Beyond Playlist: The Long Blondes and More

The latest edition of Beyond Playlist features reviews of the Long Blondes' Couples, the Naked Brothers Band's I Don't Want to Go to School, Guapo's Elixirs and Matmos' Supreme Balloon.

The Long Blondes Couples (Rough Trade)

Listeners who only bother to check out the first two tracks of Couples can be forgiven for thinking the latest disc by England’s the Long Blondes is a stiff. “Century” and “Guilt” are arranged like pop-dance tracks but resolutely fail to inspire thoughts of the dance floor thanks to a failure of conviction, a lack of nerve or both. Thank goodness that, for the most part, the songs that follow don’t suffer from this malady.

Things get cracking with “The Couples,” in which lead singer Kate Jackson (who, as far as I know, has never acted alongside Farrah Fawcett) promises, “This is the last drink I’ll ever have” over a finger-popping Brit-pop groove. “I Liked the Boys” is considerably darker and even more persuasive, “Here Comes the Serious Bit” belies its title with jolt of new wavish exuberance, and “Round the Hairpin” uses buzzing riffs by guitarist Dorian Cox and explosive drumming by the vividly monikered Screech Louder to take listeners on quite a ride.

There are other misses here – among them “Too Clever By Half,” which is too cutesy by three-quarters. But the real mistake the Long Blondes make is by leading off a largely effective album with the CD’s two weakest tracks. Not exactly putting our best foot forward, are we? -- Michael Roberts

The Naked Brothers Band I Don’t Want to Go to School (Nickelodeon/Columbia)

The latest attempt to manufacture a kiddie music sensation features a mildly risqué moniker, at least by the standard of most seven-year olds, and music that’s about as dangerous as a dab of margarine. Lead singer Nat Wolff’s voice hasn’t changed yet, and when he tries to rasp it up, he sounds bizarrely like Melissa Etheridge – a fact that adds a significant amount of incongruity to the title song here. After all, who the hell’s trying to make Ms. E go to school? Is she starring in a gender-bending remake of Billy Madison for the Lifetime network? Another drawback: “Body I Occupy” sounds dirty but isn’t.

The only thing naked is my disappointment. -- Roberts

Guapo Elixirs (Neurot Recordings)

In recent years, London-based Guapo has slowly but steadily gained prominence and respect in the prog world, and that’s unlikely to change even though the band has gone through a significant change since its previous release, 2005’s Black Oni – the departure of Matthew Thompson, one of the group’s founders. His absence has transformed the outfit from a trio to a partnership involving multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan and drummer David J. Smith, who use Elixirs to explore the more subtle side of the subgenre.

Appropriately enough, “Jeweled Turtle” starts the album at a modest pace, with slowly rising drones and squeals intermittently interrupted by that old prog standby, the gong. “Arthur, Elsie and Frances” is more herky-jerky, with unusual time signatures and tempo shifts, while “The Planks” charges along under the power of a guitar part that recalls klezmer and other Euro-folk traditions, and “King Lindorm” rattles with doomy atmospherics. Still, the centerpiece of the album is “Twisted Stems,” a two-part opus that moves through a series of rising drones decorated by unsettling vocals courtesy of Alexander Tucker.

The soundscape as a whole is too unsettling to qualify as ambient, but there are a good many meditative moments and precious little bombast. Some Guapo followers may not see this as progress, but it’s at least an interesting tangent. -- Roberts

Matmos Supreme Balloon (Matador)

Although Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, the two Bay Area loons who make up Matmos, have been playing electronic games for a decade now, they’ve never lost their sense of joy, as Supreme Balloon demonstrates. In some ways, the album is less a collection of compositions than a batch of aural squiggles. Even so, the delight Daniel and Schmidt have making odd sounds proves highly contagious.

“Rainbow Flag” opens the proceedings, flying high on blasts of vintage keyboards, many of which sound like toys experimenting with their male and female connectors while the kiddies sleep. “Polychords,” the next cut, starts off more subtly, but before long, the boys have added sci-fi bursts, cartoon-style FX and enough frog noises to drown out the Okefenokee Swamp. And that’s followed by “Mister Mouth,” a track seemingly constructed of comic farts; the ultra-spare “Exciter Lamp;” the faux-tromboney “Les Foiles Francaises;” the title cut, which drifts along amiably for over 23 minutes; and “Cloudhopper,” a climactic miniature that could pass for dialogue from the upcoming Pixar flick Wall*E and is just as animated. The results may not be Supreme, but their certainly uplifting. -- Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts