The latest releases reviewed.
QUASI When the Going Gets Dark Domino ****
Quasi are drummer Janet Weiss (who plays in Sleater-Kinney) and multi-instrumentalist Sam Coombes. The two have recorded their home alt.rock symphonies since the early 1990s, the sound centring round Coombes's dextrous keyboard playing and the pair's crashing, chaotic chemistry. For this, their seventh album of pianistic post-rock and avant-grunge, they've recruited production guru Dave Fridmann to rope in Coombes's careening piano lines, which are often reminiscent of Mike Garson circa Aladdin Sane. Such headspinning tunes as Alice the Goon, The Rhino, Presto-Change-O and Poverty Sucks veer between Flaming Lips' oblique strategies and Spirit's sardonic psychedelia, finding a centre of gravity that feels slightly suspended but also elegantly balanced. Some songs, particularly Peace and Love, Beyond the Sky and Death Culture Blues, are disarmingly straighforward rockers, made strange only by tangential piano lines or dissonant beats. When the going gets dark, the weird get better.
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS A Blessing and a Curse New West ****
What happens when a band has three guitar-twangin' singer-songwriters in the driving seat? Confusion and glory, as the title track of the Athens, Georgia band's seventh album goes. Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell may share the load, but they don't try to wrestle the wheel from each other; instead, they come out with all guitars blazin', three distinct voices sharing one dirty southern vision. Hood is the hard rocker who's lived the life and is now trying to make amends. Isbell is the jangly West Coast existentialist, and Cooley is the Smog-voiced sound of the tilled earth. Hood's contributions include Feb 14, a thorny Valentine to a past love; Goodbye, a lament for a lost friend; and Little Bonnie, a paean to a long-deceased cousin. Isbell offers the tough-talking Easy on Yourself and the redemptive Daylight; Cooley delivers the rock-bottom Gravity's Gone and the haunted Space City. Aftermath USA is a twisted, morning-after tune that could have been written for The Replacements, while the down-home counselling of A World of Hurt will leave you feeling blessed and healed. www.drivebytruckers.com
YEAH YEAH YEAHS Show Your Bones Polydor ****
Hype is a wonderful lubricant for the wheels of a music career, but maintaining your momentum is another thing. Three years on from their debut album, New York art-rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs return with an album that dispels any flash-in-the pan mutterings. It's a firecracker of a record, fizzing with energy and clocking in at under 40 minutes. DIY fashion icon Karen Orzolek wails opaque lyrics, mimicking a barbed country Siouxsie Sioux on Way Out and a trilling harridan on Honey Bear. Drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner oomph things up with simple drum patterns and growling guitars. The highlights couldn't be more opposite: Dudley, a slow Sonic Youth number, and Phenomena, which mixes snares, car alarms, dirty bass pulses and vulpine vocals while stealing that famous lyric from White Lines. Sweetly chaotic and dangerously addictive. www.yeahyeahyeahs.com
JANE SIBERRY Love Is Everything - The Jane Siberry Anthology Warner Bros/Rhino ****
If ever there was a female songwriter who has influenced so many yet never received her due commercial success, it is Canadian singer-songwriter Jane Siberry. For years, Siberry has coquettishly flirted with the mainstream; whether or not she has deliberately held back from fully consummating her relationship with it is open to debate, but what is definite is how brilliant her songs are. This welcome re-issued two-CD anthology gathers tracks from her major label years, by nature a self-defining set that ironically refuses to be pigeonholed. If you can imagine a voice and music that is equal parts Joni Mitchell, Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush (and these are mere reference points), then you'll have some idea of how beautifully melodic, intelligent and occasionally strange her pop music is. Siberry makes a rare appearance in Ireland on March 30th at Whelan's, Dublin. Do yourself a favour and allow her spells to entrap and entrance. www.janesiberry.com
SHAZ OYE Truth According to Shaz Oye Radical Faeires Records ***
Describing Shaz Oye's voice to someone who has never heard it is tricky. Imagine the operatics of Diamanda Galas, the soulful depth of Nina Simone and the elegiac androgyny of Anthony and the Johnsons blended into one intense timbre. The voice is large and Amazonian, and the themes belted out in the songs are no different. In music, tackling issues like racism, gun crime, religion and violence against women can veer into preachiness, but Oye sidesteps the urge to rant and lets her glossy voice take over. On Sylvia Falling, a comment on fashion's phoniness, it blends stunningly with piano, pointing to a late night, bluesy feel throughout, as on a cover of the Love Theme from Eyes of Laura Mars and Oye's version of the poem Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep. www.shazoye.com