Dig These Discs :: JD Samson & MEN, Patty Griffin, Elf Power, Jay Stolar, A Great Big World
Genderqueer JD Samson shines with her Hirsute band members when JD Samson and MEN drop their new album, "Labor." Athens, Georgia-based Elf Power kicks out a drowsy, discordant 12th album. Grammy winner Patty Griffin finally releases her "Silver Bells" album, first recorded and shelved 13 years ago. Brooklyn’s Jay Stolar shows that he is a true talent with an album full of rich harmonies and rhythms. And Jersey boy Ian Axel teams up with Chad Vaccarino to self-release their four-song EP as A Great Big World.
"Labor" (JD Samson & MEN)
Outspoken and mustachioed feminist JD Samson continues to find success with her post Le Tigre outfit, MEN. The former members of her side band Hirsute, Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi, are along for the ride, and what a trip it is. This new album features 13 feminist electro-pop songs about life, love and labor. The single, "All the Way Thru" by French DJ Yuksek, is Samson’s ode to romantic hang-ups, with the lyrics, "I love you so deeply it goes all the way through." The clap tracks are reminiscent of the sound we loved when this gender outlaw rocked the stage with Kathleen Hanna. The first cut "Power Strobe" features electronic and bass, and makes nice rhyme of body parts, arts and hearts. "Next" is a steady electronic dance hit with the lyrics, "We once built this house; we can’t set fire." The search for success is the stuff of "Club Thang" as Samson sings, "I wanna put my music on TV, I wanna put my music on the streets." It’s followed up by the stellar track, "Making Art," about everyone’s friends making art while the singer is cloistered in her house. The Tonnesen Remix is a solid dance cut. "Semenya" is a great chase-scene song, "(She)" delivers some profoundly steal-able samples, and "Greatest Hits" is mesmerizing. Samson gets naughty in "Fucked Up," singing, "I fucked her in your bed, I fucked her in the same place as you had learned to live again." The breathy intro to "I’m Leaving" is an analog delight. Samson put forth an ambitious challenge in producing such a "Labor"-intensive album, and fans and critics alike should be pleased with the results.
"Silver Bell" (Patty Griffin)
Back in 2000, artist Patty Griffin set out to release "Silver Bell," what would have been her third album. But when her label A&M was bought out by Universal Music, the album was shelved. She shook off the setback, recorded a string of excellent albums and became the Queen of the Rock Roots movement. Thirteen years later, this lost album finally sees daylight, right on the heels of her recent release in May, "American Kid." The chameleonic Griffin releases her collection of 14 hits, stripped of the glossy production value of her past works, and with songs as varied as can be. She moves from alternative rock in her tracks "Boston," "Sorry and Sad" and "Driving." She goes punk in "Flaming Red" and country in "Truth #2" and "So Long." Her quiet songs like "Sooner or Later" give a nice R&B sound, while tracks like "Little God" are dark, ’90s-era alt-rock cuts. Piano ballads are there too, in the form of "Mother of God" and the bluesy "Perfect White Girls," which is a bit dated, as are the tracks like the still quite good "Driving" and Sorry and Sad." But despite its scallywag nature, this hodge-podge of songs is cohesive. This Grammy Award-winning artist remarked that the album was "a time capsule for me," saying that there are bits that are nice, including the remixed parts by Glyn Johns. Among the best cuts are the slow-riding "Sooner or Later," and "What You Are," which sound like Lucinda Williams might be right around the next corner. "One More Girl" is a song straight out of the Lillith Fest lineup. From the archives of lost songs comes Griffin’s "Top of the World," a tune that conveys the regrets of a dead man looking down on the world. Griffin wrote the song, made famous by the Dixie Chicks, more than 13 years ago, but now the powerful original finds its place on the album, complete with the French lullaby her grandmother used to sing to her as a child. More than a decade has passed since Griffin first recorded these songs, and they are no worse for the wear, or in this case, for the years.
"Sunlight on the Moon" (Elf Power)
This indie-rock outfit from Athens, Georgia, brings together guitarist/vocalist Andrew Rieger, keyboardist Laura Carter, guitarist Jimmy Hughes, bassist Derek Almsted and drummer Eric Harris for their 12th album. "I lay with demons in the night and now we’re all the same," Rieger sings out in the first track, "Transparent Lines," a tune with lyrics darker than the rhythmic instrumentals it’s scored to. It’s followed by the dour "A Grey Cloth Covering My Face," which buzzes with discordant percussion and lyrics like, "the laws of civilization don’t apply to us." The album is marked by carefully constructed melodies with a fine layer of fuzz on top. The percussives are inventive for "Lift the Shell" and the snare is nice in "Strange Designs." But Reiger lacks some of his past intensity in this album, singing dispassionately about "death in the sky" and "Dying in the way." It seems that the band has lost their past magic in brooding introspection. They go country in "Darkest Wave" and use mandolin to create a jump-step effect in "Things Lost," singing, "I hear a knock on the door, things that I lost in the war." This skip-step feel bleeds over into "Darkest Wave," creating the effect of forward movement. They get the right match of tune and tone in "Grotesquely Born Anew," with its foreboding sound. But this is a rare commodity with Rieger in this album. He sings cheerfully, "There ain’t no celestial pathway, there ain’t no demon spell" in "You’re Never Going to Heaven." And a beach-bum vibe permeates the track, "Total Annihilation." They finish with "A Slow Change," another slow track that seems to sum up the album quite well, with lyrics, "another year has left me here still digging up the bones try to forget about the old ways." Rieger limply croons about the slow change that is coming over him; hopefully, it’s just a temporary change. This record is more zonked out than Ween right after huffing Scotch Guard.
(Darla/Orange Twin Records)
"More Than We Think" (Jay Stolar)
After his August Kickstarter campaign netted three times his initial goal to fund his new album, the former Julius C frontman Jay Stolar releases his debut album, a tight collection of 10 songs that unite melody with soulful vocals. This Brooklyn boy’s first single, "Like You Do," attracted critical acclaim for its rich harmonies and rhythms. "I really wanted to capture the idea that true faith lies beneath a veil of doubt. I think we all face that in relationships. We get scared and try to pull away but once we really face that fear, and give in to it, that’s when real love is possible," said Stolar. Critics describe his vocal style as a combo between Daryl Hall and Smokey Robinson, most evident on tracks like "Like You Do." His summer covers of Robin Thicke’s "Blurred Lines" and Bruno Mars’ "Treasure" were Internet hits, but this talented singer is a lot more than just a mockingbird. He sings deeply of love and relationships, and not always from the rosiest perspective. "There’s nothing to stop you from loving me," he croons in the first song, "Fall Apart," which is fueled by fine guitar and drums. Stolar doesn’t need any bells or whistles to make his songs fly, and you won’t find any Auto Tune masking a lack of skills. This is a genuine talent. Stolar said that one of his favorites on this album is "Leading Me Down," a song that captures the moment right before the relationship ends, the conflict between being ready to move and feeling trapped. He said he shot the video for it a day after driving through lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy had hit, and seeing people working together to repair the damage. "Truth is just a random word to you, so pick a side," Stolar admonishes in "Pick a Side." His song "The Break" is as harmonious and tragic as a David Wilcox tune. A classic three-chord punk riff, slowed down, scores "Everything Seems Much Harder," Stolar’s foray through our modern apocalypse. He sizzles in the sultry, "When I’m Acting Crazy," singing, "kiss me hold me closer baby, I will come back home." He finishes with the heartbreaking cut "Wondering If." As Stolar sings, "With the weight of all my sins upon me, demons at the door that haunt me/ forgive it all would you still want me, and take me as I am?" With skills like this, I’ll wager that’s an unqualified ’yes.’
"Say Something" (A Great Big World)
Jersey boy Ian Axel got his start only seven years ago, but has already had a bit of luck with his piano-based tunes. His song "Gone" was featured on "One Tree Hill." His 2006 tune "This is the New Year" was picked up as the theme song for both the MTV documentary series "I Used to Be Fat" and Garry Marshall’s film "New Year’s Eve." It was even used on "Glee," and the band was the opening act on the tour for Matthew Morrison, who plays Mr. Schue on the show. With the help of his long-time writing partner Chad Vaccarino, the two formed A Great Big World, and now, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, have released a four-song EP (out 10/15 and being sold on tour and on their website). "We wanted something that was bigger than our individual names, bigger than ourselves" Vaccarino said in a recent online interview. The two have a long history of making music during their NYU days, and spent the past year diving into stop motion videos, posting new ones every few days. The new EP contains only four songs, but the sound is huge. Axel’s openness is almost embarrassingly raw in "Say Something," as he sings, "I’m feeling so small, it was over my head; I know nothing at all/ And I will stumble and fall, I’m still learning to love, just starting to crawl." "New Year" follows it, and it’s easy to see why this fast-moving, upbeat anthem was chosen for so many commercial spots. But "There Is An Answer" is a far more interesting track, with its peals of amped-up piano flourishes. They finish with "Everyone is Gay," a campy song about being out and proud, with the chorus, "because we’re all somewhere in the middle, we’re all just looking for love to change the world." Don’t run away from your truth, sings Axel and Vaccarino. The two have a full schedule of fall shows, beginning on the East Coast in October, moving through the Midwest and then back to the South and select locations in Florida, before heading to California.
Epic Records/ Black Magnetic