Porn, Sleaze And Talent

Stephen McBean brilliantly dissects the city of angels
by Gregory Beatty

cd-pink-mtnPink Mountaintops
Get Back
Jagjaguwar
4.5 / 5

I’ve been giving out a lot of 4.5 out of 5 reviews lately. Don’t know if I’m getting soft, or if I’ve just hit a hot streak of good albums by NO, Timber Timbre and now this disc from Black Mountain leader Stephen McBean’s other puffed-up hill project, Pink Mountaintops. Formerly based in Vancouver, McBean decamped to Los Angeles before writing and recording this album. (An odd coincidence because L.A. figured prominently as a location in NO and Timbre Timber’s albums, too. I’m living my own version of The Number 27 here.)

There’s something undeniably seductive about the laid-back southern California lifestyle, but you have to earn it, and it doesn’t come cheap. That’s what Get Back is about.

The album’s highlight is “North Hollywood Microwaves”, featuring a guest rap/vocal by Annie Hardy of Giant Drag that defies description as far as explicit sexuality goes. Rod Stewart, Andy Hardy, Goofy and bears (both black and polar) all get shout-outs. But the tune’s backed by a killer sax and totally works as a raunchy parody of our pseudo-porn society (both the actual XXX industry centred in San Fernando Valley and the more soft-core compromises we all make to survive under capitalism).

McBean would have seen both in spades in La La Land. “Sell Your Soul”, “Ambulance City” and “New Teenage Mutilation” are other examples where he dissects one of America’s penultimate dreams: making it big in show business.

But L.A. isn’t all porn and sleaze. There’s tons of legit talent too. And a number of L.A.-based producers and musicians help out on the disc. Cat Power and Brian Jonestown Massacre are two acts represented, and Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis guests on guitar.

The result is a sweet slice of kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll — not in a drone-y, wall-of-sound sort of way, but with tons of power chord riffage and intricate tempo changes. Like Timber Timbre’s Hot Dreams, Get Back is a strong contender to be one of the best albums of the year.


cd-vangaalen

Chad VanGaalen
Shrink Dust
Flemish Eye
4 out of 5

I was first introduced to Chad VanGaalen’s music with his 2004 debut, Infiniheart. I’ve enjoyed all his subsequent albums, including the Polaris Prize-shortlisted Soft Airplane. Still, Shrink Dust, his excellent fifth full-length, took me by surprise. It’s really good. For existing VanGaalenoids, the combination of Shrink Dust’s melody and noise will be pleasantly familiar, even with the addition of pedal steel guitar to Chad’s experimental sounds. The song structure and VanGaalen’s lyrical choices make it accessible to new listeners, too. Basically, Shrink Dust is a fantastic, head-bobbing, sing along-ing soundtrack to upcoming summer adventures. One of those adventures should happen at VanGaalen’s Thursday June 5 show at the Exchange. /Eden Rohatensky


cd-dennyDenney and the Jets
Mexican Coke
Burger
3.5 out of 5

I don’t need to get into an alternative magazine’s finances here, nor do I need to talk about how many sandwiches I might be able to buy with the money I get for the fine and important work of listening to records I get for free. But needless to say, neither Prairie Dog nor their sibling publication Planet S have the funds available for me to truly research the depth of mind-altering substances discussed in Denney and the Jets’ Mexican Coke.

So be forewarned: I may just not have the pill experience necessary to truly appreciate Nashville, Tennessee’s Chris Denney and his band.

Even without that foundation (I’m sipping pomegranate green tea while I’m writing this), I likes what I hears. The Jets amble strong through Mexican Coke’s songs, playing loose and looser with their laid-back southern rock idiom. That framework’s a little restricting, but they bring a lot of variety to it, going a lot of places at their own forgiving pace. /James Brotheridge


cd-papercutsPapercuts
Life Among the Savages
Easy Sound
4 out of 5

Jason Quever’s singing style is breathy as heck. It’s not just the sound of someone who ran up a flight of stairs two steps at a time; it could be the wheezing gasps of a guy on his deathbed. That delivery didn’t work as well on Fading Parade, the 2011 album Quever’s Papercuts put out on Sub Pop. His out-of-breath delivery was paired with an echo-drenched production style, obscuring whatever subtle touches there were to his songwriting.

Life Among the Savages, his follow-up away from Sub Pop, has moments of that, especially with a few fuzzed-out guitar parts, but Quever’s also rediscovered the benefits of precision. On earlier songs, that means a sharp string section recalling early Nico records. Later, it’s exacting instrumentation in some lovely, sad-sack pop songs. Simplifying and focusing suits the San Francisco native well, it seems. /James Brotheridge

2014-05-01