Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reviews: Ouled Bambara / Polvo / Mantons / Reigning Sound

Ouled Bambara -
Portraits of Gnawa
(Drag City / Twos & Fews)
I have to hand it to Drag City for consistently throwing me out of my Western music comfort zone with the treasures they unearth - the Chicago label is also responsible, most notably for us Detroiters, for bringing out the long-lost album For The Whole World to See by mid-70's hard/rock-punk trio Death. They also brought us the collaboration between Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh (Overloaded Ark), so you know they're going to be throwing us a lot more than standard fare indie-rock and noise-pop like all those other labels, by comparison.

The latest that they're stumping me with is the rich, sultry, meditative (and indeed, hypnotic) vibes of Portraits of Gnawa, a collection of various artists from Morocco, calling themselves Ouled Bambara ("Children of Bambara"), that being the musical suite that begins the "nocturnal portion" of the ritual known as Gnawa - a trance/healing ritual linked to music. If the press release is any indicator, the songs capture a mysterious phenomena of Morocco - "mystical Sufism, trance rituals, possession rites, ecstatic music and dance." The songs collected here are long grooves that facilitate deep meditation, with rounded chants, shuffling percussion and plodding strums that feel like the soothing fall of raindrops. Collected here with the recording is a DVD with live performances from Brahim Belkani, Hassan Zougari, Mohamed Hamada & Abdellah Nait Mau. Drag City is aided by Louisville KY based recording imprint, Twos & Fews.
More Info

In Prism

NC based quartet Polvo had been broken up for a handful of years after a decade's worth of LPs and EPs in the vein of heavy-yet-melodic, crunchy-guitar-spreading indie-rock that epitomized caustic, yet still gave you a groove. While lyrically they may still cling to the dark overtures of past releases, the mood of the music, the tones, the ringing reverb and wobbly surf guitar yowls make this release, their grand return, one of their more immediate and palatable. It blends metals melodrama, grunge's dizzy drone, indie-rocks jittery jaunt and jazz's stately swagger. "Right The Relation," with its overly buzzy brutality in riffs and in percussive pound, feels a bit like a cobweb clearer, shake the dust off and re-situate yourself; that surfy hooked refrain riding the deep booming bass groove on "D.C. Trails" highlights the sunnier sides that have been sprinkled into their usual brood; speaking of brood, its the best word I can use to describe the opening bars of "City Birds" but after a minute or so, the guitars start intertwining in a scorching ballet so characteristic of Polvo, giving wings to the subdued spooky vocals. They get a bit more conceptual, they clear out a bit of the obscuring reverb and at times there's moments pop/rock-sounding epiphanies - but for the most part the shirt still fits.
The Mantons
Squeeze The Fish
(self / recorded at Tempermill)

The Mantons debut has a lot of heart, balancing a charming sense of humor with a genuine passion for blues and Americana; driving rhythms are perfect for toe-tapping, guitars are disarmingly intricate and spill into a spindly jazz-like realm and the lyrics capture that rambling anecdotal style of traditional folk. In the jangly drive of their bluesy rock style, you can grasp all the influential pillars that propped them up but they seem to inhabit their own territory. The guitars could fit anywhere between folk and indie-rock, the bass could fit into bluegrass or traditional R&B and the drums could be jazz as much as they could be hard rock. Some of the ballads sound like defiinite bar-band fare or daytime festival jaunts ("Cheesy Folksinger") but allow more mystical jams like "Lord of the Lake" to play out and you can appreciate their passionate playing style.

See The Mantons - 9 / 26 at the Belmont in Hamtramck

Reigning Sound
Love and Curses
Love and Curses is Reigning Sound's 11th full length and its the first non-live or non-collaborative album since 2005's Home For Orphans (which was produced by Jay Reatard, a fellow Memphis garage-rocker to Reigning Sound leader Greg Cartwright). Cartwright is already rapt in avant-garde rock history, through his tenure with the Compulsive Gamblers and the Oblivians, and collaborating with the Sympathy for the Record Industry label. Not to mention that Reigning Sound's most recent recording Dangerous Game had them as backing band for girl-group-pop heroin Mary Weiss. That early 60's garage style pounded percussion shines through on some downright delicious pop ballads on Love and Curses, see: "Call Me" and the sweet endearment of "The Bells." But the more gristly growl of garage thrash whirls its way around the stabbing guitars and banging-drums of "If I Can't Come Back." When Cartwright relocated to Ashville NC, he had to enlist an entirely fresh trio of players for the band with bassist David Wayne Gay, drummer Lance Wille and keyboardist Dave Amels. When Cartwright's soulful/smoky growl or the guitars wavering of pristine-to-shred aren't hogging the spotlight, its the wholesome hum of the keyboards, adding at times a new-wave post-punk style "Trash Talk" or waving underneath the fibrous guitars and waltzy drums to bring it back to that early 60's pop style on "Something To Hold Onto."

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