May 28, 2002

Mirah "Advisory Committee"

Talk about a growth spurt! Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, Russian-born lo-fi pop folkie, has outgrown the naive charm, heartbroken innocence and whip-smart allusions of her 2000 debut, You Think It's Like This, But Really It's Like This. While that debut was charming and lovely, Mirah's voice seemed to be mixed with the Microphones' Phil Elvrum's own ideas, leaving one to wonder what Mirah would sound like with songs that sounded truely her own.

What's nice is that she's really matured as a singer/songwriter. Just one listen to the epic opener "Cold Cold Water" tells you that her hints of greatness were simply that--hints. Nothing could have prepared me for the epic balladry of this, merely her second full-length album. Unlike her previous album, she's not simply being coy about her feelings anymore--she's straightforward, in your face, and totally unapologetic about it as well. She's got her story to tell, and proves that you don't have to be loud to be powerful or controversial.

What was good about You Think It's Like This... is multiplied threefold. If anything, she's become a master of contradiction. Sure, her little girl-voice is still there, but unlike her previous work, she's a bit more refined and not as twee. There's more interesting instrumentation on Advisory Committee as well; mixing up her songs with little noises and blips and little sonic goodies. These things were charmingly awkward earlier, but now they're breathtakingly subtle, and in so doing, are louded here than ever before. Advisory Committee is also a longer, more complex album than You Think It's Like This.. yet it's about 20 minutes shorter.

Aside from that, all I can say is that this is a fun record. I hate to simply waste review space on a record that ultimatly ends with "the best thing to do is go out and buy this record," but it's really the case with Advisory Committee. This is such a pleasant listening experience that's not too sad or happy or moody or anything that makes records dull after a few listens. It's folk, rock, pop, all of the above, and none of the above. I really enjoyed listening to Advisory Committee on my diskman. It's really a headphones record--with little nuances and odd sounds that really need to be appreciated with such an intimate method of listening. You'll also appreciate it when "Recommendation" and "The Garden" come on, as you'll surely be dancing around the bedroom. I know I was.

Mirah...kudos to you! You've made me a very happy music listener, and I just have to thank you for that. Your records have kicked a certain Righteous Babe's work, and I'm honestly looking forward to your next record.

--Joseph Kyle

The Makers "Strangest Parade"

This album's a quiet little stunner. If you're familiar with the Makers, then you're well aware that these fellows make trashy, glammy garage rock, with more than a fair share of attitude. They're a band known for antics, and a live set that just steams. Well, that's always been my impression of them--boogie-rock garage hellions set on rocking out, burning up, and making out with your girlfriend.

Then, comes the Strangest Parade, The Makers' aptly-titled seventh album. While the rock vibe is there, it's in a most peculiar place. Where once The Makers tore up, they're now building up, and instead of rock straight out of your garage, they are now making rock straight out of your FM radio, 1974 era. Yup, the innocence is gone, replaced with a most-glammy rock. Garage hooligans grown up, perhaps, or maybe a band that's finally found its sound?

For Strangest Parade, The Makers have slowed down their pace, turned down the lights, and looked into their hearts. I don't know if it's intended, but Strangest Parade seems to be a concept album about death--death of innocence, death of life, death of a dream--the rock and roll dream, perhaps? Just a glance or two at the titles reveal hints traces or hints of a more morbid scene--"An Eternal Climb," "Heaven and Hurricane," "Addicted to Dying," "Suicide Blues" are but a few of the questionable titles. In particular, "Suicide Blues," with its heavenly choir chorus, helps give us folk a glimpse of Rock and Roll Heaven.

While I can't say for sure, I seem to get a whiff or two of Rock and Roll Suicide. Though there are times that The Makers seem to let their Bowie/glam roots be seen, there's something rather original in this tribute to the great rock days of yore. "Calling Elvis, John, and Jesus" is a heartfelt tribute to not only the great public idols, but also a tribute to Rock and Roll. Throw in the most-powerful song I've heard in a while, "Addicted to Dying," with some of the most Bowie moments I've heard since I last heard Ziggy Stardust, and you feel like you're in the presence of the Thin White Duke, circa 1972.

Kudos are also in order for producer Kurt Bloch. The use of segueways through most of the album really help mold the album into one cohesive whole, making me feel like I'm listening to some sort of symphonic moment or rock orchestra. He also managed to capture both the intensity of the band's wild, intense live show, a most rare feat, and he's also brought out a more sensitive, heartfelt side to the band. My favorite part of Strangest Parade would have to be the closing "Wide Wide World of Girls." It's an acoustic ballad from a live show, with applause and a hollow sound. It's lovely, sad, and longing--and a perfect closer to the show. The way it's mixed in with "Suicide Blues," it also helps you feel like you've been listening to a live show as well.

Dirty, greasy, smelly, sexy, and sincere--Strangest Parade is all of these and more. This is a most surprisingly lovely album from a band who have kept the Rock beast alive and kicking. A perfect mixing of melody and hedonism from a band who want nothing more than to mix their melody with their hedonistic tendencies. God bless 'em.

--Joseph Kyle

Crooked Fingers "Reservoir Songs, Volume 1"

Covers. Either you love 'em, or ya hate 'em. Of course, covers are subject to a paradoxical standard. If the cover's faithful, then the song'll be written off as a nice diversion, or, in a worst-case scenario, karaoke. If the cover's radically different, the song's either praised as 'bringing new life' or it's dismissed as defacing sacred ground. Unless the covers are spectacular, then an album of cover songs isn't treated in the same regard as original compositions. More often than not, a covers record is often seen as a stopgap measure between real albums.

Crooked Fingers' first foray into the cover record territory is Reservoir Songs. For those who have seen Crooked Fingers in the past year or two will have heard at least one of these songs, as they all have been staples of their live set for some time.
The first song is a cover Kris Kristofferson's hit for Johnny Cash, "Sunday Morning Coming Down." It's a tale of a lost sinner wandering around town on a Sunday morning, and feeling somehow incomplete in the process. Johnny Cash's version has a special place in my mind, and Crooked Fingers' version, while dark and brooding (thanks in part to the drone of the backing band) isn't going to be replacing Cash's version in my mind.

Luckily, that's the weakest song on the record. The pace is picked up quite quickly by his cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," and Bachmann's rendition is perfect. It's not the same, but it's not terribly different, and his voice sounds quite a bit like Diamond's. When "When U Were Mine," an early Prince hit, starts, with its lone banjo picking and heartreaking cello backing, you cannot help but be shocked. It's not a thing like the original; it's slower and sadder, and Bachmann's singing really spotlights the pain that Prince's version seemed to write off as bitterness. It's a breathtaking version, and from what I understand, when it's performed live, it's performed without amplification.

"Down to the River," by Bruce Springsteen, was the only song of the bunch that I wasn't familiar with, and though I'd heard Crooked Fingers' version live about two years ago, I've still to hear the original. Either way, Bachmann makes it his own, and, like "Solitary Man," Bachmann doesn't stray very far from Springsteen's version. The closing song, "Under Pressure," is an interesting, stripped-down version of the Queen/David Bowie hit. When I say stripped down, I mean "altered" in the sense that Crooked Fingers sensibly removed any trace of that nauseatingly ubiquitous melody line that most would remember more as being "Ice Ice Baby."

Crooked Fingers. Man, I love 'em. Great band, great talent. Reservoir Songs is a nice little release, and, from what I've read, may not be Crooked Fingers' only cover record. Bachmann says he enjoys doing covers, and god bless 'em for having good taste in music and the skill to pull 'em off.

--Joseph Kyle

May 27, 2002

Camera Obscura "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi"

God, I love this record! I haven't been this taken by a band from first listen since I first heard the Clientele a few years ago, it was a moment in time that meant total love and devotion from me, and I'm happy to say that there's another band that's done that from the get-go. Maybe I'm getting older, or maybe I'm getting harder to impress, but nothing just knocks me over and causes me to admit my total love and devotion from listen numero uno.

Really, though, how could I NOT love Camera Obscura?? Their music is charming and lovely and a little bit sad. I like the sweet boy-girl vocal exchange, simply because---well, because they're simply lovely! I don't know who does what, because there's not extensive crediting for duties in the liner notes, but I want to commend whoever does the singing for having one of the sweetest voices out there today. And those accents, too! Listening to Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi--Camera Obscura's debut--is much like looking at baby pictures, automatically you fawn over the little fellow or lady, and you simply cannot help but smile. I'm gushing, yes, I know, because there's also a little baby that's won my heart recently, and Camera Obscura's totally won my heart over.

I'm sure you're thinking, "yes, but Joseph, how do they sound--and don't just say 'beautiful' or 'lovely,' please, because I really want to know!!" Well, they're folky and jangle-jangley, and, yes there's a sonic similarity to that B&S band we know and don't particularly love over here. The singer, she also has a sound that's very similar to Rose Melburg of the Softies, and that's only a good thing. There's not a bum song on Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, and thanks to Elefant for adding on two b-sides from their Elefant single, because that means more Camera Obscura, which I simply cannot get enough of!!

You should be aware of one thing: Camera Obscura are not not NOT to be mistaken for the rather not-very-good American band of the same name, so please be aware. Now if only some wise record label in the United States would pick up on this rare diamond of a band, because this side of the world really deserves to hear Camera Obscura. I'd also like to suggest, if the legal issue comes up, that they simply add "The Good" to it, because nothing would state the truth that well.

--Joseph Kyle

May 22, 2002

L'altra "In the Afternoon"

Whenever I intend on spending an afternoon or an evening writing, I always make a pizza. It's a simple, easy to make dish. I put the ingredients in my bread machine, and I let it mix the dough. I'll spend my time on my computer or with my notebook and work until the dough is ready. then, I take a simple break, put the fixings on it, then go back to work until it's ready. Then, when done, I have something to snack on while gettin' my writin' on.

Lately, however, I've been a little more creative when it comes to preparing my pizzas. I discovered that I would spend less money if I were to buy two or three slices of fancy cheese instead of packages of shredded cheese. My world changed. Now I could pretend to be a gormet! With the newfound cheese goldmine, I thought that maybe I could expand on the other toppings as well. So now, when I make a pizza on Sunday nights, I'm adding two or three different meats, such as hamburger, ham, bacon, pepperoni, sausage, as well as having as many as six different cheeses. I also learned that if you put italian seasoning in the dough, it gives the dough a less bland taste, and if you let the dough rise for a few hours longer, then the dough has a nice, rich texture.

The key to good pizza is love. You have to love what you're making to really appreciate its goodness. Once you realize your love, you can play around with it and have fun trying different things. Remember---the ingredients all work together to create the whole pizza. For example, if you choose the wrong cheese (white American in my instance) it seemingly unbalances the delicate nature of the pie, and makes your experience not as great. Ultimatly, the key to making a killer pie is knowing what you think will make your pie killer, and then acting on it.

L'altra is a lot like my pizza making experience. The four memeber of L'altra are all experienced musicians who have their own loves and passions and styles. Like the mozerella on the monetrey jack, the singing of Lindsay Anderson simply melts with the music being made by her bandmates, and the rest of the music also forms itself quite nicely around her singing as well. Variety being the spice of life (and italian food), L'altra have brought in numerous guest musicians to accompany them on In the Afternoon, and the taste is utterly yummy! Instead of being your typical post-rock band, however, L'altra are rather layered--a little jazz here, a little folk there, a little indie-rock right here, and a whole lot of good music all around.

In the Afternoon is a tasty mix of atmosphere, passion, and space. It's a quiet record that can be served any time of the year. Burning up from the heat and too cheap to turn on the air conditioner? L'altra will cool you down. Feeling cold and lonely on a grey winter afternoon? L'altra will heat you up for that as well. In the Afternoon is a soft, sonic, soothing record that will intoxicate you and fulfil your hunger for dark, intelligent music. Serve it at your next candlelit dinner, too, for atmospehre, and you'll find that you'll get your fill.

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "Location Is Everything, Volume One"

Quietly, over the last decade, Jade Tree has become a most distinctive record label, building up a diverse roster of artists from different genres of indie-rock. What makes Jade Tree even better, though, is the fact that it's becoming quite obvious that when you pick up a record with a Jade Tree label, you can pretty much trust that the music's gonna be good. It's rare these days for labels to fire off records with such consistency, but these fellows manage to do so.

For a label who vaguely defined "emo" via one or two of their bands, the label is home to many other bands and artists who not only defy the "emo" tag, but in fact help to free the label from such ridiculous, imposed-by-fools limits. In fact, listening to Location is Everything, Volume One, it's quite clear that anyone who would label Jade Tree an emo label either hasn't paid attention to what the label's done over the past few years or is simply listening with prejudice, if they're even bothering to listen at all. It's a shame, really, because those who turn their noses up to the label on such vain grounds are really missing out on some good music.

Location is Everything, Volume One isn't really a compilation so much as it is a sampler. For the most part, everything on here is previously released, focusing on the "hits" from each record. While there are tinges of "emo" on here, from tracks by The Promise Ring and New End Original, there's also some pretty traditional rock and roll via Jets to Brazil, some lo-fi experimental music from Denali, Euphone, and Owls, some pretty hot punk rock via the Explosion, Strike Anywhere, and Trial by Fire, some electronic punk-funk insanity via Zero Zero, Milemarker and Girls against Boys, as well as some pretty, beautiful, heart-rendering music from Pedro the Lion, Onelinedrawing, and Cub County.

For those who may have many of these releases, there's also a few unreleased tracks. Girls Against Boys offer "Super Slow," which sounds like a variation of New Wet Kojak's "Livin' Too Low." Milemarker offer up a jam-session entitled "New Lexicon." Pedro the Lion do some preaching via "Backwoods Nation." There's a track from Jets to Brazil's demo tape, "I've Got All the Words..." New signees Paint it Black offer up "Another Beautiful 'Fuck You' Song." Mighty Flashlight offer up a track, "Thickened Light." The final song is from former Jade Tree superstars the Promise Ring, entitled "Easy," from sessions from their last Jade Tree album, Very Emergency. Emo? Nope. It's kind of countryish and it really really reminds me of the Old 97s.

It's summertime, and it's time for good rock and roll. Location is Everything, Volume One is certainly a record that's made for playing in the car stereo on those road trips to livejournal and Make-Out Club parties. So shut up with your preconceived notions of this very fine record label, why don't you?

--Joseph Kyle

May 20, 2002

Sparta "Austere"

Ahhh, yes, the remnants of the band who celebrated being dubbed "next big thing" by breaking up. Well, Sparta is the non-Cedric project (both of which, DeFacto and Mars Votala, are extremely weird and beautiful), and as far as sounds go, Sparta is going in a completly different direction. Of course, Jim and Tony were also highly-talented members of At the Drive-In, so there should be no reason to fear this new project.

Actually, it ain't bad, this Sparta thing. Austere kicks off with "Mya," a loud, droning, pulsing screamo of a song that, yeah, sounds not unlike, you know, that band. With "Cataract," the band drops the At the Drive-In act and turn their settings to electronica-rock, and though it sounds rather post-punk, it's also quite appealing. "Vacant Skies" is a bit of the same, with a major helping of that whole emo thing. The final track, "Echodyne Harmonic," is a "de-mix," yet to my ears it seems like an electronoica jam that nice, yet rather forgettable.

While Austere may seem rather innocuous, it's important to remember that this is merely the beginning for these kids. Methinks, however, that Sparta is an act for whom the phrase "next big thing" is more than a reference for two members' previous band. Though too small to really define their sound, Austere is certainly a nice, though brief, taste of things to come.

--Joseph Kyle

May 19, 2002

Kleenexgirlwonder-"After Mathematics"

Know what I hate? When a smug, self-centered, self-congradulatory artist-type makes a record that makes me have to change my opinion of them. Kleenexgirlwonder, or Graham Smith, has been one of those artists who, from the first time I heard, I have never ever liked. I can't explain why..oh, yes I can..I thought his music sucked! I thought that the adjectives of "talented," "clever," "genius," and "original" were completly wasted upon Smith.

Then this record appeared in my mailbox. I wasn't expecting too much, which was probably for the best, as what I heard was much, much more than I expected from Graham Smith. Sure, I'd read the little bio that came with the record, but I rolled my eyes at it when I saw mentions of his new hip-hop direction, references to TLC, and those previously-mentioned adjectives that I'd seen so many times before. All I could think was "Gee, Har Mar Superstar did this kind of thing, what, two years ago?"

However, confronted with After Mathematics, I have to change my tune, for, somewhere, he changed his tune drastically from that first time I heard him. In the place of his lo-fi indie-pop bedroom sound is this odd mixture of hip-hop and indie pop, and, surprisingly he pulls it off rather well. What Smith's doing on After Mathematics, however, may not be all that different from what he's been doing all along, but he's using that beatbox someone gave him. While there have been others to blend hip-hop with indiepop and indie rock, there's something about Kleenexgirlwonder's own style that seems quite original and, better still, quite enjoyable.

The first song, "I'm Pregnant," was quaint--and though it didn't leave much of a mark the first time I heard it, it did after a few more listens. It's that clever college-rock thing, but it was easily and quickly forgotten by the time "Ain't a Damn Thing Changed" came on. The song is supposed to be a R&B ballad in the same style as TLC's "Waterfalls," the melody sounds not unlike George Michael's "Faith" with hints at TLC's "Unpretty." It's quite funny hearing this white boy throwing down the most clich├ęd hip-hop phrases as if they were original Graham Smith ideas. Still, when guest rapper Zarathustra joins at the end of the song, you're certainly enthralled by this new indie-rap-rock blend. More traditional indie-rock songs such as "Amelia" and "Why I Write Such Good Songs" seem to have traces of this new style, and are greatly improved and much more interesting than I'd expected.


The one flaw with After Mathematics is that while Smith has certainly struck some new, interesting ideas, he is either just now developing these ideas, or simply doesn't know how to carry these ideas any further. If I were cynical, I'd say it's certainly the latter; but I really think that the former is the case here. After "The Intentional Fallacy," the album just seems to drift back into lesser lo-fi indie rock, and though the closing song, "Fitzcarraldo" is quite excellent in its haught, dramatic, album-closing epic way, those last few tracks seem to pale in the face of the first of the album. The high points of After Mathematics were enough for me to give Smith a better listen, and here's to the future, and further explorations of these new
ideas.

--Joseph Kyle

May 09, 2002

Hot Hot Heat "Knock Knock Knock"

There's nothing more disingenious than new wave pop. Modern-day practitioners are often torn between wanting to make music that's highly danceable yet rather experimental, with very little alliegence to the mainstream fathers of the genre. If you want to
maintain a healthy image in this oh-so-fashionable underground scene, who would you rather claim to have been inspired by, Duran Duran or Section 25?

Hot Hot Heat are the latest arrivals at this art-rockmeets new-wave dance party party. From the first track on their Sub Pop debut EP, Knock Knock Knock, Hot Hot Heat throw down a gauntlet for other new-wave retro popsters. "La-La Low" is a fast little number that will get you dancin' around the bedroom. "5 Times out of 100" continues the fast-paced beat, but with more emphasis on shifting to a shifty, chronically changing tempo, Hot Hot Heat have quickly unpegged the listener from any notions of being a mere New Wave Band. In fact, the band's backing appears to be only a bass, piano, and drum, with two or three voices sing at the same time, making for a most odd, yet rather fulfilling song. "Have A Good Sleep" provides yet another stylistic shift, with a sneaky Oriental-style guitar entry, and sounds not unlike the Cure.

"Touch You Touch You," however, throws out all the stops, pours out the sexuality, and wears its lustful nature on its sleeve, all within this wonderful dance beat rhythm that sounds like the ultimate love child of Howard Jones and Falco. The Faint are but a faint memory when Hot Hot Heat finally get their groove back, and this would be an awesomelly powerful little record were it not for the fact that "More For Show" is so lackluster in comparison to the rest of Knock Knock Knock. Still, an 80 percent mark for an EP is pretty darn good, and I'm totally telling you all--keep an eye out for these guys! See, Hot Hot Heat have stumbled upon a fun, winning sound. It's a mixture of new-wave, pop, punk, and the all-important key element for dancy music: fun.

--Joseph Kyle

May 02, 2002

Hayden "Skyscraper National Park"

There's something quite distant, quite forest-like about this album. Maybe it's the wood-and-moose combination on the cover. Maybe it the fact that the dark atmospheric folk songs of Skyscraper National Park sound like they were recorded on the back porch of a log cabin in Northern Canada. Maybe it's the "National Park" in the album's title. Yes, my friends, we've got us another homegrown album here.

But I digress. Hayden is one of the many artists who lost a label but gained a following, and Skyscraper National Park is his first "new" album since being dropped. (I say "new" because apparently Hayden released this album himself a year ago, and it quickly sold out.) I'm not really familiar with Hayden's previous albums, but after a few listens to Skyscraper National Park I feel like I definitely want to peruse the local bargain-bins to find his previous "loved-by-critics-but-nobody-else" albums.

There's something about this album, though, that I can't shake. I think it's Radiohead. Like Grandaddy, who applied the OK Computer template to California radio-friendly 70s rock, and Sparklehorse, who in turn have created their own sound which can loosely be seen an Appalachian version of the Radiohead experience, Hayden has tapped into the atmosphere of his native Canada's countryside, to great results. Let's not go into the fact that the first song on this album is "Street Car," either. The Radiohead comparison is rather apt; for, in his own little way, Hayden sings a lot like Thom Yorke, sounding somewhere between tortured soul, bitter poet, and angel boy. If you were to remove Yorke from the vast, overwhelming musical tour-de-force of Radiohead in favor of a simple piano-slight drum-guitar combo, and you've got an utterly powerful performance.

The one problem with Skyscraper National Park, if you could really consider it a problem, is that it seems rather top-heavy. The epic "Dynamite Walls" is but the second song on the album and, while gorgeous, seems to weigh down the rest of the record. With the first 12 minutes of this nearly 40-minute album belonging to the first two songs, one can't help but feel a bit overwhelmed by the one-two punch at the beginning, or feel that the rest of the album seems a bit skimpy. Not that you'll want to miss highlights such as the sweet love song "Carried Away," or the disturbing "Bass Song," because those are simply two of eleven gorgeous songs to be heard on Skyscraper National Park.

I've heard it said that this is the best album of Hayden's career. As I've never heard his previous work, I cannot make such a claim, but I can clearly understand the sentiments behind such comments--Skyscraper National Park is a most beautiful record. Hayden is someone who deserves to be heard, and will clearly move you into listening. Hayden is among the few rare artists who undeniably deserves all of the hype surrounding him, and Skyscraper National Park is one of those rare records that will enthrall you from from beginning to end. Essential? Only if you like powerfully emotional music.

--Joseph Kyle