Mineral: The Power of Failing/EndSerenading

Mineral always felt private somehow. The Austin-via-Houston group wasn’t together all that long—they released two full-lengths and some singles, and by the time of that second album, they’d already broken up. Their short run may have contributed to a feeling of anonymity. To me, they were different from relative peers like Promise Ring or Lifetime, groups that seemed communal; Mineral weren’t a guilty pleasure, more like a prized secret. They’ve been described as a Sunny Day Real Estate rip-off, but that never seemed quite right to me—there was more lo-fi jangle and hiss to Mineral’s songs, and the production wasn’t as big. In a way, Mineral were more aligned to the darker pop of mid-1990s indie-rock groups like fellow Texans Bedhead, and they didn’t strike me as quite so “hardcore.” The connection with SDRE that did exist, though, were the angsty, acrobatic vocals of Chris Simpson, which were in the same vein as Jeremy Enigk’s, but rougher. And Simpson’s songs sounded so personal that they could only be his own.

Take, for instance, “MD”, the B-side to 1996’s “February” 7″, included on this new retrospective, 1994-1998 – The Complete Collection. On it, Simpson is about to visit his older brother (“It’s good to know we haven’t outgrown the love we shared as children”), and meet the woman that brother plans to marry. He talks about the secret language they shared at a young age, when they dressed up as Batman and Robin for Halloween (“Everybody laughed at us and said we had it wrong ’cause you were the taller one”), and ends the track with all the force he can muster: “She’s beautiful/ And I know that you’ll be happy/ So take this as my blessing/ Wrapped up with all the love that I can send/ ‘Cause you are my brother/ My friend/ And my superior/ Till the end.” On paper it reads like a note you’d send to a sibling; in song, it’s towering.

The emotions here are emo, no doubt. This is the kind of music where people yell “I stand on a building and throw up my arms to the sky/ I swallow my pride” and “This is the last song that I should ever sing/ Just one more time and I’ll shut my mouth forever” amid huge crashing guitars. Simpson sings about coming of age, feeling unloved and embarrassed (“I bring it on myself/ I know I bring it on myself”), and also the innocense of youth, being in love, loving your family, and what those connections and relationships mean. There are stabs at ’90s DIY politics, and he articulates being human and lost in great detail: “When I’m finally naked and standing in the sunlight/ I’ll look back at all of this selfishness and foolish pride/ And laugh at myself.” The melodrama, in general, is great, and the music around it rises to the occasion. The songs are intense, catchy, over-loaded with feedback and beauty, and meant to be yelled.

Though they didn’t release much, their two proper albums are markedly different. The sound of 1998’s EndSerenading was softer, and more glistening than 1997’s Power of Failing. It hinted at what Simpson would do with bassist Jeremy Gomez in their next band, the Gloria Record, and perhaps, in retrospect, suggests why the group went in two different directions: guitarist Scott McCarver and drummer Gabriel Wiley formed Imbroco then went on to found other projects separately. EndSerenading album was a pop, and not a lo-fi or punk gesture, and it’s just not as compelling as Failing. It has plenty of good moments, but it can also feel overthought and staid. Part of what makes The Power of Failing a classic is that its raw feel and execution matches its emotions.

Mineral formed in 1994, and released some singles and toured like crazy, so Failing felt like a culmination. Conversely, EndSerenading, which they recorded with producer Mark Trombino (Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World), felt, at times, like a lukewarm new beginning. They were supposed to do a third album for Interscope, but, of course, it never happened. Which, honestly, is probably for the best. There’s momentum on Failing that was already getting hemmed in on End, not to mention the addition of labored song titles like “LoveLetterTypewriter”, “TheLastWordIsRejoice”, and “&Serenading”. It’s easy to imagine them becoming even shinier and more staid on a major label debut.

Not to say End is a failure. Title aside, “LoveLetterTypewriter” is an excellent, moving opening track, and one of their best. Simpson sings the words patiently, and with more refinement than in the past (and, honestly, more like Enigk): “Summer unfolded like a tapestry/ And you were there as you have always been/ There glowing where the sky meets with the trees/ Air softly crowing, singing fears to sleep/ Will you ever know how much I love you for that?” It’s a constant build that crashes into the next track, “Palisade”, a song that serves as climax and release before moving into another direction. It’s an exciting one-two: these pieces pick up where Failing left off; the formula is updated, but not abandoned. The same goes for the group-singing of the next song, “Gjs”. But then, they take it down a few notches, often ending up too mid-tempo and over-long. The music remains pretty, and even knottier, but feels less life-affirming.

For instance, the spacious, ultimately clamoring “&Serenading” would be a good closer (“When I was a boy I saw things/ That no one else could see/ So why am I so blind at 22?”), but instead of the gorgeously repeated finale (“the sound of the driving snow that drives me home to you”), it’s the downtempo, shimmering acoustics and humming vocals of the pretty-but-slight “TheLastWordIsRejoice” that serve as our exit. Like the forced titling, it’s inoffensive, but feels unnecessary, as do other grown-up touches on End. That line from “&Serenading” quoted above reminds you just how young these guys were, though, and why they might feel the need to ratchet it up on their sophomore record, considering the attention given to the first.

Not that it mattered, of course. They ended and then, as bands do now, they reunited; this remastered two-disc compilation is a good way to hear it all in one sitting (the reissues are also available, without the bonus tracks, on vinyl). None of the alternate take bonus tracks here are especially riveting, and the covers of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” are mostly forgettable (the latter’s actually pretty bad), but it’s great to have the relative lo-fi “Rubber Legs”, from the 1997 (Don’t Forget To) Breathe compilation, the punked-up “Sadder Star”, which appears on the 1997 First Crush compilation, and, most importantly, the 1996 “February” b/w “M.D.” single, which includes a couple of their best songs.

When I listened to the Power of Failing in real time back then, it was often on a cassette that I’d dubbed from the vinyl, for when I was traveling. Because of that, I always thought “February” and “M.D.” were part of the proper record, and was surprised to realize they weren’t. That’s just one example of how music becomes personal, and shifts according to your own relationship with it. It’s something you’re faced with when the music of your youth keeps resurfacing, and it can be weird, but also somehow touching. For instance, it’s been good going back to these records so many years later, and realizing I find myself moved more by the songs about family than the ones about wondering on roofs alone. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/ZYw9Mg

Sunn O))) / Scott Walker: Soused

You won’t need to pinch yourself awake: As if to ensure listeners that Soused isn’t some fantastic nightmare or haunted daydream, Scott Walker and Sunn O))) begin their five-track, 50-minute collaboration with a brief series of exclamation marks. Walker’s voice sweeps in with extreme operatic gusto, delivering a set of simple, sliding phrases over sparkling synthesizers. Dual classic rock riffs trail those hails, like “Paradise City” abutting a scrap of “Heartbreaker”. And as it all fades toward silence, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley shatter the creeping calm with their expected amplifier army. To emphasize the madness, the sound of an American bullwhip slaps at the back of the din. Yes, Scott O))) is real, and yes, it is a touch ridiculous.

In the wake of Lulu, the intriguing but errant byproduct of a more famous elder leading a more famous metal act, such a partnership felt like a joke someone might have made on a message board in 2011. Gabriel and Mastodon? Jagger and Down? Walker and Sunn O)))? Sure, line them up, but don’t assume that they will all net Lulu’s Warner Brothers deal. At least there was stylistic precedent for this hypothetical pairing. Though Walker was once a pop star, his work later in life has been experimentally ambitious, adding webs of dissonance to song cycles that explored discontent in dozens of guises. Even now, his 1995 LP, Tilt, seems diabolically heavy and jarring, employing unease as compositional exigency. Released only seven months apart, his 2006 album, The Drift, and Sunn O)))’s Black One, feel now like complementary surveys of the same seismic divide. Walker originally wrote “Lullaby,” Soused’s jarring and arching climax, in 1999. His music doesn’t fear the dark.

As legend has it, Sunn O))) approached Walker a half-decade ago with a blind call for collaboration. He’d never heard them, but they hoped he’d pen something to sing for “Alice”, the orchestra-gilded finale of their 2009 LP, Monoliths & Dimensions. He didn’t, but he did become a convert to the band’s maximum-volume, minimum-movement metal. He began writing new material with Anderson, O’Malley and, it seems, both their instrumental and thematic tones in mind. Together, they recorded those pieces earlier this year in London, with several of Walker’s more customary contributors adding drums, horns, keyboards and electronics.

Soused is billed to “Scott Walker + Sunn O))),” an ostensible meeting of equals. On T-shirts, the project is even playfully dubbed Scott O))), written in the same lower-cased, bold-faced font that the electronics company and drone duo have long used. And as is his wont, O’Malley designed the packaging for Soused, an austere grayscale colossus guided by a system of holistic organization.

But the music itself never tries to sell the conspiracy of equal and reciprocal collaboration. Sure, Sunn O))) made the first move here, but any real work required Walker’s acceptance and effort. This is, then, a Scott Walker album, where Sunn O)))—Anderson, O’Malley and longtime multi-instrumentalist and collaborator TOS Nieuwenhuizen—serve as a very large, potent instrument within Walker’s band, or maybe a set of them, like a rack of guitars pulled from a closet. During “Brando”, they follow him, saturating the background but almost always ceding the spotlight. When he sings “A beating would do me a world of good,” Anderson and O’Malley bend inside his shadow, taking the riff’s next step down.

Anderson and O’Malley even flash back to their high-school days in Thorr’s Hammer, or their subsequent separate bands, for “Fetish”, the album’s singular and brilliant flashpoint. Just before the song’s halfway point, they’ve traced Walker’s voice only with ominous noise and tracked him with mid-range melodies. “He imagines he feels it, tugging and clinching, hears it rustling and rising,” Walker yells, pausing suddenly as if to summon help. Sunn O))) answers, matching the beat of drummer Ian Thomas with loaded guitar and low-lying bass, like they’re an insurgent young doom band again, racing toward a crossover crescendo. Later in the track, they sprawl out beneath him, their amps and instruments harmonizing obediently alongside screeching trumpet, stuttering drums and stabbing static. They are, perhaps for the first time, part of a force greater than their own.

Sunn O)))’s career has been defined by their search for ways to augment their riffs, to make them bigger than simply big; but after 15 years and a half-dozen full-lengths, they’ve yet to take the routes through which Walker pulls them here. The only prototypically Sunn O))) moment arrives during the back half of “Bull,” when they cycle a slow set of notes across occasional percussion and over scrambled field recordings. But it’s mostly a mid-record volume respite, a break in the command of Walker’s stentorian elegance.

Soused documents depravity and wanton desire, or needing something—pain or the absence of it, protection or the illusion of it, privacy or the desecration of it—so bad it’s ripping your worldview into pieces. Walker empties volumes of data into those ideas, pinballing between 17th century painting debates, New Testament infanticide and Iroquois lullabies within the course of the shape-shifting “Herod 2014”. In less than a minute of “Bull”, he moves from a string of screamed Latin imprecations to a recited text message, reprinted in the liner notes as an iChat bubble. During “Brando”, he details successive episodes in which the named actor was beaten, shouting the elliptical list with an urgency that gives the sadomasochism a private power.

Though Walker was once a sort of balladeer icon, his lyrics trend toward the obtuse and ponderous. The words on Soused don’t forsake those qualities, necessarily, but there is a certain relatability and readability here, as if this return to rock ’n’ roll has pulled him back toward earth. Despite the macabre battle between the innocent and the hunter of “Herod 2014,” Walker delights in the language, using alliteration and end-rhyme to fashion what could pass for old-fashioned folklore. “The deer fly, the sand fly, the tsetse can’t find them,” he offers, his voice cold but comforting, like that of a wolf in disguise. “The goon from the Stasi
 is left far behind them.
Their delicate derma 
won’t witness a ray.” In this new relationship, Walker seems to have rediscovered a sometimes-hidden element of his own work—its playfulness and its perversity, the coexistence of the smile and the frown.

Is it selfish, then, to hope that this might be only the start, the unlikely origin of a partnership that extends beyond a one-off album? Walker is, of course, infamously reluctant to talk about his future in making music, and he can be rather chelonian with his output; much the same applies for Sunn O))), at its core a duo of dudes involved in a dozen other things. That’s one reason Soused feels more like an event and an experience than a vital, persevering record for either party. It’s good and, at times, completely absorbing, especially when Walker and the amplifiers seem to be fighting on the same side of a great battle. Soused is compelling, almost inherently so, but it’s not a classic. What if they gave this time to be more than a mere oddity, so as to feel no rush to launch from the gates and exclaim that this is, in fact, real? We’ll probably never find out, but we never thought we’d hear Scott O))), anyway. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1w6WtSs