When one thinks of The Dream Syndicate, it's not just the wild abandon with which singer/guitarist Steve Wynn, drummer Dennis Duck, bassist Mark Walton, and lead guitarist Jason Victor perform - it's the carefully constructed songwriting of Wynn that comes to mind. By now every rock critic in the country has predetermined who he or she feels Wynn reminds them of and what they think of that style of songs. This time, don't! Which brings us to The Universe Inside. Every article or review ever written will claim "this is new and different" - well, it is! Just look at the song lengths: 20:27, 7:36, 8:56, 9:55 and 10:53. Ok, sure - the Syndicate have occasionally committed a long song to vinyl, "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" was 9 minutes with live versions over the ten-minute mark. For the first time, every song is a group songwriting effort. What seeps in are Dennis Duck's knowledge of European avant-garde music, Jason Victor's passion for 70s prog, Mark Walton's experience in Southern-fried music collectives and Wynn's love of vintage electric jazz. The dazzling display of album cover artwork alone should clue you into the changes. But don't take our word for it. Dive in!
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WIRE are the definitive post-punk group. Since their inception they've maintained a reputation for creating music that stretches the rock form whilst simultaneously editing it down to its essence. With their gift for crafting songs that perfectly balance experimentation and accessibility, WIRE were recently hailed by the Quietus as "one of the most consistent British bands of all time". Yet WIRE exhibit little inclination to look back or trade on past glories, rather they remain resolutely focused on producing music which is smart, vital and defiantly modern.
Mind Hive is the group's first newly recorded material since 2017's stellar Silver/Lead. That album garnered rave reviews ("Some of the best tunes they've done" - The Guardian) and career best sales. Yet, if Silver/Lead set the bar pretty high, Mind Hive seems to have no problem vaulting over it.
Album opener Be Like Them is a super-angular composition, utilizing a recently rediscovered Wire lyric from 1977. Colin Newman and Matthew Simms' guitars constantly mesh and diverge, whilst the rhythm section of Graham Lewis and Robert Grey ensure the song prowls forward with an unstoppable menace.
In contrast, lead cut Cactused is the first of Mind Hive's pop moments. Newman's vocal is wide eyed and wired, with Lewis' smooth backing vocals thickening the plot. Simms' effects-heavy guitar work creates a bright web of noise, with the song's stop/start moments providing a series of precise energy bursts.
Primed And Ready rides out on a tightly pulsing synth sequence punctuated by icy slivers of guitar. Grey drives whole sections of the song with hi-hat alone, but when his snare cracks return, they push the song forwards with even greater intensity. This is Wire at their most compressed yet propulsive.
Off The Beach is another prime pop song. With its breezy, optimistic melody, and blend of electric and acoustic guitars, the song initially sees the group seemingly celebrating the joys of everyday life. And yet, as is so often the case with WIRE, things are destined to turn a shade stranger.
The sun-dazzled splendor of Unrepentant sees the group exploring the kind of bucolic soundscape early Pink Floyd would have been proud to call their own. Boasting one of the album's finest texts, the song radiates out into a shimmering sonic heat haze.
The atmospheric yet concise Shadows pulls the classic WIRE trick of placing a dark and cruel lyric amongst a musical setting of tender beauty. Never has the recounting of atrocity been so seductively pitched.
The muscular and dramatic Oklahoma is the joker in the pack. With its opening lyric of `I love your sexy hearse', Lewis' dark vocal swims through a rich compound of guitar textures and synth tones, building into a master-class of tension and release.
The album's centerpiece is Hung. This 8-minute excursion matches a brief but evocative lyric with a dense, mesmeric guitar grind. Simms and Newman's keyboards add a plaintive note, as the song moves through a series of sections, each with its own distinct atmosphere.
The album closes with the gorgeous Humming, a beatless autumnal drift fashioned from delicate keyboard textures and rich soaring guitar tones. Newman delivers the state of the world lyric with a touching sense of innocence, whilst the piece ends with Lewis' husky baritone listing locations and their difficult associations. An elegiac end to a supremely confident album.
WIRE's back catalogue is of course studded with influential epoch defining works. Last year saw the reissue of their groundbreaking first three albums: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. These were voted amongst the top reissues of the year (Rolling Stone at no.10, Uncut at no.12 and Select at no.3). And now Mind Hive arrives at a time when WIRE are being cited as an influence by yet another generation of bands. They are also the subjects of a career spanning feature documentary called People in a Film due for release late 2020.
Quite how a group that has been operating for such a long period is still able to produce such exciting and essential work is difficult to understand. And yet here we are; Mind Hive is the most masterful 35 minutes of post-punk you will hear this year.
Coming October 11th: the debut solo record from Kim Gordon. With a career spanning nearly four decades, Kim Gordon is one of the most prolific and visionary artists working today. A co-founder of the legendary Sonic Youth, Gordon has performed all over the world, collaborating with many of music’s most exciting figures including Tony Conrad, Ikue Mori, Julie Cafritz and Stephen Malkmus. Most recently, Gordon has been hitting the road with Body/Head, her spellbinding partnership with artist and musician Bill Nace. Despite the exhaustive nature of her résumé, the most reliable aspect of Gordon’s music may be its resistance to formula. Songs discover themselves as they unspool, each one performing a test of the medium’s possibilities and limits. Her command is astonishing, but Gordon’s artistic curiosity remains the guiding force behind her music. It makes sense that this “American idea” (as Gordon says on the agitated rock track “Air BnB”) of purchasing utopia permeates the record, as no place is this phenomenon more apparent than Los Angeles, where Gordon was born and recently returned to after several lifetimes on the east coast. It was a move precipitated by a number of seismic shifts in her personal life and undoubtedly plays a role in No Home Record’s fascination with transience. The album opens with the restless “Sketch Artist,” where Gordon sings about “dreaming in a tent” as the music shutters and skips like scenery through a car window. “Even Earthquake,” perhaps the record’s most straightforward track embodies this mood; Gordon’s voice wavering like watercolor: “If I could cry and shake for you / I’d lay awake for you / I got sand in my heart for you,” guitar strokes blending into one another as they bleed out across an unstable page. Front to back, No Home Record is an expert operation in the uncanny. You don’t simply listen to Gordon’s music; you experience it.
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Traditional Techniques is new phase folk music for new phase folks, with Malkmus as attuned as ever to the rhythms of the ever-evolving lingual slipstream. Instead of roses, briars, and long black veils, prepare for owns, cracked emojis, and shadowbans. Centered around the songwriter's 12-string acoustic guitar, and informed by a half-century of folk-rock reference points, Traditional Techniques is the product of Malkmus and engineer/arranger Chris Funk (The Decemberists). Playing guitar is friend-to-all-heads Matt Sweeney (Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Chavez, too many others to count), who'd previously crossed paths with Malkmus on the opposite end of the longhairs' map of the world, most lately gnarling out together back east in the jam conglomerate Endless Boogie.
Over the last decade, Real Estate have crafted warm yet meticulous pop-minded music, specializing in soaring melodies that are sentimentally evocative and unmistakably their own. The Main Thing dives further into the musical dichotomies they're known for'lilting, bright guitar lines set against emotionally nuanced lyrics, complex arrangements conveyed breezily. What emerges is a superlative collection of interrogative songs as full of depth, strangeness and contradictions as they are lifting hooks.