Cian-Nugent-Night-Fiction

Cian Nugent has been primarily known for his instrumental work, both as a Takoma School-inspired fingerpicker and an electrifying bandleader (as heard on his incredible 2013 LP with the Cosmos, Born With The Caul). Night Fiction sees him slipping into a more traditional singer-songwriter role — and making it look like no big thing.

The album’s seven songs swing and swagger, calling to mind such legends as Fred Neil, Neil Young, and Michael Hurley, as well as more recent favorites like Kevin Morby, Steve Gunn and Cass McCombs. The scrappy vocals and wry lyrics are perfectly complemented by the Cosmos’ nimble folk rock backing — especially notable is the sensitive kitwork from drummer David Lacey. And of course, Cian hasn’t put his guitar away: every note he plays here is casually dazzling, with tones and taste worthy of the mighty Richard Thompson. “I’m not sure where I am anymore,” Cian sings sings on the gorgeously bewildered “Nightlife.” But Night Fiction as a whole suggests he’s found his voice. words / t wilcox

Cian Nugent :: Lost Your Way

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Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 420: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++W-X – Intro ++ Singers & Players – Thing Called Love ++ Snakefinger – The Model ++ Glenn Mercer – Twenty-Nine Palms ++ David Bowie – A New Career In A New Town ++ Brian Eno – Dead Finks Don’t Talk ++ Ty Segall – Diversion ++ Lilliput – Die Matrosen ++ Fat White Family – Satisfied ++ Silver Apples – Oscillations ++ Jeff Phelps – Excerpt From Autumn ++ Suicide – Dream Baby Dream ++ Makers – Don’t Challenge Me ++ David Bowie – Win ++ Guitar Red – Disco From A Space Show ++ Daughn Gibson – Tiffany Lou ++ Iggy Pop – Sister Midnight ++ Drinks – Cheerio ++ Jack Name – New Guitars ++ Cate Le Bon – I Can’t Help You ++ White Fence – Pink Gorilla  ++ David Bowie – Crystal Japan (Japanese Only Single) ++ David Bowie – Heroes ++ Brian Eno – Here Come The Warm Jets ++ Blues Control – Love’s A Rondo ++ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Tortoise – It’s Expected I’m Gone ++ The Mayfair Set – Cease To Be ++ Dirty Beaches – Lord Knows Best ++ Angelo Badalamenti – Moving Through Time ++ Dwight Sykes – Bye ++ Harlem – Goodbye Horses ++ Creation Rebel/New Age Steppers – Chemical Specialist ++ Starship Commander Woo Woo – Master Ship (Excerpt)

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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benjiWay back in 2008, Benji Hughes released a genuinely weird and supremely pleasurable record called A Love Extreme. It was, in all the best ways, an oddity. Released by New West, primarily known for Americana and alt-country, Hughes’ record was pure pop — crunchy guitars, big drums, monster hooks, his thick, narcotized voice booming. In his review of the record for Esquire, Chuck Klosterman cited Cody Chesnutt, Ryan Adams, Julian Casablancas, Joe Pernice, Leonard Cohen, Jarvis Cocker, Chet Baker, and other seemingly unrelated artists, and here’s the thing: listening to A Love Extreme, his review made perfect sense.

It was the kind of record you shared. Songs like “Tight Tee Shirt” and “I Went With Some Friends to See the Flaming Lips” were too joyful, too effervescent not to. It was also exquisitely sad; songs like “You Stood Me Up” and “Even If” were crushing. Then, Benji disappeared. Okay, he didn’t really. He showed up on records by Jeff Bridges, Meshell Ndegeocello, Eleni Mandell, and Alice Cooper. But as social media rose to prominence, and artists began to telegraph their every move, Benji seemed to vanish into cult record obscurity.

“I do need to work on my social media,” Hughes chuckles over the phone, discussing Songs in the Key of Animals, his new record and debut for beloved indie institution Merge Records. A reworked version of one of three records Hughes uploaded to his website in December 2014, the album is a low key winner. “I spent a few months going back in on that record, really dialing it in more,” Hughes says.

“I love having time to look back at things…that’s why I’ve made four records over the last couple years,” Hughes says of the long wait between albums. “It seems like a long time to go between records, but I like to spend time and have different tracks to work on, different vibes, so you don’t just get bogged down on one thing. You can step away from something for a few months and come back with a really fresh perspective.”

Songs in the Key of Animals isn’t as sprawling as A Love Extreme, a concise 12-song set split between a funky side A and a gently grooving side B. “I really wanted it to reflect the two sides of a vinyl record,” Hughes says. But he’s sacrificed none of his charm for the sake of streamlining. The record is wonderfully strange, finding Hughes rhapsodizing with a chorus of lady singers about shoes, crooning over bloodcurdling screams and synth pop on “Shark Attack,” and shaking ass on “Sugartree.” And he’s still tender, too: “Fall Me In Love” ought to wind up a wedding DJ standard, and the instrumental “Song For Nancy” evokes an acute wistfulness, tearjerking without a single word.

“I wanted to make a record that I wanted to hear,” Hughes says. “Some of those songs, you can hear the fun coming out of them. It was a really good time.”

Performed mostly by Hughes himself, save for backing singers and helping hands from Ndegeocello, Keefus Ciancia, and a few other pals, the record doesn’t sound like the work of a sterile one-man-band. It’s loose and swings, feels genuinely funky.

“My approach isn’t intellectualized,” Hughes says. “I just attempt to make things sound as cool as possible to me. Vibey. I like to fuss over things and make them sound sweet, but [ultimately] it’s about how it feels and sounds…You can get your drum machine out and get it dead on, play it perfect with a metronome, but you know what it’s going to sound like? It’s gonna sound like a metronome. Who dances to a metronome?”

So, Benji’s back, even if it only sort of seemed like he ever left in the first place. He’s not too concerned about it, just looking forward to getting out on the road, entertaining people. “I’ve just been so focused on music, I didn’t really think to much about my public persona,” Hughes says. “The truth is, I really don’t have much of one. I don’t know who would ever want to be famous anyway.” words/ j woodbury

Benji Hughes :: Freaky Feedback Blues

paul hatfieldIt’s been a minute since we’ve heard from Paul Westerberg. That’s a funny sentiment considering the non-stop Replacements-fest that went on from 2012 through last year’s final run of tour dates. But the Westerberg who appeared alongside Messrs. Stinson, Minehan and Freese for that astounding run was a man reliving his past and having fun with it, not someone stretching his creative spirit. That reunion came on the heels of what had been one of the most fertile and interesting periods of Westerberg’s solo career to date starting with 2008’s 49:00.

But soon after the ‘Mats said they were going away again, Instagram photos of Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield started popping up, and soon it was official – there would be a record called Wild Stab under the banner of the I Don’t Cares – the band with a name designed to literally lower expectations. And when the first song off the record was a seeming throw away track called “1/2 2P” – a song about finding an irresistible urge to urinate come over you whenever a certain someone was around – well, my expectations went even lower.

It’s always the game that’s been played. Some of (but not all of) Westerberg’s finest solo moments have come when the stakes were low. Disappearing for four years after getting dropped from Capitol? Quietly slide a record under your nom de plume Grandpaboy into record stores (Mono) and then follow it up with a companion album that contains some of the best songwriting of your career (Stereo). Nearly ruin your guitar hand allegedly stabbing it with a screwdriver while cleaning wax from a candle? Drop a surprise album that is one track and 40 some minutes in length – and again maybe one of the best albums you’ve ever done – on to the internet with no fanfare (the aforementioned 49:00). And then follow that up with four more similarly released EPs over the next year that all contain seriously solid material. You start to get the picture.

So – how does Wild Stab (more lowered expectations) hold up? It’s actually fantastic. From what has been said in interviews, Hatfield was allowed a look through Westerberg’s demos that had gone unreleased (mostly) and allowed to pick what she thought sounded worth tackling. The results are a record that sound a lot like this recent excellent period of Westerberg’s songwriting. Opener “Back” strikes a perfect balance between the two halves of Stereo and Mono – the reflective and lightly punchy lyricism of the former and the minimal and driving full-band sound of the latter. “Wear Me Out Loud” becomes the first of a great handful of rockers that sound like they could’ve emerged out of the Rockpile school of songwriting – “Love Out Loud” being the best example of this.

Hatfield’s contributions are hard to pin down, but they aren’t slight. Her lead vocal turn on “Dance to the Fight” is a natural for her voice. And her backing and duet vocals throughout the record are actually a great pairing for Westerberg. So much of this record sounds like the type of guitar play that has been typical of recent Westerberg albums that it’s hard to know exactly where Hatfield fits in – she does that good a job of fitting into the overall sound of the album. I can only imagine that they’d be endlessly amusing and fun to see perform live.

But despite the fact that the album seems overstuffed – 16 tracks is a lot to keep listeners around for, no matter the artist – it moves at a swift pace with enough variation between songs to really make it worth it. They even take a stab at two older Westerberg songs – “Outta My System” appeared on 49:00 but also on an earlier compilation. “Born for Me” was originally on 1999’s Suicaine Gratifaction and what had been a piano driven ballad becomes a first-class rock song. If I put the two side by side, I’d take the original version every day of the week, but within the context of Wild Stab, the new version really cooks. It’s a fine compliment to the other songs and a great credit to Hatfield as a collaborator that she saw the potential in its inclusion.

The I Don’t Cares :: Born For Me

The album ends with “Hands Together,” a rarity in the Westerberg canon in that it’s nearly seven minutes long . With its references to silent film stars and dead baseball players, it lyrically returns to the same era that opener “Back” hinted at. It’s a gorgeous, almost hypnotic number that doesn’t really have a chorus – instead it’s just Westerberg putting on a lot of his deft lyrical touches – the beautiful ones that he’s been honing more in his older years. While it almost doesn’t fit the rest of Wild Stab, it’s a great finish to an album that feels so much more together than anything about it would have implied. It’s an album that wants you to think it didn’t care so that the purest moments shine even more brightly in relief. words / j neas

The I Don’t Cares :: King of America

Related / Recommended: The Replacements :: Final Show @ Grant Park, Chicago, July 4, 1991

glimmer

Did Big Star secretly record an album of delicate acoustic guitar instrumentals for pioneering new age label Windham Hill? They most certainly did not — but Christopher Idylls by Gimmer Nicholson is about as close as we’ll get to such a dream project. Recorded in the late 1960s (but not released until the 1990s), the album is seeing its vinyl debut soon, thanks to the good people at Light in the Attic.

The Big Star connection is explicit: Nicholson made Christopher Idylls at Ardent Studios with Big Star associate Terry Manning, and the cover photograph is by William Eggleston, well known for his #1 Record and Radio City shots (as well as much more legendary work). But even without knowing those details, the shimmering sound of Nicholson’s guitars, fed beautifully through delay effects, instantly call to mind Big Star’s acoustic reveries (“Thirteen,” “Watch the Sunrise,” “Blue Moon,” etc.) One can imagine a young Chris Bell in the Ardent control room, furiously taking notes as the Christopher Idylls tracks were laid down. Totally gorgeous, totally great — and though I’ve focused on the Big Star links, this is an album that can stand completely on its own. words / t wilcox

Gimmer Nicholson :: Hermetic Waltz

Robert_Stillman_DIGITAL_LP_SLEEVEExpat composer Robert Stillman calls East Kent in the United Kingdom home these days, but there’s an undeniably American thread running through his new album, Rainbow, out now via Orindal Records.

Born in Maine, Stillman’s collaborated as a multi-instrumentalist with members of Grizzly Bear and Here We Go Magic songwriter Luke Temple, but on this album he works alone, layering breathy sax, electric and acoustic piano, field recordings, fluttering woodwinds, and splashy drums into a wooly tapestry that invokes the astral jazz of Alice Coltrane, the minimalist works of John Adams, and the complex folk studies of Harry Partch.

Inspired in part by the loss of Stillman’s daughter, Ruth, Rainbow does feature moments of swooning melancholy — see the haunting opening ballad, “Ruthie In May” —  but its most common mood is one of uplift, heard on the hymnal “As he walked into the field,” and the looping, playful “Warren is a great car.” Even when the album doesn’t directly reference the spiritual jazz movement, as it does on the closing song, “Epilogue,” Stillman sounds as if he’s drawing on a deep reserve of sacred conviction. He’s featured on the back cover with his daughter Romilly and his wife Anna, surrounded by instruments, and the black-and-white photograph speaks to the core of the album: Rainbow is a record of dedications — to family, to traditions, and to musical freedom. words/ j woodbury

Robert Stillman :: As He Walked Into The Field

ty_segall_emotional_muggerer

In a goofball YouTube promo, Dr. Ty Segall, PhD defines “emotional mugging” as a “psychoanalytic subject-to-subject exchange formed as a response to our hyper-digital sexual landscape.” So sizing one another up, frontin’, a cold barrier of distraction, the practice of impenetrable differentiation… This silly promo vid is of special import because I think Ty’s trying to get all psychological on us in bigger way. On his last proper full-length under his own name, Manipulator, Ty inhabited a full-blown persona, “The Singer,” sparkle-faced and transformed. Mugger’s imagery centers around the nastiest baby-head mask, (the whole Muggers band wears them in another clip) as if to signal some return to an impossible infancy.  Example A: one of Mugger’s most crooked tracks, “Baby Big Man (I Want a Mommy).”

Segall is extremely prolific, active in several different bands, and they all involve head banging appeal. While each album differs in tone, Manipulator felt like his first great leap in which he crystallized his many records full of loose, heavy rock into a grand statement. It presented a refined, “glamorized” version of Segall, singing his most crisply written songs and unfurling his finest guitar shredding. Mugger sounds like a giant step too, but the vibe is murky and tense. It turns up the volume on the sputtering, atonal guitar freakouts and coughed up lyrics that explode into death rays of endless echo. In short, it’s his weirdest sounding album, but it’s awesome because he taps into a heavy mess of new sounds. It’s as if an increasingly hyperbolic, figurative painter careens into abstraction.

On the opener, “Squealer,” Segall’s character undergoes mitosis, splitting down his lamé bodysuit, responding to his “Singer’s” calls in a throaty growl. Throughout the album he encompasses both “Mandy Cream” and “Candy Sam”, codependents, lovers, but also recalling some sort of elemental, relational twinning. “Candy” is the underlying concept of Mugger, appearing in most of the tunes. Candy is kind of a tired trope to ask to do much metaphorical work, but it’s this repetitive, childlike insistence on this candy, the archetypal kid’s treat, that again references this regression to infancy, this dumbing down, this blunting of emotion by what Dr. Segall calls “the over-communication relayed in cell based technology and content driven media.” For all of his melodic prowess, Ty has never gets too deep or immersive with his lyrics, but on Mugger they work in tandem with the obtuse music, like a globular accent on the canvas. On “Candy Sam”, he sings “candy’s gone, no more fun” in a crazed voice that ramps up into a crushed, robotic squeal and then breaks down to acoustic guitar and kids “la-la-la’ing” along to the melody. The big man arrives at the pre-verbal child state.

If from album to album Segall’s guitar sounds have increased in fidelity, Mugger arcs into a new dimension of grit, pulverized and pitted against harsh synthesizers. At times, the loping, angular grooves sound like thick-grained electronica.

Ty’s signature, intensely fuzzy tones have progressively gotten buzzier, thicker, and louder as his record-making skills have increased, one would think the distortion has reached an upper limit. He even started a band called Fuzz! In psychological terms, he has a fuzz fixation, a sort of psychosexual latency that has manifested in this gristly and extreme sound effect. Mugger is a fresh, rich fruit to come out his obsession with fuzz. Ty’s brought the contemporary fuzz-rock band into a new sonic space, one that recalls the future-thinking bands of the past. “The Magazine” settles into an oscillating trance that references Silver Apples or Can, and “Breakfast Eggs” and “Baby Big Man” recalls Captain Beefheart if he allowed his entire Magic Band access to fuzz boxes. Both sides of this album are riddled with fierce, spasmodic, single note solos a la Robert Quine.

Also of note, Mugger is threaded with crucial, heavy collaborators: Melvins drum man Dale Crover, Emmett Kelly of The Cairo Gang, Kyle “King Tuff” Thomas, Charles Moothart, Cory Hanson & Evan Burrows of Wand, and the indispensable Mikal Cronin. The Muggers lay into a stoned-out, grooving cover of The Equals’ “Diversion,” on which Ty sings, “Diversion, I’m back I’m back I’m back.” To my ears, he’s never quite been here before, and I hope this Mugger sound is no mere diversion but an intentional trajectory to a strange, new galaxy of guitar rock. words / a spoto

Ty Segall :: Diversion

Incidental-Hum-640x640Following the 2009 reissue of the first two Feelies albums (converting a whole new generation of fans and spreading the Jersey group’s influence), Bar-None Records will release the group’s third and fourth records, 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time for a Witness, on March 11.

The Feelies have been keeping busy since their “revival,” releasing a new record in 2010 and touring regularly. However, last year, front man Glenn Mercer quietly released an intoxicating and vitalizing instrumental solo album. Christened Incidental Hum, it feels as though it does just that – an album that drifts and hums its way into your subconscious, rich with an aquatic ambiance, echoing the subterranean drone of Brian Eno’s early-to-mid-70s output and Berlin-era Bowie. Fittingly, Mercer covers Eno’s “Here Come The Warms Jets.” Dissonant, droning guitar and reedy ambient organs dominate the tone of this record. There are some well-placed stylistic curveballs, like the touch of flamenco on “Yuma,” but Mercer is given mostly to an atmospheric drift, hovering about.

Sonically, it also reflects Mercer and Bill Million’s old side group The Willies, a short-lived and somewhat secretive project that operated in between the first two Feelies records. Allegedly, it found Mercer and Million sitting on the floor playing guitars laid out flat behind them backed by two percussionists. “The Willies would play in the dark, sitting in chairs,” Mercer was once quoted saying. “We wanted to make this an anti-rock experience.”

He certainly achieves that experience on Incidental Hum, the highlight being “Twenty-Nine Palms,” a vaguely sinister and seductive piece of exotica, where flute oscillates among a duet of droning, hypnotic organ and guitar, while a shaker keeps the beat. It’s cool as shit – have a listen. words / c depasquale

Glenn Mercer :: Twenty-Nine Palms

Related / Recommended: The Feelies :: CBGB – NYC, December 14, 1977

Like all good music biographies, Tom Jones’ Over the Top and Back features some choice gunplay.

While recording in 1963 with the legendary Joe Meek — with whom the fledgling singer hoped to score a hit — the producer warned Jones about his microphone etiquette. After botching another take, Meek furiously approached Jones. “He said, ‘Didn’t I tell you to back off that microphone?'” Jones recalls. “He pulled out this gun and fired [at me]. I grabbed my chest. I thought I’d been shot. And he laughed. He laughed!” It was a starter pistol, after all, but years later the “Telstar” producer would famously employ the real thing. “Then of course he shot his landlady and himself,” Jones says. “I’m glad he didn’t come around the corner with a shotgun.”

The book is filled with these sorts of stories. Though it doesn’t dive explicitly into his legendary affairs, it does offer a complicated view of Jones, one more compelling than his pop hits and exaggerated “sex god” reputation might suggest. His most recent trio of albums, 2010’s Praise and Blame, 2012’s Spirit in the Room, and 2015’s Long Lost Suit Case, recorded with producer Ethan Johns, accomplish the same. Featuring songs by John Lee Hooker, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Blind Willie Johnson, Gillian Welch, Los Lobos, the Rolling Stones and more, the records offer a more nuanced portrait than his Vegas years, with Jones wrapping his boomy baritone around sparse gospel and Americana-inflected arrangements. Jones phoned Aquarium Drunkard to discuss his recent work and his book. Below, a condensed version of our conversation.

Aquarium Drunkard: You’ve got a new album, Long Lost Suitcase, and a new biography, out at roughly the same time. I understand you didn’t intend for these two projects to dovetail thematically the way they have, but how did that happen?

Tom Jones: I was writing the book with Giles Smith and I said to him, “I don’t want you to flower anything up. I want you to write it as I’m telling it.” I spent four, sometimes five hours a day with him, while I was doing The Voice U.K. and during that time, I was [also] recording with Ethan Johns. He said to me “[These songs] sound autobiographical,” and I said, “I’m writing one now, funnily enough.”