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Young Widows, "Old Wounds"

Nobody has ever been able to explain to me just how we went from the awesome diversity and promiscuous intermingling of '90s alternative music to the present day's drab dichotomy of wussy hipster twee and cathartic yet indigestible metal. Specifically, I lament the loss of that seemingly dying animal known as noise rock, its Amphetamine Reptile and Touch & Go fueled heyday woefully behind us. Yet thankfully there are more than a few pilgrims to the jizz-soaked shrine to The Jesus Lizard, the obsidian monolith of The Melvins, and the crumbling temple of Girls Against Boys.


Temporary Residence

No Fun Fest friendly outliers like Hair Police and Lightning Bolt hold court at the fringes, to be sure, yet I'm far fonder of those who remember to actually, um, rock amidst the sheer hellish miasma that too often entices artists into more abstract and masturbatory directions.  Recent years brought breakout sensations Pissed Jeans along with a number of grimy local heroes and zeros eager to grab that brass ring of indie stardom.  As this appropriately brief new album makes clear, Young Widows possess the necessary aggression, attitude, and craftsmanship to resolve the gap that less impressive and comparatively weaker players like No Age fail to bridge.

Interestingly, the blogosphere, caught navel gazing in the self-referencing and self-legitimizing echo chamber that characteristically insulates it from so much great music, has taken to these Louisville sludgers like a newborn to a plump nipple or an unqualified Alaskan governor to a porcine congressional earmark.  Arguably, advance word of Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou's role in the producer's chair for Old Wounds, while perhaps immaterial to the final results, added more of that intangible commodity known as credibility to the latest work from the Jade Tree alums, now safely housed at Temporary Residence.  Unafraid of influences and hungry for progression, Young Widows plow through eleven heavy frenetic cuts that induce a tilt-a-whirl effect, simultaneously ebbing and flowing with concurrent waves of euphoria and nausea.  While neither as nastily confrontational as David Yow nor as aurally hideous as Buzz Osborne, the members evidently hold these archetypes in high regard without succumbing to sloppy emulation.  Opener "Took A Turn" blends the raw ingredients from the aforementioned with remarkable restraint and unsubtle mirrorglass shards of grunge era pop.  "Old Skin" lurches from the Churchill Downs manure with stoner-grade headbanger potential, while comparatively subdued "The Guitar" maximizes the impact of its sparse instrumentation with hypnotic vocal repetition.

As much as these tracks invigorate and delight, there's truly nothing more gratifying for an AmRep enthusiast here than the raw bloody stinking meat of upbeat, downtuned grinders like "Lucky And Hardheaded" and "Delay Your Pressure", or even the familiar belligerence of swaggering standout "The Heat Is Here".  With a noise rock resurgence of refurbished pioneers and teeth grinding youngbloods coming down the pike, Young Widows assertively assume dominant roles in the unexpected revival, reeking of promises to bring down as many lazy, cross-armed bloggers along the way.



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Review of the Day

Young God
He possesses the unkempt street-hustler looks of Vincent Gallo, the psychotic vulnerability of Syd Barrett, the spooked lonesomeness of Skip Spence, the instrumental dexterity of Robin Williamson, the naïve sincerity of Tiny Tim, and a voice that sounds like a cross between Marc Bolan's early T. Rex warble and the evocative wail of Karen Dalton. After his superlative debut Oh Me Oh My..., many were quick to heap praise on Devendra Banhart, hailing the 23-year old singer-songwriter as a peerlessly original voice. With such obvious musical precedents for Banhart's intimate, acoustic songcraft, this adulation seems a bit overstated. Despite what has been said, Devendra Banhart hasn't reinvented the wheel. He has, however, used his considerable lyrical and melodic gifts to create a handful of idiosyncratic recordings that speak volumes for his songwriting talent. Oh Me Oh My... was immediately distinctive not only because of Banhart's quavering vocal delivery and incredible fingerstyle, but also because of its willfully low-budget recording aesthetic; the songs were self-recorded live-to-tape on sub-par cassette recorders, Dictaphones and answering machines. Two years on, Devendra Banhart has achieved a modicum of success, championed by Michael Gira, with a home on his Young God label. Although Banhart and Gira could easily have opted for an artificially studied recreation of the low-fidelity distortion and tape hiss of the demo reel, the right choice was made on Rejoicing in the Hands to present the performer in a simple, clean studio recording. The tracks on this new album sound every bit as live and spontaneous as the Oh Me Oh My... sessions, but the technical advantages of the studio recording highlight every velvety pluck of the guitar strings and every nuanced vibration of Devendra's labored vocals. Because these songs are refreshingly free of extraneous debris and contain only minimal, unobtrusive backing, Rejoicing is a marvelous showcase for Banhart's songs and performances. Each track is a miniature masterpiece; few exceed the three-minute mark, but each has the immediacy and resonance of déjà vu, as if Banhart was pulling from some vast collective-subconscious archive of archetypal sing-along folk melodies. His lyrical themes are fascinating as always, strange re-combinations of dime-store mysticism, humorous reverie and the odd fanciful passage of surreal wordplay. On the title track, he is joined by the legendary Vashti Bunyan, the elusive songstress who recorded the acid-folk classic Just Another Diamond Day and promptly disappeared from view. Their lovely duet is an affectionate homage to the placid simplicity of the 60's British folk revival. - 


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