Miranda Lee Richards – Echoes of the Dreamtime
Miranda Lee Richards has eclectic musical roots. Taught to play guitar by Kirk Hammet from Metallica, she was briefly in The Brian Jonestown Massacre in the late 1990s. This is now her third full-length release since going solo, but it’s her first since 2009. That’s a long time to be away. And it must have quite a trip, because over the course of 46 swirling minutes, she takes us on a wonderful and mind-expanding journey from her native San Francisco to her adopted hometown of LA, but with seemingly lengthy stopovers in Nashville, Rishikesh and other places in between. For this album is almost as eclectic as her musical upbringing, though with a very different set of influences. At times, it’s like listening to Jenny Lewis at her best. ‘Colours So Fine’ and ‘Tokyo’s Dancing’ are almost perfect indie-pop songs. By contrast, ‘Already Fine’ echoes the pastoral folk movement of the early 1970s with its warbly vocals and innocent ideals. And then there’s ‘Julian’, which is simply soaked in the spangly sounds of the sitar. It’s totally transporting. And it’s not the only moment when time seems to somehow slip away. There’s the series of chord changes towards the end of ‘Little Radio’, one of the highlights of the selection. And above all the moment at 3.05 on ‘First Light of Winter’ when the levee’s under threat and we have to place our trust in the good work of others. Miranda Lee Richards has been on both a spiritual and musical journey. She seems a better person for it. And, thanks to Echoes of the Dreamtime, we are too.
Dr. Dog – The Psychedelic Swamp
This is without doubt the best swamp-themed album of 2016 so far. There’s ‘Swampadelic Pop’, ‘Swamp Descent’, ‘Swamp Is On’, and ‘(swamp inflammation)’. This is a truly swamptastic album. The theme must be dear to the band, because most of the tracks were written in 2001. In fact, this was due to be their debut album. But they’re no stick in the muds. They haven’t just repackaged old songs. They’ve completely re-recorded them, giving them a new-sounding verve and energy. The result is a fun album. A sing-along album. An album that’s in no way bogged down by looking back. True, it’s not a particularly psychedelic sound. Control-room knobs are certainly twiddled; tape might even be played backwards on a couple of occasions; and for sure a theremin was present in the re-making of this album. Yet overall it’s less Quicksilver Messenger Service and more T. Rex, which is no bad thing. This is Dr. Dog’s most immediate release since Fate nearly eight years ago. And it shows that just sometimes the musical vaults do hold real gems. So, be prepared to wade in, splash about, and get a dose of that swamp fever. It’s good for you.
Jesu / Sun Kil Moon
There’s no artist quite like Mark Kozelek at the moment. He’s not so much producing albums as presenting us with a series of personal journal entries. We get the exact dates and times of when he’s writing the lyrics. ‘Beautiful You’, August 31st 2015, 2.36 pm. We get updates on his various projects. It turns out that most of his scenes from the film he told us about in the last album ended up being cut. We check in with his family. His father’s doing OK, which is good to hear. He reads us a couple of fan letters. We get a hint of his reaction when he learns that Pitchfork only gave him a miserly 6.0 for Universal Themes. “What took them so long?”. It’s all so intimate, it’s like catching up with an old friend. But it’d all be merely a post-modern, internet-age trope if it wasn’t for the quality of the work. This album comes with some of Mark Kozelek’s most gut-wrenching lyrics, even by the standards of his recent material. On ‘Fragile’, we learn of his reaction to the death of Chris Squire. We get to hear a lot about how important Yes were to him, which is sort of interesting. But it’s when he makes the link between Chris Squire and Christopher, his teenage friend who had leukaemia, that things get really chokey. Yet even that pales next to ‘Exodus’. Referencing Nick Cave, Mike Tyson and Danielle Steel, he sends his love to all bereaved parents. It’s utterly respectful when name-checking the celebrities. Again, though, things soon get personal. Carissa, from Benji, his friend Chris, who we’ve just heard about, Katy, his ex-girlfriend, who’s present on almost every song on the album, his uncle Lenny, whose death we were told about on ‘Brothers’ from the Mark Kozelek and Desertshore album, all of them left behind bereaved parents. And Mark Kozelek shares their pain. He’s not part of the club, but he communicates the feeling of what it means to be a member like no-one else around. And as if that wasn’t enough, and whether it’s composed by him, Jesu, or other friends, some of the music is simply beautiful. For sure, the sludge guitar spoils some the tracks. Maybe it was an unconscious way of getting that 6.0 out of his system, but it doesn’t work. The lyrics get swallowed up. Yet on songs like ‘Father’s Day’, ‘Beautiful You’, and ‘Exodus’ again, the music is almost as unbearable as the lyrics. Mark Kozelek is a unique talent. It’ll be great to catch up with him again in a few months to see where he’s at, to find out how things are with his family, and to hear more stories about his life.