Album Review : Jlin “Black Origami”

Ed Zed, one half of apocalyptic, futuristic, brilliant, junk punk duo the Casual Sexists would follow Jlin anywhere. Here’s why…

a4190542042_10It’s only July, and I know it already – this is going to be my number 1 album of 2017. The bone-rattling charge of Jlin’s Daedalean opus shakes me to the very core, and remains undiminished the more I listen to it – in fact it grows even stronger each time.

I wonder if it’ll soon become too much for my weathered frame (and the weathered emotions it houses) to bear? Let it.
Black Origami – what a perfect name for this collection of raw materials sculpted by Jlin with such dexterity into fresh, elaborate forms, that seem both ancient and impossibly futuristic. Her footwork roots are now but a ghost, shimmering beneath the multi-tentacled rhythms and vocal fragments that bind the album so tightly together, reminding us of how far Jlin has travelled, sonically, in such a short space of time. Seamlessly blending polyrhythmic African beats with rapid-fire, clipped electronics and occasionally unsettling samples that reflect the turmoil of our times, Black Origami plunges deep into history to make its very modern statement. It’s hard to know where the inimitable Jlin will go from here, but wherever it is I’m going right along with her. I can’t bloody wait…

Listen here:

Moon Loves Honey “Before I Crash”

This is one really handsome bit of shoegaze/dreampop. It’s extremely melodic, with some sweet, and oddly sixties style harmonizing of all things. And everything lives happily together inside a pretty fabulous arrangement. It’s a beauty.

Johnny Diamonds “Touch Me ( In a Hospital)”

The gentle, knowing vocal on this brought to mind David Johansen’s sweet turn, on the New York Dolls classic “Lonely Planet Boy”: both are understated, and weirdly romantic, and perfectly embraced by the louder, equally pretty guitars swirling around them. This is a lovely thing…

Rush’s “Subdivisions”: One band. One song.

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Rush were, are and will always be loved. They’ve sold millions of records, are regarded as one of the finest live bands in musical history and in 2013 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They can also lay claim to having one of the greatest drummers of all-time, the late Neil Peart, in their ranks. The plus column is stuffed with powerful affirmations of their goodness yet I just, plain, can’t get into them. But lord oh lord, how I’ve tried.

I’d been particularly charmed by their 2010 bio documentary and career retrospective, Beyond the Lighted Stage, had found myself completely won over by the trio’s camaraderie, humor and self-awareness. I was so invested in maintaining these good feelings that I decided to read not one but two of Neil Peart’s acclaimed travel memoirs in quick succession. I actively tried make Rush happen in my heart.

Of course I recognized that the film and books were mere ephemera and a diversion from what really mattered. Yup, I knew that to truly understand and experience Rush in a meaningful way, I had to spend time listening to the actual music. And so I did, the whole discography. It didn’t work. Which is to say as I was listening, I felt nothing. Was not transported. Had no epiphany.

Wishful attempts like this to love, feel and understand Rush were actually nothing new to me. My approach to appreciating Rush was disturbingly similar to having a drivers license or passport renewed. Every few years like clockwork I would check in, usually after witnessing some extreme display of fandom and/or worship, then trawl through the discography. And the result was always the same. Several years prior to the documentary, I’d been similarly swayed to give them another chance after witnessing the unbridled Rush passion of Nick Andopolis on Freaks and Geeks ( a TV show so painfully, chronologically on point for me that I officially categorize it as a 19-part documentary). Seeing Nick’s complete and utter worship of the band, watching him clumsily, passionately thrash along to “Spirit of the Radio” on his 29 piece drum kit and later defend drummer Neil Peart’s genius to his ex-girlfriend’s Lindsay’s Dad, was downright inspiring. And with that I hopefully cued up their mega Moving Pictures album…and felt nothing as it played.

Nick-neil peart

“Neil Peart is the greatest drummer alive !”…say no more Nick, turn that shit up…

And so why continually try when these attempts have never worked ? Well, it’s all because of one song, 1983’s fatly synthesized anthem of teen alienation and ennui, “Subdivisions”. I loved it. That song was the singular source of this blind and apparently eternal optimism. Back in the day, it’d spoken to my young, angst-ridden ass as deeply as any of the songs my most beloved band at the time The Smiths had kicked out. It was my “Manchester, so much to answer for”. But my “Manchester” was the considerably less historic, austere, damaged and romantic patch of unbridled suburbia known as, uh, Long Island. And so The Smiths were only gonna get so far in terms of helping make sense of the world in which I lived out my teen-dom. “Subdivisions” on the other hand understood. It got me.

In the High School Halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out

Yes, Rush, yes, I would geekily think anytime I heard it. “Subdivisions” was released just as MTV was beginning to grow in popularity and the song’s video was on constantly. And since I watched MTV roughly 4-5 hours a day every day (sick), it was only a matter of time before it planted its flag into my oh so impressionable psyche. Of course, as was the trend in music videos of the time, the visuals were painfully literal. Faceless suburban streets, check. Lonely bespectacled nerd ignored by oblivious, happy popular kids, check. Rush themselves, check, check, check. Here it is, in all its glory:

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

If I’m being honest, as far as my teenage musical touchstones go, I’ve spent more time listening to “Subdivisions” over the past several decades than I have the entire Smiths discography. I know that sounds sacrilege but that’s the mysterious and insidious power of “Subdivisions”. Rush said everything I needed to hear to feel understood and seen in one song. That’s all it took. Just the one song. And as it turned out that’s all I needed from Rush. And maybe after all this longterm effort that’s the real epiphany I was meant to have. And I couldn’t have asked for more.

P.S. In 2007, singer-pianist Anita Athavale released an absolutely kick ass cover of “Subdivisions” which as of this writing is not available on any of the streaming services…but it is on YouTube albeit in the weirdest and most on the nose way imaginable. Anita’s version provides the poignant soundtrack for a resolutely grim, un-ironic video tribute to a deceased shopping mall in Cleveland (complete with a “1976-2009” graphic at the end). Seriously though, Anita strips it down to its bones and it’s ridiculously good. Here it is :

P.P.S. The Rush fanbase is overwhelmingly male. While this “boys love Rush” phenomenon is discussed with sweet and hilarious candor in the aforementioned Beyond the Lighted Stage, nothing beats the depiction offered in the 2009 buddy comedy I Love You Man. Come cringe along with Rashida Jones, playing Paul Rudd’s beleaguered girlfriend, as she experiences the effect Rush has on grown men in real time. It’s perfect.

Jack River “Fool’s Gold”

Want a fat, cynical, perfect pop song, filled with bits of Weezer, Gwen Stefani, and vintage Madonna that will immediately take up residence in your head for the rest of the day, and maybe longer ? Yeah you do…

Aislinn Logan “So Loud”

Belfast singer/songwriter Aislinn Logan has a transcendently stunning voice, and this track, off her debut EP “Lost or Gone”, showcases it to perfect effect. A simple circular melody, bookended with the hollow, faceless sounds of a train station, the mood is weary and sad, and the whole thing is pretty damn beautiful.

Warik “Zoom Out/Changed @ Once”

Welcome to the weird, woozy, and wonderful world of Warik, where you are perpetually  dizzy, and high, and everything is the color of rainbows. Quirky, and melodic, occasionally sounding as if they were recorded underwater, both of these tracks are culled from his new “In My Lens” EP, and are unquestionably a drug in, and of themselves. Thank you Warik.

Blaenavon are here…

It is June, which in the land of music blogs, means lists.  Specifically “Best Albums So Far This Year Now That We’re Halfway Through” lists. Guessing you’ve seen a few of those these past weeks, but don’t worry, gonna sidestep attaching a list here, and just offer up some love for one particular thing, that should’ve appeared on a lot more of these aforementioned lists…actually it should’ve been on all of them : Blaenavon’s, “That’s Your Lot”. It’s a unicorn, it’s singularly special, it’s one of the best albums of 2017, and here’s why….

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What is Blaenevon ? Well, it’s a lot of things at the same time, beautiful, preciously mannered vocals ( “wept” is pronounced whep-P-T around here), and epic, instrumentally unhinged coda’s, it’s prog, and britpop, it’s full of hooks, and angst, and admissions. It’s where dangerous schoolgirls, and Ziggy Stardusts share cigarettes, make regretful confessions, cry, and make out….seriously though, this is not hyperbole : all of that is really, really in there. Go see them live, and I swear it will all make sense.

There’s much to love on “That’s Your Lot”, from the ethereal swirling beauty of “Ode to Joe”, dedicated to eccentric sixties musical genius Joe Meek, and his futuristic vision, to the circular guitar refrains, lush “oohs”, and booming bass of “Swans”, to the exquisite falsetto pop in “Take Care”, to what is surely the #1 song in an alternate universe right now, “Orthodox Man”. Basically it’s a bunch of killer singles neatly disguised as a debut album.

There are a lot of gorgeous, fully realized songs living on “That’s Your Lot”, all worthy of attention, and full headphone submergence, so give it a listen below…hey, you might even fall in love, and what could be better than that ?

Blue Endless Abyss “Dead Glamour Dance”

I kept waiting for this song to start, you know, in the same way you wait for a Cure song to start i.e. couple of minutes of instrumental intro build-up, and then boom, Robert Smith dramatically crashes in, and gives you a bear hug. Anyway, it never started. It just moved forward in a subdued, straight Krautrock line until nearly 4 minutes had gone by. Played it again to see if I’d missed anything. Then again. And now thinking there may be a subliminal message in there somewhere, because before I knew it, it had played 10x in a row, so something is unquestionably happening here, and it’s something good.

Parker Longbough “Hall Pass”

Yes, that guitar riff is a little “Song 2” by Blur, but make no mistake, this song is it’s own man, all nasal vocals, and swagger, and world weariness. The featured lyric says it all: “people always wanna know about the trips to the bathroom, people always said that you had a strange aura about you”. That’s this one in a nutshell, and it’s mighty fine.