Ty Segall / Ty Segall Band: Mr. Face EP/Live in San Francisco

Pity the poor live album. In the era of streaming video, smartphones, and extensive fan-driven digital archiving, their utility has diminished. Amid so much constantly accumulating data, it’s difficult for a single concert—particularly one that you did not personally attend—to feel at all remarkable. And let’s be real: the old problems remain unresolved. With the exception of the Grateful Dead, no band’s live record is its best record.

Castle Face Records’ Live in San Francisco series is an outlier, though. It’s not so much about a single artist as a whole scene. Over the last couple of years, the label has released a number of concert recordings capturing the bests acts in—or intimately involved with—the Bay Area’s garage and psych-rock community, including sets from OBN IIIs, White Fence, and Icky Boyfriends. The performances are usually recorded to a Tascam 388 tape machine, which imbues the recordings with a grit-heavy feel that’s not too distant from the band’s “studio” albums. 

Ty Segall Band’s Live in San Francisco is the fifth installment in the series. This isn’t his first live record (that was 2011’s Live in Aisle Five) and it’s not even his first appearance in the series (his prog-loving side project, Fuzz, was also included), but it’s an important addition. Along with Castle Face co-founder John Dwyer and his band Thee Oh Sees, Segall was a defining voice in the city’s late ’00s garage rock bubble and he and Dwyer are also, arguably, its most popular exports. And while it’s clear that Segall is prolific—he’s put out a double LP and a singles collection just within the last six months—this record isn’t filler.

Like a garage-rock version of Prince, Segall performs almost all of the music on his LPs alone, yet his live band—which includes drummer Emily Rose Epstein, guitarist Charles Mootheart, and bassist Mikal Cronin—is no joke. Having toured extensively for the last four years, they’ve tightened up into a be-all, end-all rock’n’roll group with the volatility and spirit to match choice ’70s sweathogs like the Coloured Balls or Groundhogs.

The set list draws heavily from 2011’s full-band album, Slaughterhouse, along with a few of the heavier cuts from the last handful of Segall’s solo records. These live takes are, for the most part, harsher, nastier, and faster than their studio versions. The song “Feel” appeared on last year’s double LP Manipulator with a considerably more polished presentation. The version on Live in San Francisco is unhinged—abandoning nuance for five minutes of gale force choogle.

Some of the other entries in Castle Face’s live series have encouraged spontaneity via covers or drawn-out jams. Regrettably, there’s not much of that to be found on Live in San Francisco. Here Segall and his band perform the songs pretty much as written, only louder. It isn’t Segall’s best record, but it’s worthwhile if only in that it documents the whole crew playing together at the peak of their ability.

And because, you know, why stop there: this month also sees the release of Segall’s Mr. Face EP. On Manipulator, Segall attempted to dial in an ambitious high-gloss classic rock masterpiece, complete with string section. Mr. Face is more or less back to business as usual—four songs that find Segall returning to the hazy mid-fi sound of his 2010 LP, Melted.

Available digitally and also as a pair of 7” singles—which come with 3D glasses—the four songs are pleasant enough, but in comparison to the unruly sounds on Live in San Francisco, it feels like a bit of an afterthought. At this point, Segall can write this kind of lightly dazed, psychedelic pop with about as much effort as most people expend while checking their e-mail. If anything, Mr. Face is enough to tide you over until the next Segall record which, as always, can’t be all that far off.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/14ZLhfD

Various Artists: Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes

It’s a little wearying that Bob Dylan‘s burst of creativity in the spring and summer of 1967 is still getting tapped; it would be nice if, for instance, a single artist had had a moment within the past couple of decades that was both as musically fertile and as exhaustively catalogued, mythologized and picked over. But there The Basement Tapes are—an ever-brighter star in the Boomer firmament—and here we are, as their glow increases from a distance of 47 years.

The six-disc Basement Tapes Complete set that Dylan released last week isn’t even the whole story. At some point in the past couple of years, Dylan found a stash or two of lyrics from the Basement Tapes period that he apparently didn’t get around to setting to music at the time (or, if he did, apparently didn’t bother to play with the Band at Big Pink). Producer T-Bone Burnett was appointed to do something with them, and assembled a kind of new Traveling Wilburys to write and perform music for them: Elvis Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes.

This isn’t the first time somebody else has written music for Dylan’s words—the first example may have been Ben Carruthers and the Deep’s 1965 single “Jack o’ Diamonds”—and two of the original Basement Tapes’ highlights, “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “Tears of Rage”, were completed by members of the Band. Dylan himself participated in a similar project three years ago, completing Hank Williams‘ unfinished lyric to “The Love That Faded” for The Lost Notebooks. Williams, though, didn’t live to finish that album’s songs. Dylan’s just not so much the guy who wrote the lyrics on Lost on the River any more. (He’s moved on: the set list on his current tour includes only four of his pre-1997 songs, not counting a Frank Sinatra cover.)

These Dylan texts are, literally, throwaways, but they come from a period when he was writing spectacular throwaways. The baffled breakup songs “Golden Tom – Silver Judas” and “Kansas City” would both be as perpetually quoted as, say, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” if they’d appeared on record in the ’60s. (The latter features some perfect Dylanoid backhands a la “Positively 4th Street”: “You invite me into your house/ And then you say you gotta pay for what you break!”) And, as always, Bob’s a magpie: the title of “Duncan and Jimmy” riffs on the folk tune “Duncan and Brady”, and “Hidee Hidee Ho” owes its hook to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”.

A project like this is a treacherous one for its artists, though. To try to sound like Dylan is to come up short of the mark, and to try to not sound like Dylan can betray the material. So the New Basement Tapes hedged their bets, each writing music for the old lyrics on their own, which is why the 20 tracks here (on the “deluxe” edition, released at the same time as an impoverished 15-track version) include a few lyrics that show up twice in radically different settings. Most of the songwriters err on the side of avoiding Dylanish cadences—Goldsmith’s settings, in particular, are bland adult-contemporary stuff, and his lack of puckishness means that when he gets to a phrase like “I have paid that awful price,” it lands with a dull clunk.

It also seems like a mistake to take these songs as seriously as the NBT’s sometimes do. “Spanish Mary”, for instance, is a chain of stock phrases from old ballads, shuffled until sense falls away from them (“in Kingston town of high degree”?), but Giddens sings it as if it’s a meaningfully dramatic narrative. (To be fair, the funereal Giddens/Mumford setting of “Lost on the River” that closes the album is one of its high points.)

The MVP of this group turns out to be Elvis Costello, who treats Bob as a band member who didn’t happen to show up to the jam that day. Costello’s already started playing a few of his collaborations with 26-year-old Dylan live, including “Matthew Met Mary”, which isn’t even on this album. His two-minute take on “Married to My Hack”, whose lyric is basically just Dylan flexing his rhyme chops, is a rapid-fire monotone rant in the vein of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”; he bellows and snarls his way through “Six Months in Kansas City” as if it was one of his own minor rockers.

Nearly every track on Lost on the River has a couple of memorable moments: a marvelous turn of phrase, a brief Jim James guitar meltdown, an instant of the band members discovering how their voices can harmonize. But what it lacks is the casual joy of Dylan’s Basement Tapes—music that was made almost literally in a woodshed, with no thought at the time to releasing it. Dylan and the Band had the luxury of freedom from expectations and the luxury of being allowed to make something trivial. For all its power and commitment, Burnett’s supergroup doesn’t.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1uYw0a7

Livity Sound: Livity Sound Remixes

The reaction to a remix album in 2014 probably ranges somewhere from “How quaint!” to chirping crickets. They seem, in large part, a relic of the 1990s electronica boom, a time when CDs were plentiful and well-funded major labels were trying to figure out how exactly to best peddle funky bleeps and bloops to a wider record-buying public. Remixes are still used as a way to boost the visibility of a young artist via a more famous remixer, or to expand a track’s reach by dressing it up in a different genre, but it’s more common these days to offer the material as a carrot for purchasing from a particular vendor or as a freebie to drum up interest. Underground labels, as always, seem content to issue mixes on vinyl, for DJs and collectors. So the market isn’t exactly saturated, which is fine: it was always a slightly dicey proposition to bundle together re-imaginings by a disparate group of artists.

Livity Sound is a small, Bristol-based label/collective whose curious meld of techno, dub, and bass music proved popular with the type of progressive, underground-leaning DJs. They were notable for their sound, but also for the insular nature with which is was presented: tribal markings (since abandoned), monochrome labels, and singles that featured different combinations of the three members (Peverelist, Kowton, Asusu) but no outsiders. Watching them conjure the sound live revealed a sense of ritual.

With just nine (original) releases to their name—and none since they collected them on last year’s excellent eponymous album—they might seem an unlikely mark for an album of Sumixes. But Livity’s sound represents something of an ideal for remixers: potent and distinct enough to survive mangling but with plenty of cavities and null spaces to explore. The sound, so deep-seated in the trio, would best be expanded by a group of peers and sympathizers.

The list of remixers is heavy on European veterans, and while the names aren’t big—UK techno don Surgeon represents the loudest choice—they’re an imaginative group that share Livity’s propensity for manically controlled aggression and tense rhythms. The remixers favor tweaks and refurbishments to outright deconstruction, so Livity Sound Remixes is still largely a hard charging collection of throbbing bass and ratcheting snares, albeit a collection that feels slightly less isolated as the familiar clang of techno and curves of house are sprinkled over the tracks like seasoning.

There are some striking updates. Tessela takes the nimble breakbeat of Pev’s “Aztec Chant” and plates it in chrome; Ghost-202 (Ron Morelli and Svengalighost) pervert “Livity”‘s bassline into a snarling, distorted mess. Surgeon takes the halting rhythm of “Raw Code” and sets it like a broken bone, offering rigidity and support. Berlin’s Nick Höppner turns in one of the best mixes, unearthing softness and patience in the quicksilver house of Asusu’s “Sister”. A Made Up Sound offer two remixes of Asusu’s “Velez”, carefully pouring spacey synth noise into its crevices like someone preparing a sheet of cupcakes.

There are times when austerity gets the better of Livity’s sound, like when MM/KM (Mix Mup and Kassem Mosse) remove titular, wiggling synth melody, one of Livity’s rare playful moments, from Kowton’s “More Games”. And while the lack of total teardowns by the remixers speaks to the resiliency of the original tracks, Livity Sound Remixes is lacking in true curveballs (something that was less apparent when these tracks were released separately over the course of the year). Still, Livity Sound Remixes serves as a welcome addendum to some of the most vital club music of recent years and a roadmap for placing this flinty, penetrating music into a broader context.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1uyRUR2