Thursday, September 7, 2006
SCOTT H. BIRAM | Graveyard Shift | Bloodshot
An up-and-coming bluesman in 2006 usually has two fates available to him: be musically unadventurous enough to eventually land a beer commercial or be self-consciously wacky enough to land on a hipster blues label. You can blame public radio, the Internet, or the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System for this turn of events: The Old Weird America that used to spit out freaky folk musicians by the Smithsonian compilation–ful died when the isolated communities where sonic visionaries could remain uninfluenced by their contemporaries became hopelessly plugged-in. These days, it’s nearly impossible for artists working within such a venerable genre to honor their elders while finding their own voices.
Scott H. Biram hails from Austin, Texas, a town hardly immune to the siren call of the record industry’s conventions, but the way he’s crossbred blues, rock, psychedelia, punk, and metal suggests the only voices he’s listening to are those inside his head. Graveyard Shift is raw and its warped vocals, hardscrabble guitars, and relentless four-counts on what is credited as a “homemade footstomp board” would appropriately horrify tourists in blues mausoleums like Memphis or New Orleans.
When Biram does overwhelm, the culprit is sheer over-the-top machismo. The country honk on “Reefer Load” is catchy, but do we need a tacky, overly dude-ish tale of a trucker puffin’ la “from Chicago down to San Antone” so far into an LP?
Still, there’s an uninhibited sense of fun on the Graveyard Shift that transcends argument. Blooze nerds might take issue with Biram’s tossed-salad approach to the genre, but if anyone can save this particular music from trad bores like Eric Clapton, or equally tedious postmodernists like Bob Log III, it’ll be this “dirty old one man band.” —Justin Moyer
SEBADOH | III | Domino
Lou Barlow was a real dick when Sebadoh’s III hit the streets in 1991. It’s apparent in the jerky chords and emotionally defensive prowess of opener “The Freed Pig,” but it wasn’t out of place. III was such a huge departure from the self-congratulatory noise that preceded it that it became a landmark not only for Sebadoh but also for indie rock at large. Fueling self-reliance with self-indulgence became the battle cry for homemade indie rock. This re-mastered re-issue lifts the fog, revealing that as much quaint charm shoddy recording gave to such mantras as “Wonderful, Wonderful” and “Kath,” there is some genuinely great songwriting hiding in the haze.
On the second disc, the much lauded, though better left forgotten “Gimmie Indie Rock 7” comes off like a Budweiser commercial. —Chad Radford
DR. WHO DAT? | Beat Journey | Lex
Philadelphia rapper/producer Jneiro Jarel emerged last year with Three Piece Puzzle, a strong yet overlooked debut that was stylistically beholden to Madlib and the late Jay Dee.
The all-instrumental Beat Journey finds him striving toward a unique identity, though astute listeners will find traces of those musical masters in it (ironically, both Madlib and Jay Dee issued instrumental albums earlier this year). Plus, many of the tracks overtly reference other hip-hop songs. “On the Doelow” gets its hook from the Pharcyde’s “On the Downlow,” while “Deep Blaque” shouts out the late Jam Master Jay. But Jarel’s artistic success doesn’t come from trademark sounds a la J-Dilla’s snares and handclaps, but from an ability to produce tracks that are full of verve and personality. His mostly voiceless music sings loud and soulfully, whether it’s in the way he tweaks an Arthur Verocai sample on “Brazilian Portrait,” or how he skillfully composes beats into a Beat Journey. —Mosi Reeves