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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

As a violinist, Eyvind Kang has played with the likes of Sun City Girls, Bill Frisell, Secret Chiefs 3, Laurie Anderson and many others. As a composer, Kang has carved out a unique position for himself, releasing a series of studio albums drawing on his concept of the NADE (a concept which I won't attempt to explain here, mostly because I don't understand it). The albums combined elements of disparate ethnic music forms with esoteric spiritual ideas, and sudden, unexpected transitions into fully-formed pop songs or long passages of pastoral ambience. I've liked most of his work that I've heard so far (especially 2000's The Story of Iceland), but it appears that Kang has outdone himself with Virginal Co-ordinates, a beautiful recording of an ambitious live performance staged in Italy last year. Kang composes and conducts a 16 piece ensemble—called the Playground—augmented by himself on violin and several guest musicians, including Mike Patton on voice and electronics, Michael White (former Sun Ra Arkestra violinist) and Tim Young on electric guitar. I suppose the inclusion of Mike Patton is the only reason this album has surfaced on Ipecac Recordings, seeing as it's otherwise entirely different from the label's usual output. It's quite an impressive work, split up into ten movements of varying lengths, each gently joined to the next with gossamer instrumental threads. The title of the work evokes images of untouched glacial expanses, secluded valleys and mountains untouched and unadulterated by the progress of man—Virginal Co-ordinates in which the mind and spirit are free to find connections with nature beyond those limited ideas inculcated in us by the artificial strictures of society. The album artwork is pure white, the color of virginity, with a white cobra in the center, appearing poised to strike. The cobra is a perfect symbol for the current of hidden menace that runs through much of the music. There is a spiritual yearning throughout, but it is often joined by vibrating undercurrents of dread. "I am the Dead" transforms into a full-blow orchestral pop song with echoes of Brian Wilson, but its lyrics presage the death and rebirth rituals of the Bardo Todol. Mike Patton's voice lends an ethereal beauty to certain passages, and Walter Zianetti steals the show with his acoustic guitar solo on "Taksim." Elements of Spanish guitar, Indian raga, tonal Oriental scales, film soundtracks and American pastoral symphonies all weave their way into Kang's work, culminating in the majesty of the title track, a magnificent, shape-shifting wall of orchestral noise in which musical phrases from earlier movements are recycled and juxtaposed to hypnotic effect. At 73 minutes, Virginal Co-ordinates is never boring, which is something that cannot often be said for works of modern composition. In fact, its appeal goes well beyond the usual modern classical crowd, and I imagine it would be enjoyed by anyone interested in the transformative and magical possibilities of music. 


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