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Quick Takes: Thinking Machines, Hoquiam, Errors, and Foals

I’m fighting Sonic Youth burn-out at the moment, midway through the decidedly trying SYR series. Thankfully the following 2010 releases have kept me going.

Thinking Machines' Work Tapes

Thinking MachinesWork Tapes: The follow-up to their superb 2008 album The Complete History of Urban Archaeology has a street date of June 4, but it’s already slotted itself into my eventual year-end list. Adding a second guitarist to the muscular indie rock of its predecessor, Work Tapes makes a slight trade-off of immediacy for depth, but the payoff came by the second listen. That spin came at top volume in the car, which is exactly where I’d recommend playing Work Tapes. The initial highlights are the taunt rhythms of “Pays to Know,” the emotional vocals of “Parallax,” and the ascendant melodies of the instrumental closer “Loop,” but every song on Work Tapes stands out with a monster riff, a gorgeous breakdown, or an urgent vocal hook. You’ll hear more about this one, I assure you.

From what I can gather, TMvFM will release Work Tapes, presumably through digital distribution, but I’d absolutely love a physical pressing. Perhaps taking a cue from Gordon Withers’ album and doing a Kickstarter drive for funding would make it happen, but I’d gladly drop $25 for a 2LP of Complete History and Work Tapes. Any tour dates outside of Philly would also be appreciated.

Hoquiam's Hoquiam LP

Hoquiam – Hoquiam: Fans of Damien Jurado get a double dose this year. His proper follow-up to 2008’s Caught in the Trees, Saint Bartlett, will come out on Secretly Canadian on May 25th. You can hear “Arkansas” from Secretly Canadian’s site. Presumably its overtones of ’50s and ’60s pop will extend to the rest of Saint Bartlett, giving the album an oldies vibe separate from the rock and folk of Caught in the Trees. The difference in personnel is notable, since producer Richard Swift is the only other contributing musician, leaving usual Jurado cohorts like Eric Fisher and Jenna Conrad to help out with the long-awaited Ghost Wars album from Arlie Carstens of Juno.

First, however, Jurado fans should track down Hoquiam’s self-titled LP, his collaboration with his brother Drake. Its seventeen short tracks vary nicely between up-tempo stomps, layered folk, and the hushed personal tales at which Jurado excels. It finds the perfect middle ground between spontaneity and polish. It’s entirely conceivable that Hoquiam could surpass Saint Bartlett.

There are only 500 LPs to go around, so I recommend ordering soon from St. Ives or elsewhere. Each cover is handmade, so even if there’s a repress I’d venture it’ll be less unique.

Errors' Come Down with Me

Errors – Come Down with Me: Errors’ second full-length stresses what was already their foremost strength: it’s difficult to come up with a more listenable band in my regular rotation. Come Down with Me isn’t marked by any huge departures in their usual post-electro-sound, but rather an ongoing honing of their melodic instincts and textual layers. Lead single “A Rumour in Africa” (check out the vaguely creepy video on YouTube) and “Supertribe” follow up the lighthearted jaunt of “Salut! France”; “Antipode,” “The Erskine Bridge,” and “The Black Tent” emphasize the group’s drifting atmosphere; while closer “Beards” comes close to Stereolab’s lounge territory. It’s a consistently solid album, precisely what I expect from Errors. Is that a soft sell? Sure. But Errors has never struck me as a group that would blow someone away, rather casually yet insistently insinuate themselves into your regular listening habits.

Foals – “Spanish Sahara”: Foals’ sophomore effort, Total Life Forever, is slated for May, but if its first taste is any indication, it’ll be worth the wait. “Spanish Sahara” takes a measured, patient approach to its build-up, initially avoiding any trace of the energetic dance-punk of Antidotes, but its refrain lingers. It’s a step toward Radiohead, sure, but the pay-off applies the interlocked guitars of earlier Foals to this new template.

More 2008 Records

I’ve primarily been listening to Cocteau Twins, GZA, Frank Black, Polvo, and Archers of Loaf lately, which partially explains the relative quiet around these parts, but I have checked out a few more recent releases. Another RCR post should be coming up soon; I certainly haven’t stopped buying cheap vinyl.

Four Tet - Ringer: Some have criticized Four Tet for switching to from layered, jazz-inspired grooves to simplistic, minimal techno on Ringer, but that’s a reactionary response to a mini-album that seems more like a temporary diversion from the norm than a permanent shift in approach. While it isn’t as idiosyncratically appealing as Rounds, Ringer works well as a whole, pulsing through its four tracks with both subtle shifts in background elements and noticeable changes in foreground components, like the incorporation of a live drum kit near the end of the title track. It’ll be interesting to see if his next proper full-length utilizes some of this more straightforward approach or if it makes a full return to Kieran Hebden’s typical organic approach. This appears to be an unofficial video for "Swimmer," but it's worth hearing at the very least.

Wire - Object 47: I’m currently only up to object 13 in my Wire collection, but their newest album should find a place somewhere between The Ideal Copy and last year’s Read & Burn 03 EP when it’s released on July 7. While nothing matches the strength of opening track and lead single “One of Us,” Object 47 shows that Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, and Robert Gotobed are still capable of producing catchy, propulsive post-punk, even if it’s a bit less post- nowadays. If I hold Wire to the “always push forward” ideals of their first three albums, Object 47 comes up as a retread in ways that the less enjoyable Send was not, but I’m a sucker for Colin Newman singing mid- and up-tempo rock songs and his voice has smoothed well with age.

Black Taj - Beyonder: I noticed two Black Taj CDs at Polvo’s merch table at their reunion show, but I was too concerned with grabbing a t-shirt and a vinyl copy of Exploded Drawing to pick them up. I’ve since checked out their 2008 release Beyonder and found the classic rock direction of Polvo’s Shapes was not a passing fad for guitarist/vocalist Dave Brylawski and bassist Steve Popson. Shapes is my least favorite Polvo album by a fair margin, but Beyonder sounds less like an attempt to shoehorn classic rock tropes into an existing aesthetic blueprint and more like an attempt to build those elements into the foundation. I’ll take the solid opener “Move Me,” the aching “Damascus,” and the heavy “L.A. Shift,” but I’d be lying if I said I’m more excited about this record than the possibility of a new Polvo album.

Maps and Atlases - You Me and the Mountain EP: After Maps and Atlases’ 2005 EP Trees, Swallows, Houses gradually won me over to their Minus-the-Bear-in-graduate-school approach to poppy math-rock, I’ve kept an eye out for its follow-up. You Me and the Mountain ups the hooks and cuts down on the trickery for trickery’s sake, which is precisely what I hoped would happen. The finger-tapping and percussive hits are still present, but the mix favors the songs over the techniques. “Witch” sounds like a hybrid of their earlier work and Mock Orange’s recent Captain Love, bouncing along without the tension of “Big Bopper Anthems” or “Songs for Ghosts to Haunt To.” Most of the EP follows suit, staying closer to complexly arranged pop than catchy math-rock. It’s hard to make a judgment on the EP right now considering how long it took for Trees, Swallows, Houses to hit me, but right now I can’t help but think “Be careful what you wish for,” since I miss some of the rock of their previous release.

Gregor Samsa - Rest: It’s hard to imagine a more apt title for an album based almost entirely on the appeal of hushed female vocals. Rest fleshes out its reserved brand of slow-core with an ample amount of twinkling pianos, echoing vibes, muted horns, funereal drums, whirring organs, graceful strings, and even some male vocals, but I primarily find myself coming back to hear Nikki King’s vocals on “The Adolescent” and “Jeroen Van Aken” (which is accompanied by a beautiful video). Those expecting crescendo-oriented post-rock only have a brief segment of “First Mile, Last Mile” to reference, but I’m a convert to their gentler approach. They’re playing Café 939 by Berklee in Boston on July 8; I hope to make it out for the show.

Errors - It’s Not Something But It Is Like Whatever: Errors’ ridiculously titled full-length has already been released, but I missed the advanced leak and haven’t seen the import-only CD or LP (available in the US from Tonevendor) in stores. Considering that Errors’ previous discography consisted of two singles and a short, five-song EP, a ten-song, 44-minute LP is a lot to digest. Early highlights include “Cutlery Drawer,” which features hip vocals from spoken word artist George Pringle that glitch in and out of the keyboard-heavy mix, the melancholic, guitar-centric “Still Game,” and graceful closer “A Lot of the Things You Don’t Isn’t,” but past single “Salut! France” and the Battles-ish current single “Toes” are also worth mentioning. I still find it strange that I’m more excited about Errors’ first LP than Rock Action Records impresarios Mogwai’s forthcoming The Hawk Is Howling, but I think that says more about Errors’ intriguing mix of elements than a fall from grace for Mogwai.

Errors Album Details

Electronic post-rockers Errors have finally announced the details of their forthcoming full-length, It Is Not Something, But It Is Like Whatever. Ten tracks, including "Salut! France," come out later this spring on Rock Action. They've uploaded an album preview of sorts to their MySpace account, which consists of a high-hat only version of one of the songs. I can only imagine that this is a first.

Amazing comment from Mogwai guitarist and Rock Action impresario Stuart Braithwaite: "I think we might need to have wee chat about that album title boys."