After Purim and Arbor Day, President’s Day is Citizen Dick’s third favorite holiday. In celebration of President’s Day weekend, we’d like to offer our thoughts on three records; Warren G. Harding would want you to have a lot to read before the holiday that honors him.
The inclination when examining Henry’s Funeral Shoe is to evoke other hard-rocking, blues-based guitar and drum duos. That seems wildly unfair and I refuse to do it. I’m not even going to mention those bands that you’re thinking of. Take a minute and wipe your mental palate. I’ll wait. Clear head? Let’s proceed.
Welsh brothers Aled and Brennig Clifford bring a good bit of volume and energy to their ten-song Bomp Records debut. The songs, for the most part, are direct and visceral. They rely on the strong guitar work of Aled and the often intricate drumming of Brennig while highlighting Aled’s guttural and grizzly vocals. The riffs are huge and compelling; these fellows have a distinct knack for getting a memorable guitar bit into the tracks. The fuzzy slide work on “Don’t Lose the Rhythm” and “Stranger Dig” is catchy and memorable; it’s a classic sound used to excellent effect here. “Stranger Dig” is one of the album’s highlights, because of that guitar work and the varied delivery in Aled’s vocals. On much of the record, that raspy growl is pushed to the max, but on “Stranger Dig” and a few other tracks, we get a subtler approach, which offers some nice diversity. The album stomps through the first nine tracks, rarely pausing to catch its breath, providing tunes that are going to keep your motorcycle boots tapping. The brothers radically alter things with the last track, “Mary’s Tune,” an acoustic ballad that shows that Henry’s Funeral Shoe has more than one gear. The wistful harmonica and brushed cymbals backing vocals devoid of any whiskey-fueled scratchiness tell us that there are some un-plumbed depths here. We’re into this album and excited to see what happens next.
“Henry’s Funeral Shoe” – Henry’s Funeral Shoe
We lucked out and caught What Laura Says opening for Annuals last month. Their live show was an electric-guitar driven aural assault, punctuated by towering psychedelic solos and characterized by intense energy. We picked up their 2008 Terpsikhore debut, Thinks and Feels, expecting more of the same. Happily, it’s an incredibly diverse record, drawing significantly on the group’s origin as an acoustic two-piece. The highlights we remember from the show are present and stellar: the unamplified, shouted tent-revival style vocals at the tail-end of “Fashionably Moral” and the kitchen sink percussion throughout (I’m 90% there’s a zipper solo on “Get Better Soon”) . The stuff that either wasn’t in the live act or that we missed is as impressive, however. The multiple-part harmonies are beautiful, notably in the near doo-wop brilliance of “Wish I Could Fly,” highlighted by a street-corner-esque vocalized bass-line. The middle of the record has a tremendous homespun feel, with spaced-out folk tracks that encourage close-listening and self-reflection. Lending to the dreamy feel is the lack of significant breaks between the songs; once the first track kicks in (with a head turning door knock that sounds like the police crashing in on Michael Phelps) the album doesn’t pause, meshing the songs together with ethereal vocals or found-sound elements. It’s a cool approach that makes this a very re-listenable album; when I listen to it, I don’t go to a specific track, I just hit play and let it run its course.
The principal thing that comes through loud and clear in both the live presentation and the recorded material is how much these guys love playing music; it is a joyous and raucous album. The hand-claps and half-mumbled sub-vocalizations feel like artifacts of legitimate music production. Dudes are having fun and it shows. If you missed this when it came out, pick it up. They’re still touring as well, check the dates and hit the shows.
“Illustrated Manual” – What Laura Says
We’d cover Wild Light for no reason other than their gratuitous and frequent use of the word “fuck” in the lead single for their upcoming record on Startime International. “California on My Mind” is a delightful piece of pop-rock candy, full of jangly tambourines, angelic backing vocals and near constant exhortations to fuck things, mostly geographical locations, California in general, San Fransisco and Oakland specifically, but also more general concepts, like “today.” Fine. You got our attention Wild Light. We’re more than pleased to heed your advice and fuck California. We’re going to buy it dinner first, though. We’re gentlemen.
The rest of the album offers fairly consistent music of the same stripe. There’s way less cursing on the remainder of the tracks, but there’s a ton of hand-shakers, synthesizer fills and crisp vocals. There’s not a lot of new ground covered here, but the ideas being mined are good ones. Sing me a pop song that I can play when folks are kicking it on the porch and I’m generally a happy dude. If it’s warm where you are when this album drops, pick it up.