June 28, 2012

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The Hive Dwellers

Hewn from the Wilderness

(K)

“Rock ‘n’ Roll is a teenage sport, meant to be played by teenagers of all ages—they could be 15, 25 or 35.  It all boils down to whether they’ve got the love in their hearts…”

Calvin Johnson wrote this statement as a teenager himself in the late ‘70s, and currently at the age of 49, with his latest band The Hive Dwellers, he’s remained true to his teenage spirit.  Johnson is best known as the founder of K Records and the lead singer of the youthful trio Beat Happening, which valued enthusiasm over musicianship and helped to nurture a generation of lo-fi indie pop with incredibly simple, sometimes primitive pop songs, often cute yet sometimes hormonal.  A defining element of Beat Happening was Johnson’s deep baritone presence that would saunter in and out of tune, as if some kind of hulking man-child.

The debut album from The Hive Dwellers, Hewn from the Wilderness, is like an evolved Beat Happening, with hooks galore, a steadier delivery, and a fuller sound with a rock combo setup enhanced by occasional keyboards.  Employing a rotating cast of musicians, the album hops around from song-to-song; the opener “Messed Up and Ramblin’” has a skeletal sound in a minor key, giving way to the warm and sunny pop of “The Dignity of Saint Jude” with a Byrds-like ringing guitar melody.  “Ride with Me” is driving, upbeat garage rock, with a Moe Tucker-esque stripped-down beat serving as an anchor, and “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Nothin’ but the Buryin’” bring to mind the soul-inflected groove of one of Johnson’s other bands, Dub Narcotic Sound System.  Easily, the album’s most anthemic track is “Get In,” a welcoming song directed towards an inventory of outcasts (“gutterball, pothead, liar, burnout, communist sympathizer...”).  In a way, “Get In” perfectly represents the album—an island of misfit toys—which is playful, a bit off-kilter, yet entirely lovable.

Windy and Carl

We Will Always Be

(Kranky)

The core music on We Will Always Be was originally a Valentine’s Day present from guitarist Carl Hultgren for his wife and bassist Windy Weber, and Hultgren intended for the sounds to never be heard by anyone else but her.  The two comprise the Dearborn, Michigan duo Windy & Carl, known for making long, blissed-out, ambient-leaning, echoing guitar-and-bass clouds, and it’s possible that We Will Always Be could have remained a secret, had Windy not opened up Carl’s valentine for the world to hear.

The double-album was almost entirely created by Carl, who was encouraged by friends to make a solo album after Windy had released her own solo album, I Hate People, in 2008; Windy plays guitar on one song and sings, but otherwise, Carl plays heavily treated electric guitars and his Fender Rhodes electric piano.  The result, like the entire Windy & Carl back catalog, is like some heavenly middle ground between ambient, kosmische and shoegazer music, which would likely appeal to fans of Cocteau Twins.

The opening track takes a slight diversion, using an acoustic guitar strum and Windy’s voice, with the faint noise of dying electronics in the background; it’s followed by “Remember,” with shimmering guitar icicles, gingerly placed bass notes, and indiscernible words.  Lyrical clarity is not a primary aim for the duo, relying on titles and sonic qualities to shape the songs’ moods, and “Nature of Memory” features Windy being mysterious with spoken and whispered words.  The closing 19-minute track, “Fainting in the Presence of the Lord,” is a compelling number, with a rapturous distorted guitar erupting in its middle, and throughout the album, there are lurking impurities that are seemingly added on purpose, such as the hum in “The Frost in Winter.”  However, like relationships with rocky patches, some things can be disquieting and beautiful at the same time.

June 28, 2012

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