June 30, 2002

Fivehead "Big Mistake Factory"

I imagine that John Hunt is an average guy. I'm sure he likes a beer or two on the weekend. I bet he likes to rock out after working 9 to 5. Bet he likes to turn up the rock when he gets together with "the boys." I'd also imagine that he likes rock music of various types: classic, alternative, indie, and college. He likes to do his rock thing with his "boys" called Fivehead, and their music is just dandy like ear candy.

Big Mistake Factory is Fivehead's latest snapshot of all-American Austin-based rock and/or roll. It's a fine, fine affair, no big surprise there, and it shows that Hunt's departure from Silver Scooter to focus on his side projects was not a bad decision in the least. I don't hear much that I could compare to the late, great Silver Scooter, which leads one to think that his role in the band, while important, never allowed his full potential to blossom.

But Silver Scooter is in the past, it's time to move on, and Big Mistake Factory is an excellent record of Hunt's growth. True, there are some that will dismiss a good portion of this record as being slightly derivitive. Screw those critics. Sure, a few seconds of a song may sound like Pavement here or Tobin Sprout there, but that's not to say they're not original. They're growing, and this is a nice growth spurt. Not particuilarly lo-fi, not unoriginal, and bring on the Cello---that's a nice touch! There are also some quite lovely little keyboard moments on "young and compliant" and "last vegas stance" has a pretty funny little comedy routine mixed in with the music.

Fivehead are a band that definitly have some interesting days ahead of them; Hunt's a growing songwriter, and this album is a great step above his "Goodie the Rat" EP he released earlier this year, and that was a kick-ass release! It's a pretty damn good sign when your newest recording is 100 percent better than your last awesome record.
Definitly a keeper, a smile-inducer.

--Joseph Kyle

June 27, 2002

!!! "Me & Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard (A True Story)"

Wow! If you're not familiar with !!!, then I suggest, right now, that you proceed to either Tone Vendor, Insound, Twee Kitten
or Parasol RIGHT THIS MINUTE and buy their debut album on Gold Standards Laboratory. They're a POWER HOUSE OF DANCE MUSIC OF THE HIGHEST DEGREE, mixing all of the best
parts of Prince, Public Image Limited, Gang of Four, P-Funk (all stages), KLF, and any other power-house of dance-ROCK. You WILL dance. You WILL do the Robot. And you WILL love it. Both songs on this single are at least nine minutes long, which should tell you something about how hard and long these guys are going to give it to you! They're still nearly a year away from releasing their second album (goodness, fellows, what's the holdup?), but this two-song teaser is worth seeking out if you don't want to commit to a full-length purchase. "Me & Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard (A True Story)" is a new song, enjoy it because it may be a while for new music; luckily, it's plenty to satisfy your !!! appetite. The other song, "Intensifieder (Sunracapellellectroshit Mix 03)" is a remix
of the full-length's best number, "Intensified" and, yes it's harder. A rough, sexy, sex-driven ride that's worth more in 19 minutes than many albums these days. Essential.

--Joseph Kyle

June 24, 2002

Jason Loewenstein "At Sixes and Sevens"

Be honest, readers: how many of you were on pins and needles, waiting impatiently for Jason Loewenstein to release a solo record? How many of you actually know who Jason Loewenstein is? Well, here's a brief history lesson: Jason was one-third of indie-rock stalwarts Sebadoh, a band that posited the strongest arguments both for and against creative democracy. His songs were a compromise between front man Lou Barlow's lovelorn rambling and drummer Eric Gaffney's tuneless mania. Despite being arguably the band's most talented musician, he never received nearly as much credit as the other two. After Eric left the band, Jason merely moved from being the third wheel to being the second banana. Even when Lou's creativity began to stagnate on the last few Sebadoh albums, few people noticed that Jason was beginning to write better songs than him. Now that Sebadoh is on hiatus, it seems that Jason finally has the opportunity to prove himself. At Sixes and Sevens, his solo debut, showcases the great songwriter that everyone should have known Loewenstein was since Sebadoh's 1993 masterwork Bubble and Scrape. Picture a whole album of songs as good as "Prince-S," "Careful," and "Bird in the Hand." This album's even BETTER than that.

This is a solo record in all aspects of the word: Jason wrote, played, sang, and recorded every note in his eight-track home studio. The problem with most one-man bands is that there's always at least one instrument that they're obviously weaker at than the rest, yet they insist on playing it solely for the egotistical pleasure of saying that they played EVERYTHING. I dare you to guess which instrument is Jason's Achilles heel. He is equally agile on guitar, bass, and drums, easily creating the illusion of a fine-tuned, well-rehearsal garage band. He knows when each instrument should shut up or show off, and when they should play against each other or with each other. He gets off on the dissonance that occurs when guitars are slightly out of tune with each other. Examples include the Sonic Youth-style arpeggios of "Casserole" and the Polvo-meets-Beefheart riffs of "Angles" and "Funerals." His vocals have improved since the last Sebadoh album: listen to how well his falsetto imitates the melodies his guitar plays on "Circles" and "Roswell to Jerusalem." Last but not least, this album is the cleanest eight-track recording I've heard since Spoon's 1996 debut Telephono. Any of these songs could be played on the radio without the listener experiencing an obvious drop in fidelity.

While doing research on this record, I discovered that At Sixes and Sevens is an idiom that means "at a point of disorder or confusion." What an appropriate name for an album that seems to revolve around the concepts of ending friendships and changing priorities. Jason approaches these topics with an almost plainspoken candor that keeps things open-ended without being vague. "Casserole" examines how things that seem inconsequential can end up causing great destruction. The protagonist of "Angles" expresses his frustration about making the same mistakes over and over again. The entire first verse of "Mistake" reads like a hand-written apology to a friend he has wronged, whereas "I'm a Shit" takes that same friend to task for being too bitter to forgive him. On "Circles" and "Funerals," Jason's anger is also directed toward self-destructive people. At Sixes and Sevens closes with the anthem "Transform," during which Jason finally cries out for change. It is during this song that he sings my favorite lyric on the whole album: "YouÍre hungry for the Tascam/But you can't afford the tape." Since I am also a homemade one-man band, this lyric particularly resonates with me. The vocals maintain a consistently ambivalent tone: too angry to mumble, but too world-weary to scream. Jason's falsetto on "Circles" sounds more like a sigh than a soar.

If the previous paragraph makes this record sound like heavy going, don't worry. For most of the record, the tempos remain brisk enough (and the songs catchy enough) that you'll be too busy banging your head to pay attention to what Jason's singing. Yes, by the time the appropriately named instrumental "H/M (Heavy Metal)" comes on, the detuned riffs will give you your fair share of neck cramps. At Sixes and Sevens is the album I always knew Jason had in him. Hearing indie-rock done this well makes me nostalgic for when I was in middle school, when "alternative rock" lived up to its name, and there was actually a middle ground between being incredibly famous and incredibly obscure. Pavement raised a ruckus on the Tonight Show, Sebadoh had videos on VH1, Live were covering Guided by Voices songs, and Sonic Youth actually entered the Top 40. How many of you remember THAT?

---Sean Padilla

June 22, 2002

American Analog Set "Promise of Love"

The first time I heard American Analog Set was on a country road driving home to Dallas from Austin with Andy Young, the drummer from Lift to Experience. Andy popped in From Our Living Room to Yours, and my first thought was that the music didn’t seem to change at all. The first song sounded like the same riff repeated for ten minutes. What I had wrong was that I was trying to actively listen to American Analog Set. Andy set me straight, distracting me from the music with all kinds of pointless chatter. Twenty minutes later I got it. The music has to seep in while you’re not paying attention, and surreptitiously plant the seeds of its catchy melodies in your brain, only for them to sprout god knows how long after. Three days later I found myself humming the "bada ba ba ba, badaba ba" refrain from "Magnificent Seventies" and I couldn’t make it quit.

So it’s no surprise that Promise of Love, the latest from Austin's American Analog Set, opens with a drum beat and organ oscillation that doesn’t change chords until the vocals come in-a full three minutes and fifteen seconds later-on "Continuous Hit Music." The title of the opening track is appropriate. Couched in each of these Steve Reich-style droning compositions is a pop song that would top the charts if it were packaged in a more digestible way.

The principle behind music like American Analog Set is this: begin with one thing, change it just a little bit four measures later, change something else four measures later, and in several minutes you’ve got an entirely different song going on. But these guys will sometimes take sixteen measures or longer to effect any one change. Listening to their music teaches your ear patience. Once it’s learned, the songs unfold like one of those silly Buddhist proverbs. Then you know each one of the changes, how perfect it is and how it had to wait that long to happen.

All of that said, Promise of Love is more varied from song to song than most other American Analog Set releases. "Hard to Find" sounds like it could be in a spy movie soundtrack, and the beat is hard not to move to. "Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home" competes with "Fool Around" for catchiest track on the record: both sound like they might be sixties pop songs, except of course for that repetitious droning that it wouldn’t be American Analog Set without. "You Own Me" gets slow and spacey, with a lot of delay and distortion on the guitar and dreamy vocals. On "Modern Drummer"-is this song title intended to be ironic?-the only percussion is a closed hi-hat every eighth note, and whenever the vocals stop their void is filled with real pretty cello swells.

This is one of American Analog Set’s best releases to date, but don’t expect to be immediately overwhelmed by how wonderful it is. That’s not American Analog Set's way. Go ahead and put it in your CD player on repeat and immediately start ignoring it. Give it some time to soak in. After an hour you’ll love it.

--Jeremy Yocum

Doug Shepherd "Type Foundry Sessions"

This is a fun, fascinating little release! Pressed on clear plastic, the concept behind this EP is just as unique. Doug Shepherd is a lo-fi folkie-type, but he's decided to release a series of EP's, but they are based on the notion that each EP will be recorded at different studios and with a different backing band. Though I don't know what's going to be next, I have to say that the "Portland, Oregon" session is pretty nice! I think Shepherd's English, because he's got an accent that reminds me quite a bit of Nick Drake, but he's not a sappy folkie by any means. Actually, the five songs on here go by rather quickly and leave you wanting more. The fact that he kind of sounds like Nick Drake shouldn't imply that he's a folkie, because he's not, and the opening "Wind is Warm" is certainly a lovely little folkie number. It's the only one of its kind, it seems; if anything, he's really into early 80s indie-pop. In fact, I'd say he's got a bit of a tendency towards garage rock. "Tin Angel" and "On The Moon" are certainly fast-paced rockers. All in all, a fun little experiment, and I'm certainly anxious to hear more!

--Joseph Kyle

Interview: Onelinedrawing's Jonah Matranga

The first time I heard Jonah Matranga was on his split with Sense Field. The song was brooding yet beautiful, dark yet not that desperate. My curiousity was piqued, and so I visited his *awesome* website, onelinedrawing.com, and found some most-wonderful samples. I picked up some of his self-released EP's and was continually blown away. When he released his new band project, New End Original, I was again astonished by how GOOD it was. Not at all like Onelinedrawing, yet sounding like a direct flow from the same fountain, New End Original was easily one of the best rock records of last year. He recently released his debut full-length album, Visitor, on Jade Tree. I managed to hook up with him before he set out on tour earlier this week, to get his thoughts on music, the internet, and fame.

How's it going?

Pretty well. I'm in a bit of a bad mood, for all ridiculous reasons. I'm getting ready to go out on a bunch of little tours, and attempting to not go into it being sick. In general, I'm well.

With New End Original being an anagram for onelinedrawing, are you suggesting that the two are directly related, ie "14 or 41" being a revamped version of an older Onelinedrawing song?

Not really that thought out, band names are just a pain. I always wanted to try 14-41 with a full band thing. I thought it would happen on a onelinedrawing record, but the New End thing happened, so there you go.

What is it about touring that you like? Do you prefer playing live or working in the studio, and with New End Original being a red-hot live rock band, do you see yourself developing OLD a more studio-oriented project, while letting New End Original be your live, in-concert project?

Definitely not. Maybe the other way around. While it is fun to be loud and all, my favorite shows lately have been in strange, very un-rock places, like houses and restaurants and things. Right at this moment, I'm pretty much feeling like not playing in a rock club ever
again. But then, I did say I was in a bad mood. For all I know, it could end up exactly the way you said, and that could be fun too.

Since the formation of New End Original, when you sit down to write a song, do you think, "this is a OLD song, or this is a NEO song?"

Haven't really written anything complete since New End started. The past few years have just been trying to get out the stuff that needed getting out. I never really write with the intention to make a song, much less a song for a specific entity. I just try to listen.

Was your experience with Far a good one, or was it one that prompted you to avoid the full-band set-up until New End Original?

Both. And New End continues to be everything great and horrible about the rock band thing.

You've got a much bigger, hands-on operation with your website and making your own CD's. If you've done so well on your own, what was it that prompted you to release your debut album on Jade Tree?

The relationship with Jade Tree started with New End, and we just got talking about them doing the onelinedrawing records too. I don't mind help, I actually really like it. There are a lot of things that I do for the site, mailorders, etc. that would drive me nuts if they weren't directly involved with the music. Sometimes they do anyway. Funny, though, writing this, I realize that I really like being as directly connected to the business part of all this. Sometime I think that's the way it'll end up in the end. But I like Tim&Darren, and they seem to like me, and they do a really good job of getting records out without being slimy in an increasingly slimy scene.

On your website, you sell a ton of records you've created and released yourself, and are rather successful in that regard. I'm curious to know, does success online translate into a more general, non-internet success?

Good question. It could, in the same sense that word-of-mouth used to, and still does, work. People tell their friends, people follow links from another band's site that they like, etc. One strange thing is that online success seems more about just a few people in lots of different places having a connection with something you've made, as opposed to depending on a town or a scene to embrace you. I've never been very interested in that sort of thing anyway, and I don't think I fit in anyone scene, none of my music ever has, it seems. I just like the idea that people can like what you do, and tell you about
it, and support it, regardless of where they are.

Has your success online and on your own prompted any friendly visits from major labels?

There was some a couple years ago, but none lately. I think I'm pretty done with them, and them with me.

Singer-songwriter. Is this a pejorative term, or is it simply misunderstood, and how do you feel about it being applied to onelinedrawing?

It's one of the few literal genre titles (i.e. not emo, grunge, etc.), so that's good. There are caricatures that go along with it, which I suppose is to be expected. I'm more interested in titles like artist, musician, or person. Person is especially good. Seems like the more we categorize, whether on musical terms or any other set of terms, the more we dehumanize.

What advice do you have for young musicians?

Make sure you love the music part, cos the rest is as annoying as I would imagine any other business is.

What's next for Jonah Matranga?

Continuing the slow move off the grid. An RV near a beach with a wireless high speed connection, and a network of houses to play. Or something completely different. I try not to have too many plans. I still love music, I still want to help, I still want to be around
friends and family. if I stick to those, I should be okay.

The new Star Wars. What's your opinion? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Up. With a big blockbuster grain of salt.

Thanks, Jonah!

--Joseph Kyle

June 17, 2002

Belly "Sweet Ride: Best of Belly"

Listening to Sweet Ride, Belly's "greatest hits," has really brought back an overflow of emotions and recollections about the "good" "old" "days" of 1992-1994, back when "Alternative Rock" had some semblence of decency, some sort of meaning, and it seemed, if ever-so-briefly, that the music I liked might just help eliminate the crapola on the radio. Belly, though, was the angel-girl band that I thought the world of.

See, I was a big Throwing Muses fanatic, and when I learned that Tanya Donelly had left them in order to form her own band, I was estatic--for she was a most neglected talent in the Muses. Like George Harrison, her one or two songs per album would really sparkle and shine, always hinting at an unpolished greatness. Unfortunately for the Muses, Donelly decided to carry her aesthetic elsewhere.

After a brief touring stint in her side-project The Breeders, she was off to record and release the Slow Dog EP--and from there, the hype began. Initially a trio, Belly released Star, to much critical acclaim from respected media outlets and teen magazines alike. Of course, several of these songs had been attempted with the Throwing Muses, and thus some had a more-than-similar sound to her Muses work. That wasn't a real complaint, though. With its sweetly deceptive lyrics and Donelly's little-girl voice, Star was a shoo-in for stardom. Between childike crooning, sexy singing, and weird words rested the pulse of a pure-pop monster, one that the Muses could never have achieved, and yours truly--then a bookish, post-teen undergrad--fell for them HARD. Bigtime.

When it came time to follow up, with 1995's King--after having grammy nominations, successful tours, and tons of press--Belly, well...failed to click. Perhaps because they took too long to follow up on their initial success or perhaps because it wasn't as hyped--it's a difficult call, because King was miles above Star. While Star was a sweetly bitter pill, King was a bittersweet pill, and the music was darker, too. With the addition of Gail Greenwood, Belly were really a much fuller-sounding band. For whatever reason, King failed to click. Except for one or two songs, it didn't move me, eihter. Too bad, and Belly quietly called it a day.

It's probably a case of late-20's nostalga, but Belly fit in quite nicely in my pop-culture growth. I remember the joy of finding the "Feed the Tree" cassingle at a small East Texas Walmart. I remember the joy of FINALLY getting the Slow Dog EP and waiting for the full length. I took great joy in seeing them on late-night TV shows, even if David Spade dissed them on Saturday Night Live. I remember thinking "What??" to their cover of "Are You Experienced?" on a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. And the interviews, too, which focused on how NICE Tanya and the crew really were. Oh and that show I saw, where their Star shone so brightly, leaving in the shadows that creepy, Britpop flavor-of-the-month band Radiohead (Gee, I wonder what ever became of that band?)

But when I picked up Sweet Ride, for some reason, I choked. Would the music really hold up against the sands of time--that time when you knew that Frasier was intentionally set in Seattle and that Friends was a indirect spin-off of Singles. Fortunatly, the compliers of Sweet Ride knew that it would be a bit facetious to charge full-price for a record that would compile most of two records that could probably be found in most bargain-bins and would ultimatly be cheaper to purchase than the greatest hits record itself. Instead of sticking to the choicest album cuts, Sweet Ride provides all of the hits--in their single-remixed versions, one or two choice album cuts, and numerous B-sides, as well as the single unreleased King outtake, "Lillith." While the hardcore Belly fans probably have most of these songs already, it's safe to say that Sweet Ride is a new album altogether (Baby Silvertooth owners---bite your tongue!) and should not be considered a "best-of."

Of course, that's semantics for fanatics, and I loved Belly. It's good to hear some of the old B-sides again, such as "Trust in Me," "Hot Burrito #1," "Sweet Ride" and "Thief" all together, for these songs all compare quite nicely to the familiar hits of "Gepetto," "Feed the Tree" and "Seal My Fate." Belly were a shining star, and though they didn't shine long, their light still shines on for those who bother to look in their direction. While I may get older, my love of this band hasn't faltered, and now, listening back, it's slightly sad to know that their potential quickly disappeared after the spotlight moved on, but yet I feel content, knowing that a band like Belly even existed in the first place. Sweet Ride is an essential record for those of you who like indie-pop or just plain old smart music.

--Joseph Kyle

June 15, 2002

Badger King "the lighthouse, the giant"

In my opinion, more rock bands should take advantage of the element of surprise. Few things in music make my ears prick up more than the moment when an already good song takes an abrupt and unexpected detour into uncharted territory, especially if the tangent ends up being as good as, if not better than, the song's original idea. Take a chance! Interrupt your traditional guitar-bass-drums setup with a dulcimer solo, or a string quartet. Change keys. Switch from a professional studio recording to a low-fidelity four-track demo version mid-song. Add another bridge instead of repeating the chorus. Heck, don't even repeat the chorus at all! Show the audience that you want to maintain its interest. Whenever new music fails to excite me, I can always turn to my Swirlies, Polvo, and Thinking Fellers records for comfort because even after running them into the ground, I still don't get bored. I like bands that stitch ideas together like hyperactive dyslexic kids with glue, scissors, and construction paper. Bands like the aforementioned three are often criticized as disjointed and incoherent, and sometimes these criticisms are justified. I believe, though, that even when the music doesn't make any logical sense, a band with too many ideas is still better than a band with too few ideas.

The Badger King is definitely aligned with this attention-deficit-disorder aesthetic. On The Lighthouse, the Giant, they're an indie-pop quintet, but from what I've heard, they're touring in support of the album minus three members, and with the songs recast into an IDM framework. That alone should tell you how committed this band is to stylistic consistency. For sanity's sake, I'll stick to simply evaluating the record. If you can fathom a fusion of Mary Timony's lyrical fetish for exotic animals and pastoral scenes and the Microphones' symphonic fuzz-pop, then you have an idea of what this album sounds like. That's not even counting the detours into one-chord jamming ("I Obscenity" and "Red Ships of Spain"), Stereolab-style Moog funk (part two of "The She Trilogy"), bubbly electronic break beats ("Space Ox"), field recordings ("Great Birds"), and keyboard fugues straight out of a Yes record ("Interlude One," "The Coldest Feet"). In fifty-two minutes, these nineteen songs take enough twists and turns to leave my head dizzy. At first, I couldn't remember many of the songs because there was simply so much information in them to absorb. It only took two or three more listens, though, for half of the songs to take possession of my skull by force.

The lasting impact of these songs is due mainly to front woman Marianna Ritchey's strong sense of melody, as well as her ability to contain her whimsical musings inside more down-to-earth narratives. She has a clear, assertive, though obviously untrained voice. Sometimes her long-lined melodies force her to reach for notes that she can't quite hit, but the results rarely make me cringe. In fact, one of the Badger King's most obvious similarities to the Microphones is their love of zillion-tracked vocal harmonies, some of which are out of tune with each other, creating a pleasantly woozy effect not unlike that of My Bloody Valentine's whammy-bar histrionics. The chorus of "Home to England" asserts, "Tell me one reason why I ought to come home to you," and I'm not quite sure whether Ritchey is addressing the country, an ex-lover, or both. "The Fiasco Master" is a piano-driven elegy to a person who, up to his/her death, possessed a remarkable ability to handle private crises. Ritchey chides slackers on "You Aren't An Ark," an acoustic snippet that reminds me of the unjustly overlooked That Dog. "The Crab, the Claw" tells the story of a young girl from a nomadic family who learns first to become one with nature, and secondly to fear it. "To Touch Base" seems to be about an amicable breakup, at least until Marianna starts singing about seeing elephants in her dreams. Although the Badger King is clearly Marianna's show, she keeps her ego from dictating the arrangements, with boy/girl harmonies and ensemble playing employed more often than not.

This record arrived in my mailbox amidst a smorgasbord of anonymous indie-pop records that a publicity firm sent me, most of which I could already tell were going to bore the pants off of me from reading the verbose press releases. My hesitancy to give The Lighthouse, the Giant a fair chance was a huge mistake, because it is attention-deficit-disorder pop of the highest order. This record isn't being publicized very well, so you probably won't read about in many publications. (Hey, that's what Mundane Sounds is here for, right?) Therefore, I urge anyone reading this to take my advice. DO NOT LET THIS AMAZING RECORD GO UNNOTICED.

--Sean Padilla

June 14, 2002

Fury "Resurrection"

Historical hardcore document from those wonderful DC-scene kids. While I'm not up on the whole DC history and I think I packed up my copy of the excellent Dance of Days I don't know the exact history Fury, but there's one thing that's most recognizable: the singing.

Yes, punk kids, that screaming yelp is none other than a teenaged Chris Thomson. Thomson's got one of those instantly recognizable screetching-madman/boy genius vocal styles. While not quite as passionate as Circus Lupus, nor as discordantly dance-y as Monorchid, nor as amateurishly witty as Skull Kontrol, Fury has a fire--a small spark--of genius yet to come.

The music on here's straight-up hardcore--and I'll plead ignorance about the subject right here--and, yet, it's trying to be something more. Thomson's got a budding rant-voice, one that saw a greater depth in those previously-mentioned bands, and though he's mumbling and shouting in a blur of lyrics and guitar power. "Resurrection" is perhaps the closest thing to sounding like Skull Kontrol, but you can hear those other bands in Resurrection. I'm also really partial to "Shotgun," with its brooding danger seeping through the bassline. In other places, it seems like these are kids who haven't quite broken free from their Ian McKaye-related record collection. Youthful imitation isn't bad, though it doesn't always make that interesting of a listen.

According to the press bio, this was twelve minutes committed to tape and is a rant, and my god, it sounds like it. Not that I'm saying such thing as an insult, it's just how it is. And not that Fury shuld be dismissed, either. It's a fun listen, mind you; it's just not a particularly important one, unless you're wanting to go back and get a feel of the DC-hardcore era of the late 80s. As a picture of where the musicians came from, however, it's mildly interesting--though I recommend jumping over this one and going straight to Circus Lupus and Monorchid instead--though I think that someone should reissue the lost Los Mordidas discography.

--Joseph K.

Anamude "Urban Comfort"

Anamude is the singular project of Ana Hortillosa, who set about creating this record all by her lonesome, with nothing but her singin', her guitar pickin' and her accordion grindin'. She's got the vibe that is all Sunday morning, 4:12 am, post-show, smoke-filled post houseparty comedown. It's kind of dark, too, whcih I like--but not too dark, though. She sings with such a sweet smile, you can't help but be won over by her charm.

Actually, Urban Comfort is a pretty nice little record, not too sweet, but not too dark, either. The only problem I have with it is that occasionally, the vocals sound a little too similar; it seems like she could do with a little variety in her presentation. Of course, when you're playing an all-acoustic set, you do run this risk, and relative newcomer Hortillosa doesn't always have the strength to hold up under the stripped-down pressure. I like "nosedive" and the three part "urban comfort" suite, even though they don't really seem to be connected with one another.

My minor stylistic quibbles aside, Urban Comfort is a pleasant little diversion. I like the slow, sadder things in life, and though I'm not in that particular mindset right now, I'm sure that this would play along quite well for that mood.

--Joseph Kyle

June 07, 2002

The Clientele "Lost Weekend"

The most important part of a romantic evening is the atmosphere. You want to feel comfortable and at ease, though sometimes one does get nervous. Trembing in the heat of the moment, anxious as to what shall indeed happen next. You want everything to be just perfect, because you want this moment to last. You want this moment to be with you twenty years from now, even though you'll forget it by next week. You want this moment to be special, because you may never have it again.

The Clientele's newest EP, Lost Weekend is not only a beautiful moment musically, but it also highlights the band's own musical progress and growth. The set starts off with "North School Drive," which is the sonic equivalent of walking home alone after being dumped on a cold December night. It's a haunting, piano-enhanced number. This sad little walk home fades into a little field recording of a busy street, entitled "Boring Postcard," which fades into the most epic Clientele nubmber ever, "Emptily Through Holloway." This is an even-sadder song than before, mainly due to the heart-tearing vocals of Alasdair Maclean, which will simultaneously break your heart and fill your soul with empathy. "Kelvin Parade" is a return to more familar Clientele sounds, harking back to their many 20th Century singles. The moment fades into "Last Orders," a long-ish, sad piano instrumental, that turnes the whoe emontional thermostat down to below zero degrees. You're frozen in time, sad, melancholy.

Then, it's over. This moment, so lovingly brought to you by the Clientele, has passed. Will you have it again? I would certainly hope so. The band's dynamic is much more atmopspheric, much sadder than ever before; the sounds have matured from their earlier records, and Maclean has grown as a songwriter. Lost Weekend is their best record to date, one of the best records of 2002, and one of the best records I own. Each time I press play, I feel the love and the sadness in my life, and I smile/sigh.

--Joseph Kyle

Doug Martsch "Now You Know"

When you buy a Built to Spill records, you expect a few things. You expect that voice. You expect those long, epic-like guitar solos. You expect quirky lyrics that make sense. You expect artwork by Tae Won Yu. On this, Doug Martsch's solo album, the things that you might expect from a Built to Spill record aren't to be found. Instead of the loud guitar solos, you get solo guitar. Instead of Tae Won Yu, you get something that's not quite as good. Not to fear, though, because the voice and the lyrics are the same. You might say that this solo record is 50% different than Built to Spill.

Okay, so maybe Now You Know is a bit more than just 50% different than your average Built to Spill record, but it's true, certain things are a given when it comes to Doug Martsch's music. Instead of the big Rock Guitar riffs, you get quiet, acoustic moments that are as intricate and detailed as Built to Spill's grandest moments--not that all of these songs are acoustic numbers. The electric moments such as "Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)" are excellent, because Martsch's power is the electric guitar. But, really, Built to Spill really does cast a very long shadow. Take "Window," for instance. If it were plugged in, it would fit in quite nicely with There's Nothing Wrong With Love. "Lift" screams for a full-band treatment.

Hell, all of these songs do.

From what I understand, Martsch was hesitant to release this record, and I can understand why. Originally given to friends a few years ago, Now You Know wasn't meant for the world to hear, and the songs do sound like demos or incomplete works of art. The music's great, though; Martsch is a very talented songwriter, and these songs are miles better than the last Built to Spill record. Maybe some of the magic on Now You Know will appear on Built to Spill's follow-up to last year's mediocre Ancient Melodies of the Future--or maybe Martsch will just become the bearded hermit bluesman that we've always expected that he'd become. Either way, there's one thing for sure--the music'll be good!

--Joseph Kyle

Your Team Ring "homelife"

During the mid-nineties, the Elephant Six collective monopolized that area of the genre continuum between which bubblegum pop, psychedelic rock, and musique concrete existed. Recent years, however, have seen E6's leading lights floundering or disappearing into obscurity. The Apples in Stereo refuse to live up to their potential and make the masterpiece everyone knows they're capable of, and Neutral Milk Hotel refuses to make any new music at all! The Olivia Tremor Control, my favorite E6 band, has split into two different bands, only one of which, the Circulatory System, even approaches the original band's greatness. Elf Power continues its gradual descent into mediocrity, and Of Montreal, despite shaping up to be both E6's weirdest and most consistent act, fails to receive nearly as much attention as the aforementioned bands. If E6 continues its downward slide, whom will we be able to turn to for pop songs that bridge the gap between now and the LBJ era?

Gabriel Walsh's nebulous home-recording project Your Team Ring establishes itself as a worthy candidate with its debut album Homelife. It's a concept album batty enough to compete with that of any pre-punk LSD-inspired song cycle. An unnamed protagonist (who, for clarity, I'll refer to as Gabriel) clones himself, and travels to outer space, leaving the clone on Earth to tend to the Gabriel's errands. While in space, Gabriel decides to return home after discovering that the clone has stolen his girlfriend. On the way back, though, Gabriel's landing gear gets stuck, and he ends up passing through a number of strange places (the Fourth Dimension, the Parade of Mechanical Ants, the Ocean of Bone). During his travels, he somehow loses his skin, rendering him unable to survive once he finally returns to Earth. At the last minute, though, the clone decides to give his own skin to Gabriel, killing himself to save his creator's life. I'm not sure that this is the exact plot that Your Team Ring wished to convey, since some of the lyrics are very open-ended. Besides, you don't need to know all of the details to truly enjoy Homelife.

Of course, Your Team Ring possess the same mastery of melody that the best Elephant Six bands are known for, as well as a similar gift for making the most out of lo-tech equipment. However, Homelife's primary strength is its arrangements. Tasteful employment of strings, sound effects, and ethnic instrumentation ensures that choruses stand out from verses. For instance, the beginning of "Brother Clone" is what one would imagine the music of a Buddhist temple to sound like, with the rhythm outlined by booming gongs and staccato mandolins. The chorus, however, uses traditional rock instrumentation, as a sampled falsetto voice interrupts the nasal, high-pitched harmonies. "Mobile Home" employs the opposite strategy by sounding like a normal rock song in the verses, yet shifting into a cacophony of seesawing violins and flanged voices during the chorus. "Parade of Mechanical Ants" uses organic percussion to imitate the glitch backbeats of IDM, and "Change Directions" pits countrified banjos against randomly panned drum machines. Proper songs are followed by brief instrumentals, such as the drum circle hypnotism of "The Love Life of Clones," and the synthesizer-driven raga of "The Short Journey Toward Home." A vaudeville influence pops up whenever the character Space Trolley Man appears to deliver Gabriel bad news. Homelife saves its best for last, with a title track that George Harrison would leap out of his grave to write, from its quasi-mystical lyrics to its leisurely slide guitars.

I have to warn you that when I wrote "nasal, high-pitched harmonies" in the preceding paragraph, I MEANT IT. Walsh sings like he was born with a head cold, and this quirk may irritate some listeners. That caveat aside, I congratulate Your Team Ring for such a seamless union of high-concept experimentation and low-fidelity pop, especially now that the Elephant Six logo is no longer a failsafe guarantee of quality.

---Sean Padilla

June 06, 2002

Beachwood Sparks "Make The Cowboy Robots Cry"

I've been spending a little bit of time appreciating Norman Carl Odam. A name that doesn't really mean much, unless you're really in to odd, weird music. Odam was and is much more "commonly" known as the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. His is a wonderfully odd story, and though I won't go into his full life here, suffice it to say that his "space country" was and is most peculiar. Or, as one DJ recently said, "In 1964, The Beatles got big, so Norman thought he should be that big, too," and proceeded to create ramshackle "space country" music that sounded like (and still sounds like) nothing heard at the time.

Beachwood Sparks also have that whole "space country" vibe going. They've released two albums to critical acclaim and comments such as "dude, they sound like the Grateful Dead!" And while I wouldn't be able to confirm or deny, I'm pretty sure that their recording sessions occasionally get a bit hazy. Make the Cowboy Robots Cry is the document of the Sparks' collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello, of futuristic electronic bands Figurine and D'ntel., and they're wanting to create a new country rock style, by way of modern electronica-based instrumentation.

One might think that this meeting of acoustic soft "old" sounds and technologically cold "new" sounds might prove to be an interesting development of space country. Make the Cowboy Robots Cry, at its best, provides glimpses of a newly-birthed musical style. At its worst, however, it's a third-rate Grandaddy impersonation.
With its warm, mechanical purring pulse, Beachwood Sparks deserve credit for trying something new, and I'm not holding that against them. Pretty is nice, but it doesn't always work, and Make the Cowboy Robots Cry is nothing if not an attempt at making pretty music.

The DJ that I was referring to earlier mentioned that Norman Carl Odam was "a genius in some ways, and not in others," and I think that's a pretty good summation of Make the Cowboy Robots Cry. This is a record that strikes me differently each time I listen to it. Sometimes, I really think the spaced-out mix and the floating in and out of tune harmonies are quite gorgeous, painting a picture of space as the new Wild West. Other times, I feel like it's all a big sonic blur that sounds terribly, terribly flat.

The one high point is "Ghost Dance 1492," which is a rather upbeat rocker that sounds all of 1968, and doesn't really contain the elements that make the rest of Make the Cowboy Robots Cry a mixed bag, and though it's not their best record, it proves that the Beachwood Sparks are growing, experimenting, and maturing their musical ideas.

--Joseph Kyle

Buffalo Tom "Asides From Buffalo Tom"

There's something rather summerly about Buffalo Tom. I found this collection on sale in a used bin, and, having been enamored of one or two of their "hits" I thought it would be a great record to take on my somber, unexpected trip across Texas.

I couldn't have picked a more appropriate record.

See, Buffalo Tom were alternative-rock before the term was overused and abused by those who were simply the same old mediocre wolves in used flannel sheeps clothing. So, when listening to this record, it's a little hard not to cringe at first, not because of the music that they're making, but because of what their sound pathetically turned into. That there's no correlation between and every correlation between bands such as Buffalo Tom and stuff like The Calling and Jimmy Eat World really says a lot about Buffalo Tom's ability to make unique yet familiar music. One could essentially say, though, that it's because of artists such as Aerosmith and Elvis Costello and R.E.M. that we have Buffalo Tom, so I digress on that point.

In fact, let's forget the whole genre-fuck of alternative, and let's look at the music for a moment, okay? Buffalo Tom is a rock band. They make music, and any genre constraints that you put on them are done by your choice, and they take zilch away from the music. Like their contemporaries Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom was a band possessing a simple thesis: tell a story. In that oh-so-haughty era of "alt-rock," the utterly simple concept of narrative seemed to fall from grace. Bands such as Buffalo Tom, however, seemed to fall through the cracks, and though that might not have made some people happy, it certainly didn't reflect at all on the music. Like contemporaries Velocity Girl, their talents improved over time, while the sound and the genre they were tagged quickly fell from grace, insuring that their records would be ignored.

That's the world's loss. Not Buffalo Tom's.

Really, though, how could you not enjoy the sounds of Buffalo Tom? If you like songs with a good beat, a hard, driving rhythm, and intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, then looking no further than Buffalo Tom should be the first thing you do. Period. Where R.E.M. faltered, Elvis Costello alienated, and Aerosmith bored, Buffalo Tom was there, making their music, singing their songs, the rest of the world be damned. Janovitz and company could go from soaring rock anthems like "I'm Allowed" and "Sunflower Suit" to tender, tear-jerk melodies like "Wiser" and "Postcard," without losing their hard-rocking edge, or having to pawn their sentimental, heart-felt nature.

And what songs they were, too! I challenge any artist currently making music to come up with powerful numbers such as "Rachael," "Summer," or "Sodajerk." These songs were hits for those who heard them, and were a nice-kept secret for the converted and the bored-with-the-scene post-scenesters. Bill Janovitz is a highly underrated singer-songwriter, to be sure, and I'd give anything to have written any of the eighteen songs on Asides 1988-1998. A career retrospective like Asides, though not necessarily a record for the fans, serves Buffalo Tom quite well--highlighting the songwriting skills of Bill Janovitz, whose style falls between, well, Stipe, Dylan, Costello, and Janovitz. Methinks, that at the end of the day, Buffalo Tom were simply happy to make the records that they made. It's too bad, really, that Buffalo Tom weren't allowed more of an opportunity to be heard; they were, and may still be, the last great alternative-rock band.

--Joseph Kyle

June 03, 2002

East River Pipe "Shining Hours In a Can"

I own exactly one original Sarah record, a ten-inch mini LP by East River Pipe entitled Goodbye California. It's a lovely record, well worth the money I spent for it, and is a simply amazingly charming record. What's more amazing about this record is that, when listening to the last East River Pipe, 1999's The Gasoline Age, there's very little room for comparison between the two. It's not because one is better than the other--far from it. In fact, they sound like contemporaries. It's the damndest thing. F.M. Cornog's music doesn't age, it doesn't change all that much--he's a very consistent songwriter.

Shining Hours in a Can--originally released in 1994 on Ajax, and out of print for a few years now--is prime East River Pipe. This handy little collection compiles up all of the early singles and EP's released for the fabled Sarah records, as well as a few odds-and-sods tracks. It's easy to understand why Sarah label honcho Matt Haynes wanted Cornog to sign to his label, as the songs on here are nothing short of small, lo-fi works of art.

Did I mention that these songs are almost all "lo-fi" in nature? Yeah, I didn't--because to the casual listener, such limitations to recording wouldn't be easily detected. Cornog has a way with recording, and his songs--almost all of the basic gutiar, vocals, keyboard, and drum machine variety--really resonate with a shining charm that makes the limitations of the recording seem much less apparent. Add to it that Cornog's musical sound is really aligned to a more traditional, FM-rock radio style, and you've got yourself a recipe for goodness.

While it may be a while for the next East River Pipe opus--Cornog's an enigmatic fellow who never tours, never plays live, doesn't have a band, and releases records when he wants to--Shining Hours In A Can is a nice little appetite-filler..and it's more than likely that next opus won't sound too different than this. A fine scrapbook of early pictures of one of today's most underrated songwriters.

--Joseph Kyle