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Raw Power

By John Brodeur

Grinderman

Grinderman (Anti)

After 30 years of making raw, rough, dirty music, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Nick Cave would produce an album as raw, rough and dirty as Grinderman’s self-titled debut. So why is it that Grinderman feels like such a departure for the notoriously sharp-tongued Aussie? Cave spent most of the last decade softening his blows, molding his schtick from raving lunatic to full-on crooner for recent recordings, while the music of his band, the Bad Seeds, has grown prettier, more orchestral, over the years. 2005’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus double-disc set reeked of gloom and grandeur; it was also the most accomplished set of Cave’s late career. Still, anyone who saw last year’s Cave-penned film The Proposition knows the guy’s taste for blood—and grandeur, although he wasn’t personally responsible for the cinematography—hasn’t ebbed.

So Cave, playing electric guitar for the first time in his career, along with a truncated version of the Bad Seeds (bassist Martyn Casey, and drummer Jim Sclavunos, and indispensable multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis), spends the first quarter of Grinderman reminding us that he’s got the best rant in the business. “Get It On” is a belligerent mess right out of the gate; “No Pussy Blues”—it’s exactly what you think—adds pent-up frustration to the mix. The title track is violent, edgy, and unsettling, a horror-movie soundtrack without the movie. Early on, Grinderman sounds like a Steve Albini-produced version of the Stooges’ Fun House (not to be confused with the Steve Albini-produced Stooges turd from earlier this year).

The record mellows a bit with the Leonard Cohen-esque ballad “Chain of Flowers”; the sparse, melancholy “Vortex” could be a Bad Seeds holdover. But the Cave trademarks are all here: “I am not a peaceful man,” he sings on album-proper-closer “Rise” (a second version of “Get It On” is tacked on the end), Ellis’ shrill, detuned violin snaking in and out of the mix, creating unrest. On further inspection the lyrics aren’t nearly as sinister as one might first suspect—stuff about dreamers in the silver rain and whatnot. But Nick Cave could chill your blood by reading a supermarket circular; even when he’s trying to be nice, he still sounds like a creep.

Grinderman is, in a word, loose, the wildest and least-refined Cave-related release in two decades, its roughshod energy harkening back to the post-punk cacophony of the Birthday Party. The songs reportedly evolved from jam sessions, and the recordings convey the boiling, spontaneous energy of a band playing a new song for the first or second time. Grinderman sound like a new band; Cave, a new man.

The Sea and Cake

Everybody (Thrill Jockey)

The Sea and Cake’s latest full-length release comes after a four-year gap, and is their most robust. The sound is more expansive, in large part due to it being less dependent on overdubs, and more on the live interactions of the quartet. This process was also aided by their enlisting an outside producer, Brian Paulson (Wilco, Slint), freeing John McEntire to stay put at the trap set and focus solely on being the drummer this time out. While the 10 songs come to only 36 minutes, it’s such a varied set, powered by relaxed tempos, that the time stretches to fit the inside of any listener’s head. Subtle complexities are strewn throughout the set. The African highlife groove of “Exact to Me” gives way to a bridge that’s dramatic in its contrast; the fuzz guitar of “Crossing Line” becomes the thorny bed over which Sam Prekop rolls out his breathy vocals. “Transparent” offers gently hypnotic melancholy to drift the disc to a close.

—David Greenberger

Queens of the Stone Age

Era Vulgaris (interscope)

“This one goes out to Queens of the Trust Fund. You slept on my floor, now I’m sleeping through your motherfuckin’ records.” I had to chuckle when the Dwarves sang this about Queens of the Stone Age, because I was snoozing too. The Queens’ last album, Lullabies to Paralyze, was a real sleeper by Queens standards (intentionally or not). But don’t get me wrong; I like Josh Homme. There is no question that the singer, guitarist and all-around do-it-yourselfer is the linchpin in the Queens’ formula. Nevertheless, I was worried when he kicked bassist Nick Oliveri out of the band in 2004. Oliveri’s bass work lent the band a backbone, and his singing gave the band a swagger that Homme could sometimes cede to falsetto crooning. Thankfully, on Era Vulgaris, Homme has reclaimed the band’s cockiness, and ensured the album isn’t taken over by one tone, by mixing in Brian Eno-style keyboard work, and adding a helpful heaping of Queens’ most pleasing vocal talent, Mark Lanegan. The most powerful tracks on the album, “Make It Wit Chu” and “Into the Hollow,” feature Lanegan’s thick, smoky vocal accents, along with soul-piercing slide guitar. Other standouts feature lightning-fast rhythm work and a revved-up Homme spitting vitriol that is both hysterical and sharp-witted, like this, from “I’m Designer”: “You’ve made me an offer that I can refuse (’course either way I get screwed)/Counterproposal: I go home and jerk off!” Ironically, album-opener “Turnin’ on the Screw” is a classic rock kiss-off given a spine by the absent Oliveri: “They say those who can’t just instruct others/And act like victims and jilted lovers/You cant lose it if you never had it/Disappear, man, do some magic/Want a reason?/How’s about ‘Because?’/You ain’t a has-been if you never was.” It took them an album, but the Queens of the Stone Age have recovered from the loss of Oliveri and are sharper than ever before.

—David King

Erik Friedlander

Block Ice & Propane (Skipstone)

Erik Friedlander’s Block Ice & Propane (due out Aug. 14) is an album of solo cello. It’s not self-indulgent or academic and it doesn’t sound like anything else. Friedlander is the son of photographer Lee Friedlander, and he’s played with downtown New York luminaries like Laurie Anderson and John Zorn. An iconoclast, he treats the cello like a guitar. “Block Ice” celebrates cross-country trips the Friedlander family made in the ’60s. It boasts photos by Lee, a reminiscence by Erik, cool cover art and 13 cuts spanning the propulsive “King Rig,” the gnarly title tune and “Cold Chicken,” a jig. Friedlander can play loud, then turn soft on a dime, and he’ll bow the hell out of his instrument if the topic—big trucks, Airstreams, road fatigue—calls for it. He puts me in mind of Sandy Bull, the great plectrist who recorded for Vanguard in the early ’60s, melding mantra and Memphis in bluegrass ragas (Bull died of lung cancer in 2001, four years before another great, and similarly singular, American guitarist, Chris Whitley, died of the same illness). Block Ice and Propane, like those family trips, goes where other albums don’t. Friedlander, whose sense of drama pays proper homage to silence, plays wonderful variations on an instrument—and on America.

—Carlo Wolff


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