Fiery Furnaces

Also: Mates of State, Pat Metheny Group, Brooks, Jesu, Dead Meadow, Dälek, Dead Automatica, Iron & Wine, Happy Apple, Pop Ambient 2005, and Psapp.

THE FIERY FURNACES

EP

(Rough Trade)

The fact that the Fiery Furnaces refer to this 41-minute disc as an EP only begins to indicate the overachievement going on here. Not content with having produced two albums in less than two years, including last year's great Blueberry Boat, the Brooklyn brother-sister duo work out their neuroses in public once again on this epic "mini" album. As with Blueberry Boat and 2003's Gallowsbird's Bark, EP overflows with words, with instruments, with ideas. Eleanor Friedberger's voice is almost conversational as she relates tales of woe both domestic and international to the accompaniment of her brother Matthew's intricate arrangements. Behind her deadpan nonchalance, however, lurks a deep melancholy: In "Duffer St. George," she tells a seemingly simple story of a night out in swinging London until her voice unexpectedly cracks on the line "can I use your mobile . . . Sadie?" The chorus welds the name of the U.K. equivalent of Urban Outfitters, Duffer of St. George, to a children's rhyme to unsettling effect—you half expect Eleanor to break into maniacal laughter at any moment. Like the Furnaces' live show, there are no breaks between songs; the songs meld seamlessly into one another, creating an effect not unlike being buttonholed by a garrulous drunk at a party. At first it's slightly irritating, but Eleanor's voice, her contagious intelligence, and the songs' sneaky tunefulness draw you in anyway. DONNA BROWN

MATES OF STATE

All Day

(Polyvinyl)

Were I in a mean mood, I might say that a four-song EP is the ideal way to experience Mates of State. A full collection of two-piece drums-and-keyboards bounce-alongs does gradually dissipate some of its impact, after all, and the abbreviated format makes Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner exceptionally choosy: "Along for the Ride" is as taut a pop song as the couple has yet composed, the lulling "Drop and Anchor" as thoughtful a change-up as they've tossed our way. Besides, even if I were in an only slightly cranky mood, I might say that a four-song EP is the ideal way to experience plenty of decent bands, not to mention lots of mediocre rappers. But I'll say none of that, because my mood is bright, as it is whenever I've heard a Mates of State record. That's partly because the duo's exuberance isn't yippy-dog-at-your-heels peskiness or even Day-Glo-indie perkiness. From the first line of "Goods (It's All in Your Head)"—"This is the story with the fantastic lies"—there's a sense of issues being batted around and hammered out here. Plus, Hammel and Gardner squeeze a wide range of emotion from their all-but-uniform tempos, dipping into a ruminative coda on "Goods" without dragging the beat. Granted, open-ended form can be as tiring as an insistent up-and-up. So, would I say that it helps that they cover Bowie's conventionally structured "Starman" with a giddy karaoke feel that even captures Dave's bizarre pronunciation of "boo-gie"? Only if I were in a mean mood. And you know . . . KEITH HARRIS

Mates of State play Chop Suey with Aqueduct and Smoosh at 6 p.m. Sat., Feb. 26. $10 adv.

PAT METHENY GROUP

The Way Up

(Nonesuch)

Jazz-guitar innovator Pat Metheny no doubt saw his profile receive a little bump following the rise in certain circles of Tortoise and their Chicago post-rock peers: Jeff Parker, Tortoise's gifted guitarist, seems to have learned some of his tricks from the 50-year-old Missouri native—his sweet-and-sour tone, the way he'll draw a lone note or two out of an initial flurry—and there's an intricacy to the electro-acoustic ramblings of old Metheny records like As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls that's easy to hear as a precursor to the structural shenanigans that underpin a track such as Tortoise's "Djed." (If historical curiosity more often means downloading today than purchasing, well, that's why I referred to Metheny's profile instead of his portfolio.) On The Way Up, Metheny's first record for Nonesuch, the guitarist sounds anything but satisfied with his influence. For one thing, the album consists of a single 68-minute composition, an ambitious conceit Tortoise haven't yet stepped to. ("Djed," by comparison, is a mere 21.) For another, Metheny's palette still doggedly features in part sounds that have gotten no hipper with age: faux-tropical keyboard voices, smoothed-out quasi-Muzak synth washes, fretless bass that Enya would invite in for a cup of tea. He seems determined here to find the middle ground between Steve Reich's nimble minimalism and Bobby McFerrin's island-life jazz-pop (which is somewhat like locating a state between New York and California), and sometimes, as when a loose hip-hop beat shudders to life halfway through the disc's first movement, he hits it. MIKAEL WOOD

Pat Metheny plays the Paramount Theatre at 8 p.m. Sun., Feb. 27. $35–$60.

BROOKS

Red Tape

(Soundslike)

Red tape, traditionally used to bind legal documents, lends itself to a figure of speech that indicates bureaucratic excess, rules so harsh as to impede that which they're meant to enable. The phrase also neatly conveys the form and content of this second album from quirk-house wunderkind Andrew Brooks. Compositionally, Brooks follows methods similar to those of Soundslike founder Matthew Herbert, constructing tracks out of felicitous accidents and processed sounds culled from common consumer objects—the musical equivalent of the rule-based "potential literature" of Italo Calvino and Raymond Queneau's Oulipo group. Lyrically and in its Weimar-era musical references, Red Tape plays with the regulation of desire and sexual identity. On paper it's cumbersomely ambitious, but it succeeds when it comes through the speakers. Clunky sludge-funk anchors "Do the Math" when its campy gay-rights manifesto threatens to hurtle over the top, and the oblique closet story of "Enormous Members Club" builds into something similar to a barrel of monkeys exploding in the corner of your favorite little club. The sparse tech-clutter of "Mansize" is as powerful as PJ Harvey's original version, and Brooks does sing-song electronica peers Matthew Dear and Justus Kohncke one better: He combines the former's production skills with the latter's sense of song to serve up "Roxxy," a perfect pop sparkler of a love song with just a touch of menace, and the title song, an oompah of yearning fit for a Berlin cabaret. Whether Brooks intends the song's title to assert the universal formality of finding love or to hint about the object origin of that fluttery sound in its upper register, red tape has never sounded more appealing. KRISTAL HAWKINS

JESU

Jesu

(Hydra Head)

Even the Lord got tired of waiting around for a new My Bloody Valentine album. So he called up his friend Satan and said, "Yo, Shields is a wimp. You know who we need? That Godflesh guy. He hasn't been doing anything lately." "Word," said the devil. So God and Satan packed up a sack of spliffs and distortion pedals and headed for Birmingham, England, a place they were quite familiar with from their work with Black Sabbath. Justin Broadrick was in his studio watching Joan of Arcadia, trying to figure out how to make a record heavier than everything he'd done with Napalm Death, Head of David, Techno Animal, and even Godflesh. Then the Lord and the devil appeared, and God pulled Broadrick's copy of Loveless off a shelf. "Let's make a doom-metal version of this." "OK," said Broadrick. Thus began the 11th plague. God, Satan, and Broadrick turned their guitars into machine guns and swamp ooze and fire alarms and church bells and angels weeping. Swans/Prong/Godflesh drummer Ted Parsons banged sledgehammers against baby skulls. They captured a rumbling undertow from the Indian Ocean that swallowed everything in its path, except for sky-slicing melodies and Broadrick's echoed, multitracked, acid-drenched vocals. They recorded Godzilla having an orgasm and made it the climax of several songs. Then they slowed everything down to the speed of shifting tectonic plates. "Phew—finally," said the Lord. "Yeah," Satan agreed. AMY PHILLIPS

DEAD MEADOW

Feathers

(Matador)

Taking drugs means you're bored with life and want to get it over with quick. So why smoke pot when it just makes everything seem longer? Because the wah-wah pedal is the coolest thing ever invented! Especially the DB-101 custom camo "Dimebag" model. (RIP, Dime.) Darrell might've liked this album, the stoner indie of Primal Scream's dreams, if Pantera's "Planet Caravan" cover had been his idea—except the singing is indie in a Zuma kind of way. Feathers is Dead Meadow's fourth album and their first with two guitarists, although there could be three or four or 74 on here. It's something like Loop, Spacemen 3, or Walkingseeds—the last great U.K. bands, Oasis' debut notwithstanding—and being from D.C. (they were formerly on Fugazi member Joe Lally's Tolotta label), Dead Meadow throw some Roswell seeds and stems into their bong. "Heaven" shares a title with a Talking Heads song, though calling it "Memories Can't Wait" would have been way more stoner. (For example, "My memories can't wait" could mean, "I forgot everything again"—LOL 4:20 d00ds!!!) The slide guitar is a bowl of goats' head soup like Texas Chainsaw ('74, not '03), but that thing where they play staggered chords on different guitars in different speakers must be fucking hard to do in the studio. "Let It All Pass" has the tranquil, becalmed feeling of being in the back of an ambulance, with everyone freaking out while you're totally laid back, even though you're the one who's in the back of the ambulance. The 13-minute untitled mystery track is Sabbath playing Woodstock with Krautrock pioneer John Fogerty instead of Tony Iommi and Neil Young instead of Ozzy, and everyone's harshing out on brown acid and causing insurrection. There needs to be something like that today—they should get Rage Against the Machine to reunite, then dose them on Thorazine. DAVE QUEEN

DÄLEK

Absence

(Ipecac)

Now that the indie hip-hop underworld's given itself a couple years to digest it, it's become evident that there isn't anyone else willing to wager on the stakes raised by Dälek's 2002 doomcore drone- hop endurance test, From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots—so, as an encore, the Jersey death-trip crew just keeps pushing the damn sound until it screeches in pain. Most of the suffocating terror on follow-up Absence can be pinned on producer Oktopus' beats, or more accurately, what he asphyxiates them with: grinding squeals that sound like a subway trying in vain to avoid crushing a wayward Krylon bomber, like the soundtrack to a Japanese horror film run through Thurston Moore's effects pedals, or a 50-ton robot being slowly ripped to shreds by claw hammers. Couple that with a focus on steady, sludgy, inert downtempo breaks that move like the music will die if it stops—but can't move too fast since it's already halfway dead—and it's the drunken, 'shroom-OD wake after Black Sabbath's "Electric Funeral." (Advil, please.) Cut through the barbed wire and you'll glean pearls of lyrical insight from Dälek himself, distilling ghetto rage into Bush-age culture-death lamentations: "Your false Jesus promised lies/I'm serenaded by sincere tears often/The honest only work to afford wooden coffins," on "Eyes to Form Shadows"; "No wealth to squander/My lower class stronger/Can't suppress anger/People can't handle/Speak Eastern timbre/Tongue fall like hammer/On those who slander," on "Ever Somber." Devil horns extended, evil eye warded off, and with a guttural wail of "death to false rap-metal"—that's how Dälek rolls, son. NATE PATRIN

HEAD AUTOMATICA

Decadence

(Warner Bros.)

Daryl Palumbo's day job is fronting the Long Island emo-metal outfit Glassjaw, whose hypertensive 2002 album, Worship and Tribute, is recommended to young people wondering how My Chemical Romance sounded so scruffily slick on last year's excellent Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Considering the milieu he calls home, you can understand Palumbo's desire to escape emo's sexually strangulated deep freeze and indulge in some red-blooded sex-drugs-rock-and-roll in this side project. But, come on, dude: Decadence? A cover featuring a nubile blonde in a bodysuit? "I drove a tank in on the left/I hid a rifle on the right"? Somebody's burning off some long-repressed testosterone, and the fumes get a little thick. Luckily, Palumbo's musical balls are as engorged as the ones doing the driving. To make Decadence, he convened a crack team of unlikely production gurus: Dan the Automator of Gorillaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School, and any phone call between Damon Albarn and Del tha Funkee Homosapien; Howard Benson, the nü-metal knob-twirler behind P.O.D. and Three Cheers; and Dave Sardy, who managed to get Jet off the ground. Together they make an improbably rich, legitimately unclassifiable noise. "Disco Hades II" layers Palumbo's post–Mike Patton yowl over outer-borough chicken-scratch guitar; "Beating Heart Baby" is a sticky-sweet, organ-fueled rave-up; "Dance Party Plus" makes room for a beery cameo by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, whose Transplants project Head Automatica no doubt mined for inspiration. Is Palumbo an American idiot? Maybe. But he's a fun one. MIKAEL WOOD

IRON & WINE

Woman King

(Sub Pop)

Woman King was produced at Chicago's Engine Studios by Brian Deck, formerly of Red Red Meat, who got into a urine fight with Material Issue once. (I don't know much about that scene, but Urge Overkill's "Digital Black Epilogue" may be the first evidence that Howard Stern has something real to say about imperial oppression.) The EP's title track's gilded splinters walk on devious distorted bass and delusional crash cymbal, while the singing combines non–steely Dans Hill and Fogelberg, which here doesn't bother me as much as it should, but I have to skip most of "In My Lady's House," sorry. "Jezebel" is an unplugged modern-rock radio track; "Evening on the Ground" ("we were born to fuck each other . . . down by the water slide") is an old-school bus commune band vamping on the intro to the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House." The school-bus-commune-band rhythm of "Freedom Hangs Like Heaven" will make you dread what Moby will do with it until you remember you actually liked "Honey," which makes it OK. When the drums come in, you first wish it were Moby's version, but then you get into it, tapping your catheter or whatever's around, until the "Lovecats" part where you squirt someone. "Grey Stable" would be good theme music for a reality-TV "bayou" episode (I think The Simple Life had one once), a citrus-fortified "If I Could Only Remember My Name" by . . . cool, it's there at the bottom. DAVE QROSBY QUEEN

HAPPY APPLE

The Peace Between Our Companies

(Universal/Sunnyside)

Jazz musicians are traditionally a transient lot compared to rockers. The benchmark "classic Coltrane quartet" lasted less than five years—a pittance compared to Wire, Booker T. and the MG's, or REO Speedwagon. Economic factors lube the genre's revolving door. Leaders often get double what other band members make— sometimes more—encouraging sidepeople to generate honcho and/or solo gigs of their own. That's one reason, along with the absence of hierarchically imposed chafing, that jazz democracies tend to endure longer: Both the Art Ensemble of Chicago and ICP Orchestra have been around for more than 30 years. And Happy Apple are now pushing seven. The Peace Between Our Companies, the leaderless Minneapolis trio's sixth album, finds saxophonist-keyboardist Michael Lewis, bassist Erik Fratzke, and drummer Dave King (also of the Bad Plus) greatly tempering and refining the sweaty, fusion-by-default ethos that gave their early recordings a conceptually claustrophobic, mid-'80s SST Records vibe. Even the thundering album opener, "Starchild Cranium," finds plenty of easy breathing space between the interstices of King's idiosyncratic clatter, avowed metalhead Fratzke's surfy rumble, and Lewis' deft balancing of angerless-Ayleresque angularity with a breeziness that owes as much to Stan Getz as Eric Dolphy. When they deck their collective porkpie with strategies gleaned from other idioms, as on the loopy "Dojo Fantastique," the band's considerable command of dynamics and texture rises like off-white swirls in a newly creamed cup of Scotch. ROD SMITH

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Pop Ambient 2005

(Kompakt)

The easiest initial reaction to the fifth volume in Kompakt's yearly series devoted to mining the pretty and nonchallenging side of ambient is to acknowledge that this could bore the pants off . . . well, that's a dead-end metaphor, considering that the compilation could tempt only the truly drug-damaged to strip down. Most of the tracks seem at first to offer little beyond the vague sense of relaxation imparted by a bag full of New Age tricks, from the water-themed sounds that make up the majority of the tracks to the questionable use of an Andean pan flute in Triola's "Mondlied." The more patient response is to surrender the amount of attention to these pieces that their subtleties demand, enjoying the sensitizing isolation-chamber effect that makes their most minor changes seem like revelations. The jazz guitar lick that finally floats above the gentle waves of distorted sound on the Orb's "Falkenbruck" is briefly astonishing, and the Latin rhythm that suddenly congeals at the song's very end belatedly promises redemption. Amid the compilation's drone, the intense melodicism of Pass Into Silence's "Blue" passes for a call to revolution, while the shuddering low end of DJ Koze's "Hummell" is an earthquake amid the album's lighter sounds. A third option might be to recognize that this collection of decent songs with all the good parts stripped away is the perfect textbook for learning what goes on in the background of a track (Thomas Fehlman's excellent "With Oil" is a prime lesson). Just try to avoid wondering whether this is a Muzak conspiracy intended to deter George Clinton and Kraftwerk from hanging out in front of the 7-Eleven. KRISTAL HAWKINS

PSAPP

Tiger, My Friend

(Leaf)

For Psapp, all instruments are created equal. Even a humble squeaky toy gets a proper workout in Tiger, My Friend's orchestra pit on "Rear Moth," right alongside tin whistle, guitar, synth, small percussion, Galia Durant's warm, measured alto, and the breezy 6/8 bedroom waltz's myriad other components. But the London duo deploys the ducky (educated guess) with far more discretion than is usually accorded in home-recording situations involving bathtub playmates, allotting only a professionally squeezed "five" and "six" during the song's violin-intensive instrumental interludes. Their knack for fashioning elegant, idiosyncratic pop edifices from a controlled orgy of tapping, plucking, stroking, and blowing is anything but beginner's luck; Durant and Carim Clasmann have two previous EPs and a mini-album under their belts. Plus, the latter's experience as a producer and engineer for the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten and Natacha Atlas underpins the disc, giving it the sort of sheen usually associated with costlier undertakings while sacrificing nothing in the way of intimacy. Color and luster aren't the only sources of Tiger's quirky appeal; Psapp's lightness of spirit permeates even the glitchy "Leaving in Coffins," a laptop lament that makes Múm's and the Notwist's similarly constructed ruminations seem every bit the conventionalized gestures they are. Unlike their rotely sad-sack colleagues, Psapp can get way down when they want—all the way to the subconscious. "The Counter," a bluesy, piano-driven ballad all but devoid of ornamentation, finds Durant cooing, "Walk into a new room/And your static lingers still/Trace of grease from unsucked feet/Is mine to smudge at will," with so much 4 a.m. conviction that the literal meaning of the lines is irrelevant. As with the rest of Tiger, My Friend, it's touch that matters. ROD SMITH

 
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