Blacksmith whimsy under parlor curtains. Usual set up: M-240 and 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph.
Archive for March, 2015
The artist and blogger Jane Chardiet (who publishes as Jane Pain) has an interesting interview with Damon McMahon of Amen Dunes. Read it in full if Love, the amazing album McMahon released last year, affected you half as much as it hit me. There’s a lot in there, not to mention his talking about wanting to record an album this year that sounds like Warsaw (early Joy Division) meets a countrified Nirvana.
So occasionally we get carried away, but when we called Houndstooth’s Ride Out The Dark the best first album ever, it should be noted that we qualified it with the proviso that this superlative was good for August 2013, maybe not all time. Yet now comes the gorgeous No News From Home, and clearly our enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. Houndstooth is a pitch perfect, upbeat American band ready for export to all markets attuned to our nation’s organic sonic glories.
The Portland band is built around two lead instruments, John Gnorski’s fluid guitar and Katie Bernstein’s slightly off-kilter voice. While Gnorski plays with the tasteful precision and lean muscle mass of Mike Campbell, this doesn’t place these provisioners of Americana firmly in the Petty camp — they’re hippies weaving on the stage, suffusing Humboldt County’s best through a bong filled from Barton Springs, not Florida transplants living the life in some canyon above LA. Bernstein has this disarming trick of singing an eighth of a register above the melody, though when it counts, her aim is true.
Houndstooth is that band you want to see play live outdoors as the sun goes down, or to have on your home stereo as you cook a meal for favorite friends you haven’t seen since college. There is nothing that truly commands the foreground in perfect focus while the rear splays out in lovely bokeh; they make no heavy claims. This is pretty summer music, arriving just as spring begins, and we fully expect rockers like “Bliss Boat,” the title track, and “Witching Hour” to be the soundtrack for all our cookouts for months to come.
If Sleater-Kinney had younger sisters who formed a band, they wouldn’t be Chastity Belt. Oh sure, on the Seattle quartet’s excellent first album, No Regerts,there are moments when the music bounces with the same trampoline dynamics as their forebears’, and even on the amazing Time To Go Home, out this past week, you can hear the occasional echo of their Pacific Northwest sisters. But Chastity Belt deserves to be taken seriously, and on their own.
The first strummed chords of “Drone,” which opens the new one, make you think you’re about to be immersed in a Galaxie 500 album, and like Dean Wareham, clearly Julia Shapiro, who writes and sings and plays guitar, is an admirer of the way Joy Division/New Order constructed songs: several begin with a lead baseline upon which gorgeous chords are neatly layered while an intricate lead guitar soon picks its way through the melody. On their second album, they may still have songs entitled “Cool Slut,” which at least is a topical step up from songs entitled “Pussy Weed Beer,” and “Nip Slip.” But what marks Chastity Belt as a band that is going to take us all on a ride through third, fourth, and fifth albums in which their grasp will stay in tandem with their ambitious reach is how relaxed and confident they are as musicians, the drums always hitting the beat at just the last moment, Shapiro’s contralto refusing to be rushed.
In publicity pictures, they play up the concept of nerdy post-teenagers, but Chastity Belt has a mature sound, minor chords underlying surprising melodic depth. While occasionally one could hope for an alternative to Shapiro’s voice, which maintains a constant pitch across two album’s worth of songs, the interplay between the guitars will brighten the smile of anyone who has ever loved Luna, or Real Estate.
Just listen to the title track, which contains all the goodies these young women put on display. Some great bands begin so strong you are utterly beguiled even as — while devouring those first great records — you despair of what they might come out with when the novelty wears off. With Chastity Belt, having produced such a brilliant sophomore outing in Time To Go Home, we can only count the days ’til the next one comes out.