Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dancing between imaginary borders

Play it: Neko Case Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Download: "Star Witness" (Anti Records)
Play it: Centro-Matic Fort Recovery
Download: "Triggers and Trash Heaps" (Misra Records)

In this deep, deep, day of fine releases, two emerge from the pack as both stellar releases and fine examples of that narrow pathway that exists between indie rock and alt-country. Neko Case and Will Johnson (Centro-Matic) both do the dance between these imaginary borders, but both seemingly started out on both ends of the line.

First up is Neko Case, who while always claiming punk-rock roots (Maow) our introduction to her comes through her solo album Virginian, which is straight up classic country. Since that time, she's slowly drifted away from that - via successive solo and collaborative (New Pornographers) releases - more or less into 'indie rock.'

Case's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is a further departure from her alt-country beginnings, but she's still entrenched in the dust-bowl elegance that Blacklisted showcased. Backing her are the familiar folks from both Giant Sand (Howie Gelb & Calexico,) The Sadies, and Brian Connelly (Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet) allowing the album to feel like a continuation of Blacklisted, which can't help being a good thing.

This time around, she's experimenting a lot more with textures in sound and interesting progressions (see the title track and "Dirty Knife" as a prime examples,) which include adding Garth Hudson of The Band as another rock-meets-country resource. Album highlights include "Star Witness," "Teenage Feeling" and the beautiful ode to (not ever) coming home (again,) "The Needle Has Landed" (whose refrain "poor Spanaway" refers to the NW town dealing with low-flying airliner jet preparing to land at Sea-Tac.)

As an aside, I want to crawl up and sigh forever inside Neko Case's voice. It sounds as if there's enough room to live comfortably... so big and spacious (and, well... eerily sexy too, that doesn't hurt the market value of such residence.)

On the other side, Will Johnson's Centro-Matic got it's start as a noise-rock band (and as a WJ side-project,) first and foremost (see Redo The Stacks - which really needs some Rhapsody love) and has ever since, slowly drifted towards alt-rock leanings, never fully taking a foot out of the doorway to rock (see "Guillotines Hung Together," from Flashes and Cables.) The Denton, Texas band found themselves in full (atmospheric) alt-country duds with South San Gabriel Songs, and splintered off that sound as it's own band (named South San Gabriel - I've got a Will Johnson post coming soon,) to record more of the same, allowing the rock to continue in Centro-Matic, so to speak.

And Fort Recovery, thankfully, does have 'the rock,' as "Calling Thermatico" delivers the noisy goods, as well as the epic "Take a Rake." Other highlights include the plodding "Triggers and Trash" and the glorious "Patience for the Ride."

Neko commands and nature obeys (live review, 08/28/2005)
The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema

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