Sigur Ros, Defacto, and Jon Auer
Summer's here and the time is right for . . . well, not much, seeing as how there's precious little on the horizon worth anticipating except for maybe the new Joe Stummer LP. Still, that release is a few weeks away. In the meantime, here are a handful of musical mini-morsels to help stave off the hunger pains.
Sigur Ros, from Iceland, sparked the indie-buying public's imagination last year when its second album, Agaetis Byrjun, was licensed by UK label Fatcat. Suddenly you couldn't browse a record shop's import bin without bumping elbows with some hipster attempting to translate the disc's impossible-to-pronounce song titles (it's slated to be reissued stateside shortly). Reviewers drooled names like Radiohead ("intelligent pop"), Mogwai ("expansive drones"), My Bloody Valentine ("sheets of crimson noise") and Cocteau Twins ("swooning, impenetrable vocals"), leading Sigur Ros to comment on its Web site that while the band is honored to be in such famous company, such comparisons show "how typical is the need for journalists to give an etiquette to everything." Back in the real world, the new Sigur Ros EP justifies all those accolades. Included is a pair of glacially paced and stained-glass textured hymnals from the album: the title track's oceanic guitar treatments and sonorous keyboard yawns yawn wide as vocalist Jonsi Birgisson floats above with his high-pitched androgynous warble (think Tim Buckley meets the Cocteau's Liz Frazier); and "Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa" is a haunting swathe of cinematic symphony for piano, string quartet and pedal steel guitar. The other two cuts are live, performed with a purposeful, exquisite intensity not unlike Scotland's Mogwai or our own Bardo Pond: experiencing Sigur Ros in concert is one-part psychedelic whimsy, one-part shoe-gazing intensity, and several parts Kama Sutra set to music.
Defacto is the much-ballyhooed side-project of aggro garage kings At The Drive-In (reportedly on hiatus at the moment). Proudly boasting on its sleeve "no samples used on this recording," 456132015 features two compositions, plus one remade/redubbed. Although given how dub-me-crazy "120E7" waxes, Defacto should've simply looped the two takes together; the music is equal parts Augustus Pablo melodica dub, King Tubby elastic low-end throb and sinewy, slo-mo psychedelic funk (there's some terrific vibraphone and wah-wah guitar). "Vesica Pices" picks up where "120E7" leaves off by raising the tempo, pulling the organ way up in the mix as the lead instrument, and uttering slippery, manifesto-like lyric slogans. Definitely an outfit to be reckoned with, Defacto suggests a less-agitated version of '70s postpunk combo The Pop Group as produced -- make that "translated" -- by Bill Laswell. The forthcoming full-length should be a stone(d) gas.
Finally, the name Jon Auer will be familiar to everyone as one-half of Seattle's pop kings The Posies. Reports of that band's demise were highly exaggerated; Auer and fellow Posey Ken Stringfellow have recently issued a boxed-set retrospective, a live acoustic album and an EP of new material. Auer's seven-song mini-album finds him in an all-covers state of mind that delivers both offbeat and mainstream (relatively speaking) delights. From an earnest powerpop interpretation of Swervedriver's "These Times" and an acoustic guitar/synth/accordion version of Ween's "Baby Bitch," to a magnificently dead-on take of the P-Furs' "Love My Way" (Auer even makes his voice rasp like Richard Butler on certain syllables) and a breezy waltz across Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger" (yes, the Austin Powers song -- here, a slinky Roland Juno 106 synth riff sits in for a baroque string quartet), Auer does the material proud. Add in The Chameleons' "Tears," Husker Du's "Green Eyes" and a wonderful instrumental reprise of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie & Clyde" and you got the sing-along/hum-along disc of summer. Just right for dancing in the streets.
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