|Tennessee Whiskey / Dean Dillon / Linda Hargrove||Chris Stapleton||4:53|
The legendary first album Whatever presented a Doughboys that had a definite hardcore punk edge, instead of the hard rock sheen they later adopted for their breakthrough album, Crush. There are definitely glimpses of the band's keen knack for melody here, but the tempo is generally cranked too high to sustain it for any length of time. A few of the tracks are absolutely wonderful, though, like the turbocharged "You're Related and the more melodic "I Remember." After original label Cargo went out of business, the band reissued it on their own Spahn Ranch label.
With Metals, Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across fingerplucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. “Cicadas and Gulls,” with its simple melodies and pastoral ambience, rides the same summer breeze as Iron & Wine, and “Anti-Pioneer” breaks down the blues into its sparsest parts, retaining little more than a sparse drumbeat and guitar until the second half, where strings briefly swoon into the picture like an Ennio Morricone movie soundtrack. They’re gone after 30 seconds, though, leaving things as quiet as they began. Like the rest of the subdued track list, “Anti-Pioneer” is unlikely to find itself featured in an iPod commercial, meaning Feist’s days as a provider of hip, trendy TV jingles may be over. Still, there’s a soft-spoken power to Metals, even if its songs are more liquid and atmospheric than the title suggests.
Building on the artistic success of their last CD, Rhythmix, Univers Zero returns almost entirely to their acoustic roots (no howling electric guitars here), and with a refined and tempered equivalent of the relentless, prolonged gloom of early releases such as 1313 and Heresie. Pieces are shorter and more varied, with some taking the form of almost jaunty medieval dances. The only electric instruments are Eric Plantain's electric bass, plus some discrete sampling and synth keyboards from drummer and leader Daniel Denis, who currently writes all the group's music. Michel Berckmans (oboe, English horn, bassoon) and Denis are the only remaining original members, although clarinetist Dirk Descheemaeker played on several of the later Univers Zero recordings in the mid-'80s. But even with a number of new bandmembers, the group's chamber music instrumentation (saxophones, cello, trumpet, marimba and violin), together with Denis' intricate writing and the very tight ensemble work, is enough to deliver the signature Univers Zero sound. Overt but short gothic/industrial elements, with titles such as "Suintement (Oozing)," "Miroirs (Mirrors)," "Ectoplasme," "Bacteria" and "A Rebours (In Reverse)," serve as bridges between songs and maintain the haunting, sinister edge that initially established the group's reputation. These five pieces, all roughly one-minute-long, display Denis' skillful use of sampler technology; the muted clanging, scraping, dripping, rumbling and squealing seems to emerge from obscure mechanical devices of unknown construction and purpose. A longer piece, "Partch's X-Ray" is an obvious homage to American maverick composer and instrument-maker Harry Partch It uses metallic-sounding tuned percussion, insectoid twittering from the strings and a rhythmic crow-like cawing to create a deliciously malevolent atmosphere. Likewise the shorter "La Mort de Sophocle (Sophocle's Death)," which employs mournful legato strings and percussive crashes to promote a feeling of oppressive gravity. The long closing piece, "Meandres (Meanderings)," also has some of the stabbing dissonance of early Univers Zero as it moves restlessly from one theme to another, although a middle section shows uncharacteristic restraint. The aura is hardly new age, but it is thoughtful. Other pieces such as "Falling Rain Dance," "Rapt D'Abdallah," "Mellotronic," "Out of Space 4" and the two untitled "Short Dance" tracks demonstrate Univers Zero's strong connection to medieval court music (and anyone who has listened to authentic re-creations of this music knows that it can be both melancholy and powerfully rhythmic). Another piece, "Temps Neuf," by virtue of its deep rhythmic groove and bursts of dissonant trumpet, could almost be regarded as a kind of gothic jazz-funk. Univers Zero's excellence lies in its continuing ability to synthesize medieval forms, instrumental prog rock and modern classical dissonance with a splash of jazz and a taste for the suggestively macabre. The group continues to produce creative, highly inventive music, and plays it with precision and panache. Highly recommended for the adventurous listener.