February 15, 2002

Ida "Shhhh...."

A few weeks ago, I lamented the art of the remix album. Dismissed most of them as being nothing more than inside jokes, and that most listeners would have to know both the artist and the remixer in order to fully appreciate the material, and I stand by my original thoughts. Most bands really don't deserve the remix treatment, and it seems rather puzzling when certain bands release remix albums. Thankfully, most bands don't indulge in this once-common rip-off.

Of course, exceptions do exist, and Shhh... is most certainly a lovely little exception. At first glance, Shhh... looks to be a most interesting, fascinating little collection, if not a little unique. Every one of the songs start with the letter S, and all but one of them start with "Sh-." Heck, even two of the remixers have names that start with the letter S as well, though that may be a happy little coincidence.

In a weird way, this is the Ida that you've grown to love and respect, with a few nice little curveballs. Most of the remixers have stayed true to Ida's sad, atmospheric folk, and have simply added their own touches here and there. Warn Defever's R&B remix of "Shotgun" not only fits the song, but it also makes Ida sound a lot more emotional. Sasha Frere-Jones (of long-quiet Ui) throws in some atmosphere and beats to Will You Find Me's "Shrug," and helps to show that Ida's also not too far away from electronica. Trina Shoemaker, producer par excellence, throws in some noise to the aforementioned songs, making Ida sound rougher, slightly rawer, yet somehow more produced. Then, there are two total, utter curveballs. Truxton Park's remix of "Shoreline" makes this little song into a thirteen minute long Autechre-style electronic drone, relentless in its continual beat. It's interesting, but perhaps a little bit redundant. And as for the final track, the LA Blues Mix of "Shrug," the listener can only be surprised at the utter schizophrenic episode that takes place. Shhh... also contains three outtakes, two instrumentals, "Strings" and "Should've Called," and a nice homegrown number, "Shhh...," that, while nice, is slightly forgettable.

I think the artwork is the key to Shhh.... It's Mr. Worm, and he's sound asleep and having a pleasant dream. He looks content. On the back, he's waking up, refreshed. These lovely scenes were made by Davin, whose distinctively simple artwork has been the definitive trademark of his Time Stereo label--which fits in nicely, seeing as Ida are a quite distinctively simple band. The fact that this is a homemade record, to fill in the gaps between last year's The Braille Night and their next album, shows that Ida really cares about giving their fans music. This is both a remix album and a compilation album, seemingly from those quiet years when Ida was "on" Capitol. Shhh... fills that empty place in your heart and soul, and, unlike most remix albums, is far from self-indulgent. This is a nice, slightly imperfect album that stands on its own, even in the face of experimentation. No wonder Mr. Worm is smiling.

--Joseph Kyle

February 12, 2002

Six Cents and Natalie "When Punk Fell to Earth"

A record such as this--of lo-fi pop recorded nearly a decade ago--is slightly difficult to talk about outside of sweeping generalizations and vague musical references. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I thought that the best way to describe the music on When Punk Fell To Earth would be a simle word association. After all, references to Daniel Johnston can only go so far, especially when the only comparison between the two can only be found in the fact they both recorded lo-fi cassettes. So, to cut to the chase, Each song was lovingly listened to, and the first thing that came to mind was jotted down. I hope that, somehow, this is helpful for you.

Joseph's Word Association for When Punk Fell To Earth

01. "still maybe"= Clink-Clink.
02. "Molly Dodd"= Hand-holding robots.
03. "Stitch-n-String"= Thunky keyboards.
04. "Wedding Bells in D#"= Restraining Orders
05. "Simple"= complex
06. "Ultimatum"= dumped.
07. "Penalty Box"= hockey-hop.
08. "Breckenridge"= kitty goes skiing
09. "Pinecones and Ice Cream"= the alien invasion sounds like the fanfare from a heavy metal concert
10. "The Water Song"= the best song Adam Goren never wrote (and even more disturbing, this was before I learned it was a Mountain Goats song)
11. "Surfergirl"= hurry up and drown!
12. "Easter Sunday"= let's smooch the lonely alien-boy
13. "True Colors"= Cindy's got a lawsuit!
14. "I Called Just to Hear Your Voice"= chapstick and lipstick=you!
15. "The Sadness of Science"= ugh!
16. "The Third Man"= yeah, who didn't kill Laura Palmer
17. "Your Swimming Suit"= let's get naked and new wave!
18. "Your Class"= Stalkers cry, too.
19. "I'm Smarter than That"= you can think that if you wish
20. "Sea Side Cafe"= okay....
21. "Queenie Isn't Here"= teenage boys and girls swear..shocking!
22. "Manufactured Drum Sounds"= truth in advertising never hurt
23. "Whose Side Are you On?"= let me get back to you on that one
24. "Living on Video"= dying on audio
25. "Mail Order Catalog"= What, there's more?

--Joseph Kyle

February 11, 2002

Alkaline Trio/Hot Water Music Split EP

Mental freeze.

Time to get out of the house.

What to do?

Beer. I need beer.

So, I hopped in my car and made the long trek out to the liquor store. Instead of going through the time, I thought I'd take the long way. After all, I'm stuck in a mental freeze. I can't think of a damn thing to say about this Alkaline Trio and Hot Water Music EP. I mean, it's nice and all, and I really dig it, but I don't know what to say about it. All I know about either is that Alkaline Trio are from Chicago, hired a good drummer named Mike, who used to play in Smoking Popes, and supposedly he was fired because he was too good, or whose name recognition was making the others uncomfortable or something. All I know about Hot Water Music is they're from Florida, growl when they sing, and have a tendency to get really, really, hairy. The only other common factor I know is that they're beloved by that whole "emo" crowd.

It's a lovely day, so rolling down the windows seems to be a good idea. Driving, with stereo cranking, what to say about this release? I could say things about the first Alkaline Trio song, "Queen of Pain." I think the lead singer dude sounds like Elvis Costello. I like this song. It's got a nice, fast beat to it. It makes me want to drive 70 miles an hour, and then drive faster. Ok, that singer dude kinda has a nasal voice, a little annoying, but I can overlook that. And this song sounds like it is, how do they put it, "radio-friendly?" Yeah, I can buy that. This is slick rock, but it's well-produced, so the "slick" adjective isn't an insult. I totally wince at the line "I'm not much of a jester, but I just poisioned food for you." What does it mean? Am I beyond the scope of the target demo to understand? The other two songs are similar in nature, but don't rock me hard like that first one, though "Rooftops" comes rather close.

Hot Water Music are a bit more perplexing. I know they take their name from a Bukowski. I also seem to think that these guys are a little more "street" than Alkaline Trio; certainly, they're much rougher and harder than Alkaline Trio. Apparently, some of their selections on this EP are covers of Alkaline Trio songs, but I couldn't tell you which ones. I like their singer's voice, too. It's rough, it's harsh, it's livin' the life. And, I swear, if there were to be a Punk Rock Springsteen, he'd be a shoo-in. I really, really like the last song, "Bleeder." It's strummed and acoustic, yet the singer really sounds like he wants to beat the hell out of that guitar. The Hot Water Music stuff isn't bad; it's just different. Still, I'm not sure what to make of this record.

I get to the liquor store, and, wandering around, I realize something. I'm old enough. I'm old enough to vote. I'm old enough to rent, buy, and sell X-rated movies. I'm old enough to go into a bar. I'm old enough to buy beer. I'm old enough to do all those things I never was old enough to do before. It's a totally refreshing realization. I'm old enough. I can walk up and down the aisles without having someone card me. I can buy all the cases of St. Pauli Girl, and nobody will card me, and when they do, I'm flattered. I'm old enough to do all of these things, but for some reason, I can't seem to grasp the point of this record, this little piece of plastic.

I buy a couple of beers, hop in my truck, and make my way back home. I don't wanna come back, because I've got things to do that I don't really want to do, but, in the realization that I'm "old enough," I realize that, yes, I have to come home, I have to do my laundry. I have to do my taxes. I have to buy toilet paper. And, in the cataloging of all of these things that I "have to do," it hits me. What's the purpose of this record? These bands have things to do. They have to rock out. They've come to a point in their lives where making is records is something they do, and it's something they do well. More importantly, I know why the kids dig these guys. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to be "old enough." I wanted to be thought of as older than I was, and that's why I drank. That's why I smoked. That's why I did a lot of things. It's a youth culture thing that's trying to emulate the grown-up life, but yet remain young at heart. Punk Rock serves that purpose well, even if I don't like it.

So, I raise a toast to you, Alkaline Trio and Hot Water Music. Adulthood may have its moments that totally suck, but, for the most part, it's a great relief to be away from the hassles of being a minor. It's fun to just kick back, rock out, and have a helluva good time in the process. The kids love ya, that's for sure, and, not being one to begrudge a band their success, I congratulate you for that. If you're ever round my way, stop by. We'll hang out. We'll buy some beer. And we won't be carded in the process. Isn't that the greatest?

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Little Darla Has a Treat For You, Volume 18"

Very rarely is a record label sampler anything more than perfunctory. You know the type--go to a show, order a record from their label, and get a CD of tracks from the record you just bought, plus other representative tracks from their back catalog. If you're a fan of the label, then you'll probably already have some of the tracks. Maybe, if the label's nice, they'll throw on a few tracks of rare or unreleased material. Generally speaking, though, these kinds of releases can be a yawnfest of hourly proportions, leaving you to wonder why they didn't just save the money on the production, and release an awesome new band or something.

Darla Records, aware of the prejudices and format limitations of label samplers, have made a fun, budget-line quarterly sampler called Little Darla Has a Treat For You. The songs on Little Darla Has A Treat For You fall into three general categories: previously released, soon-to-be released, and exclusive tracks. This sampler highlights not only their artists and releases, but also the artists and releases from the numerous labels that they distribute. Over the past few years, these samplers have ranged from "inconsitently interesting" to "mildly boring." Volume Eighteen, however, breaks this mold by being utterly gorgeous.

There are seven previously released songs on this volume. Memphis, a side project of the band Stars, presents a gorgeous jazzy number called "The Ferry Boy," which is followed by the electronic sounds of Metrovavan's "French Lessons." Current talked-about darlings Life Without Buildings present their "Envoys," which, while interesting, doesn't exactly live up to the hype. Following Life Without Buildings is the eccentric Phiiliip and his trippy "(Inside The) Sleep Pavillion." Later on, Holiday Flyer offer their poppy "Invincible," Toog offers his French pop ""L'Žcgec de PŽrec," and the series concludes with the newly-rediscovered The Wake, and their new-wave goff tune "Favour."

Four songs on Little Darla Has A Treat for You are from forthcoming releases, and, man, do they show some major promise! First is Japancakes, who are releasing volume 19 in Darla's other subscription series, Bliss Out. For those not familiar, Bliss Out is a series where artists are approached to make mellow, mind-enhancing, trippy, "blissed out" music. Japancakes offer up a tune "Always Stuck With Leaving" that is a slightly sad country number, complete with heartbreaking pedal steel guitar. Also forthcoming in the Bliss Out series is volume 18, Aarktica's Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life and Be Happy Anyway...." Unlike the laid back, back-to-nature feel of Japancakes' track, Aarktica's song is pure melancholy and despair. Of course, knowing the pedigree of Jon de Rosa (Flare), you should expect nothing less than a hemlock drinking song. Saloon offer up "Make it Soft," a nice, gentle Unrest-meets-Stereolab number that helps to reveal why the hype machine is slowly moving in their direction.

The unreleased numbers, however, are what draw many people to the series, and the selection isn't disappointing at all. My Morning Jacket, who have been turning in unreleased tracks for this series for quite some time, offer "Sooner," a nice, mellow, Neil Young-ish ballad, and it's obvious that they've grown in leaps and bounds since last year's At Dawn. The same can be said of Alsace Lorraine, whose "The Valley Home" is gorgeous Europop. Filling the "where the hell have you been?" selections are two artists who are similar in nature, label, and members. Both Mahogany and Auburn Lull have been quiet for way, way, way, way, way, way longer than they should, and both turn in very beautiful, dramatic, atmospheric numbers. Mus' "Dexase Apagar" and The Blood Group's "Long Blond Hair" are both nice as well.

What makes Little Darla Has a Treat For You, volume 18 nice, however, is that its mixture of new, unreleased, and upcoming songs were expertly compiled. This sampler never drags or becomes tedious; it's a lovely picture book in sound of some great pop music from around the world. Bet you haven't heard half of the artists on here, and that's another plus. This is one of those records that serves a purpose, and serves it well, and everyone is pleased from the outcome. Seek it out, you won't be disappointed.

--Joseph Kyle

February 10, 2002

Viva Las Vegas "Viva Las Vegas"

Now, here's an interesting situation.

For years, bands like Calexico and Giant Sand have been blending indie rock with a definite hint of Latino culture, to grand results. With a hint of Morricone, and a whole lot of desert, these groups have been making moody, yet definitly spicy, music. Their style, borrowing from the best of two worlds, is uniquely their own. What happens, then, when you have a band from Spain that makes exactly the same kind of music?

It is a most interesting conundrum.

Viva Las Vegas, like Calexico, is a duo, Jose Luis García and Frank Rudow, who are also members of Manta Ray. Both members share duties in playing all of the instruments, so the music is rather varied, yet consistant in its vision. Unlike Calexico, Viva Las Vegas doesn't coat itself in the mariachi-meets-Nino Rota instrumentation. Occasionally, as on "Estaré de paso," they will slip in a guitar line that sounds not unlike Modest Mouse, but thankfully they never sound like Modest Mouse. Since nearly all of the songs are sung in Spanish, and as I never really paid much attention in Spanish class in high school, I really couldn't tell you what these fellows are saying.

Fortunatly, you don't have to be bilingual to appreciate the music on Viva Las Vegas. From the opening buzz of "Corazón sano," you realize that the next forty-five minutes will be a warm, hazy, hash-smoked affair. Rudow and García
are in no particular hurry, and as such, Viva Las Vegas is a very smooth-sounding record; it's in no rush to reach the end, and you can tell that Rudow and García have no desire to overwhelm their music with complexities. The only complaint I have with Viva Las Vegas is that when Garcí sings in English, those comparisons to Calexico come rushing back in, and, indeed, they do come off as sounding like a Calexico-influenced indie band. Oh, wait, they probably are, and, as their are indeed worse bands to emulate, it's not a real problem after all.

Viva Las Vegas is the kind of record that I know would be enjoyed by the collegiate indie-rock crowd. You know the type--likes Will Oldham, digs Modest Mouse, and thinks that (smog)'s Bill Callahan has some interesting things to say. For once, though, the hipsters will be right about the music they like, and I'll be listening, too. Well worth the extra effort in seeking out, Viva Las Vegas is a quietly lovely little album.

--Joseph Kyle

Exhalera Deck "Breathe"

Some nights, I can't sleep. It's true. I toss and I turn and I can't seem to get into the groove with my Rapid Eye Movement. Stress, perhaps, is the leading factor in my inability to sleep. I'm not going to go into the details about why, but let's just say that the toils of the work-a-day world seem to hit hardest when I try to get my beauty sleep. I've also been told it could be the conflict between normal person and my inner rock-and-roll animal that simply cannot fathom the notion of me being in bed by 10:30 nearly every night.

Suffice it to say, sometime I need a little help in order to get my full 6 hours of sleep. Occasionally, I'll take a sleeping pill, but I tend to avoid them, as usually I'll oversleep or will be left feeling utterly groggy and grumpy. "Nightcaps" I avoid, simply because many alcohols are high in sugar content, which, I do believe, is the last thing you'd want to take if you're suffering from restlessness. I've even used cough syrup as a sleep aid, but I don't like to talk about that, because, man, that's a sign of a real problem.

Nearly every night, though, I use music to lull me to sleep. Hey, if it can soothe the savage beast, it might just work for someone like me. What I've grown accustomed to doing is placing a record on rotation that I'm going to be reviewing, so as to let it sink in on a subliminal level. If the sleep problem's really bad, I'll use a record that I know will definitly put me to sleep, and, if the record is particularly beautiful or moving, it'll remain on heavy rotation for weeks at a time. I don't like to do this to most of the records I review, as it's easy to dismiss good music as something to put you to sleep. Since you can't appreciate things like lyrics or singing style if you're in a trancelike state, the music I use for sleeping is often electronica or, at the very least, instrumental.

I can't tell you much about Exhalera Deck, other than the fact that it's an offshoot from Chris Jeely's project Accelera Deck. I can't really compare the two, either. I know that Accelera Deck is more electronic, and, from what I've heard, is more experimental than this. Breathe is an album chock full of dance music for the mind. Like bands such as Autechre and Mouse on Mars, Exhalera Deck seems intent on entering your mind and expanding your thoughts with grooves that occasionally will (hopefully) inspire you to move your feet...or, in some instances, take you to another level of consciousness. It's worked for me.

I've found Breathe to be a rather pleasant ticket for a mental, spiritual journey. It's good for my nights when I don't sleep. That I wake up feeling smarter, and slightly more smug in my intelligence, is a surpirse gift that Breathe delivers. I've also woken up screaming, having dreamed that I'm a robot, and a not particularly friendly robot as well..but I don't think I should comment on that, now should I?

--Joseph Kyle

February 07, 2002

Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma and Antler "The Tropic of Nipples EP"

I've reviewed "singles" on Compact Disc format for quite some time, and now it's time for me to reverse this policy, and review an album on a seven inch single. Though such things as six-songs, one-minute or less singles are rather rare these days, with bands like Guided By Voices, it's par for the course.

Suffice to say, this is a very odd and rather strange little record. It's Bob Pollard, backed with Antler, a band from the 70s, and writer Richard Meltzer, teamed up with 70s prog-rockers Smegma, and though you might be left with the impression that this is a four-way collaboration, think again. What both groups have done, however, is to stagger the tracks and then mix them together into a "cohesive" "whole." The result is a massive, continual "song" cycle, a sonic mess that they've created. When you add to this combination the fact that everything is so incredibly lo-fi, you know you're gonna be a-challenged.

The worst part about The Tropic of Nipples is Richard Meltzer and Smegma. Though his poetry is at least slightly interesting on paper doesn't mean that they'll translate into interesting listening. Add to the fact that it's rather obvious that Meltzer's drunk or stoned. He never sings, but he sure does slur a lot. Smegma's backing isn't really bad or good; it's just there, existing, but barely. Meltzer's poetry isn't for the weak of heart, either; it's rather profane in nature, if not a little contrived. I did like "Kerouac Never Drove, So He Never Drove Alone," though.

Pollard's contributions aren't quite as bad as Meltzers, though they're far from his best. In fact, it's probably because of Meltzer's tracks that make his songs much more palatable. "Presumed" is a great, rocking little number, and on "All For Sex and Better Whiskey," his backing band Antler sound like they're just wanting to break out of their lo-fi restraints and tear up the song. Unfortunately, they don't. "Tykie Love (Text book Memorial Hemingway)" is also a fun little tune, though that's mainly due to the overwhelming backing vocals. Most of his songs are in that kind of speak-sing thing he's been doing on and off for years, so in a way, he's kind of doing spoken word., though he does kind of sound bored on "Ovarian Angel Architect."

One thing that I have to give Pollard credit for is the fact that he's not willing to fall down on a project There comes a time in every young Guided by Voices fan's life when they realize that Mr. Pollard has occasionally borrowed the emperor's new clothes, and it would be easy to dismiss The Tropic of Nipples as one of those instances. While it's true that his lo-fi experimentation isn't for everyone, it's certainly fodder for occasionally interesting listening. Sure, the record fails, but that doesn't mean it's gonna stop Pollard's rock. When an artist can at least make a half-assed attempt at doing something unique, I'm impressed. Maybe I'm missing the point; maybe this was just a chance for Pollard to do something with someone he's admired, and, for that, no amount of criticism in the world is ever gonna blemish the mindset behind the making The Tropic of Nipples.

--Joseph Kyle

February 06, 2002

Lambchop "Is a Woman"

It's a Friday night. I'm sitting here at home, lights down low. The week has passed, and now it's time for relaxation. It's also the day after Valentine's Day. No matter; as I have indulged a singular lifestyle choice, the day means nothing to me. So, with Southern Comfort in hand, I turn down the lights, and decide to relax with a smooth drink and a beautiful, romantic record. Fortunately for me, there's the new Lambchop album, Is A Woman, that needs to be reviewed. Based on my experiences with Lambchop's previous releases, Nixon and the odds-and-sods collection Tools in the Dryer, I think I can say with certainty that Lambchop make records that are best enjoyed with lights down low and a good glass of Southern Comfort.

As someone from Merge loves me, I received this album with a press bio. Promising that the album is "a new and exciting direction," and with the use of words such as "beauty," "heartbreak," and "intimate," the choice seems rather clear as to what the soundtrack of my life will be for tonight--a night where, feeling slightly tired, I want my soundtrack to make me feel loved, warm, and, most importantly, Southern. After all, just this afternoon I realized that, though I reside in Texas, I'm geographically closer to L.A. than I am to Nashville. That, my friends, disturbs me greatly. Although being Southern has its privileges, it also has its share of responsibilities, and staying true to one's roots is most important.

On first listen to Is A Woman, I was completely overwhelmed. Indeed, the press bio was far from purple prose; indeed, the loudly quiet tones of opener "The Daily Growl" not only seemed distant from Nixon's gospel-tinged R&B flavor--it seemed like a different band entirely. Instead of the quirky crooning of Lambchop past, I heard a much quieter, less oblique Kurt Wagner. Has he given up on the Motown muse that seemed to work to his advantage, or had he decided to trade in all the references to "alt-country," "R&B" and "indie-rock" for a quiet life as a piano bar crooner? Didn't really matter; this new sound was very solemn, very emotional, very passionate--and very, very romantic. I was firmly accepting their new sound, and then, fifteen seconds later, came the line "The guts and gluttony/.the chicken of the sea," and I breathed a sigh of relief. Lambchop's sound had changed, but the roots of the band--the odd world view of Kurt Wagner--stayed true.

Don't think Wagner's not aware of what the world will think of the change; as he sings at the end of the aptly titled "Caterpillar," "yeah I know you heard me yelling out a name you never used for me," the change is far from a surprise--it's to be expected. Is A Woman is a quiet, jazzy affair. For a band that, apparently, is larger now than its previous incarnation, the album is so low-key, that you would be justified in thinking that that Wagner was backed by a simple bass/percussion trio. As Is A Woman is piano-based, it's a much less hurried affair than anything that's come before. I can't really think of any one artist or album to compare Is A Woman to, and that, in itself, is a sign of Lambchop's brilliance.

You've heard Is A Woman before, I swear--it's music that constitutes life and love and family. Wagner and his orchestra have tapped into and traveled deep into the soul of music and are simply showing you their scrapbooks from the journey. I could try to explain the meanings of lines such as "the link between profound and pain/Covers you like Sherwin Williams," but like my pa always used to say--"If it has to be explained to ya, then ya just don't know." So true, so real.

--Joseph Kyle

February 05, 2002

Lifter Puller "Soft Rock"

It seems as if some bands really want a place in the annals of rock history. They want to make a name for themselves long after they've disbanded, in part to sell those records for big buck$ on eBay, or to become "influential" even though very few people ever saw or heard them during their existance. While it's true that many of these bands are crap, many of them are worthy of being anthologized. Does Lifter Puller (or, as printed here, "Lftr Pllr") deserve the honor of being a "legendary" band? Are they truly influential, did they move the earth and sky, or simply Minneapolis? Did Lifter Puller have a lasting legacy, or are they worthy to be forgotten? Those are tough questions to ask, but they do come up when dealing with a compilation like this.

If you're not familiar with the lovely racket of Lifter Puller, then Soft Rock will at least let you know where they came from. I'm not quite sure if this was meant as a historical document as much as it was a chance to release their out-of-print recordings, because there are no notes whatsoever about the band, and only minimal recording information about the records. It's jam-packed with music, which includes their first two albums, an EP, two singles, comp tracks, and, heck, why not a few unreleased tracks just for good measure? That's two hours and two CD's worth of music, kids, so they're gonna learn you somethin' good.

And what a great racket they had! They never really changed their sound; they simply modified it, and, as time went on, they got better and better. It's pretty telling that their last recordings are certainly their best, and "Secret Santa Cruz" makes their departure even sadder, as it's not only a great song, it's evidence that Lifter Puller were on the verge of something really, really big. From the first moments of their self-titled debut, Lifter Puller had stumbled upon to their own special little racket. Though their first album (confusingly found at the end of the second disk) was a lot more sedate than their future records, the general formula was there: singer Craig's odd, nasal speak-singing voice; the crunchy smarter-than-punk rock guitars, the witty song titles and the weird moments that sound OH SO NICE now, and would have probably kept Lifter Puller alive if more people could have heard them.

While their best moment is still their final album, Fiestas and Fiascos, that's not to mean that Soft Rock doesn't have a number of great moments. From "Secret Santa Cruz," it's easy to see why Lifter Puller were great: the line "I did it in some disco with a guy from San Francisco who looked a lot like Roger Daltry" makes me laugh every time. The first six songs are all essential; when Lifter Puller made singles or compilation tracks, they were wise in putting their best foot forward. When these songs stand alone, they simply burn. That's pretty much true of every song on Soft Rock. Other great moments include the self-titled's "Mission Viejo" and "Sublet," Half Dead and Dynamite's "To Live and Die in LBI," "Rock For Lite Brite," and "The Gin and the Sour Defeat," and pretty much all of the self-released The Entertainment And Arts EP.

It would be wise not to listen to Soft Rock in one setting. It's hard not to get lost in the music, and taken all at once, Soft Rock could easily overwhelm you. They've stepped in and have separated the albums on the tracklisting--not by title, but by big spaces, so at least they were thoughtful enought to do that! If you choose to listen, it's best to start at those points. Listen to Soft Rock as individual albums instead of as a whole, so that you won't drown your patience in the soft rock. It would have been nice to have some liner notes or a history or photos, but that's a minor quibble. Soft Rock is a wonderful collection that will easily satisfy both the Lftr Pllr fan and those who like quirky, intelligent, and witty Rock Music.

--Joseph Kyle

February 03, 2002

Tristeza "Mixed Signals"

Ah, the remix record. It's the insider's joke of the industry. In order to fully appreciate a remix album, it's best to know something about the person being remixed, and it doesn't hurt to know something about the remixers. Some might see the remix album as some form of expressive art, to highlight both artist and mixer. It's a point that, while fuzzy, does seem to hold true, especially when you have an artist who takes the song far, far away from its original version, beyond the point of recognition. Of course, if you don't know the original version, then you're kind of at a loss when it comes to appreciating the remix.

Mixed Signals is no exception. While the idea of Tristeza being remixed seems a bit daft, (not as daft as the horrid Owl:Low Low remix album) it certainly provides an interesting gauntlet for the remixer. How do you speed up an ambient group? Do you add beats? Do you put in noise? Do you throw in samples, perhaps a disco diva? Do you make the kids dance, or think? How can you improve on a sound that's already slightly perfect?

I will now plead ignorance. I'm not familiar with most of the guest remixers, save for Windy and Carl, Simon Raymonde, and Sientific American. These three mixes all certainly show the hands that remixed them. Sientific American throws a nice electronic beat into "Shifty Drifty," making it dance hall fodder for robots. Windy and Carl, opiate-style droners, have their way with "Opiate Slopes," and make a continual drone. Simon Raymonde adds beats and a nice bass line to "Are We People," leaving you to wonder about when Liz Fraser will start singing.

Not all of the remixes work, though. ::lackluster:: provides a mix of "Respira" that certainly lives up to their name. The Snodgrass' take on "City of the Future" is also rather dull and flat as well. Though these two remixes are rather uninteresting, they certainly don't steal anything away from the rest of the album. Overall, Mixed Signals is a charm of a record, a mellow journey into electronic space, and a pleasant diversion while the band readies its next full-length album.

--Joseph Kyle

February 02, 2002

Harper Lee "Everything's Going To Be Okay"

Everything is going to be ok, but I wouldn't believe it after listening to Everything's Going to Be Ok. Keris Howard, leader of the Sarah Records stars Brighter, has picked up quite well where Brighter left off. Having never heard Brighter, I really couldn't tell you what that means, and as I own only one Sarah Record, I really couldn't begin to tell you about the meaning of Brighter in the greater indiepop world scheme of things. Really, though, it's time to move on.

While I may not know much about their past, I do know with some certainty that Trembling Blue Stars' Bob Wratten is an undeniable influence on Harper Lee. Of course, that's not surprising, considering Keris' involvement with Trembling Blue Stars over the past few years. With his creative partner Laura Bridge, Harper Lee pick up where Alive to Every Smile stops. That is, sad, melancholy pop music with intelligent lyrics and a hint of keyboards and a sprinkle of atmosphere. From the first notes of "Miserable Town," you know that you're visiting a miserable landscape. Unlike the accusations made about Bob Wratten, Howard never really becomes overly sad and pathetic. I like "Train Not Stopping" and "Fine Bones" the best, but all of the songs here are sad-eyed pop songs.

I can't really say that mope-rock is music for everyday listening, but Everything's Going to Be OK's certainly a pleasure, whether your day is sunny and bright, or rainy at night. Next time your girl or boy breaks your heart and your cat won't speak to you, leave your sorrows to Harper Lee and you'll feel okay--or pop on Everything's Going to Be Ok when you want to feel pathetic. Whatever the case, you'll be the wiser for it...

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.indiepages.com/harperlee
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee

Scarboro Aquarium Club "Poisoned"

I'm going to be honest with you, dear readers. Poisoned, the debut album by Canada's Scarboro Aquarium Club, is a most befuddling record. I've been frustrated about what I should say about it--not because it is bad, but because it's not quite as good as it really is, and how it should be. It's even more frustrating when the problems aren't with the music, but with everything BUT the music.

Scarboro Aquarium Club is one man, Corey W. Schmidt, and I think I'll start with this point. Poisoned suffers the fatal flaw that often comes with one-man projects, (witness Heaven's Gate, Apocalypse Now, Titanic, Stephen King, or Orange Cake Mix) and that's the inability to edit down the final project. In the mind of the one-man artist, every statement, song, scene, or chapter is "special," and objectivity quickly flies out the window. I would imagine that Schmidt thinks all of his songs are great and special, and if I were him, I'd feel the same way. Only problem, though, is that several songs go on for way too long, such as "Midnight At The Aquarium." It would have been a great minute-long piece, or a variation of a theme scattered throughout the album. Instead, it just extends a very basic them out for about a minute and a half longer than is really needed. It doesn't make Poisoned a better album at that length. Speaking of length, sixteen songs over sixty-seven minutes is just too long for a debut album. Nobody strikes gold with every dig, no matter how talented they are. When you stretch yourself thin, you run the risk of making your best moments weaker, making your quality work seem lesser than it actually is. "Dumbing down," if you will. Seven or eight gems hidden between eight or nine lesser tracks--what's going to be the final outcome?

The problem I have with the album, however, should not reflect on the actual music. His songwriting skills and compositions? I can't fault him one bit. Schmidt's excellent. He's got a lot of fresh, interesting pop ideas, even if they do get lost in the sheer massive bounty that Poisoned has to offer. He's making lush lounge music ("FuturePop"), new wave ("I Can Feel Angels") with a hint of sexytronica ("Perfect Distraction") as well as twee pop ("Sleeping Sound"). All of the songs resonate with a Jim Rao-meets-Stephin Merritt vibe, with a hint (and only a hint, mind you) of Neil Hannon's Divine Comedy thing. He's doing SO MUCH, going through so many styles, that I just don't feel like he's found one style that fits him well. Other artists can do this kind of stylistic shuffle, and others can't. Unfortunately, Poisoned suffers from an overabundance of styles. What makes this frustrating, though, is that Schmidt excells at all of these styles equally well--they just don't work thrown together!

Perhaps this, too, is something that Schmidt will work on. Poisoned is a but debut, and methinks Schmidt hasn't fully found his own distinctive voice. Odd, too, because every style on here COULD be his own distinctive voice. Individually, all of the songs on Poisoned are excellent. Together, though, it's just a bit too much to take, and it's easy to be overwhelmed. Here's hoping that he a., finds a style that fits him perfectly, or b., continues to dabble with many styles at once, but is more selective in sequencing. He's doing everything well, but sells himself short and spreads himself WAY too thin on Poisoned. Personally, I'm eagerly awaiting his next record, because I'm sure it will be a lot more focused.

--Joseph Kyle