you check out Lucas Caldwell Schleicher’s review of “The Orchard” on the Brainwashed website, which deepened still further my appreciation of this excellent cd. Meantime, I think I’ll cheat a little, and call it one of my favorites of 2009 so far.

On this week’s show (Wednesday, February 11, 2009, 1-3pm), I’ll be playing the new cd  “Hidden Hills” by Old Furnace as it was meant to be heard: straight through, in its entirety, starting just before 2pm and running until 2:30pm. See my review of this excellent album below.

And also as noted below, Old Furnace will be doing a live set on WMBR’s “Subject to Change” program on Saturday, February 21. For details, see this announcement on the band’s myspace page.