December 29, 2002

Ryan Adams "Demolition"

I don't get most Rock Critics. They're real quick-like to bemoan the sad state of "Today's Music," and long for some sort of mythological savior to come along and save The Music World from a percieved Hell. When someone comes along that fits said description, with the talent, the style, and the whatever it is, these same pissy Rock Critics impose super-strict rules as to how said band/artist should be. Instead of recognizing that something is good, they critique the hell out of it and take it upon themselves to start destroying this offending party. Tearing them down is especially daunting--and totally obvious--if you were the one who had just spent the past few months building them up!

Ryan Adams? Let me just say it right now--all of those people who put him down or dismiss him glibly--screw you. Yup. I'm being harsh here, but I really feel that the time for nice platitudes is OVER. Nothing bugs me more than hearing Adams bashed for his attitude and the fact that he wants to be big. It is wrong to begrudge a person's success--especially when that person's talent is really worthy of praise. I make no apologies for this; I mean, I think it's great that he's on TV and the radio, and if his attitude upsets you, then maybe you should just simply stop judging the artist's work by his personality.

Witness Demolition. Just in case you didn't know, this album was originally slated to be a FOUR-CD BOX SET of demos, outtakes, and sessions from Gold until now. If Whiskeytown's Pneumonia, Heartbreaker, and the expanded edition of Faithless Street are any indication, Adams can shit gold and flush it without remorse because something even better will come along shortly. The man's a prolific talent, and I don't think Bob Pollard's track record is as consistently great as Adams. (The only person I can think of that Adams comes close to matching in terms of releasing a quantity of quality is Adams' early adopter and friend, Elton John.) Faithless Street is an album that's augmented by an album's worth of demos and outtakes. Hell, Heartbreaker was recorded in a few days, in a session that Adams probably forgot about by the next round of sessions. In fact, if Faithless Street is any indication, his officially released albums are probably rivaled by even better sessions left unheard in the vaults.

Gold? Okay, I'll fess up and say that when I first heard it, I just didn't feel much of anything. It was a record that was worked on and worked on and while it sounds good, and the songs are good, it just seems to lack something. I think that it's going to be more important for what it did for Adams' career than it is for the actual music. If an artist doesn't hit a homerun every time (especially one with a stellar catalogue), that's no reason to dismiss them. Baseball players strike out, skaters slip on the ice, it's part of the game--same for musicians. Gold wasn't a stinker; it just was different.

Demolition, then, is a bit less glossy, a bit less larger than life, a bit less...well, it's just a bit less than Gold. He's got his Rock and Roll Swagger turned off on this one, and thus Demolition is a much mellower affair. There are a few really great rockers here; the big number here is "Nuclear," one of Adams' best songs, as well as an all-around great radio single. It's a rocker, but it's got a melancholy side to it, and it sounds like that one great lost Buffalo Tom hit that you knew they could--but never--produced. Ironically, there's another Boston-based band influence on the other big rocker; "Starting to Hurt" has a rolling bass line that sounds like it was stolen directly out of the wallet of Kim Deal.

Adams is at his best when he turns the songwriting on himself, when he magnifies his emotions on tape. Songs such as "Hallelujah," "Desire," "Cry on Demand," and "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)," Adams is tender, heartfelt, and apologetic--the things that made Heartbreaker so wonderful. And, yes, he really is a wonderful singer, songwriter, and musician--Rock Star image notwithstanding. These songs all tell one thing--Adams' best work is but one studio session away. Personally, from the sheer quality of his work, and of Demolition, I'm kind of sad that the 4-CD set didn't materialize. Of course, that gives hope of future releases like this--that is, if those session tapes aren't passed up by newer, later, and greater sessions.

We've wanted an artist like Ryan Adams for a long time. Now, we've got him. Stop complaining.

--Joseph Kyle

December 27, 2002

Capitol Years "Jewelry Store"

Hype. It gave many bands the bling-bling in 2002. One or two of those hype-up bands were legitimately good. And boy-howdy, that whole " new rock and roll" thing sure does need to go away, now-like. I don't understand it at all, really. "New Sounds?" What's new about borrowing heavily from Lou Reed, the MC5, and Iggy? They're grandfathers!

I'm not quite sure about Capitol Years' place among all of those bands. Sure, they've been placed upon the "up and coming" bin, but I really don't know how much of that is based simply upon their sound. They've got a quite-apparent influence of the 1970s, for sure. But, see, when they were looking for influence, instead of shelling out the bucks for expensive Iggy and Velvet Underground records, they invested in the cheaper, budget-line Have A Nice Day series, and in the process, picking up inspiration from the era, and not just one band. Thus, they sound inspired by the 1970s, instead of sounding like a direct rip-off.

Apparently, Jewelry Store was recorded as close to live as possible, to get that feeling of liveness, which seems to be where their power is to be found. I like this approach, really, because it makes for some rather crunchy songs. Makes me want to play me some air drums. (Seeing as I'm from/in East Texas, I play some mean air-drums, slappy.) I'm particularly keen on the title track, which is a fast little rocker; "Japanese Store," also a fast little rocker, and the jammed-out closer, "Train Race."

Hype or no, Capitol Years are a fun rock band who probably rock it live. In fact, you can hear that in Jewelry Store. Of course, who knows where the hype machine will take us this year, and here's to Capitol Years existing and making music and growing popular in spite of it, not because of it. After all, whatever happened to our rock 'n' roll? I don't know, but I think Capitol Years have found it. Jewelry Store is a nice little snack before their next album.

--Joseph Kyle

The Mighty Rime "mighty rime"

Seeing as how Christie Front Drive is considered one of the fathers of emo as we know it--and one of the primary influences on Jimmy Eat World--it really goes without saying that Christie Front Drive have much to answer for. Will they ever be held accountable for their actions? Who knows. Will they ever get together and cash in on what they have wrought? (Recent revelations in a Jimmy Eat World article in Devil In The Woods hint at it--if Jimmy Eat World even remember the little people from their salad days.)

The Mighty Rime is the return of Christie Front Drive's Kerry McDonald. Instead of making Christie Front Drive Part Two, he's decided to go for a rootsier sound. "Rootsier" meaning "lo-fi." "Sound" meaning "indie-rock." "Indie-rock" meaning "Built to Spill." Seriously, this stuff sounds like a hip indie-rock loving college student's home-recorded output. You certainly wouldn't know that Kerry had been in Christie Front Drive. Maybe that's the point? Who knows. The Mighty Rime was not what I'd expected, and yes I'm a little disappointed.

I don't want to sound too critical, though, because some moments here really hint that The Mighty Rime could be something so much better. "Loot'n n Shoot'n" is a great, interesting little rock number that probably explodes quite loudly when played live. The final "Soothing Finish" is an instrumental number that really makes me wish that the rest of the album had at least a few more moments that sounded like it, because it would have been a lot more interesting.

It must be difficult starting over from a seminal band, and going forth with a sound and style so radically different than what people might expect can often prove dangerous. I've got to give Kerry credit for making music again, and taking the risk of doing something different, even if it was a misstep. The Mighty Rime isn't going to overcome the Christie Front Drive legacy, and fans shouldn't expect it to.

--Joseph Kyle

Tobin Sprout "Sentimental Stations"

Tobin--welcome back! This quiet songwriter has certainly been missed over here, and this little CD-EP is a nice taste of that new album of his that's coming in February. I've always enjoyed Sprout's solo work, because he's someone who can always be relied upon for quality songs. "Consistent" is the best word for Sprout's songwriting. You're not going to get anything less than his best; he's got a much better quality control mechanism than his former bandmate Bob Pollard. His backing band, which includes current Guided By Voices drummer Jim MacPherson, is also rather tight, too.

Sprout's a middle-aged guy who has an ear for a great melody and the patience to form that melody into a great song. If Guided by Voices have aspirations to be a lo-fi Who, then Tobin's doing well to be a lo-fi Badfinger. His melodies and lyrics are great; one listen to "Inside the Blockhouse" and the moving piano ballad "Doctor #8" prove that he's still got the touch. I'm also a fan of the instrumental "Branding Dennis" and the title track is a pretty good rocker that deceives you at first.

At times, Pollard's influence may seem to show, but I really think that it's more a case of Tobin's quiet yet influential role he had in making Guided by Voices' sound. As such, this is a pleasant record--some of Sprout's best work, period--and if Sentimental Stations is any indication of what his new album's going to be like, then Sprout's best work may soon be forthcoming. A fine release, an excellent appetizer, and no real surprise from this quietly talented songwriter.

--Joseph Kyle

December 22, 2002

The Dudley Corporation "The Lonely World of the Dudley Corporation"

The odds are clearly stacked against this album. First of all, its mere appearance is rendered an anticlimax by the notorious delays that occur when albums from the United Kingdom are licensed to American labels. This album's already a year and a half old in the Dudley Corporation's native Ireland, so even if the band were to travel to America to promote it, they've probably already gotten tired of performing these songs live. Hell, by the time I found out about Ballboy's promising debut Club Anthems, the group already had another album in the can. Second of all, this album comes along at a time when, at least in this country, taking cues from stalwart American indie-rock bands of the mid-nineties is beyond passe. Because of such, UK bands like Spraydog, Urusei Yatsura, and Seafood, all of whom take our old tricks and do them in a more tuneful, more earnest, and arguably better manner, see their records sink like deadweights the minute they're thrown into the American market. Therefore, there's not much hope to be had for an album that sounds like Lou Barlow writing lyrics on top of Heavy Vegetable songs. The same thing that I said about Christiana's Fatigue Kills applies here: yes, it's all been done before, but rarely quite this well. Plus, this album's even BETTER than Christiana's, so you REALLY need to heed my advice this time!

Every song on this album concerns itself with either a relationship being broken or a relationship being put back together. Fortunately, Dudley (the singer, songwriter, and guitarist whom this band is named after) finds a sensible middle ground between Lou Barlow's suffocating self-pity and David Gedge's uncomfortable erotic detail. The album benefits from masterful sequencing: just when the album's lovelorn shtick makes you want to stuff your head inside an oven, a trio of optimistic, lovey-dovey songs provides welcome relief during the album's second half. Of course, this being The Lonely World of the Dudley Corporation, our protagonist ends up getting his "heart ripped out again," to quote the closing mantra of penultimate track "HED," by record's end. There are very few gaps of silence between these short songs, and many of them are grouped together according to key. This produces an effect in which, if you're not paying attention to the CD player, songs begin to blend into each other. "A Song Against the City" sounds like a speedier climax to the previous ballad "She Falls," and the sweet ballad "R.K.P." sounds like a comedown from the previous thrasher "Slowed in Motion." The sequencing gives this album a strong thematic consistency, while keeping the songs from sounding samey or indistinct.

In album opener Score, Dudley compares his attitude toward a vaguely defined antagonist to that of a bored, unrehearsed musician: its greeting "Do-re-mi, assholes" is nothing short of classic. The vocals switch from listless mumbles to falsetto sighs, but the jittery music refuses to mirror the lyrics' apathy. Beats are shaved off the meter seemingly at random, and verse/chorus/verse is abandoned for a musical tangent that crams three distinct and memorable guitar riffs into forty seconds. The Heavy Vegetable influence becomes most apparent in moments like this, when musical ideas are announced and then discarded with such reckless abandon. "One in a Squillion" finds Dudley reminiscing, unable to accept the fact that his woman left him. His off-key warbling shifts into a strangled, powerful yelp at precisely the right moment, and he inserts a surprisingly dexterous
guitar solo in the middle of the song. Dudley's subsequent plea for reconciliation in "Divil the Bit" becomes extremely urgent during the song's chorus, when he struggles to catapult his voice above Joss' machine-gun drum rolls. "Stutter" is a reinforcement of the lyrical ideas of "One in a Squillion," but this time delivered in the second-person, and adorned with some delicious slide guitar playing. On "Stupid," Dudley admonishes himself to wear his heart on his sleeve, regardless of who it alienates, during a climax of grinding guitars and double-kick drums that sounds like Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch singing atop Metallica's "One."

"The Small Hours" is the album's bleakest song; in it, Dudley begins the night getting drunk in order to work up the nerve to call his ex. He fails, of course, and spends the rest of the night masturbating and puking. The song's so pretty and bouncy, though, that you won't notice how depressing the subject matter is unless you read the lyric sheet. On "Quick," Dudley is joyful at the prospect of falling asleep with his woman, his voice almost drowning in a sea of strings, bells, and accordion. "God Only Knows" is another Wedding Present-style strummer, whose lyrics describe a couple slowly growing disillusioned with its surroundings. By the next song, "HED," the couple turns its disillusionment towards each other, bringing the album full circle thematically. The appropriately named "Out Song" ends the album on a disarmingly sweet note, with Dudley vowing to protect and intercede on the behalf of a troubled girl. It peaks with a noisy, shambolic guitar solo that would make Pavement's Scott Kannberg proud were he ever to hear it.

If you're feeling down in the dumps this holiday season, The Lonely World of the Dudley Corporation will serve as the perfect tonic. If you program the CD to play only its fast songs, you'll have the perfect soundtrack to slam-dancing your broken heart away. If you program the CD to play only its slow songs, you'll have the perfect soundtrack to moping about and dwelling in your heartbreak. I guarantee you, though, that if you choose either option, you'll eventually want to hear the other songs because they're all wonderful. Listening to this album in its entirety is really the only way that one can appreciate the nuances of Dudley's songwriting; for a guy with such a one-track mind, he's awfully capable of keeping my interest. It also helps that his rhythm section rocks harder than both Sebadoh's and the Wedding Present's ever did. In short, buy this record now and thank me later.

---Sean Padilla

December 17, 2002

Broken Spindles "Broken Spindles"

What kind of side-project record should you expect from a fellow whose main gig is a hybrid 80s-new wave and 90s noise? Would you guess that it would be straightforward early 90s techno? I guess you would, and I probably should have, too. The cube-people scene on the front should have been a clue of something slightly futuristic yet retro. The fact that it is by someone in THE FAINT should have been my biggest clue.

Joel Petersen of The Faint was approached by a friend to score a film. The film fell through, but what to do of the music? Instead of letting the music gather dust somewhere, he decided to mix it and release it on his own. Knowing this little bit of information really changed my reaction to this record. This is an all-instrumental record, as befits a film score. The music is techno, of the old-school, Only 4 The Headstrong style, with a few interesting bits thrown in--a dulcimer on "The Love of Foreign Film," vibes on "The Oldest Accident," or the really driving dancefloor beat of "Empty Bottle."

I can't really say that the music is bad--Petersen really knows how to get a great sound out of those little machines of his. The one problem I seem to have with it, though, is common with a lot of instrumental records--it seems incomplete. Having loved Blank-Wave Arcade and that remix record of theirs, I just can't help but feel like I'm listening to works-in-progress. I do know that many of these numbers would probably make great songs. Broken Spindles is a curious listen for the casual Faint fan like me, but I would really recommend it more for the hardcore, who might like to hear what one of these guys can do on his own. I think that you can rest assured, though, that somewhere, a girl is putting "Downtown Venues" on her mix-CD's that she makes for her johns--ahem, sorry, I mean "friends."

--Joseph Kyle

December 15, 2002

Homescience "Songs for Sick Days"

So, Elephant 6 is now "dead." Good. Sure, there were one or two great moments, but for the most part, I was rather annoyed by the lo-fi mediocre nature of most of the bands. Many of these bands seemed to be simply the same band with the same people and the same sound but a different name. Yawn. It seemed that for each Neutral Milk Hotel, there were five bands that shouldn't have gone further than many of those had members of Neutral Milk Hotel in them! To honor the recently departed, we won't name names, but we'll say that maybe it was time it was laid to rest. That the founding fathers officially proclaimed its passing means that they thought so, too.

But here's where it gets problematic. Where does imitation end and tribute begin? Isn't any band or label's legacy seen in those that continue on the style or the sound long after the original bands have split? What happens when the influence grew exponentially during its lifetime? Yeah, see what I mean when I say this is a real problem? Not to worry, though; Homescience sound influenced by, but they don't sound derivitive of.

What sets Homescience apart, at least in my mind, is that their lead singer (sorry, don't really know who, information on these kids is really sketchy, at best) sounds like Tripping Daisy/Polyphonic Spree ringmaster Tim DeLaughter. Exactly like him. So much so that if I didn't know where these guys are from, I'd suspect a secret side project was afoot. That aside, it's the singing that really wins me over. It's very innocent, child-like. Normally silly lyrics don't come off quite the same when sung with a serious, grown-up voice. "M...Art In" (i think it's the title of track 11) is perhaps my favorite. It's a paen to working in a fast-food restaurant, and it's a rather poignant observation of life. I think.

The music itself is a joyous racket. For, you see, it's that loose, shambling sound of youth that makes Songs for Sick Days utterly charming. No song lasts over three minutes, and they scoot from idea to idea without pause. Sad ballad segues into Beach Boys riffs segues into pianos and guitars and loops and lions and tigers and bears oh my! Homescience never sit still enough to be pigeonholed--and that's perhaps the one flaw of Songs for Sick Days. There are twenty-two songs on here, and while all of them are nice, I do believe that each one, if developed a little more, would be killer. Mind you, many of these tracks are excellent as they are, but a little more time in the oven would really provide the difference between good and great.

But that really is a minor quibble. I'm very eager to hear what these kids will do next. Songs for Sick Days is a fun record, and while the sheer amount of music might be offputting in one full dose, small doses--taken every four hours, or as directed by a doctor--are nothing but theraputic. If I still made mixtapes, I could probably find about twenty-two songs on here that would be great. Now if only someone would give these kids a big studio budget to spend some time on their music, I suspect that they'll produce a miracle cure for the current epidemic of musical shite.

--Joseph Kyle

December 14, 2002

Dewey Decibel "Unnecessarily Beautiful"

Nerd-rock. How can you not like nerd-rock? Intelligent, silly music made by people who are smarter than you can often be a lot of fun. They Might Be Giants. They have nothing to do with this review, nor are they being used in comparison, but I feel a bit obligated when talking about nerd-rock. Dewey Decibel is a name that you can see as either heartwarmingly clever or annoyingly coy, and it just screams NERD!!

Dewey Decibel is New York's latest nerd-rock export. Unnecessarily Beautiful, their debut album, is a record filled to the rimmed-glasses of your typical nerd-rock fare. Warmly smart yet not at all smarmy, you're in the presence of--a talented bunch of fellows who are on the way to greatness. Sometimes the lyrics are profound ("It's clear to me/That I fail to see what I've got/Fail to see and choose to see/How to be and who to be", from "Clear") , or profoundly silly ("Who'd pledge allegiance to a bag, for it's a drag/National bag," from "National Bag") and even the outright absurd ("Calvacading replicas/Of Hindu god insignias appear/To pay for your next beer, from "Datebook"). Throw in quirky melodies that have a crunch to them (a la the Pixies and Clem Snide), and you've got a nice little combination.

My favorite track on Unnecessarily Beautiful would have to be "There's Charlie." Okay, now after praising these guys for writing witty ditties, why would I say that the best song on the album is the instrumental? It's because this song really showcases the fact that Dewey Decibel, underneath the jokes, in-jokes, and witticisms is a really great bunch of musicians. See the flaws that Dewey Decibel have aren't ones of content, but of technique. Occasionally, the vocals seem to muscle out over the music. Dewey's about the words, true--but at times it's more about the words than the music. On "There's Charlie," you actually hear the band--and it's great! "There's Charlie" is a straightforward surfabilly number, and you can't help but think, "Wow! these guys are really tight!"

Unnecessarily Beautiful is a promising debut. Sure there are a few pimples here or there, but this is a great start for a really fun band. Pimples are something that you grow out of, and with some growth, Dewey Decibel will be a shining young band that stands out amongst the crowds. Nerds usually do.

(And you should see his guitar design, check out for this precious little thing!)

--Joseph Kyle

December 13, 2002

Sam Bisbee "Live At Arlene Grocery"

Very rare is it that I'll hear a great record that makes me simply drop another review for that week so that I can babble on and on incoherently. This week I had one such record, but surprise! I got another one that totally bested the other great record. Two bands will have to wait. I've got this record to ramble on about! Even rarer is it that such a record is a LIVE ALBUM by an unknown (to me, at least) talent. But damn it all, Sam Bisbee is a man of great talent, and this record is a document of that.

Now, what is it about Bisbee that sets him apart from his peers? Well, that's a matter of taste, really. As for me, I am really rather keen on his lyrics; he's a funny fellow, and he's got some great stories to tell. From love in funny seats ("Bucket Seat") to love in cramped office spaces, ("Cubicle Love Song") he is witty and intelligent without ever having to dumb it down. Being from New York also throws up the Clem Snide flag, too; unlike Eef's self-depreciation in the face of learning life lessons, Bisbee's not necessarily trying to impress you with book smarts. And if you think you've heard "Miracle Car," you have; it's currently being used in a national advertising campaign.

Of course, with this being a live album, much of the music comes from his debut album, Vehicles. Two of the songs are covers, the opening (and totally spot-on) cover of New Order's "Age of Consent" and the irony-free cover of De La Soul's "Eye Know." Also with this being a live album, it's really hard to tell what he's doing in comparison to what he did in the studio. I'm hearing a bit of repetition in the music, leading me to think that he does things with tape loops, but I really can't be too sure about this. I do hear a New Order vibe throughout most of his set, but you can also hear a bit of good ole glummy boy Thom Yorke. Heck, at first I thought that the reason "Miracle Car" sounded so familiar was that it was indeed a Radiohead cover!

I like seeing bands live that impress me enough that I'm left running to the merch table to buy up their goods. Live at Arlene Grocery is the next best thing to that feeling. Sam Bisbee--I get the feelin' he's not going to be down in Texas any time soon. I also have this feeling that he's going to be thrown in to the "next big thing" lists that inevitibly appear at the beginning of a new year. Let's just hope that his talent gives him the success he deserves. One to watch, for sure!

--Joseph Kyle

Death Cab for Cutie "you can play these songs with chords"

These guys don't really need much of an introduction; selling tens of thousands of records finds them in the position of being indie-rock household names, and with good reason. You Can Play These Songs With Chords isn't a new record, but it's an excellent look back, a collection of records past. I bought the original cassette, You Can Play These Songs With Chords, many moons ago, and I thought it was awesome. For a cassette release, it sounded great! At the time, I was innundated by bands or singers with tape releases, and some (okay, most) were not very good. Death Cab for Cutie's goodness shone through a lot of the shit of that era. Who knew that they would soon become indie-rock superstars?

This collection, which shares its name with the debut tape, is a reissue of that original tape, plus ten other obscure or unreleased goodies. Considering that much of that original tape was rerecorded for their debut album, Something About Airplanes, it's only mildly interesting listening. As terribly purist as this may sound, these songs really don't seem the same on CD, and don't seem as strong as they did on that original tape. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the limited sound quality that a cassette gives can really help to gloss over other weaknesses, such as awkward playing or rough mixing. I was kind of shocked, too, at how rough it sounded--I didn't recall it sounding that way.

While it is interesting to hear the tape again, the main reason anyone would want to pick up You Can Play These Songs With Chords would most certainly be the ten extra songs. This section starts off with a slightly pointless and rather bad cover version of the Smiths' classic "This Charming Man," complete with screwed up lyrics and general goofing around. /Much better are "TV Trays" and "New Candles," which really hints at Gibbard and Walla's magical musical future. "Tomorrow" is a bit of a shocker, as it's a rather funny, "wow-this-is-Death-Cab-for-Cutie?" kind of way--it's a rather earnest dance song, complete with drum machine and keyboards! "Flustered/Hey Tomcat!" is also a bit of a shocker, as it's a bizarre experimental number that's based around tape loops and other kinds of things. These two tracks really need to be heard to be appreciated fully. The last of the unreleased songs, "State Street Residential," is a reject from their debut album, and you can easily understand why: it's boring. The rest of the songs come from obscure releases. "Wait" and "Prove my Hypothesis" come from an excellent 1999 release, "Song For Kelly Huckaby" is a remix of an EP cut, and "Army Corps of Architects" is the B-side from their rare Sub Pop Singles Club release.

While You Can Play These Songs With Chords doesn't really add anything new to Death Cab For Cutie, it does help to show their humble beginnings. If you were in to that sort of thing, I'm sure that you could make a real Cinderella story out of their history, and this record would be just enough fodder for you to start. While I wouldn't recommend it to new fans, I wouldn't dismiss it as simply for completists. It's lovely in its own way, and it's a good little diversion for those eagerly awaiting their next brilliant release.

--Joseph Kyle

Woodbine "S/T"

Electronic folk is a genre that's been waiting for the birth of a real genius, someone who will define and polarize the scene. Sure, there have been some really great records in the genre, but there's really not been anyone to create an overwhelmingly beautiful work of art, one that would be the standard that others would look up to.
Woodbine's not going to be the one to pull the sword out of this particular stone, but they do come rather close.

Woodbine make a quiet racket--a racket so faint, you'd not even notice that it was there. Melodies are treated with the utmost of care, and the vocals are so precious that you would fear that if their intensity were to go anywhere above "delicate," then everything would just be--wrong. You almost think that they're too soft to exist in a hard, cold world. If ever a band could say that they make Mazzy Star sound like Black Flag, it would have to be Woodbine.

Woodbine do, however, make an interesting psych-rock blend, and at times they sound like Edith Frost. Throw in the fact that this record--made several years ago but just now seeing release--was made with Royal Trux's gruesome twosome, Adam and Eve, and you'd be right to think that they're more psych than folk, and are a bit more subversive than they're letting on. Songs wander around on a plane that's somewhat disturbing and somewhat dark. In fact, there's a blues element here that's also interesting, and would be more interesting if it didn't seem so flat. Really, though--there's a problem here, and that is too many ideas. I can't really seem to get a good feel as to who Woodbine are, or what it is they're trying to do, becuase, a. they're really quiet, and b., they're playing around with different styles here, but done so quietly, you really can't tell what it is they're trying to do! Frustrating.

I won't say I'm disappointed by Woodbine. Instead, I will say that I hear a lot of original ideas on here--such as "Outer Circle" that, given time, might make Woodbine a potent force to deal with. Woodbine are a talented group, and that's obvious, but there's just something not cohesive about the goings on here to really make a definitive statement. When they're on, such as "Mound of Venus," they're really good. Woodbine needed to stay in the oven a little longer.

--Joseph Kyle

December 08, 2002

The Snitches "Star Witness'

If I were the god of Rock and Roll, I'd be rather disgusted by the crap that I allowed to be released last year In My Name. The Vines, The Hives, White Stripes, Strokes, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Clinic--all of these bands will have much to answer for when my Rock and Roll Judgement Day comes. The Snitches, however, will go to heaven and will miss out on the persecution. Why? Because they're not trying to be anything that they aren't, and that is a great power pop band. Throw in the fact that they've been making music for nearly a decade, and you'll understand why they're grandfathered out of the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

What really makes The Snitches great is the fact that these kids DON'T sit still at all. To best illustrate this, I'll run down a few of the sounds and styles I noticed when listening: Elvis Costello, Rancid, Plimsouls, Pixies, Power Pop, New Wave, Pop-Punk, Raspberries, The Beat...well, you get the point, don't you? The Snitches offer up a healthy and hearty musical run-through of all things fuelled by too much caffeine and too many girls, and I love it! Star Witness is the record you've always known and loved, but different.

But what really makes The Snitches great isn't that they sound like those bands or that they've developed those musical styles, but that they've taken all of these things, these inspirations, these twenty-five year old moments of brilliance, and have made a sound all their own. The ability to sound fresh and new while making music that really hasn't changed much over the past quarter century is no easy feat, yet The Snitches have pulled it off. Sure, songs like "Right Before My Eyes" (a radio single if ever there was one) and "Wednesdays On My Mind" (ditto), recall the powderpuff power-pop days of yore, but "Willie" and "Crazy Talking Girl" don't--and they don't sound like some poor, pathetic bunch of folk simply trying to revive a dead musical style, either.

Utterly catchy and charming, totally fun and thoughtful, you really couldn't ask for a nicer record than Star Witness. Sure, The Snitches may not win any awards for innovation, nor will they claim any titles of overt originality, but who cares? When you can write a song that elevates the soul, puts a smile on someone's face, and makes them dance and have a good time, then the reward really is in the finished record, and for that, Star Witness is a fresh sound for today, for fans of music of yesterday and today. And unlike those "rock" bands of today, at least The Snitches can take some comfort in the fact that they aren't mediocre.

--Joseph Kyle

Sybarite [sonna] Lilienthal "Make Shift Carousel"

Records like this are rather nice on the ears. Instrumental music can often be rather difficult to write about, because there's only so much that you can say. Luckily, a record like Make Shift Carousel, as vague as it is, provides very little need for long, drawn-out description. Apparently, Sonna sent both Sybarite and Lilienthal a guitar melody, to which they would collaborate via long-distances. With no descriptions other than the titles of the songs and credits, it's rather difficult to know who contributed what.

No matter, though. The first song, "Make Shift," is apparently a collaboration between Sonna and Sybarite. It's a lovely little number that sounds quite like a Sybarite song--meaning that it's calm, repetitive, and laced with a lovely guitar and keyboard melody. "Carousel" is a collaboration between Sonna and Lilienthal, and while the basic sound is still calm and repetitive, it's also a bit rougher than the Sybarite collaboration, with a droning melody line and more of an electronic beat.

The last two songs are a collaboration between the three. "Four Way Street" is a brief snippet that leads into "From A Person We Seam," which finds all three artists pulling out the stops and creating an ambient, beat-laden, drone-rock electronic beast of a song that runs through several different styles and sounds and seems to last much longer than its nine-minute mark.

While Make Shift Carousel may be brief, it's certainly a most lovely little record. It's certainly worthy of being rescued from obscurity--two songs of which were released on a very limited seven inch single on a rather obscure European label. With the world in such a stressful state, any little slice of relaxation is worth the price, especially when made by three equally talented artists.

--Joseph Kyle

December 07, 2002

Christiana "Fatigue Kills"

After eight years of releasing low-to-mid-fidelity cassettes and EPs under the inauspicious name Neck, Canadian do-it-yourselfers Christiana released the full-length Hydrofield of Myth, one of 2001's most promising and overlooked debuts. Christiana borrowed tricks from a dizzying array of influences: the frenzied jangle of the Wedding Present, the woozy distortion and quick time changes of the Swirlies, the arch dissonance of Mission of Burma, and even the sunny, swooping harmonies of the Beach Boys. This stylistic skittishness was further compounded by the band's reliance on brevity and speed; Hydrofield crammed nineteen songs into just over a half-hour. By the time one song nudged its way into your head two more songs had already zoomed by. Depending on the listener, this could be a blessing or a curse. I lap up all things brief, tuneful, and spastic, so I (of course) praised Hydrofield to the skies upon its release, and still consider at least half of the songs to be classics. However, many of the people whom I played the album for considered it unremarkable. It also didn't help matters much that the album was slightly butchered in the post-production process. The guitars were compressed beyond belief, and half of the backing vocals had disappeared, which unintentionally spotlighted the weakness of singers/songwriters Dave Rodgers' and Andrew McAllister's voices. Frankly, the un-mastered copy of the album that the band sent me when they were still called Neck pisses over the officially released Hydrofield from a great height.

Fortunately, Christiana's sophomore release Fatigue Kills rectifies the mistakes that were made on Hydrofield. First of all, the band set up a professional-quality studio in the comfort of McAllister's home and recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire album there. Because of such, this album reaches a nice compromise between the glossy sheen of Hydrofield and the rough intimacy of Neck's earlier four-track recordings. You can still differentiate the instruments from each other, but the guitars retain the necessary bite. The words are still intelligible, but the thin vocals linger slightly behind the guitars in the mix, cushioned by just the right amount of double-tracking. Second of all, the addition of a third singer/songwriter, Jonathan Bunce, to the mix seems to have increased the band's willingness to let their songs breathe. Fatigue Kills takes forty-something minutes to get through twelve songs, and because the songs aren't as short or speedy as they used to be, Christiana have seized the opportunity to demonstrate their new secret weapon: the ability to dance on both sides of the line between the tuneful and the tuneless.

The opening song, "I Cannot Share Your Point of View," takes two minutes to turn into the best song Unrest never wrote. It begins with a full minute of Dave and Andrew tapping the necks of their guitars to produce creaking, ominous drones. When the rhythm section joins in, the guitars then start playing arpeggios that don't even sound like they're in the same key as Jonathan's bass. The song spends another full minute drowning in Sonic Youth-style atonality before launching into a verse in which Dave calmly croons on top of a sweet descending chord progression. "Yellow Room" would be comparatively straightforward pop were it not for the harmonies, which veer wildly off key for split seconds before returning to the song's main theme. "Conflict is an Antidote" begins as a speedy punk song in which Andrew sings, presumably to an ex-lover, a string of words that would sound cliched were it not for the urgency and speed with which they're delivered: "You're deaf/You're dumb/You're stupid/You're sitting/You're silent/It's over." It then segues into a slowly building instrumental jam that climaxes with another minute's worth of grinding feedback. "League of Nations," Jonathan's first entry in the Christiana canon, is as conventional a song as the band can muster at this point, and at two minutes and nineteen seconds, it would STILL be one of Hydrofield's longer songs. The opening guitar chords of the ballad "Introduce the Subplot First" don't even begin to make sense until the bass comes in to tie them together, after which the song drowns in a sea of subtle, swooping whammy-bar histrionics. "Diamonds" is even slower and mellower than "Subplot," but the clean, gently strummed guitars eventually form sonic syrup as thick as any distortion pedal can muster.

Christiana begins the second half of Fatigue Kills with a rock instrumental called "Techno Sequence #3," a strategy that isn't as clever as the band thinks it is, although the song is still quite good. On album highlight "Pretend," the chord progression of the verse is so unrelentingly tense that when Dave sings along with the ascending guitar line in the chorus, it sounds like a ray of light forcefully penetrating the darkness. Andrew's "Magpie Eyes" sounds like sections of three different songs awkwardly stitched together: the first being another speedy punk song in the vein of "Conflict," the second a spoken rant that leads into possibly the album's catchiest chorus, the third a wistful prom-night waltz. Hydrofield would have taken three songs to get through all of the ideas presented on "Magpie Eyes," and this is the only instance on the album in which I would have preferred the previous album's deconstructive approach. "Elaborate Excuses" pays homage to the
drop-D melodic sludge of Hum, with a lead guitar part constructed entirely of harmonics, and ANOTHER minute-long feedback coda. "Embarrassing Virus" is a pretty waltz occasionally interrupted by a couple of staccato, nauseatingly dissonant chords. Fatigue Kills' closer, "Before Yesterday," employs only four sad, plainspoken lyrics ("Before yesterday I knew what happy was/But this time it's different") before going on three minutes' worth of exciting instrumental tangents.

Obviously, this album is not without its flaws: some of the songs are disjointed, the singing can still be weak, and the band uses feedback as a crutch to make their songs sound more intense. However, how many other bands do you know of nowadays that can carry the torch of mid-1990s noise-pop and still do it this well? Fatigue Kills is yet another solid entry in Christiana's ongoing saga of autonomous self-actualization. They've gained confidence and prowess as singers, musicians, songwriters, and producers. I have reason enough to believe that their next album will supersede Fatigue in quality just as much as Fatigue has superseded Hydrofield. You heard it here first: Christiana are on the verge of greatness, so jump on the bandwagon NOW.

---Sean Padilla

Tara Jane O'Neil & Daniel Littleton "Music For a Meteor Shower"

Did you happen to see that big meteor shower a few weeks ago? Seems like everyone was making a big fuss over it, which seemed really kind of odd to me, to see such a fuss over a meteor shower. I hate to admit it, but I was kind of half-hoping for a Night of the Comet type of incident. Horrible, I know, but I was in need of some excitement at the time--and world destruction seemed viable. That night was foggy and cloudy and as such the whole affair seemed to be a bit of a dud, even though the night was still rather lovely and charming. Well, Music For A Meteor Shower might have made an interesting muscial soundtrack for this disappointing evening, had I thought about bringing it along. (Oh well, there's always next century.)

Tara Jane O'Neil and Daniel Littleton are two artists who have had very long, interesting musical careers. O'Neil, among other things, was the brains behind bands such as Rodan, Retsin, and Sonora Pine, and Littleton has led Ida for many years now. Both of them make very delicate, subtle music, and have collaborated before, creating soft, sensitive sounds for precious folk-loving folk. That they've come together to create an album together such as this is of no real surprise, considering their histories.

Essentially an instrumental album, Music For a Meteor Shower highlights their more experimental sides. Of course, when you're making folk music, the music itself often gets overlooked, and sometimes the experimental nature of what you're doing really doesn't seem to stand out. Thus, it's nice to actually hear these two playing their guitars and making interesting noises with all kinds of little toys. The one time singing does happen, "Ooh La La...," you can't help but feel as if this song is really out of place--as if the sanctity of the instrumental concept had been violated.
Several of the "songs" on Music For a Meteor Shower are merely short compositions that flow into oter small compositions--creating a larger musical piece while holding on to some sort of identity of its own. If you're not paying attention to the song track, you really wouldn't know that you'd changed songs.

The music is pretty, but I should give you a word of warning. At times, this album sounds like you're simply listening to two artists hanging out in an empty room, playing riffs, and not really having any direction. When toys and gizmos and atmosphere is added, though, you feel like you're listening to two geniuses in the studio, at work on something greater, something nicer that is yet to come--which means some good ideas mixed with ideas that aren't really formed or cohesive quite yet.

Music For A Meteor Shower is a lovely, pretty record that would make great background music for a night of simply watching the stars. While it might not do much for either O'Neil or Littleton's reputation as artists, it certainly highlights their musical abilities and shows the process of collaboration between two highly talented folk.

---Joseph Kyle

Electro Group/St. Avalanche Split 7"

Too bad the vinyl single format's dying out, but some people still know how to make a great one! This split single is an awesome example. On one side, Electro Group offer up two great songs. The first one, "Trauma," recalls the best elements of shoegazer, which segues into a quiet and brief blissed-out number, "Mezzoforte." On the other side is St. Avalanche, who kick off with an odd-yet-brief number, "Sun Monk & The Thunder Carp," which gives way to an awesome garage-flavored indiepop number, "Airforcing." Top it off with some pretty groovy x-ray based artwork, and you've got an excellent little single. Viva vinyl!

--Joseph Kyle

December 05, 2002

Lanterna "Sands"

A visit through the scrapbook of ambient music is what we have here. Henry Frayne's been making some really nice instrumental music for nearly a decade, a sound that's been the healthy blending of effects and guitar strumming, and you can't help but find this sound agreeable. Last year's album Elm Street was a nice collection of songs, but when you make music as delicate and nondescript as this, sometimes it simply slips into background noise.

Not so with Sands. I have to give Frayne some real credit here, because ambient music is perhaps the most limited musical style, and even then it almost all goes back to Eno. What makes Sands so amazing is that he's never really idle enough with his styles to form a rut. From reverbed guitar to effected guitar to who knows what, he makes a very big sound using, as the notes inform us, "guitar, voice, and claves" and additional assistance by Steve Day on "rhythm tracks." At times, Sands travels through a majestic Harold Buddian underwater kingdom ("Sands"), flies through the heavens like the lost angel child of Guthrie and Raymonde ("Greek Island"), or just walks alone in the forest, contemplating nature ("Lonely").

Instrumental music can be a challenge, but Sands is never anything less than an utter pleasure of a record. Everyone has a record in their collection that is used for the sole purpose of winding down, and Sands is certainly a balm that works well to soothe the aching soul. Henry Franye may not want to be the next Yanni or John Tesh, but he's certainly made a record that would easily topple those two New Age rock stars. Lanterna is new age music for the new generation of NPR listeners, and I for one am hoping Frayne gets some really good just deserts for it, too.

--Joseph Kyle

Lab Partners "Daystar"

Epic stoner-rock is either mind-blowingly brilliant or utterly self-indulgent. After all, if it weren't for the collected works of Rick Wakeman, Yes, and Genesis, our world would not have Avril Lavigne. Prog of the 1970s is easily the greatest atrocity afflicted upon listening audiences. (Don't waste our time writing an irony-laden letter about how great that stuff was, slappy, because it wasn't, my friend.)

The ideas of long jams that are trippy and psyched out lived on, though, and when mixed together with other musical styles or ideas, it can sometimes produce great results. Daystar starts off innocently enough, with the quiet, meditative "Gold." From this innocent point, "Those Things" starts to find the record moving into heady, Verve-like waters. By the fourth track, things are heading off into British psych-rock territories with the "isn't that a Verve song title" titled "Still Shine On," a ten-minute jam-out that doesn't "jam" which takes you through the best ideas of My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, The Verve, and whoever else had a few good ideas here and there. Oh, I mentioned Spiritualized? I shouldn't have. Well--it's odd, because while there are hints of that great band, I'm hearing a lot more of a similarity to Lupine Howl, the bitter Spiritualized-spawned offspring. What does that mean for Lab Partners? It means that we're talking about a great band that's throwing in all kinds of trippy shit to traditional rock music and coming out on top of the heap.

By the time you come to the middle of Daystar, "Sensations," you've already spent a half-hour of your life, and it ain't over yet. From this point, Lab Partners set the controls for the heart of the stoned and dethroned, and you really don't care, because it's one helluva great trip--a quietly loud trip that finds Lab Partners picking up where their inspirations left off, creating a sound all their own. The song remains the same, but it's totally original in the hands of Lab Partners, and traditional rock sounds never sounded so original! It's all about bending and reforming the ideas and never ever ever ever ever does this 73 minute trip sound heavy or slip into a boring rock groove.

Daystar is the exciting rebirth of rock and roll. It's trippy and heady and smokey and stoned and dark and meant only to be heard in bars and clubs with the lights down and 15 minutes before closing time and there's a kind of a hush over everyone, the party's over but it's only 2:00 AM, the day is but young. Thankfully, so are these guys. Ladies and gentlemen, you are floating in rock.

Hey, slappy, get your floppy-haired ass up. Hey, are you listening? We're talking top-ten record here--and not one damn trace of the MC5, Stooges, or Lou Reed is to be found.

Thank god for that.

--Joseph Kyle

December 03, 2002

Pipas "A Cat Escaped"

Wow, what a great record! Pipas are a lovely British girlboy pop duo of Mark and Lupe, who are as cute as their music is dreamy. Not a single second of A Cat Escaped is squandered foolishly, and that makes the record even better! Lupe sings with a very sweet, siren-song coo that reminds me of nobody, save for a hint or two of His Name is Alive's Karin Oliver. Not too twee, not too heavy, just sweet enough and mysterious enough to be totally alluring.

And the music? It's an odd, unique blend of jingle-jangle indiepop synthy blissout and all out dance-pop affair, with a little bit of candy on top! Ethereal and earthy, folky and funky, expressive yet brief, serious yet silly--A Cat Escaped is full of agreeable and surprisingly successful contradiction. (And when I say brief, I mean it--for all of the muscial ground that Pipas cover, they do so over ten songs in barely twenty minutes!)

This brevity causes but one flaw--songs that sound great and are just starting to get off the ground often just abruptly stop, with Pipas just moving on to the next idea. Even though most of these songs reach their natural conclusion, they just seem at times to be too abrupt in their ending. A minor quibble, though, for A Cat Escaped is just the balm for those bored-out bedroom bummer blue afternoons that occasionally happen. You get up, you dance, and you go about your day--what a perfect record for such a purpose!

--Joseph Kyle

Lo-HI "say it more"

Side projects are a fun distraction for some, a way to work out musical ideas for others. Lo-Hi is the side project of Hollis Queens, whose main gig recently has been Boss Hog. Not that you're gonna get an explosion of the blues here; no, in fact, Say It More sounds like a band that's been listening to the collected works of Bikini Kill.

Lo-Hi aren't guilty of retreading Boss Hog ground, thankfully. Lo-Hi has a distinctive voice all their own, even though Hollis does indeed bear a strong vocal resemblence to Kathleen Hanna. On songs such as "Runaround" and "Light Up," you'd think you were back in the days of Riot Grrrl. When Lo-Hi are a bit more experimental, such as "Little Plant," "White All Around," and "Leopard Skin," the band really stands out.

This is only their second album--their first in a few years, and their first as a full band--so maybe it's a matter of time until Hollis and company develop a more original sound. Say it More is a powerhouse of rock and punk and grrrl stuff and noise and guitars and such, and it'll be interesting to see what they'll be once they've spent some time growing and maturing--and thank god they don't sound like just a side project!

--Brandon Random