Purists who expect tribute albums to be near-carbon copies—with a passel of tolerable tweaks for individualizing flavor—best steer clear of Xiu Xiu’s Nina, a collection of songs made famous by late diva Nina Simone. Founding/constant member Jamie Stewart claims he got the idea for Nina while on tour with Swans, and it shows. There’s a comparable, confrontational pain to drummer Ches Smith’s arrangements, fleshed out with orchestrated dissonance courtesy of avant-jazz all stars Tim Berne and Tony Malaby (sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Andrea Parkins (keyboards). With classics like “Don’t Smoke In Bed,” “Four Women,” “Pirate Jenny” and “You’d Be So Nice,” Stewart channels the androgyny of Simone’s trademark contralto, but it’s more homage to an uncompromising style, as he weeps out an excoriating stage whisper. (M. Brianna Stallings)
I never gave a damn about Black Flag, but I listened to their records anyway. Of all the SoCal punk rock bands whose sounds drifted into Burque during the ’70s and ’80s, they had to be the least interesting. I always felt like X and Descendents did a superior job of representing southern Califas. I was bored by Greg Ginn’s inchoate, atonal guitar style and found Henry Rollins’ aggressive misogyny/misanthropy to be, quite frankly, ridiculous. Rollins left, of course, but Ginn has kept up ... in a way. I am proud to say the new Black Flag record sucks. It is called What The …, and it is practically unlistenable. It meanders between Ginn’s disengagement and the band’s reduction to a sullen imitation of what Black Flag once sounded like. (August March)
I listened to the new Warlocks album, Skull Worship, this morning. Opening track “Dead Generation” reminded me of The Bends-era Radiohead, complete with emphatic vocals, plaintive guitar strumming and inward-looking lyrics. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? The band gets more confident and a lot more rocked-out by song three, a number called “Empty Drops,” and continues on an introspective trajectory with “Silver and Plastic," before setting the controls for the psychedelic sun with the aptly named “He Looks Good in Space.” The rest of the product has a meandering quality, which is not a bad thing here. This is a worthy effort. If you can get used to the personnel shifts and consequent changes in vision The Warlocks have manifested over the years, you’ll find this to be a rewarding, albeit color-drenched listen. (August March)
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