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Another World

Recent dispatches from the indie universe

By David Greenberger

The Whitsundays

The Whitsundays (Friendly Fire)

Until now, a search for the Whitsundays would lead to the vacation paradise in Australia’s Queensland. Now a quintet from Edmonton have taken hold of the moniker with confident vigor and a winning debut. (Note to newly minted combos in search of a name: Queensland’s national parks are brimming with other possibilities, my favorite being Kroombit Tops.)

The Whitsundays are led by Paul Arnusch, whose writing is informed by certain late ’60s bands; this album’s 10 songs especially call to mind the Zombies. There’s little production overlay; just a band, well-recorded, kicking through deftly arranged pop nuggets that offer both wallop and sheen. Their use of Wurlitzer and Rhodes electric pianos shows how the unique sonic character of those instruments was—and remains—well-suited to rock bands, as those instruments hold their own alongside electric guitars, bass and drums. This is not orchestral pop; it has lushness built into the compositions, but is played with the drive and lightly scuffed edges of a well-tuned garage band. Spunky, smart and catchy as a Velcro-covered cat, the Whitsundays have taken 2008, stuffed it in their pockets, and are somersaulting down a garden path. Now we must follow or be left, wet and alone, in a snowbank.

Ben Vaughn Combo

Beautiful Thing (Noble Rot)

It’s important to remember that Ben Vaughn’s career started with the word Combo affixed to his name. They were together for half of the 1980s, releasing two albums. Beautiful Thing was their second, and it has now been reissued in a sharp package that foregoes the original booklet’s lyrics (unnecessary anyway—you can make out every word that’s sung) but adds liner notes providing historical context. By the time this set was recorded the Combo were at their peak as an ensemble, playing off one another with the ease of familiarity; four players, but capable of sounding like fewer. From the gang-chorus vocals and shouts, to Gus Cordovox’s accordion and Lonesome Bob’s minimalist trap set, this is the sound of a real band. Vaughn’s subsequent albums are as full of classic songs as this one, but the focus was never again so squarely on the band. An essential classic.

Various Artists

The Trials of Darryl Hunt soundtrack (Young American)

HBO’s film The Trials of Darryl Hunt is a documentary examining the conviction and 20-year imprisonment of Hunt, a black man falsely accused of killing a white woman. The 18-track soundtrack CD is varied, sometimes to the point of extremes, but it flows as one integrated whole, creating a subtle subtext for unity amid diversity. Paul Brill composed the score, which is interspersed among songs that move from hip-hop to singer-songwriter and indie genre-busters. Among the former are acts old and new, including Dead Prez, Ras Kass, Spider Loc, and the legendary Last Poets (their first new recording in several years); the latter pulls in everyone from Andrew Bird, M. Ward, and Mark Kozelek to Califone, Portastatic, Starsailor, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. From the fever dream ruralism of Califone’s “Ladders” to Brill’s austere but foreboding “Powerlines,” the hour-plus disc plays out like a mix tape from your coolest friend. One moment cerebral, the next physical, it’s a completely human portrait in songs.

Tom Laverack

Cave Drawings (Sojourn)

With 20 years gone by since his debut album, Tom Laverack has honed his writing and performing into a perfectly matched set. His voice and songs meet one another on varied turf and go gallivanting about the hillsides. World-weariness runs through the entire set in a way that a man two decades younger couldn’t have fully comprehended. “Not much changes from place to place but the scenery,” he sings in “Dead Dog,” and the soulful, horn-bolstered “Running Out of Road” delivers on the title with a certainty tempered by a still unquenched thirst for life. (Written for the film The Last Winter, “Road” played out over the end credits.) “Foolish Enough to Think” weds pop smarts to a rough-and-tumble groove and leathery vocals. The title song, rich with allegory, hypnotizes along the course of its folkish structure, punctuated with Joni Mitchell-like chordal turns and thoughtfully compelling drumming.

White Hinterland

Phylactery Factory (Dead Oceans)

Casey Dienel and her cohorts under the White Hinterland banner have fashioned an alluring 45 minutes that eludes easy categorization. Dienel’s vocals swoop between registers, occasionally bringing to mind Björk, but with a gentler approach, closer to Erin McKeown. She also harks back to Lora Logic, again, in a more compact setting—cabaret, rather than a punked-up underground club. Largely piano-based, the songs mix traditional melodic sensibilities with experimental inclinations, as if Nilsson had joined the Art Bears. Standard rock instrumentation gives way to chamber strings, occasionally dancing together in the same number. Still in her early 20s, Dienel writes songs that are strikingly mature, sometimes overtly so, as if she’s trying hard to justify her move to the big table. But that’s a minor quibble, and as she relaxes into her work, her influences will be further clouded as an even more confident voice emerges. Tune in, and stay tuned. 

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