Nice Nice
Extra Wow

Portland duo Nice Nice has described its music as “post-everything.” Post-rock, post-primitive, post-modern—all these descriptors are apt. But while such semiotics usually indicate a computer-age version of some antecedent, the music to be found on Extra Wow decidedly meshes the human and the mechanical into one organic form. Androids may well dream of electric sheep, and if so, this is the soundtrack.

The album begins unsettlingly with “Set and Setting,” a clanking din of rhythm and guitar moan. It is here that the band begins playfully tearing at notions of structure and texture as they intertwine keyboard melodies amongst the noisy swirl. “On and On” takes some of those same ideas and applies them to a synth-constructed terrain. The artificial layers are eventually peeled back to reveal a core of tribal drumming as well as Nice Nice’s predilection for heightened atmospheres. While the latter portion of the album trades the dramatic pounding for Eno-esque ambiance, like most records, Extra Wow is at its best when Nice Nice latches on to a hook and a beat. Such is the case with “Big Bounce,” which befitting its name, plasters some big hits of bass to a flittering groove (call this one “post-rave”). Finally, on “See Waves,” everything is brought to bear, the band swirling it all in a tin-pan funk hodgepodge. Nice Nice may not necessarily be the next stage on the sonic evolutionary scale, but Extra Wow is still one step forward.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Murs and 9th Wonder

With Fornever, Living Legend Murs returns with frequent collaborator 9th Wonder for another round of strange stories and mid-tempo head-bobbings. Murs isn’t one I look to for life lessons or inspiring wake-up calls; I’m just looking for a guy who’s a natural at riding the beat and flipping rhymes that make good sense and occasionally make me laugh. Since his Def Jux debut, The End of the Beginning, Murs has been beyond reliable.

But even reliability can outlive its usefulness. Maybe we just don’t need any more relationship songs like “Let Me Talk,” even if Suga Free’s guest spot is pretty tight. And maybe some Asian girls do have a self-esteem problem, but does that justify yet another variation on “Baby Got Back?” Meanwhile, between Murs and Aceyalone, we definitely don’t need any more raps about hot nights out in LA. And didn’t Atmosphere record “Cigarettes and Liquor” like 10 years ago? Murs even acknowledges some unoriginality in the title of “I Used to Love Her (Again),” which is that strangest of breeds, a hip-hop cover song. (Pharaohe covered “Welcome to the Terrordrome,” but can you name another one?) He tosses in some more contemporary references, and the beat is 9th Wonder’s own, otherwise it’s really just a cover. Weird. Murs got so bored making this album that he wrote a song (“The Lick”) about going to the grocery store.

What we do need from Murs is more honest stories. He can be a hell of a yarn-spinner, especially when writing about the troubling realities of downtown life. Murs’ subjects don’t have trouble with beef, guns and drugs; their violence is of a much more anti-climactic and random nature. They’re more likely to serve time for welfare fraud than for gang activities. 9th Wonder sets the stage for one of those stories, “West Coast Cinderella,” with a G-funky little beat that Murs dances all over with scores of all-too ordinary disappointments. More of that, please, and a little less about porn stars.
Matt Slaybaugh


Tommy is easy to get lost in. It’s more organic than Dosh’s previous work (you can even hear him singing on a couple of the tracks), and the pleasure-center ambience makes it really good naptime music. The edges of everything have been softened; the drums are buffered with a reverberating astral glaze, the piano sounds like it’s beamed down from space, and the electronics are distinctly Kompakt-ian. These songs would be at home guiding a peaceful midnight voyage or filling the gaps between This American Life segments.

But as usual, Dosh is at his best when he lets his songs evolve slowly. The jazzy tangents and light-grade kitsch of “Call the Kettle” or “Town Mouses” don’t really work, especially in the larger context of the record. The highlights are still the lazy, druggy Eno-isms: “Loud” and “Country Road X.” The songs don’t bother getting anywhere and make their points over a long, drawn out slouch, and that works really well.

Dosh is slowly inching towards the record we all want him to make. He’s already got his name staked out in the ambient world with his surprisingly unique brand of folk-flecked electronica, but he’s yet to really deliver on a standout, grand-slam, “let’s all join hands and celebrate how good this is” album. Tommy is close, but he’s not there yet.
Luke Winkie

MP3: “Number 41”

Mi Ami
Steal Your Face
Thrill Jockey

The guitars cease, and you get one solitary moment to breathe. It comes not two minutes from the end of Mi Ami’s new album, Steal Your Face, in the midst of an eight-minute, distortion-covered rave-up ironically titled “Slow.” And that’s it. If you need space to find your thoughts or acoustic guitars to relax your mind, this probably isn’t for you.

“I’m interested in exploring the way the dissolving of close relationships can create an intense cocktail of feelings,” said singer/guitarist Daniel Martin-McCormick in the Washington Post recently. That’s as good a way as I’ve heard to describe what it feels like to listen to Mi Ami. You will probably be put-off by Martin-McCormick’s falsetto baying. You may even find it hard to believe that it’s a 26-year-old man making those noises. You will probably find the endless rhythm and cacophony pretty relentless. And if you can decipher the lyrics, you’ll probably find them pretty upsetting. Case in point, “Native Americans (Born in the USA),” which is a list of things that don’t make, wouldn’t make, and will never make a difference. These guys are kind of upset. This music is highly emotional. Fucking deal with it.

The band sounds really fantastic too, thanks to Phil Manley (of Trans Am) at Lucky Cat Studios. On the dub-tinged “Dreamers,” a spaced-out, not quite blissful trip through deep bass and stacks of reverb, the drums sound like they were down the hall, around the corner, and buried in a bomb shelter. I mean, the sound will take you underground. “Secrets,” meanwhile, adds some fuzzy electric piano runs to the typically high-energy mix, in the midst of which Martin-McCormick takes what I’m going to go ahead and call a screech-solo. Sing it brother. Get it all out.

If the Happy Mondays had been on Dischord, “Latin Lover” is what they’d have sounded like, with laser gun solos. Martin-McCormck shouts, “I felt something, I felt something there. I got excited. Is it cool to get excited?” Yes it is sir. This is the opposite of the laptop pop that’s been filling so much of our web-browsing hours. This is great music made by human beings about how crappy it sometimes feels to be human beings.
Matt Slaybaugh

MP3: “Latin Lover”

The Tallest Man on Earth
The Wild Hunt
Dead Oceans

With so many folk singers with so many folk songs, it’s hard to sift through the painted-on brambles and find something as painfully pure and initially striking as the voice of Sweden’s Kristian Matsson. Of course, any casual dalliance with Matsson’s songs, crafted under the name the Tallest Man on Earth, will no doubt cast accusations that the young Swede is simply cribbing from the tattered notebooks of Blond on Blonde–era Zimmy. But in this day and age, folk is not folk if it doesn’t bear some resemblance to the classics. So Matsson is gifted with the gruff, over-the-road, omnipresence of Dylan both in his lyrics and his cadence, and on the most complex moments of his sophomore record, The Wild Hunt, his fingers blitz through notes with the transcendent dexterity of everyone from Fahey to Drake. That’s beside the point. It’s what one does with those tools—just voice and guitar and a head full of wanderlust—that measure the mettle of a folk singer.

Such superlatives shouldn’t have you go right out and proclaim Matsson a genius of his genre (though apparently his live shows are a thing of magic), as The Wild Hunt is not without some comparison to the modern foibles of folk. Brief whiffs of Bon Iver’s overzealous sentimentality to Jack Johnson’s beach-bum, faux-boho pap do pervade, which, if you’re looking to attract a large contingent of dorm-room crybabies, might be a blessing. Mostly though, songs like “Burden of Tomorrow” and “You’re Going Back” are stark, yet packed with melody, emotionally draining affairs that flit by like sun-drenched ephemera. “King of Spain,” in particular, shows a deft hand at work, spinning a yarn that tangles up back-porch Appalachian root-downs, flamenco rhythms, and fantastical storytelling without ever stretching for either one. Surely Matsson has no time to pontificate on what inspires him. Instead it sounds like he’s constantly funneling that soul into a new age of folk that has little time for yesterday.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Burden of Tomorrow”

Chin Chin
Sound of the Westway

In the time before the internet’s worldwide dispersion of anything that can be coded digitally, if you wanted a record, you actually had to go out and find it. With the limitations of space and distribution in the physical world, many records slipped through the cracks, or at least, only found their way into the hands of a select few. Of course, this usually had no bearing on whether or not they were worth hearing.

Chin Chin’s Sound of the Westway is one such record. The self-released debut from a short-lived trio of Swedish girls, the album may have received some kind words from NME, but made little impact otherwise when it came out in 1985. With the band breaking up not long afterward (though not before touring with the Shop Assistants and releasing an EP on the 53rd and 3rd label), Chin Chin’s music has remained in relative obscurity for the past 25 years.

Reissued collaboratively by Mississippi and Slumberland, the album reveals the three-piece onto something good that no doubt would have developed further given the impetus to continue. The band’s knack for melody and guitar fuzz is apparent from the get-go. Cuts like “My Guy,” “Never Surrender” and “Even If It’s a Lie” may bleed into one another, but have enough gusto and charm to make it easy to forgive any uniformity. Plus, midway through, by “Room of Sadness,” the band begins shedding its strictures, starts brooding a little, and alters its guitar tones. Ultimately, the band will be remembered for its C86 cadence, but Chin Chin’s songs are smart both lyrically and sonically and prove effectual even after all this time of having gone mostly unheard.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Dark Days”