Black Moth Super Rainbow: Eating Us
It would be enough to have a psychedelic name, surreal xerography on the album cover, a cryptic persona with no band photos, and a history of bizarre independent releases including speckled vinyl with scratch-and-sniff album covers. But this music is so sublime it melts in your mind. Analog synthesizers and vocoder-pureed vocals make for one of the most eerie-mellow listening experiences I’ve been immersed into for in a long time. This band is everything everybody thought the Flaming Lips should have been to me. It’s timeless, sickly beautiful like a glistening pupae morphing into a butterfly, and purely obscure.
Hermit Thrushes: Slight Fountain
Captain Beefheart is a cult figure who is the subject of more hyperbole and anecdotes than serious study. Most rock geeks will buy Trout Mask Replica, not listen to it much, and consider themselves in the loop. I call this Trout Mask Replica Syndrome, which is a malaise that affects many challenging bands who are remembered for only one of their albums that is cited to save people the trouble of listening to the catalog.
What my study of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band suggests is that the contributions of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) to the music that bears his name are easily overestimated. Trout Mask Replica is neither his best record nor his weirdest. It is just the longest. Vliet did not compose the double album in one afternoon—a groundless tidbit of nonsense that is often trotted out as proof of the man’s genius—in truth, he did not compose it at all. He whistled out some musical ideas to the actual musicians in the group—notably, Drumbo (drummer John French)—who than worked out the material into arrangements, which the starving, abused band members rehearsed slavishly while Beefheart rode around in expensive cars and went shopping for hats.
Well, to make a long story shortened, obviously I care about the Magic Band a great deal. I like to hear them play without that fool Captain Beefheart bellowing over the top of their complex arrangements, as in the Trout Mask rehearsals on the Grow Fins box set. So when I say that the new album by a band called the Hermit Thrushes sounds like the Magic Band without Captain Beefheart, I am not making that comparison casually.
Don’t get me started on Captain Beefheart.
In fact, maybe it’s not such a good thing that these guys sound like the Magic Band after all.
Never mind. Hermit Thrushes are original.
God Help the Girl
If you like the idea of Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch writing a rock operetta for a band comprised of three female vocalists in an effort to replicate the sound of 1950s girl groups, with lush orchestration provided by members of Belle and Sebastian—in other words, if you already have an uncritical affinity for the Belle and Sebastian sound, and are comfortable with that same sound frosted with an additional layer of pink icing, and are ready to lie back, eyes closed, in the bubblegum bubblebath of sweet naivete with enough musical complexity to distract you from your mortgage payments but not so much that you have to furrow your brow in jazz anxiety, then this is for you. But if you are that person, then you already knew that.
Warning: this is not punk rock.
Wickid country. But not at all what I thought it would be. It’s rocking, youthful, and fun, and the voices of Nikki, Jessi, and Kelley Darlin sound less like Dolly Parton than they do the Chipmunks. In other words, country music is a departure point for this band, not a destination. Like the Avett Brothers, they have taken a uniquely and tritely American musical genre and morphed it into something kind of disarming, weird, and spastic—in a word, expressive. Heck, y’all, I don’t much cotton to country, or even western, but I dig this disc. There is no doubt that these three ladies could kick the tar out of Catherine, Brittany, and Dina from God Help the Girl. DUI or die!
Paul Kotheimer: Familiar E.P.
The new EP by local musical Swiss army knife Paul Kotheimer takes a turn for the personal away from his recent turn to the political that followed his turn to the fictional. Though enough fragments of his earlier directions are here to satisfy those of us who have followed his development, a development it is. He confesses to stealing a satchel of money from the Bagdad green zone, fails to kill a spider in the shower, and delivers a sad lecture on modernist poet Louis Zukovsky. There is some exciting trumpet playing by David Tcheng, appropriate use of an eighties Juno synthesizer, and—don’t you know—precise acoustic guitar and a cover of a Rich Krueger song, without which no Kotheimer production would be complete. At the center of all this is Paul’s pitch-perfect pipes exhibiting a crafty control of dynamics, timbre, emotion, and the secret weapon that makes him stand out from his peers: notes. The latest chapter in Paul’s canon would also serve as an excellent introduction to newcomers. It’s available in a limited-edition CD pressing. And (hint) the EP is just the right length to put on while washing dishes: it ends in time to let the worst pots and pans “soak.”