Wild Mercury Sound
Jack White and Joanna Newsom (not together, mind)
I just noticed this morning that Jack White has two albums coming out on June 18. There's the White Stripes' "Icky Thump", and then there's "Hentch-Forth.Five" by The Hentchmen.
I have a few Hentchmen records somewhere at home, and they're full-blooded, uncomplicated garage rock, typical of all those Detroit records I bought around 2001. This one eluded my grasp, though, with good reason. "Hentch-Forth" originally came out in 1998, limited to 1,000 vinyl copies.
I wonder how much those vinyl discs are worth now? Because it transpires that, for this album, The Hentchmen were augmented by Jack White. There he is on the back cover. The three Hentchmen are posing stiffly in thrift shop jumpers, trying very hard to look like they sound - ie like a geeky/deranged high school band from 1965. A boyish Jack, meanwhile, is stood a few paces away. He is dressed in black, with a sort of short back and sides cut, cigarette by his side. He is glaring at his bandmates, evidently keen that people realise that while he's happy to play with these dorks, he's not actually one of them.
It's a great picture, and the record's not bad either - though whether I'd ever choose to play most of it ahead of, say, "Nuggets" is doubtful. The Hentchmen are a guitar/organ/drums combo, and Jack mainly adds bass, ironically, to these punchy ramalams. Listen out for him on a bash through the Yardbirds' "Psycho Daisies", though. Just as the White Stripes are beginning their career, here's White on guitar, already playing those shrill, spluttery leads - a kind of ecstatic punctuation - which would become his trademark.
Also in the post today was the new EP by Joanna Newsom. Newsom has never really struck me as a fan of puns, but this one is called "Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band". It's making the point that, unlike "Ys" itself, this EP features her touring band instead of the full Van Dyke Parks-and-orchestra trip. "Cosmia" from "Ys" is here, in its stripped-back, live form - proof that there's substance to these marvellous songs beyond the opulent instrumental packaging.
Most interesting, though, is a new song called "Colleen", which she played on her UK tour in January. It's a frenzied Celtic jig where her resemblance to Kate Bush is more pronounced than ever. Unlike "Ys", this music feels more immediate, for all its complexity ("Colleen" is a bit shorter than most "Ys" songs, but it still gallops through a bunch of radically different passages, still evades corny old verse-chorus-verse) it doesn't sound like Newsom has spent two years fretting over every note. That perfectionism was one of the glories of "Ys", but "Colleen" proves that something approaching spontaneity works for her, too. Amazing stuff.