DJ Logic “The Anomaly”; Built to Spill “Ancient Melodies of the Future”; Varnaline, “Songs in a Northern Key”

Now Hear This

DJ Logic “The Anomaly” (WEA/Atlantic)

Make no mistake, DJ Logic is much more than a guy spinning records and tossing out beats from behind a turntable. This is a band, and DJ Logic, aka Lee Jason Kibler, is just one of the members. The core is made up of bassist Scott Palmer, drummer Stephen Robertson, keyboardist Mike Wiethman, jack-of-all-trades Casey Benjamin doubling up on saxophone, flute, ewi and Fender Rhodes, and of course, Logic himself mastering the spinning, scratching and effects. While he did form the group, writes most of the music, and serves as the front man and namesake, he happily shares the spotlight with the band and the endless stream of guest musicians who appear on the band’s second release, aptly dubbed “The Anomaly.” In his own words, Logic explains not only the album title, but the music itself: “The record’s got everything from house to funk to hip-hop, jazz and dub … and some stuff that doesn’t even have a name. … The name says it all, don’t try to figure it out.”

So with this advice in mind, prepare to thoroughly enjoy a backbeat-driven journey into the unique wizardry that is DJ Logic. The lead track, “French Quarter,” lives up to its name, eliciting images of humid, festive funk wafting off the bayou with John Medeski, of Medeski, Martin & Wood leading the way on the Hammond organ. Former Living Colour frontman Vernon Reid is the mind behind “Miles Away,” a modern tribute to the late, great improvisational master, complete with Logic providing an urban backdrop to Graham Hayes’s dead-on trumpet, eerily reminding us of what made “Bitches Brew” a classic. “Soul Kissing” and “Hip-Hopera” showcase the diversity of the album. The former brings a violin to the mix with Celtic and Middle Eastern vibes layered over the bumping house beat and driving percussion, while the latter sees accomplished opera diva Marie Claire lend her haunting but beautiful voice to a sinister, Wu-Tang Clan-esque backdrop. For the hip-hop purists, there is “The Project” and “On a Mission” (a hidden track), the only two songs on the album with someone rapping over a grooving baseline and drum beat.— Ford Gunter

Built to Spill “Ancient Melodies of the Future” (Warner Brothers) – Listening to Built to Spill is like taking a trip in a musical time machine. Each song feels like a hybrid of three or four classic rock songs. Doug Martsch, songwriter and a bona fide guitar hero to many, resembles Neil Young vocally, but all of the Hendrix, Beatles, Seger, Zeppelin and Rolling Stones that come from his guitar build something unique.

On their seventh studio album, the Idaho indie rockers have switched gears. Martsch’s guitar playing was the showcase on 1999’s “Keep it Like a Secret.” On “Ancient,” Martsch sticks to basic songwriting and vocals with subtle guitar wah-wahs and slides.

Creepy ballads like “The Host” and “Happiness” are played in the band’s traditional hard folk-rock format. “Strange,” “Don’t Try,” and “Trimmed and Burning” are reminiscent of the rockers found on “Secret” with Martsch’s standard oxymoronic lyrical content. This album will please old fans because it’s slightly different from their older albums, but still has their sound. Newcomers will like it because it seems so familiar. — Jacob Parcell

Varnaline, “Songs in a Northern Key” (E-Squared/Artemis) – For all intents, Varnaline is one person — the songwriting vehicle for nomadic troubadour Anders Parker. Calling him a cult figure would be a compliment. The man has three full-length albums under his belt on a now-defunct record label, Zero Hour, and has had trouble keeping a band together. It’s a surprise that the guy is: a) still making music and b) has patrons. Well, Varnaline has just released another album (the best to date, by the way), and has at least one high-profile supporter in Steve Earle. In fact, Earle is such a fan of Parker’s that he signed him to his own record label for this album.

The album itself is a hodgepodge of mid-fi rock, backwoods country and contemporary American folk. It’s cohesive and filled with literary spark and instrumental virtuosity — an effort that rewards with each successive listen. There is everything from skewed pop (“Song”) to neo-psychedelic guitar rock (“Green Eyed Stars”) to straightforward Americana (“Indian Summer Takedown”). Fans of the isolationist rock of Grandaddy and Sparklehorse or even the quasi-country of Son Volt and early Pernice Brothers will likely dig. Highly recommended. — Bret Booth


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