Out On the Prairie
(Rancid Coyote Music)
In a foul-smelling puddle somewhere behind San Francisco’s Filmore theater where the bitter, politically charged tobacco spit of Country Joe McDonald mingled with the hallucinogenic urine of the Mothers of Invention, the consciousness of Ernie Senecal was born. With a solid, simple set of acoustically strummed grooves and a buttery, relaxed voice that chants catchy if bizarre choruses in a tasty selection of smart Americana, Senecal (the principal songwriter) holds every song down, even when they start spiraling all over the place. A lot of this foundation may be due to the instrumental abilities, arrangements and production skills of Jim Weeks, the occasional presence of Valley mainstay Ray Mason, and strong Beatles and/or other ‘60s Brit-pop influences. A really well-crafted piece of work, honest as hell and unfaltering in both its visceral and intellectual appeal.
The Man Who Died in His Boat
Grouper creates dream pop that’s addictively mysterious. Liz Harris shrouds her yearning songs in intricate layers of reverb that partially obscure her evocative lyrics. This technique can be facile in lesser hands, but she uses it to imbue her tunes with a shimmering nocturnal beauty. Recorded at the same time as 2008’s superb Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill—just reissued by Kranky—this collection showcases her talent for writing delicately catchy tunes such as “Vital,” along with abstract pieces like “Vanishing Point” comprised of tweaked piano plinks and minimalist tone drones. “Difference (Voices)” features phased, shuddering chiaroscuro textures, while the title track confidently interweaves shifting layers of melody and harmony. Deer is more acoustic and song-driven—and a friendlier introduction to Grouper’s sound world—but The Man Who Died in His Boat still offers a beguiling invitation to get lost in a maze of gauzy echo.
U.K. electronic producer Sorrow offers an intriguing mix of elements on Dreamstone. The prevailing mood is melancholy, with slow-thump beats intertwining with layers of squiggling, warping synth sounds and, on some tracks, distant, reverb-heavy vocals. It’s as if the futuristic tones of Vangelis’ soundtrack for Bladerunner got mixed in with a ghostly version of hip-hop. Despite some flat, soppy lyrics, this effort is oddly hypnotic, about as organic a version of electronic sounds as you’re likely to get. The music is free of jagged edges or much development from beginning to end of its tunes, but that is, after all, the point of such ambient stuff. The effect is one of lightness, as if levitation were imminent.