The Fall
Ersatz GB
Cherry Red

At this stage in the game, it wouldn’t be surprising if Mark E. Smith mellowed a bit. He’s 54 now, and he’s spent the past 35 years manning the helm of what is perhaps the leading post-punk band. But one listen to Erstaz GB, The Fall’s 29th studio album, puts to rest any notions that Smith might be getting softer and instead reveals that he’s headed in the exact opposite direction. Indeed, Smith’s trademark snarl has grown into something more reminiscent of a guttural growl, as if his voice has become the sonic incarnation of his bile. And it’s not just Smith’s voice that seems to have hardened. The current Fall line-up (which has been together for four years) has really jelled, and Ersatz GB features what may be the band’s heaviest tracks to date.

The most prominent example of this aggressive tact is the song “Greenway,” a re-imagining of Greek metal band Anorimoi’s “Gameboy.” While the band stays faithful to the original’s pummeling riffs, Smith adds new English lyrics that are undoubtedly his, a sort of surreal tale that is sometimes humorous and sometimes obscene, and which touches upon one of Smith’s favorite subjects: the deplorable (by his standards) state of modern music. Songs like “Cosmos 7” and “Monocard” are less metallic, but still explore this heavier style to good effect. “Taking Off” and “Laptop Dog” replicate the traditional, steady grooves the band has done so well for so long. Providing balance is “Happi Song,” which features the band’s keyboardist (and Smith’s wife), Elena Poulou, on vocals and almost sounds like The Fall’s take on shitgaze until you remember that The Fall provided some of the prototypes for that sub-genre. These disparate parts work together as a whole and prove that Smith and company are still evolving and more than capable of producing albums that provide plenty of analytical fodder for Fall enthusiasts while having the potential for winning over the uninitiated.
Ron Wadlinger

The Cure
Bestival Live 2011
Sunday Best

Having seen one of The Cure’s Reflections shows, in which they played the entirety of their first three albums (Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds and Faith) and three encores over the course of three hours, just a little over a week ago, the sound and visage of Robert Smith and company are still fresh in my head. That show was nothing short of breathtaking, with the band bringing some of their most rarefied material to life in startling fashion.

As such, this live recording of The Cure’s headlining set from the Bestival festival on the Isle of Wight earlier this year is a welcome reminder of that performance. But while it features the same core band I witnessed (Smith, longtime bassist Simon Gallup, drummer Jason Cooper and keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, who hadn’t played with the band since 2005), it pulls from the entirety of the band’s catalog—from “Grinding Halt” off their debut to “The Hungry Ghost” from 2008’s 4:13 Dream. At 32 songs, it captures the epic quality of the performance. Indeed, while cuts like “A Night Like This” and “Push” (both from A Head on the Door) stand out, the group sounds like they are just warming up for the first dozen tracks. It isn’t until “A Play for Today” (from Seventeen Seconds) that The Cure hits it gloomy stride, even if the festival audience doesn’t sing the song’s keyboard line as a Cure crowd would. “A Forest” and “Primary” (still wish Robert would play bass on this like it was recorded instead of guitar) lead up to a riveting run through “Shake Dog Shake” (from The Top), but the album’s highlight is “One Hundred Years” (from Pornography), on which Robert’s guitar work deconstructs into a fit of dissonance and contortion by song’s end.

“In Between Days” will never sound as good as it should so long as it’s played on a six-string electric instead of a 12-string acoustic guitar, and I don’t care if I never hear “Hot Hot Hot!!!” again, but otherwise this is a stellar performance. Robert could probably stand to wear a bit less make-up and do something a little tamer with his hair, but his voice and his playing are still in top form. That the proceeds from the two-disc set will go to the Isle of Wight Youth Trust is nice, but what good is a benefit album if no one wants to buy it? Thankfully, Bestival Live 2011 gives a reason to be charitable.
Stephen Slaybaugh

The Path of Totality

Don’t call it a comeback—seriously. While they’re thought of as a quintessential ’90s band, Korn has released five albums since the dawn of the new millennium, with three of them going platinum and one of them going gold. Still, what’s notable about a new Korn record? Well in the case of The Path of Totality, it seems the band has discovered electronic music.

Much of the pre-release press for the album has touted the involvement of Best New Artist Grammy–nominee Skrillex and subsequently has framed Path of Totality as Korn’s dubstep record. There’s also been some revisioning of Korn as the godfathers of dubstep, which is clearly delusional. And while Skrillex did work on the record, he’s only on three tracks. The other producers joining the fray are Noisa, Kill the Noise, Downlink, Excision, 12th Planet and Feed Me, so though only partially dubstep, there’s a fair dusting of hard electro, a whisper of drum & bass and even a few tracks that seem like lost ’90s industrial.

What seems to be missing from Path of Totality is the sound of the band. There are so many bleeps and bloops and so much processing, it sounds more like the producers’ work than a Korn record, which depending on your opinion, may not be a bad thing. Overall, though, it’s not as awful as you’d imagine. Sure, some songs feature some laughably overwrought vocals, but ultimately one’s affinity for the album hinges on how much you care for the producers. Lyrically and vocally it’s not all that different from any other Korn record, the songs are just in different outfits. Anyway you look at it, though, at least it’s not Chris Cornell and Timbaland.
Dorian S. Ham

The Howling Hex
Wilson Semiconductors
Drag City

Neil Michael Hagerty could be the guru to the one-time aspiring artists and musicians of Generation X now begrudgingly working day jobs in the professional sector. Enivison a lonely man with a gigantic record collection writing into the guy who penned “Liar” for tips on how to find a lasting relationship. (Or you could just go to The Howling Hex blog.) Imagine a mother looking for a way to rekindle her long dormant artistic side. Hagerty has many a great lyrical quotable that could steer a wayward mind right. Wilson Semiconductors’ lead track, “Reception,” exhorts those dried-up artists to “stop pushing too hard, start hitching a ride” because “reception can take a long time.” It’s Hagerty’s penchant to write in the imperative voice that gives his lyrics a particular advise-to-the-disgruntled feel—not just on this record, but throughout his career.

Wilson Semiconductors is definitely not about his lyrics, though. It is a guitar record firstly, while just a step away from Howling Hex’s previous directions. There are no drums, and while this can seem tedious to those looking for a distinct backbeat rhythm to make the music easier to digest, it seems as if Hagerty had a different idea for the listener. The bass guitar is steady and rhythmic, leading most of the melodies and holding down the structure of the songs—a la polka or norteño styles—essential but almost invisible as the melodies develop. And there are melodies, many per song. Properly listening to each composition from beginning to end will show Hagerty’s logical and clear, definitely not concise but surely thorough, writing and arrangement direction. He’s been long at the avant garde of modern music, but this is both a leap beyond and a throwback to ’60s and ’70s freak folk like Kevin Ayers, John Fahey, and Roy Harper. Wilson Semiconductors is especially reminiscent of Harper’s genius four-song long-player, Stormcock. The departure here is that Hagerty played all the guitars and did all the singing, with the help of a multi-track recorder and some writing from member Mike Signs. Both albums are four tracks clocking in beyond six minutes each, and both show an artist with an otherwordly musical vision and a grasp for vivid and visceral personal lyrical imagery. With a record like this (all one guitar on many overlapping tracks), it will be near impossible to re-create live. This is a headphone album, one that needs to develop over time and will definitely keep revealing hidden gems of advice for ages.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

Eddy Current Suppression Ring
So Many Things

With three excellent full-lengths released in four years, one wouldn’t expect Australia’s Eddy Current Suppression Ring to have a great deal of extra material lying around. Well, at least not anything worth hearing. So it’s surprising that the band was able to cull together two CDs’ worth of material for So Many Things their odds and sods collection.

Whether or not the band’s earliest material was worth digging out of the dustbin might be debatable, as evidenced by the collection’s sophomoric title track. Even a cover of The Pagans’ “Boy, Can I Dance Good” only shows the promise of things to come. By 2007’s “You Let Me Be Honest with You” (two tracks later), though, that promise kicks in as the band’s post-Stooges punk begins to take shape. Sure, there are tracks elsewhere whose only value is as curiosities (“We’ll Be Turned On,” “Hey Mum,” a cover of “We Got the Beat”), but there’s no denying the visceral wallop of “I’m Guilty” and “It Ain’t Cheap.” So Many Things is a decidedly mixed bag full of songs whose ramshackleness can either be an asset or liability depending on how it plays out. It’s hard to really recommend the album with the band’s other records sitting right next to it waiting to be played again.
Stephen Slaybaugh