Recordings

    PJ Harvey

    White Chalk

    Island
    {grate 2}

    Brooding singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey slumps, hung in a vintage gown, hair ungroomed. Even before we wrangle off the plastic wrap, it’s easy to deduct what kind of album this will be: Hers is a haunting portrait, ghostly in the spotlight — a Sylvia Plath bride, a Diane Arbus silhouette, a modern-day Ophelia.

    We saw it coming in 2004’s Uh Huh Her, as Harvey reined her gait by stripping instrumentation and lowering vocals to a whisper. On White Chalk, the childish musings are familiar in tone, but now completely lack their veil of intrigue. Deep-throated echoes and punky whines from past albums fall to the wind of a new ethereal haunting, as comprehensive as underwater whale calls. Both “Before Departure” and “The Mountain” — long, drawn-out affairs stranded in painfully predictable arrangements, thrilling as an afternoon with a windup music box — lose themselves in sparse keys and operatic moans. “Piano” and “Broken Harp” come closest to the grittier blues of Dry, but neither singer nor song ever gets a grip, as Harvey trades in her fiery guitar anthems and punk nihilism for the lackluster piano recital that is White Chalk.

    It would be unfair to critique this chameleon for departing from her past. After all, her ability to sound completely unlike herself is exactly what drives her fame: Harvey is notoriously hard to pinpoint, constantly recreating and deconstructing her fluid sound. She’s long managed to adapt and sample techniques from a range of genre-defining contemporaries (including Tom Waits, Cat Power, even Elvis Costello) while still remaining distinct as a memory . White Chalk, however, sees the least-creative Harvey to date — Harvey dabbling in tired New Age, Harvey sampling the worst of Tori Amos, Harvey thrown to the whales for good.

    PJ Harvey performs live Oct. 15 at Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles.

    — Jia Gu
    Associate Hiatus Editor



    G&D


    The Message

    Look
    {grate 2.5}

    If you knew the world was ending in five mortal years, what would your message sound like? For ex-Stones Throw groovies Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley Perkins (or G&D, if you’re hip to that cosmos), the Mayans’ pending 2012 apocalypse apparently warrants an invitational floodgate for their scrambled philosophies — on love, peace, time, space, higher powers, oneness with the earth and most everything else worth pondering over a godsent psychedelic funk drift.

    It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that The Message was recorded in a single take. A slaughtering of messy harmonies and dream-state tangents, pulled over roughly 10 full-length tracks, are then thrown into the wastebasket with an equal number of seeming outtakes: self-indulgent skits, fragments of long-lost Muldrow beats (from her not-so-long-ago gig as that mysterious sprig of springtime pine on Stones Throw compilations) and uncomfortably long moments in which it seems someone must have accidentally left on the open mic.

    Accordingly, their project can only be fully appreciated during that first chaotic listen. After enduring 45 raw, hard minutes of G’s wet-paint neo-soul — possibly the freshest, most difficult-to-wrangle out there — with D’s jumbled premonitions heaped atop like 40 slo-mo, drugged and brainwashed Busdrivers, we emerge cleansed and triumphant (if only to have survived what at first felt like warped hip-hop torture — until we realized that beauty is pain.)

    You may snicker now, but we’ll see who’s laughing when Perkin’s doomsday has indeed arrived. Or sooner, even: “Critics? The hell with the critics! La la la la!” he squeals to the heavens, where even the supreme being himself can’t look away.

    G&D will host an official listening party at Dream Street in Ocean Beach on Oct. 13.

    — Simone Wilson
    Hiatus Editor



    Bruce Springsteen


    Magic

    Sony
    {grate 3.5}

    When Bruce Springsteen hit 1982, still reeling from the success of Born to Run, his darker side took over: He ditched his fellow E-Streeters for Nebraska, a set of bare-boned demos with nihilistic lyrics that wore his trademark husk down to a Midwestern tornado.

    Twenty-five years later, the Boss serves up Magic, his second single-word title — and it’s how Nebraska might’ve sounded had he permeated the gloom with a little E-Street sunshine via 2002’s The Rising, with as much range in tempo as 1980’s The River.

    At most, Magic is a series of finely crafted pop songs fit for radio play, from rip-roaring opener “Radio Nowhere” to the politically laced “Last To Die.” They’re carefully penned, but it’s sleep-stuff from the man who single-handedly resurrected the soul of rock ‘n’ roll — gone are the starry-eyed tales Springsteen told to his rabble-rousing fanbase, the freewheelin’ rock-outs that made us want to kiss our gals and drive straight off dead man’s curve. Instead, we get broken — if salvageable — mirrors. “Your Own Worst Enemy” is a worthy grab at 1960s nostalgia, but sticks out sore alongside “Gypsy Biker,” subdued alt-rock in which the band plays more as filler than proud members of a legendary ensemble.

    Magic has all the ingredients for raw Springsteen gold, but that key element — a long-lost magic — is still missing, as each track drops off the radar like a burned-out caddy. It’s been a few years since Springsteen ditched the amp for folkie flannel and a guitar-as-shotgun stance, so maybe the strings are a bit stiff — and hey, he may not be rocking like the good ol’ days, but at least he’s giving a wholehearted stab at the present.

    Bruce Springsteen performs live Oct. 29 and 30 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

    — Chris Mertan
    Associate Hiatus Editor



    Manu Chao


    Radiolina

    Because
    {grate 2}

    If, for any number of reasons, you are thinking about investing in the work of Manu Chao — you know, heard him at a super-cool party, stumbled across him at Coachella, finally tuned in to the rest of the world’s best musical inclinations and/or caught wind of Chao’s genre- and language-blending “multi-kulti” aesthetic — do not start here.

    Instead, pick up a copy of Dimanche á Bamako by Malian blind couple Amadou & Mariam, with full production and contributions by Manu Chao.

    Or any of a decade’s worth of albums by early-’90s Ukranian-American band Gogol Bordello, who opened a few Manu Chao shows earlier this year with their Negra-derived “gypsy punk.”

    Or, honestly, anything else the man has touched. But at the top of the list, put Clandestino (1998), Casa Babylon (1994) and tickets to a live show before he turns 50 in 2011.

    Okay, so the new one’s not that bad. It couldn’t possibly be — this is the legendary Manu Chao, who has rallied artists and peoples across the globe since 1989, with or without French group Mano Negra. It could even be called great when lined up with the majority of 2007s crop.

    And maybe, if yours are ears not yet seasoned to his feathery rhythms and warm melodies and gentle Spanish politics, you won’t even need to forgive dear, aging Manu a few recycled hooks and sound bytes.

    But to those ears, bodies and minds that worshipped those same hooks and sound bytes for years (the last six without any new studio material to wrap around), La Radiolina is the anticlimax of a lifetime, dominated by lesser variations on songs we’ve already loved to death.

    — Jessie Godfrey
    Senior Staff Writer



    Eddie Vedder


    Into the Wild

    J-Records
    {grate 3.5}

    The grand tradition of artist/film pair-ups (most famously, Simon & Garfunkel/“The Graduate”) is an intimate method of storytelling that almost gives its musicians a supporting role. Now, eager “Into the Wild” writer/director Sean Penn recruits Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder to carry one troubled American rebel across purple mountain and fruited plain, with nothing but some rusty strings and soul-searching poetics to guide him.

    Though it’s a dark little treasure, Penn’s film is highly simplistic and naive — not necessarily to a fault, considering this is the very spirit that drives its protagonist to his deathbed. What better voice, then, to power the film’s every becoming-a-man-in-the-’90s montage, than Vedder, the hands-down leader of the post-grunge, alterna-radio pack? “Society, crazy indeed!” he crows on “Society,” stocked with sentiments as literal as the tipsy bar-scene monologue it tributes. Penn may be a creative genius, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of his most humble fascination: the cliche condition of the outsider.

    But Vedder is not the same older-brother figure that soundtracked our generation’s awkward stage. Unplugged, Penn-tousled and distracted enough by this new sense of purpose to lose the Creed intonation that has come to parody the alt-rock boom, Vedder now wears the weight of 21st-century know-better. His stadium yowl slows to a weathered sigh (with the exception of Indio cover “Hard Sun,” on which he feels he must out-belt featured girl power Corinn Tucker, of Sleater-Kinney), leaning more toward Leonard Cohen’s careful love-of-words than Nickelback’s nostril-flared hangover babble — undoubtedly of Pearl Jam inspiration.

    Of course, nothing scores the Alaskan outback better than silence, and the few scenes that hold out on song certainly crawl deepest into our psyche. But in fleshing out the post-college angst of a regular kid driven to desperate measures by the Man — and providing the ultimate advertising jangle for our nation’s eclectic terrain — Vedder serves as just the right token of nostalgia and fleeting youth. Now, with banjo.

    — Simone Wilson
    Hiatus Editor

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