The first half of my year was split between cozying up to classics and mining for diamonds in Japan. Recent weeks, however, have seen a slew of new (or soon-to-be-) releases that have renewed if not my faith then at least my interest in contemporary music. I'll spare my doctoral thesis on what's wrong with modern music for the near future. In the meantime, here's a few of my favourite new tunes...
The Fall - Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones
Strictly speaking, this isn't a new release, but it's the first time all twenty-four Peel sessions by the Fall have been available in one convenient package. I'm not trying to steal any thunder from the splendid Brit blog Spoilt Victorian Child by following their recent Fall post with my own. I only recently received the boxset for my birthday and it's damn near shut out everything else from my stereo. As brilliant and mercurial and "always different, always the same" as the band itself, the Complete Peel Sessions is, as critics the world over have hollered, THE definite Fall document.
It comes as no surprise that the first decade of Mark E. Smith & Co is nigh immaculate. The band's first session in '78 is a bloody slab of postpunk that makes Joy Division sound dainty. (The rubbery wail of "Rebellious Jukebox" is an early highlight.) By the time Brix was on board, the Fall's mid-'80s Mancabilly roar was unstoppable.
But don't think that the boxset is a merry promenade down Yellow Brick Big Hit Road. Its surprises are manifold, and are all perfectly encapsulated by the band's cover of the Captain Beefheart romp, "Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones". Witness the band whose heads:
1) reeled with giddy laughter beneath the layers of hardened sarcasm. The Fall's geniune joy in making music is made evident by their mercilessly goofy mystery detours, as "C 'n' C Stop Mithering" derails into "Do the Hucklebuck" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is stripped of all pious sincerity.
2) burned with a violence for music well into its second decade. Few other fearless freaks can still blister your eardrums that far into their careers.
3) locked Vulcan-style into one of the best-oiled rock 'n' racket machines on the planet without being shellaced stiff. Don't let MES' sloppy slur fool you; these motherfuckers can play.
Buck 65 - Kennedy Killed the Hat
A vocal critic of the increasingly commercial and troglodytic world of hip-hop, Halifax' finest (only?) MC follows in the footsteps of Andre 3000 by almost abandoning his Native Tongue. The result is the most successful post-hip-hop experiment since The Love Below, standing head-and-shoulders above the uneven recent releases by K-Os and Mos Def. Spending only half the album in his classic dusty troubadour persona, Buck (born Richard Terfry) blends genres and mashes up the mix with a fervor that Beck lost after Odelay. The lead single, "Kennedy Killed the Hat", is either the bastard child of Stereolab and the Fall, or the best LCD Soundsystem that James Murphey never wrote.
Part Chimp - Bring Back the Ride
There's only so much analysis that sheer amplitude can be afforded. Melody, songs, subtlety - Part Chimp cares not for these. Taken from their sophomore full-length, I Am Come, this atomic blast of a song would make O.G. rock reductionsists proud and makes Lightning Bolt sound like genteel artschool wankers.
The Constantines - Lizaveta
The final release on the esteemed Toronto imprint Three Gut Records, the Constantines' third album, Tournament of Hearts, actually comes as an honest disappointment. I'm not saying this out of a knee-jerk effort to out-hip snide Torontonians; it hurts to criticize a band whose debut I think earned them the mantle of Best Band In Canada. But whereas The Constantines and Shine A Light were the raw id-spew of the disenfranchised caged in a basement, Tournament sounds like an album written during those long, reflective hours spent driving across the barrens of central Canada. And where did the contrapuntal guitar duels go? Why do only a couple of tracks (e.g. "Working Full-Time") spin into the frenzy that makes Constantines shows rock 'n' roll revivals? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is not energy dissipating, but rather changing form - one that promises Brave New Wails if the next album has more songs like "Lizaveta", an arena-sized New Orleans funeral march that packs a bigger punch than any hackneyed anthem by Coldplay.