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Coming in Waves

Kimberley Rew
Great Central Revisited • (Bongobeat)

He was a Soft Boy, then he was a Wave, and now he’s a Soft Boy again. After the demise of the Soft Boys in the early ’80s, Kimberley Rew’s first release under his own name was the 1982 EP Bible of Bop. He then enjoyed chart success with Katrina and the Waves, playing guitar and penning some of their hits. Rew returned to American shores at the end of the ’90s, accompanying Robyn Hitchcock, which then led to a full-blown Soft Boys reunion tour (timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of their classic Underwater Moonlight). In the midst of those activities came his first full-length release, Tunnel Into Summer. Now, two years later, we welcome Great Central Revisited.

The disc is overflowing with gorgeous guitar parts, opening with the chiming (there’s that overused adjective, but I assure you that in this instance it is wholly apt) “Life Itself.” While evoking the ’60s three Bs (Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys), the album stands squarely in the 21st century, with a healthy dollop of the higher volume and tempo developments that followed that earlier period. Winningly varied, “Adventures of the Underclass” is an acoustic-guitar instrumental. A very British affair, Rew chronicles the demise of Screaming Lord Sutch and celebrates the enduring legacy of Eddie Cochran, an American who was embraced in England more than at home, dying on the highway en route to London’s Heathrow Airport in 1960. As Rew sings in “EC Blues,” “His music still shines brighter than the star he was.”

—David Greenberger

Bryan Thomas
Ones and Zeroes • (WT3)

Bryan Thomas’ second disc avoids the dreaded sophomore slump like gangbusters, building on the strengths so clearly exhibited on 1999’s Radio Plastic Jennifer and in countless live performances hereabouts, standing strong as one of the most thoughtful, heart-tugging and hip-shaking records of the year. Ones and Zeroes is a true solo work, with Thomas handling all the singing and instrumentation admirably well, creating lush sweeps of dark-pop decadence, and topping them all off with vocals so rich in emotion that you can’t help but be drawn into the songs on first listen—although it’ll then take a few listens more before you appreciate the wealth of insightful observation and rumination that define this collection’s best songs.

Not to mention the exquisite ways in which Thomas documents those ruminations and observations, as Ones and Zeroes is filled with some of the smartest and most satisfying word gymnastics and lyrical flights of fancy that you’re likely to hear—or read—in this or any other year. You may not know what he’s singing about on each and every song, but you’ll love the way he sings about it anyway, as oblique spiritual imagery crashes against bawdy earthy realism, sparks, blood and honey flying with each concussion. Imagine a cross between your favorite Joni Mitchell and Todd Rundgren albums, and you’ll get a general sense of Ones and Zeroes, a near-perfect depiction of that ethereal place where “pop” and “smart” aren’t antonyms, and where the mind, soul and body can groove together without stepping on each others’ toes, happy in the glow of fine, fine artistry and deep, deep passion—both of which Bryan Thomas displays like nobody’s business.

—J. Eric Smith

Orange Goblin
Coup de Grace • (The Music Cartel/Rise Above)

Coup de Grace is Orange Goblin’s fourth studio adventure, but it is clear that the tunes are meant to be played live and at unspeakable volumes. Unlike many of their American cohorts, theirs is an unassuming, goofball take on the often somber and acutely cerebral stoner brood. Think Danzig-era Misfits in rehab with Kyuss, whose influence is made even more undeniable with former bassist Scott Reeder handling production chores and John Garcia’s unmistakable tonsils on the frothing “Jesus Beater.” The material, certainly not groundbreaking or unique, takes its place nonetheless near the top of the heavyweight class, steadfastly hoisting a glass to the early blues and doomers; even better, it proudly waves the bullet-riddled banner of British Heavy Metal into the new decade.

Most OG topic matter joyously touts the unspeakable thrills and ills of drugs, booze and hard living, which is, of course, just fine. From the extra-filthy twin-guitar riffage of “Whiskey Leech” to Ben Ward’s growling testimonial “Born With Big Hands,” Coup is a powder keg of fury, a lumbering, gasoline-soaked road communiqué designed to behead and bequeath. Their affinity for interstellar psychedelia (check out “Graviton” or “Stinkin’ O Gin”) only serves to empower an already unflappable groove, one that just makes you want to get in your car and drive far, far away. If you can see them through the smoke, if you ever told your 11th-grade English teacher that Blue Cheer’s Dickie Peterson was, in fact, God, then this CD is for you.

Make no mistake, these dudes are heavier than a stampeding herd of grief-stricken rhinoceroses, dirtier than John Walker Lindh and drunker than Dean the Bum. They describe this phenomenon as being “fully submersible.” I call it damn good, no-filler rock & roll.

—Bill Ketzer

Mat Maneri
Sustain • (Thirsty Ear)

Sustain is an “out” collabora- tion of deep empathy between fiddle spaceman Maneri, McPhee, the redoubtable William Parker on bass, accent-imaginative Gerald Cleaver on drums and coloristic keyboardist Craig Taborn. Like other releases in the label’s excellent Blue Series, Sustain is thoughtful, creative, interiorized and interiorizing, and demanding. Like his father Joe Maneri, the microtonal clarinetist, saxophonist and composer, Mat Maneri doesn’t pitch his work toward easy listening. What he’s playing isn’t immediately accessible; even the instruments he works out on are no snap to identify.

What’s clear is the devotion that courses through this heartfelt meditation about persisting through, and in the face of, loneliness. A suite framed by different versions of a sonic space called “Alone,” it’s mostly leisurely, occasionally enervating and curiously beautiful. The players are simpatico beyond technique, their approach simultaneously communal and free. Anarchy doesn’t figure here so much as creativity, suggesting Maneri will find an ever-broader market if he persists at recording and finding such rich contexts.

—Carlo Wolff

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