Film At 11: Pissed Jeans

Pissed Jeans have some fun at the gym in their clip for “The Bar Is Low,” and if you’re not watching closely it might appear to be a killer workout video alongside the rocking tune. But pay attention and you’ll see that the members of Pissed Jeans (and their adversaries) don’t appear to be using the equipment properly. We mean, we assume that’s not right … We don’t really know how any of that stuff works. Anyway, check it out below.

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Essential New Music: Boss Hog’s “Brood X”

Though Jon Spencer’s rising profile in the early-’90s pegged Boss Hog as one of his side projects due to it being the band he shared with wife Cristina Martinez, it’s always been her show, and it’s always been unpredictable. Reemerging last year with the four-song Brood Star EP (also on long-time label In The Red) after a hiatus of 15-plus years, Brood X is Boss Hog’s first album since 2000’s great, sadly misunderstood Whiteout, and it’s a lively hybrid of funk’s nastier side, featuring organ/keyboard-driven ass-shakers and the gutter-blues one might expect from the principals behind its creation. Primarily a vocal showcase for Martinez (Spencer’s vocals take a backseat, as on previous albums), the succinct 10 songs on Brood X are all upbeat workouts, though slower, moody closer “Sunday Routine” is a nice touch that belies the dance-floor-readiness of what precedes it.

—Andrew Earles

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Jessi Colter And Lenny Kaye: The Lord Is Their Shepherd

Outlaw country queen Jessi Colter and garage-punk avatar Lenny Kaye roll holy for The Psalms

There is absolutely nothing off or odd about Lenny Kaye—longtime Patti Smith collaborator, producer/curator of the Nuggets psych-punk series—having teamed with legendary country singer/pianist Jessi Colter for the gorgeously spare The Psalms, her first album in 11 years. Considering an aesthetic existence where chance plays as much of a role as providence, the Jewish-born Kaye says, “It’s the Buddhist in me; my entire artistic life, I’ve emptied myself of expectations. Things just happen.”

Colter’s no Buddhist (“Mom was a ferocious Pentecostal minister, dad was a mountain man who built and raced cars and believed in the power of nature,” she says), but she too lives a life where anticipation is trumped by serendipity and fortuity. “Lenny just heard me playing hymns a long time ago, and that image stuck in his head,” she says, referencing the years between 1993 and 1995 when Kaye went to Nashville to convince Colter’s husband, legendary country outlaw Waylon Jennings, to pair up on Jennings’ autobiography. “I became part of their family, with Waylon taking me around town, introducing me as his New York hippie writer friend,” says Kaye. To which Colter cheerfully counters, “I can still recall seeing his long legs coming down from the bunks on our tour bus.”

With that, The Psalms—as much an exploration and exaltation of God as poetic expression—just happened with no plan, with Colter and Kaye turning pages of the bible and finding psalm passages that moved them and letting music and vocals come up in response. After two brief days of recording in 2007, Kaye worked on further illustrating the tracks as the spirit moved him, and collaborators such as Al Kooper (“Who better than the man who did the most iconic organ signature for a rabbinical student such as Dylan?”) and Bobby Previte (“I knew he’d be sensitive to the floating time and rhythm Jessi’s songs had”) appeared.

Both Colter and Kaye agree: The Psalms wasn’t so much produced as it was guided; birthed, quietly and with a divine hand.

“This memory of me walking through their house, one morning in 1995, while she was at the piano, alone, stuck with me,” says Kaye. “Jessi wasn’t so much playing as she was putting her fingers on the keys and expressing melodies as they came to her.” That same sense of intuitive expression, one Kaye used as a guitarist for Colter during their sessions, is how the country songstress works when it comes to the Old Testament.

“I wasn’t planning anything,” she says. “We turned the bible’s pages, found poems such as ‘Psalm 136 Mercy And Loving Kindness,’ and just let it happen.”

Colter knows that this might seem like a far cry from her outlaw-country past—being the lone female on 1976’s Wanted! The Outlaws, with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and Jennings, the first-ever platinum country music album, duets such as “Storms Never Last,” from their marrieds’ 1981 Leather And Lace—but is quick to offer one fun fact: “When it came to Wanted!, I was the only one of the bunch who had—sadly, at that, considering how much hard work Willie and Waylon did— real success and gold albums at that point. Willie had tried Nashville, failed and retreated back to Texas. Waylon, too, had been back and forth with bad management and publishing deals and still felt the sting of Buddy (Holly). I didn’t have the easiest ride, but as soon as I had pop success (1975’s “I’m Not Lisa”), doors opened wider.” For more on this outlaw time, her one-time marriage to twang-guitar-king Duane Eddy and more, “You’ll have to read the book,” she laughs, pointing to her autobiography, An Outlaw And A Lady: A Memoir Of Music, Life With Waylon, And The Faith That Brought Me Home, “due, just like the album, between Easter and Passover.”

Mention going from badass country to the holy balladeer of The Psalms, and Colter says that she was never far from the religious music of her youth to begin with, despite not particularly thinking of herself as singularly religious or dedicated to one creed. The spirit just moves her.

“I always looked to the psalms for inspiration and for understanding on the human condition we’re in, so it has been very close to my heart,” she says. “That’s why Lenny asked me to do this with him. I can’t say that I am evangelical or that I write as a cypher, but there is something to how I write and compose that brings God close to me in a way that I knew something had to happen. I didn’t write any of this album, it just occurred as we went. That’s God, right?”

—A.D. Amorosi

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Essential New Music: Mastodon’s “Emperor Of Sand”

Despite signing to a major label years earlier, Mastodon really didn’t lumber into the mainstream until 2011’s The Hunter. At that point, the band had completed the migration to clean singing and mostly shed its prog-rock eccentricities. Once More ‘Round The Sun followed, still bringing the heavy but incorporating even more melodic elements. Had that record been a double, it could’ve easily shared album gatefolds with Mastodon’s latest. Emperor Of Sand hears the band’s continued evolution (de-evolution?) from metal to hard rock, its destructive powers diminished in the pursuit of accessibility. In chasing commercial appeal, drummer Brann Dailor remains the band’s most capable vocal weapon, with the earworm-y “Steambreather” recalling Once More’s “The Motherload.” Elsewhere, the only real blunder here is “Clandestiny,” which is sadly reminiscent of Styx (ask your parents) in its middle section. Emperor is solid, dexterously played hard rock from a band that used to crush listener skulls.

—Matt Ryan

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In The News: HAIM, Phoenix, Cheap Trick, Ryan Adams, Yonder Mountain String Band, Alex Chilton, David Bowie, Natalie Merchant And More

HAIM returns July 7 with Something To Tell You (Columbia), the trio’s much-anticipated sophomore LP … Ti Amo is the new Phoenix album, and it’s out June 9 via Loyaute/Glassnote … We’re All Alright! is the 18th studio album from the legendary Cheap Trick, due out June 16 via Big Machine … Out now is Ryan Adams’ 17-track Prisoner B-Sides (Pax Am/Blue Note) … Yonder Mountain String Band’s first new album in two years, Love. Ain’t Love, is out June 23 … Take Me Home And Make Me Like It is an LP of previously unreleased rehearsals and alternate takes from Alex Chilton‘s 1975 sessions for Singer Not The Song; it’s out on Munster June 16 … To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, David Bowie and Trevor Jones’ soundtrack to Labyrinth has been reissued on vinyl by UMe … Laibach’s Also Sprach Zarathustr is out via Mute on July 14 … On June 23, Nonesuch will release The Natalie Merchant Collection, a 10-CD set featuring all eight of Natalie Merchant’s solo LPs, a new album and a collection of rarities … The new Suburbs album, Hey Muse!, is out June 23 … Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help‘s self-titled album is out via Rhyme And Reason on June 23 … The first new Terminals LP in a decade, Antiseptic, is out via Ba Da Bing … Amanda Palmer & Edward Ka-Spel (Legendary Pink Dots) have issued their first collaboration album, I Can Spin A Rainbow … The five-CD American Epic: The Collection and the single-disc American Epic: The Soundtrack (Legacy/Columbia/Third Man/Lomax) feature music associated with acclaimed documentary series American EpicMichael McDonald, who appeared with Thundercat at this year’s Coachella, will issue his first album in almost 10 years, Wide Open, via BMG on September 16 … ZZ Ward will release The Storm on June 30 via Hollywood.

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From The Desk Of The Black Watch: On Losing Friends

John Andrew Fredrick has spent the last three decades as the sole constant in one of music’s most perfect and unheralded rock outfits, the black watch. Using the Beatles as a tracing template, Fredrick has applied a kitchen-sink approach to the album at hand since his 1988 debut, St. Valentine, the opening volley in a catalog that would ultimately encompass 15 albums and five EPs, all of which inspired varying levels of critical halleleujahs and a deafening chorus of crickets at the nation’s cash registers. Fredrick will be guest editing all week. Read our band new feature with him.

I have lost five or so close friends the past few years—to spats unresolved, envy and animosity (it’s impossible to be friends, sometimes, to people—let’s not mince words: dilettantes, really, many of them—who do the same art form you do—especially when you enjoy, after years and years and years, mind you, a bit of success/get some more recognition for all your hard work and dedication), outgrowing them and their predictable interests, misunderstandings, puerile behavior and the nature of the thing, as it were, running its course, running out of gas/steam/momentum/what-have-you. So to the great friends who remain (Brad, Liz, Liz G., Nicky, Chris, Ricky, Tyson, John, Darryl, Nora, Michael, Amy, Julia, Chip, Mark, Jim M., Jack, Laura, Nita Lu, Rob, Scott C., Craig and everyone I’ve forgotten momentarily)—thanks for hanging in there with me. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “There is nothing more on earth to be prized than true friendship.” That’s in part why it’s one of my main themes in my book on Wes Anderson. I think it’s such a sorely neglected theme in all art, not just film. Bless Wes Anderson and his first three and best films for exploring it. And as W.H. Auden noted, works of art beget works of art. And thusly inspired I simply had to write something about that, to me, all-important theme (in my life especially) of Friendship. Fucking Innocent: The Early Films Of Wes Anderson comes out this summer. Sorry to shill, shill, shill for my stuff, you know, but I gotta keep myself in tennis balls and get my rackets re-strung once in a while and buy a book or two or a record by Idaho when it comes out.

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Essential New Music: Anders Parker’s “The Man Who Fell From Earth”

Anders Parker has worked in every conceivable context—Space Needle, Varnaline, Gob Iron with Jay Farrar, his broadly varied solo output—but some of his most potent statements come when his voice and acoustic guitar are presented alone in the naked glare of the studio. The Man Who Fell From Earth follows that blueprint with filigrees of electric guitar, cello and violin as Parker channels his inner Nick Drake and T Bone Burnett on a gorgeous set of emotional and passionate songs. Parker balances joy and melancholy with a juggler’s skill as he dives (“As The Stars Fell Down On Me,” the title track) and soars (“High Flying Bird,” “On Flying Hill”), simultaneously fixed on the road ahead (“Our New Blood,” “No Regrets, No Turning ‘Round, No Looking Back”) and the troubled path behind (“I Don’t Do That Anymore,” “Endless Blues”). Even as Parker documents the crashing of the heavens, he notes that “everyone is made of stars,” reiterating the reality that rebirth follows death and the greatest growth typically occurs after the greatest destruction. Just as typically, the scuffed beauty of Parker’s delivery elevates the proceedings, shining a soft, delicate light on his darkest messages.

—Brian Baker

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Essential New Music: White Reaper’s “The World’s Best American Band”

On its first two records, White Reaper’s garage punk garnered comparisons to Ty Segall and Jay Reatard, but those really in the know recognized the Kentuckians as the spiritual successors to the Marked Men. Both bands made joyful, memorable pop music in the guise of grainy, fuzz-toned punk rock. Though it will initially elicit double takes, The World’s Best American Band is a logical next step for the group, one that largely leaves punk in the rearview in favor of glam, power pop and ’80s Sunset Strip. The result is a raucous party of a record that should play well to the fist-pumping cheap seats. The title track nicks its aesthetic from Big Star’s “In The Streets” (the Cheap Trick version), “Judy French” is teenage summer nights in audio form, and “Tell Me” boasts a guitar strut lascivious enough to warrant a parental advisory warning. Yes, this album is a turophile’s dream, but only the most black-hearted cynic could resist joining the party.

—Matt Ryan

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Normal History Vol. 426: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Taking The Back Stairs

Bicycle handle bars scrape across the suburbs
Chrome to iron innocence chips off

You are taking the back stairs
You are taking the back stairs

There are desperate harsh attempts at simplicity
By people who know too much

You are taking back stairs
You are taking back stairs

The soft white wax of a candle goes hard
When the flame is blown out

You are taking back stairs
You are taking back stairs

“Taking The Back Stairs” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991) (download):

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From The Desk Of The Black Watch: Idaho (The Band, Not The State)

John Andrew Fredrick has spent the last three decades as the sole constant in one of music’s most perfect and unheralded rock outfits, the black watch. Using the Beatles as a tracing template, Fredrick has applied a kitchen-sink approach to the album at hand since his 1988 debut, St. Valentine, the opening volley in a catalog that would ultimately encompass 15 albums and five EPs, all of which inspired varying levels of critical halleleujahs and a deafening chorus of crickets at the nation’s cash registers. Fredrick will be guest editing all week. Read our band new feature with him.

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Jeff Martin = wow. Talk about a sorely severely under-appreciated American artist—that’s Jeff. And his quondam, late partner-in-indie-rock crime John Berry. I’ve known both of those fine fellows for yonks now and have always loved their music, its plaintive beauty and pathos and twinkling four-string guitar interplay and dissonance and distortion amidst just the prettiest melodies. And the backward guitars, my god! Sucker I am always and ever for those and use them in TBW any chance I can.

I’m terrible with titles (save Beatles songs), and with keeping track of albums but I will stop my own big mouth right-the-now and send you off a-listening, to one of, for me, the greatest bands to come out of our unfair city. Here’s a gorgeous one.

The masterly way this band sounds at once drunk (on music) and stone cold you-know-what. They have so many records now it’s hard to say where to begin. I can relate, in that we have too many LPs to choose from as well. Must be something to do with we melodic-driven L.A. guitar bands: a) have a lot to say, musically; and b) have access to studios for pretty cheap as there are so many of them. Idaho are “bigger” than the black watch, sure, and they’re still just terribly overlooked by too many music fans who are wasting their time on the latest jeffy-come-latelys. Listen to Jeff Martin and Co., kids. They’ll amaze you with beauty and guitar power and seriously gorgeous off-kilter singing and arranging. Shortly before he died, John Berry said to me, “I never thought you liked us all that much, John!” when I rang him to have a chat about tennis and life and the band. I had to say, “Are you kidding me? Idaho’s been one of my very favorite bands for years and years and years now.” Wow. One more: so sad, so pretty—like the unreal girl you got … and wish you hadn’t.

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