I’m still trying to catch up with the ever growing stack of discs to be covered (review one more and two shall take its place!) so brevity remains the name of the game. Remember, two stars or five, anything mentioned here is worthy of your time and money. And away we go!
On her debut album Darcy Malone and the Tangle serve up a nice blend of British Invasion rock mixed with Memphis Soul. For instance, Freddie and The Dreamers had been fronted by a powerhouse female vocalist and backed by a kickass horn section. It’s an album that revels in sound as much as song, which in no way is a bad thing, creating a unified groove that rocks and rolls its way through the everyday of life.
Malone’s vocals are the foundation. Her impassioned call to an unknown lover to step up and “Be A Man” is certainly the album’s highlight, but the trio of songs sung by guitarist Chris Boye (Malone’s husband) offer a nice change of pace that keeps the album from settling into a singular direction (“Together Tonight” is a guitar and brass driven delight). As debuts go, this is as good as it gets and I found myself playing Still Life even when other albums were awaiting my ear. ****
‘The Past is Not a Flood’
Grave Face Records
While 2013’s Destruction in Yr Soul set a pretty high bar for the band, it also reinforced the unfair comparison between Hospital Ships and The Flaming Lips. That’s a standard to which few bands would come out favorably, at least up to the point when Flaming Lips went off the rails.
It seems to have served as a wakeup call to Hospital Ships founder and front man, Jordan Geiger. Geiger essentially disbanded the group, moved to Austin Texas and started all over again. What results is an album 180 degrees from anything he’s done before, certain to alienate long time fans, but an ideal jumping-on point for a newbie.
Gone are the layer-upon-layer textures, jarring juxtapositions of sound and purposeful anthems that marked their past two albums. That’s not to say The Past Is Not a Flood is any less vital. In fact it may be more so, but it’s a statement that caresses your spirit rather than grabs your attention.
Subtly constructed from samples culled from Geiger’s previous recordings and enhanced by keyboards and atmospheric percussion (the guitars are mostly mere hints) it intentionally brings to mind the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Geiger has said as much-and seems comfortable in its role as background noise.
The fragility of Geiger’s vocals,heavily influenced by fellow Austin resident Daniel Johnston, along with the deeply personal nature of the lyrics, suggests an internal crisis that Geiger feels best exorcised in song. It’s not always comfortable, in fact the sinister “Oh My Light” is anything but, yet as a standalone entity, it works well for what it is. Discerning what that means is both part of the mystery and charm of this most puzzling testimonial. ***
‘Patch The Sky’
Folksy explorations not withstanding, Bob Mould has always been a rocker at heart. From Husker Du to Sugar Mould has long embraced the limitless potential of the power pop trio, finding joy in the endless variations that can be built upon a singular theme.
Again aligned with his touring band of drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy, Mould has the luxury of returning to his roots. Having worked through the death of his father (as well as facing his own mortality) with 2014’s confessional Beauty and Ruin, Mould is now set to push toward the future and he does so with a fervor rockers edging towards 60 aren’t supposed to have. Like the best of his albums Patch the Sky has plenty of dark moments.
Half of the songs deal with the inevitability of aging and the heightened awareness of having lived more years than you likely have left. Rather than surrender to the gloom, Mould embraces it, resisting the temptation to set his creative impulse on auto pilot. The result is an album that ranks among his finest, a nimble and seductive listen that builds upon riffs of energy, pulses with urgency, while highlighting some of the loveliest melodies he’s ever constructed.
“Life affirming” is not a term typically associated with the artistry of Bob Mould (a musician whose work I’ve followed for more than three decades). With Patch The Sky he’s found a near perfect symmetry of past and present. For a guy whose played in two major bands, released some 15 solo records and has time and again pushed the boundaries of conventionality, that’s no mean feat. ****1/2
Burnsville resident, David Wiseman, is a throwback in all the best ways. He is the sort of troubadour who a century ago would have traveled the winding roads of Western North Carolina for a place to set his feet and sing his songs.
Armed with his trusty Gibson acoustic, a warm and soulful voice and any number of tales to tell, Wiseman guides us through a snapshot of his life and heritage. Be it the historic Swannanoa flood of 1916 or a “Ride to Terre Haute,” Wiseman conveys his message with a straightforwardness that never gets in the way of a good story. Much like fellow North Carolinian Bruce Piephoff, Wiseman relishes in making the everyday seem extraordinary and the personal collective.
As enjoyable an experience as Panes is – and I found its comforting tone ideal music for the evening hours – it’s the sort of songwriting best heard live. Here’s hoping David Wiseman comes down the mountain and pays Asheville a visit. ****