Music reviews – The Districts; Duke Garwood; Jeff Bridges
A Flourish and a Spoil
Fat Possum Records
Having already established a formidable reputation as a ragged teenage garage band, these four lads from smallville Pennsylvania – who aren’t old enough to drink alcohol legally – have produced a second album of energetic frustration that could grace any underground dive bar with a sticky floor.
In Rob Grote they have an emotive frontman with raspy vocals well beyond his years. “It’s a long way down from the top to the bottom,” he feverishly howls on the eight-minute Young Blood, evoking memories of the early Walkmen and the album’s clear stand-out.
Unfortunately, the ragged guitars and muddied lo-fi garage sound all start sounding the same rather quickly, and the songs can drift into average fuzz-laden college rock territory. It certainly feels as if The Districts are still finding their feet in the studio, as the recorded versions of their coming-of-age songs don’t always do justice to the unbridled recklessness of their live shows.
At their best (Chlorine, Peaches) they ape the youthful buzz of the Arctic Monkeys with bad Kings of Leon haircuts. The potential for scuzzy greatness is obvious.
Collaborations with sinister blues growler Mark Lanegan on his 2013 album Black Pudding and later on Lanegan's Blues Funeral have led English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood to this fifth solo effort. He has a similar late-night-in-hell vibe and will draw obvious comparisons to the ex-Screaming Tree.
Recorded in the California desert with Queens of the Stone Age producer Alain Johannes and Lanegan, Heavy Love is a bleak and haunting meditation on life and death. On the slow-burning title track, Garwood pours his heart out as he repeatedly asks: "Why did they not say it was only love?/ Love is all there is", his soulful croak as weighty as the title would suggest, and is finely complemented by the ghostly backing vocals of Savages' Jehnny Beth (returning the favour after Garwood appeared on Savages' Silence Yourself).
With sparse accompaniment, Garwood's blues whisper - far more honeyed than Lanegan's mouthful of wasps - holds an understated power throughout, especially on the album's closer, Hawaiian Death Song, and hints of Lou Reed. An album of spellbinding darkness.
"Sit back, close your eyes, and nod off" is certainly a unique way to promote an album, but that's exactly what Academy Award-winning actor and Zen philosopher Jeff Bridges wants us to do.
You can go to his website, dreamingwithjeff.com and download this pay-what-you-want album. The Dude points out that the world is filled with too many restless people, so Sleeping Tapes - a series of guided meditations, relaxing sound collages and Bridges-narrated stories - is designed to lull us to sleep and enable our awakening.
Whether he's checking if we're comfy and need a nighttime drink (A Glass of Water) or telling us "I like your haircut" (Feeling Good), Bridges' rich, soothing voice is as comforting as a lambswool onesie. On Hummmmm, he, well, hums, and all is right with the world.
The highlight is the 11-minute dreamscape meditation Temescal Canyon - a wondrous guided tour through ambient soundscapes and imaginary experiences. With all the proceeds from this surprisingly enjoyable album benefiting the No Kid Hungry organisation, Bridges is as wondrous as the album itself.