Levon Helmâ’s back from cancer, but Battles and another band falter.
Levon Helm Dirt Farmer (Vanguard) After a bout with cancer in the late 1990s, Levon Helmâ’s singing days seemed over. Age and the surgery that saved his voice have added a rasp to Helmâ’s tenor, but he makes the most of it on Dirt Farmer, his first solo album in 25 years.
The performances on Dirt Farmerâ"Helm on drums and lead vocals, his daughter Amy Helm and Teresa Williams on backing vocals, and Larry Campbell on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, with an assortment of session players filling inâ"are more studied and reverent than Helmâ’s work with The Band. But the selection of largely traditional songs and folk standards (â“Little Birds,â” â“False Hearted Lover Blues,â” the carter Familyâ’s â“Single Girl, Married Girlâ”) is rich and surprising, and Helm injects some limber shuffle rhythms into Paul Kennerlyâ’s â“Got Me a Womanâ” and â“A Train Robbery,â” both of which recall the Old Weird America that The Band explored on its first two albums. Thatâ’s one hell of a legacy to live up to, but Dirt Farmerâ’s a welcome effort. â" Matthew Everett
Battles Tonto+ (Warp) If youâ’re a Battles fan, Tonto+ might just sate you until the next release. Otherwise, this EPâ"the track â“Tontoâ” from the album Mirrored, a live version of the same song, and remixes by Four Tet and the Field, with other live tracks and remixes and a handful of videos tacked onâ"does little to show what Battles is all about and is a bit vexing at best.
Put simply, Battles is a postmodern prog band that mimics Tortoise, Trans Am, and even Rush. That alone should be enough to separate the interested parties from everybody else. As to the Tonto+ EP itself, itâ’s a mixed bag. The â“Tontoâ” remixes are the best songs; they sound the least like Battles, a group whose pretentiousness overshadows their talent. The Fieldâ’s remix shinesâ"the snippets of the song are reduced to such fragmentary information that the result is an entirely different piece of music. The Four Tet mix is cool, too, but it involves too much standard melodic structure for proper house music. All told, Tonto+ is an oddity that will serve as a bookend for Battles obsessives and be forgotten by the rest of us. If youâ’re inclined to like the band, you probably already have the critically lauded Mirrored. And thatâ’s probably more than enough anyway. â" John Sewell
Holy Fuck LP (XL) Holy Fuck is about as analog as an electronic group can get. The Toronto quartet relies entirely on analog keyboards, effects pedals, and live bass and drumsâ"no laptops, loops, or sequencersâ"on their second album. Itâ’s a gimmick, for sure, but LP is also a remarkably listener-friendly disc, its bright production matching the swirling synth melodies. The trouble with LP is that itâ’s also almost entirely forgettable, the humming keyboards and throbbing basslines of one song blurring into the next. Only â“Lovely Allenâ” stands outâ"it opens with a simulated string section, swells into a dreamy psych-pop chorus and gradually unfolds into a dense, dramatic space-out. But even that song, as different as it is from the rest of LPâ’s LCD Soundsystem sound-alikes, resembles a dozen other Brian Wilson-inspired bands from the last five years. Thereâ’s plenty to like about the recordâ"the groupâ’s warm tone and insistent repetition are seductive when itâ’s onâ"but not much to make it last. â" M.E.
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