The Bliss of Blunderbuss

Jack White

Blunderbuss

It seems a bit bizarre to be calling this Jack White’s debut album, really. The prolific musician has released albums under the guise of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, plus written and recorded with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys, Beck, Bob Dylan…the list continues. This is, however, his first outing with just his name on the album cover.

Blunderbuss is angry. It’s a bloodbath with violent imagery at every turn, in Love Interruption he tells us to “…roll me over slowly/ stick a knife inside me/ and twist it all around…“.By the end of the track, he’s crushed and bruised all over, a result of having his fingers slammed in a door, face ground in the dirt, bitten, deafened, and his mother murdered. Brutal lyrics for what is quite a laidback alt-country tune, hammond organ tinkling in the background of a plainly strummed guitar.

Before we get to the beating however, we are led through the rock-soul of Missing Pieces, the ravenous garage- punk of standout track Sixteen Saltines, and the scattered beats and the not-so-subtle-references-to-ex-wife lyrics of Freedom at 21.

By the time the title track rolls around we’re in need of a break, and it delivers a Nashville- soaked country tune of pedal-steel and soft piano licks. All kinds of instruments are sprinkled through these tracks, a showcase of White’s expansive musical interests.

The middle slows it down a little with the soft rock of Hypocritical Kiss , but things get moving again with the vintage cover of Little Willie John’s I’m Shakin’ , the crunchy riff powering the jiving groove. Another throwback track is the 60’s funk sound of Tongue Trash Talker.

The ending fades away slightly, probably because the first half of the record is so brilliant that now the good tracks pale in comparison. It’s a broad car ride through his favourite musical towns, a rough speeding drive that threatens to kill us all but White keeps most of the damage for himself. His penchant for punishment his clear. A bloody and brilliant album.

Regina swims forth.

 

Regina Spektor, “All the Rowboats”

What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, 2012

“They’re just public mausoleums–
The living dead fill every room” Spektor spits over a twisted rock backing full of baroque piano and crashing cymbals.

Regina’s musical image of wandering through a gallery after nightfall is a curious ode to forgotten art, full of her customary clever and wry lyrics:

“Masterpieces serving maximum sentences/ It’s their own fault for being timeless”

Quirky and light at the beginning, it soon erupts into a thumping drum-driven operatic rock song. She flicks between phased synths and heavy clear piano, drenching herself in reverb and floating through a dark and orchestral solo in the pre-choruses.

Fans of her light and sunny Fidelity may be a little awed by the shift in tone, but those previously unconvinced by Spektor will welcome it with open arms. This is 6 years after Fidelity, and she’s only gotten better with time.

 

 

 

The woman who beat the Biebs.

Esperanza Spalding, “Black Gold”

Radio Music Society, 2012

At the 53rd Grammy Awards, Esperanza Spalding became the most hated woman amongst 12 year olds on the planet, beating Justin Beiber to win Best New Artist. If this wasn’t bad enough for the young people, she was also a bass player! And a JAZZ artist! And the youngest professor at Berklee College of Music! How dare she beat the Biebs??

With Black Gold,her first single off her fourth album, she enlisted singer Algebra Blessett to help groove through a scrumptious fusion of soul/funk and jazz (and a little blues). It’s a cool, laidback track of complete smoothness, with lyrics brimming with positive African pride. No beat is out of time, nothing is overdone, everything is just enough.

The usual RnB suspects are here as well (a capella hand clapping chorus, hicuppy drums) and Blessett’s bluesy vocals add a nice dynamic. It’s a joy to listen to.

 

The Mars Volta keep on bleeding

 

The Mars Volta, “Noctourniquet”

Noctourniquet, 2012

The Texas kings of prog-rock have finally thrown their fans a bone on which to gnaw with the release of their sixth record, Noctourniquet. And the title track is as beguiling as the name suggests.

Opening with robotic synths and arrythmic percussion, it soon develops into a warped vision of guitars and floating vocals.The synths are an interesting addition, a departure from their previous amp exploding, guitar heavy sound.

There are flashes of melody at about the 3 minute mark, when the drums enter and save us from the dislocating beats, but it takes a long time to get there. It’s a challenging song to listen to, and it won’t convert anybody that wasn’t already a die-hard fan.

 

That is a nice boulder.

Stonefield, “Black Water Rising”

Single, 2011

The first official single from the young band of four sisters, Black Water Rising is about as well-crafted a rock song as you could get. A screaming, tangy guitar riff, heavy thumping bass and drums, a keyboard solo! It’s all here, ripe for the picking.

Amp feedback and fuzzed guitar opens it up, before the wailing riff rides over the top bending the strings to within an inch of their life.

But between the ambitious riffs and belting vocals, a real maturity emerges in their restraint, stripping it back through the verses, leaving enough space for Amy Findlay’s bluesy voice to power through. It’s a wise use of dynamics that most young rock bands ignore.

The chorus is equipped with a delicious hook in the vein of Joan Jett circa The Runaways, it sticks in your head like glue. It’s in danger of washing out at the end but they rescue it by slicing the opening riff back in. And if you thought it couldn’t get an cooler, they throw out an organ solo.

It’s sharp, clean and totally rocking.

 

Head over to the ‘Listen In’ page, to have a…listen.

MMJ’s dervish dance

 

My Morning Jacket, “Victory Dance”

Circuital, 2012

It’s the gong that makes it. From the first ringing sound and the low, thumbed bass notes, the song reaches up and drags you down into a dark pool. Victory Dance is a cold bath of alt-country rock, heavy on the atmosphere, as Jim James’ doubled up vocals relay images of the broken American dream  :

“Should I lift the dirt and plant the seed/ Even though I’ll never grow

When the bass opens up and delivers a low note about a minute in, it’s loud and deep enough to send you back to the 19th century. Keyboards drone over the top whilst the drums tinkle with the hi hats. Horns, synths and percussive waft in and out, but it’s the guttural bass that dominates proceedings.

It builds to a dramatic swirl of electric guitars and yowling vocals, the backing kicking into double time and collapsing into a race of beats.

The opening track of My Morning Jacket’s new record is a trippy, hypnotic vision of heaven, as beguiling as it is powerful.

 


Missy Higgins’ desire

 

Missy Higgins, “Unashamed Desire”

The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle, 2012

The first single released from her upcoming album The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle (due out June 1), Unashamed Desire marks Missy Higgins’ return to the public arena after a 5 year hiatus.

And in that time off, some things have certainly changed.

She’s gone a hell of a lot darker for instance, no longer chronicling the happy ‘finding yourself’ topic, she instead chooses rabid desire, singing:

“Open up my chest and take what you like/ Open up my chest if you like”

Also gone are the cute, snappy piano riffs that riddled her earlier albums, replaced by electric guitars, echo-y harmonies and thudding drums. Her vocals have also softened, the flattened vowels and strong Australian accent toned down a little.

Still here, luckily, is the killer chorus hook, catchy as hell and easily singable. Prepare to get it stuck in your head for days, because the radio play on this song is going to be colossal.