Noise Pollution: Hazel English Astounds, Car Seat Headrest Confuses

Noise Pollution returns with a look at albums from Hazel Rose, Car Seat Headrest, and more.
By    April 24, 2020

Will Schube has memorized the four questions.

Hazel EnglishWake UP!

Hazel English’s Wake UP! just radiates the aura of a budding star. It’s confident but lingers in vulnerabilities, plays with muddy distortion but gives enough room for English’s sturdy, unflinching songwriting. The album comes after a pair of superlative 2017 EPs and was borne out of acute anxiety. Perhaps that’s why the album is so relatable. It’s anciently familiar but a gut-punch in its originality, like fresh aftershave on a newly appearing cut. There are elements of shoegaze and indie pop but the opener “Born Like” plays with ‘60s girl group melodies and the bubbly staccato of a surf rock bassline. The wall-of-sound instrumentation on the chorus serves as a backdrop, with English’s stellar voice riding atop the wave rather than being swallowed by it.

Wake UP! plays like a costume party in which every outfit change fits as perfectly as the last. It’s a phenomenal album, and it’s so assured that it seems as if English has released a few albums as dress-rehearsals in some alternate reality we’re too stupid to remember. The Australian-born, LA-based songwriter is able to sound like an entire band when she layers her voice in distinctly complementary harmonies, sounding like a disenchanted street poet revealing capital-T Truths to unsuspecting bystanders.

English uses Guy Debord’s seminal The Society of the Spectacle to draw a throughline to our social-media addled generation, which feels all the more relevant during a time in which one of the the only ways to hear an album like this is through a corporately-owned streaming service. Wake UP! is a brilliant debut. Hazel English stands both bleached by the sun and drenched in rain, singing of hope and doom to whoever will listen.

Car Seat Headrest

I’ve only listened to the new Car Seat Headrest album once, so I’m in no way able to critique it, but I also don’t remember it, which isn’t a good sign for an artist whose sole intention is to upend any preconceived notions of himself. In a stunningly odd New York Times profile, CSH’s founding member, Will Toledo, walks Alex Pappademas through the inspiration and intention behind his perplexing Making a Door Less Open, which was at least partly inspired by a farcical side project. Yeesh.

First of all, Toledo decided to wear a mask and some sort of hazmat suit to accompany all press interviews for this album, which would have been “provocative” if the entire world wasn’t covered by one giant makeshift mask. But Toledo is a thinker in the same way Virgil Abloh is, convinced that his own genius is far more intellectual than it is. Slapping a “NIKE” logo on a shoe doesn’t make you any less complicit in consumer capitalism, and wearing a mask on stage doesn’t make the audience view you any differently. The best you’ll do is piss off concertgoers wanting to snap a pic for Instagram, and maybe the mask makes it more interesting anyways.

All of this should be besides the point, but with Making a Door Less Open, Toledo has made it the point. The music is purposely contrarian from what I remember, but contrarianism only works if you’re acting towards something. You can’t use the tools of the thing you’re critiquing without offering some sort of alternative. Toledo seems to be aggravated by the 24/7 media cycle that’s been attached to his work, but a mask brings attention to what isn’t there more than it hides what is.

Ben HolmesNaked Lore

I’ve never heard klezmer music I’ve enjoyed, but don’t blame it on the genre. Blame it on the synagogue I grew up going to and its unendingly corny cantor who single-handedly stripped a tradition of beautiful music and replaced it with Yom Kippur-themed Beatles concerts. “Moishe Pipik’s Only Purim Band” set to the tune of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is the only one I remember, thankfully. Ben Holmes, bless his heart, has healed what I once that was a scar, contextualizing the Jewish music in jazz with devotion and expertise.

Holmes is a staple in New York City’s underground, and with Naked Lore, he interprets the Phrygian scale through the Yiddish language. I’m too stupid to explain it thoroughly, but essentially, Holmes discovered that the scale appears throughout music from Ashkenazi Jews, and music from the Balkans and the Middle East. It’s an alternative to Western music theory, in which Freygish is “the fifth mode of Harmonic Minor.” None of this makes sense but there’s more on his website for those curious. Sure, philosophy is cool, but this record hits right in the testikles. It’s chamber jazz but instead of cigarettes and cocktails, Holmes serves matzo ball soup and Manischewitz.

It’s, as Holmes explains, “A soundtrack to the folk stories your grandparents vowed to forget,” but Ben Holmes doesn’t understand that my grandpa can name the starting lineup from every University of Connecticut women’s basketball team going back decades. I don’t think the old man’s forgotten anything in his 90 years, and he’s seemingly vowed to tell it all every time we speak on the phone.

The album’s got a decisively punk attitude for being limited to acoustic instruments, and Holmes’ horn arrives with such force that it could part the Red Sea. The group invites the history of Jewish music into a modern context, invigorating an often hokey offshoot with the seriousness it deserves.

Larry Rose BandThe Jupiter Effect

Re-issues are great. The stories are often entertaining, tales of searching coupled with the re-emergence of almost-icons getting a second wind. It’s like Indiana Jones for record nerds and crate diggers. Add the Larry Rose Band to the growing list of rediscovered gems. Record collector and music historian DJ Amir has resurrected The Jupiter Effect from the group, a delightful and genre-agnostic collection of late ‘70s pop-funk.

The album begins with “Papa,” and Larry Rose sings, “Jacksonville, he got busted for smelling like wine.” I get busted for smelling like wine everywhere I go. Maybe “Papa” is actually Larry Rose and I’m his son? Rose formed the band with songwriter Stanley Davis in late 1975 in Europe. Rose moved there after dropping out of college, and the group played rock covers in bars across Holland and Germany. The origin story sounds like a Hold Steady song written for the stage by Bertolt Brecht.

The album features Dutch and American players and was initially released on Crossroad, a Dutch label. It’s the only album the group ever recorded and BBE Music re-released it last week. The album blends funk with prog-jazz and American R&B, with Rose’s impossibly-silky vocals gives the album its identity. It’s continental soul music infused with American roots, translated from multilingual epiphanies into a style all its own.

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