The Streets – Computers and Blues (2011)
Pulling inspiration from cubical isolation and detached social networking, Computers and Blues is a collection of moody summer jams. ‘Going Through Hell’, a rousing pep talk powering over militant bass drums and arena-ready power chords, will muscle through road-trip traffic and bolster morale wherever needed. Computerized vocals drip with an authentic human emotion and beg to be projected from the open windows of joyriding cars during ‘Puzzled by People’ and ‘Roof Of Your Car’. ‘Blip On A Screen’ replaces anonymity with possibility and packs a lifetime into 3 minutes and 34 seconds. ‘Soldiers’ is saccharine singalong pop that’s perfectly ripe for summer twilight. While Mike Skinner’s heady rhymes may seem contradictory to carefree summertime tunes, they come together seamlessly, track after track. – Jeremy Schaefer
Sleeper Agent – Celebrasion (2011)
Sleeper Agent’s youth could be seen as a hindrance to their artistic vision. Singer Alex Kandel ditched out on a final year of high school to tour, after all. On Celebrasion, The White Stripes and Cage the Elephant (who still sound like a Pixies tribute band to me) influences aren’t hard to spot. But, the band fights their way out of those associations with a sinister exuberance. The loose-fitting ‘Shuga Cane’ includes guitarist Tony Smith joining Kandel on vocal duties and the band really shines when they are both attacking a song from different angles. The unexpectedly gentle ‘Be My Baby’ sheds a lot of their immediate influences and reaches back to 60s girl-group melodies.
Throughout the album, there are a lot of different directions the music takes and every one sounds like a good idea for Sleeper Agent to pursue as they grow. Whether they want to write Phoenix-type pop-rock (‘Get Burned’) or more visceral punk-pop (‘Force A Smile’), the band has the chops to do it well. A pleasant reminder that young kids with instruments in a garage is the ultimate fermentation process for rock ‘n’ roll. – Jason Lent
Henry Flynt – You Are My Everlovin’/Celestial Power (1986)
Somewhere along this eternally shrouded road, the tide turned. Stones no longer were. Color was relegated to kitsch. Our visions straitened to the straight and narrow. Detours gave way to the default superhighway, as we buttoned up for another slog while bearing down on any wandering impulses of old. Old is right — bluster for bills, personality for practicality, surprise for stability.
Isn’t steady footing just a death knell, though? Isn’t settling for contentment tantamount to waiting for the other shoe to inevitably drop? I suspect the key to living this life is feeling as though you are for the duration. Taking it in. Soaking in the awe, in the avowal that there’s more to this than we’ll ever savvy.
Sustaining faith in…anything…always did necessitate a mind open to fancies vaster than the urban panorama. Perhaps it’s no sparkling revelation, then, that many a disenchanted soul has dreamed up idyllic, back-to-nature designs over the years. But none are truer to the cause than Henry Flynt. His droning, fizzing minimalism does not insist on reversing the needles, it coaxes us away from them — away from tick-tocking time, away from past-leaning pastiche, away from concerns that will amount to wholly fucking trivial when this wink we’ve been afforded elapses. This is no foray into the bleary realms of nostalgia. These aren’t tokens of the bygone that we cling to but can’t be kept. This isn’t a cheap, modernized rehash of all that John Jacob Niles and Mary O’Hara have already conveyed. ‘You Are My Everlovin’ and ‘Celestial Power’ have been brewed solely to cleanse us of the clutter’s shadow.
Within these verdant rough patches lies the promise of a new lease, a weightlessness drawn from shedding burdens that had long overstayed their welcome and fluttering in the ether until we come upon the right lea for our roots. Until we have reason to ground our flight.
Flynt’s craft is at once inspiriting and inexplicable, a mare’s nest of tape loops and distorted strings. It seems to have descended from nowhere and distended everywhere, bewildering, cyclical symphonies brushed with the elemental spirit of folk and the mysticism of raga. His instrument, typically polite and punctilious, bulldozes its former inhibitions, allowing its timbral scope to fly high and wide, billions of strands zigging and zagging and spilling out of the mother ship, feverishly pushing, straining, bending over backwards to dilate our lenses. The murmur behind the babel is on edge as well, a bubbling cauldron of anticipation, simultaneously letting loose and tightening the screws, squeezing, wringing every last ounce of vibrancy out of every last second on hand. It can sense a ceaseless dawn beating in the thick of night — in its bones, in its soil, in the strides we’ve taken to this point, in those we’ve yet to, in the slippery sights that are slated to change everything. To reset the counter.
While mucking about on the violin isn’t really novel in fringe circles, this affair bears no cohorts. No ties to chronology. Nothing like it has surfaced prior or subsequent to its release. You Are My Everlovin’/Celestial Power isn’t as merciless as Tony Conrad’s scabrous pandemonium, as it yearns to shuttle us across great distances rather than pound us into submission. Conversely, it isn’t as far-reaching as the ruminations of Takehisa Kosugi, as this pilgrimage is comprehensively terrene rather than cosmic. Above all, it eschews the academic side of minimalism for a bucolic one, for one that’s entrenched in the grass beneath our feet, in the manifestly human condition of yearning for place and purpose.
They’re tendered, but only in flashes. Flynt manages to keep to the mainline and splinter off from it over and over again. His measured violin hums and howls throughout. The gleams don’t occupy the entire frame, nor should they. We wouldn’t grasp how resplendent they are if they stood alone, nor would we conjure the strength to carry on without them. Their mere presence has steeled our resolve for good.
We needed the trials, the bumps, the hurt. There is no love where there is no bramble and, for the first time, we’ve got both.
Home has been down here, in the murk, all along. We just couldn’t see it. We couldn’t believe it. Now that we do thanks to the warmth at the heart of these mind-splitting, rubric-blurring monoliths, now that we can finally suss out the gray’s greenery, well, now we know what we didn’t then. We’re not falling back, we’re fumbling forward. This is not regression, it’s rejuvenation. – Vinh Cao