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Short Takes on Recent Releases

Vintage folk in a new package, plus a grab bag of great music you probably missed this summer

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SHIRLEY COLLINS
Sweet England
(Fledg'ling)

Jim O'Rourke fans: Were you chagrined when he told the Wire that one of the reasons he'd moved away from Chicago was that people here didn't know enough about British folk music? Well, here's your chance to redeem yourself in his eyes! Shirley Collins (who often performed with her older sister, Dolly) was one of the leading lights of the English folk revival of the 1950s. Sweet England, her 1959 debut, is one of two albums drawn from 37 songs she recorded in two days (!) in the summer of 1958, when she was just 22 (the other is called False True Lovers); at the time she was working as an assistant to American folklorist Alan Lomax, who ran the sessions. Accompanying herself on five-string banjo, she rips through tunes from the canon that she grew up hearing in Hastings (Sweet England is "Greensleeves" free, though) and tosses in a murder ballad for good measure. Her voice is high and reedy, clarion and pure—she sounds very serious despite her age, and it's hard to imagine she's ever hit a sour note in her life. Collins's later albums lean toward grim songs about the dead and the unfortunates soon to join them, but Sweet England includes plenty of relatively light fare like "The Tailor & the Mouse" and "Hares on the Mountain." In the liner notes to this CD reissue the singer, now 75, is borderline penitent, insisting she was inexperienced, the recording premature, the material inconsequential. But she has nothing to apologize for—maybe it's just one of those things, like when you cringe with embarrassment looking at a picture of yourself as a kid but everyone else can see what a charmer you were. Sweet England is a remarkable document that marks the beginning of a remarkable career.

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER
"Returnal" (Antony vocal version) b/w "Returnal" (Fennesz remix)
(Editions Mego)

Move past the terrible band name and make haste to the music emporium of your choice to pick up the entire Oneohtrix Point Never discography. An ambient solo project by electronic musician Daniel Lopatin, Oneohtrix is the antithesis of LA's supersunny, beach-bonging posi-punk, the infinite nighttime to that scene's living-in-a-bubble daytime. His latest full-length, Returnal, is a satiny black soundtrack to LA's dark soul—experimental-techno idols Underworld and Gas clearly provide touchstones for Oneohtrix's sprawling, twinkling, heavily synthetic sound, and Lopatin does for Los Angeles what Wolfgang Voigt did for Cologne with Gas in the 90s, distilling the city's vibe into a cloudy, dissonant wash of drones and tones. The LA of Returnal is vast to the point of unknowability, a ghostly ruin haunted by hippie death trips and draped with empty glitz and heavy smog—it feels almost postapocalyptic, charged with the tense, eerie melancholy of a place that shouldn't be evacuated but clearly is. A couple months ago Lopatin released two remixes of the title track. The first replaces the sterile, futuristic throb of the original with acoustic piano, and Antony Hegarty (of & the Johnsons fame) humanizes its heavily processed vocal line, singing in a sentimental, even elegiac croon: "You've never left / You've been here the whole time." The Fennesz remix, which combines the original and the Antony version, is melodramatic but unimaginative, submerging Hegarty in scuzz and leaning too hard on the piano.

BEN RAYNER & THE PRICKS
Cranking to Sonic Youth
(self-released)

Just when you thought punk was dead, someone forms a band just to diss Sonic Youth! Ben Rayner & the Pricks was a one-off for fashion photographer Rayner, who was recruited by two members of Fucked Up (drummer Jonah Falco and guitarist Ben Cook, here trading roles) at ATP's Nightmare Before Christmas in December 2009. Fucked Up and Sonic Youth were both playing the festival, and Fucked Up heard that Thurston Moore had referred to them as "dude-core" in a Soft Focus interview Ian Svenonius conducted on-site. Given that FU are a progressive band whose lineup includes a non-dude, this could not be allowed to stand. Cook and Falco talked Rayner into writing lyrics and singing lead for a thrown-together diss record, whose four songs they recorded in 40 minutes while still at ATP, and even though the alleged "beef" was history by the end of the fest—plenty of "Just kidding, we're totes fans!" all around—the three of them went ahead and released their genius no-fi handiwork on cassette this summer. On the title track Rayner makes a reference to SY's 1990 commercial breakthrough: "Cranking to Sonic Youth / Goo in your hand / Goo in your hand" (cranking being British slang for crying and wanking at the same time). The guitar sounds like decimated shit and the loudest thing in the minute-and-a-half-long song is the explosion of tambourine on the chorus. "Nerds at ATP" takes aim not just at Sonic Youth's fans but at everybody at the festival, encouraging all the little men in "ugly sweaters" to "fuck off." (It's hard to make out much more.) The laughs are cheap, but the riffs are sweet. Rumor has it there may yet be a seven-inch pressing in the pipeline—and please, somebody invite them to Pitchfork next year for a follow-up.

RESIDUAL ECHOES
Dead Head
(Teenage Teardrops)

Sometimes the way musical taste works can be a bit embarrassing—like when you get suckered in just because a band reminds you of the forgotten faves of your teen years. On Dead Head, their fourth full-length but first for LA's zeitgeisty Teenage Teardrops label—Residual Echoes are straight-up channeling SST-era Dinosaur Jr. and the first two Meat Puppets albums. Or: the Meat Puppets were an influence on Dinosaur, so maybe it's easier to say they sound like Dinosaur if they'd been even more influenced by the Meat Puppets. At any rate, it's all here, fairly unfiltered—wobbly ennui-laden vocals, classic Mascis-style overdriven leads and tuneful shredding, the scrambly too-fast pace and hillbilly-punk jangle particular to the Kirkwood brothers. When Residual Echoes throw down some Minutemen touches on "Terror" it's like a brief glimpse of the holy trinity of the less macho bands from the early SST catalog. The album's lead track, "Düds," is one of 2010's best singles so far and a fantasy come true, at least for me—thanks to guest vocals from Mika Miko's Jessie Clavin, now we can hear what You're Living All Over Me might have sounded like with a girl singer.   

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