1. “relax, don’t think about the way I treat you”
The self-titled debut CD from Ambulance Ltd. states that they have arrived—strongly—and quickly demonstrates that they have the chops for more than the four or five good songs their previous EP contained. Indeed, the whole album is divine, from the oddly intense and atmospheric opening instrumental (“Yoga Means Union”) to the groove-laden tracks that follow. What the rest of the tracks have that “Yoga” doesn’t is singer Marcus Congleton, whose insinuating voice—think Lloyd Cole with a whole lot more range, or Elliot Smith with upbeat tones—expresses longing and restraint and sudden heights you weren’t expecting.
An amalgamation of Sonic Youth, Pavement, the Beach Boys, the Pixies, 90s alternative, and the occasional nod to the 60s and Motown, Ambulance Ltd. creates demanding songs that you don’t even know are demanding. They’re perfectly crafted pop/rock songs that you either sink into whole-heartedly while shoegazing or can’t stop bouncing to, thanks to the incredibly tight rhythm section.
“Primitive (The Way I Treat You)” is built around a seductive bass line that languishes, waiting for the escalating wall of sound that inevitably comes; Marcus’s voice rises perfectly to that spot right below where you can’t hold back anymore and things begin to crack. “Anecdote” channels the Beatles through Elliot Smith in a toe-tapping tune with sweet melodies that lull you until you forget that you’re floating because it’s become so natural. “Heavy Lifting” creates a desperate crescendo effect before it explodes into feedback heaven, while the singer soars.
And this mood just keeps going for the whole album. The only weak track I could find was “Michigan,” which was a sticky-sweet Lloyd Cole tune, slow and rambling. But to be honest, it really wasn’t bad. Throughout the disc, the changes inside songs are sublime and so, so beautiful that you are swept along before you realize something has shifted, but by then you just don’t care. It’s subtle, but completely moving.
Ambulance Ltd. expresses relief in their songs, and you just can’t stop grinning like an idiot sometimes: It’s a top-down spring day where life is just so damn great that you want to sing along; and it’s a warm shaft of sunlight full of the hint of summer. This CD—and this band—is a promise of many good things to come.
For more info, visit www.ambulancenyc.com
2. “it’s about time that I said hello to all the lonely people”
The brand new effort from the Beta Band, Heroes to Zeros, is full of layered vocals, sound effects, indie overtones, and no hesitation about where they wanted to go with it. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they got the idea for this one. “Heroes” is at once ethereal and mighty.
It begins with “Assessment,” sounding like early U2, full of bass and guitar and strength; it feels epic. “Space” follows with a jerky bass line, heavy drums, and the Flaming Lips and the Who stretching their arms out as far as they can and grazing fingertips. It’s like shoegazing—up at the stars. “Easy” brings the funk, “Wonderful” starts with a Coldplay–orchestra expansiveness that de-evolves to a sweet, lowdown cosmic melody. “Troubles” is psychedelic Beatles, and “Out-Side” is a galloping tune that would have fit Trainspotting to a T.
Heroes is a complete, comprehensive, consistent album. The energy sways and dips and soars, but the lyrical repetition, tonal sounds, and back-and-forth of loud and quiet captivate you. The album is subtle, but it reaches you quietly in places you had heard rumors about but never established as fact.
This feels to me like an odd child of Tommy and Dark Side of the Moon: challenging, different, and beyond expectations. It’s a not-so-soft lullaby to the 21st century and all us lonely mortals inhabiting it. You feel something wonderful is happening here, and while you can’t quite pin it down, you listen again and again. I like to think this is what Wilco might have sounded like if they’d grown up in Scotland, never wrote Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and played with some funky grooves.
I told you, subtle.
For more info, visit www.regal.co.uk/beta/ie.shtml
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.
16. 1977/1978, Somewhere in EnglandBy Raphael Rubinstein
SEPT 2022 | The Miraculous
A 19-year-old British musician whose band has just released their first single, explains to a journalist, All I write about is youth and hate. When someone else interviews him at the age of 20, he confesses to feeling so much older that he can no longer write kids anthems. His musical tastes, which are grounded in 1960s pop, havent changed but his sense of his own authenticity has: I really like youth songs, really old classic youth songs, but I mean, it's just a lie to carry on writin' 'em."
They Go Down to the FieldBy Joel Newberger
MAY 2023 | Poetry
Joel Newberger is the author of Under the Window, Hexateuch, and A Caw. He edits The Swan, a series of free pamphlets devoted to the oldnew songs of the poets. He works and lives in Kingston, NY. Ad fontes.
Dread Scott: GoddamBy Ann C. Collins
JUNE 2023 | ArtSeen
The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam, Nina Simone announced during her 1964 concert at Carnegie Hall. And I mean every word of it. A response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in which four little girls were killed, events which had occurred the previous year, Simones expression of grief, frustration, and anger became an anthem of the ongoing Civil Rights Movement; its debut marked a sharp turn towards the political in the singers career. Nearly sixty years later, artist Dread Scott links Simones songs of protest to the present-day, creating four large screen-prints on canvas in which contemporary images acknowledge the continuation of hatred and violence directed towards Black Americans, women, and LGBTQ+ communities.
from AustralBy Carlos Fonseca, trans. Megan McDowell
MAY 2023 | Fiction
Professor Julio Gamboa, the protagonist of Carlos Fonseca's latest novel, Austral, is summoned by post to the Humahuaca mountain valley in Argentina. Here, renowned writer and intimate from Julio's youth, Aliza Abravanel, retreated in her final days to complete a tetralogy on the elements. The landscape perfectly matches Abravanel's project: the sunbleached-rainbow striations of sedimentary rock give visual form to her book on earth, Strata, or, alternatively-titled, her Dictionary of Loss.