April 23, 2004

Rainer Maria "Anyone In Love With You (Already Knows)"

Rainer Maria have certainly been the subject of much hype. You know, with that whole 'emo' thing that was popular, it's natural that a great band like this would win over the critics and fans. Hearing "Ears Ring" in the mall and the local Best Buy was a bit of a shock too, but hey, that's what the media pundits wanted to hype. Anyone In Love With You (Already Knows) is not a new album; it's a 2-CD set meant to display the band as a potent live band. Get the meaning behind the title? Yeah, I thought it was funny and appropriate, too, especially for a live album. The first disc is an excellently recorded live show from last year, playing at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. The band's in full force, riding high on their then-new album, Long Knives Drawn. There's also a collection of photos and the video to "Ears Ring."

The second disc, entitled Live Recordings, is not a full set, but a collection of live cuts from over the past three years. My personal favorites of this set are "Long Knives" and "Spit & Fire," though I'm sure fans will have their own favorites. Anyone In Love With You (Already Knows) is nothing more and nothing less than a nice appetizer for Rainer Maria fans who are eagerly awaiting their next full-length, and yeah, it proves they're an awesome live band, too!

--Joseph Kyle

April 21, 2004

Panurge "THrow Down the Reins"

Throw Down The Reins, Panurge's third album, is a fun mixture of electronics, acoustic guitar and a wit so sharp that you could mistake this Vancouver trio for a British band. Though folk might not be the right word to describe Panurge's music, it's the best word to describe their mindset. Though they've got a keen sense of humor, they're not too light-hearted, either. Prim, proper and educated, with a pastoral pop style that reminds you of rolling hills and neighborhood pubs, Panurge have that whole Blighty thing down.

Of course, it's easy to think these things, considering that Panurge sound like an electronica-minded XTC. No, this comparison is a valid one, especially whenever you hear Christopher Lowell sing. See, he's a dead ringer for Andy Partridge, especially on great songs like "Sweet Fanny Annie" and "You've Pleased the King." At the same time, they've got this fun, 'let's play with these electronic doohickeys and make some silly funk music' attitude that recalls both Beck and Beta Band. Other times, like "Mixed Cavalry" and "Hang Your Head," they're a little more serious, but they're never less than breezy and they're NEVER too serious. Throw all of these these things together and Throw Down The Reins and we're talking about this year's English Settlement. Except made by Canadians.

This folky formula doesn't always work, though. Panurge's ideas are good, but Throw Down The Reins falls victim to a monotony that sometimes causes the album to drag. It's not for a lack of ideas or good songwriting; they've got great ideas and the music is good. It can be difficult being funny all the time, and sometimes it's hard to sustain the same ideas over the length of an album. This is true in Panurge's case, and the only prescription for such a problem is a simple one: growth. This is only their third album (and first non self-released one to boot), so just give 'em some time and I'm sure Panurge's weaker moments will soon be worked out. As it stands, Throw Down the Reins is an enjoyable record of sunshine pop, folk songwriting and fun music. Can't ask for anything more than that!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.panurge.net
Label Website: http://www.nettwerk.com

Building Press "Young Money"

I find it quite funny that shortly after I wrote a review that began with paragraph praising Michigan record label 54’40” or Fight as one of the most consistent indie-rock labels going, the label threw me a curveball by sending a record like this to us. This is, hands down, the most difficult 54’40” release I’ve heard so far, and that’s no small feat for a label whose roster doesn’t have many radio-friendly artists to begin with. I normally don’t brainwash myself into liking a record by listening to it over and over again. I can tell whether a record is going to stay in my collection within three listens at most. Young Money, however, is an exception. Upon first listen, I hated it, but something told me to keep coming back to it. Weeks later, I’m just beginning to understand what this Seattle trio is trying to do with its music, and thus I feel comfortable enough recommending this record to the more adventurous folks among this site’s readership.

The record begins with guitarist AP Schroder hollering the words “You’re like the punch line to a bad joke” through a megaphone before his rhythm section launches into a taut, staccato three-note groove. The band only takes fifteen seconds to plant itself firmly into the “acquired taste” category when Schroder starts unleashing vocalizations that could only be called “singing” by a WIDE stretch of the imagination (hell, even the album’s LINER NOTES admit this). Frankly, his vocals sound like an angry drunk arguing with an invisible man. They switch between arrhythmic screaming and barely audible mumbling, with just a few actual notes sprinkled here and there to remind us that these are actually SONGS, and not just field recordings of an angry drunk with some Slint-sational background music attached. The first song, called “It’s Probably Just You,” is divided into three sections: the first being the aforementioned three-note groove, the second a snippet of muscular surf-rock, and the third a jazzy, atonal waltz. As many times as the song switches gears, it’s still nothing new to those who are familiar with the 54’40” roster (or with math-rock in general), so it’s left up to Schroeder and his voice to give the Building Press its own distinct quirk.

Fortunately, the Building Press isn’t content merely to let the music coast by while Schroeder smears his vocal diarrhea all over it. There are many moments throughout the record in which the music imitates the vocals by completely losing control of concepts like key, tempo, and meter. The verses of “Operator Manipulator” find the band dragging the end of each bar slower and slower, only to pick the tempo back up each time the descending chord progression repeats itself. If there was a musical approximation of a prostrate man hurtling himself atop each step of an ascending staircase with all the might he has left, this song is it. “If You Think I Can’t Get to You…You’re Wrong” features intentionally clumsy guitar strumming that sounds like Schroeder’s fingers are caught between the strings, and can’t get them out. “Far above the Trees” features whammy-bar excursions far harsher and woozier than anything My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields could imagine. During the intro to “Textures,” soothing bass guitar harmonics are interrupted by streams of hollering and feedback that sounds as if they were miked half a room away. It sounds as if bassist Jeffery Woodke is practicing in his studio booth, unaware of the torture that Schroeder is putting himself through on the other side.

Of course, nothing I’ve written so far in this review will convince anyone with a sound mind to pick this record up. However, I know that I am not the ONLY person in the world who thinks that a record that sounds like Steve Albini having a nervous breakdown in the middle of a Shellac show would be something worth listening to more than once. If this is your idea of a good and rocking time, by all means cough up your young money and buy this record. The rest of you have been warned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a designated driver to take Schroder home before the bartender calls the cops…

---Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com
Artist Website: http://www.thebuildingpress.com

The Murdocks "The Murdocks"

This record got overlooked in the olde review pile (sorry, guys) and I'm damn sorry it did, because this is an excellent record. This Austin band makes good old Rock 'n' Roll music, and lead singer Franklin Morris has one of those voices that sounds like about five different singers at once (many reviewers say Billie Joe, and I'm not gonna disagree with that), but his distinctive voice (and it IS distinctive) is totally, utterly killer. It's the bait, it's the hook, it's the whole damn thing. The music's straightforward rock, but there's a darker side to these guys, even if I can't seem to figure what it is. "Death of a French Whore" kicks off this little 4-song EP and it's a driving, pounding rocker. "My Scarlet Purpose" is a bit slower and a bit darker, but it's still awesome. Same with "Dance the Vomit Shakes." The only song that didn't knock me off my ass is the actual metal number, "Maidenhead." The Murdocks are hard yet poppy, tough yet melodic, and this record is TOO DAMN SHORT for me--I want more! These guys have the potential to be utterly awesome--here's hoping!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.the-murdocks.com
Label Website: http://www.surprisetruck.com

Chris Murray "The 4-Track Adventures of Venice Shoreline Chris"

Chris Murray's an interesting fellow.

He's a one man lo-fi ska band.

Now, see, this doesn't look good on paper, does it?

I agree, the concept doesn't seem right. In fact, it seems highly improbable that it would be any good. After all, ska's not that cool, eh? And for a ska band, you need to have a large band of at least six members, right? You've gotta have a big horn section, a tight rhythm section and the ability to knock socks off. But Chris Murray messed with the formula, he decided to make a ska record on his own, and he decided to allow the song to be the center of attention. So he made a solo 'ska' record. Then he made another one. And another one.

And it was good.

No, really, this album is good. There's something magical about the whole lo-fi nature of his music, and considering he's got extremely good musical skills, it's no surprise that his one-man-band songs are excellent. The 4-Track Adventures of Venice Shoreline Chris is a reissue of his debut record, released back in 1997 on the now-defunct Moon Ska Records. It's lo-fi and it's rough, but it's wonderful.

While his sound's definitely matured (these tapes are VERY raw--Daniel Johnston cassette raw), The 4-Track Adventures Of Venice Shoreline Chris is a surprisingly fun record. The nine songs on here are pretty good; they're more of a lo-fi reggae style that's more akin to traditional ska (no Less Than Jake-style bombast here), with guitar, bass and occasional organ. From the organ grinding of "The Organizer" (witty title!) to the romantic "Bring Your Love To Me" and "Ex-Darling," his music's heartfelt and sincere in a way not heard since English Beat or the Specials. Funniest song is his response to Moon Ska's initial rejection of his demo, "Cooper Station Blues." It's a funny and poignant song that's quite convincing and makes the album worthwhile.

There's a magic to a 4-track recording, and the tape hiss that you find here and there on this album makes it even more magical. While his albums have increasingly grown better-sounding fidelity wise, these early tapes are excellent and charming and lovely in their own way. While I'd recommend his newer stuff, this is a great little record and well worth seeking out.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.chrismurray.net
Label Website: http://www.asianmanrecords.com

Hederos & Hellberg "Hederos & Hellberg"

Sometimes, all you need is a voice. When you have a really great song, there's no need to overdo it; a simple piano and a soft voice will suffice. That's the concept behind this collaboration between The Soundtrack Of Our Lives' keyboard player Martin Hederos and ex-Hellacopters Mattias Hellberg's collaboration. Though this album was released a few years ago and is just now seeing an American release, it doesn't matter; this album is timeless and the music is beyone its age.

The premise of it is simple; take several classic songs by some of the greatest rock songwriters and turn them into sedate piano ballads. It's not as easy as you'd think; covers are never easy, especially when you strip them down. Do it wrong and it fails; case in point: Cat Power did it and it was crap. Of course, when you're dealing with classic songs like Bob Dylan's "You're A Big Girl Now," Arthur Lee's "Signed D.C.," Tom Waits' "Soldiers Things" or Lou Reed's "Pale Blue Eyes," you're treading on especially thin ground. The original versions of these songs are utterly complex in lyrical content and the musical compositions are deceptive in their simplicity, so you have to be careful, or you'll fail miserably.

That's not the case with M Hederos & M Hellberg, though. Hederos' piano playing is simple and to-the point; it's soft, it's gorgeous and it's surprisingly dark depressing and cold, but don't be decieved; after a few listens, you'll discover that the music is warm and loving and seducitve and utterly, utterly sexy. See, when Hellberg opens his mouth, the album simply blossoms into something greater, and you'll be floored. Utterly floored. How can you not shed a little tear when he adds a tenderness to the austere"Pale Blue Eyes" or Gram Parsons' "She'? You can't. And it must be said that though the album's only eight songs long, the brevity is what makes this record even more powerful; as soon as "You're A Big Girl Now" leaves you breathless, you'll want more.

This is the simplest records I've heard all year, but it's easily one of the most beautiful records I've heard all year as well. Kudos to Parasol for rescuing this obscure little record, and here's hoping that their other collaborative release is reissued, too; if that record is half as good as M Hederos & M Hellberg, then it will easily be the second best album of the year.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.parasol.com

April 20, 2004

Elvis Presley "Ultimate Gospel"

Even though he will always one of the world's most recognizable images, Elvis Presley's career was one full of rather odd choices and happenings. The boy gets popular, and at the peak of his success, he gets drafted. When he returns home, he trades in his initial chart success for a movie career. He dredges his career in the name of movies and when it seems as if he's totally lost all credibility, he launches a comeback with a mountain of excellent records, which makes him bigger than ever. When he becomes a top draw in concert because of this success, he turns over his recording career in favor for live performance. When he reaches the bottom once again, he releases a single, "Way Down," that seemed poised to revitalize his career. Then he dies, which really launches his career into hyperdrive.

Beneath this pop/country/movie career, he had a secret, lesser-known career as a gospel singer. In fact, out of his mountain of hit records, his only Grammy awards during his lifetime were for his gospel recordings. It's also a commonly-known fact that he started his career singing in the church, and up until his death, he would often would stay up until the early morning hours singing gospel songs with his friends and family. In the past few years, this aspect of Elvis' career has been subject to two box sets (!), and Elvis: Ultimate Gospel is the first single-disc gospel overview that collects many of the better sides from his gospel recordings.

It's quite obvious that Elvis is in love with much of the material. Though several of the gospel numbers from the early Seventies tend to sound a bit bored (a common complaint with all of his material at the time) and the songs aren't as catchy or upbeat as the more traditional material, this complaint is one to be taken lightly, as the material found here is, for the most part, quite excellent. Several of the numbers are fast-paced and upbeat, such as "I, John," "So High," "Joshua Fit the Battle" and "Run On"--and Elvis' spirits have never sounded higher--and it's obvious where he developed his showmanship from; these songs are foot-stompers and hand-wavers of the highest quality, and he does the material right. Even on more serious numbers as "Amazing Grace," "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)," his voice is strong and resonates with a seriousness that his other work never seemed to obtain. The songs are never too serious, too earnest or too sober, and though the collection isn't presented chronologically, it's compiled in such a way that the material never drags.

It is said that from the very beginning of his career, Elvis had every intention of making gospel music. Though he only released a handful of gospel recordings, he never lost the love of good Christian music. Because of his interest in the material and his actual love for the songs, his singing is utterly sincere, makes the performance even more powerful. While Elvis: Ultimate Gospel is far from a complete collection, it's a strong, enjoyable record of some really excellent gospel music.

--Joseph Kyle

Amps For Christ "The People at Large"

The three adjectives that most accurately sum up Amps for Christ’s latest full-length, The People at Large, are “homespun,” “eclectic,” and “political.” Let’s begin with the first adjective. The booklet for the CD is filled with colorful drawings, haphazard collages, and various poems and liner notes written in calligraphy. The music itself has a crisp yet nubbly texture that can only come from a really well-done home recording. It seems as if every aspect of this record was carefully assembled by hand, with the 5RC logo on the back cover the only indication that any sort of intermediary was involved in the process of getting the music from AFC guru Henry Barnes’ living room to yours. The People at Large sounds like Henry’s reinterpretation of a mix tape someone gave him of recordings by John Fahey, Steeleye Span, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, Allen Ginsberg and Merzbow…which is where the second adjective comes in.

Adventurous rock musicians have been pairing guitars with sitars for the past 40 years, so the idea is nothing new. However, opener “Tsaress” produces a folk-raga hybrid so hypnotic that it makes the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” seem like a corny relic in comparison. Whereas Cornershop’s exploration of this territory seems kitschy, even despite the fact that its front man is of Indian descent, and even the best efforts by (the nevertheless awesome) Pelt sound as if the musicians haven’t quite mastered the ethnic instruments they’re fooling around with, Barnes is a string-slinger gifted enough to pull this fusion off perfectly. He can pull off rapid flurries of notes like Ravi (see “Claremont Raga”) and squealing, distorted guitar solos like Jimi (see “Memorial Immemorial Revisited”) with equal agility.

Barnes also has a breathy, lilting singing voice that sounds like a smoother Robert Wyatt. Unfortunately, he doesn’t use this gift enough, as he only actually sings on a third of the album. Even then, he often pushes his voice to the back of the mix, rendering his lyrics unintelligible. There are also a couple of spoken-word tracks on The People at Large. In a slightly bizarre move, these tracks are the only ones whose lyrics are printed out in the CD booklet, even though (unlike the other vocal-based songs) Barnes’ voices is recorded clearly enough to render printed lyrics unnecessary! The spoken-word tracks aren’t the only ones in which Barnes deviates from folk-raga, which is ALWAYS a good thing if you plan on making an hour-long 23-track albums. There are instrumentals with lush countrified three-guitar arrangements, remakes of traditional Scottish ballads, TWO reinterpretations of “Auld Lang Syne,” and mercifully brief snippets of power electronics that sound like they were recorded under the wing of a malfunctioning airplane futilely attempting to take off.

Every couple of tracks on The People at Large, Amps for Christ employ the particularly rewarding trick of augmenting their East-meets-West sound with an undercurrent of noise that’s perceptible enough to keep the music from veering into New Age blandness, but too far back in the mix to become truly grating. “Freddie the Mockingbird” plays host to a plethora of computerized percussive noises that suggest an old shoot-‘em-up video game gone horribly awry, which strangely underscores the political message underlying the album (which I’ll get into later). The bluegrass reverie of “Branches” is supported by a chorus of squealing synthesizers that would probably give listeners tinnitus if mixed even a little bit higher than they are. As is, though, they make the song sound as if it’s being broadcasted through a slightly fading airwave.

One song that fits into the previous paragraph’s assertions, “AFC Tower Song,” can be viewed as the center around which the rest of the album is organized. It’s a banjo driven hymn that begins with Barnes thanking God for loving him even when he was down and out, and ends with an assessment of 9/11 that is almost childlike in its simplicity and optimism. “In America, we have the cars to destroy the Earth. In America, we have the crap and throw it all away. Now, the towers have been hit using our own jet planes. Now, we don’t have all the crap, but we still have God…yes, we still have God.” Don’t let this excerpt give you the impression that Barnes has the same messianic zeal regarding the “War on Terror” as our current president; if anything, it’s the exact opposite. The poems in the CD booklet strongly criticize Bush. One of them ends with the stanza, “God will protect the land/that gives food to its starving/Not to shun the poor and lame/and go to battle charging.” Press materials regarding this record assert that “AFC is for Christ but against the FAKE Christ for profit right-wing elitist blind comfort-loving destroy the Earth and bring on Armageddon church!” You don’t hear such a stance being taken by many explicitly Christian artists nowadays, and whether one agrees with it or not (I certainly do), Barnes’ decision to go against the grain is commendable, especially because The People at Large still holds up well as a listening experience even when separated from its political context.

(Guess I’ve sorted out that last adjective now.)

---Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.5rc.com

April 19, 2004

Tim Williams "The Refrain"

I always get excited when I get a record like The Refrain, because it gives me a little bit of hope for the future of music. You know how people always seem to say 'well, there's no good music being made any more?' Well, Tim Williams proves that there are folk out there who know the power of melody. The Refrain is his debut, and it's packed with six really lovely singer-songwriter pop songs. Williams has a soft, sweet voice that's not too jazzy or too folky. It's not too husky, nor is it too sweet--it's a perfect, strong pop-singing voice. When his band turns up the rock on "Cave In" and "Fine Without You," he never gets lost or overwhelmed, and when they play a jazzier number such as "Leaving You" and "Hard to Let Go," Williams never sounds too heavy. (Of course, it wouldn't be unfair to say "reminiscent of Jeff Buckley" right about now, either, but Williams' isn't Buckley, and thankfully he's not trying to be.)

As great as it is, The Refrain is not a perfect record. The record's major flaw--and it's one that's quite obvious--is that the drums are too high in the mix. Williams' voice is strong enough to sing loud, but at times he seems to be in a losing battle with the drumming, and the oeverwhelming drum beat drowns out the otherwise gorgeous instrumentation and the wonderful arrangements. I'm not worried too much about it, as I'm sure that's something that will be fixed in the future. In fact, it's Williams' future that has me enthralled--The Refrain is a great debut from a young man whose future could easily prove quite interesting.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.tim-williams.net

Jen Gloeckner "Miles Away"


That sums up my first reaction after my first listen to Jen Gloeckner's debut album, Miles Away. As soon as I finished listening to it, I knew that I simply had to include her on my sampler. This voice, this talent, this woman appears out of nowhere with one of the most beautiful records I've heard this year--if not longer--and I simply could not allow you to not hear her. It was a total no-brainer on my part, and from the feedback I've had from those who have downloaded her song "Otherside"--which I recommend that you download NOW if you haven't--I'm not alone in being overwhelmed by her awesome voice.

If you're being a bit reticent about that hyperbolic paragraph and my generally gushing demeanor, then let me give you a bit of a description of that voice of hers. It's husky and rough--but in a good way. It's deep yet soft; it's sensual and romantic; it's experienced yet gentle. I'm reminded of Stevie Nicks, but only in a good way. Don't let that comparison scare you off; despite her material and ubiquity as queen of the 70s, Stevie Nicks' singing voice was excellent in her heyday, and Jen could easily give her a run for the money. At the same time, her voice has a darker quality that is reminiscent of more atmospheric singers as Kendra Smith and Heidi Berry. But instead of thinking that she sounds like someone else, it should be noted that she has a sound that's all her own, and she's set herself apart from those she might be compared to.

Indeed, there's a gothic (NOT Goth!) quality to Miles Away. It's dark and scary and occasionally it delves into fantasy, but the songs all have a really deep personal touch to them that I've not heard in ages. While occasionally her songs have lyrics that are fantasy-minded, the songs are all about love and pain and loss and life--you know, the everyday stuff that makes up life. What seperates her from others is her presentation; she fuses folk with equal parts country, electronica and jazz--and on "Clear the Sand," even world music! Though it's an impressive feat that she performed much of the instrumental accompaniment, it's even more impressive that these songs never sound weak because of it--a common malady of playing all of the instruments yourself.

Still, you can't put Miles Away into an easy box. It's simply impossible to do so, because there's so much to love, and there's so much going on that you really don't have time to think about anyone else but her. From the simple guitar picking and country feel of "Spinning Heads" and "Mountains" to the breathless and ominous atmosphere of "Only 1" and "Nothing Personal," Jen will take you through a world that's all her own. About the only moments I didn't really go for were the more fantasy-based lyrics of "Nothing Personal"--with an Alice in Wonderland theme--but that doesn't detract from the utterly beautiful arrangement, and considering how wonderful Miles Away is, it's something that you could easily overlook..

Miles Away is a breathtaking debut album from a young woman who deserves to be heard, and I'm happy to say that getting heard is not going to be a problem, because she's impressing a lot of people these days. You should give her a chance and let her entrance you. One of the best debut records of the year--I'll be surprised if anything surpasses it, honestly--and quite possibly one of the best records of the year. Miles Away is simply wonderful. Period. End of story.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jengloeckner.com

Anna Domino "Anna Domino"

Anna Domino should have been big. When she first made waves with her debut album in 1986, her career should have launched into outer space. After all, that was the year when 'college rock' started to make waves in the mainstream, and folkier acts like Suzanne Vega started to gain popularity. Domino had it all; her singing was strong, her music had enough of an edge to be interesting, yet it was all wrapped up with a pop sensibility that could have appealed to a wider audience. Like so many stories in the music world, this success story was not to be.

Anna Domino, released in 1986, was her debut album, though she had released three well-received singles and a mini-album, East & West. Thus, expectations for her debut album were high. To produce her album, she teamed up with Billy Rankine of The Associates, whose own band was a blend of darker elements mixed with a distinctive pop sensibility. It's no accident, then, that Anna Domino would be a blending of these elements. The ten songs found on Anna Domino are certainly interesting, and her style goes from the opening cabaret-style "Rythm" and the Nico-esque "Drunk" to the pure pop of "Summer" and reggae-tinged pop of "Chosen Ones." Perhaps the most interesting--and most surprising--song here is "Not Right Now," because its melody is almost identical to Madonna's "Open Your Heart."

That highlights Anna Domino's fatal flaw: it tries too hard. While she had seen success with the "Take That" and "Rythm" singles, much of the material on Anna Domino seems caught up in trying to repeat these initial successes. That the music occasionally sounds dated is not an indictment of Domino's style inasmuch as it is the end result of trying too hard to be 'contemporary.' It's evident that Domino suffered from overproduction; the five bonus tracks--four of which were taken from singles from that era and one collaboration with industrial music guru Luc Van Acker--have a different texture than Anna Domino. These songs have more of a depth than the pop-oriented material--and as all but one of these songs weren't produced by the album's mixing team, it's clear that the production was a bit suffocating.

Still, Anna Domino isn't terrible, and these flaws could (and probably should) be seen as symptoms of the debut album syndrome--in trying too hard to define her identity, her producers have unintentionally stiffled her personality. But listening to Anna Domino twenty years on, it's a surprise that this album--in spite of its flaws--didn't see greater success. It is a shame that Domino's been regulated to 'cult' status, and it's to LTM's credit that they've rescued Domino from the dustbin of obscurity. Her failure to reach the top of the world was not her fault, but was a combination of a world not quite ready for her music and the missteps of her production team. It didn't stop her from producing some excellent music, though--and with LTM behind the Domino reissue series, it's only fitting to know that she's finally getting her due.

--Joseph Kyle

April 15, 2004

The Advantage "The Advantage"

It would be rather easy for me to say that The Advantage is a novelty group and a novelty record. It would be easy to say that, of course, because on some levels, it's true: how else should a band/record be considered when it consists of nothing but covers of instrumental video game music? Nintendo games, to be much more specific. That these guys are all involved in geek-based indie-rock bands (Hella being the main culprit) isn't that much of a surprise, either. I bet these guys smoked a lot of weed and generally wasted their youth in front of a Nintendo system--that is, of course, when they weren't delivering pizza or jamming in the garage.

Still, there's something to be said about The Advantage. It's a novel concept, but it's also a fun concept. True, at times its a bit silly, and listening twenty-six songs of video game soundtrack music can, at times, grow QUITE annoying, but the fact that these guys have taken the time to cover music that's normally considered mundane makes the project worthwhile. Truth is, I've wanted to pull out my old Nintendo system to play some of the games that are covered here--including, but not limited to, Super Mario Brothers, Megaman, Zelds, Contra and Castlevania.

While these guys may be in bands that are too heavy--in terms of their music and their seriousness--for my tastes, The Advantage just sounds like fun. Besides, did you even really pay attention to the music back then? I didn't. At various times, I kept thinking "what the heck does 'Super Mario Brothers 2--Underworld' (or the other 25 songs) sound like?" When the song came up, I'd remember and would be all, "Oh, this is cool!" or "I didn't realize that this game had such cool music!" In that regard, The Advantage was always a joy to listen to, simply because it was a fun record. It's not something you'd listen to every day, mind you, but it's still a surprising joy of a record.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.theadvantageband.com
Label Website: http://www.5rc.com

The Legends "There and Back Again"

This Legends band makes me smile, and mainly because they're doing everything wrong. They're not playing the Stones riffs. They're not trying to be the roughest, rawest garage-rock band from Sweden. They're not trying to bring the Sixties back into style. They're also not trying to be a big, glammy rock band, either. Instead, they're just writing lovely pop songs that have hints of 'retro' but are clearly modern. This little four-song single is a great and surprisingly powerful little collection of rock-pop songs. Sure, they have hard rock skills, such as seen on "There and Back Again" and they've got pop skills too, as "Thanks for Nothing" and "Wish Me Gone" clearly demonstrate, but they're not trying to be anything but a great pop band. They remind me of both The Soundtrack of Our Lives and the Razorcuts, which might sound like an odd pairing in print, but their songwriting clearly falls reaches both levels. If you like handclaps, harmonies, jangly guitar rhythms and bass to make your booty move, then There and Back Again will satisfy you, and will make you want more. I know that I do...

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.labrador.se

Atom & His Package "Hair:Debatable!"

The world lost Atom & His Package due to creative differences. The Package didn't like Atom anymore, and the bitter and anger and hate and venom and animosity between the two is proving to be even worse than the Martin and Lewis split up 40 years ago. Will they ever get back together? With the rumor going about that the Package will 'shock his curly hair straight' if he ever sees him again, then I guess the answer is a resounding 'no.'

Okay, okay, I'll admit that was dorky. The real reason he retired Atom & His Package was simple: growing up. Facing the birth of his first child and the discovery of a life-changing medical condition, Atom realized that his life needed something much more stable than the rock-and-roll life. I respect him for that, but then again, Atom's a smart fellow, and I would expect nothing less from this brainy bloke. Plus, he's also let it be known that he's not actually giving upmusic, just refocusing what he's doing, and he's apparently got a brand new band.

Hair: Debatable is a document of his final show, recorded in his hometown of Philadelphia. As you'd expect, he runs through all of his best material and crowd favorites, and it's a lot of fun. With a recording setup as his, the sound quality is not all that different than the studio recordings, but that's okay. The music's great, and it's obvious he's having fun, even if it is his last hurrah Personal favorites are "Shopping Spree" (which I had the distinct honor of witnessing the very first performance of, as he played a show I booked the night after the incident), and, of course, the classics "Punk Rock Academy" and "(Lord It's Hard To Be Happy When You're Not) Using the Metric System." His newer material, such as "Undercover Funny" and "If You Own The Washington Redskins, You're A Cock" showed that he was definitely growing as a songwriter.

As Atom's always been one who supports value, there's a DVD with the show on it as well as his videos, a few documentaries (!!) and other fun stuff. It's this DVD that makes me wish that I had a DVD player, but I'll tell ya this--as soon as I get one, this disc is going to go on there, because Atom's one of those fun people that's always funny to see. Besides, from what I understand, it's a fitting scrapbook for this young man's funny and interesting adventure as a one-man band. Hair: Debatable is a nice little posthumous release, but most importantly, it is Atom at his best.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.atomandhispackage.com
Label Website: http://www.hopelessrecords.com

The Pines "True Love Waits, Volumes 1 & 2"

Pam Berry has one of those voices--one that's heavenly and seductive and sweet and charming and just downright beautiful. She's been in way too many bands, collaborated with even more and has left a trail of crushed-out indiepop boys in her wake. Though she's not been as ubiquitous as she was a few years ago, The Pines is her latest project, and consists of her and Joe Brooker, a thick-accented bloke whose rougher edges compliments the lovely Ms. Berry's singing quite nicely.

The only problem with the otherwise lovely Pines is that they've released several beautiful but slightly hard to find singles and have yet to actually release an album. The closest we're going to get to a full length is True Love Waits, a two-part, five song EP set, released on two separate labels. Apparently the reason for this division was because the songs are 'different' in nature. That may be the case, but the differences aren't so shocking that the two records couldn't have been combined.

Volume One, which was released by DC label Foxyboy, is the more sedate of the two. While 'Pam Berry' will never precede the phrase 'rocks out,' it's not to the detriment of the music. For Volume One, it's clear that they're playing around with their folkie sound. The songs here have a early Sixties folk style, but they're not especially what I'd call retro. "A Rainy Day" has a gorgeous sample of a rainy day welded together with one of Berry's better songs. "MGM" is a boy-girl duet; it's a love letter to the film company, and it's Sonny & Cher for the romantic and square. Also beautiful is the Beatlesque "You Don't Say."

Volume Two, released by Matinee, is much more traditionally folk-sounding of the two, but it's a bit more indiepop than the first. From the very first notes, it's obvious that Joe and Pam are in a more playful mood than the first EP. "Ungrammatical" is a fun and lovely little pop song about a boy who's proper when it comes to grammar but is a bit more peckish in the ways of love. It's a funny tune but it has some utterly breathtaking boy-girl acapella singing. "Anita O'Day" is as close to a dance number that The Pines will ever get, and I still can't help but dance around when I hear it. "The Rest" is easily Joe Brooker's best-ever song, as his rough-around-the-edges singing and heavy accent is the one thing that makes it magical.

So we may not get a full-length album from The Pines any time soon--if ever, but that's OK. These two little records are worth seeking out, and when you play 'em together, you'll be quite happy indeed. (Maybe Matinee should get all those other Pines songs gathered in one place--but something tells me that won't happen. Oh well....)

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.foxyboy.biz
Label Website: http://www.indiepages.com/matinee

April 14, 2004

Various Artists "Music from the OC, Mix 1"

I don't like teen dramas. I can't stand 'em, I can't stand the way they inspire devotion and mindless chatter about this character or that character, this plot twist or that story line. It's a television show, people! The OC is this year's model, and, yeah, I'm not impressed. Throw in the annoying development of dressing rich kids as indie kids and it all seems even more superficial--dropping band names without actually talking about the music. It's a TV show, not a lifestyle accessory! Sure, it's great for the bands too--Death Cab For Cutie being the biggest name-dropped band--but really, if it's your band, you're giving yourself a way a little bit by being the 'hip' 'new' 'thing.'

I wasn't expecting much from Music From the O.C. Mix 1, and I have to say this--I was wrong. There are some really great bands on this mix, even though much of the material is previously released. Turin Brakes' "Rain City" makes me want to hear more. Spoon, good ol' Spoon, offer "The Way We Get By"--which is annoying, as it's far from their best song! "We Used to Be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols is a nice, 80s-style rocker which makes me forget why I didn't like the Dandies in the first place.There's South's ubiquitous once you hear it "Paint The Silence," too. And "California" by Phantom Planet? Not as bad as the band who made it would lead you to believe!

So color this grumpy writer impressed---this is a generally nice sounding record that sounds great on your CD changer. Hell, if I was a bigwig at WB, I would just package it as I got it--a CD-Rom with a paper sleeve and no artwork whatsoever--because not only would it be a cooler package, by not featuring pictures on the cover, you would fool the 'target demographic' to think that they were buying something other than a 'tie-in product' for your brand.

--Joseph Kyle

PS.To the WB staff: give me twenty-five thousand dollars, and I'll give you a kick-ass volume two.

Chester Copperpot "The Kings of Kirby"

Forget Abba, forget Ace of Base, and forget even the Hives. My favorite Swedish musical export is Chester Copperpot. Never heard of them? Well, that's not a surprise. In 1996, they released an album called Poems and Short Stories, and no one noticed. Now, they're back with The Kings of Kirby, and it's about time you noticed them because this is some of the most underappreciated indie pop/rock out there. Unfortunately, I don't know if they'll even get their due now because their type of music just isn't trendy right now. Chester Copperpot plays the time-honored brand of simple guitar-bass-drums indie pop/rock (with some handclaps and harmonica here and there) that would have had everyone going nuts in the early '90s. They sound the way Pavement would have sounded, had they been tighter and less experimental.

No, you can't accuse these guys of trying to be avant-garde, but it doesn't matter. What their music lacks in originality, they more than make up for it with catchiness and super-witty lyrics. Yes, SUPER-witty lyrics. The members of Chester Copperpot have a sense of humor and they're not afraid to flaunt it. The song, "My Parents' Fridge" is a great example. It's the true story of one time around Christmas when the singer made a sandwich with 4-year-old mayonnaise and his dad just stood out of view and laughed at him when he tried to eat it. Or if you think that's a little too slapstick, consider what I believe to be the album's strongest track, "Whine, Women, and Song". The song is sung from the perspective of someone bemoaning the "weak-ass songs dealing with personal problems" he hears on the radio, telling all the artist to "cut the crap please, you've got it great. You've got the world on a plate, 'cause after all, you're on the radio, while I'm here working hard and feeling low." While it already sounds like a great song, it gets even better because the singer paints himself as something of a hypocrite because he loves to whine himself, revealing that "If everything went my way, it would drive me insane."

The songs aren't all totally humorous, though. Many deal with their obsessions with girls and wanting to do things with them (the first song on the album is called "Let's Make Out"), and they also sing a lot about getting drunk and partying. Classic rock and roll material, but done with indie cred! There's also another standout track that I love, called "I Never Dreamed I'd Be Mowing Lawns For a Living". The song is a virtual anthem for anyone stuck in McJob Hell. In that song, the singer laments how "they're making me do stuff that I don't have time for. Sometimes it feels like they're running my life. Get up bright and early, work through the whole day. I guess that is all right, but I want to have fun tonight." It sounds upbeat when they sing it, but thinking about being stuck in that sort of predicament brings a tear to my eye.

So, there you go. Fun, catchy music with great lyrics. What more could you ask for from an album, besides hipster-ish post-rock posturing?

--Eric Wolf

Band Website: http://www.chesterpowerpop.com/
Label Website: http://www.popkid.com/

Air "Talkie Walkie"

Much has been made of Air's transformation from late 90s sexy boy Eurodisco popstars into austere, mellowed out cinematic-minded musicmakers. It seems that their growth and maturity and insistance on being something more than superficial dance music mkers hasn't been accepted. Their breakthrough Moon Safari was sexy and seductive, but since then they've mellowed out tremendously, creating music that's not meant for the dancefloor. Of course they've ALWAYS been mellow, but that's not the issue here. Air's choices haven't always made sense to the average critic, but bands don't make records just for us, do they?

Air's changes started when they scored The Virgin Suicides. Their earliest records hinted at an interest in making cinematic soundscapes, but in a real-life film setting, the duo of Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin were able to actually focus on making music for the big screen. Oddly enough, Talkie Walkie owes a bit to the Virgin Suicides soundtrack--the 70s pop songs version, not their original score. It's not such a silly notion, though; listening to "Run," it's quite obvious that Air have a love affair with 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." If you're not convinced, tell me, then, doesn't the singing on "Surfing On A Rocket" and "Universal Traveler" sound not unlike Gilbert O'Sullivan?

These similiarities aside, Talkie Walike is just a very nice album to listen to. Sure, they might not be making Moon Safari, Part Two, but why would you want them to retread the past? A band's greatest gift to their fans is growth, and Air's a band who have never feared experimentation. True, not all of their experiments have worked (let's not discuss the poetry album, shall we?), but their successes outnumber their slip-ups. Talike Walkie's soft, sexy "Cherry Blossom Girl" and "Another Day" clearly show that they're perfecting their newly-found cinematic pop sound.

Talkie Walkie is the work of a band who have yet to really settle down into a stylistic groove, and with a track record as theirs, Air is building a legacy for themselves--a legacy filled with excellent records made on their terms, given to a fanbase who expects nothing more than the best. Luckily, Air refuses to let their listeners down, and Talkie Walkie is as excellent a record of downbeat pop as you'll find all year.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com
Artist Website: http://www.intairnet.org

April 13, 2004

Kanye West "The College Dropout"

With no less than three hit singles embedded in the Billboard Top 20, Chicago-based rapper/producer/jack-of-all-trades Kanye West appears to have his finger lodged firmly in every pie. While The College Dropout is West’s debut release, make no mistake, this cat’s been around the block- with producing credits cropping up on a literal “who’s who” list of contemporary hip-hop (Jay-Z, Ludacris, Foxy Brown, Fabolous, Alicia Keys, DMX, Beanie Sigel, and Lil’ Kim, just to name a few) West seems to have carved a considerable niche for himself out of what one media source christened ‘chipmunk soul’ (referring to West’s ample use of pitch-shifted R&B samples). The College Dropout, however, marks West’s debut as an MC and from the LP’s 21 track, it sounds like he’s got something to prove. Despite the fact the results are admittedly mixed- West’s lackadaisical, everyman delivery occasionally falls short- West often gets by on sheer enthusiasm alone.

The College Dropout is a largely successful affair, showcasing West’s rock-solid producing skills and uncanny ear for hooks (there are, at the very least, six guaranteed hit singles on this record). Throughout its 62 minute running time, West’s rhymes veer from self-deprecating and hilarious (“she got a light skinned friend look like Michael Jackson/Got a dark skinned friend look like Michael Jackson”) to sharp and poignant (“how do you console my mom or give her light support/When you telling her your sons' on life support/And just imagine how my girl feel/On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emitt Till”) all the while anchoring an album filled to the brim with positive, uplifting messages about education, materialism, and life in general. The most interesting facet of The College Dropout is how it revels in the dichotomy of commercial success versus artistic integrity. Take West’s verse in “All Falls Down“, for instance:

Things we buy to cover up what's inside/Cause they make us hate ourselves and love they wealth/That's why shorties hollering "where the ballas' at?/Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack/And a white man get paid off of all of that/But I ain't even gon act holier than thou/Cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou/Before I had a house and I'd do it again/Cause I wanna be on 106th and Park pushing a Benz/I got a problem with spending before I get it/We all self conscious I'm just the first to admit it

The only qualm I have with The College Dropout is one that I’ve been hearing consistently ever since its release: there are simply too many skits. They interrupt the flow of the record and majority of said skits are just not amusing. Fortunately, the skits don’t detract from what is an otherwise first-rate release brimming with charm, wit, and massive hooks to boot.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

breaker! breaker! "where all the birds yell"

Breaker! Breaker! have this whole dance vibe thing going on. They've also got this punk thing going on, too. Of course, one might think that they're going for that whole postpunk thing that's been popular amongst the hipster set, but luckily they're not that dumbed-down. Believe me, boys and girls, there's been a lot of total and utter crap that's been unleashed on the world in the name of post-punk. Breaker! Breaker! stands out above the mediocrity. Sure, they're a threesome, true they've got tattoos and synths, but not true that they're, um, crap

Where All the Birds Yell takes me back to that too-brief mid-90s phenomenon of Olympia punk-wave. This movement was pretty much headed up by Mocket and Satisfact, and it just disappeared without a trace. Mocket was a blend of Riot Grrrl with new wave, so you can see what we're talking about, and Breaker! Breaker! are so much like Mocket that at first I wondered if the two bands were related. Though it ends almost as soon as it hits its stride (ten songs in 23 minutes!), this album is crammed with action-packed fun POP songs and you really won't mind hitting repeat. The vocals are interchanging between all three members, and the boy/girl interchange adds a nice touch. I'm really fond of "Do Right, Do Wrong" and "Little Missiles."

The main problem with a record like this is that it occasionally stumbles; it's hard to maintain such a frentic pace without faltering a time or two. Don't worry about it, though, because I feel Breaker! Breaker! is more about the vibe and the fun and the intense rush of playing (bet they kick ass live!) than they are about being totally, utterly perfect with every song. That's all a part of their charm, of course. Where All The Birds Yell is a fun record that just happens to sound current and hip and fresh and new. Put it in your car, you'll speed every time. Put it on your stereo and play it loud for strangers, and I bet you'll have a great time, too.

And ultimately, isn't that the whole point of music?

--Joseph Kyle

Label website: http://www.velocirecords.com
Artist website: http://www.breakerbreaker.org

Greg parker "On the Break"

If I had to sum up Greg Parker's debut EP On The Break in one word or less, it would be sincere. Parker's twangy country twang makes it quite clear that he grew up on good ole Country & Western, but he's not retro. He's got a style that will remind you why Dwight Yoakam's early records are really undervalued by today's 'hip' scene. Throw in a little bit o' Hank Senior, and you'll pretty much have an understanding of where he's coming from. The songs are mellow but not lazy, his voice is twangy but not annoying, and his band is swinging. "Get In Line Caroline" and "A Heart Is A Terrible Thing To Break" are really good slower dance numbers, too. He's got a strong yet sensitive singing voice, which makes these sad-eyed songs even better. When he rocks out on "Disaster Waiting to Happen" and "Kathleen," he's fabulous, and he proves his music isn't caught in some retro country act. On The Break is just a fun country gem from a talent who will most likely deliver a really great debut album, but as it stands, this EP is a really great record on its own, which makes me think that the debut album's gonna be a cinch--and probably a hit!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.itsgregparker.com

April 12, 2004

The Flower Machine "Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company"

It was only a matter of time before a band like The Flower Machine came along. Their sound is a heady, swirling mix of psychedelic rock, with a little bit of country-rock and quite a bit of 80s British indie influence to boot. Please don't make the mistake of mistaking them for a retro band, though. Comparisons to Beachwood Sparks and The Great Lakes have been made, but such comparisons are a disservice, simply because they're not exactly accurate. If you must compare them to another modern band, compare them to the Clientele--even though they don't exactly sound like them either.

While it's true that there are flurries of Sixties pop on Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company--dig the "Strawberry Fields Forever" mellotron on "In The Glow" and "How To Fly an Aeroplane"--but for the most part I wouldn't say that The Flower Machine are a retro band in any sense of the word. Okay, so they have sitars and mellotrons and twelve-string guitars that sound like Roger McGuinn on a good day, but they're not retro. And yes, their music is lazy and kind of stoned, but it's also fun, enjoyable and relaxing, . And it's also true that on songs like "Why Not Stop And Have Some Tea," main Flower Peter Quinnell does sound like an American Alasidair Maclean, but that's about as far as the Clientele comparison can go, because he's a little too upbeat (or not too stoned) to be as mopey as our beloved Alasdair.

Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten's one flaw is simple: IT'S TOO SHORT! Of the eleven songs on here, two of the tracks are nothing more than brief, seconds-long snippets of sound that connect two other songs. Cheats! I want to hear more great songs like "British Rail" and "I Am the Coelacanth," darn it! All in all, this is a great debut record, and I'm hoping they flesh out their next record, because 28 minutes isn't enough!

--Joseph Kyle

April 09, 2004

Moonbabies "The Orange Billboard"

In order to prevent a conflict of interest from happening, I have to begin this review with a disclaimer. Even though I’ve never met core Moonbabies members Ola Frick and Carina Johansson in person, we have a mutual admiration that dates all the way back to 1998, when we first began trading homemade cassettes of our music with each other through the mail. The first full-length article I ever wrote in a ‘zine was about them. The first cassette I released on my (now defunct) label Tangerine Tapes was a collection of sixteen of my favorite Moonbabies songs. Needless to say, I have a soft spot for this Swedish duo that only an album of intolerable weakness could harden. I don’t think that Ola and Carina have such an album in them, though, for their sophomore full-length The Orange Billboard is yet another notch in a slow and steady artistic ascent. The Moonbabies had transcended their beginnings as My Bloody Valentine acolytes by the time their debut June and Novas was released, but the new album is an improvement in almost every possible aspect. The songs are stronger, the production is fuller, and the band has seamlessly integrated new influences into their already expansive sound.

First of all, this album boasts a greater employment of electronics. In songs like “Fieldtrip USA,” “Sun A.M.,” and the title track, real trap sets and programmed drums are intertwined with each other, and nearly every other song on the record boasts at least one computer-generated flourish that ensures a superb headphone listen. Many of the songs shift from quiet, pretty verses that are dominated by electronics to loud, assertive choruses boasting traditional rock instrumentation. Although nowadays it’s not that surprising to hear bands straddle the rock/techno divide, it IS a shock to hear a band that bore such a big debt to MBV (who arguably did such straddling before it became fashionable) do so in a manner that more closely recalls gentler bands like the Postal Service. The only songs that come close to the mimicry that characterized earlier Moonbabies work are “Sun A.M.” and “Slowmono.” In the former case, it’s only because of a couple of brief interjections of distorted squealing that sound more like out-of-tune horn fanfares than guitars. In the latter case, it’s because the song is actually a remake of an old Moonbabies song, the original version of which is on the Tangerine Tape I released.

Even then, “Slowmono” serves as a case in point for how far the Moonbabies have come beyond mere MBV mimicry. The first half of the song is more keyboard-driven, and the band inserts some nice time signature changes in the breaks between verses. These changes notwithstanding, the song is still the album’s most rocking moment. It gets more intense as more layers of guitars are added, until the three-minute mark, when the tempo shifts to double-time and the amps get turned up to 11. The Orange Billboard could have benefited from one or two more songs like that, but that’s a minor quibble considering how well the band deviates from its own template on the rest of the record. 1960s pop seems to be the biggest new influence on this record. The bouncy Rhodes piano and staccato bass lines on “Crime O’ the Moon” recall the classic singles of the early Motown era, whereas other songs display more Beatlesque touches. “Over My Head” is a piano-driven ballad in the style of John Lennon’s early solo material. The ending of “Summer Kids Go,” which is a snippet of waltz music run backwards, is a total “Strawberry Fields Forever” move, and the slowly building orchestral ruckus that ends the title track is right out of Sgt. Pepper’s “A Day in the Life.”

Both Ola and Carina’s vocal chops have improved since the last album. Ola’s voice is more expressive and less throaty, enabling him to carry entire songs by himself (like the acoustic ballad “Summer Kids Go,” an album highlight) without needing Carina’s comparatively sweeter voice to balance him out. When Ola and Carina sing together (which, fortunately, is still quite often), the harmonies they attempt are more adventurous than they’ve ever been, and they’re pulled off flawlessly. Even though their vocals are at the front of the mix, their singing is still slurred and breathy enough to render the words occasionally incomprehensible. This might be a good thing, though. The dubious decision to print the majority of the album’s lyrics out in the CD booklet only serves to illustrate how charmingly mangled one’s lyrics can be when they’re not written in your own native tongue. Ola and Carina sing mainly about angst, nostalgia, and fatigue, but they occasionally toss off non sequiturs like “the crime o’ the moon made the six feet shoulder mom beg me to stop.” It’s the kind line that I’d expect to come out of Captain Beefheart’s mouth, and it sounds a bit jarring in the context of the Moonbabies’ sunshine-speckled pop. You’ll end up singing along anyway, though, and that’s all that matters in the grand scheme of things.

I review my friends’ music more often than most self-respecting rock critics would, but in the Moonbabies’ case, the fact that I know them doesn’t stop me from recommending their music with a clear conscience. After all, they’re just that good! The Orange Billboard is an album that will play tricks on your ears and leave a song or two (or eleven) in your heart. As worthy as this record is, though, I still think that Ola’s and Carina’s best work remains ahead of them.

---Sean Padilla

Label website: http://www.parasol.com
Artist Website: http://www.moonbabies.nl

April 08, 2004

.you. 'i am .you.'

.You. is the moniker for Christopher R. Coello, who makes music all by himself. I Am You is a collection of sixteen songs that range from ambient to techno to drum & bass and back again. Instead of sticking to one particular genre, Coello mixes everything up into one big sonic blend, creating a soundscape that's brooding, dark and cold in only the way that electronic music can be. It's all about showing off skills for you, and while I can safely say I'm not a huge fan of this particular musical genre, it's obvious that there's more to what Coello's doing than pressing a key on a synthesizer and hitting record.

The only problem with this, though, is that mixing it all together like that makes the whole record seem so blurry, so indistinguishable. It doesn't help that I Am You is over an hour long, either, making it even more tedious of a listen. As good as it sounds in bits and pieces, sitting down to listen to I Am You is not only difficult, it's boring, and that does Coello's obvious talent a great disservice. Many of the better moments of I Am You, such as "Fixed Posture" and "Interlude" are only a minute or two long, but they're lost in between his longer, more trippier songs. It's not always the case, but these little moments could have (and probably should have) been further developed. When the beats and the ambient bliss are combined--such as on "I Dream Airplane" and 'Untravel"--it's excellent.

A debut record is as much a learning experience as it is an artistic statement. Coello should focus on refining his music and editing his work down to a more cohesive, less unwieldy running time. I Am You isn't perfect, but it is promising, and with a little bit of editing and clarity, .You. could easily create a masterpiece.

--Joseph Kyle

Sounds Like Violence "The Pistol"

mundanesounds: dude
mundanesounds: check out this band and tell me what you think
mundanesounds: http://www.deepelm.com/sum/429_sum.html
SeanP: this Sounds Like Violence song is AWESOME
mundanesounds: the entire EP is rad.
SeanP: i shouldn't like it because the vocals are so RAARRGHRAH!!! but it works for some strange reason
mundanesounds: could it be the guy's swedish and singing english with a really funky accent?
SeanP: i am brainDIIIEEEEEAD because you shot me INTHAHIIIEEEEEAD!!!!
mundanesounds: isn't it brilliant?
SeanP: yeah!
mundanesounds: i'm tellin' ya man, deep elm's successfuly shakin' that 'emo' tag
mundanesounds: this record is so not emo
mundanesounds: now i know why i like the singing!
mundanesounds: the guy sounds like the lead singer from mclusky!
SeanP: this band probably RULES live
mundanesounds: i bet they go all insane live
SeanP: the guy sounds like the lead singer from mclusky in the middle of a seizure!
mundanesounds: which is saying a LOT!
SeanP: this guy is off the chain
mundanesounds: check out 'afasi'
mundanesounds: if the pixies reunion sucks, these guys will take the crown
SeanP: if the pixies reunion sucks, though, WATCH OUT!
mundanesounds: it will suck.
SeanP: why do you think so?
mundanesounds: because.
mundanesounds: they're aware of their legend.
mundanesounds: they're no longer 'just' a band.
mundanesounds: sounds like violence are a legend waiting to happen
mundanesounds: and they're relevent, not living off of past glories
SeanP: 'afasi' is AWESOME
mundanesounds: it's like six minutes of epic.
mundanesounds: did the clip have the choir?
SeanP: no, just the first minute of the song
mundanesounds: well around the four minute mark a 'choir' comes in and then for the last two minutes they just go apeshit.
mundanesounds: but they do it with the song slowly fading out..
mundanesounds: and dig "perfect" its all garage rock
mundanesounds: but garage rock with talent
SeanP: wow. i MUST buy this record.
mundanesounds: yes you must.
mundanesounds: it's like everything that the pixies, les savy fav and mclusky did right put into one convenient band
mundanesounds: but better.

Label Website: http://www.deepelm.com
Artist Website: http://www.soundslikeviolence.com

April 07, 2004

Tristeza "Espuma"

I don't know a lot about the current state of Tristeza. Are they broken up? Are they still around? I'm under the impression that they're no longer functioning as a band, but I've also heard that they are still together, it's just that Jimmy LaValle has left the band to focus on Album Leaf. Either way, that doesn't really affect the music on Espuma at all.

It really doesn't matter, though. Espuma is classic Tristeza, perfecting their electronica-meets-jazz style. The musical patterns on Espuma are soft, gentle and electronic, such as on "Glimpse Exposure," which glistens nicely with a soft, circular pattern. "Enchanter" is enhanced with electronic beats, making it something much more than another indie-jazz rock song. "Living Stains" has a pulsing rhythm that's quite upbeat, too. All of these songs have that rainy-day in the coffeehouse vibe that I really go for, too. Occasionally, though, the songs are too short; "Encahnter" and "Bankoku" just start to get into the groove and then come to an end. Would love to hear more.

If Espuma is Tristeza's last word, it's a high note. If it's just a stop-gap release, then it's a good sign that their future records will be excellent. Though I have a feeling this is indeed their last record, I'm not sad; so many bands have yet to sound half as good as Tristeza does here, so this record is a brief yet pleasant record from a band who know (knew) how to write a really lovely instrumental.

--Joseph Kyle

William Hung "Inspiration"

Utter Crap.

I don't even need to listen to the record to tell you that. This record is just shit. Period. Hung, a man who has no discernable talent, is using his no-talent as his gimmick.

If you buy this record, you're a damn idiot.

I sincerely hope and pray that the ghost of Wesley Willis finds Hung and whoops his ass for now to all eternity.Seems only fitting.

Hung's a suicide waiting to happen, so the wrath of Willis may not be too far off.

--Joseph Kyle

PS Every artist or band I've slagged in the past--I'm sorry. I didn't know the meaning of the word SHIT until today. Your record is brilliant compared to this crap.

Kill Me Tomorrow "The Garbageman and The Prostitute"

California trio Kill Me Tomorrow’s debut full-length, The Garbageman and the Prostitute, is equal parts rock album and art project. The first thing you’ll notice about it is the grotesque, pastel-colored artwork, which contains blood-speckled renderings of deformed humans and rabid animals. Then, there’s the accompanying DVD, which features videos of three of the album’s songs. Last but not least, there are the liner notes, which contain paragraph-long explanations of each song’s lyrical content. The album is based on a novel of the same name that KMT singer/drummer Zack Wentz is currently working on. Like most concept albums, the concept doesn’t make much literal sense. For instance, here is the full explanation of the third track, “Xerox My Hand”:

“The war is on. A young private, trapped alone in an office high rise building his departed platoon had been using as a base, begins documenting his body on a copy machine only to find he can now see into the minds of those who once worked there and, perhaps, into the future.”

If you’ve already dismissed KMT as a bunch of surrealist loonies by this point, don’t ever let me find a copy of the Who’s Tommy in your record collection. Besides, the liner notes are helpful in making the songs more decipherable. Otherwise, we’d only have Zack’s voice to go by, and most of the time it’s buried in so much distortion that every breath he takes into the microphone sounds like a tornado. What few intelligible lyrics there are reveal themes of paranoia and sexual depravity.

“This is the last time I’ll go outside,” Zack repeats in the song “This is a Movie.” Another song begins with the couplet, “I require chocolate and lots of it/Saw your face in a magazine and I jacked off to it.” If album closer “Born to be Filed” is supposed to be the moment when “the mysterious doctor speaks” (according to the liner notes), he’s not the most scrupulous doctor. At one point, it seems as if he’s recalling an encounter with the eponymous prostitute.

"I have the car keys,” the doctor says. “I have a hard-on!”

“What do you pay for this?” asks the prostitute. “Get a taste of this!”

Needless to say, Kill Me Tomorrow aren’t the most family-friendly band on the planet, but they back their amoral decadence up with some of the most frightening and intense music I’ve heard so far this year.

Album opener “The Best Siren is a Flesh Siren” begins with about 30 seconds of guitar noise that sounds like an air-raid siren. However, when guitarist Dan Wise starts playing actual notes, the tone remains pretty much the same. Dan switches from single-note riffs to machine-like noise during the climactic moments of each song. Wentz’s slurred mumbling makes the 90 Day Men’s Brian Case sound comparatively crisp, but his drumming is considerably more energetic. With a kit that blends traditional percussion with an array of electronic triggers, Wentz’s drumming suggests what four-on-the-floor house music would sound like at a Native American powwow. K8 Wince, who also did the album’s artwork, holds everything together with distorted bass lines that can occasionally sound like detonating bombs, and backs Wentz up with a caterwaul that sounds like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon being chased by Freddy Krueger.

All in all, Kill Me Tomorrow have a disturbing and original sound that could be described in two ways. They could either be what Xiu Xiu would sound like if possessed by pre-apocalyptic panic instead of suicidal depression, or they could be a cybernetic update of Confusion Is Sex-era Sonic Youth. As talented as the band is in other forms of media, it’s good to know that their experiments with visual and literary art haven’t come at the expense of the music. Even if they hadn’t provided so many signposts as to the actual concept behind it, the music would still get your blood racing, and possibly even compel you to dance!

---Sean Padilla

Shearwater "Winged Life"

Some musicians have some nerve, messing with the formula for 'country' music. How dare they upset the house that George Jones, Hank Williams Senior and Johnny Cash built? How dare they break from the twangy tradition that's stood long and proud for nearly a century?

I welcome those musicians with open arms.

It started with Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and last year's Welcome Convalescence by South San Gabriel set the standard for a new kind of "country" music: spaced-out, slightly stoned slow songs with a hint of electronica/rock/whatever you might consider not country. One of these days, these artists are going to kill the "alt-country" genre with one fell swoop, or they'll simply let it die from neglect, as their music is something that's beyond classification. Wilco's done it, South San Gabriel's done it, Starlings, TN are certainly capable of doing it, too.

Make sure, though, to add Austin's Shearwater to that rather short list. While Shearwater might be known as a 'side project' for Okkervil River--frontman Jonathan Meiburg plays keyboards for them, while Will Sheff is Okkervil's frontman--Winged Life, their third album to date, proves that there's more to this band than mere side project status. The compositions are so strong and original that Okkervil River's a mere passing thought; if the band were to disband and simply spend their time on Shearwater, it wouldn't really be a great loss.

Sometimes Shearwater gets all traditional country, such as on the soft pickin' and grinnin' folk of "My Good Deed" and "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up that Old Gang of Mine," but those moments are few and far between. Occasionally they use the traditional country instrumentation to create something not at all country; some songs, such as "A Hush," "The World in 1984" and "Sealed" sound like Radiohead if they'd grown up within the 512 area code. A wonderful example of this is "Whipping Boy," which starts off with a pickin' banjo but by song's end the banjo's been supplemented with vibes and drums and some keyboards, and the song itself is something much more urban, more modern, more...pathetic in that hopeless modern rock kind of way. Meiburg sings with a gentle croon that, yes, does recall both Nick Drake and Thom Yorke, but he does so in a way that's devoid of everything Nick Drake and Thom Yorke. Perhaps it's the bleak despair in his voice? Yeah, I think so, too.

Ultimately, there's no difference between Shearwater's cold and distant instrumentation and the sad-eyed lonesome me songs of Hank Williams. They're both singing tears-in-my-beer songs; they're just expressing their heartbreak about in different ways. Winged Life is a beautiful and sad collection of weepers that's pefect for the College Intellectual Who Thinks Himself Too Smart for Country as well as the afficianado of more traditional alt.country types and those who just like really sad music. Winged Life is a winning record for losing.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.misrarecords.com
Artist Website: http://www.jound.com/shearwater

April 06, 2004

Marizane "Stage One"

Wow, Marizane sounds like David Bowie. A lot.

Of course, there's a really good reason why Marizane sounds like David Bowie; gee could it be due to the fact that sixty percent of Stage One was produced by Tony Visconti, whose claim to fame was producing...you guessed it, David Bowie? You guessed it! Throw in a couple of members of the Wondermints (AKA the Brian Wilson's Beach Boys) and there's no way that Stage One could be anything less than unrelenting sunshine-tinged glam-pop.

Just listen to "The Alien Christ," and you'll think you're listening to a long-lost outtake from The Man Who Sold The World. Throw in a little bit of Elton John--especially on "The Libertine" and "The Devil's Address"--and you'll find me quickly won over. From the mellow "Sad Foolish Robot" to the rocking "Preternatural Baby," you'll think you've died and gone back to 1973. All of the songs sound great, they're well-recorded, and they sound like great lost radio hits. The only thing these kids could have done would have been to given us more than five songs. A scam, this!

And I can't ask for anything more than that. Marizane have the goods, are you listening? I hope so.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.vibro-phonic.com
Artist Website: http://www.marizane.com

Casino Versus Japan "Hitori & Kaiso 1998-2001"

On the surface, Casino Vs. Japan's newest collection, Hitori + Kaiso 1998-2001 is frustrating. It's meant to serve as a collection of songs recorded during those years, but it's not helpful in the least. There's zero information found here, except for the tracklisting. Is this a chronological collection? Is this a mix and match of tunes? Were all of these songs previously unreleased? If you're looking to know more about these songs, forget it, because you're not going to get any help.

Of course, considering the anonymous nature of Casino Vs. Japan's music, should that really come as much of a surprise? No, not really. Casino Vs Japan has always been Erik Konalski and his toys, and there's really not much to know other than that. I mean, really, what can you say about a one-man techno band that's not self-evident? Oh, yeah, their music was featured in a car commercial not too long ago. Makes sense if you think about it--instrumental electronic music is perfect for commercials. (Hope he made some good money for it.)

Disc One contains twelve songs, and while the music's very mellow, these tunes are much more beat oriented. Some of these songs have a hint or two of trance,such as "To Be Roomy" and "Search For The Sun," and all of these tunes have a gentle heartbeat pulse to them. The only drawback to disc one, though, is that the music doesn't seem to be terribly different--or better than--the music of lik-eminded electronica composers such as Flowchart or Matmos. The songs here are merely nice, but ultimately, it's a weak collection that doesn't really hold up to continuous listens.

Disc Two, though, is what makes this collection essential. Gone are the cheesy beats (though one or two songs do have them), the noodling, the ideas that fall flat. In their place, though, is atmosphere. Dark, dreary atmosphere, not unlike that of music by such artists as Robin Guthrie or the Morr label. The songs are shorter, the music is slower, deeper, and much more intricate. Songs such as "Miano: Little Miss 1565" and "Slow Dance of Dungeons" are more ambient in nature, and are quite reminiscent of Harold Budd, and "There Will Always Be Love" is Durutti Column without Vini Reilly. This disc is one big atmospheric movement, never too mellow, never too upbeat, and if you put it on after a hard day, you'll surely get some rest.

So while Hitori + Kaiso 1998-2001 might be a flawed compilation, the music itself is lovely, interesting and relaxing, which is enough to make it worthwhile. While I'm sure this might not be the best representation of Casino Versus Japan's music, it's still not too bad of a collection. Look for a more definitive statement coming soon when he releases his new album.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.attacknine.com
Artist Website: http://www.casinoversusjapan.com

April 05, 2004

Of Montreal "Satanic Panic in the Attic"

Friday, March 18 1:00 a.m. Friends (208 E 6th St)

Okay, folks. This is just a little bit complicated. This review is going to have two parts. Part I is going to be for the people who went to see A Pollinaire Rave (the touring surreal comedy musical that Kevin Barnes performed with his girlfriend, Nina, and his brother, David) and got the tour CD. That just happened to contain 7 demo songs Of Montreal was working on for their next album. Part II is just the general overview that everyone can read and appreciate. Got it? Good. Here we go...

Part I

So, did you have a good time seeing A Pollinaire Rave? Did you understand it? Well, I certainly did it. I think you would have had a better time coping with it if you just thought of it as the result of a project to create a comedy musical in the spirit of the surrealist films of Luis Bunuel. Yay for college film courses!

Anyway, we all got the CD, and were kind of baffled because it came with no tracklisting. Well, I actually did something about it. The next time Of Montreal came to town, I asked Kevin for song titles, and he said that even though they didn't really have any titles for the songs since they weren't quite set in stone, he wrote down working titles for me. I have no idea if he was kidding about them or not because they're really quite ridiculous, but I assure you he really did give me these song titles. You'll see what I mean because I'm about to give you the tracklisting and tell you of the fate of each song.

So, here's the track-by-track:

1. "the fading and frozen phallus in the eye of a young brute" (also known as "Fable of the Bull" to some people)--Became "How Lester Lost His Wife". The only song that was significantly changed (and changed for the worse, I might add) on the album.

2. "whatever happened to the breath of tom the sandwidth?"--Became "Chrissy Kiss the Corpse".

3. "nightmare onanism"--Became "City Bird".

4. "gladiator chestsex and the collision"--Became "Erroneous Escape into Erik Eckles".

5. "shut the orb lady!"--Didn't make it on the album, but was released unchanged as a b-side and compilation track with the title, "Everything About Her Is Wrong".

6. "wednesday's foam on tuesday again?"--Didn't make the cut at all. I don't know if it ended up anywhere else. I actually think this was a good song, and if it were up to me to discard one song from the EP and have it never see the light of day, I would have chosen "Erroneous Escape".

7. "yes, the bird may remember being hoofed" (demo version also released as "Sad Love" on Excellent Online's "Flirt" compilation)--Became "Eros' Entropic Tundra".

Well, I guess there's probably one question on your mind, and the answer to it is, "No, I'm not shitting you." For the second time, I maintain that those are the titles that Kevin wrote down. I'm really not doing the same sort of pretentious bullshitting that Pitchfork does in their reviews to make them more creative.Anyway, the songs that did make the album weren't really changed, except for "How Lester Lost His Wife". The other songs just sound like they were re-recorded with a higher quality and just a little more fleshed out.

As for "How Lester Lost His Wife", the basic structure and lyrics are the same, but they made a change that I disagree with. If you remember the original version, it was the hardest rocking song on the EP (and of Of Montreal's entire career). For the chorus (or the closest thing to a chorus in the song), they played this heavy hard rock riff, but then as a contrast, they would play a different, non-distorted riff as an interlude and belt out and enthusiastic, high-pitched "Ahhhhh!" and then repeat the two riffs again. Well, they took out the "Ahhhhhh!". I loved that "Ahhhhhh!". Actually, it's still there. What they did was not play the guitar during the interlude, and for the first interlude, (where the "Ahhhhhh!" should be), they put either a slide guitar or spaced out vocals through a delay pedal, depending on what part of the song it was. For the second interlude, they replaced the guitar with a toy piano playing the riff the guitar would have played, which actually is an improvement. I don't know, I miss the "Ahhhhhh!" and thought it was more fun. You'd understand if you heard the original. However, I think anyone who hasn't heard the original version would love the album version, and I love everything else about the album version of the song and consider it one of my favorites on the new CD.

Anyway, the songs otherwise survived the journey between demo and album version intact and improved.

Now that I've indulged all the dedicated Of Montreal fans, it's time to service everyone else...

Part II

Okay, everyone. I hope you didn't read Part I if you don't have the A Pollinaire Rave tour EP because you'd be totally confused right now...

So, here we have the first post-Kindercore album from Of Montreal. For those of you who don't know, Of Montreal are the kings and queen of whimsical surrealness (although they can perfectly straightforward when they want to be). They're not immediately accessible because their lyrics can be quite ridiculous at times, and some people think their music sounds literally "gay" (in the homosexual way), but they'll inevitably win over anyone who appreciate the Beach Boys, Beatles, and '60s psychedelia. By the way, they're also one of those Elephant Six bands. If you don't know what that means, it's basically a collective of people whose bands sound quite similar and play on each other's records. (For those who do know, I want to make it clear that there isn't anything really Satanic about the album at all. I really don't know why it has that title.)

Like their last album, Aldhils Arboretum, it's a group of singles and not a concept album like most of their earlier works. Their music retains the same lyrical tone and whimsy of past releases, but Satanic Panic actually marks something of a musical evolution. It sounds like Of Montreal's production values have increased, and you can hear more influences in their music than the obvious '60s icons worshipped by the Elephant Sixers. On this album, you can catch some '80s new wave, '70s hard rock and funk, and a little bit of Motown.

Maybe you remember Pitchfork saying a while back that this album would sound more electronic than their past releases. It's true, but not as true as you think. Only a couple songs sound blatantly electronic. First, you have the opener, the new wave-tinged "Disconnect the Dots". It's so electronic and different from anything else Of Montreal has ever done, it's surprising that it wasn't done as a side project. Then, you have the second track, "Lysergic Bliss". It starts out with an intro of droning, psychedelic guitar and tom hits that boom like cannons and evolves into a straightforward '60s-influenced rock song. Then, the song cuts out, and suddenly, an a cappella, gospel-ish choir of voices singing "Ba Da Da" come in, followed by a techno beat, Rhodes piano riff, and flute sounds that seem like they were pulled straight from the newest I am the World Trade Center record.

(Hi there! Mundane Sounds editor Joseph speaking, and while I agree with my young writer's perspective of this song, I'd like to interrupt right here and state that I prefer to say that "Lysergic Bliss"--one of the best songs of 2004, in my opinion--starts out with the Grateful Dead, unexpectedly goes all Beach Boys and then just as unexpectedly launches into Santana, but that's just me. Back to your regular reviewer commentary.)

Certainly, their songwriting skills are pushing new limits. There's also "Rapture Rapes the Muses", which I didn't really notice was electronic until I listened closely and heard they were playing synths instead of guitars. Otherwise, it sounds like a normal Of Montreal song. Finally, there are the last few seconds of "My British Tour Diary". They just tacked those on at the end to parody "the most truly repellent techno music ever made" as mentioned in the song. It's really quite funny.

But that's all that's electronic about the album. Just two and four-twelfths songs.

Most everything else sounds like the regular '60s-influenced rock, with a few great exceptions. One of them is "How Lester Lost His Wife", which is the most moshworthy song Of Montreal has ever done. Distorted hard rock guitars alternate with toy pianos to create one of the most fun and interesting musical experiences Of Montreal has ever created. You've also got "Vegan in Furs", which has some vocals that sound quite like Motown R & B.

Lyrics? Well, the more surreal stuff I'd need a lyrics sheet to fully comprehend, but they've got some great straightforward ones. "Eros' Entropic Tundra" is sung from the point of view of an unhappy soul who sees happy couples in the park but all he ever gets is "sad love". On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's "Your Magic Is Working", about a cynic who turns into a hopeless romantic whenever the object of his desire is near. "My British Tour Diary" is just what the title implies, but it should be noted that this account of their travels in Britain is less than flattering, with singer Kevin Barnes going as far to say that he doesn't "give a shit about the queen". I also like the poignant "Climb the Ladder", a very poetic song about finding solace in a relationship. "When I'm caught in a net and I haven't a clue, all I've got to do is climb a ladder to you... When there's ghosts in my curtain, everything is askew, all I've got to do is climb a ladder to you... All of these faces are crowding around me, mouths open wide to devour, but they have no impact. no, I do not cower knowing I'm safe in your tower." Those words sound even better when Kevin sings them.

So, let's just get to the point. You really should buy this album. If you're an Of Montreal fan, you'll appreciate the significant progression that Of Montreal has made since their last album. If you're not a fan, it seems to me like this would be a great starting point. It sounds like it may actually win Of Montreal some new fans (if they get enough exposure).

Seriously, this might be my favorite Of Montreal album yet.

--Eric Wolf

Band website: http://www.ofmontreal.net
Label website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

Jack Rose "Two Originals of Jack Rose"

Jack Rose is a member of experimental band Pelt, a name many of you (myself included) might not be terribly familiar with. From what I've heard, their music is drone-rock based with a nice hint or two of ambient noise and minimalism. (Yes, I know, I'm really cluttering up things with mentions of these genres, but I'm trying to let you know that they're not a band to be pigeonholed style-wise.) The music he makes with Pelt is gentle, pretty and soothing, and it's no surprise that his solo project carries on the tradition.

Two Originals of Jack Rose is a compilation of vinyl-only releases, Red Horse, White Mule and Opium Musick. It doesn't matter much about what came from where, really, because these nine songs are all cut from the same cloth: gentle, simple guitar instrumentals. Nothing on Two Originals will cause your blood pressure to raise, nor will it wake you up from a gentle sleep--and it's nice that way. The music is soft, simple and repetitive, and Rose is clearly continuing the legacy of John Fahey. You'll hear acoustic guitar, dulcimer and possibly a banj; as such, these songs are a simple hybrid of blues, minimalism and Americana. Sometimes the music is fun and rustic ( "Linden Ave Stomp"), sometimes it's epic ("Red Horse."), but mostly, it's just downright pretty (the other seven songs). The one that really captures the attention is "Yaman Blues," which continues along the formula described above but adds a tampura, which adds a unique flavor to an already lovely record.

Two Originals Of Jack Rose is one of the gentlest records I've heard all year. It's much more than that, of course, but it's a sign of genius to make the most complex rhythmic patterns seem so simple. Doesn't matter about all that intellectual theory that's in the liner notes, because this music is just too lovely to be ironic. Enjoy it at your own peril.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.vhfrecords.com

April 02, 2004

Weezer "Weezer" (Deluxe Edition"


Has it been ten years? Has it really been that long? Damn, where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that the Blue Album was required listening in the college dorms, that "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So" were in constant rotation on the radio, and that Rivers Cuomo was considered to be the Brian Wilson of Alternative Rock. The Blue Album was, is and evermore shall be one of the Greatest Summer Records Of All Time. Listening to it instantly sends me back on a nostalga kick. It seems weird to think that this album's a decade old. Time flies when you're getting older, it really does, and now the Alternative craze is just heading into Retro Style. (I blame Malkmus. It's his fault.) Be that as it may, Weezer has been given the Deluxe Edition treatment, and it's a really great package.

Let me state for the record that I got sick of Weezer. I got sick of hearing them on the radio. I got sick of hearing them at the dorms where I lived. I got sick of seeing the shirts around campus. I got sick of hearing girls and guys talk about them as if they were The Greatest Band Ever. It wasn't until one of my friends snuck in "Surf Wax America" on a mix tape a year or two later that I decided to give the album another try. When I finally broke down and bought the Blue album for myself, I was impressed. True, "Say It Ain't So" and "Buddy Holly" were overplayed when they were released, and "Undone" was nothing more than a novelty song, but there was more to the band than those three songs, as I quickly learned.

Weezer is a classic record. If you're reading this review, you've probably owned it, or you've heard it at least once. It was a big record back in 1994, and it's still a wonderful collection of pop-rock. I'm still enthralled whenever I hear "Buddy Holly," and it's hard to only listen to it once. "Say It Ain't So," which always sorta reminded me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is another song that's stood the test of time. The album is the perfect document of my life at the age of 21, and for a generation of alternative-rock listeners, Weezer also serves as a polaroid of their life a decade ago. I'm happy that the label decided to leave the album alone when they put together the Deluxe Edition, because it's a classic record that deserves to stand alone.

Of course, the big bonus with this deluxe edition is the second disc, entitled Dusty Gems & Raw Nuggets.. I'll just come out and say it: it's not essential listening, because Weezer is still the better record. Don't get me wrong, this collection of B-Sides, outtakes and alternate versions is a fun listen, but like many B-side collections, most of the material on Dusty Gems is indeed of lesser quality, and in the case of Weezer, much of this material is repetitive. As stated in the too-brief notes, the overwhelming success of the band left them high and dry in terms of B-side material (they only had four songs in consideration for B-sides), so they simply released live recordings to cover this shortage. Six of the songs on this second disc appear on the album, and one of them is an alternate take of a B-side. "Paperface," "Lullaby For Wayne" and "I Swear It's True" are fun yet lesser songs, and it's understandable why they have not seen the light of day until now.

The four B-sides, though, make the second disc worthwhile. It's interesting to note that three of these songs are all autobiographical, and are written to specific people as a thanks for helping Weezer out in the early days. "Suzanne" is written for an A&R assistiant who took a liking to the band and served as a friend during the band's post-signing downtime. It's quaint, silly and touchingly poignant: "Even Izzy, Slash and Axl Rose/When I call you put 'em all on hold" makes me smile, but it also serves as an interesting historical document, in that it shows how the label's former superstars were now less important to the label than these soon-to-be superstars. "Jamie" is similar in nature to "Suzanne," written for the band's first lawyer.

The best song on this collection is the touching "Mykel & Carli." It was written about Mykel and Carli Allan, two sisters who befriended the band early on and took the initiative to organize the band's fan club. Though the song is somewhat fictional (Cuomo asked the girls for personal details, to make it seem as if they'd known him for years), it became a bittersweet and oddly prophetic song when, in 1997, Mykel & Carli were killed in a car accident. For years I had thought that this song was written in tribute to the girls, because the first time I heard it was on a benefit record for their family, Hear You Me. It's a touchingly sweet song, even if the line "Said I had these two best friends/Till the school bus came/and took my friends away/Now I'm left alone at home/To sit and think all day" is heartbreaking to hear. (Indeed, their deaths are generally considered one of the reasons for their five-year absence.)

While some of the bonus material is repetitive and the liner notes are criminally brief--it would have been interesting to read more in-depth notes about the sessions, the bands feelings, or their history in general--these flaws do not take away from the simple fact that Weezer is one of the best records of the Nineties. It's a record that's lanuched a thousand imitators, all of whom generally fall well short of this band's simple songs--heck, Weezer have never been able to succesfully top Weezer! A great, simple and downright fun record that deserves a respectable place in the annals of rock history.

--Joseph Kyle

Alpha "Stargazing"

On first listen, Stargazing sent me straight back to 1997. Remember that year? The whole jazz-noir electronica thing was just starting to blossum (or die out, depending on who you talk to) and dark bands like Portishead had the music world all steamy and sultry and intrigued. Spiked into these postmodern sounds was a hint of the past--mainly jazz--and the results were usually lovely and often breathtaking. Listening to Stargazing, it's not surprising to learn that Alpha came to life back then. Not that the music on Stargazing is at all dated; if anything, Alpha's sound is finally in its time, and they play around with a sound that's neither electronica nor jazz noir.

Stargazing is a wonderful showcase for mellow instrumentals, sultry singing and an atmosphere that's pure thunderstorm at midnight. The blending of lounge and electronica is what Alpha does best, mixing the best of both worlds and creating a lusty vibe. When Corin Dingley opens her mouth, it's impossible not to fall in love immediately with Alpha. Her voice--a nice blend of ethereal stretching and torch-song croon--is immediately appealing. Songs like "Silver Light," "Blue Autumn" and "Once Round Town" are gentle and touching in a way that can only be described as blissful. Mixed with the most basic jazz instrumentation, Dingley has redefined the whole lounge singer experience. Don't wite off Andy Jenks, though; his singing, on songs like "Lipstick From The Asylum" and "Saturn in Rain" is equally lovely, but it's not the main attraction.

When it appeared overseas last year, Stargazing won over critics--the same critics who normally would have lambasted this record for sounding too 'retro.' This version of the record rearranges the tracklisting and adds a bonus track from 1997, "Horeshit." Doesn't matter, really, because Stargazing is just a really great record, regardless of the year it was released. If you like your music dark, pretty and romantic, then turn off the lights and try a little Stargazing.

--Joseph Kyle