Happy New Year (1/03/2003)
Eels, Souljacker (Dreamworks 2002) - Mark Oliver Everett (who simply goes by E) has been making some of the best music of the past decade. (While Eels are largely unnoticed on conventional radio, they frequently surface on web-based radio, such as Radio Paradise). With Souljacker, E achieves an absolute rarity in today's age - a complete album that holds up coherently from front to end.
So you ask, what kind of music does E make? Well, start with the Beatles (perhaps best reflected on his debut, A Man Called E). Throw in some modern rock, some funky techno loops, some Beach Boys studio sounds (listen to "Friendly Ghost") and some glam rock ala T. Rex. If that sounds like a distinctive blend, you're right.
E wrestles with a passel of personal demons, including the pain from the death of his sister (who committed suicide in 1996) and his mother (who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1997). The result was Electro-Shock Blues, which stood as one of the best albums of the year. E's followup, Daisies of the Galaxy, was less satisfactory, especially considering that the best single, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," was a hidden track on the CD.
Put it this way: if you like rock music - edgy, articulate, and full of guitars and noises - then Souljacker is for you. The musicians include E on vocals, guitar, mellotron, clavinet, piano, baritone guitar, Wurlitzer, etc., long-time cohort Butch (aka Jonathan Norton) on drums and percussion, Englishman John Parish on guitars, drums, percussion, and keyboards, Koool G. Murder on bass, synthesizer, and clavinet, and Joe Gore on guitar.
Most of the album was recorded during January 2001 at E's Los Angeles basement studio, with additional recording at John Parish's Honorsound Studio in Bristol, England. John Parish has also worked with P. J. Harvey (To Bring You My Love) and Sparklehorse.
You haven't heard anything like Souljacker in a long time. We're talking studio inventiveness that harkens back to the Rolling Stones circa Their Satanic Majesties Request, as fuzzy guitars match up against swinging horns on tracks like "Jungle Telegraph."
You can move Souljacker to the top of your listening stack. According to the liner notes, "Welcome, friend, to the hardest rocking substance known to man: Souljacker . . . This shit, y'all, this shit is Biblical."
Continue the notes, "What is E all about? He has been called many things. One message board poster calls him the 'godfather to all the baby freaks with broken hearts.' Ask E himself for the answer and he'll shrug and simply say, 'I like to rock.'"
Souljacker is an album that needs to be played from front to end. Begin with the dysfunction of "Dog Faced Boy" (with E's line, "Life ain't easy for a dog faced boy"), before shifting into the power-rock of "That's Not Really Funny" (which sounds better the louder you play it), before shifting to the welcome respite of "Fresh Feeling," with its string section and loping beat.
Down sides to Souljacker? There aren't any. If you like rock music, both in concept and in execution, then this is where you want to be.
Blake Jones, A-Sides & B-Movies (Whisper-ma-phone Records) - Local boy makes good. Now living in Kingsburg, Jones creates "mad pop inventions" at his own Whisper-ma-phone studios (the name comes from a Dr. Seuss story).
A-Sides & B-Movies (his 15th album) finds Jones continuing in his retroblend of Beatles and Beach Boys, with a healthy dose of Zappa mixed in. Considering his musical ingenuity, it's fair to call Jones the Laurie Anderson of the Central Valley.
Jones grew up in Fresno, and tried to cut his way in the L. A. rock scene with a band called Trike Shop. After coming to his wits in L.A., Jones returned to the Fresno area, where he is a staple on the local music scene.
While you'll find the errant surf guitar on tracks like "Bad Bad Ronald," Jones' mainstay is Brian Wilson-styled arrangements on tracks like "My Light Still Shines." And Jones matches up with the voice of Jill Jansen for the concluding, "Carmen's Big Aria" (with a nod to George Bizet).
Blake provides such instruments as toy piano, theremin, drums, marimba, auto harp, and toy piano. Joining him is Tom Magill on piano, Stan Schaffer on drums, Andrew Burnell on bass, and Mike Scott on drum programming. Also appearing on "No, Waiting for the Re-birth of Wonder" is Ben Latham on trombone.
The Central Valley seems to produce post-modernist songwriters, such as Grandaddy. Jones is no stranger to a bent lyric, hanging on his pop melodies. With 16 songs clocking in at 45 minutes, Jones gets A-Sides & B-Movies just right. And you have to give him props for including the cool photo of his son playing the theremin (an obscure electronic instrument invented in the 30s, which reached the height of its "popularity" on the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations").
Delightfully twisted and thoroughly original, Blake Jones is a local gem.
For more information contact:
The Trike Shop
1801 21st Avenue
Kingsburg, CA 93631
(Blake is only charging $7.00 for his CD, so you can hardly go wrong).
- Randy Krbechek © 2003
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