Your monthly imaginary horoscope told in album reviews!
Gemini (May 21 – June 21)
The duality of Gemini can be a dark and painful thing, as when you let someone down you didn't intend to, and don't seem to care. But it can also be a mystical and beautiful thing, as when you deliver an experience to someone that transcends the ordinary, that reaches out and clenches the soul-strings. You'll be doing that this month, Gemini, as The Village Green do on their crackling, electrifyingly fresh-sounding and yet saturated-with-Samsara (the Eternal Return) debut album, Feeling The Fall. It might be a little early to talk about a record that isn't out until the end of August, but the band's leader will be playing a no doubt completely fetching solo performance with Bre of Daylight Basement on July 1st at the O Lounge in Seattle, which none of you should miss. (Dual deliciousness! Just like Gemini!) The autumnal-yet-sunny full-length still carries the 60s/70s love tracers of the band's first EP (released a few short months ago), but exchanges some stock garage riffing for full-screen emotional splendor, stepping up to a pedestal of pure song-craft that will be rarely rivaled any further this year. It is making me regret my original low rating for their introduction, as it now reveals more splendor to me as well. But there are so many levels to this new twelve song canvas of swirling fear, love, doubt, and change, and so much wonderful musicianship, I need to mention it now and remind everyone of it again later. Glorious.
Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
People tend to count on Cancers for reassurance, even if a Cancer herself might have difficulty making it through this world. The beginning of summer is a good time to release burdens, dear Cancer, about being the shoulder others always lean on. The band The Court & Spark has been the sturdy soft-music faithful for furry folks for some time, since 1993 even, coming together as a mellow collective at the University of California. In the meantime, "leader" M.C. Taylor's songwriting skills and mellifluous vocals have truly ripened into an intoxicating blend of the spirit and the flesh. Hearts is easily my favorite album of theirs, and I must reveal that I have been a hard listener to convince, only recently turned around since their collaborations with Linda Thompson and M. Ward. "Let's Get High" will be a summer song for many porch drinking poetry readers this season, and the soul-wandering closer "The Ballad of Horselover Fat" does its literary inspiration justice without even seeming like science fiction. The band plays out here in Seattle on June 6th at the Crocodile Café, so bring out the monster bongs and mellow out big-time.
Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Part of Leo's attractive qualities is her low key self-assurance. She knows she's a good thing to have around, especially on long hot summer days when a cool sense of self-acceptance is a delightful trait to throw in with. The Foundry Field Recordings Emergency Umbrella has that sort of cocky sense of being grounded on their debut, Prompts/Miscues. Vocalist and guitarist Billy Schuh has a voice stripped of all pretense or unnecessary glamour, but is in no way unattractive. Like Laurie Anderson, you would listen to anything he has to say, and like certain Saddle-Creek recording artists of somewhat similar genre, what he has to say is usually really worth listening to and picking apart. The massive troupe of players who back him with shambling rhythms and massaging strings lead each cinematic fable into near-martial attention. High points include the mid-tempo "Buried Beneath the Winter Frames," which ends the full-length debut like a perfect Roddy Frame or Ben Gibbard anthem, before settling into the after-hours epilogue of the chilling "Circuits on Board." Come to Seattle! Please! Soon!
Virgo(August 23 – September 22)
Virgos can be prominent in several careers at once; it's weird and lovely how scattered forms of creativity can somehow collide into one body, and ripen to fate. Summers are for Virgos, and if you have the feeling you want to make this your season, feel free to break the rules, and put good things together somehow. Mooncalf does this, taking crisp and rhythmic, merry or melancholic combinations into surreal gleeful taunting and compassionate Choir boy caterwauling. "Do I contract myself, I contradict myself, we like contradiction," as the Clash sang about themselves on their own "Death Or Glory," so Mooncalf does on "Hoorah." (Bio facts: a mooncalf is a daydreamer or absent minded-person, a fool, a freak; and the 'two Matts' and their friends score with the description "This band is a mess.") The vocals, keyboards, and head-fucked unpredictability of course brings to mind Grandaddy, but set on an LSD farm, not by smoking weed in the parking lot mall. A little pedal steel from Tim Seeley on "Hoorah" puts it straight on to MY seasonal play-list. Sweetly crooned, "Sack of Potatoes: begins: "Your teeth looked ugly under the black-light" … good Lord, I'm going to have catch them live just to see what they'll sing next. Also on that same night at the High Dive (June 7th), Lucy Bland will be playing, which doesn't match at all! With Anil (Heather Duby) Seth's whiskey ice cream sweet, smooth, and bracing vocals, her tiny harshly existential bubble observations are cloud-carried by sweet cotton burbles of keyboard mirth and mellow, with perfect blue music also contributed by members of Ubiquitous and Omniverse. Music is rarely this pleasurable, meaningful, and soothing on tracks like "Centuries" and the Suzanne Vega-ish "Streaker." A very charming debut EP.
Libra (September 23 – October 23)
You live with a very lofty set of personal values, Libra, which is strange, because you so rarely adhere to them. Wisely, you at least understand that others can'teither. Chukanut Drive is a great band for someone like you to listen to, as vocalist and songwriter Steve Leslie shares a universal sense of Not Hitting It into country-soul folk stompers with the occasional instrumental panache of the Sadies and the caustic journal-keeping wit of a snarlier Robbie Fulks. Their album title The Crooked Mile Home is a perfect way to tag an unlucky thirteen batch of white boy blues, masterfully plucked and rock-a-boogie driven of course. "Eight Days" is about the 'cure of the road,' and could be the next "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Don't take that flippantly; there is the fire of Hank Williams here, but it's damn catchy pop too. (Check 'em out June 9th at Conor Byrne.) Speaking of The Sadies, I can't recommend highly enough their double disc (!) 41 song (!!) blisteringly live collection, In Concert Vol. 1, featuring guest stars Kelly Hogan and Neko Case among many others. Taking some perfect rural lysergic
hoedown songwriting, sparkle up with absolutely lovely playing, and you go from the threshing "Cheat" to the trembling, tough as nails barnyard waltz of "Evangeline," then the band turns around with the perfect Dylanesque garage-pop of "Tailspin." The whole thing seems like a great box set of Americana music boiled perfectly into a puree of pure roots love. This swarm of ancients-kissed talent seems like it could pass for The Basement Tapes of our generation, molasses-flooded with sticky ghosts from the old, weird, sexy, dark America.
Scorpio (October 24 – November 21)
Scorpios cannot tolerate timidity, and maybe that's why the cycles of rage and lust lead a Scorpio to just taking the early days of June as just another reason to party, nothing more significant than that. Yet Bloodhag admonishes the lazy-minded Scorpio to add perfervid literacy into the lifestyle, and that of two very specific genres: A hard shell of body-slamming razor-edged blood-curdling thrash-punk with a creamy intellectual center of science fiction author worship and evangelism. "Edu-coring" the masses since the mid-90s, the Seattle lit-punk band has followed up their tours of libraries with their first Alternative Tentacles release, Hell-Bent For Letters, and songs like "Douglas Adams," "Madeline L'Engle," and "Edgar Allen Poe" are a unique form of crossover. Catchy, crunchy, extremely funny rock about authors' lives and ideas anyone even moderately into 'speculative fiction' (sissy!) should hear pronto. Meanwhile, just as literate and even more atomic, Seattle-adored The Melvins lovingly and live recreate their classic Cobain-endorsed album Houdini, giving it more fire power and an intensely clear replication of the mind-eating murk throbbing within the original early 90s release. Houdini Live is raw subterranean rock infused with the spirit of science fiction, too, but rather than proselytizing for the cause the Melvins just play and howl as if it's already a soul-eating dystopia or the end of the world was already happened. You want it heavy as hell and smart as an A-bomb, check both these releases out.
Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)
Sagittarius can be great in marriage or other long-term sexual relationships, thanks to their fierce sense of affection and hormonally frothing desires. This Summer, dear Sag Lil Hospital's latest album, Heavy Metal (Total Gaylord Records), is perfect music for your summer lovin romance. Ditch Rizzo and Pinky for the Sandra Dee of your dreams and play the good girl for once. Heavy Metal ill make even the most leather of Tuscederos melt with their Hidden Cameras reminiscence and Beach Boys pop mathematics. Their lyrics mix serendipity, sweetness and pink lemonade to give an echoey beach mix tape. The Red Pony Clock laissez-faire ascetic, complete with horns and violins, will jingle your sweet jangle. Remember, sand in your bikini is a good thing.
Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)
You are an extreme individualist, Capricorn, extreme in most of your views, and June will be a period of time in which you're really heating up. You are going to need a soundtrack that is as stubbornly self-actualized as you are, and going out strong in a thousand different directions at once too. Suicide Squeeze has released a luxurious, extremely creative and often very loud recollection of some of their best moments since inception in 1996, on a double disc sound-documentary tracing the band's beloved roots (764-Hero, Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith) to the still sizzling new sounds of Hella and These Arms Are Snakes. Suicide Squeeze perfectly captures true punk rock energy in all of their releases, with all thought put into promotion of great songs, no matter what actual genre. The label is simply an outstanding testament to doing things your own way, and rocking out as hard as you can at the same time. In the meantime, quality is always assured, making Slaying Since 1996 sound like a various greatest singles from several different, much more butt-licked labels. How such passionate individuality and quality control can still seem so overlooked in the independent market is a mystery, but the idiosyncratic appeal of bands as diverse as Red Stars Theory alongside The Unicorns alongside Iron & Wine should leave no discerning music fan wondering. Similar to the recent very-necessary Merge compilation, you need this. Pick it up at Easy Street or Sonic Boom immediately.
Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)
Speaking of Sonic Boom, June is the month these mechanical phenomenons tend to happen, due to heat and expansion and speed. Aquarius will need to be careful at the beginning of summer, as your sensibilities are keen, your feelings tender, and life can be endless dynamic tension for you. This tension is expertly described on the vital, bronze-strong riffs and chant-beats of Hello Graphic Missile, the debut album from Conner, an album of high quality new rock that is as adorable as it seems alienated. Every slashing note is passionately perfect, as the dance-floor big beat propels the listener into a dystopian existence of planned obsolescence and prefab relationships. "Floating On Error" has a fetching Euro-rock sheen and chorus, and one can't help be transfixed by the sad story unfolding in the perfect groove. Conner must be an absolute monster to see live, as I haven't heard the various cogs of a rock engine entwine with such deterministic energy since the debut of the Futureheads or more recently Figurines. While the vocals are less warm than either of those bands, the distance just creates more tension for the tight-wire songs. Sonic Boom Recordings (easily one of my very favorite labels) hits it again! (Will I ever tire of playing Rotten Apples? I don't think so.) While not a Seattle band, local fans shouldn't miss out on this.
Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
Pisces often want to clean up the corruption in this world. June is going to be a month for her to find some sort of distraction, because the world is truly fucked. The best way I've found to distract oneself and still have integrity is with humor, whether it's accompanied by music or not. The latter can be best enjoyed by the inclusive, gentle, empathetic, thought-provoking comedy of the awesome Eugene Mirman, who will be playing Neumo's at the end of June for a full set with some rock bands, a crazy thing he just likes to do. The fact that Mirman can open for bands like Modest Mouse and carry it off, when his humor is so intelligent and often very subtle, just confirms his absolutely charismatic cutie-pie swanky-schlub personality. Some early reviews of his Sub Pop debut En Garde Society seem to mourn some sort of harsh early work, but one listen to the gut-slapping knee-punching "Revolve (The Complete New Testament in the Form of a Teen Magazine)," every word of it read out of a sleazy Bible translation geared towards rendering the minds of teenage girls, or the warmly autobiographical "Swearing In Russian, Immigrating" shows just how distinctive and delightful Mirman continues to be. Sub Pop also has comedy mixed with music on offer, too, on Cansei De Ser Sexy by female-dominated
Brazilian band CSS. "Suck suck suck my art hole, lick lick lick my art tit!" a disengaged female voice intones in "Art Bitch," and I am on the floor, dying. There's a lot of so-called clever, narcissistic 'grime' coming out of comfy cubby holes like Olympia these days, and this surrealistic, venomous take on fashion, art, sexual fetishes, passed along notions, is both ALARMINGLY funky and fun, but spot-on with every pun and verbal joust. "Let's Make Love And Listen to Death From Above" and "Meeting Paris Hilton" are sublime high points, with great keyboard playing and drum beats and some of the coldest put-downs ever. From the country that brought you Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil, and while not as adventurous in terms of expanding musical structure, more than makes up for it with satirical venom.
Aries (March 21 – April 19)
You are given to aggressiveness, Aries, due to your moon in Mars. So avoid those drunken frat parties with your pals from Kentucky in the next few weeks in my neighborhood, and stay home with your significant other, pitching hot woo instead. The perfect music to listen to while you do that would probably be the upcoming Nouvelle Vague album, A Bande Apart. As TIG readers might remember, I was a slobbering advocate of this various-female vocalist band last year for their debut, a French faux bossa nova-based compilation of post-punk covers that fell together like a great accidental novel. This sophomore release is no less attractive, and what it loses a little in shock value it makes up for in interpretative skill and romantic resonance. After seeing them play at Chop Suey's, I became a fan for life, watching the lanky gals dance on the bar slurring out "Too Drunk To Fuck" with robust go-go all-ya-got. There's nothing as shocking as that choice of material here, but wisely Nouvelle Vague resuscitate lost 80s gems like the Lords of the New Church's entrancing and boldly erotic "Dance With Me," bedazzle everyone with the drama of a smooth but ember-fiery "Don't Go" (Yazoo), the latter actually featuring the introduction of male vocals on a NV record. It is then that the album deepens the band's sound more seriously, making everything less cabaret and far more soul-saturated. Lighter and weirder moments aren't left out, though, as joyously flippant takes on "Dancing With Myself" and "Heart Of Glass" lighten the smoky, boozy mood throughout. Meanwhile, a real New Wave comic-chanteuse of the 80s has come out of nowhere to record an album with Jules Shear. Slow Children were the definition of eclectic electronic pop in the early part of the Reagan decade, and the band's vocalist Pal Shazar has been apparently writing very smart songs for herself ever since. Her album The Morning After features thirteen funny, nervously confessional, casually topical songs that don't let on that she was once the techno-existentialist in "Spring in Fialta." Combine a lighter Sam Phillips with a female woody Allen, and you might have some idea of what Shazar has been up to. I have a strange addiction (she would understand that) to her naked, superbly performed vocals, which are like no one else's in alternative rock. A very welcome return.
Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Because Taurus is dependable and practical, we tend to rely upon them more than they can rely upon us. This does not mean however that a Taurus does not have her own needs, which can often be overlooked, no matter how awesome. June would be a great month to explode on the world with what you want, as the zealously passionate protagonists and characters in the songs by Voltaire often do. Those protagonists and characters are probably all Voltaire himself, an incredibly gifted multi-talented vocalist, songwriter, musician, cartoonist, artist, et al, who can take any position in his topical songs, as long as its based in subversive spiritual empathy and naked embrace of certain important dark things. His cryptically romantic new album Then and Again follows a handful of quietly received classics that I think will boil down to a superb greatest hits once the undervalued songwriter and performer breaks through to the people who need to hear him. Those with Gothy pasts and a perverse sense of humor will appreciate his smooth croon, questioning, self-depreciative sense of humor, and very tasteful and emotionally reflective musicianship (great strings and multi-tempo shifts very clearly produced). Sort of the Randy Newman of the crushed black velvet set, Voltaire makes little sense, other than an astonishing talent in the underground to keep track off and hope he finally takes what's his instead of being taken for granted. Melancholy beloved low points: "Wall of Pride," "Born Bad," and a nice cover of "Lovesong."