Autechre – Oversteps

April 20, 2010

I’m really enjoying this new Autechre lp.

The title, “Oversteps,” strikes ms as a bit of a misnomer, though, since instead of going too far in any one direction, instead it seems to get everything just right. Sparse but still melodic. Complex but often meditative. Refined but still organic.

I’ll let the others argue, like they always do, about whether this new release matches up to the duo’s previous work, or to complain about what they should have done instead.

Because like I said, this one strkes me as getting it just right.

Wooden Shjips – Vol 2

April 18, 2010

“Vol 1,” from 2008, collected together in one place some of the Wooden Shjips’ earliest releases. “Vol 2” does something of the same, and so when I put it on I was expecting to hear more of the same — which in this band’s case means some excellent stuff.

And that’s exactly what I heard, at least at the start. Tracks 1 and 2, “Loose Lips” and the even better B-side “Start to Dreaming,” were first released a few years ago on a Sub Pop 7″. Then came “Vampire Blues” — a Neil Young cover — and a live version of “Death’s Not Your Friend.”

Then came track 5, which was not what I was expecting and but what really blew me away. The first thing I noticed is that I couldn’t quite catch the lyrics  — but not because of the echo, distortion, and other effects that often add spectacularly to Wooden Shjips’ compositions — instead because they were being sung in French. Then after a few minutes it sinks in: this is a completely amazing cover version of the song “Contact,” written by Serge Gainsbourg and performed (below) by Brigitte Bardot. Wooden Shjips slow it down and stretch it out — this version runs almost 8 1/2 minutes — and make it their own in every way, while somehow still retaining all the style, panache, and humor of the original.

A stunning testament, in other words, to the band’s creativity and talent. And that’s what makes “Vol 2” more than just another collection of singles, live tracks, covers, and rarities, and instead a release that stands right up there with Wooden Shjips’ very best.

I tend to like everything that Will Oldham does, but there’s so much of it, it’s often hard to separate out the really great from the just plain old usual very good.

Up until now, though, the lp I’ve kept going back to is the collaborative effort with Tortoise, “The Brave the Bold,” from 2006. There, Oldham as Bonnie Price Billy sings as the band blazes on high in the background, totally reworking classic songs by Springsteen (“Thunder Road”), Devo (“That’s Pep!”), Richard Thompson (“Cavalry Cross”), The Minutemen (“It’s Expected I’m Gone”), and (even) Elton John (“Daniel”) among others.

But this new album with Emmett Kelley aka The Cairo Gang stands right up there as a new favorite. Whereas Tortoise provided a giant, noisy, and colorful backdrop against which to perform, here Kelley’s sparse but expressive guitar work matches up perfectly with the same qualities in Oldham’s voice, producing powerful and moving compositions like “Troublesome Houses,” “With Cornstalks or Among Them,” “The Sounds are Always Begging,” and “That’s What Our Love Is.” The lp’s title is fitting, too, as together the ten tracks capture all of the horror/madness/passion/amazement — all of the wonder, that is — that life in this world has to offer.

“The Wonder of the World” is out now, on Drag City records.

Emmet Kelly/Cairo Gang & Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy

Apples in Stereo have a new lp coming out next month, called “Travellers in Space and Time,” which surely will be of great interest to anyone and everyone, myself included, who ever dreamed of riding on that flying saucer from the cover of ELO’s “Out of the Blue.”

From the Yep Roc webpage: ‘”Travellers” contains sixteen piano-driven tracks, bubbling over with vocoder harmonies and sci-fi sound effects, like 70’s AM radio filtered through a UFO; including the robotic first single “Dance Floor.”‘ Exactly.

And, likewise, you can download that single for free, from the same page.