Music » Record Reviews

Short Cuts

Bay Area punks Erase Errata declare nuclear war on the dance floor.



At Crystal Palace

Erase Errata

(Troubleman Unlimited)

As trends go, the recently fashionable underground linkage of dance rhythms (and sensibility) to punk-rock foundations is one I can get with -- welcome in theory and with a real-world batting average decidedly higher than most other recent subcultural eruptions. At the forefront of this sound is Bay Area punk band Erase Errata, though their dance-punk hybrid is harsher and more confrontational than that of their East Coast counterparts, drawing less on disco than on the jagged funk and sprung rhythms (and left politics) of first-generation post-punks such as Gang of Four, Liliput, and X-Ray Spex (like them, Erase Errata deploys horns), and with an attitude that seems far less, well, trendy. And, though their music still sounds like today, they manage to reach back even further to some of punk's roots: The opening guitar damage of "Driving Test" could have been lifted from Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica.

At Crystal Palace, the band's invigorating sophomore full-length, squeezes 13 songs into a tightly coiled 27 minutes, though the record might as well be one long song. Singer/trumpet player Jenny Hoyston's chant-and-croon vocals would require a lyric sheet to fully grasp, but as another instrument in a mix the band has aptly described as "organized chaos with a beat," it functions just fine, sharing space up top with Sara Jaffe's stun guitar which, like Rumsfeld's idealized military, is light, mobile, and precise. But, like any dance-worthy band, the rhythm section is key, and "Ca. Viewing," with Ellie Erickson's limber bass lines and Bianca Sparta's sample-worthy skittery-hi-hat-and-bass-drum break, is a punk-rock dance party before Hoyston and Jaffe ever enter the picture. -- Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

Erase Errata plays the Hi-Tone CafÇ Tuesday, September 23rd, with Numbers and the Lost Sounds.

The Magnolia Electric Co.

Songs: Ohia

(Secretly Canadian)

While Songs: Ohia, the brainchild of Ohioan Jason Molina, often gets unfairly lumped into the indie-rock category alongside the faux-folk Palace Brothers, the reality of the group lies somewhere closer to album-oriented rock. Produced by Steve Albini, The Magnolia Electric Co. -- Molina's seventh album under the Songs: Ohia moniker -- is as intimately compelling as any singer-songwriter effort of the past few decades. With his brooding lyrics and bending tenor voice, Molina sounds like Neil Young's younger brother -- hipper and more energetic, yet as firmly planted as the aging rocker.

"Never met a single woman who could ever see through me," Molina sings in a husky, conspiratorial voice on "I've Been Riding With the Ghost." Even after repeated listens, the solemn admission is sure to bring shivers. Even the cover art on The Magnolia Electric Co. is beguiling: A tearful owl with human hands stands in a field of blue with a lightning strike illuminating the cloud above him. When Molina croons, "Mama, here comes the midnight with the dead moon in its jaws/The big star is falling," and Mike Brenner's lap-steel riff echoes him (on the opening "Farewell Transmission") the effect is eerily beautiful.

With the support of a full band, Molina has room to expand his minimalist compositions, stretching five of these eight tracks beyond the four-minute mark. Molina's craftsmanship is evocative of Young but never derivative; with any luck, fans of After the Gold Rush, Harvest, and Tonight's the Night will flock to this album and tune into songs like the stunning "John Henry Split My Heart." -- Andria Lisle

Grade: A

Songs: Ohia performs Wednesday, September 24th, at the Hi-Tone CafÇ, with Matt Suggs and the Glass.

One Bedroom

The Sea and Cake

(Thrill Jockey)

Nearly a decade after their eponymously titled debut, this post-rock Chicago supergroup is still exploring the more mellow side of the Windy City indie scene. With One Bedroom, their latest effort, the quartet (Cocktails guitarist Archer Prewitt, Tortoise drummer John McEntire, and ex-Shrimp Boat vocalist/guitarist Sam Prekop and bassist Eric Claridge) has forged a perkier dance-driven sound, churning out organic beats and Brazilian-sounding synth riffs by the truckload. But this isn't macho music -- tunes like "Four Corners" and "Shoulder Length" sound as if they were written with a Volkswagen commercial in mind.

That said, songs like "Mr. F" are tailor-made for the upcoming fall weather, the perfect soundtrack for tooling around town with your top down. The lyrics on "Mr. F" and its follow-up, "Try Nothing," effortlessly drop and spin from Prekop's lips, swirling through the air as crisply as autumn's changing leaves. Likewise, a rare cover from the group -- an updated version of David Bowie's "Sound & Vision" -- rounds out the album in a well-mannered but nevertheless spirited fashion. -- AL

Grade: B-

The Sea and Cake perform Saturday, September 20th, at the Young Avenue Deli, with the Scene Creamers and Kingsbury Manx.

Wildwood Flower

June Carter Cash


On this, her last album, the late June Carter Cash has bequeathed to us a gift of song and spoken-word that succinctly sums up her life, both musically and otherwise. An extraordinary aural collage, Wildwood Flower is a virtual guidebook on the evolution of country music. It traces Cash's life from her Appalachian childhood as a member of the renowned Carter family to her later work as a solo artist and as a wife and a mother, using snippets of dialogue ranging from a 1944 radio session as a girl to a hilarious vignette about being chased around a party by a demented Lee Marvin.

The songs themselves represent the cream of the crop of the Carter family songbook as well as some other favorites of the artist. The tunes are often accompanied by foot-tapping, hollering, and the general chaos and joy of a family making music together. (Daughter Carlene, former son-in-law Marty Stuart, son John, and husband Johnny, who joined June in passing last week, all play and sing on the CD.) In fact, the strong family feeling of the record reminds me of the laid-back familiarity of the Will the Circle Be Unbroken series, except that here the undisputed star of the show is Cash herself.

The artist had recorded most of these songs before, but never so pared-down and intimate as they are offered here. Her voice, frailer due to illness and age, is still full of fire, power, and conviction. The feeling I got on the first listen was that she knew she was dying and just wanted to sit down and pay homage to her roots by singing these classic songs one last time. Stepdaughter Rosanne Cash confirms this in her liner notes.

On the introduction to "Church in the Wildwood," recorded in the living room of the Carter family estate in Virginia, June reminisces about singing there with Mother Maybelle, uncle A.P., and other relatives: "It was a great time we spent here with Mother, and sometimes I cry about it, but sometimes I try to sing about it." How lucky for us that she did, this one last time. n -- Lisa Lumb

Grade: A-

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