New sounds to freshen your collection
By Alan Sculley and L. Kent Wolgamott
Photo: Beck, Morning Phase
Beck // Morning Phase // Capitol // Virgin EMI
Beck’s first new album in six years is a deliberate step backward – to 2002’s Sea Change. A quiet, shimmering acoustic-rooted record, Morning Phase was performed by the same core group of musicians featured on Sea Change and has a similar mellow feel. Sea Change was a breakup album, while Morning Phase is a middle-aged, settled-guy’s view of the world. It’s not quite singer/songwriter confessional – Beck’s never that revealing. But it is optimistic (“Waking Light”), observational and only occasionally dark (“Say Goodbye”). Oft awash in strings arranged by his father, David Campbell, the songs are lush and crisply produced. Beck has called this his “California album” and it’s easy to hear the Beach Boys in the layers and layers of Beck’s voice harmonizing with himself and to find the Laurel Canyon sound, Fleetwood Mac and even a hint of West Coast psychedelia on “Blackbird Chain.” Everything, however, is so mellow, Morning Phase becomes monochromatic – easy to listen to and very well done, but never fully connecting.
File next to: Flaming Lips, Cat Power
– L. Kent Wolgamott
Lydia Loveless // Somewhere Else // Bloodshot Records
On “Really Wanna See You,” Lydia Loveless sings of going to a party, doing a line of cocaine and tracking down a married ex-boyfriend. On the slinky “Wine Lips,” she’s a “fun lovin’ gal” who’s “still the only girl you dream about.” So starts Somewhere Else, the third album from the young Columbus, Ohio songstress, who’s put away her old-timey country leanings in favor of country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll to craft a gutsy, great record. Anchored by twang-meets-punk guitar of Todd May, the country rocking sound conjures up Maria McKee and Lone Justice, blending acoustic rhythms into muscular songs that have an authentic edge that Nashville’s current crop of rockers who play country can’t touch. Loveless’ close-to-the-bone songwriting brings to mind Lucinda Williams in its poetic fearlessness, and her singing evokes comparisons to Stevie Nicks. The latter is particularly the case on the sex-and-dreams meditation “Head,” and on the acoustic-driven, steel-tinged title cut that fades out reciting Tommy Tutone’s telephone number. Thematically, Loveless moves between love and regret, hope and bitterness, singing about smoking cigarettes and staring at the wall during a breakup while invoking the passion of 19th century poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. “Verlaine shot Rimbaud cause he loved him/Honey that’s how I want to go.” That’s plenty intense. So is Loveless.
File next to: Lone Justice, Elizabeth Cook
– L. Kent Wolgamott
Warpaint // Warpaint // Rough Trade Records
It takes awhile for the hazy, entrancing songs of Warpaint to connect. But when they do, the second album from the Los Angeles female quartet Warpaint is captivating. Drifting and layered with lots of shimmering and ringing tones, the music feels ambient. Add in distinctive melodies and some rhythmic drive, and the record turns candlelit danceable. That’s especially true on the slinky echo-meets-drum-beat “Hi,” one of the songs that benefits most from the production of frequent U2 collaborator Flood and the mixing of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. It’s surrounded by the melodic “Love is to Die” and “Biggie,” in which singer Theresa Wayman’s vocals fly over the fuzzy drone created by her bandmates. The sensual drift of “Teese” contrasts musically and lyrically with “Disco/Very” – the former, warmly inviting with a gentle floating melody, the latter a chanted, driving warning of a femme fatale. “Feeling Alright” is close to conventional pop, while “Drive” brings in electronic percussion – all of which somehow manages to fit into the Warpaint aura.
File next to: Low, Atlas Sound
– L. Kent Wolgamott
Uncle Tupelo // No Depression // Legacy Recordings
I remember the day No Depression was released – literally. That was because I happened to work with Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn, and those of us who knew him were well aware of Uncle Tupelo by then. We knew Uncle Tupelo, with its collision of punk and traditional country, had a unique sound. We knew they were good. No one had a clue Uncle Tupelo would become important, and that No Depression, the 1990 debut, would later be considered a seminal release in the Americana music genre. But, that it is. Only albums of some importance get re-released in deluxe form twice, which is what has now happened with this Legacy Edition of No Depression. This two-disc set supplements the 2003 re-issue with a second disc of demos. These recordings have been widely bootlegged, but are great to have in best quality here. The first 10 demos are drawn from Not Forever, Just For Now, the band’s self-released 1989 cassette that included early versions of most of the songs that appeared a year later on No Depression. The versions are similar, but have a leaner, slightly less produced sound. Another five tunes are from the earliest Uncle Tupelo demos, previously bootlegged as the Colorblind & Rhymeless demo. They’re a bit rough, but the songs are fully formed. On the other hand, only a demo of the song “No Depression,” from the 12-song 1988 Live & Otherwise bootleg, is included on the Legacy Edition. Still, this re-issue provides an illuminating look at the impressive beginnings of Uncle Tupelo. This period produced some of the group’s most enduring songs and set the stage for two more fine albums before Uncle Tupelo split. Both frontmen have gone on to bigger and better things – Jay Farrar formed Son Volt and Jeff Tweedy now fronts what has become one of rock’s best, most visionary bands – Wilco.
File next to: Neil Young, Deer Tick
– Alan Sculley
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer L. Kent Wolgamott at LKentWolgamott@DaytonCityPaper.com.