November 30, 2002
VHS or Beta are a disco band. 'Nuff said on that particular issue. You cannot deny that little fact. It's apparent from the first note, and it stays with you well after the final note fades out. All they want to do is make you dance the night away without a care in your little head. For all this talk of dance music, it's not meant to be an insult! Really, these guys are without equals. The only two I can think of are !!! and Daft Punk. (Besides, isn't the title of Le Funk a nod to Daft Punk?) But while !!! are operating from a post-punk irony and Daft Punk are simply DJ's, VHS or Beta is making dance music that is simply the sincerest musical statement I've heard in the past few years. I mean, you'd HAVE to be sincere in what you do to make music that simply screams for derision.
But let's not quibble about those things, shall we? Let's DANCE! Don't crank up "Solid Gold" or "On & On" unless you've got on your dancing shoes. What really proves that VHS or Beta is a band to contend with are the two live tracks, "Flash" and "Teenage Dancefloor." It's here that the band mutates their disco styles into a post-Gang of Four-style dancefunk. These two songs are simply relentless in their power and their overwhelming, damn-this-is-lascivious rhythm.
Are VHS or Beta the dance band of the future? No, they're the dance band of NOW. The future died two years ago, New Order is just a bunch of old farts, and everyone else is irrelevant. Ignore at your own risk--dance for your own bliss.
8 Hours starts off oh-so-quietly, with a "something doesn't feel safe" mood kicking in with "Turn it Off," but then things kick into MASSIVE overdrive when "Useless spells U-S-E-L-E-S-S" kicks in--and when the singer starts yelling "USELESS!" over and oiver and over and over and over over a growling growl of noise, you really do feel useless. They use this come-hither-and-die atmosphere throughout 8 Hours building it up and up and up and up and up and up until.....
(Well, I can't really tell you. In that little car accident that happened a few weeks ago, my copy of 8 Hours was lost. I debated whether or not to review 8 Hours now, or to simply wait until I bought another copy. Instead of prolonging it until I heard it again, I decided to tell you about it now, and simply go with what I'd written before the accident. I think what I've said in those first two paragraphs pretty much stands for the rest of the album. 8 Hours is indeed the rare record that sticks in your mind even after the first listen, and I simply had to tell you about it, because I wouldn't want to simply let you miss out on me telling you about what I consider to be one of the albums of the year. Excellent, essential, and utterly beautiful, and I'm totally selling Echo Is Your Love short in saying those things...)
November 29, 2002
Morella's Forest are veterans of that era, and it's really a shock that they didn't get swallowed up and spit out by all of those sharks looking for the cute and sexy next big one hit wonder thing. Certainly, they had the "it" that A&R types were looking for: cute girl with baby-coo voice, a loose, rock-lite backing band that served as backing for the girl, and lyrics that were smart and sassy. Their previous album, From Dayton with Love, was a pop hit that never happened. But that was several years ago, and none of those previous bands exist anymore. So maybe it was a good thing, then, that Morella's Forest didn't get subjected to this hit machine.
Now in a class by themselves, Morella's Forest have returned--but several years have passed between albums, and that girl-pop alterna-rock sound now sounds dated. Tiny Lights of Heaven might run the risk of suffering from an identity crisis. Less polished than From Dayton With Love, Tiny Lights of Heaven is certainly mature, but in "Choppy" when Sydney sings, "Do you even know who it is you really are?/Are you lost out in the night," I can't help thinking that she's talking about the band's direction. I have the feeling that this album's birth was a long and difficult process, and with lyrics like that, I also can't help but feel that Morella's Forest might have suffered from some sort of identity crisis themselves.
You can't really fault Morella's Forest for making music, nor can you fault them for trying something new. There are some great songs on Tiny Lights of Heaven, such as the could-be-a-hit "Hopeless" and "Love is Blind," and the fact that Sydney's singing is a sweet coo that recalls Sarah Shannon and Nina Piersson only make it better. Sure, the occasional slips are annoying, but it's like riding a bicycle--you are going to slip every now and then if you haven't ridden one in a few years. Tiny Lights of Heaven is a promising return to form from a band that has withstood the test of time and the temptations that lured so many other bands to their demise.
November 23, 2002
Baboon are nothing more--and nothing less--than a great rock band. Perhaps it's because they're older, but Something Good is Going to Happen to You seems less of a return to form as it does a maturation of old ideas with a healthy dose of fresh, new sounds. There are some mellower moments, such as the lovely little instrumental "Too Handsome to Die," and the ode to a departed friend, "Goodnight, Good-bye" that I really like, and I really don't remember Baboon being so...tender.
For the most part, though, the band's got their settings on "rock," and from the first second of "Alright," you know that you're gonna have a good time. And, really, Something Good Is Going to Happen To You is a very good record that will happen to you from the get-go. There seems to be a bit of electronic weirdness beating just under the pulse of the record, which sets Baboon apart from other rock/punk bands, yet it's not enough to really make you think, "ewww, experimentation!" Take a few minutes and let Baboon be the ones to let something good happen to you--you'll enjoy the pleasure.
November 22, 2002
For fans of Hicks, the set is a familiar one. If you've purchased at least two of Hicks' albums, then you'll have heard about a half of the material in this performance. No matter, though; while it's true that his routines were classics, these routines are slightly different enough to prove interesting to the die-hard fans. I've heard most of the set before, and I'm still rolling on the floor from the things he's saying.
His audience, though--they're rather quiet. Really quiet. And, of course, Hicks noticed it. You can hear him sigh out of frustration during the second bit of his routine, "Summer," because it's rather obvious that he's not going down at all. At times, the silence is deafening, because it sounds like there are only three or four people in the audience. It actually sounds like a real-life Neil Hamburger routine.
And then--it gets personal.
He turns on his audience, proclaiming them "the worst fuckin' audience I have ever faced...ever...ever..ever!" It is this revelation that really breaks the ice, and for the next few minutes, the wall between audience and performer is broken down, and though it seems as if he's not able to get past their apathy, what he's really doing is breaking down the audience even more and is, in fact, winning them over. During these next few minutes, there's some rather hilarious audience interaction. He then turns on all of his charm, and the show just becomes electric from that point on, and Hicks emerges victorious once again.
While much of the material is familiar to those familiar with Hicks, it's an excellent starting place for those who are looking for a place to learn more about what made Hicks so beautiful. He was an obscene, in-your-face, one-of-a-kind....philosopher. He wasn't a comedian, he was a man who knew that the only way the world can learn to accept things such as drug use, sexual differences, and questioning of the government is by point-blank saying things that everybody is afraid to talk about. He wasn't rude, loud, or abrasive--he was honest, and if he seemed like those things, then that's your problem, not Hicks'. Nobody has yet been able to top Hicks, and I fear that nobody ever will.
It's sad that he's gone. The world 2002 sure could use a Bill Hicks 1991.
When I put Sweet Sixteen, Volume 6 in the stereo, though, something inside that car changed. I felt warmer. The dark seemed brighter. And the music? Smart. Literate. True. Real. As I sat there in the dark, I closed my eyes and listened, all the while thinking that maybe I'd somehow stepped into another world, where the radio played good music, not mass-produced, soulless music made to entertain and swindle teenage girls from ages twelve to sixteen. Instead of crap, I heard music produced for one reason: a sincere love of music-making. If you've not paid attention to Parasol, or have dismissed them for whatever reason (mainly due to making "wimpy" music--or so I've heard), then you really need to get over yourself. They've really blossomed into a label of mature sounds, intelligent music made by people who aren't trying to be the next Strokes or Modest Mouse or (insert trendy indie band here). It also speaks volumes that a label can release records by bands that later become famous, or almost famous--White Town, Braid, Hum, Sarge and Menthol are but five that come to mind. That's a pretty good track record, and those are all pretty great bands.
Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six kicks off with "Smack," a stunning new track from Bettie Serveert. I'd never really realized how much Carol Van Dyk sounds like Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh! Following up quickly is "Other Side of Town," by Thirdimension, who are sure to pick up on the gauntlet thrown down by new Next Big Thingers (and former Parasol band!) The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. From there, we go back in time with a classic cut by The Action, "Brain," which still sounds like it's from the future. From here, Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six only gets better and better, with smooth sounds by Club 8, Folksongs For The Afterlife (a definite band to watch!), Fonda, Permer, Absinthe Blind, Chitlin' Fooks, Ronderlin, and...well, everything else! After one listen, you'll also wish that the radio sounded this good, this varied, and this intelligent!
Last night was cold, but Sweet Sixteen certainly warmed me up! It's good to know that in this dire era of independent music becoming polarized around trends (must every label now have a lo-fi bluegrass/folk artist?), some labels aren't buckling under pressure to cater to styles and trends. It's certainly a pleasant surprise, hearing how mature, intelligent, and utterly enjoyable Parasol's music roster has become. Geoff Merritt and company really are to be commended for eschewing what some might consider to be sensible advice and releasing beautiful, intelligent music. A word of warning, though; Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six is a five-dollar tease that will send you to their website and buying a whole bunch of awesome records!
November 20, 2002
Low Pressure is a much mellower affair. Gone are Angel Station's relentless, frantic beats and trumpet blasts, replaced with a warm electronic heartbeat and much more sedate, elegant trimpet playing. Those louder moments are found in "On a Clear Day" and "Storm Force 8," but for the most part, we're talking a kinder, gentler Spaceheads. At times, such as on "The Hut" and "Over The Moon," Spaceheads sound not unlike Drums & Tuba, a band who makes no bones about Spaceheads' influence, and who wrote an excellent Spaceheads-sounding tribute called "The Diagram."
Despite its slower pace, Low Pressure is still quite a pleasant album. After all, the band certainly had its work cut out for them when it came time to follow up such an amazing record. I'll be straight-up and say that Low Pressure didn't move me at first. Why? Because my expectations were high. Sure, it's my fault for setting my expectations so high, but at the end of the day, and in light of their overall genius, who could blame me?
November 17, 2002
Let's not think, though, that I'm being too generous in my praise for Capital City. Am I Invisible, as good as it is, is no Too Far to Care. There's something about this music that makes me feel that, given enough time on the road, they could make red-hot country rock that surpasses the Old 97's highest peak--which, my friends, is no mean feat. At times, lead singer Geech Sorensen even sounds like a less ego-filled Rhett Miller, which is also not a bad thing, lest he decides to go all Maxim on us, which would be a betrayal punishable by death.
But--and this is a big but--Capital City aren't country, country-rock, alt-country (whatever that is), or indie-rockers who are making ironic country sounds. They're JUST A BAND, which is commendable in and of itself. Am I Invisible is a great debut album full of rock songs, and in my mind it has only one weak spot--"Receiving/Daydreaming." This song falters because it has a shocking and seemingly out-of-place female vocalist. Even then, the song's not bad because it's not good, it's just a sudden change that doesn't seem to flow with the rest of the album.
I have this itching suspicion that such songs as "Council Emissary" and "Growing Up Too Fast," which sound great on record, simply EXPLODE in a live setting. I hope that somebody soon lights a fire underneath Capital City's ass, because in so doing, they could easily become a shit-hot live band that the world so desperately needs. If they did, they could really have something good. I mean, in a better world, "This Town Won't Be the Same" would be the greatest hit since "Big Brown Eyes" and "Doreen." But we don't live in a music-loving world, so Capital City will simply have to offer up their own dish of greatness one fan at a time. Luckily, though, I really think that they can pull it off.
November 16, 2002
Of course, who knows if the album's joy isn't derived, in some part, from the fact that the album was (supposedly) recorded in a woman's locker room. (Really!) Okay, I'll ixnay on the snarky, because this is really a lovely little record. Enemies is full of musical highs and lows and ebbs and flows and ups and downs and turn-arounds that are inspiring, uplifting, soothing, and doesn't sound a thing like Tortoise! And, believe me, that's a totally good thing. I'm glad that bands have stopped trying to take up residence inside that shell-jazz sound and are doing, well, their own thing. Of course, Pele's been around a bit, so you could argue the influence thing, but, really, when you hear the term "indie-jazz" or something referring to "indie rock with a hint of jazz," what name immediatly comes to mind? Yup. And Pele aren't that, so rest easy, o yea weary of genre associations!
For those moments when you just want to chill, because life has given you a stress-fill, then you could really, really do worse than to check out Enemies. And though I don't know why I think this, but at times I could feel the long shadow of Nanna over my shoulder. Maybe it's the label, or maybe it's the chord progression, I don't know, but could this possibly be the jazz-rock instrumental version of......oh, I'll just shut up now.
Replace the word Fugazi with At the Drive-In and you have my review of the record.
Iím kidding! Hey, I bet you would have been really pissed off if I just let my review of the record end there. Well, now you REALLY know how it feels to listen to the Quick Fix Kills new record.
Iím kidding again. Okay, let me get serious. Every single song on this record has been done before and better by At the Drive-In, North of America, Fugazi, and about a hundred other bands you could care to name. Youíve got your meandering bass lines, your dissonant twin-guitar attack, and some guy right in front shouting about God knows what. The Quick Fix Kills have some nice stop/start dynamics going on in the occasional song, but thatís about the only thing that separates them from the rest of the pack. It doesnít help that their singer canít carry a tune, and manages to sound bored even when heís shouting. I mean, Cedric Bixler veered off-key every once in a while, but even then you could tell he meant what he sang about, even if he was the only one who could make sense out of the lyrics. It also doesnít help that the production renders all of the instruments completely flaccid. The drummer sounds as if heís hitting loose-leaf paper instead of a kit. The guitars sound like someone forgot to adjust their distortion pedals to their proper settings. Iíd give them a bit more credit if the album was recorded on four- or eight-track, but this was done in a so-called ìprofessionalî studio. Plus, too many of the song titles (ìSuicide is so ë90s,î ìMy Scabs Look Like Artî) reek of hipster irony. The songs sound like they would kick butt live (as long as the vocals were placed very low in the mix), but after multiple listens I can only remember two of the songs on this record.
You can tell how unenthusiastic I am about this CD by how much more time I spent goofing off than actually discussing it. Youíd think that I wrote for Pitchfork or something. (Ed.--Yeah, no kidding!)
--Sean Padilla (for real this time)
November 14, 2002
First of all, I'd like to thank the wonderful editor of this web site for putting me on the guest list (plus one!) for this show. It served as a very nice birthday gift for one of my best friends, who turned twenty-two on that day. Out of the three bands on this spectacular bill, the first band, Ex-Models, was the one I wanted to see the most because I wondered how, if possible, they could recreate the incredibly spastic music on their debut album Other Mathematics in a live setting. Most of their songs are minute-long explosions of scratchy, staccato dual-guitar interplay, time signatures that would clear any dance floor, and goofy David Byrne-like yelping. In fact, I would venture to say that Other Mathematics is what Talking Heads would have sounded like if they were a No Wave band, and played only when hyped up on yellow-jackets. How did this sound live? If anything, the Ex-Models' music was even faster and even more abrasive. The vocals were completely unintelligible, and the guitars didn't even sound like they were playing notes half the time, and it didn't help matters that half the time, these guitars were being played with drumsticks Sonic Youth-style. The crowd, myself included, spent more time laughing and gawking at the constant silly faces that the band members made while playing their instruments than listening to the music. We had no CHOICE, as any attempts to really immerse ourselves in the music would have ended in severe whiplash. One startled audience member remarked, "These guys don't even play music; they just jump around like monkeys." I was able to read my friend's thoughts just by the look on her face. This was, in fact, the most audience-polarizing band we had seen together since US Maple opened for Pavement at Stubb's, and she ordered me to burn a copy of Other Mathematics for her that instant.
The crowd got into the second band, Pretty Girls Make Graves, much more, which is understandable considering that you can actually sing and dance to their music. The band suffered from the soundman's terrible mixing: you couldn't hear the female lead singer's vocals or the rhythm guitar at all. While the girl's singing is probably the band's most distinctive asset, the absence of rhythm guitar in the mix had a negligible effect. As it turns out, lead guitarist Jay Clark plays the most complicated parts of every song, both on his main instrument and on keyboards. He is the glue that holds the band together, and he managed to strut across the stage with more charisma and enthusiasm than the rest of the band put together. No, I'm not saying this just because he's black (haha), but I will admit that his presence gives the band a few brownie points (no pun intended...well, maybe) in my eyes. If I could boil the music of Pretty Girls Make Graves down to a formula, I would say that they fuse emo introspection with riot-grrl brattiness. The guitars never, ever sit still, the rhythm section booms and crashes in all the right places, and everyone except the drummer backs the girl up with communal, cathartic hollering. You won't remember all of the songs once they walk off stage, but while they're on stage, you'll be in rock heaven.
If you don't like your rock shows with a healthy dose of psychosexual terrorism, stay far away from the stage during a Les Savy Fav show. I can't even begin to talk about the music until I discuss the antics of the band's lead singer, Tim Harrington. Tim, a bald, plump, and hairy guy in ill-fitting clothes who probably wouldn't be given the time of day if he stopped a girl on the street, manages to make out with almost every girl (and guy) in the audience before the set's even halfway finished. I'm not kidding. He erotically spit-shined my friend's forehead more than a couple of times! He tore off his pants leg and made me take a whiff of it. He threw his crotch in another audience member's face, forcing her to hide, frightened, under my jacket. He stripped, danced on a pole, humped audience members, abandoned the stage to sing in the middle of the crowd for whole songs at a time, and in general, acted a damn fool. Not that I'm complaining, though, because a Les Savy Fav show just wouldn't be complete without Tim's antics. Too many front men use audience participation to compensate for shortcomings in their bands' music. It is to Les Savy Fav's credit, though, that their music would be just as compelling if Tim simply stood on stage and read from the lyric sheet. The synthesizer stabs of Brainiac, the lyrically dense sing/speak of the Fall, the "death disco" of Public Image Limited, and the scratchy guitars of Wire are all strong influences on Les Savy Fav's music. However, Les Savy Fav's own influence on newer independent rock bands has gone unacknowledged: virtually every new band that stands firmly at the crossroads between art, punk, and funk (Liars, the Rapture, !!!, etc.) owes a debt to them. When I'm at one of their shows, though, I am left with no room to intellectualize. I can only let the music take control of me, and duck and cover whenever Tim comes near.
The set covered almost all areas of the band's catalog. There were lots of songs from their debut 3/5, which was recorded when the band had two guitarists, but these songs, particularly "Pluto" and "Cut it Out:" sounded leaner and better with only one guitar. The new songs were all great, which gives me hope that Les Savy Fav's next album will be a significant rebound from their last album, the good but scattershot Go Forth, and of course, they played their standard, The Cat and the Cobra's "Who Rocks the Party?" The song turned into complete chaos when every member of the two opening bands joined Les Savy Fav on stage, each of them wearing a "I Went on Tour with Les Savy Fav and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt" shirt. A member of Pretty Girls Make Graves set up his own drum kit on stage, and Jay Clark took over on Les Savy Fav's drum kit. The sight of thirteen people on stage --- that's not even counting the audience members who had wandered on stage by this point ---banging on random instruments and shouting like banshees was unbelievable. When a couple of them started hanging off of the ceiling like wild apes, I seriously thought the show was going to turn into a full-scale riot. Les Savy Fav are the only rock band on this planet that deserves to ask the traditionally hip-hop question "Who rocks the party that rocks the body?" without a trace of irony. Put simply, this might have been the best show I'd seen all year.
November 12, 2002
The same theory can be applied to Ultramarine, if you replace "Interpol" with, say, "Moby" or "The Orb." Okay, so the Orb and Moby are roughly contemporary with Ultramarine, it doesn't really matter, because, well....Moby was more DJ than "artist" at the time, and The Orb, while trance-inducing, were never anything less than utterly cerebral; they certainly didn't make music that needed chemicals to appreciate fully. (Of course, I could open up a whole can of worms here and say that Every Man and Woman is a Star is saying the same thing as "We Are All Made of Stars," but I won't.)
I'll also confess and say I don't know a lot about techno/electronica music. I was vaguely aware of it in the early 1990s, but I thought that the whole Rave scene was (and, erm, still is) a bit too hippie, a bit too excessive, and a bit too boring for my blood. More importantly, I didn't think much of what these "artists" were making. One guy behind a computer may come up with some interesting sounds, but I'll take real instruments over fake ones any day. And there are plenty of real instruments on Every Man and Woman is a Star, too--such as guitar, flute, clarinet, and violins, as well as the occasional moments of human voice. Inspired in part by the British band's trip to Arkansas (?!), the group felt inspired to make "music for the body and the mind" and they've certainly accomplished it. Every Man and Woman is a Star really feels warm, loving, and natural--it's not going to knock you out with heavy beats or trendy club anthems, which was a definite step away from their contemporaries. At points, such as "Saratoga" and "Panther," you'll be hard-pressed to not classify this record as light-jazz or, possibly uptempo New Age.
That the world missed Ultramarine's second album, Every Man and Woman is a Star, is no surprise. Originally released in 1992, it suffered the fate of being released at the same time their record label shut down. It's a bit of a pity, too, because the music on here deserves so much more than obscurity. My first listen to Every Man and a Woman is a Star was a quiet pleasure. You'll be hard-pressed to pin a date to these songs, because they sound so..utterly...modern! Those Moby comparisons? If you didn't know any better, you could easily throw some of this together with some of Moby's recent compositions, and the average listener would be none the wiser. Moby should be sending Ultramarine some sort of gratuity for borrowing so heavily from them, or maybe Ultramarine's just waiting for Eminem to get through with him to reclaim their crown. Whatever the case may be, you could do worse than to spend the time tracking this album down. It's the perfect balm to the hard days in your life.
November 11, 2002
I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about Halley, but I think I'll tell you a little secret. I'll let you know the exact moment I fell in love with them. It's on the last song, the epic "Kites are Slow Downers." At exactly 7 minutes and 59 seconds into the song, after a loud buildup of guitar, drum, keyboards, trumpets, brass, and strings--the choir comes in, and you're ascending in to heaven. The song is an epic, heavenly, sonic recreation of the final battle of good vs. evil. As you listen, the battle has just taken place, and at that particular moment, you know who's just won, and the fight and conflict is over, the choir declared the winner, and the song fades into silence. After thirty seconds of quiet, you hear the conquering army returning to a heavenly home in the sky, and the orchestra plays the fanfare of the victorious conquerors, and heaven shines.
Forget The Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us is a record that simply demands to be heard. I DEMAND that it be heard. And, I'm telling you, my friends, Halley--who know that spending TIME on your music means that your record will SOUND GOOD--are a band that aren't worth watching...they're a band worth EXPERIENCING. I could bust out with 5037 words for each song, but I'm not going to do so, because I wouldn't feel comfortable being so brief and dismissive of their music. Words really do fail, my friend--Halley are a band that you must hear to fully comprehend. You really should listen to Forget The Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us--and then you should listen to it again. And again. Listen with your ears, and let your soul hear it. You'll be glad you did.
November 10, 2002
Books extend one olive branch to the listener by outlining the method behind their madness in the second song, “Read, Eat, Sleep.” An acoustic guitar is given the digital cut-up treatment, and is then supplemented by the tinkling of a variety of chimes and music boxes. During the first half, voices of different timbres slowly spell out the words of the song’s title. The music then segues into a field recording of what sounds like chains being dragged across glass. After this jarring transition, a stern voice says, "By digitizing thunder and traffic noises, Georgia was able to compose aleatoric music." For those of you who aren’t studying for the SATs, aleatoric music is defined as “composition based primarily on chance, but sometimes also random accidents and/or highly
improvisational execution.” This must be the Books’ way of telling the listener not to try so hard to make sense out of the interruptions, to simply enjoy the music for what it is. It is fortunate for the adventurous listener, and unfortunate for the befuddled critic, that the only word that can accurately describe the rest of Thought for Food is “brilliant.”
“All Bad Ends All” could have fit nicely on Moby’s Play if His Royal Baldness had severe attention deficit disorder. A blues singer moans through a cloud of vinyl static, introducing a bouncy juke-joint guitar riff backed by a percussive backdrop of what sounds like drumsticks beating on buckets. On “Contempt,” a cello is deliberately
plucked as one guy asks another guy strange questions about his body parts, for instance, “Do you like my ankles?” The gorgeous “Excess Straussness” is little more than layer after layer of celli run through tremolo, and it is as close as I’ve ever heard to a musical representation of floating on a cloud. “Mikey Bass” is an appropriately named showcase for the bass guitar. The riffs are sped up, slowed down, and triggered to stutter and fold back in on themselves until they bear a striking resemblance to the human regurgitation noises that appear at the end of the song. The coda to “Getting the Done Job”sounds like a recording of an Irish jig that was spliced into tiny pieces and rearranged incorrectly. “All Our Base Are Belong to Them” begins with dueling bass guitars, sounding like Dianogah on Quaaludes, until a singer shows up to do a duet with a slowed-down recording of his own voice. In the middle of the song, someone says, “Welcome to the human race; you’re a mess,” and that statement is just as good a manifesto for Thought for Food as the previous “aleatoric” hullabaloo, for the incidental noises that pop up in almost every nook and cranny on this record could serve as symbols of the messy realities of daily life.
Occasionally, an element of dark irony pops into the Books’ music. “Motherless Bastard” begins with a recording of a father publicly disowning his daughter as she cries out for him. The father’s voice is so dispassionate that I wonder whether his words are meant in earnest or in jest. If it’s the latter, the child isn’t in on the joke, for her cries begin to sound more and more desperate until the introductory guitar riff finally appears. The conversation appears merely as a preface to the actual music, with occasional interjections of “Mommy! Daddy!” punched in the mix to reinforce the melancholy. “Deafkids,” the album’s closer, pits a group of babbling children against a clueless schoolmarm who keeps telling them to be quiet though the children obviously can’t hear him (hence the song’s title). It’s a cheap joke, but one can’t hold that against the Books, for the song’s seventy-second duration keeps the joke from getting stretched too thin.
Getting this album to sit comfortably inside a specific genre is about as difficult for me as solving a Rubik’s Cube would be to a colorblind man. Despite the fact that not a single second of this record sounds as if it hasn’t been digitally altered in some manner, Thought for Food cannot be classified as Intelligent Dance Music. There’s no way in hell that you can dance to it, and the Books do all of the intellectualizing for me in “Read, Eat, Sleep”. You can’t call it “musique concrete” because no matter how busy the sonic manipulations become, the emphasis remains on melody and organic instrumentation. In fact, the album’s weak point, the minute-long “A Dead Fish Gains the Power of Observation,” is the only song in which the voice (the mumbling monologue of the song’s protagonist) is actually more interesting than the music (a quiet, directionless guitar improvisation). There are bluegrass and ragtime influences on display, but not even the late guitar virtuoso John Fahey’s most extreme work approaches this music’s sheer otherness. Yes, cello is one of the main instruments on this record, but the noises it makes are too rough and unstructured to resemble anything symphonic or classical. The liner notes don’t give any insight as to who the Books are; the guest appearances are mentioned by name, but the main offenders aren’t. The Books have to be admired for their dogged refusal to draw a straight line and follow it, but all of the mystery and obfuscation in the world would mean nothing if it weren’t for the thirty-eight minutes of random, beautiful music that they’ve given us with Thought for Food.
November 07, 2002
Romantic problems are Gedge's specialty, and Cinerama's made a career off of love gone wrong, and while such probelms of the heart aren't pleasant to experience, Gedge tells some interesting combat stories from the battle of the sexes. Mixing these tunes with a small chamber orchestra backing and some pretty crunchy guitar parts, Cinerama's music grows greater with every tear and heartbreak. Could it be that one woman wronged him? He seems to come back to certain themes: deception, cheating, and dishonesty, and, well...it just appears that the man's obsessive about his pain. "And When She Was Bad," the lead track off of Cinerama's new album, finds that her cheatin' heart is still at it.
The cover of Torino shows the propeller of an airplane mid-air, and that ties in quite well with Cinerama circa 2002. They're a band flying comfortably at autopilot; you're not going to find any particularly new ideas or themes or sounds. When you're already a master when it comes to writing pop-songs, sometimes consistency of product is the greatest achievement. Normally you should take to task a band that hasn't really changed its style, but when you make music as awesome as Cinerama, then you don't have to change anything.
Now, I can't tell you who is doing what; there's not a drop of description of that information included anywhere on Double Love Suicide. Guess I could take the time to look it up, but the music's too good. Maybe, then, that's the point? Instead of worrying about details as who does what, what's played, and who helped out, maybe, just maybe, the Partnerships would rather you focus your attention to the fact that they're talented musicians?
And man, it sounds so good! For what's probably two fellows at home, the Partnerships can easily contend with the best of the 1980s. Just listening to Double Love Suicide I'm reminded of Marc Almond, Pet Shop Boys, Kajagoogoo, The Beloved, Frazer Chorus, Duran Duran, and New Order--and that's just with the first listen! Thankfully, these guys aren't trying to be Gary Numan or any of the more arty electronic acts--apparently, they're more into the whole enjoyment of music thing, as opposed to making a statement or trying to sound like "the future"---the main failing of most modern "new wave" bands, whose attempts at reproduction fail because they fail to recognize the pure, simple joy of pop.
It's not all synths, though. Occasionally, such as on "Comfortable Again" and "Falling," they eschew the synths for the guitar. They can actually sing, too. Whoever it is, they've got a super high voice, which takes you to a new level of listening enjoyment. The music is never sloppy, either--it's very, very tight. Hell, you could probably fool the occasional retro-radio listener with most of these songs. Hell, you could fool me with most of these songs , too!
Double Love Suicide is one of those rare records you're not gonna want to put down, simply because they offer your ears a musical pleasure very few, if any, artist can accomplish anymore. Not the most orignial record, but then again, I don't think they want to do anything more than entertain you with the sounds they love. After all, isn't music made to be enjoyed?
Hello Howard Hello hello!! I'd like to ask you a few questions about your new album, Howard Hello. It's been in my record player for most of the weekend, and while I'd like to say firsthand that I enjoyed the experience, I can't help but ask you a few questions about it, if you wouldn't mind taking a few moments of your time.
First of all, you're funny. That skipping guitar line right at the beginning of "Television" really had me fooled. I was dead-set that the beautiful little melody had suddenly been derailed by a lousy CD player, or that somehow your disk had been damaged. I laugh about it now, because I think that's what you were going for. On that song, were you just sitting around at a rehearsal and you didn't know the tape was rolling? Not to be rude or anything, but I really liked that opening melody, but by the track's end, with the hollow sound and the people talking in the background and the vocal warm-ups by Wendy Allen make it seem like it's some sort of outtake.That's pretty big of you, too, to put a session outtake as the first track of your album.
Tell me, Howard Hello, are you a fan of His Name is Alive? I'm thinking that you are, because I'm hearing a few things that are rather Warren Defeverish, such as the ethereal vocal lines placed over new-age keyboards, as well as a few moments here and there where the acoustic guitar lines "mess up," such as on track four. Not saying that it's a bad thing--it's good to hear that Warren's an influence on somebody.
I really like your CD, Howard Hello. It's pretty, with flowing acoustic guitars and such. Are you trying to innovate the acoustic guitar genre, or are you simply a group that likes the sound of pretty things that are slightly messed up? Or do you like to play jokes on people, so as to think that this pretty little record of yours is defective, or that their own CD player isn't working right? I like a prank or two myself. It's good to have a little chuckle at someone's expense every now and then, don't you think?
I like it, though, that you're not all jokes, especially with those long, new age numbers at the end of the record--what are they called? I can't remember, because there's no song listing on the CD, and I'd hate to take the record off. Ah, here's the listing. How ironic that this keyboard number is called "Dream," and that you end with a song entitled "Hello"! It sounds like you've listened to a bit of Harold Budd, as well as other greats. Do you have aspirations to be on Hearts of Space? Can't say that I blame you, because you've got the kind of sound that would go over like gangbusters there, and that's not just reviewer talk, either.
Anyways, I'd better get back to working on these reviews. I've enjoyed your CD; it's kind of lulled me in to a dreamlike state. Thanks for these few minutes of dreamlike music--I'll be sure to pop it on the next time I'm feeling restless, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from you guys!
P.S. You still like Tarentel? They're pretty.
For the most part, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? doesn't really stray from the tried and true British indie-pop formula, and that's just fine in my book. With a bit more synth than most indie-pop bands, Lovejoy doesn't sound like every other Bob Wratten project, and that's also a plus in my book. Quiet, acoustic moments tempered with synths and literate words and breathy and occasionally off-kilter vocals and a tinge of sadness sum up Lovejoy quite nicely. I like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It's not too terribly sad, nor is it terribly generic-sounding indiepop. I really fell for "Don't You (Wish You'd Never Met Me?)," the sad ballad album closer, because sometimes it's nice to have a weeper.
Inside the cover, there's a little rant about capitalism, escapist game-shows on television, and society in general. Between that and the cover art that looks like a scene from Quadrophenia, I start to wonder if this is an indiepop concept album about capitalism? I couldn't really tell from the lyrics, though. I have a feeling, though, that Lovejoy would like nothing better than to give you a little bit of an alternative to all the dreck on the radio, and for that, they are to be commended. While they may not make you a millionaire, Lovejoy will enrich your day with their lovely pop stylings.
The mere title Submers brings to mind "submerge," but, erm, if you dive a little deeper, you'll also think of "submarines." Indeed, all of the tracks on Submers are named after submarines, and knowing that seals into place the feeling that you are down below the ocean. With the dark, beautiful, drone-like nature of Submers, even without any reference to the ocean, you could easily fool yourself into thinking that you were in an IMAX theater special about sharks, whales, the sea. The ambient nature of Submers is overwhelming, but not overbearing; cold, but not freezing; technical, but not complicated. At times the music is ominous, such as on "Mute 3,"but elsewhere the music is tranquil and calm, such as "Resurgam," and at times in the underwater disco hit "Diable Marin," you can picture the dolphins swimming round you. The final track, the utterly sad "Kursk," is a requiem for the Russian submarine crew that died in the submarine of the same name, and it's a fitting end to Submers, showing that with life, there's death, and with death, life goes on. It's that circle of life thing under the ocean thing, I guess.
loscil is following in the ambient tradition wonderfully created by luminaries as Harold Budd and Roger and Brian Eno. Eno created Music for Films and Music for Airports, but loscil's Scott Morgan beat him to the punch and created Music for Submarines. It was a matter of time, really, that someone would take the torch from Budd and Eno; luckily, Morgan's a worthy heir to the ambient throne. Submers is a nice realization of a young artist's talents; here's to an interesting and vaired career--just avoid the temptation of reading your own poetry or collaborating with John Cale.
Zedek's made some really interesting music in the past (Come, Live Skull), and her solo work has proven to be just as interesting. On "You're A Big Girl Now," Zedek's going for a more traditional rock singer-songwriter sound that really works for her. Two of the six songs on this mini-album are covers, including an excellent reading of Lou Reed's "Candy Says." The title track is a classic and heartbreaking Bob Dylan song that comes from his greatest musical statement, Blood on the Tracks. Zedek's voice is a deep, husky growl that sounds like she smoked too many cigarettes this morning, and that voice really captures the soul of both songs. Because both Reed and Dylan have trademark rough singing voices, Zedek's rough yet sexy growl really fits these songs.
The other four songs are equally excellent, heartbreaking, and moody. "Everything Unkind," the opening number, links in rather nicely with "No Fire," the album closer, sounding very much like a variation on the same melody. I'm particularly fond of "No Substitutions," because it's a sweet-sounding number with a hidden red hourglass on its belly--much like the best songs by Dylan and Reed.
Zedek's the first female Dylan I've heard in a long time, and unlike Patti Smith, she's actually good! "You're A Big Girl Now" is reaffirmation that the styles set down so long long ago--rock singer/songwriters. Zedek's had a very interesting career so far, and there's no reason to think that it'll get less interesting as time goes on. It's a quietly excellent record, and I'd like to think of it as a hint of forthcoming greatness.
November 06, 2002
Hayden's soft, acoustic-based music is perfect for a live setting, and this double-disc set is proof positive of Hayden's underappreciated genius. The performance, taken from a concert in Toronto earlier this year, is a great career retrospective, with him offering songs from all aspects of his career, as well as some new, soon-to-be classics. He's practically alone, with the occasional string and brass and backup vocals. As his music was already greatly atmospheric, listening to him play solo in front of a large audience makes his songs sound even deeper and darker. And those comparisons to Thom Yorke? Very, very apt, because at times on Live at Convocation Hall, you'd be hard-pressed to think you weren't listening to Mr. Grumpy Artist himself.
Underneath the darkness, though, is a sensitive sense of humor. His between-song is funny and thoughtful, (listen hard for a very funny exchange on disc one) and you can't help but think of Hayden as an interesting, quiet fellow who's quite literate and, well..normal! I especially liked his story about his cat, Woody. He explains the story about his new song, "Woody," and it's quite funny, and the song is heartbreaking, and I really don't think it's just about his cat.
Live at Convocation Hall is a great mid-career look-back. Though many might have thought that Hayden had been lost due to his label problems, his return earlier this year found him maturing as a songwriter. This record is a good argument for the hype about his music, as it reassures the listener that when it comes to Hayden, it's all about the words. In case you didn't get to see him live last year, or just want to enjoy an hour and a half listening to some excellent, literate acoustic music, you could do a lot worse than giving that time to Hayden.
Monster Movie is a band consisting of ex-members of the late, great Slowdive, and over the past two years, Monster Movie have made some dreamy post-shoegaze dreampop. Their debut album, Last Night Something Happened, was a lusciously nice record. That's why I was a bit excited to hear these new songs. "Beautiful Artic Star" was a lovely little song, similar to the style of their debut, but I kept thinking that Ian Masters should be singing it. "Nobody Sees" is interesting, but it sounds like an expanded demo, and doesn't really seem to do much. More bothersome, though, is the fact that these songs, as good as they are, seem to find the band teetering along the fine line between dreampop and goth.
So that leaves Dreamend the heavy burden of saving this single. Luckily, this dark horse of a band has enough strength to carry the entire record. Annoyingly, two of their three songs are simply "Untitled," and a third one is simply "..ellipsis.." Well. Be that as it may, Dreamend make a nice, occasionally noisy, always dreamy brand of instrumental music that reminds me of Lanterna meeting up with Tristiza, which means it sounds like Scenic. I really like the loud, epic guitar ambience thing that they're doing, too.
A good band slips up slightly, yet an unknown band picks them up and carries them to safer ground. That's a good thing. This doesn't change my love for Monster Movie, but it does create an interest in Dreamend, which of course means that this record succeeded in its purpose. Preface is a really lovely, dreamy occupation of your time, and promises much for the future--and a pretty interesting kick-off to what appears to be a split-CD series.
November 04, 2002
Wait, I can hear you teenagers grumbling at me in the back. What, you think what I just said is unfair? Considering that Kweller didn't exactly have to struggle to get to where he is today (daddy knew "people"), it's not that unfair to be cynical. He's barely not teenage anymore, and so it's not unnatural for him to gravitate to where the kids are. Sha-Sha sounds like Weezer with a piano and Ben Folds with a guitar and little else.
I have to admit that for all my bitching and playa-hatin', there are some really good moments on here. I do like "Wasted and Ready," and "In Other Words" could be his "Bricks" if "Bricks" hadn't been written by a genius. And to be fair, he's not as whiny as Bright Eyes, either. In fact, I think that he's the man-boy that Conor Oberst would be if he took a fair amount of medication for his issues. Still, those bright moments aren't enough to save Sha Sha from sounding anything less than the record that somebody somewhere thinks it should sound.
While writing this little review, though, my opinion's changed slightly. Yeah, Kweller does come off as smug, and there's a whiff of prepackage to Sha Sha as well, but it's not as bad as I'd originally thought. Too bad there's not a Weird-Al Show for him to play his little songs on, either, but you know he'd so be there on the stage if there were such a thing as Emopalooza. If you disagree with me, then go and write about it in your Livejournal account, slappy.