It's a good day when two records by two different contemporary outfits land on your doorstep and don't leave you wishing the youth of today would stop picking up musical instruments. Cynical? Yes, much so. When I was but a wee lad, I used to hold nothing but contempt for old geezers whose music taste froze in time like a preserved moose, their minds not open to new sounds. I can say w/ a straight face that that is not me - I am constantly discovering all sorts of interesting sounds from years past, even some modern ones, too - but when it comes to the realm of modern-day underground/independent stabs at this thing we could vaguely stamp as "rock music", my mind remains mostly shut. The reason is simple: I am constantly repulsed by its protagonists and the sounds they create in the 21st century. However, I'm also aware of the fact that this predicament says far more about me than the music in question, and since this third-rate psychotherapy/naval-gazing is starting to bore even me, let's skip to the releases in question.
Both released on the US label, Kranky, co-helmed by ex-Your Flesh contributor Bruce Adams, the label originally established itself via releases by the likes of Labradford and Stars Of The Lid in the mid '90s and is still kranking (urgh...) out titles at a semi-alarming rate. The label is mostly not on my radar of interest in this day and age, though I procured a handful of things from the label (I didn't go begging), and two have hit home as winners worthy of repeat plays: Black Earth by Implodes and Common Era by Belong. The former is a quartet from Chicago featuring a couple of guys w/ beards and glasses, and their music is something which belongs firmly within the stable of sound found on Kranky, which means it that it borrows elements from both Eno's ambient works from 1970s, and the shoegaze guitar fuzz of Loveless-period My Bloody Valentine. But before you start thinking this is merely an excercise in Kranky genericism, I should add that some of it reminds me of the electro-garage scuzz of 1st-album Cabaret Voltaire or the guitar heroics of early '90s Helios Creed. Surely that couldn't be a bad thing? OK, now that I've thrown lots of referential names around, I should also add that the given mix of these elements contains a nice balance of all of the above. Got me? This won't change your life, but if you're expecting an album in 2011 to do that, you may be asking for too much. So far as pastiches of days gone by, Black Earth does it well.
Even better is this disc by New Orleans duo, Belong. They feature two fellows known for their work in some other bands I've never heard of. This is far more Angloid-damaged than Implodes, some of it alluding to scenes, bands and sounds which I've been known to deride heavily to those who care (and even those who don't). That is, there's a heavy Joy Division/Factory vibe on display, as well as a gothy, 4AD thing going on. In fact, had I heard this back in the 1980s, when I was of the belief that anyone who found anything of worth in these sonics needed their head examined for evidence of a rational thought process, I would've thrown this very disc into a never-to-be-played-again pile. But all of this is just reference, and I'm beginning to bore even myself in discussing all of this. As w/ Implodes, there's a wall of Kevin Shields-style fuzz throughout, though underneath the noise is the thin, bloodless pulse of Great Britain ca. 1985. Black Earth possesses a gated, Martin Hannett 4/4 drum sound, buried vocals and descending bass chords that have a good deal of it duplicating a lo-fi take on Unknown Pleasures, and whilst you may be correct in thinking that such a description doesn't sound like my usual ticket to ride, the overall ambience of its 40-minute duration is something which has stuck in my craw the past couple of weeks. What Belong are trying to create seems obvious - Common Era is like listening to Joy Division in a wind tunnel - but the melodic invention of the songs raise it above its station. This entire review has been an excercise in grammatical circumlocution, so I'll state in plainly simple language that I happen to like it a whole lot. Both Belong and Implodes are in the here and now and I'm perfectly happy with that.