May 28, 2004
May 27, 2004
As for the music, it's a great collection of young indie-rock bands, many of whom already were on my crush list. Zykos' remix of "Kodiak" transforms singer Michael Booher into a diva of electronica. (I still owe him a hug.) Saturday Looks Good To Me offers up "Record Store," a great track from one of their impossible-to-find Cd-R releases. There are great songs by Detatchment Kit, The Gloria Record, Kind of Like Spitting, The Ghost and Sufjan Stevens, too. I'm most in love with the exclusive Make Believe song, "Brittany's Favorite Version." It sounds like classic Joan of Arc, yet it also sounds like something completely new.
Metaphysics for Beginners is simply a nice little compilation of some great--and unfortunately obscure--indie-rock artists. If you're looking for a fun record, then you could do a lot worse than this little collection.
Label Website: http://www.redderrecords.com
Alex McManus is also an extremely talented musician, but he doesn't have the hype machine telling the world that he's a talented musician. When he isn't working with Lambchop or his other band Empire State, McManus quietly releases wonderful records under the moniker The Bruces. While McManus does sound a little bit like Jeff Tweedy, the comparisons really should stop there, because McManus was a talented musician before the world knew about him. I feel as if McManus is most content just sitting around his living room with his guitar and his tape machine.
Like his other projects, The Shining Path is nothing but mellow country-rock, tempered with a good portion of atmosphere. Occasionaly this combination makes some dramatic, haunting songs like "The Electronic Halo," but for the most part, the album is never anything more than lush and dreamy. Throw in gentle touches like a banjo here and trombone there, and you'll soon notice that the album has a quiet depth that never overwhelms you. Though McManus isn't the strongest vocalist, his rough, limited vocal range serves the songs quite well, and he does quite well with what he has. Songs like "Fine Solutions" and "Beautiful Slanted Northern Light" are all quite moving, thanks in part to his rugged yet gentle voice.
The Shining Path isn't a record that's trying to impress you, but in so doing, it will leave a nice impression on you because it's just so...unassuming. The Shining Path is low-key and subtle, and that's just fine with me. If you're tired of hearing about records that are all hype and no substance, then this little record offers you a warm, gentle reminder that there are artists who create music simply because they like to make music. Gee, who knew?
Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com
Yes, I aimed that stab squarely and unmercifully at the Bad Plus.
When These Are The Vistas appeared in early 2003, I kept hearing about this ragtag bunch of Midwestern cats who were playing these playful, unassuming covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Heart Of Glass”, among other famous pop tunes. I thought to myself, “‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’? Must jazz musicians have to stoop to covering in order to get press these days?” I finally got around to checking out the record and found that this was no ragtag bunch of Midwestern dilettantes, as I’d initially thought, but rather a powerhouse trio comprised of real, hard-line jazz veterans. By the final few seconds of These Are The Vistas’ last track, this was made abundantly clear. In short- I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of simply moving through a kitschy, lounge runs of these classic rock radio staples- which was what I was expecting- they turned the covers on their heads, rendering them almost unrecognizable (save for the group’s relatively straight run-through of Aphex Twin’s “Flim”). Despite the group’s unique interpretations of famous (and, in certain cases, infamous) songs, there was something I couldn’t seem to get around: with the exception of the album’s Latin-tinged opening track, the album was extraordinarily bland. These Are The Vistas had its moments, but when the dust settled…let’s just say I wondered if the group would have gotten any press to begin with if they’d stuck to strictly originals.
Which brings us to Give, the group’s latest release. This album is essentially These Are The Vistas, Pt. II: Ironic Jazz-Rock Boogaloo. But, why tamper with a good formula that consists of a handful of idiosyncratic yet seemingly ordinary originals (“And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation” is one particularly solid tune) interspersed with a few well-conceived covers. The result is a record that works quite nicely as background music at that hip bar down the street and looks good on the listening station rack in your local Barnes and Noble.
While the covers may seem like the work of a publicity agent, the group rarely plays it paint-by-numbers, preferring instead to use the song as a palette from which to create their own distinctive portrait. See, for instance, the group’s take on the Pixies’ “Velouria”, which is rendered practically unrecognizable as a half-contemplative dirge/half uptempo rave that certainly took me by surprise. On the other end of the deal, the group’s sole jazz cover- Ornette Coleman’s “Street Woman”- came across as rather half-assed and unfocused. You also cannot deny the fact that these folks can certainly play with the best of ‘em- particularly drummer David King, whose heavy-handed, fluid rolls continue to provide the foundation for the Bad Plus’s boogie.
Despite the quibbles I have with Give, there’s one thing that the Bad Plus have got on their contemporaries, jazz or otherwise: these three gentlemen sound like they’re genuinely having fun. Believe me, when you’ve sat through hundreds upon hundreds of pensive, melodramatic laments (here’s looking at you, Omaha), a little fun is more than a welcome in these parts. Ultimately, I would equate Give with a three-course meal that’s beautifully prepared and tastes exquisitely, but when the table’s cleared, leaves you empty and unfulfilled.
Artist Website: http://www.thebadplus.com
These words were muttered by our very own Sean Padilla, and I think that he's summed up the entire mood of Sub Oslo's second album, The Rites of Dub This Denton band has been around for several years, quietly releasing records when the mood strikes them--three records in seven years? They aren’t rushing their career, you know, and it's perfectly fine with me. Besides, their music is substantial enough that you’re not left wanting more. After all, if it’s satisfying every time you listen to them, then why would you need more?
As you probably gathered from this record's title, Sub Oslo makes dub music. Heavy dub music. Dub music so tripped-out and deep that it's much, much more than dub music--we're talking about a weird hybrid of space rock and electronica. Don't worry about such things, though--all you really need to know is that Sub Oslo is very, very, very trippy, and that once you start listening to The Rites of Dub, then your mind is QUICKLY going to relax and float downstream.
If you're worried that Sub Oslo's groove might become monotonous, don't. Sure, their songs are all epic--none of them are under the seven minute mark--but they slowly reveal different elements throughout their songs. Like an onion, there are many layers to Sub Oslo's music. Part of their magic is the fact that they're not in any hurry to ntroduce these elements. For instance, "Sep Dub" begins with a definite dub groove, but over the next eleven minutes, they temper it with a bit of harmonica, drums, guitar, synths and, by song's end, some drum & bass beats. It's all done quite quietly, and it takes a listen or two for you to really appreciate the depths of their music.
And yes, they're very, very mellow. You really should not drive to The Rites of Dub, ESPECIALLY at night. Sub Oslo will definitely lure you into a relaxed state, and I think that's the point. This is a heady journey into the state of relaxation, and it's a wonderful ride.
(PS. Sean just graduated from college with an excellent GPA, so Sub Oslo's powerful groove didn't hinder him in any way.)
Artist Website: http://www.suboslo.com
May 26, 2004
Artist Website: http://www.thismicrowaveworld.com
Yes, it’s been nearly five years since The Magnetic Fields released 69 Love Songs. Stephin Merritt was not merely lying dormant since then, though. Stephin has been active with his side projects, including the Future Bible Heroes, the 6ths, and even solo material for film soundtracks. The majority of that material has been quality work, not as good as 69 Love Songs, of course, but still good. Last year, the Magnetic Fields released several songs as part of the Pieces of April soundtrack, and I believe those tracks stand on the same footing with Stephin's best work.
By now, you've probably heard all the hype and gimmicks associated with this release. It's the Magnetic Fields' first release for a major label, or to be more accurate, one of those fake indie labels owned by a major label. All the songs on the album have titles beginning with the letter "I", hence the album's title. And, besides that, Stephin decided to make this album somewhat of a challenge for himself by using no synths on the recordings.
Gimmicks? Major label? In most cases this sounds like a recipe for
Not so with I, though.
This is a great album. Not as great as 69 Love Songs, but almost as good, and the best tracks on this album would have made more worthy replacements for the weaker tracks on 69 Love Songs. In fact, this album sounds a lot like it could be Vol. 4, since most of the tracks deal with love in some form, and well... they're just that good.
What kind of music do the Magnetic Fields make without the synths, then? Well, they still sound like Magnetic Fields songs, especially since some of the tracks on 69 Love Songs were acoustic, anyway. Surprisingly, there are some moments where the music sounds electronic. After all, this was a "no synths", not a "no electricity" rule. You can do a lot of with effects pedals and such. Really, the most surprising thing about the music is that it sounds a lot like musical theater. A lot of the songs sound like they came straight from a cabaret or a Broadway production. Normally, I would stay very far away from that stuff, but the songs seem just detached enough to be pure to my indie soul.
Spare us the gay people and musical theater jokes, please. Those are just too obvious.
Speaking of that, on this album, Stephin is the most blatant that he's even been in his songwriting about his homosexuality. First, there's the self-explanatory "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend", and then there's "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin", in which Stephin says his non-existent evil twin would have conquered all the men in the world and "he'd send the pretty ones to me." Well, I for one like hearing Stephin explore homosexuality in his songwriting.
Besides those, you’ll find a bunch of other love songs, a cute song called "I Looked All Over Town" sung from the point of view of a clown who's treated as an outcast for his looks (I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere), and another cute song called "In An Operetta", about a princess named Violetta, who goes through the classical music theater cliches of pretending to be a man and captaining a pirate ship. There's also a former vinyl-only track called "I Don't Believe You". This is one of my favorite songs on the album—because of the way Stephin sings, "So you quote love unquote me" at the beginning just makes the song. I should disclaim this statement by saying that I've never heard the original version, and I've heard more than one person say the single is better, so take that as you will.
The only bad part about this album is that it stalls near the end.
Tracks 11 through 13 ("Infinitely Late at Night", "Irma", and "Is This What They Used to Call Love?") just bore me. Then, things recover in the time for the final track, my favorite track, "It's Only Time". It's just so sugary, heart-melting, and poignant all at the same time. I could see it becoming a standard at the weddings of indie kids. "Why would I stop loving you a hundred years from now? It's only time," asks Stephin at the beginning of this song. He goes on to assure his potential partner-to-be that "years falling like grains of sand mean nothing to me" and "the snow won't change my heart, not at all." By the point near the end of the song where Stephin intones the words "marry me," even I'm putty in his hands. Yes, Stephin, I'll marry you! How could I not want to marry you after you've given me such heartfelt assurance that time is inconsequential to you and you'll love me forever?!
May 25, 2004
England's The Reverse has a very distinctive British sound. Listening to this four-piece's debut EP Downtime, you'll quickly realize the identity of their biggest influence: RADIOHEAD. Don't let that put you off, as you should seek this young band out, because this record is excellent. They deftly mix in guitar rock and acoustic guitar/keyboard-driven melancholy, and this combination is quite rewarding. The crunchy, driving guitars of "The Game" to the sweet, gentle "Take a Deep Breath" and the sad ballad "Falling Behind," Downtime is indeed seventeen minutes of down music-and if sadness makes you happy, then let The Reverse cheer you down NOW.
Artist Website: http://www.thereverse.co.uk/
"Who's this," I asked.
"Oh, that's Apollo Heights. They're meh."
I've known Sean long enough to know that when he says that about a band, he's almost always correct. Still, I was enthralled by the photos of this band, becuase to me they looked more than just meh, so I decided to press th issue.
"What do they sound like?"
"They're a LOT like AR Kane, but with cheesier vocals and a more electronica-based sound."
Now, having been a HUGE AR Kane fan, such words only raised my curiosity, and I asked Sean if he had any of their records. He said he did, but he wasn't sure if he had them at his house, though after some searching through his massive CD collection I did find a copy of this record. He had been lukewarm about their music, and normally I would have let it go because I trust his opinion, but I simply felt I had to hear them myself.
I very rarely tell Sean he's wrong, but in the case of Apollo Heights, a rebuke was definitely in order. From the very first second of opening track "Winter In The Summertime," I was hooked. The brooding atmopshere indeed recalls the best moments of AR Kane, and lead singer Daniel Chavis's impeccable falsetto gives Apollo Heights an amazingly heavenly sound. After hearing the first few minutes of this EP, I informed Sean that he needed to rethink his opinion.
"Joseph, you HAVE to see these guys live. Their show is definitely better than the record, because Daniel doesn't rely on the falsetto for every song, because he can really sing well without it."
I have to agree with Sean on this point, because if Apollo Heights has a flaw, it's that their songs are too reliant on the falsetto singing. It's not that Chavis doesn't have the vocal strength to pull it off--he's got a really powerful voice--but sticking to one particular vocal style can weigh down a record with a monotonous sound. That would NOT be fair to Apollo Heights' obvious talent, because their music is AWESOME. When Chavis lets go of the falsetto on "Heather," you can easily see that he's capable of more than one style of singing.
Don't think, though, that the other three songs on this little record are lesser songs, because they're not. The only time the band really slips a bit is on "The Way I Feel About You," which is pretty much traditional R&B/pop, and though the song is excellent, it's definitely different from the rest of the record. All of these songs possess a beautiful, soulful style that's quite refreshing to hear. "Indie rock" needs more bands who are willing to bring a seriousm non-ironic R&B style into their music, and Apollo Heights might just be the band for such an undertaking. This little record is most definitely worth seeking out.
(And though I don't know if I completely changed his opinion, I think Sean thinks they're a little bit better than his previous assessment.)
Artist Website: http://www.apolloheights.com
May 24, 2004
They waste no time in getting to the point, allowing their simple genius to take control of your listening experience. Lead singer Mike sings with love and the pains of love in his heart and a punk-rock snarly smirk on his face, all the while making you feel for him when he sings about the love that break his heart, the girl that he wants to see and the man he wants to be. Songs like "Gravity Girl" (which sounds like the missing link between the Razorcuts and Mr. T Experience), "It's Over" and "Better Off" (which, in a weird way, reminds me of a punk rock Simon & Garfunkel) are clearly the tearjerkers of the season. The only downside to the record is JJ's singing--his voice is really deep (reminds me of Crash Test Dummies, actually) and it doesn't seem to fit the overall crunchy pop style, though he does a great version of the Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." (He's written some of the best songs on the album, though.)
This is a fun little debut, one that doesn't bullshit around about getting down to business. Superfallingstars are fun, sassy and sweet--just what you need for a summer party! Here's to the future, guys!
Artist Website: http://www.superfallingstars.com
Label Website: http://www.skippingstonesrecords.com
May 23, 2004
Everybody's Favorite Weapon allows Ikey the luxury of displaying the full range of his musical talents, and he certainly doesn't disappoint in that regard. Ikey's got some really good skills for writing mellowed-out grooves, and if you're expecting something harsh and epic like what he does with The Mars Volta, then you might want to look elsewhere. Heck, he's not even really doing anything similar to either TMV or to DeFacto, and that's great. No,
what Ikey's doing on Everbody's Favorite Weapon is jazz. Period. It's kinda weird at times--with samples (even some taken from The Mars Volta's live show), hip-hop beats and odd grooves placed at inappropriate times--but it's pretty much straight up jazz. Occasionally there are vocals, such as on "Underwater Reverb" and "Lay Down," but the real winner is "Talk Show Host." It's a rap number, and the rapping accompanied by a mellow keyboard track, sounds really, really good.
For the most part, Ikey's ideas are good and his compositional skills are excellent, but the album just doesn't seem to have a strong bond, due mainly to six minutes of silence that's at the beginning of "Gem From a Broken Rock." I'm assuming this was done to make the record feel like a vinyl album--the silence is at the exact middle of the record, both tracklistning-wise and timewise. I understand the reasoning behind doing that, but it breaks the flow of the album, and the last five songs just seem quite limp. This is a shame, because "Talk Show Host" and "Disjointed Love Song" are otherwise excellent, but because the flow is thrown, it's really hard to appreciate them fully.
Still, I can't complain too much about Everybody's Favorite Weapon, because it's a great record.
I don't know if this is a serious project of its own, or if it's nothing more than a creative outlet for Ikey, but either way, it's a great record despite its occasionally weak bond. Side project or the beginning of a beautiful relationship? Only Ikey knows. Here's hoping it's the latter.
Label Website: http://www.goldstandardlabs.com
May 22, 2004
The band’s knack for humorous hooks was one of two things that kept Mclusky from being just another of many Pixies and Jesus Lizard disciples to cross paths with super-“recorder” Steve Albini. The other is guitarist Andy Falkous’ voice, a nasal sneer that sounded like Jello Biafra having the mother of all hissyfits, and could shoot into a piercing falsetto at any given moment. On The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, only one of these two elements is present in abundance. Compared to their previous album, this long-awaited follow-up has a surprising dearth of memorable lyrics. Don’t get me wrong --- the band’s levity hasn’t completely disappeared. On opener “Without MSG I Am Nothing,” Falkous shouts, “Don’t teach him how to cook; that’ll kill him!” “You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus” mocks amateurish underground musicians with the line, “What’s the point of DIY when it looks so sh*t?” However, those are the only two moments on the record that made me laugh. The band’s sarcasm has been mostly replaced with anger and bloodlust, and the music reflects this change as well.
For most of the album Mclusky foregoes the use of bass guitar; Jon Chapple opts instead to play a de-tuned electric guitar. This configuration makes the new material sound as hollow as it is abrasive. I like the new sound, but other listeners’ mileage may vary. Many of the songs are tense exercises in minimalism and dynamics. A third of the songs consist of little more than two chords, a driving rhythm, and lots of distorted ranting. “Slay!” takes the Pixies’ dynamic transitions to ridiculous extremes: the verses slowly disappear into nothingness, whereas the choruses are so loud that the vocals are completely obliterated. Eight-minute album closer “Support Systems” is basically what “Slay!” would sound like if it were clicked and dragged to nearly three times its normal length. The searing slide guitars and hip-hop drumming of “1956 and All That” render both Boxcar Satan and Limp Bizkit completely obsolete. “Your Children Are Waiting for You to Die” begins with a tape collage of out-of-tune acoustic guitars, and then turns into a plodding account of a raver irresponsibly blowing his trust fund. The close-interval guitar arpeggios of “Falco vs. the Young Canoeist” make the song sound like Sonic Youth gone screamo.
The darker, artier approach of the music suits the lyrics nicely. As said before, Mclusky have eschewed their standard funny quips for vague stories that barely make any literal sense. From what I gather, “That Man Will Not Hang” is about a boring art film that tells a love story, “Slay!” details a plan to save a serial killer from getting caught by the police, and “Support Systems” sums up life as a “battle between ghosts and liars.” As far as deciphering the rest of the songs, you’re on your own. My favorite songs on this record tend to be the most tuneful. The Pavement-aping “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” should be a shoo-in for a lead single, with the snake charmer’s melody of “Without MSG I Am Nothing” and the horn fanfares of “Forget About Him I’m Mint” trailing closely behind.
While Mclusky are to be commended for not giving us Mclusky Do Dallas Again, the absence of both humor and melody from most of the songs may make The Difference... a record easier for many to admire than to listen to. I’ve cranked it up on a near-daily basis for the last couple of weeks, so I am far from disappointed. Even the worst songs on this record (like "Lucky Jim") just flat-out ROCK! However, I must admit if I were trying to turn a newcomer on to Mclusky, I would put on Do Dallas first and let them get to its follow-up on their own.
May 21, 2004
Artist Website: http://www.detwiije.com
I read a review in another E-zine in which the writer compared Mehlan’s vocal style to that of the Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop. While such a comparison isn’t necessarily unwarranted (both employ lethargic, relaxed approaches to their vocals) the underlying difference between Prekop and Matt Mehlan is that Mehlan, simply put, couldn’t carry a tune in a paper bag. Life And The Afterbirth is packed with some pretty decent melodies, but Mehlan’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry them. Moreover, his overall delivery is largely irritating throughout, coming across like someone desperately trying to hit a note just a smidgen or two above his/her range but falling short every time. Note to Señor Skeletor: you have some potential- get a real singer.
Mehlan also seems to enjoy employing electronics a great deal of the time. Instead of using these devices to add color or flavor to his tunes, he uses them as gimmicks and, more often, crutches- utilizing electronics to disguise the fact that there is little--if any--actual content present in the songs. I have no qualms with abstract or convoluted lyrics, but in the case of Life And The Afterbirth, much of the lyrics seem simply weird for the sake of being weird and self-consciously so. Consider these lines: “I sometimes pretend I’m Jesus when I’m water-skiing”, “this is the part of the story where your first pet dies”, “I like to do manual labor in the mouths of volcanoes”, etc.
Life And The Afterbirth isn’t all bad, though: track 3 (none of the songs have actual titles) features a few fairly interesting transitions from a slippery theremin solo, a pseudo-doo wop section, and some rather pleasant Rhodes piano, all anchored by Mehlan’s sharp (as in off-key) vocals. The highlight for me had to be track 4- the only tune with some iota of direction. Track 4 rides a vibraphone and a convoluted melody all the way to one hell of a catchy chorus (“If you give me the chance I’d like to fuck away your memory/fuck away mistakes I’ve made”) that’ll sure to stick in your head for that weekend trip up to the Hamptons.
In short, Life And The Afterbirth didn’t do much for me. A bunch of half-formed ideas thrown together haphazardly does not make for a solid record, but that may exactly be what has drawn listeners to Skeletons in the first place. I believe the key to Skeletons’ prosperity will be the successful merger of technology and songcraft. The future is looking bright, though: it is Mehlan’s first label release and he’s already got half of the equation down. With unnerving singing, a fuck-ton of filler (tracks 6 and 8 are nothing more than useless electronic bleeps and gurgles), and egregious use of state-of-the-art technology, Skeletons have a long way to go before they start growing some muscles.
I know you're an ambitious guy, but I'm not sure about what you're up to now. I want to let you know that The Volunteers is excellent. Back when you were releasing all of those little EP's, I had this feeling that you were capable of putting together a cohesive album of your own, and this is that album I knew you could come up with. It's great--it's emotional yet it's not, ya know?
You've done a good job of distancing yourself from the novelty of a guy and a guitar thing that got started a few years ago with Dashboard, and I've gotta hand it to you, The Volunteers doesn't feel like a solo acoustic type of record that you'd naturally think of with the 'singer/songwriter' tag, either. I mean, "Over It" is a great rock tune, and I wonder what it would sound with a band like New End Original taking it on. True, you do the acoustic guitar ballad style a couple of times, but that's okay, I like "As Much To Myself As To You."
But, man, I gotta come out and say it--I'm not feeling you here. I mean I'm not feeling any emotions. I know you've always put your heart and soul into your work, but it's just not coming through on The Volunteers. Is it because the album sounds too clean, too polished? Is it because I feel like I'm listening to a record that's a bit too calculated, that sounds emotional in just the right way, that's supposed to feel like an emo record should sound like in 2004? For example, "Stay" sounds too much like a song from The OC for my taste. The question is, though--is it because the song is meant to have that kind of connection, or is it that you're trying too hard to sound modern?
Don't get me started on "Living Small," because I read that Punk Planet interview, where you were talking about your brand new band--because that really makes me wonder about your intentions all along. I wish you well with that project, as I refuse to begrudge any artist their success and their dreams, but it does cast a major pall over this song, and I guess it's the knowledge of your future that taints the present. The Volunteers is a great record for you, a big step forward; it sounds like a million bucks.
Sadly, it also sounds exactly like a million bucks, and that's too bad. You gain the world, yet you lose your soul, and is it worth it in the end? Only you can determine that, and I wish you well on your new journey in life, and I hope you keep writing good music.
As long as you keep writing heartfelt and sincere music, I'll be listening.
May 20, 2004
I wasn't really looking forward to listening to Nice Nice's debut album, Chrome. From the things I'd read about this young band, their musical ideas was a mixture of clanking noise thrown together with everything including the kitchen sink used as an instrument. On first listen, my feelings were confirmed; the sixteen songs on this record proved to be nothing more than clinging and clanging in that indie-rock kind of way, with no real focus.
Of course, in between the time I listened to Chrome and that I sat down to write this review, something happened. I listened to the album again, and the groove that seemed so elusive reappeared. There's a pretty rockin' vibe going on here, one that borders on funk--take a listen to "Nein" or "Pulp" and tell me they're not trying to get funky--but really, should you expect anything less than noise rock from a band who lists pots & pans and garbage cans as their instruments and who states that "there are no overdubs on this recording?"
Something tells me that Nice Nice are a band best experienced live; Chrome is simply a record that's caught up with the idea of being an instrumental funk-rock band, and the magic of improv--and I have the feeling many of these songs are results of jam sessions--just seems to be lost in translation, leaving the listener lost and slightly bored in a sea of instrumental goofing off. It's obvious that the Nice Nice duo of Mark Shirazi and Jason Buehler are good musicians, but the fact that their music is all over the place really clouds that fact. Perhaps with a bit of editing--sixteen instrumentals can be a bit much, even if some of the songs are very brief--Nice Nice could produce a really cohesive, solid musical statement.
When listening to Kilowatthours & The Rum Diary, though, it's good to see that two bands got it right. In this case, it's a question of two bands who share musical ideas and themes yet are distinct enough that the music doesn't sound the same. The bands tempered this by mixing their tracks--for the most part, it's Kilowatthours on the odds, Rum Diary on the evens, so the album doesn't really feel like a 'split' release inasmuch as it does a collaboration. Though the two bands only come together on one song, "(Ex)Change," the rest of the record is varied enough to feel as if the two groups had been in the studio together.
As for the individual tracks, you really couldn't ask for any better material from both bands. Though the Rum Diary's "Memory Controls" and "Poolside" are a bit more rock oriented than their grand, epic album,Poisons That Save Lives; "The Electroencephalograph" is an interesting number that turns tribal by songs end, and the otherwise excellent "In An Attempt to Reach the Shore" seems to be a bit restrained--you get the feeling they really want to let the song rip. Kilowatthour's "Letting Go" and "King" are pure shoegazer rock, but "Halos" and "Twentysix" are simply gorgeous bliss-pop, and it shows that the band has certainly matured over the past year or so.
Kilowatthours & The Rum Diary is a great introduction for two of today's better bands, and it also serves as a nice teaser for the next Kilowatthours record. I wasn't really aware of how much this band's grown, and if the four songs on this little record are any indication, their new album is going to be excellent indeed. This is a pleasant record for those moments when you need it mellow.
May 19, 2004
As we all know, though, the blue-collar underdogs are often made of
stronger stuff. The mere fact that Fivehead’s sophomore album exists is a hard-won triumph, and it is made even more so by the fact that it is GREAT from beginning to end. Guests of the Nation lives up to the expectations set by Big Mistake Factory, an interim EP released in 2001 that boasted both stronger song writing and more experimentation (synthesizers and strings!) than It’s Not All Good. Fivehead don’t stray too far from the tried-and-true template of 1990s indie-rock: two-guitar arrangements that blur the line between rhythm and lead, a subtle but strident rhythm section, and guys with untrained voices singing with enough charm to compensate for the missed notes. The band’s influences ring out loud and clear, but Guests of the Nation manages to equal (and, in some cases, surpass) those bands’ best work. Through expert sequencing and occasional instrumental surprises, the band keeps the album from getting monotonous over the course of its 14 tracks. With the exception of one admittedly pleasant ambient snippet that bisects the album, not a single track can be construed as filler. Can you say the same about ANY Pavement album?
Fivehead begin the album on a high note with “Big Mistake Factory,” in which guitarist John Hunt sings in his husky drawl about pursuing your dreams against the well-meaning but cynical advice of your friends. Hunt’s assertion, “doubt is the sound of a backward heart at work,” is one of many succinct one-liners that pepper every song he sings. The song itself is a marvel of compression, cramming three verses and a chorus into less than two minutes, and it’s what GBV would sound like if Bob Pollard’s focus was planted more toward American stalwarts like the Replacements than British Invasion bands. “Teen Sensation,” another John Hunt highlight, sports the meanest bass line I’ve heard in a while, as well as another great one-liner about the difficulty of maintaining a friendship with a wild card: “It’s hard to trust somebody running naked in the rain.” There’s also “Wallet Chain,” a laid-back ditty that single-handedly renders Preston School of Industry obsolete. Against sweet acoustic guitars and pedal steels, Hunt croons triplets written with a poet’s economy: “A walk in the park where they’re all getting high/She grabbed him by his coat and tie/Taking it easy was not what she had in mind.” “Hem and Haw” obliterates Ugly Casanova in a similar manner, with shockingly nimble banjo playing underscoring Hunt’s rants about being in a messed-up state of mind.
Guests of the Nation also marks the arrival of Fivehead’s OTHER great songwriter, guitarist Beaty Wilson. His high, thin croon forms a more uplifting counterpoint to Hunt’s world-weariness, and his songs have more discernible hooks. Whereas John’s songs are the ones you’ll comb through for quotes in e-mail signatures, Beaty’s are the ones you’ll sing along to like a buffoon while cruising in your car (or is that just ME?). “Goodie the Rat,” a longtime staple in the band’s repertoire, is a nonsensical ditty that sounds like Built to Spill covering Pavement’s “Painted Soldiers.” “Antidote” is the album’s cheeriest song. Glockenspiels harmonize with guitar harmonics, and when Beaty (almost) hits the high note in the chorus, he sounds like a little boy lost in a watch factory. Beaty gets to end the album on a high note with the slide-drenched “Exe,” which boasts a sarcastic couplet that one would normally expect from Hunt: “It used to be amusing back in ‘92/Can’t get away with the sh*t that you used to do.”
Beaty’s wrong, though. OF COURSE you can get away with the same things you did 12 years ago if you do them well enough to justify such stubbornness. Fivehead prove it with Guests of the Nation, an album that sounds positively anachronistic at a time in which critics are drooling over “dance-punk” and “New Weird America.” If you believe these critics, apparently NO ONE wants to listen to a good, solid indie-rock record anymore. However, I am of the belief that originality isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for making good music, and Fivehead have more than enough going for them to compensate for their adherence to an old sound. If they continue to make records of this quality in 2016, I’ll still be listening, and I’m willing to wager that I won’t be the only one. Fivehead has finally arrived, and they’re ready for the big leagues, so welcome them with open arms. They deserve it---and not just because they’re hard working, beer-drinking, blue-collar nice-guy underdogs.
(And they’re great live, too!)
May 18, 2004
Shortly after that review, I received Psalm Clerk, another one of the albums that King Creosote released last year, and my theory that these lost albums were rare jewels was proven correct. All of the things that made Musakal Boat Rides so awesome have been multiplied tenfold on Psalm Clerk. It's quite apparent that Creosote makes his best music at home, in front of his 4-track. Though there's not much information on how this album was recorded, it's most likely safe to assume that this is a home-recorded album, and I'd like to think that this magical record was recorded in his bedroom, because it would most assuredly raise the bar on the bedroom tapers scene--which is what we need!
It's amazing how wonderful the songs are on Psalm Clerk. You would think that an album with 23 songs would be a bit hit or miss, but that's certainly not the case here--every song has its own magical charm, and every song is simply wonderful. Heck, even the one minute instrumental experiments are wonderful--and that's a rare thing, indeed! I would love to give you a detailed rundown on each and every song, but that would be too time-consuming. The highlights include the wonderfully addictive vocal interplay with accordian and acoustic guitar on "Snakes From Single Socks," the jubilee of "Happy With Our Lot," and the lovely "Not One Bit Ashamed." The other twenty songs are excellent, and Psalm Clerk is best summed up by the words of "You Cuckoos:" "It appears to be almost flawless/It appears to be downright perfect." This album is truly and utterly breathtakingly wonderful, period.
It's very rare that an artist releases such consistently wonderful music, but Psalm Clerk is flawless--and I've gotta say right now, this album is something you MUST SEEK OUT RIGHT NOW. There's a link below, I suggest you click on it RIGHT NOW, because Psalm Clerk will blow your mind. A truly wonderful record.
May 17, 2004
It's quite obvious that the folk stylings of Dawn McCarthy (aka Dawn the Fawn) and Nic Frykdahl are certainly not modern, but they're certainly not folk revivalists. They've made a record that's incongrous with everybody--which, of course, goes without saying when all of the bands you could count as their contemporaries made records that are still ahead of their time over thirty years ago! Okay, so they're not really from three decades ago--I doubt they're not even thirty years old--but their sound is most definitely indebted to that particular period of time.
The recognition that you're in for something magical with Family Album is almost immediate. The intoxicating flute of "Eyes of a Bird" seduce you quite quickly, and when McCarthy starts singing, her strong, husky voice (which reminds me an awful lot of Grace Slick) will unapologetically seduce you into a netherworld of sonic dlelights. When Frykdahl sings on "Still Here" and "Joshua," he sings in a dark style which recalls David Bowie's early, pre-glam records. With twinkling piano, vibes, and guitar, the duo create music that's mystical, transporting you to worlds you've never known before--and you won't want to leave them, either. The addition of a little girl singing her own song on "Nap of Time" is a surreal, almost disturbing touch. The real winner here is "Carousel with Madonnas," an upbeat song that sounds a lot like it should have come from Hair.
Family Album is simply beautiful, and is one of the most captivating records this year. It's a beautiful record, and though some might be put off by the fantasy-style of the lyrics, don't let that hold you back; this record will reveal itself after a listen or two, and you'll quickly be enthralled. You've not heard anything quite like Faun Fables, so please, allow yourself the pleasure of this quirky young band, and you won't be disappointed.
Where did Sloan go wrong?
One Chord to Another, Sloan's third album, which featured that song, was the ending to Sloan's short artistic peak. That album, and Twice Removed, the album before it, left a remarkable imprint on the face of Canadian popular music and the hearts of American indie kids who were lucky to receive that pop sound from north of the border. Yes, Sloan's place and important in rock history is secure, but the real issue we have to face here is whether or not their new material is as relevant.
After One Chord to Another, the quality of Sloan's music began to decline. Navy Blues, their fourth album, wasn't bad, but it just wasn't as good as One Chord to Another. That turned out not to be a temporary slump. Their next album, Between the Bridges, was something of a disaster. Sloan, even though their strength was in creating snappy singles, attempted to make an AOR record. The result was a somewhat bland record that I still haven't been able to get myself to listen to all the way through.
But Pretty Together, their second to latest album, was when the symptoms of the disease that now plagues the music of Sloan emerged full-blown. Their music was getting cheesy and starting to sound a little too commercial. The owner of my favorite local indie record store compared the new record to Corey Hart. Maybe it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't too far removed from that scenario.
Action Pact is something of a sequel to Pretty Together. They sound pretty much the same. And now, with this new album, I've realized what's wrong with Sloan. Do you remember how during their peak, Sloan had a heavy Beatles influence, which we all shouldn't have a problem with because Elephant 6 made ripping off the Beatles cool? Well, now Sloan has a different main influence... Cheap Trick.
What the hell? If you had to choose between basing a music career on ripping off the Beatles or ripping off Cheap Trick, which choice would you make? I think the choice is fairly obvious. But Sloan has gone against common sense and all but guaranteed that they'll never make another album approaching the quality of their output during their artistic peak. Maybe those rock star antics onstage (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you can hear such antics on Sloan's double-live album, 4 Nights at the Palais Royale) have seeped into their music. I don't know, but for whatever reason, Sloan has taken on the mantle of cheesy classic rock tribute band.
And that's why Action Pact is flawed. It's a parade of '70s arena rock clichés (check out the cowbell on track 2) and a mishmash of kitschy classic rock influences that I wouldn't be caught dead listening to. I don't care what everyone else thinks, life is too short to waste your time drowning yourself in cheese rock for the ironic appeal. Sloan needs to realize that. Sloan's new mantra needs to be "less '70s, more '60s".
Now, to be fair, the album isn't a total loss. I'll admit that these songs are somewhat fun, and Sloan is always capable of producing at least two great singles per album (except on Between the Bridges. I like the rousing opener, "Gimme That", even though it bears a little resemblance to "If It Feels Good Do It", the big hit song from Pretty Together. I also love one of the two bonus tracks on the American release of this album, "Step on It, Jean", an homage to late-period Beatles, which doesn't fit on this album. But of course, I don't mind and I'm glad they provided that as a respite from the '70s kitsch bomb that is the rest of the CD. And you know what, I guess I could tolerate, maybe even enjoy, some of the other tracks on this album, but I just can't stand that they're nothing compared to what Sloan could be doing instead.
Please, Sloan. You're heading in the wrong direction and it's time to change course. Throw away your Cheap Trick records and start listening to the Beatles again. In fact, you break your Cheap Trick records. You could do it at one of your shows. Come on, you know it would be cool. Change your ways and repeat after me. "Less '70s, more 60's. Less '70s, more '60s..."
May 15, 2004
I'm kidding. That's what I thought Pants Yell! would be when I first saw their name, but that's not true at all.
Actually, Pants Yell! is mostly acoustic, minimalist indie pop with male lead vocals, the same kind that has been the specialty of the Lucksmiths, Sodastream, and other similar Australian and English bands. But guess what... Pants Yell! is American! Three art school kids from Massachusetts, and they're making music just as good, and perhaps even better than their foreign counterparts. Well, maybe better for me because I relate to their music more easily, since they're closer to my age and from the same country as me. Oh, and maybe it's that complimentary farfisa-ish keyboard they use that's utilized by the more twee bands, rather than their minimalist acoustic contemporaries.
What really makes the record is the songwriting, though. Sure, it's nine songs all about failed relationships and missing ex-significant others (but don't worry, Pants Yell! isn't emo because they're too good and catchy), but they're all interesting enough not to be skipped. First, there's "Go Big Blue", the two-minute opener, which sets us up in a generic American high school at a football game, but at the end, when it's time for Pants Yell! to give a cheer, instead of yelling, "Go, team, go!", they sing, "We don't believe in love! We don't believe in our parents! We've never trusted your songs. Give 'em up! Give 'em up! Give 'em up!" A strange, but appropriate, setup for the rest of the album.
Another highlight, is "My Boyfriend Writes Plays", with lyrics like, "Oh my dear, what has happened to us? It's not clear and all I hear are those buttons clicking and clacking. Spelling out words and what I'm lacking. It's some sense of purpose for you. Fuck your stories, I'm leaving, it's true... With your nose in a book, it's hard to know how I feel." I wonder if that's how things would have turned out between Margaret Yang and Max Fischer at the end of Rushmore.
My favorite track is "Your Favorite Fairgrounds", a boy reminiscing with and about a girl with whom he had gone to the fair one summer. "In the summer heat you couldn't beat the view from the rides. There's nothing to do aside from the standing and harsh demanding tones of the ticket takers you knew... Did I mention the faults of your friends? If I did it then, I will do it again, but this time with more feeling." I love how the song goes off into a little guitar, organ, and drums rave up in the bridge, and then comes a great anticlimax: "I pulled up my jacket. You stood in your skirt. The corduroy backpack was still in the dirt." The song appropriately ends with a quick little carousel-like organ riff. Maybe you have to hear it for yourself to understand why it's so good.
I love this album, even more than anything by Pants Yell!'s foreign contemporaries. Maybe because they're closer to me in age and location. This is definitely a great album for any college-age indie kid having hard luck with love. Rather than just whining about failed relationships in like the stereotypical emo kid would (and maybe a lot of twee pop kids, too, to be honest), Pants Yell! seems to pine over them, while sardonically ridiculing and dismissing them at the same time. Songs For Siblings is mostly acoustic, but you have no plaintive, delicate ballads here. This is music that's good enough to keep giving repeated listens to after you've rebounded and found someone else.
May 13, 2004
For their new record, Can and Do What They Will, they've decided to expand their sound a bit (translation: make the songs LONGER). The four songs found on this new little record are, in a word, AWESOME. The opening "My Electric System" is six minutes of blissful pop music; if ever you wondered what a more hippie version of My Bloody Valentine would sound like, then here you go. "Sun Set" is indie-pop of the highest order; it sounds a LOT like the Ropers--again, not a surprise, given this band's pedigree. The ten-minute "Oceans of Sand" should be retitled "Oceans of Acid Rock," because it's just a massive jam session, and it sounds GREAT cranked up. "Friend Among Friends" is pure garage rock, and its boogie-down nature is tempered with a Vanilla Fudge-style acidity that tastes..real..good. (I refuse to recognize that last song, it's nothing more than a seven-minutes too longsound collage-slash-drum circle, and in my opinion, it's a waste and a pimple on an otherwise flawless record.)
Hopefully they'll give us a mind-expanding full-length album sometime soon. I really hope so. Heck, I've never been one for the big-ass psych-rock jam sessions, but (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope pull it off QUITE nicely. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream with Can and Do What They Will; you won't be disappointed.
The Frequency is a solo project of Trans Am's Sebastian Thomson, and if you're wondering where the funny went, the funny went here. The music of The Frequency is bouncy, groovy and surprisingly upbeat, and though there's a clear debt to Trans Am, Thomson's done a pretty good job of not making this project nothing more than Trans Am Junior. Though on songs like "Forgot" and "Moonburn" he turns on the rock machine, Thomson's eschewed the heavy-metal thunder for a poppy new-wave rock that will make you dance; songs such as "Music as Entertainment," "Zapatos Blancos" and "One Chance" will get your feet to movin' in no time flat.
Though he's joined by others on various songs, Thomson performs most of the music by himself. As with many other one-man band projects, the music occasionally suffers from a sameness that cannot be denied. Thomson's not the strongest of singers, either, and his vocals sometimes get lost between the layers of music, and some of the songs just feel flat. Because The Frequency contains sixteen songs, though, this problem is magnified. Some editing down could have produced a more cohesive, stronger album, one that isn't weighed down by sheer bulk.
Despite these flaws, The Frequency isn't a bad record, and if you're looking for some great driving music, then this album will serve you well. Put it in your CD changer and set it on 'random play' and you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you hear. Just make sure to crank it up when it comes on the radio, though, because this album is best played LOUD.
(After all, what else should you expect from an album with a big-ass amp on the cover?)
What does this have to do with IDM giant Tom Jenkinson and his latest album? Well, I have read many reviews that compare Ultravisitor to Bitches Brew, and assert that the former record will have the same effect on electronic music as the latter had on jazz. Although it is true that Bitches Brew paved the way for much of the next 30 years’ most forward-looking music (Tortoise certainly wouldn’t have existed without it), I doubt that Ultravisitor will have such an impact. If anything, the album is more of a summation of all of the ideas Jenkinson has explored on previous Squarepusher records, from spastic drill-and-bass to fusion jazz and all points in between. From the straightforward head shot that graces the cover to the bits of stage banter that pepper the transitions between tracks, Tom seems to be telling the listener, “This is who I am.” The songs on Ultravisitor that don’t most directly recall Jenkinson himself pay tribute to artists who have already stepped out from under his influence to become actual contemporaries. What I believe that Ultravisitor truly has in common with Bitches Brew is its tug of war between chaos and order.
Opening track “Ultravisitor” begins with crowd noises and a series of RoadRunner drum breaks run through an unceasing array of digital manipulations. A flatulent bass line pops in, and shortly thereafter an avalanche of bell-like synthesizers announces a theme with all of the melancholy and bombast of an orchestral fugue. When the drum programming drops out at the end of the song, someone just walking in the room might mistake what you’re listening to for New Age; it’s just that pretty! The very next track, “I Fulcrum,” is a live bass improvisation in which Jenkinson runs his instrument through various gadgets to sound like a bass, a guitar, and a Rhodes piano all at once. At one point, he veers off the deep end and contorts his bass to sound like a gamelan orchestra. These two songs serve as a fair estimate of the polar opposites that define Squarepusher’s music: the painstaking calculation that is required to produce such hyper-kinetic and ever changing programming, and the freewheeling abandon of instrumental improvisation.
The best songs on Ultravisitor hover somewhere between these opposites. “Iambic 9 Poetry” begins with a chiming bass riff that makes extensive use of harmonics, and turns into a funky slice of retro fusion jazz once Tom starts playing drums. Halfway through, the song goes into double-time and the live kit accurately imitates the speedy programming more common to songs like the title track. “Circlewave” begins with a drum solo, and the drums stay in that mode throughout the whole song, allowing the guitars and keyboards to do the time keeping instead. “Tetra-Sync” peaks with an excellent bass solo that is laid atop a circular, Tortoise-like chord progression. The cacophonous programming and sinister vocal cut-ups of “C-Town Smash” bring to mind an angrier Prefuse 73, and the ear-scorching metal guitars of “Steinbolt” sound like Venetian Snares remixing Metallica. None of the songs mentioned in this paragraph are models of concision, but they have just enough structure to keep from veering into the realm of musical masturbation.
I can’t say the same, though, for the middle third of the record. Whether Tom’s piling on layers and layers of intricate drum programming (“Menelec,” “District Line II”) or showing off his bass skills (“C-Town Smash,” “Telluric Piece”), this section of the record simply bombards the listener with noise and information without arranging it into anything that sticks. If it weren’t for the track indexing on the CD, you could just treat Ultravisitor’s middle third as one long song. The concept of a sound-clash between Jaco Pastorius and Merzbow is fun enough to imagine, but not necessarily to listen to. Last but not least, ending the record with two back-to-back classical guitar pieces that sound nothing like the rest of the record is, to put it lightly, a very puzzling move.
Despite all of this, I can’t bring myself to skip past any single track on Ultravisitor. I must listen to it in its 80-minute entirety and treat the bad ideas as if their inclusion was a necessity designed to show the listener the seams that hold the good ideas together. At its worst, Ultravisitor can still be admired solely for the technical skill required to pull the music off, much in the same manner that aspiring guitarists study people like Yngwie Malmsteen. At its best, though, the album can also be admired for Jenkinson’s ability to stitch his disparate ideas into an exhilarating whole. This is the exact same thing I would have written about Bitches Brew if my MOTHER hadn’t been in grade school when it came out.
May 12, 2004
Now, don't get me wrong, there have been some killer comps, and it's always fun hearing these labors of love. Comps are especially hard to review; you can't cover every band, and you have to speak in such general terms that you often feel like you haven't really talked about it. And it must be said: for every killer comp, there are about 200 shitty ones. But we're not here to judge anyone, so I think we'll close that subject right now.
For their 50th release, Temporary Residence decided to ignore their opinion on the subject and put together TRR50: Thank You, their first-ever label compilation. (Or, more correctly, sampler, because all of these acts are on or were on Temporary Residence, but I digress.)
This little thank you is really, really awesome, as it's easily one of the strongest records the label's ever released. It's not a surprise, really; the label's quite diverse, having released records that range from folk to metal to art-rock to rap and electronica and back again. Though such diversity is quite obvious when you listen to their individual releases--the folk of Sonna stands in contrast to the hip-hop of Cex or the metal clanging of Nice Nice--on TRR50, such diversity seems to slip away, for you realize that Temporary Residence has done something that few labels do--they've created their own distinctive sound. So when you go from the rocky elements of Explosions in the Sky and Rumah Sakit to the gentle electronica beat of Fridge and Sybarite through the folk of Halifax Pier and Sonna, you really don't notice the different genres of music, because you expect these things from these guys. There's really not much more to say about it, except that there are eleven great bands offering up unreleased tracks--including everyone's favorite hip band, Explosions In The Sky.
All in all, TRR50 Thank You is a damn fine listen. It's mellow; it's laid back; it's thought-provoking; it's easy on the ears; it's intense.
In other words, it's just another fine Temporary Residence release.
A case in point would be Blonde Redhead’s Fake Can Be Just as Good, which made the length of time it took Sonic Youth to follow up Washing Machine a bit more bearable. When I look back on 2001, though, I remember being very pissed off at SY for the hollow, pretentious abomination that was the previous year’s NYC Ghosts & Flowers, and the splendid Murray Street was another year away. I could’ve used a good Sonic Youth album in 2001, and I wouldn’t have cared WHO made it as long as I got one. It’s 2004, though, and Sonic Youth are continuing their winning streak with Sonic Nurse, which I’m sure you’ll read more about on this site when it is released next month. This means that Icewater Scandal have stepped on the scene a bit too late, but am I going to complain about two good Sonic Youth albums coming out this year? NO WAY!
To be fair, this New York trio has already evolved far beyond mere imitation. First of all, guitarist Andrea Hansen can actually SING. You might not think so at first: she slurs her words and veers off-key, often sounding like a drunk Chan Marshall stumbling around stage to find the microphone. However, she has a startling ability to eke distinct vocal melodies out of songs in which none of the instruments are playing in the same key as each other…and even at her most wasted, she STILL sounds better than Kim Gordon does. Second of all, the rest of Icewater Scandal injects their de-tuned noise-rock with a blues ambiance that’s grimier than anything Sonic Youth could conjure up. If Lee and Thurston Moore exiled themselves in the Mississippi Delta to pick cotton for ten years, they still couldn’t come up with a slide guitar as mean as the one on “Banana Ssplat.” If anything, the band that Icewater Scandal most directly recall is the Dirt Merchants, whose 1995 album Scarified could have been Dirty in an alternate universe. However, this band is much more sprawling and unhinged than the Merchants ever were. Besides, no one bought Scarified back then, the album’s out of print now, and I’ve got to hook the readers somehow, so let’s stick with Sonic Youth.
This six-song album is structured symmetrically, with each half inserting a two-minute palate-cleansing ditty in between two comparatively epic songs. Opener “Klat” is a lugubrious death march of crashing guitars and thumping tom-toms, until it speeds up halfway through upon the arrival of a circular tritone riff. “Klat” lasts seven minutes, but the next song “Muddy Blue” is comparatively brief. The first half of its two-minute running time is devoted to a one-chord crescendo until Andrea starts singing. From that point onward, the song rides a delightful descending Beatlesque chord progression. It would actually be a nice pop song if Andrea was sober and the guitarists didn’t put their whammy bars through such abuse. “Shiny Gold,” another seven-minute jam, boasts unearthly off-key three-part harmonies that sound piped in from a Microphones record.
The second half of the album has the most minimal songs. “Banana Ssplat” is basically one chord, “Oh Shoot” is basically one NOTE, and 18-minute closer “See Saw” takes the band’s sound to “Sister Ray”-like levels of monotony. It’s a masterpiece of hypnosis through repetition: through various changes in tempo and dynamics, the song manages to avoid both boredom and excess. The band switches back and forth between two chords with the kind of propulsion that really does bring to mind the seesaw evoked in the title. Infinitesimal details slowly gain importance, like the tape dropouts that make the drumming pop in and out of the mix, or the mumbling that Andrea does when she’s away from the microphone. It’s a stunning song if you’re willing to endure it.
No Handle is the kind of record that Matador would have gone crazy over in 1996, back when they thought that putting out Bardo Pond and Dead C records was a good idea. (They were right, by the way.) Icewater Scandal make intentionally ugly and disorganized music that manages to manufacture beauty and logic in spite of itself. This album might be a bit behind its time, but the next time Sonic Youth fall off --- and knowing them, there WILL be a next time --- I’m sure that this band will gladly take up the slack.
May 11, 2004
This album’s “intro” begins with 30 seconds of aimless guitar meandering before giving way to a cacophony that sounds like a chicken coop being set on fire. From the second track onward, though, the elements of Ahleuchatistas’ sound are a bit more cleanly defined. Shane Perlowin’s guitar playing is nimble, clean, and uncluttered. He prefers peeling off rapid flurries of palm-muted notes to strumming full chords, and the only effect he uses on his instrument is the occasional bit of reverb. Most of the true noisemaking in the band goes to bassist Derek Poteat, who’s not above stepping on the fuzz pedal once in a while and unleashing streams of irritating feedback (especially on the ambient piece “I Don’t Remember Falling Asleep Here”). Last but certainly not least is drummer Sean Dail, who plays with the kind of speed and tonal variety that suggests that he’s got a million-piece kit or a secret supply of uppers (though it’s probably neither). They’re all good musicians, but in what way does that make them different from any other math-rock band? Have you EVER heard a math-rock band that didn’t have a bare minimum of pure technical skill?
There are enough key, tempo, and dynamic changes in each track to fill four or five individual songs. Ahleuchatistas launch into ideas only to abandon them a minute later, and Lord knows when (or if) they’ll bother to actually return to any of them. “A Thought like a Hammer” does a decent job of milking a two-chord riff before devolving into two minutes of near-silent nothingness. The sprightly riff that begins “Al Jazeera” has an appropriate Middle Eastern flavor to it, only to eventually morph into a depressing a minor-key dirge. The second section of “(Ibid.4)” is a metallic minor-key prod that gets my head nodding every time I listen to it. The first half of “Empath/Every” introduces a slow, ballad-like theme that I could easily hear a crooner laying some sweet vocals on top of. Notice that I’ve spent this entire paragraph talking about SECTIONS of songs instead of their entireties. That’s precisely my point: there are good ideas in every song, but they only appear once or twice, and the other sections aren’t memorable enough to compensate for their brevity. Attention deficit disorder isn’t always a good thing.
Part of the problem is that the band works inside such an intentionally austere framework: very few pedals, no instruments other than guitar, bass, and drums, no vocals, and no fancy production tricks. The aesthetic is certainly admirable, and it does put more of a spotlight on the group’s formidable musicianship. However, on an album that lasts nearly an hour and puts most of its longest songs in the second half, it means that the group has to work twice as hard to keep its music interesting. Unfortunately, every time I listen to On the Culture Industry I lose interest right around the last third, which is why it took multiple listens for me to figure out that album closer “Lament for Bhopal” contains the exact same riff as the album’s intro. If playing incredibly well isn’t enough to get my attention, and switching ideas every 45 seconds isn’t enough to keep it, what else can Ahleuchatistas do to motivate me to listen to their music again once I finish writing this review?
(Other than throw their Slint and Ruins records away and do something NEW?)
There are plenty of things to love about The Syrups, but I'm going to focus on the most obvious. First and foremost, they've got that killer vocal thing down. While harmonies are not really the band's focus, you cannot deny the vocal prowess that happens throughout the album. Lead singer Orion Wilson sounds like a second-generation John Lennon, and that's a good thing. Just listen to "Radio," "Forget My Face" and "Metal Man" and tell me that the comparison isn't apt. (If, after doing so, you disagree, I'll simply have to dismiss you as uninformed.) They also do some interesting vocal tags, such as "Men With Money" and the excellent "Strawberry."
You shouldn't discount their retro sound, either. While it's true that a band shouldn't stick with one particular style over the course of an album, it's also hard to complain about a band's retro style when their record was produced by a legend. The story of the Syrups is that Geoff Emerick (who produced some band called the Beatles) heard their demo and fell in love with the band. Thus, the retro feel of The Syrups really can't be seen as a gimmick; after all, if the man who's making your record formed the style, then you're simply following the master's hand. In that way, The Syrups can get away with making 60s-inspired pop.
What makes me worry a little bit, though, is that the band's style might be too indebted to their producer.
If there's one complaint to be had with The Syrups, it's that the Sixties pop-style forumla can become monotonous. While the songs are good, it's undeniable that the first few songs do slightly bog down the album and the band as nothing more than a one-trick pony. It's not until the sixth song, excellent "Wake Up Laura," that the band offers a song that's not Beatlesque, even though it sounds remarkably like Aztec Camera, another band Emerick has produced. When they break the Sixties mold on this and "Don't Stop The Rain," the band sounds great, and the album picks up the pace.
Despite these problems, The Syrups is a great debut album, period. It's fun, it's poppy, and it's an album that you'll come back to time and time again. Though they've got a few things to work with in regards to their sound, it's not something I'm terribly concerned about--for now. It will be most interesting to hear where these guys will go next.
Label Website: http://www.beckrecords.com
Artist Website: http://www.thesyrups.com
May 10, 2004
(The EP) is a too brief yet wonderfully filling record that will leave you wanting more.
You're in an abandoned building, late at night, somewhere around the midnight hour. All of a sudden, the lights go off, and you're in the dark. Though you know there's probably no reason to worry, you're still a little bit scared. All of a sudden, you feel something coming towards you, you feel surrounded, you no longer feel alone. There's something breathing down your neck, about to pounce. You start to run from this creature that you've not seen, but you know that you've got to run because this monster is big, bad, and it's gonna kill you if you don't run.
For this dream scene, ::Tin Tin:: provides the soundtrack.
::Tin Tin:: is this young band's debut record, and it's very beautiful, cinematic record. True, there are tons of bands out there making layered, epic post-rock music. Though the album isn't always this monotonous, it does follow a common formula for epic post-rock: quiet, calming sounds for a few minutes, loud, in-your-face guitars for a minute or two, a sudden calm that's broken by vocals, some brief loudness again, followed by a calm that leads immediatly into the next song. Considering that they have eight songs and the album's sixty-three minutes long, they're averaging seven minutes a song.
Sure, it can be a bit tedious to listen to, but ::Tin Tin:: is still a beautiful record to listen to. Songs like "Science Generals" and "Alternate" are beautiful and brooding, while "The Red" and "Reeling From" are pulsating, driving rock. The only problem is listener interest; ::Tin Tin:: can be a bit much of a listen, and if you were to get bored by the third or fourth song, you wouldn't be alone. No matter how beautiful your music, one eight minute epic after another is overdoing it, and some of the more subtle moments--such as the lovely singing--are overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of the music.
True, ::Tin Tin::'s sound isn't necessarily the most original, but there's something to be said about delicate music, and this Colorado trio have a grasp on how to make pretty music. Throw in the fact that they've hired ace producer Keith Cleversley (Hum, Flaming Lips) and you've got the ingredients for a great record. Even though this isn't a bad record, If they edit down their future work a little bit, they will make a much stronger, more cohesive album.
May 08, 2004
This evening was probably the first time the band looked like they were HAPPY to perform, and it made a big difference. It also helped that their sound had noticeably improved since the last time I’d seen them. Their musicianship, although always impressive, was no longer the main selling point, as their collections of long-lined guitar riffs were coming together to form actual songs with discernible hooks. No longer content to be Yes-aping musos, the band now leans closer to the simmering, sophisticated prog that 90 Day Men have perfected with their latest album Panda Park. This shift can be attributed to Rhythm’s addition of a keyboardist, which has made them a quartet for the first time since the band’s inception. Singer/guitarist Clint Newsom has grown more comfortable with his high, warbling voice, although it has to be said that the keyboardist still has a more pleasant voice (unfortunately, he only sang on one of the songs). Overall, I was very impressed with their set this evening, and I’m a bit more eager to see them live again than I was before.
Another local band, the American Analog Set, played on the bill, and I was stoked to finally see them. Through the last couple of years, I had missed show after show of theirs due to various reasons, most of them involving being too broke. The band definitely did not disappoint, laying down grooves more seductive than can be reasonably expected from a group of white indie-pop dorks. Seriously, though: if there were a rock band that I could ever consider making love with someone to, it would be the American Analog Set. All of the elements of their sound --- clean guitar strumming, chiming vibraphones, thick bass lines, droning organs, and simple rhythm --- manage to be both propulsive and soothing. You can dance to their music just as easily as you can fall asleep to it. The only bands I know of that approximate this band’s aesthetic are Yo La Tengo (particularly their last two albums) and Stereolab. The former group, though, is too enamored with dissonance and the latter is too enamored with jazz. However, the American Analog Set is pure, streamlined, undiluted mood music. They didn’t even interrupt the flow with stage banter or long between-song breaks. They simply walked on stage, played, thanked the audience and left.
It’s rare that I attend a show in which the headlining act is the one that I’m least familiar with. Until this show, the only Pinback release I owned was their most recent Offcell EP --- which, while good, wasn’t enough to fully convert me. I went to see Pinback mainly out of respect for Rob Crow, who had become one of my musical heroes through his sterling work with humorous math-pop bands Heavy Vegetable and Thingy. I was shocked to find out that in Pinback, Crow is actually the second banana. The REAL star of the show is singer/bassist Armistead B. Smith IV. Crow’s and Smith’s voices are so similar that if I hadn’t seen the band live I wouldn’t know who sang what. However, not only does Smith sing most of the lead vocals, but he also plays some of the most incredible bass lines I’ve ever heard. Picture a fusion of Les Claypool’s technical chops and Paul McCartney’s melodic skill, and you’re not even close. This man can play whole chords and multiple melody lines SIMULTANEOUSLY with his hands while singing in a shockingly calm and collected manner. Arrangements that on record sound like a bass and two guitars playing with each other were played single-handedly by Smith, leaving Crow to add simple yet effective vocal and instrumental embellishments. The five-piece touring lineup fleshed the band’s songs out nicely, with a real drum kit adding rock power that the loop-based studio versions lack. The set focused mainly on songs from Offcell and Pinback’s previous album Blue Screen Life. Between songs, Crow joked with the audience in an intentionally irritating and babyish voice while Smith thanked the audience repeatedly and took many requests. Pinback played for a REALLY long time, but there wasn’t a single bad song in the set. I was worn out by the time they did an encore, but I was enjoying myself too much to leave before the club closed.