Off The Beaten Track: Music Reviews & Musings by Mary Leary

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The Rolling Stones:  Stones in Exile (Eagle Rock)

CocoRosie:  Grey Oceans/Foals: Total Life Forever/Wolf Parade: EXPO 86/Blitzen Trapper: Destroyer of the Void (SubPop)

Sonny Smith/Sonny & the Sunsets (Fat Possom; Soft Abuse)

There isn’t a ton of live performance footage. There are a few too many less-than-amazing talking heads bookending the thing. And, in a way, it’s an aperitif for the upcoming Ladies and Gentleman live footage re-release.

But if you’re at all intrigued by the Stones’s mystique, gotta kick it with Stones in Exile. For me

Keith & Anita at Nellcote

(somewhere between sporadic hip-shaker and mega-fan) it reveals surprising vulnerabilities. It totally seals Anita Pallenberg’s position in the Incredibly Cool Rock Muse pantheon. It helps explain the “freaks” I knew in Spain in the ‘70s; at least one of whom probably joined the flood of hipsters and hangers-on partying and crashing with the Stones at Nellcote. As engineer Andy Johns reveals, “It was my initiation into how you can actually live rock ‘n’ roll.”

There is tons of black-and-white images and footage of the terminally boho and beautiful. There are tastes and recurring motifs from the Stones’ most fertile post-Brian Jones period (“All Down the Line,” “Happy,” for which there’s also onstage footage, and “Ventilator Blues”). There are kaleidoscopic views of the Exile creation process, with a more linear one of the events leading up to it. We get refreshing documents of the Stones learning from and jamming with American C&W and blues players, along with some hilariously raw memories from Texan sax man and integral Exile element Bobby Keys. And we learn the source of “Tumbling Dice.”

Hey, it’s the Stones at their most worn-out, stoic, hopeful, and raggedy-gorgeous –need anything more be said? Well, maybe one thing more: When the heck is the Keys documentary going to be made? Talk about a story…

This one isn’t featured in the film; its just one of my faves:

Exile joined a stream of dark early-’70s portents (as Don Was comments, Apocalypse Now was being shot in a similar time frame) nailing the hippie coffin. Nearly 30 years later, the Stones are still newsworthy, we’re still walking the earth, and plenty of minstrels are competing for a spot on the ultimate soundtrack–it’s a record-breaking year for summer releases.

Continuing a stream of atmospheric (also known as “dream pop” and, uh… I tend to blur the other labels) releases, SubPop’s about to let Foal’s latest out of the gate. (I’m just waiting for a band of bearded guys with a mandolin and a synthesizer who call themselves Skunks – wait, some crazy mates helped me stir an absurdist mash with my spoken word piece of that name in the early ‘90s. But we called ourselves, variously, the Potato People, L.I.A.R., and several other things). And now I’m aggressively digressing…

Here’s a standout from Foals’s  Total Life Forever – kind of like a nice marriage of the Cure and Tears for Fears. Gotta pump up the volume:

Another group that was apparently spooned ‘80s synth-pop from an early age is Wolf Parade. From the new EXPO 86:

Blitzen Trapper also utilizes some of that big/electronic sound. As far as Destroyer of the Void goes, I prefer the songs that make me yearn for a campfire in Yosemite, or wherever people toast marshmallows in Oregon:

More igniting than any of these boy (okay, young man) bands are the sometimes almost unbearably intense sounds of CocoRosie. When they’re good, they’re really, really good… and, especially on their latest (Grey Oceans), don’t sound like much else – that’s saying something.

Also rather strange (well, altogether less strange than CocoRosie, but if CR were at a carnival they would make the strong man slam his Weird bell beyond 10) was last week’s San Diego appearance by Sonny & the Sunsets. Perhaps because they opened for Ty Segall (who delivered a red-hot show; highly recommended), they leaned into garage rock. Sonny Smith, who’s been projecting around the S.F. scene for some time, has too many arms to fit existing categories. Among the harmony-friendly, quirky guy’s projects: “100 Records” ( can send him some flowers: he’s just signed with Fat Possom.

Here’s a charmer from Tomorrow Is Alright:

If some of this installment seems unusually low-key, we can blame it on the Stones for heading it off. Now, that’s power.


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