Music Review: Howe Gelb, The Coincidentalist

Published on November 6th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By J Howell


Howe Gelb begins The Coincidentalist with a half-whispered “Welcome to the desert.” It’s as intriguing an invitation as ever, but one that—after 30-plus years and who knows how many records—is as familiar as your front door. If you’re a longtime listener of Gelb and his various permutations and projects, that is. That there are now almost as many “projects” of Gelb’s as there are albums is both a testament to Gelb’s prolific work ethic and possibly a reason why Gelb hasn’t really caught on with the public so well, in the States at least.

His status as an elder statesman of risk-taking, genre-distorting “erosion rock”—though there’s so much more to it than that—is legendary, if mostly in the sort-of ghetto of “musician’s musician.” Howe Gelb almost seems cast as a musical crazy uncle, the sort who’s fun and smart and maybe just a little bit kooky, but who the rest of the family doesn’t mention much. This is a damned shame, as Gelb’s iconoclastic voice is just plain good for the soul, and awfully damned clever to boot.


Book Review: Gary Lucas, Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley

Published on November 1st, 2013 in: Book Reviews, Books, Current Faves, Music, Reviews |

By J Howell


Gary Lucas duly notes early on in Touched By Grace that the book is neither a biography of Jeff Buckley nor Lucas himself. It is, however, a remarkable peek from Lucas’s perspective of a brief, tumultuous period in the author’s life, a time of promise and disappointment on a scale that seems overwhelming in retrospect. While the gravitas of the situation may not be readily apparent to non- (or even casual) fans of Buckley or Lucas, considering the lasting impact Grace has made on so many lives, Touched By Grace is an inside look at, frankly, kind of a big deal. Or at least a really big part of a big deal.


Music Review: Atoms For Peace, Amok

Published on March 28th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By J Howell


One of the most difficult considerations in music criticism lies in following an artist’s career for the long haul and remaining objective enough about said artist’s work to give it a fair shake. This notion really hit home for me in a major way recently while listening to and thinking about the most recent Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds record. Push The Sky Away is a record I came to fully appreciate only after at least a dozen spins—long enough to finally let go of some of my expectations from Cave and the Seeds and just listen (review).

That’s kind of the bitch of following a body of work enthusiastically over years (or decades). Avoiding becoming jaded is a subject far beyond the scope of this review, but even if it seems obvious, it’s worth noting that after a certain point, it’s hard to get the same life-altering feeling you got when you heard “Tupelo” or “Taut” or Bone Machine or Doolittle (wait—scratch that, I still get that teenage feeling listening to Doolittle) or “Paranoid Android” for the first time.

What we get in return for following where people like Cave or Polly Harvey or Thom Yorke—with Atoms For Peace’s Amok—lead may not always be that immediate, profound experience of hearing something important for the first time. When you’re lucky, though, the sense of growing and changing, maybe even maturing (it’s okay to wince; I did typing) alongside such artists, finding their work still (and sometimes strangely) relevant to where you find yourself right now, can be just as rewarding.


Music Review: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away

Published on March 6th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By J Howell


Speaking about Push The Sky Away out of the context of Nick Cave‘s impressive and prolific body of work thus far is a bit difficult, but the Bad Seeds’ 15th album deserves to be taken on its own terms.

When a longtime friend posted a Cave-related link on Facebook, I mentioned that I’d received a review copy and was listening to it just then. This started (another) discussion about vintage versus newer Bad Seeds albums, a not-infrequent topic of conversation between myself and said friend, who holds Henry’s Dream-era Cave as the Seeds at the height of their powers.

A couple of songs in, I commented that, while the record was pleasant so far, it felt subdued—my exact words at the time were, “It’s good, but it’s like Abbatoir Blues took its antidepressants, which were just enough to make it not angry.” Especially coming off the heels of Cave’s recent, ferocious Grinderman records, Push The Sky Away, at least initially, comes across as perhaps just a bit soft. Which is, as it turns out, ultimately complete bullshit.

Or not, depending on one’s perspective and expectations. I’m of the mind that, while it takes a few listens for its full impact to be felt, Push The Sky Away is a beautiful record that holds up against any of Cave and the Bad Seeds’ other work, or anyone else’s.


New Atoms For Peace single/video: “Judge Jury and Executioner”

Published on January 14th, 2013 in: Music, New Single, New Video, Video |

By J Howell

The new Atoms For Peace single, “Judge Jury and Executioner” isn’t a radical departure for Thom Yorke—think three-quarters of the way between the mostly-electronica of The Eraser and the partial electronica of recent-vintage Radiohead. Recognizable as the work of Yorke and longtime producer Nigel Godrich within seconds, “Judge Jury and Executioner” is hypnotic, somewhat cold and compelling. The track may not surprise longtime fans, but it is likely to please. Yorke’s voice, layered and reverberated as a background instrument itself throughout, is simultaneously familiar and slightly unsettling.

“Judge Jury and Executioner” is available for download now at the Atoms For Peace website and iTunes, and a 12” single with the non-album B-side “S.A.D.” is available for pre-order as well, to be released March 19. Atoms For Peace’s debut album, Amok, is available February 26.

Music Review: Peggy Sue Play The Songs Of Scorpio Rising

Published on October 9th, 2012 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By J Howell

peggy sue scorpio rising

Following Peggy Sue‘s brilliant first two records, listeners may be a bit surprised by the band’s choice to (mostly) recreate the soundtrack from Kenneth Anger’s 1963 film Scorpio Rising as a next move. Somewhat predictably, though, the record is flat-out brilliant.

Modern music fans with a Phil Spector bent should take especial heed: Peggy Sue recreates, perhaps most importantly, the spirit of the original tracks while finding a sonic space for them to exist in that feels a bit more like alternate-universe versions of familiar songs than slavish imitation or heavy-handed “updating”. The band deftly walks the fine line between reproducing the original songs and making them their own, somehow managing to treat the “teenage drama” factor of many of the tracks with a respectful empathy that feels less melodramatic than urgent. Elsewhere, Scorpio Rising is just plain fun.


Los Lobos, Kiko 20th Anniversary Edition: featuring Kiko Live, Kiko Live DVD/Blu-Ray

Published on August 21st, 2012 in: Blu-Ray, Current Faves, DVD, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By J Howell

los lobos by drew reynolds
Los Lobos, photo &copy Drew Reynolds

It’s funny how time flies, and frankly a bit unnerving to think that Los Lobos‘ masterpiece, Kiko, is almost old enough to drink legally. In celebration of the benchmark album’s twentieth anniversary, Shout! Factory has a whole lot of Kiko for Lobos fans new and old to enjoy.


Jimbo Mathus, Blue Light EP

Published on July 31st, 2012 in: Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By J Howell

jimbo mathus blue light

Listeners unfamiliar with Jimbo Mathus as a solo artist might be aware of his tenure as a member of Squirrel Nut Zippers, a band that for many is unfortunately and unfairly remembered as a one-hit novelty act. Or they may know him as the instigator at least partially responsible for Sweet Tea and Blues Singer, two albums that may well be bluesman Buddy Guy’s finest work since he was a young man; or perhaps as part of roots-music supergroup the South Memphis String Band; or maybe even as a member of the North Mississippi Allstars.

While Mathus has garnered plenty of attention—and at least one Grammy nomination—as a collaborator, it seems that he is often overlooked as a solo artist, which is a damned shame, as Mathus is a confirmed house-rocker live. (more…)

Unsane, Wreck

Published on June 15th, 2012 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By J Howell

unsane wreck cover

If there was ever a band I thought would be easy to review, it’s Unsane. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE Unsane—they’ve been one of my top five or so favorite bands since Total Destruction, and one of the best things about the brutal NYC trio has been their remarkable consistency.

While I’m loathe to compare them to a band I dislike, Unsane is just a little bit like a post-whatever noise rock AC/DC: While there has been marked evolution in the band and its sound, it’s remained focused enough to more or less know what you’re gonna get going in. This is not and has never been a bad thing, as I can’t think of a single band that has remained so remarkably satisfying to listen to year after year, record after record. Just as sure as fans knew the album cover would be drenched in blood, it can easily be said that longtime fans of the mighty Unsane won’t be disappointed with Wreck.

When NoMeansNo Means No

Published on May 30th, 2012 in: Canadian Content, Issues, Music, Over the Gadfly's Nest, True Patriot Love |

By J Howell

What follows is a true story.