We are truly blessed. Two original Mark Kozelek albums within the space of a couple of months. They sound gloriously different. The collaboration with Jimmy Lavalle of Album Leaf was sparser, more electronic, whereas here the sound is traditionally Kozelesque. The most noticeable variation, though, is the pace. On Perils From The Sea, the songs were slow, the shortest clocking in at 5 minutes 10. Here, though, the speed can be veritably breakneck with five songs registering 3 minutes 45 or less and they’re none the worse for that. While there are differences, there are plenty of common features too. Both albums have songs about the death of close friends, not least the moving mention of the late Jason Molina on ‘Sometimes I Can’t Stop’. Both include tracks about the life on the road. This time around ‘Katowice or Cologne’ captures at once the total exhilaration and also the utter ennui of a touring musician. And, tellingly, both namecheck members of his family. We’re reacquainted, and once again in the fondest terms, with his sister and his niece. We also get to know more about his father. On the previous outing, we heard about his grandpa’s funeral, which was the “first and the last time” he saw his Dad cry. Here, on ‘Brothers’, we’re told about the death of three of his father’s siblings, Lenny at Pearl Harbor, Billy in 1989, and Bobby in late 2012. While it’s moving enough to hear of how his mother “put a gold star in the window and waited and waited for [Lenny] to come home but he never ever ever ever showed”, it just sets the scene for the last verse. “I’ll miss him like hell”, he sings about his 80-year-old Dad, “when I can no longer hear the sound, Of his voice giving me advice and telling me the latest news, When we can’t sit around and watch old movies in his living room”. Like the previous outing, though, there’s absolutely nothing morbid about this album. On ‘Tavoris Cloud’ he recounts yet another death, but this time it’s his cat who, he tells us, slipped off to “kitty heaven”. On ‘Livingstone Bramble’ he brags about how he can play the guitar like Neil Young and tells us how he hates Eric Clapton and Nels Cline. In fact, he tells us how he hates Nels Cline three times. It’s genuinely funny. Two collaborations. Two different sounds. But just one Mark Kozelek. And one is just right.
In the time since her last album was released in January 2010, Laura Veirs has been busy. There’s been a film soundtrack and a collection of children’s songs. But this is the real successor. And the good news is that Warp and Weft is just as captivating and as enjoyable as its predecessor. Much of the attraction of a Laura Veirs album lies in the phrasing. She has a wonderful way of running quickly over words only to sustain the last of them, drawing attention both to it and to the general feeling she’s trying to convey. Most of the time that feeling is one of a certain child-like wonder. There’s an innocence to a Laura Veirs album. But that’s not to say the themes can’t be serious or affecting. In one song, she tells the true story of Sadako Sasaki, who, suffering from the effects of the atomic bomb, was told that she would be granted her most heartfelt wish if she could fold a thousand origami cranes. She never made it. But Laura Veirs is no mongerer of gloom, no merchant of sadness. Even when the themes are personal and difficult, the delivery is gentle. The mood optimistic. And on top of it all there’s the music. There are some beautiful moments here. The short instrumental, ‘Ikaria’, stands out, but perhaps above all there’s the closer, ‘White Cherry’, which just sparkles with its cellos, cowbells, and goodness-knows-what else. And across the album generally there’s some nice variety, from the Neko Case-like rock-out of ‘That Alice’ to the quieter sounds of ‘Shapeshifter’. Laura Veirs is never going to start a revolution, even if she’s not afraid of some social commentary, notably on ‘America’. But what she lacks in experimentation she makes up for in control. And of course, having Tucker Martine as your producer-husband probably helps to bring out the best in any song. This is an artist who is happy with the sound she has found and who is willing to take the time to make the most of it. Warp and Weft shows that it’s been time well spent.
Pond don’t just let their influences show. They pay for huge gaudy billboards by the side of the busiest freeway and write them in large letters for everyone to see. Heavy bass and deep fuzz guitar on ‘Aloneaflameaflower’? That’ll be Black Sabbath. Downward cascading arpeggios on ‘Xanman’? That’s so ‘Helter Skelter’. Swirling psychedelia with funky bass on ‘Giant Tortoise’? That’s trademark Australadelia. Tame Impala anyone? Well, you’d be just about right there. Pond and Tame Impala have about 60 per cent of their personnel in common. So, even if Pond are the heavier, early 70s metal version of Tame Impala, the cracks are wide enough to see right through. But there the resemblances just about end. Tame Impala are by far the more creative. Pond the more derivative. The songs work best when the Sabbath-y guitars aren’t centre stage. The title track with its fantastically approximate vocals from Cowboy John (me neither) works a treat. The Tangerine Dream-like loopy synth that closes off the last four minutes of ‘Midnight Mass (At The Market St. Payphone)’ sounds fantastic. Best of all, the more laid back ‘O Dharma’ sounds genuinely nice. And that’s a complement in this context. Too often, though, the songs still sound a little too unstructured. Off-the-cuff studio ideas that needed a little more work. More than that, there a sense that some of the tracks don’t quite cut it precisely because Pond are a band trying not to sound too much like Tame Impala. They fail, obviously. But there are definitely times when you want Tame Impala to get hold of them and wrap them right the way around that wah-wah pedal. The result would be friendlier, dancier, newer. That Pond can play isn’t in any doubt. But they need to write a little bit more, embrace their inner Impala, and just groove.
There’s nothing lovely about an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros album. No beauty. No charm. If any confirmation was needed, the rasp in the voice of lead singer, Alex Ebert aka Edward Sharpe, is evidence enough. But precisely because a Magnetic Zeros album lacks any chamber-pop delight, it needs to make up for it in energy, life, and general rambunctiousness. This is exactly what made their first album, Up From Below, such a great listen. It’s also what made the second album, Here, such a disappointment. It was far too thoughtful. Too serious. The new album goes back to basics. It’s not that there aren’t some chin-stroking moments, but the central themes are love, peace, and freedom. Dude. And, more importantly, they’re communicated with an excitement, a verve, and a sing-along quality. There are about 11 or 12 members of ESANTMZ, depending on who’s come round for dinner. And the sheer numbers are an essential part of the fun. They give it a raggedy, DIY quality. They also perhaps explain why the album sounds like it was recorded in a barn, presumably because it was the only space big enough to fit everybody in. The danger in having such a large troupe is the temptation for everyone to feel they have to be doing something all the time. It can make things sound crowded, confused, cacophonous. Here, though, Edward Sharpe is in control. Where necessary, he seems to have the wherewithal and the authority to tell member no. 9 to put down the goddamn maracas and just keep quiet for a while. An Edward Sharpe album is unlikely ever to be a classic. And there are some missteps here. ‘In The Lion’ is truly atrocious. ‘In The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ more like. But there are some great, life-affirming moments too. ‘Better Days’ is the 2013 S-T equivalent of ‘Home’. ‘Let’s Get High’ (on love, if you please) is as much fun as it sounds. And even the closer, ‘This Life’, with its darker, bluesier themes isn’t a total downer, man. Long Live Edward Sharpe and every single one of his Magnetic Zeros.