PJ Harvey - White Chalk



CDs PJ Harvey.jpgPolly Jean has laid her proverbial soul on the line before. Her early recordings were exorcisms of sorts, pulling all kinds of nasty demons from her psyche and turning them into rally cries for feminists and humanists alike. In the past 15 years, she's dabbled in pop (not to be confused with commercial) music, collaborated with Thom Yorke and Queens Of The Stone Age, and broken the mighty Nick Cave's heart (listen to his album The Boatman's Call for proof positive). She's eschewed a public life despite her growing celebrity, and this latest effort - perhaps her most personal, intimate, and mature yet, is an unsettling, ghostly apparition as sparse as anything she's done before. Harvey's lovely piano work dominates this set, and twisted broken little ballads like “Dear Darkness” details a growing unrest within. Whether she's doing it in a literary sense or pulling it directly from her experience is merely speculation, but White Chalk is packed with subtle and creepy undercurrents of murder, violence, and remorse. In fact, some of this, like the unsettling “Broken Harp,” or the disturbing “The Piano,” are difficult listens, as they seem to be far too personal and painful for public consumption. Polly is a true artist who gives her listeners a glimpse into a troubled world, and her powerful melding of word and sound will never go out of style. This is a world-class recording that will be revisited years from now.

- Todd Zachritz


Stace England & The Salt Kings – Salt Sex Slaves



The Salt King was a real person, a man whose unscrupulous, illegal and barbaric legacy lives on in the infamous Old Slave House – an 1830s-era mansion perched on a hill in the wildly inappropriately named Equality, Illinois.   Here, Stace England presents a guitar-fueled, folk flavored story of the old house, slavery, freedom and the man responsible for the tortured ghosts living on that lonely hill in southern Illinois: John Hart Crenshaw.

If this review seems a little weird, that it’s a history lesson, or a personal essay on a topic the public at large might find boring, you may be right. The thing is, the Salt King – Crenshaw – was my direct ancestor. Six or seven great-grandfathers ago or something like that. And I’ve heard the stories Stace England tells on Salt Sex Slaves since I was a little kid. I’ve also, at times, grappled with the fact that John Hart Crenshaw was one of the most terrible monsters in American history.

The tracks on this record illustrate Crenshaw’s unbelievable career: Kidnapping escaped slaves from the banks of the Ohio River, forcing them into labor in his salt mines until they were broken, housing them in cramped cubicles, beating them to within an inch of their lives, and then selling them back to slave owners down south. All for pure profit, and from a legally free state. This horrible business enterprise made Crenshaw one of the richest men in America in the mid-19th century.

None of this story would matter here if the music and lyrics on Salt Sex Slaves weren’t worthwhile, intelligent and, to use a hackneyed word, deep. Even setting aside the documentary nature of England’s record, fans of alt.country, Americana, folk and plain old rock & roll will enjoy this CD.   And if they dig a little deeper into the brief story I just laid out, they’ll find an often overlooked but amazing tale that happened right here in the Tri-State a long time ago. See www.staceengland.com for the CD and more about England’s other amazing music.

- Dylan Gibbs


Modeselektor - Happy Birthday

(BPitch Control)


Electronic music has an image problem. When it's referred to as “techno,” all sorts of stereotypes and biases arise, even among the purveyors of said musics. Berlin-based duo Modeselektor throw it all to the wind with Happy Birthday, dabbling into a variety of electronic sub-genres, from crunky club sounds to Kraftwerkian electro-blips, to mysterious minimalist/glitch soundtracks that could double as alternate Blade Runner themes. Amongst individual cuts, “The White Flash” is an especially memorable cut that features Radiohead's enigmatic front man Thom Yorke. This lonely, icy tech-scape sounds quite in line with his own solo material. Appearances by French rappers TTC, Floridian electro-grindcorist Otto Von Schirach, and numerous others all fit in seamlessly beside the duo's cold and steely synth-structures. You get it all in these 75 minutes - thumpin' rhythms, meditative ambience, and experimental soundscapes. Pretty well a comprehensive scope of modern electronic music. Quite listenable, and a solid piece of work here.

- Todd Zachritz


Mono - The Sky Remains The Same As Ever

(Temporary Residence)


It's been established among the initiated that Japan's instrumental post-rock act Mono is a profoundly engaging live act. Sculpting their dynamic, punchy sound from gentle, lovely melodies (ala Sigur Ros) into grindingly potent noise/feedback screamers (ala classic Sonic Youth), this quartet has a trademark transcendence that expresses itself beyond the need for words. This 110-minute DVD documents their last world tour, and, even if the group's limited English causes some chin scratching, fear not. This is all about the performances. Taken from a variety of venues (Paris, Brussels, New York, and more), as well as some studio recording in Chicago with Steve Albini (and a string section!), this audio-visual travelogue provides a suitable look at Mono's positively cyclonic live gigs. Sure, you don't get the full live effect here (there's no ringing ears or hearing damage included), but it's the closest you're going to get until they come around again. The Sky Remains The Same is a must-see, and when Mono plays Louisville next time (and they will, as they have a substantial fan base there), do yourself a favor. 

- Todd Zachritz


Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere In The Between



Icky pop-ska from New Joysey, this slick and really mild 10-song release overextends its' welcome sometime during the first song. I hear a bunch of dudes playing instruments, but where's the music? Imagine Fallout Boy if they covered The Mighty Mighty Bosstones for 45 minutes and you'll be pretty close to this unlikeable load of lame poseur pabulum.

- Rob Wickett


In Flight Radio - The Sound Inside

(Last Broadcast Records)


These Brooklyn cats (and kitten) show mucho promiso. But they aren't quite there just yet. Crafting some moody and atmospheric pop-rock act and citing bands like U2, Coldplay, and Radiohead as inspirations are good places to start, to be sure. The shimmery texture of the stellar opener “Red Flags” is solid and catchy, with raved up Edge-like guitars and spacey little nuances. Thing is, this all goes on for 10 more songs, and their inspirations creep in a little too obviously. Honey-voiced vocalist Peira is their strong point, adding a distinctive element to what otherwise is a fairly generic Britpop-inspired rock act.

- Rob Wickett


Bullet For My Valentine - Scream Aim Fire



Ooh, it all begins with some weary and dated speed metal riffage. The vocals kick in and, what? Is this Metallica? With a little Motorhead thrown in? With some NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) inspirations? And there's some death-metallic “brutal” grunting, too. Man, and that's just the first song! By the third song, “Hearts Burst Into Fire” the band has morphed into a kind of emo-pop outfit...really odd and radio-friendly. Then it's back to the classic metal core. Schizo, and really pretty good in spots, but then it all goes nice and FM-radio-style, and I lose interest. Sorry, bros, that just ain't cool.  

- Rob Wickett

Kasey Anderson - The Reckoning

(Terra Soul)


With a gritty, gravelly voice, Mr. Anderson's latest opens with the title track – a dark, narrative song that's reminiscent of Steve Earle, with a dash of Tom Waits and maybe some Mark Lanegan, all good and fine company. But subsequent songs are more traditionally alt.country stuff, with much lighter and melodic material. The juxtaposing of the two is a little off-putting. More successful is the fine “Don't Look Back,” which synthesizes both of these styles quite nicely. “You Don't Live Here Anymore” is a haunting ballad with a well-placed guitar feedback drone and more plaintive vocal style, and “Red Shadows” is another excellent world-wise everyman tale that's stylish, memorable, and well-written. Despite a few minor setbacks, “The Reckoning” is a fine album of darkly-tinged Americana, and I like it.

- Rob Wickett