Bert Jansch

Plus CD reviews of Beirut, Miss Violetta Beauregarde, and The Melvins.

Bert Jansch

The Black Swan

(Drag City)

For The Black Swan, Brit folk legend Bert Jansch surrounded himself with a cast of hip, indie folkies including Beth Orton, various members of Espers and Vetiver, and that omnipresent scenester Devendra Banhart. But Jansch fucked up when combing the pages of Arthur, searching for young acolytes to work with. If he really wanted to challenge himself, then Jansch should have collaborated with Joanna Newsom because she's the only Arthur type who—with the recent release of Ys—has created art equal to that of Jansch's during his prime (the '60s and early-'70s). As it is, Black Swan is just a well-crafted collection of introspective ballads like "High Days" (a reminiscence of long-gone singer-songwriter Tim Hardin), traditional tunes, and one or two bluesy numbers—some of which feature Jansch's intricate acoustic guitar work solo or accompanied by ornate cello arrangements, slide guitar, beatnik bongos, and Orton's kinda soulful vocals. Of course patches of this Black Swan are fairly enjoyable, but Jansch is supposed to blow minds, not produce slightly above average folk music. JUSTIN F. FARRAR

Beirut

Gulag Orkestar

(Ba Da Bing)

In the liner notes to Beirut's Gulag Okestar, mastermind Zach Condon mentions that the cover and back photos were found in a library in Leipzig, Germany, torn from a book. "If anybody knows the photographer," he adds. "Please get in touch." Such is the mystery surrounding this debut from the 19-year-old New Mexican (now living in Brooklyn), where youthful travels through Eastern Europe manifest themselves in one of the most intelligent indie-rock debuts of the last 10 years. Accompanied by Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel, A Hawk and a Hacksaw) and Heather Toast (A Hawk and a Hacksaw), Condon created a record out of ukulele, accordion, and strings to make the sonic equivalent of a lazy afternoon spent at some cafe in the Balkans, scribbling in your Moleskine and listening to street musicians. While most attempts to bring ethnic music to the masses involve a watering down of the regional flavor, Condon has transcended that by not even trying to sound American. There are no guitar solos (actually, no guitars period), and the band's Balkan stomp seems inherent, not learned. The only blatantly American thing is Condon's voice, which is akin to Rufus Wainwright at his most melodramatic. While Condon's take on Eastern European traditions may sound mind-blowing to the modern indie fan, the Balkans might have a different opinion. Regardless, it's an aesthetically pleasing addition to your record collection. BRIAN J. BARR

Beirut play with A Hawk and a Hacksaw, at Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave., 206-441-5611, www.thecrocodile.com. $10. 9 p.m. Tues., Oct. 17.

Miss Violetta Beauregarde

Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo

(Temporary Residence)

Imagine the ranting crack whore on your corner had an art degree and moonlighted as frontwoman for the Locust. That's Miss Violetta Beauregarde, a young Italian lady who delivers on the promise M.I.A. failed to fulfill: Girls make the best sonic terrorists. Her second album, Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo (translation: "I hate the common crowd and I spurn them"), might be called grind-hop or glitch-thrash, but after you take these 16 rusty ninja stars to the forehead, you'll be too busy twitching to death to care. MVB controls an undead army of crippled electronics, layering up frantic drum-machine pulses with overdriven bleep squalls and defibrillating bass. Her main weapon is her voice, an unholy instrument that flips between hyperactive singsong, catfight scream, and full-on grindcore bellow. The whole record frequently runs off into total chaos (like on snare-and-scream "The Man Who Shot at Squirrels"), but it succeeds best with a little structure, such as the catchy dirge "Try to Misunderstand This One," which sounds like a very dark Le Tigre jam. "I Am the Tiananmen Square Guy and You All Are the Fucking Tanks" is both a deadly evil pop anthem and an MVB mission statement. FRANCES READE

The Melvins

A Senile Animal

(Ipecac)

In a world of pop fads with ever-diminishing shelf lives, it's something of a comfort to know that for the Melvins, the song resolutely remains the same. For 20 years now, the group has been regularly churning out music that's as relentlessly punishing as it is strangely hypnotic, and the band's latest effort is no exception. The core duo of singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover, along with new recruits from Big Business Jared Warren (bass) and Coady Willis (doubling up on drums), get the ball rolling with the abrasive "The Talking Horse," Osborne delivering the lyrics in the manner of someone who has never been anything but the bearer of bad tidings—and is taking to the role with unabashed glee. Given that half the songs adhere to traditional pop song length (two and a half minutes), it's easier to detect the melodies lurking underneath; with a glossier production, one can even imagine the dreamy "Civilized Worm" becoming, dare I say it, radio-friendly. But such a move would eviscerate the very heart and soul of the group; it's their staunch individualism that has made them a force (still) to be reckoned with. GILLIAN G. GAAR

 
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