A hopefully semi-regular feature where I rattle through a few albums that recently saw release but either weren’t good enough or big enough to merit an individual review. This week it’s psychobilly, garage rock polka and indietronica releases that contain some of the songs of the year but plenty of flaws too.
Floating Coffin//Thee Oh Sees
First off, an album that actually came out a few months ago but that took me that time to form any kind of opinion about. A sprawling, jumbled mash of genres, Floating Coffin is as furiously energetic as it is directionless. Whilst ostensibly rooted in a uniquely raw and strange mix of psycho-billy and psychedelic (psychodelic billy?), Thee Oh Sees flit between styles with virtually every song, and often in the middle of them too.
The results make for gripping, interesting, propulsive music; but as an album the schizophrenic approach can quickly grow tiresome. The title track in particular is much too furious and repetitious for it’s own good, especially when it’s those moments of controlled explosiveness and experimentation that really stand out. No Spell, for example, is the very next track but shifts the scene entirely to a mix of 70s psychedelic rock backed up by the band’s best CAN impression; it’s easily an album highlight but also illustrates just how unpredictable it all is.
Songs like No Spell also benefit from the kind of restraint that is sorely missing on some of their rawer stuff. It’s the moments of quiet dread and discordant lushness like that seen on the second half of Strawberries 1 + 2, and in particular on Minotaur – a dark journey into the mind of a disgruntled labyrinth employee that has more in common with Grizzly Bear than The Cramps and is easily one of the tracks of the year – , that display an artistic maturity and composure often missing from their faster paced efforts.
Floating Coffin is a strange album to judge – it’s obviously flawed and totally lacking in direction, but at the same time it’s interesting from start to finish and has some of the tracks of the year. It hints at a band capable of producing something masterful, but who, after 6 wildly different albums (released over 4 years!), are yet to really nail down what exactly they are.
Listen to: No Spell, Night Crawler, Minotaur
Your Turn//Ceramic Dog
For a guy around since the 80s, Marc Ribot has an incredible ability to sound like some bright new thing. The sound of his current side-project, Ceramic Dog, is one of boundless energy and an almost-youthful sense of kinetic looseness. It’s also one that, as is the wont of younglings, is more than a little rough around the edges.
Album opener Lies My Body Told Me starts the album in frenetic style with a spunky bit of garage rock Americana that has more than a hint of Nick Cave’s Dig Lazarus! Dig! about it; the title track keeps some of the momentum going but, by the end of the interesting but repetitive Masters of the Internet, Ribot has found himself in a bit of a rut. The next two tracks don’t even merit a mention.
It takes a trip back to his roots as a collaborator on Tom Wait’s off-beat New Orleans jazz polka madhouse Rain Dogs on Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us Around for the album to pick itself back up. The kookiness of the stuttering blues tramp of songs like that and Mr Pants Goes To Hollywood show Ribot’s age, but it serves him better than some of his attempts at youth (see Masters of the Internet again).
From there some of the strut and verve of Your Turn’s beginnings starts to come back. It’s when Ceramic Dog are at their most straight-up and rough like We Are The Professionals that they really shine, even if it is somewhat derivative.
Ribot is entitled to draw on his years of experience to cultivate a sound that works, even if it isn’t unique, but you’d have hoped that somewhere along the line he would have learned to sort the wheat from the chaff. Your Turn is over long by a good dozen minutes and a great deal of the tracks drag needlessly past the 4 minute mark and lose momentum.
Rough, tough and youthful beyond his years, Ribot has produced a punchy, fun album that rocks harder than most when it works, but shows signs of immaturity in his craftsmanship that you’d really think would have been dealt with a long time ago.
Listen to: Lies My Body Told Me, Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us Around, We Are The Professionals
Fever Forms//The Octopus Project
Much hyped in their native Austin for their energetic live performances, The Octopus Project release their fifth album still grappling with a familiar problem for débutantes – how to capture their live lightning in a bottle. To their credit, if they nailed one thing it’s that album cover.
The music is more hit and miss. Tracks like Perhap showcase a blend of electro and rock that has invention, subtlety and enough going on to separate itself from the rest of its ilk. Other tracks like Pyramid Kosmos show the potential for songs that are consistently as good, but also the limitations of a band that, in their attempts to create sprawling digital soundscapes, often find themselves a bit all over the place. It has a certain buzz and energy to it that hints at something great hidden away, but it often becomes lost under a sea of clashing sounds.
Never sure whether to be loud or quiet, the band jump between the two with reckless abandon. It’s disorientating to say the least, and especially with a sound as densely layered as theirs. They remind me of Bloc Party – no doubt they’re prodigiously talented at what they do, but they sound as if they’re attempting to show it all off at once. Everything’s so extreme that it all blends into one mess of noises that, when you pick them out, are actually quite nice but that just don’t mesh together.
Sounding a bit like an 8 bit, electro version of Animal Collective at times, they lack the maturity to marshal the elements into the kind of delicately harmonised music they seem to be emulating. That their sound quickly becomes repetitive doesn’t help either.
You’d expect that ten years into their career they’d have developed a tad more of the kind of focused craftsmanship that produces songs like the furious, bass-driven Mmkit and the aforementioned Stereolab-esque Perhap (one of the songs of the year and the only one that really deserves your attention). It’s songs like these where they mix it up or allow one element to shine through that the band clicks. The poppier, more overtly ‘indietronica’ efforts are nothing you haven’t heard countless times before.
Fever Forms has its moments, but more often it’s musically all out at sea.
Listen to: Perhap, Mmkit