Live in NYC
(Digital Club Network)
Former emo acolytes go searching for a heart of gold.
While D.C.-area group Canyon's deep roots may lie in the emo scene (via members' previous bands, Boys Life and Farewell Bend), the only "emo" the band now unleashes is "emotional," for Canyon's combined meditative and celebratory vibe has the cumulative effect of pulling the listener's heart inward while pushing the mind outward toward the stars. Tremulous-throated singer Brandon Butler plays a key part in that equation; he brings to mind a cross between Neil Young, Vic Chesnutt, and Calexico's Joey Burns, crooning with disheveled elegance and a fatalistic romance. Indeed, one of two cover versions the band tackles comes from like-minded territoryYoung's "Cortez the Killer," with Butler and slide guitarist Joe Winkle engaged in a death-spiral ax ballet, while Derry deBorja's somber, vibraphone-esque keyboard tones gradually rise like a bad moon over the horizon. There's also an astonishing 10-minute sequence that illuminates the band's adeptness at sonic alchemy: a moody cover of the Stones' "Play With Fire" is all modal guitar, tribal percussion, and uneasy ambiance, but as it slowly gives way to band original "Mansion on the Mountain"a churning miasma of liquid organ drone and interstellar twang suggesting a cosmic cowboy summit between Green on Red and Beachwood Sparksthe sense of relief and optimism that gradually unfolds is cinematically palpable. In Canyon, some will hear Americana-flecked psychedelia; others will hear heavily atmospheric slow-core. Either way, this is some of the most wide-open-spaces, inspiring rock music to emerge from the underground in a long time. FRED MILLS
Odds and sods set from essential L.A. outfit.
The BellRays are one of SoCal's greats, particularly singer Lisa Kekaula, a no-bullshit belter with a voice as hot as a blowtorch (reviewers reference Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin and easily get away with it) and a backing band to match, a telepathically tight three-piece that does everything the MC5 didand with 40 percent less manpower. Their debut full-length, Let It Blast, and follow-up, Grand Fury, are mandatory for new listeners; fans not true enough to have picked up the vinyl the first time around can chase off most (but not all) of the guilt with this, a collection of B-sides and rarities going all the way back to 1995, when garageas far as the glossy music press was concernedwas just something to keep your oily rags in. There's enough here to basically count as an unofficial album, anchored by such standouts as "Tie Me Down," "Suicide Baby," and "Say What You Mean," all released the same year Blast came out and all bursting with the same pulverizing energy. The final, less frantic, and most recent tracks ("I Lost the Feeling" and "The Same Way," both from Brit import singles) offer more of a chance to catch your breath in between the BellRays' Godzilla blues, a welcome comedown from a bracing ride. A band that can put together a non-album-tracks compilation (traditionally, something between freak show and graveyard, unless you're the Velvet Underground) that's this consistent should be a hipster household name by now, and anyone who wants to play around at rock 'n' roll should have half these songs already. CHRIS ZIEGLER
Second helping from fresh-faced European folkster.
Portuguese fado, a plaintive, emotive music, has undergone a renaissance in the last few years. A young crop of fadistas (female fado singers) has come of age, displaying both a wealth of ability and a willingness to push the boundaries of the tradition. With her sophomore album, Mariza joins the elite of this new generation, establishing herself as the heir to legendary fado queen Amália Rodrigues. Throughout the disc, the young Mariza proves she's learned when to hold back (the understated "O Silêncio da Guitarra") and when to go full-throttle (the lung-busting "Vielas de Alfama"). "Retrato" employs piano and cello (instruments not in the standard fado arsenal) for a chamber effect, while the title cut and "Entre O Rio e a Razão" offers sprightly, smiling contrast to the disc's pervasive mood of sadness. The real revelation, though, is Mariza's growth as an artist since her debut; last year's Fado em Mim garnered plenty of plaudits, but often felt tentative. This time there's a confidence and power in her voice, marking her as a diva who's finally arrived; listen to the way she handles the tricky, jazz-flecked "O Deserto," with both sensitivity and certainty. Fado Curvo ultimately proves Mariza a rare talent that's just beginning to bloom. CHRIS NICKSON