Friday, January 16, 2009

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: GET THE ETTES

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 16, 2009


The first decent new, or at least relatively new, review CD to come into my mailbox at work in 2009 was Look at My Life Again Soon by The Ettes.

This is a bouncy little record by a predominantly female guitar-bass-drums trio fronted by singer Coco Hames that sounds like a stripped-down (settle down, Beavis!) version of The Bangles. The Ettes are scheduled to play at the Atomic Cantina in Albuquerque tonight.

Although the band members are American — New Yorkers who got together in Los Angeles and have spent time in North Carolina and Nashville — this album, released last year, was recorded in England. It was produced by Liam Watson, who has recorded various Billy Childish projects.

The first song that really caught my ear was “I Heard Tell.” It’s a biting little rocker with a melody and hooks that might have been inspired by Joan Jett. But it’s the lyrics that I really appreciate. “I heard tell the papers got you/And from what I heard, they got it all true.” As an American “mainstream” journalist, it’s nice to hear a song that mentions the media and that doesn’t go along with the prevalent stereotypes and portray us all as idiots, dupes, or vultures. Thanks, Ettes.

I also like “Crown of Age,” mainly for the Electric Prunes-style reverby guitar.

My only complaint is that after a few songs, Hames’ vocals start to get a little cloying. Again that Bangles comparison. But in small doses this music is fresh and energizing — a nice way to start off the year.

I bet The Ettes are even better live. Check out the band with The Dirty Novels tonight at 9 p.m. at the Atomic Cantina, 315 Gold Ave. S.W., Albuquerque, 505-242-2200. There is no cover charge.

Also recommended:
Oh where are ya going Billy boy, Billy boy?
* Thatcher’s Children by Wild Billy Childish & the Musicians of the British Empire. Speaking of Billy boy, I only recently got my hands on this bitchen gem, which was released a few months ago. The prolific Childish has been around for decades fronting banke Thee Headcoats, Thee Mighty Caesars, Thee Milkshakes, and others, establishing his rightful place as the high priest of garage music in the British Isles.

With his natty clothes and handlebar mustache, Childish, who turns 50 this year, doesn’t look the part. But the proof is in the pounding. His current band, consisting of Childish on guitar and vocals, Nurse Julie (one of the best punk-rock names I’ve heard lately) on bass and vocals, and Wolf Howard on drums, produces fine primitive, homemade sounds.

The title cut has a melody borrowed (“stolen” is such a judgmental word) from The Clash’s “London Calling.” Like that song, Childish’s tune deals with a ruined civilization. It joins Elvis Costello’s “Tramp the Dirt Down” and Richard Thompson’s “Mother Knows Best” as songs that definitely aren’t on the former prime minister’s iPod. The way Childish sees it, Thatcher’s conservatism tainted everything — even punk rock and YouTube.

Some of the best songs on this album are sung by the Nurse. My favorite Julie song is “He’s Making a Tape.” It’s about a woman who catches her boyfriend with his albums spread all over the floor, cutting out little pictures for the cover with the “ransom-note letters stuck on the back.” Nurse Julie sings, “He’s making a tape and it isn’t for me/He’s making a tape you know what that means.” Yes, the song’s probably dated. Does anyone make mixed cassettes anymore? Still it brings back fond memories of a venerated mating ritual of the late-20th century.


* Party Intellectuals by Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog. This is a tasty little album by a band led by a guitarist who probably is best known for helping Tom Waits find his unique sound in the ’80s. He has also played with Elvis Costello and the avant-jazz Lounge Lizards.

The rest of the band is pretty impressive, too. Ches Smith is an amazing drummer who has played with the group Xiu Xiu, and Shahzad Ismaily handles bass and some crazy parts on the Moog synthesizee

The album starts out with a wild, maniacal take on The Doors’ “Break on Through.” This is not your father’s classic rock. Ribot and the boys take the spirit of the original and break through to further dimensions.

This is followed by the equally crazy title song, an original tune. At this point, a listener may think that this album is a never-a-dull-moment affair. Unfortunately the next song, “Todo el Mundo es Kitsch,” is a dull moment — a five-minute dull moment. With guest vocals by Janice Cruz, this song sounds like a futuristic bossa nova that never quite gels.

From here on, it’s a roller-coaster ride. The next song, “When We Were Young and We Were Freaks” is slow, dark, and sinister. “Digital Handshake” is a 10-minute instrumental freakout, as is “Midost.” “Pinch” is crazed funk. “Girlfriend” is an android bolero with funny deadpan lyrics. “I’m with my girl friend/She’s kinda pretty/But I don’t like her.”

Despite some weak spots, this dog will hunt.

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