Saturday · Publico Gallery
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Lisa Germano first entered the public's consciousness in 1987, when she became John Mellencamp's violinist (or rather, fiddler). She spent several years touring and recording with Mellencamp, while doing sessions and tours with other big names as well. Thankfully, she gave up the side-person gigs in the early '90s and self-released On the Way Down From the Moon Palace, which must've impressed someone at Capitol Records, because she released the follow-up, Happiness, on the major a couple of years later. Capitol was an odd fit for Germano, whose music seems too esoteric for that kind of "fast food" mass consumption, so she joined up with the more appropriate ethereal-music-haven 4AD Records.
Germano eventually left 4AD and reportedly planned to stay out of the record-releasing biz. But she re-emerged in 2003 with the acclaimed Lullaby For Liquid Pig (on the artist-friendly ARTISTDirect imprint). This past summer, Germano teamed with Young God Records, the label founded by ex-Swans frontman Michael Gira and home to left-of-center albums by Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family. Like her move to 4AD, Germano's original sounds and songs seem to have found another fitting home at Young God.
The first Germano album from her new label is this year's stunning in the maybe world. The album sounds like it could have been recorded in an old Victorian house in between haunted dreams, the uncomplicated production making you feel like you're sitting in the room next to Germano, staring at her crotchety old up-right piano and feeling unexplained cold chills at random (I swear you can hear a chair — or something — creaking throughout).
There's nothing "processed" about it every key pluck, deep breath, lip smack and violin swell sounds immediate and unencumbered, slathered only in a sheen of natural ethereality. Even the tape hiss adds to the magical, mysterious aura.
In the maybe world would be the perfect soundtrack for one of those really smart supernatural thrillers; "Too Much Space," for example, has background swooshes that are the audio equivalent of looking at some paranormal videos and spying a translucent visage scurrying into the frame. Germano shares a spooky, otherworldly mystique with artists like Cat Power or even Björk, but her music is entirely her own and she is one of the most distinct singer/songwriters in popular music.
Germano's strangely sultry voice isn't the most technically strong, but that just adds to the whispery intimacy of her often eerie songs (that "dark" tag can be deceptive; Germano also shows a sharp sense of humor, like on "Red Thread," where she murmurs a refrain of "Go to Hell/Fuck you"). The percussion, like the instrumental arrangements, are minimal — crackling drum machine-sounding beats creep up in the background of the tinkling title track and closer "After Monday" — but there's a woozy sway inherent in every track. The record features guests like ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and noted session drummer Joey Waronker, but the album is really all Germano. The live presentation of these tracks should be totally engrossing; drop a pin at your own risk. (Mike Breen)
The Sword with The Crusade. Protest The Hero and Sanctity
Monday · Bogart's
While the Lone Star State capital might be known for a lot of oddball musical contributions (...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Glass Eye and Daniel Johnston, for instance), Austin has not yet produced a dense slab of celebratory Stoner Metal riffage quite like The Sword. While the city's other Metal entrant Ignitor tends to hew closer to the hell-bent-for-leather-trousers sound of the '80s, The Sword churns out impenetrable walls of lethal yet melodic guitar squall, reminiscent of the best of early Black Sabbath while remaining rooted in the blissed-out contemporary tar pit of modern doom stoners like High on Fire, Mastodon and Spirit Caravan.
On the band's eponymous debut for Kemado Records earlier this year, guitarists J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt push dual leads through vintage amps with the brutal glee of godfather Tony Iommi as The Sword's bedrock rhythm section of Bryan Richie (bass) and Trivett Wingo (drums) build a foundation as thick and heavy as a city block of concrete. Meanwhile, Cronise delivers the band's Tolkien-esque lyrics in his best Ozzy howl from within the sonic maelstrom (in the service of mountain sorcery epics like "Winter's Wolves," "The Horned Goddess," "Barael's Blade," "Lament for the Aurochs" and "March of the Lor"), sending his desperate message into the rafters like meth-crazed bats seeking asylum in a Gothic belfry. Perhaps best of all, The Sword doesn't reinforce their unhinged Metal storytelling style with elaborate staging and/or ridiculously overwrought costuming. They merely mount the stage and start dousing the audience with flamethrower licks from the parapets of songs as long and as sturdy as the Great Wall of China. Like the Sabbath before them, the Sword are masters of reality. (Brian Baker)
Monday · Southgate House
To read a straight up description of Asobi Seksu — a New York City quartet whose name means "playful sex" in Japanese and who explores the tension between sheets of shoegaze noise and gentler Pop melodocism with a female lead vocalist who splits her singing time between Japanese and English — might lead one to believe that they were invented by Quentin Tarantino as a prop for one of his films. Hell, if they killed a half-dozen people in a particularly gruesome fashion, they could be a Quentin Tarantino movie.
In fact, Asobi Seksu coalesced nearly a decade ago when guitarist James Hanna met keyboardist Yuki Chikudate when both were attending the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Hanna's band at the time dissolved and he invited Chikudate to play in his new group, which ultimately became Asobi Seksu. Initially just the keyboard player, Chikudate eventually worked her way to the front of the band as lead vocalist, where Hanna encouraged her to sing some of the band's lyrics in Japanese (which is actually Chikudate's second language). Her ephemeral falsetto combined with the Hanna's Lush/My Bloody Valentine-fueled guitar squall began attracting attention around New York, eventually landing them a deal with Friendly Fire Records for their eponymous 2004 debut.
After more gigs and loads of positive press, the band's original drummer and latest-in-a-series-of-bassists departed and were replaced by bassist Haji and drummer Mitch Spivak, setting the stage for Asobi Seksu's triumphant sophomore album, Citrus, which has generated even more glowing reviews. It was reported that during the recording of the song "Red Sea," Hanna and Haji created the track's cacophonous effects by hammering on the guitar with mallets and running the sound through amps with differing tremolo speeds. The resultant sound apparently startled guitarist Vernon Reid, who was retrieving his gear from an earlier session and heard the band's maelstrom from the hallway. Now that's a scene even Quentin Tarantino would have trouble envisioning. (BB)