INTERVIEW: Lee Ranaldo (2012)

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The common impression of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo is one of a polymorphic artist with ideas constantly tumbling out as spoken word, art and of course music. His collaborative projects are numerous, as are the publications of his poetry and one senses he is totally consumed by the creative process. With this in mind as we chatted over the phone from his New York home it was slightly surprising to hear that he was preparing to head to Nova Scotia in Canada for a few weeks of rest and relaxation the following day. 

“Sometimes it is nice to not have any agenda and just be out experiencing things but usually downtime involves moving from one art form to another. Usually one is a vacation from doing the other so when I’m not touring I get to work on drawings or something else in my studio.” he explains.

Having his fingers in a number of artistic pies allows Ranaldo flexibility in how he expresses himself creatively and as he explains, none of the disciplines he works in are mutually exclusive. 

“I see myself first and foremost as an artist who doesn’t work in a particular field. I’m interested in visual artists whether that’s painting, drawings and cinema and I’m interested in language whether it be writing as poems or stories or journals or lyrics and I’m interested in music and I feel like they feed each other. Its really all about tapping into creativity in whichever area you work in. I’m pretty active in visual arts these days, I’ve got work in shows in a few different places right now and I’m always writing and putting out new small books of poetry. The things feed off each other. The words end up on canvas, the music informs ideas for cinema and spoken word finds its way into some of the performance events.”

The most prominent of Ranaldo’s recent projects in the wake of the Sonic Youth hiatus enforced by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s split is his solo record Between The Times & The Tides. Ranaldo has released solo works in the past but this album sees him working primarily in a standard rock band format and in fact was written and recorded prior to the current hibernation of his main band.

“This record was done during one of those periods before we found out what was going on between Thurston and Kim. Over the last decade we’ve built a lot of time into our schedule for people to work on their own projects outside Sonic Youth. I’m thankful it was done before I had any inkling of that stuff so it was done as normal without any added pressure that my band was stopping or anything like that.”

Though the album is predominantly an electric guitar, rock album, the songs started life acoustically in Ranaldo’s lounge room before undergoing a process that included the addition of a rhythm section and a number of guest appearances from friends he had collaborated with on other musical projects. 

“I wouldn’t say it came about by accident but I wasn’t really planning to make a record like this. The songs just started coming out and I performed the first couple that I wrote and that led to writing some more. I started off thinking it was going to be an acoustic and voice record and then it ended up as this rock band record so it just built in this very natural, organic way from the very first tunes that came out of my acoustic guitars in my living room,” explains Ranaldo.

“Early on I got Steve (Shelley) to play drums on a few things and right away we decided we’d try to find a bass player and put a rhythm section on some of the songs. That’s how we started tracking the record, with bass, drums and me and then I invited everyone else in to play after that, so the structures were pretty well worked out and there was a framework for people to get an idea of what I was looking for in each song. The songs were just coming out and I was following them, I wasn’t trying to make them into anything they weren’t.”

“It’s been a really fun process and just as surprising to me as any one else at this point. I still say that for me to make a more traditional singer/songwriter record like this – on one hand it is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – on the other hand it is as experimental a phase in my career as all the other experimental things I’ve done from spoken word to noisy music to film soundtracks.” 

Though Between The Times And The Tides is a solo record there are contributions from a number of guest musicians that are essential to making the songs sound as detailed and expansive as they do.

“There is a certain group of people playing on them, a lot of friends and collaborators from various points in my life from Sonic Youth members like Steve Shelley and Jim O’Rourke to Alan Licht. Nels Cline and John Medeski also played on the album and they’ve worked with me on various other projects over the years so it was really fun to make the record and see these songs come up,” says Ranaldo enthusiastically.

Rather than collecting together a group of songs, tacking on some cover art and sending them out into the world, Ranaldo was determined to create an album in the traditional sense where there is an ebb and flow and a narrative to both the music and the packaging. Like so much of the cross-pollination in his work, the initial seed for the album came from a photograph.

“It really started with this picture of me that we used on the front cover. I was writing the first of these songs and I did an interview with some people for a documentary and one of the guys took those pictures and when he sent me that one I thought “wow, this looks it would be a really cool album cover”. That goaded me into writing the record, to wrap in this package in a sense,” explains Ranaldo. “I was very aware it was going to be an album, with a gatefold and liner notes about the sessions and the feeling that “this is going to be the last song on side one,” so there was a grouping of songs you could listen to as a side of a record. We pretty much thought we were making a vinyl record right up until it was done and then we had to prepare the CD issue. So many records these days devolve into being about one or two songs and bunch of others so we were really trying to make a group of songs that hung together in an interesting way.”

“I really wanted it to be a personal record harking back to a singer/songwriter album like they were when I was listening to records like that in the 60s and 70s, where it would be a window on somebody’s life and you hoped you’d find a commonality and shared experience from listening to it. Records then were these experiences that they’re not really now. You’d get a record and pore over the liner notes and who played on each track and they’d stay with you longer and be this real listening experience. Even if it was for no one other than me I wanted this record to be made in that kind of mindset.“

Looking back to those early years of folk rock as inspiration for the format of Between The Times And The Tides was also in keeping with the musical inspiration for the songs in their initial incarnations. 

“I was playing acoustic guitars again seriously for the first time in ages so I guess that really took me back to certain things I listened to when I was much younger, when I was predominately an acoustic guitar player – whether it was John Fahey or  Leo Kottke or David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Velvet Underground and Reverend Gary Davis – all kinds of people that were working with open guitar tunings.”

As our conversation winds up there is the matter of addressing the elephant on the phone line, the future prospects for Sonic Youth. Together for 31 years, they are currently in a holding phase while each member explores other projects and Moore and Gordon are given the space to decide whether they can still work together artistically.

“We are all enjoying the freedom to do other things as we have done for many, many years over the lifetime of the band,” says Ranaldo. “None of us are in any way even thinking about or certainly not talking to each other about ideas of what might or might not happen. The idea of getting to that point is a long, long way off. I have no doubt that we’re all going to continue. We are all doing interesting things now and that spirit that has driven us all these years isn’t just going to dry up if we stop working together. I wouldn’t say building towards this but we’ve really prepared ourselves well by over the last ten or fifteen years being involved in lots of independent projects outside Sonic Youth. It’s easy to fill time, the challenge is filling it in a significant way and all of us get offers to do various things all year long.”

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Spencer P. Jones & The Nothing Butts

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Spencer P. Jones has a knack of surrounding himself with superb collaborators whether it be in The Beasts of Bourbon, The Johnnys, or with the likes of Paul Kelly, Chris Bailey and Kim Salmon. Now he has teamed up with James Baker (The Scientists/Hoodoo Gurus) and Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin from The Drones and recorded a fantastic collection of visceral rock songs as The Nothing Butts.

Jones’ guitar is given both a solid backbone and space to breathe by the other musicians and they show they are just adept at ripping out a primitive Stooges-sounding slab of rock like the opener Only A Matter of Time as they are at dialing back all the bluster on the gorgeous haze of (She Walks) Between The Raindrops, a song that possesses a measured aching beauty. Jones’ songs sound like mature dispatches from a man who has been playing for decades. Mature in the sense of knowing exactly what they require sonically and in their construction. There are strains of classic songwriters like Cohen, Young and Dylan echoing across the album but Jones’s scorched earth guitar tones and battered voice ground the songs in a raw and earthy place that works to strip them of any scholarly pretension.

Jones must surely be a big musical influence on Gareth Liddiard which makes it hard to pick where the contribution of The Drones is most felt. There is a stylistic overlap and blurring of musical personalities yet that’s what makes the album such a harmonious collaboration, proving that unfettered and glorious rock n roll from a well-worn template can still sound real and enlivening.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Primal Scream @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (05/12/12)

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by Chris Familton

The Delta Riggs were given the task of warming up the arriving punters and though there were only a handful present at the start of their set, by its conclusion there was a healthy contingent showing their appreciation for a committed and entertaining set. The Delta Riggs are a band that have studied their heroes with forensic precision – they sound like them, look like them, move like them and most importantly they effectively replicate them. It is impossible to not play spot the influences with their overt nods to the likes of The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin and indeed Primal Scream. They do it well though and in a track called America they showed a different sound, nailing a great soul groove like The Afghan Whigs.

Primal Scream have visited a few times in recent years and without a new album to promote there was a chance that the show might lack focus. Thankfully those fears didn’t manifest themselves as they set about playing a well curated selection of songs from across their three decade career. Perhaps as a statement of contemporary relevance they opened with 2012, one of two new tracks they played from their forthcoming album. Musically speaking it was a solid if unspectacular start combining a groove-establishing mood with a typical Primals anthemic chorus delivered in Bobby Gillespie’s unmistakable slack-jawed drawl of a voice.

From there the set took diverse swings into the main sonic cornerstones of the band’s back catalogue with industrial menace of Swastika Eyes and Accelerator, the smiley-faced pill euphoria of the Screamadelica era and their often derided yet now essential forays into Stones/Faces swaggering rock. Songs from Screamadelica sounded the least convincing with the samples, piano chords and faux gospel pleadings of Movin’ On Up and Come Together very much locked into the sound of the early 90s. That isn’t to say the band were any less committed to those songs. Gillespie swayed, bounced and sashayed around the stage with that blank expression and thousand yard stare, intermittently engaging directly with the audience to urge them to sing along. Andrew Innes was resplendent in leather pants and a sparkling shirt, guarding his side of the stage with a touch of the Keith Richards about him while the rest of the band hit their marks. Brand new bassist Simone Butler looked nervous but her playing was a perfect mix of drive and groove that easily filled the Mani-sized hole in the band.

The highlights of the 90 minute set were a rousing rendition of Country Girl, the show closer Rocks and a devastating version of Shoot Speed/Kill Light. The latter was the perfect example of how Primal Scream explode genres and rearrange the shattered fragments into songs that sound definitively theirs. Its krautrock rhythms, narcotic blur, heavy mood and attention to sonic detail provided a feeling of lift-off to the show and it was only after that song that they really dropped their shoulders and began to sound as relaxed and revelatory as they can. This was Primal Scream celebrating their past and preparing for the future.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Young & Crazy Horse | Psychedelic Pill

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by Chris Familton

Neil-Young-Pscyhedelic-PillRating8These are prolific times for Neil Young, even more so than usual with the release of two Crazy Horse albums, a memoir, continued work on next volume of Archives and the development of a new high-end digital music format. Add in touring to promote all of the above and it is something of a landmark year for the 67 year old. Psychedelic Pill’s precursor Americana felt like a warm-up (albeit a great one), a re-setting of the Crazy Horse dial and a chance for the band to find their feet while Young re-calibrated his songwriting compass with a newly drug and alcohol-free state of mind. The good news is that his muse hasn’t deserted him and as a band Crazy Horse are sounding as free-ranging and synchronistic as ever.

At ninety minutes in length the first surprise is that there are only nine songs on the new album with one of them, the title track, presented as two different mixes. The inclusion of both versions is confusing and unnecessary as the first is saturated in a flanger effect, a literal tie-in to the name of the song/album no doubt but it is grossly distracting and offers nothing to the record, especially when the straight take on the song that closes the album is so much better, a grizzly rampage in the good tradition of songs like Fuckin’ Up from Ragged Glory.

What we get with those eight different songs is a musical journey guided by Young’s muse through a world where time and place are irrelevant – time in the sense of both lyrical subject matter and a disregard for conventional song structure. Ramada Inn and Walk Like A Giant both hit sixteen minutes, paling in comparison to the epic twenty seven minute stretch of Driftin’ Back with Young’s guitar conjuring up billowing squalls of distortion and spiraling infinite solos.

The relationship between Psychedelic Pill and his memoir is an important one. Both are documents of Young’s life in emotional and geographical terms. As he has done increasingly ever since the release of Harvest Moon, Young remembers lost friends, faded dreams and places he loves with a warm nostalgia. Walk Like A Giant, with its infectious whistling melody bemoans the loss of the hippie dream – a theme he has often visited in song. Born in Ontario pays homage to his hometown and feels like a restating of his Canadian roots while Twisted Road charts the emotions he felt upon hearing Dylan, Orbison and The Grateful Dead with a warm and wistful country feel in the vein of 1977’s Homegrown.

Crazy Horse are best known for their epic, scorched-earth guitar jams yet their records always throw up beautiful and tender moments like For The Love of Man. The song is another in the endless canon of love songs but this one takes a different tact, questioning the concept and institution of religion. It offers no answers, just elegiac questions and shows that for all his gruff railings at the world Young can also leave open-ended questions hanging gracefully in the air.

Fans of Neil Young & Crazy Horse will rightfully relish Psychedelic Pill as yet another worthy addition to their discography. They will forgive him for his excessive romanticising and celebrate the epic sprawl of the album in a way that many younger listeners just discovering the band might not. This is an album that feels eminently real and from the heart and soul of four musicians who respect, honour and follow the song wherever it may take them.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

ALBUM REVIEW: Pinback | Information Retrieved

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by Chris Familton

Information_RetrievedRating6Pinback sound like they inhabit a netherworld suspended between post rock and indie guitar pop and on their new album that combination of styles and a studio sheen have resulted in a diluted collection of songs.

Pinback are a fantastic live band where volume and adrenalin give their songs a grounding and a stronger backbone and though Information Retrieved isn’t bereft of great songs it is just sounds too clean and precise, like every note has been played or programmed to perfection. The album starts strongly with the first two tracks possessing interesting rhythms and momentum but then it flattens out with their robotic post rock grooves sounding synthetic and clinical. On Diminished, with it’s Nik Kershaw vocal similarities, they slow the tempo and the music feels looser and more human as a result but it is too little too late. Pinback clearly possess the required writing and playing skills, they just need to allow a little more heart and soul into the mix.

this review was first published on Fasterlouder

DS Top Electronic Releases of 2012

2012 TOP ALBUMS electronic

This is by no means a snapshot across all forms of electronic music as I have little interest in some strands such as trance, commercial dance music or the mainstream adoption and bastardisation of the name dubstep. I say ‘the name’ as the music itself bears little resemblance to the sounds that were created under that tag through the 00s. My tastes instead drift towards bass music – be it dub, experimental, minimal techno, ambient or drone.  This list of releases from 2012 hits the best of those dark, murky suggestive and cerebral places so in no particular order here are our favourites. Click on the artwork to sample/buy any of the releases via Boomkat.

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BURIAL :: KINDRED

 

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RAIME :: QUARTER TURNS OVER A LIVING LINE

 

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ANDY STOTT :: LUXURY PROBLEMS

 

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ACTRESS :: R.I.P

 

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SHED :: THE KILLER

 

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DARLING FARAH :: BODY

 

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IRON CURTIS :: SOFT WIDE WAISTBAND

 

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SHACKLETON :: MUSIC FOR THE QUIET HOUR

 

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MONOLAKE :: GHOSTS

 

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FOUR TET :: PINK

 

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LOSCIL :: SKETCHES FROM NEW BRIGHTON

 

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VCMG :: SSSS

 

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ROBERT HOOD :: MOTOR: NIGHTTIME WORLD 3

 

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DAPHNI :: JIAOLONG

 

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TERRENCE DIXON :: FROM THE FAR FUTURE PT. 2

 

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1991 :: 1991

 

LIST: DS Top Albums of 2012

2012 TOP ALBUMS

2012 felt like somewhat of a mixed bag of musical lollies with our favourites encompassing americana, power pop, 80s synth, indie and many shades of psychedelia. The only thing that tied them all together was the strong streak of melody that each was built on. Even in the case of someone like Neil Young & Crazy Horse it was Young’s incredible weaving of musical notes on Old Black that made that record such a delight. Hopefully there will be a few surprises scattered across our list which will send you down another musical rabbit hole to find out if we are onto something… Hopefully we are.

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square-600-11Charlie Horse – I Hope I’m Not A Monster

square-600-16Deep Sea Arcade – Outlands

LOWER PLENTYLower Plenty – Hard Rubbish

square-600-15Dinosaur Jr – I Bet On Sky

square-600-13Lee Ranaldo – Between The Times & The Tides

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square-600-17Lawrence Arabia – The Sparrow

square-600Lambchop – Mr. M

square-600-14Suzy Connolly – Night Larks

square-600-12Father John Misty – Dear Fun

ALBUM REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr. | I Bet On Sky

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by Chris Familton

square-600-15Star Rating DS 4Of the recent spate of reunions, Dinosaur Jr’s was one of the most unlikely, but over three albums it’s proven to be one of the most successful. From the cyclical soloing and piano on opener Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know to the sleepy sway of Stick A Toe In and the rapid-fire riffs of Pierce The Morning Rain, the quota of simple ideas executed with energy and creativity is ridiculously high, making the album a thrilling listen from top to bottom.

I Bet On Sky continues the trend of featuring the songs of J Mascis with a couple of Lou Barlow gems added to the mix. Barlow as usual brings a thrashy pop briskness to his songs, in particular Recognition with its serrated, choppy rhythms. There are also signs of the trio stretching out with the funk rock of I Know It Oh So Well, which sounds much better than it does on paper. Dinosaur Jr. have survived by eschewing grand evolution in favour of subtly expanding their template. The results, once again, are glorious.

this review was first published on FasterLouder