July 30, 2004

The Flesh "Sweet Defeat"

Ah yes, another dance-oriented postpunk rock band from New York City. How original! Okay, okay, I'm being a bit cynical, but it's really hard not to be these days--what's with the punk kids wanting to dance all of a sudden? We shouldn't be so quick to dismiss The Flesh, though, because there's a spark of something really good here. True, there's the whole Hot Hot Heat/!!!/LCD Soundsystem vibe going on here, and one of the songs on here is a remix a song on the EP, but that doesn't really seem to matter, either. "Sweet Defeat" and "Night Loop," while having a bit of a restrained feel, do seem like numbers that would get an audience torn up and dancing like crazy. "Cuts" is merely okay, but the Empty Temple Remix is the better of the two versions. Though Sweet Defeat doesn't really offer much in the way of letting you know what The Flesh is all about, it does give hints of greater things to come on their debut album, set for release this fall.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.putontheflesh.com
Label Website: http://www.gernblandsten.com

All Green Lights "Candida Pax"

If there's been one thing I've learned over the past three years, it's that the phrase 'don't judge a book by its cover' is difficult. After all, are covers not designed to draw in an audience? It's certainly true with music. If a record has a Star of David and dripping red images on black, you can pretty safely assume that the record inside isn't going to sound a thing like Belle & Sebastian. I was a bit hesitant about Candida Pax, the debut release by All Green Lights. With its violent, schitzophrenic artwork, I was expecting something that sounds really heavy, messy and noisy, something that you might hear on GSL or Load. Having seen record designs like this in the past, I felt pretty sure that the music inside was going to be nothing short of blasting noise.

Boy, was I wrong!

All Green Lights is the project of Benjamin Bettinson, a one-man tour-de-force who records by himself at home and with the aid of his computer. He doesn't suffer for it, either. Though I was prepared for a violent musical confrontation, what's found on Candida Pax is anything but--peacefuly instrumentals that are mixed with a combination of soothing acoustic guitar and gentle pulsating beats. This is a most interesting combination of instruments, and Bettinson has a vision that's unique, making for a compelling and always pleasant listen. The opening epic, the four-song "Remember This" suite--a mixture of Warp-like beats and slightly countrified guitars combined with Cocteau Twins-like guitar riffs and the occasional harmonica--sets the standard for the rest of Candida Pax.

The only problem, though, is that occasionally the music feels too synthetic. Throwing down beats is great, but when said beats and rhythms are cliched, it sounds like he just took the preprogrammed rhythms of a Casio and threw down some guitar and keyboard riffs over them. (Which, of course, is probably what he did.) The lone vocal track, "Paint A Picture," seems oddly out of place as well. "Houdini" uses the samples of a child talking and laughing, and while I'm sure it's special to him, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Luckily, these weaker moments are few and far between, and they don't overwhelm the rest of the album.

Still, I'm not too worried about the bad parts--that's the joy of programmable CD players. There's plenty of beauty to be found on Candida Pax, and the strengths of songs like "Remember This," "White Moon" and the title track are more than enough to keep me coming back again. This is a surprisingly wonderful little record, and with a little work on the more cliched moments, if Bettinson keeps it up, he's going to find himself on many a 'bands to watch' list.

I know this because he's just wound up on mine.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://morninglightrecords.com/allgreenlights
Label Website: http://www.morninglightrecords.com

Sixtoo "Chewing On Glass & Other Miracle Cures"

When I get a record from a veteran act I've never heard before, I sometimes feel frustrated that I don't have the benefit of understanding the band's past. I'd like to know from where the act is coming from, especially if the record is one I really like. Could I possibly be missing out on better music? Could this record indeed be the band's worst release? I have no way of knowing. Of course, I really cannot say that this sort of ignorance of a band's past is a bad thing--it creates an objectivity that's quite important for fair music criticism.

Canadian composer Sixtoo has made rather eclectic, brooding music for several years, and I'd love to hear more, because Chewing On Glass & Other Miracle Cures is a fascinating listen. While the music runs from electronica to hip-hop and beyond, it's impossible to classify as one particular style, making listening an exciting event. What is true, though, is that nearly all of the songs are dark, dense and instrumental, ranging from the cinematic to enigmatic. Occasionally there's a little bit of funk (such as "Chainsaw Breakfast") and there are a few songs with vocals that range from rap ("Funny Sticks Reprise") to beatnik jazz ("Horse Drawn Carriage"). Can's Damo Suzuki also makes an appearance on "Stork Clouds & Silver Linings."

Chewing On Glass & Other Miracle Cures is a complex, thick record. It might be even more difficult to listen to were it not for the well-written notes that Sixtoo has provided, describing in great detail what he envisioned for each song or how he created each track. These little descriptions show a man who enjoys making his music and who wants the world to see his why he created each song. In a surprising twist, his notes make the record a lot more enjoyable; his descriptions detail the little technical tricks you might have ignored or overlooked at the time, and you'll want to go back and see what it is he was doing. On "Boxcutter Emporium, Part 3," you never would have known that "Matt thinks this is some NY radio shit, like Old Dirty Bastard should be on it. I Think Silver Mt. Zion's string section would be much better. We should all assume Matt is tripping. Jeff is still clowning me on some that shit sounds like Pink Floyd. I think it's just nice." Such notes give a human touch to such cold electronic grooves.

Instrumental music isn't always an easy listen, especially when it's of this dense a nature--occasionally the songs feel like incomplete hip-hop numbers--but for the most part Chewing On Glass & Other Miracle Cures is nothing less than a fascinating, compelling listen. If, like me, you've never heard Sixtoo before, you'll probably be intrigued enough to want to hear more, because it's apparent that Sixtoo is one of today's better unknown electronica composers.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.sixtoo.net
Label Website: http://www.ninjatune.net

July 28, 2004

Interview: Flower Machine

Mellotrons are fun little toys, aren't they? When did you get your first, and is it required that any band that uses it must use a ‘Strawberry Fields Forever' riff in one of their songs?

Ah...if only we could afford to own them. As the band has only been working since august 2003, we can't yet afford such extravagancies. We borrow all sorts of gear when we're in the studio. For live shows, we use a vintage Rheem electric organ and a Korg synth to replicate the sounds. There's nothing like that signature Mellotron sound though - certainly required for SFF, not to mention the tracks we used it on. They cost thousands of dollars, and break down a lot unfortunately.

Sounds like your music has what we like to call a definite 'Sixties influence.' Confirm or deny?

Confirm. We are definitely students of that era. In fact, Jeff (our keyboardist) does a psych show on KXLU in Los Angeles on Saturday nights. He invited me to co-host one night, and I brought along rare Syd Barrett and early Kevin Ayers tracks, because those are my big favorites, along with Arthur Lee and Skip Spence.

Who is Sir Alfred Emerson Wensleydale?

Sir Al runs the Tea Cozy Mitten Company, which is based in Hazelmere, UK. Their involvement with us I think was a tax dodge, because British taxes are kind of high, and they thought investing in a pop group would confuse Inland Revenue. He's completely addicted to opium and walks around London wearing a top hat and a cape.

If you could pick the perfect atmosphere or setting to listen to your music, what would it be?

Easy--in a coffee shop in Amsterdam, with lots of plants and a skylight on a rainy day.

It also sounds like you're influenced by bands like Felt and Luna, but the one band I hear as possibly contemporary with you is the Clientele. Trying to out-mope Alasdair Maclean, then?

Actually, I've seen Alistair here in LA, though I only own one Clientele single. They're obviously an important group, though I can honestly say any parallels are accidental. I don't think of myself as being dour - in fact, I like to try to keep the vocals and the words sounding light and upbeat, though sometimes I come off sounding stoned for some reason.

You handle much of the performance duties yourself. Do you rule your studio with an iron fist?

That was just a function of the fact that I started doing the record as a solo when the call came in from Mike at Microindie Records to deliver a full-length CD, and the band only materialized around it slightly later at the finish. Actually, our very first official gig was the summer before the CD was released, supporting the Lucksmiths in Santa Barbara, CA. You get to see firsthand why everyone adores that group - they're the nicest people in the business, but they work much harder at it than we do of course.

I should think our next record will include performances from all the others, and certainly a song or two not written by me. I do know exactly what works for the Flower Machine, though I don't tend to be bossy or pushy about it. It's pretty organic, since we usually agree on everything we do anyway.

For some reason, from listening to your album, I get the feeling that you're most likely a record collector, especially of psych-rock. If this is the case, what's your favorite musical obscurity, and why?

That is exactly right - I own about 2,000 vinyl records, a lot of which is 60s stuff. Going through a bit of a Moby Grape phase at the moment, I’m listening to Moby Grape '69 and Truly Fine Citizen. I would say my favorite record of all time though is Syd Barrett's Barrett, from 1970. Everywhere I go, I start off looking for the record shops. I can recommend Subterranean Records in Greenwich Village, NY, and shopping at the Haight-Ashbury Amoeba is always a good way to spend an afternoon. Concerto in Amsterdam is a great shop too.

Is there anything you'd like to add about your music, music in general, or life in general?

In general I would say that music is like an artistic lottery, and it's fun listening to albums by other bands we know or have played shows with to see who's going to come up with the perfect masterpiece. Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle was that sort of thing to a lot of people, so like in the old days, it's still about trying to blow people's minds with sound, and expand the limits of what's possible on records. For those who care to try it, anyway.

July 26, 2004

LCD Soundsytem "Yeah"

There's a great deal of hype behind LCD Soundsystem, and every word of it is true, because they make AWESOME music. Though they've got an album looming in the not too distant future, earlier this year they released Yeah, a brilliant twelve-inch single featuring two mixes of "Yeah," titled the "Stupid Version" and the "Pretentious Mix." They are, of course, neither. That this single slipped through the cracks here (literally, as the label sent a CD version of it to the press, and this slipped behind my desk) at the mundane sounds office is my fault, but people, please, don't let that keep you from seeking out this record. The song is a throwback to the wonderful dancehall days of the 1980s, yet it sounds quite fresh and modern and not really retro at all. The "Stupid Version" contains the lyrics (with an addictive repetition of 'yeah yeah yeah' that will instantly win you over) and gets quite insane as it plays on, ending in a schitzophrenic cacophony of noise and beat by song's end. The "Pretentious Mix" is a mellowed-out instrumental version, quite sedate in its own way. LCD Soundsystem is a band that will soon be making big waves, I promise you. When the hype comes--and come it will--rest assured that somewhere someone got it RIGHT.

--Joseph Kyle

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

A Girl Called Eddy "A Girl Called Eddy"

Erin Moran--AKA A Girl Called Eddy--is stuck in the Seventies. Of course, it doesn't help that she shares a name with the actress who played Joni on Happy Days. Still, looking at the ingenious cover art--designed to resemble a faded LP record sleeve--complete with vinyl album outline wear on the cover and damaged corners--you realize that, in her own brilliant way, Moran is merely setting the aesthetic mood. A Girl Called Eddy--her proper debut album, following three years of frustrating silence since her Tears All Over Town debut EP, delivers much, much more than her auspicious yet quite promising debut.

A Girl Called Eddy is most definitely the creation of a heavily heavenly Seventies-minded mind, and no modern artist or band comes close to matching her pop vision. Unlike one or two other Seventies-minded big-band based bands who released records this year, A Girl Called Eddy's orchestral bombast is not compensation for weak lyrical content. Moran's words are painful, sad and symptomatic of a soul resigned to a lonely state, and she sings them with a strong, confident (if not a little bit depressed) voice, recalling the better moments of Karen Carpenter, "All By Myself"-era Eric Carmen and Olivia Newton-John. If you're of the age where you can remember that era, then you will certainly feel a tinge of nostalgia in Moran's muse. It would be hard not to think of those talents when you listen to "Tears All Over Town" or "Kathleen" or "Somebody Hurt You."

Moran and company (including Pulp's Richard Hawley) have mastered the subtle art of subtlety. Though she's accompanied by an orchestra, you're not overwhelmed by its presence. It's a stroke of brilliance that an artist with such a strong voice and backed by an orchestra can make a record that's completely bombastic yet never sounds anyting less than sedate. Only once--on the excellent "People Used To Dream About The Future"-- does A Girl Called Eddy lose this subtle feel, with Moran and her orchestra going all-out--and it sounds great! (I dare you to not to get washed away in those gorgeous, lush strings!) The only time the album breaks character is on the otherwise excellent "Life Thru The Same Lens," which bounces along with a jaunty, uptempo beat. Amongst the gloom of the rest of the record, it definitely feels out of place. The final song, "Golden," is a moving, powerful album closer that wouldn't sound out of place on George Harrison's masterpiece All Things Must Pass. This song is so over-the-top and powerful and moving, alone it's worth the price of admission.

While one shouldn't necessarily assume the atmosphere behind an artist's creation, it's quite obvious that A Girl Called Eddy is the end result of break-ups, rainy Thursday nights spent waiting for him to call, betrayals of the heart and weekends left feeling sad and lonely. While I wouldn't want Moran (or anyone) to suffer the fate of a lonely life, A Girl Called Eddy should serve as the balm for healing, hurting and wallowing in self-pity. This is a stunning debut album that bears repeated listens, and one that will leave you breathless and wanting more.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.agirlcallededdy.com
Label Website: http://www.anti.com

July 25, 2004

Model A "Transmission Lost"

The first moments of "The Wasted Line" on Model A's debut record, Transmission Lost had me thinking that I was about to face some heavy-duty metal. With an overwhelming laser-cannon firing sound effect that gives rise to a rumbling bassline, it was easy for me to assume that I was about to be knocked down by some massive heavy metal thunder. It's quite obvious that these guys have got some chops, and just from these first few seconds, it becomes painfully clear that the guys in Model A are about to pummel me.

The minute the vocals kick in, I realize that my assessment wasn't that far off. At the three minute mark, I realize that though I'm listening to metal, it's a metal that's infused with a great deal of Prog. Of course, this is due to the fact that the lead singer has a sweet, angelic falsetto that instantly reminds of Rush's Geddy Lee. The song is grand, sweeping and emotionally powerful, and after one listen, I'm spent. It's a most powerful seven minutes, and not one minute is wasted. But, see, there's a problem--that's just the first epic of the record. (All but two of these songs break the five minute mark.) The next song, "Chimera," is more of the same and clocks in at eight minutes, but unlike the first track, Model A ambles on with a calmer pulse and even sweeter singing. The rest of Transmission Lost follows this very basic formula of loud rock meets calming sheets of sound meets loud bursts of noise meets even softer bursts of singing.

What makes this enjoyable little record a little bit frustrating is that the band goes from formulaic to to mindblowing constantly, and just when I think I'm about to be bored with hearing something I've just heard a few times already and something terribly cliche, they break out with something new, something calming, something unexpected, and my ears perk up. Just when I think I'm about to write them off as doing the Rush thing, they slow it down and give something that's more poppy, and just when I think they've got a sweet tooth for pop, they turn around and dive further into the prog-rock groove, and then they turn around and give a blend that's all of these things and more--and when you reach "Telling" and "Le Berceau du Bonheur," they throw all of those styles away and go for a sound that's indebted to 4ad circa 1986!

Confusing? It is a little bit, yes, but I really don't mind. Though their search for a sound they can call their own might make for frustrating reviewing, that doesn't take away from the fact that Transmission Lost is a really beautiful record, one that's full of pretty music and powerful moments that are both quiet and loud, and that's all that matters, really, isn't it?

--Joseph Kyle

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

July 23, 2004

Boyjazz 'In The City Tonight"

You can't fool me, Mark Arm. I know you when I hear you, and every time I've listened to In The City Tonight, I hear you. It's so obvious, especially from the first note of "Potfinger." I know grunge isn't exactly the marketable quantity it once was, and considering how Mudhoney's name is kinda--well, you're a founding father, you know--I could understand why you would want to go incognito these days. That you've hired a young-looking guy and are going by the name Sexmouth now doesn't seem to be out of character for you, either--you've always been a bit of a clown. Besides, those pictures look fake, and come on, the birthdates listed for Sexmouth is 2053, so I think you're just joshing with us, man.

But the music--man, I gotta say, what you've done is so...FRESH! It's so boogie-woogie rock and rock, but yet it's got this futuristic rock feel to it. And yeah, it sounds a LOT like the 'honey, mister Mark. Especially that song "Gravity," man! That one blew me away--was this the seven-inch that Sub Pop didn't want us to hear? Was "Tuff Luv" an outtake from Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge? And what's with the newfound pop sweet-tooth on "No Doubt About It" and the rest of the record? That's what surprised me the most, man--but in a good way. You guys really did a good thing by coming back, even if it's in a different guise. I thought that last Mudhoney album was great, man, but In The City Tonight is like the best thing you've done since 1989!!

Ah well, welcome back, guys! My friend, she tried to tell me that you're not Mudhoney, but I know too many of her secrets, so I don't believe her. It's good to hear you guys sounding so fresh and so vital these days. Losing the grunge and going for fresh-sounding sounds? Best idea you've had since those Mudhoney football jerseys. I'd ask you when you're releasing a new record, but I like In The City Tonight, so this will do.

Joseph Kyle

PS. Where's Lukin?
PPS. Wanna hear a joke? Sure you do:
Q: What's going to keep Mark Arm housed in his middle age?
A: Hud Money.

Artist Website: http://www.boyjazz.com
Label Website: http://www.freneticrecords.com

Athlete "Vehicles & Animals"

The blokes who make up England's Athlete are a melodic lot. They've rightfully wowed the fickle British press, and their album was a deserving chart success. Though Vehicles & Animals was released last year, it's just now seeing a domestic release. It's a pity, because the pop pleasures found on the record. Because England's hype machine hasn't always translated into American success, it's not a real surprise that a young band like Athlete has to wait a year before being released--if they get an American release at all. It doesn't seem right that we are denied such a great band, but such is the nature of this music business we live in. (Personally, I blame bands like Sleeper, Ash, Supergrass and Gene--given much hype but ultimately failing to deliver on big-budget promises.)

Sadly, it's a Coldplay world, and Athlete has the potential of getting lost and lumped into the imitators bin. That's a shame, really, because Vehicles & Animals is a really lovely album, with engaging lyrics and the one thing that seems to be extinct: melody. Lead singer Joel Pott has a voice that's quite English yet most enjoyable; laidback and casual yet still quite literate. True, their style is a bit Britpop, but Athlete's sound never sinks to the point of being retro or mere imitation, but they don't really have much in common with Travis, Coldplay or Muse, because they're fitter, happier and well-adjusted with life. Nope you don't need no Prozac to listen to Athlete. It's not a real surprise that "Westside" and "You Got The Style" were successful singles; both songs have killer melodies that are tuneful and lush and simply hummable.

It's to Athlete's benefit that Vehicles & Animals is more than just a few singles with lesser material. From the gentle shuffle of "El Savador" and "Out of Nowhere" to the quiet and quite mellow "Beautiful" and "You Know," Athlete make smooth, thoughtful music that's perfect for both a sunny and cool clear-blue autumn morning or a rainy Thursday afternoon. If every song sounds familiar, it's because Athlete has a universal pop style that translates to simple aural enjoyment. Vehicles & Animals is a wonderful little debut record by a very special little band, and if this album's any indication, then they've got a great future ahead of them.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.athlete.mu
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com

July 21, 2004

Loud Clappers "At The Smash Party"

Gotta hand it to Loud Clappers; this East Coast band have a sound that instantly reminds me of the good old days of 'College Rock,' that pre-Alternative musical style that was so predominant back in the Eighties. They've got a solid rock and roll sensibility, yet aren't making straightforward rock. They're a bit mysterious, too, which places the focus straightly on the music, which I like, too. Their debut EP, the five-song At The Smash Party reminds me of downhome rock and roll made by college graduates, and/or a few great Ohio rock bands, most specifically, Guided by Voices, with a little bit of Death of Samantha and Cobra Verde thrown in for good measure, but they're not merely another lo-fi rock band. Nope, these guys have got some really great chops, as the tight guitars on the anthemic "Hiatus Coming" and the great "Digging for Sang." They also can give you some great early R.E.M/Athens-styled pop jangle, as heard on "Engine Driver." The only thing I'd work on would be the vocals, because the Bob Pollard thing just gets a bit heavy in places, but that's not something that will make you want to listen to something else. A good little debut, and I'm looking forward to hearing more by these guys.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Sluts of Trust "WE Are All Sluts of Trust"

Sluts of Trust--I'll admit it, that name kind of scared me off. I'm sorry, I know I'm not supposed to form value judgments of a band before I hear their record, but a name does form a first impression, and there's plenty of assumptions that can be made about this band. What kind of music should you expect from a band with a name like Sluts of Trust? Trashy heavy metal? Really bad techno? Crappy punk rock? Some other form of music that's probably really stupid?

Well, in a weird way, Sluts of Trust is a mixture of all of those, but they're all the better for it. This Scottish duo of John McFarlane and Anthony O'Donnell have made a record that's inspired by everything right about grunge and everything that's considered wrong in the Rock and Roll Rule Book. Much like the cabaret goth of Marc Almond and Foetus--and on songs like "Let's..." and the wonderful "Pirate Weekend," it's clear that both are obvious influences--Sluts of Trust aren't afraid of being over-the-top. We Are All Sluts of Trust is a record that's so chaotic, so shambly, so loose, it seems on the verge of falling apart at any second, but it never does, and the pleasure of this record comes from the anticpation that the band's going to fail miserably. The live feel of much of the record doesn't help clear things up, either; I bet many of these sloppy ideas translate quite nicely on the stage.

It's fascinating listening to Sluts of Trust tread ever-so close to falling apart. Don't ask me to repeat the lyrics, because they're either too lewd or too unintelligble, but what they lack in lyrical content, they make up for in attitude. From the sloppy guitar soloing on "Peace O'You" to the yelling of "Meanwhile in Rocksville" to the brooding sad-eyed "Dominoes," Sluts of Trust is an onslaught of musical ideas, attitude and noise; sure, you might not understand what it is they're getting at, but you'll sure as hell know how they're gonna get there. Bet these guys are a real down and dirty live act. Still, We Are All Sluts of Trust is never less than an interesting listen.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.slutsoftrust.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.chemikal.co.uk

July 19, 2004

Various Artists "Old Enough to Know Better"

Happy Birthday!

To celebrate their fifteen years in the business of music, the well-regarded Merge Records decided to give YOU the gift, and that's Old Enough to Know Better, a sprawling three-disc 'best of.' Though it's not being portrayed as such, this box set (yes, three discs IS a box set) is similar in nature to Dischord's box set--two discs from many of the label's releases, and a third disc of rare and unreleased materials. Unlike the Dischord set, there's no information or history or anything of that nature to be found here--it's up to you to figure out where these great songs can be found.

I'm glad that they didn't make Old Enough To Know Better into a historical document, though, because such a stuffy, serious attitude isn't rock and roll, and it would get in the way of one quite obvious fact: Merge is one of the best indie rock labels out there. I mean, really, people, that's no boast; what else can you call a small label that has delivered one of the truly classic albums of the 1990s from a band whose music is utterly unclassifiable,(In The Aeroplane Over The Sea), who else has turned a pretty straightforward indie-rock band from post-major label into the American success story, yet at the same can release music that's beyond classification (Pram, Polvo) to jazz (Spaceheads, Ganger), country (Paul Burch, Richard Buckner, Lambchop), pop (Magnetic Fields, Ladybug Transistor, The Clientele) and noisy, in-your-face punk rock and noise (Buzzcocks, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead)--and all without losing money because it's too diverse?

Yeah, this record's amazing. There's too many goodies here to go into any specific details, but I will say this--even if you own every song on the first two discs, the third disc is packed with all sorts of rarities. Whether they intended to or not, several of the songs on this disc are rather inspired covers. The Clientele offer up a great cover of a lost Jimmy Webb classic, "Where The Universes Are," new signing Richard Buckner gives us a take on Texas troubador Terry Allen's "Dogwood," The Essex Green cover Doug Sahm's "Mendocino," Spoon give us a cover of Yo La Tengo's "Decora" and, in a most ironic twist, Angels of Epistomology give us a cover of labelmate Buzzcock's classic "Fiction Romance." The other tracks are all great, especially Destroyer's live recording of "Streethawk II," and Superchunk show that they still haven't learned to do wrong with their "Freaks in Charge."

So happy birthday, Merge Records! You've certainly had a great fifteen years--here's to fifteen more! And, as a special bonus, the proceeds of this record go to Future Of Music Coalition, a really great organization. This is a wonderful little set that you should own, like, NOW!!

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.mergerecords.com
Future of Music: http://www.futureofmusic.org

July 17, 2004

Interview: The Reverse

How did The Reverse come about?

To begin with it was just Jason & I, writing songs and playing. Sam initially became involved as a sound engineer. He was studying a sound engineering course and needed a band to record for his project so Jason & I became involved in the hope of getting some free studio time. Soon after this we were offered some free studio time but needed an engineer, so Sam came down. One night we wrote "Blood On The Tape Machine" together and it wasn't long before Sam was part of the band.
Joe I've known all my life. I'd asked him a few times if he'd be interested in joining as we needed a bass player. He declined saying he'd sold his bass and stopped playing. We sent him a C.D. anyway as he was running a fanzine back then. He called me saying he loved the C.D. and asked if we were still looking for a bass player. We were, so he joined.

I think you’re being a bit deceptive—your music seems so bleak on the surface, but at the end of the day, it’s actually quite positive and hopeful in a depressing kind of way. Do you see the Reverse as the antithesis of Thom Yorke and all those other boringly sad post-Britpop poster boys?

I definitely agree that our music is intended to be positive. I often find music that has a melancholic or sad feel to it is actually filled with the most humanity and soul. Personally I find this expression of the human condition uplifting rather than depressing. You could say some of our music is intended as a positive reaction to difficult situations. There's also a lot of humour in our music that is often overlooked.

I have this suspicion that you fellows are a great live band. How would you rate yourself as a performing act?

We're very proud of our live shows. I think it's when we play live that people really get to see what the band is about. It's authentically us, all playing together as we do in our rehearsal room. As much as I love the creativity of the recording process, essentially all recordings are an allusion of a kind so when we play live you see us as we truly are, mistakes and all. This is exactly what I think makes live shows so exciting.

For a youngish band, your sound is strong and polished. Have record labels come knocking on your door yet? Do you have any interest in taking it ‘to the next level,’ as it were?

Nathan: We've had interest from a couple of well known labels but unfortunately are no closer to signing to any of them. We're putting out some of our early recordings through a great little label called Kabuki Kore later on this year and are hoping to put out a 7" on our own label. We're determined to take it to the next level wherever that is!

The Reverse’s opinion of America: to be conquered or ignored?

Nathan: Certainly not to be ignored but by the same token we don't see success in America as the ultimate seal of approval which I think many bands do. People have said they think our music would translate pretty well to an American audience and we've had some encouraging reviews from a couple of fanzines out there, however we have no plans to head out there just yet.

What do you consider The Reverse’s main goal as a band?

Writing and recording increasingly better songs and becoming a better live band. Basically becoming as good as we can, there is still a lot more we can do.

So what is forthcoming for the Reverse? A new album? More mp3’s on your website? A trail of broken-hearted art-school girls and photographer boys?

We're currently writing and recording some new songs. With some of our new ideas we're at the early and very exciting stage where we're still not sure exactly how they're going to turn out. I love that part. Some songs are more fully developed and our intention now is to try and capture a good recording of them. There may well be some more MP3's on the website soon, keep an eye out! The broken-hearted art school girls and photographer boys are always welcome.

Live Report: Mclusky & Oceansize, The Horseshoe, Toronto, June 17, 2004

I missed Mclusky on their last Toronto visit because I really hadn’t seen the fuss at that point. The music seemed a bit, well, pointless, but suffice to say I didn’t really get it. Recent reevaluation suggested that I was way off base, and their show this past Thursday confirmed I had missed the point entirely.

Not an avid show-goer, I arrived at the Horseshoe in time to miss nearly all of openers Oceansize’s set. The final song by this shuddering Manchester noise machine was all pedals and shaking bones. I mean, the sheer size of their sound, oh dear, the term ‘loud’ hardly approaches this group’s description. They have been heavily touted by the British press of late, and this praise is largely merited. Mogwai and Radiohead psychedelia course through their triple Marshalls and you simply have to stand back and fear Oceansize. Honestly- like, you wouldn’t be able to hear your screams of pain otherwise.

The dust literally had no time to settle before Mclusky arrived on stage. Convinced more people were into the group, I was surprised at the show’s modest turnout. This judgment, it would seem, was flawed as the venue soon filled with fans who knew all the hits and the good shouty bits.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the group live, but after one song it was clear that guitarist/singer Andy Falkous is the most acerbic, biting frontman I have witnessed in some time. Bassist John Chapple’s blood stained pickguard indicates that a more likely use for this instrument in the past has been his defense from Falkous’ wit. From a glacial interview in one Toronto weekly earlier in the day to an avid sentencing of two of the bar’s misplaced patrons as ‘steelworkers’ after requests for more ‘metal,’ this man could reduce a Gallagher brother to a tearful, self-soiled mess; and I’d pay to see it, mostly because he’d scare me into it. His guitar squelched and squealed, churning out Mclusky’s ominous overdrive and piloting the band through material from 2002’s ‘Mclusky Do Dallas’ and their recent release, ‘The Difference Between Me and You is That I’m Not on Fire.’

Hearing these songs live just seriously makes you want to push people around; a luxury you are readily afforded at a Mclusky show. If you were a fan, they played every song you wanted to hear; urgently, as though their lives depended on it. And this is why you love Mclusky. Virtuosos by no means, their appeal is a palpable urgency driven lyrically by fear and sarcastic skepticism. These are The Fall but tighter and, well, better. And when you see Mclusky live you are convinced somehow. Your neck is sore; there’s blood on your shirt; your legs and throat are dead from the jumps and the shouts.

My only complaint was that the show dragged on toward the end. Mclusky have a specific and largely unvaried sound, and a 40 minute record is the perfect dosage. Unfortunately, much more than that and the band start to sound repetitive; after an hour or so things just dragged on a bit. I was similarly tentative at Andy Falkous’ half hearted attempt at a SY-style noise-up at the end of the set. John Chapple had long left the stage while his guitarist remained, in a post-rock lab of pedals and feedback, twisting knobs and sliding instruments about on the floor to uncertain effect.

After the show, Chapple seemed disappointed with his band’s performance, insistent upon its lackluster delivery. There were admittedly some technical problems, but the band managed a convincing set regardless. You can tell Andy Falkous believes in this music, and for all his slack-rock posturing it is clear that he wants you to as well. The Mclusky sound is not one of universal appeal, but it certainly merits closer attention paid. There’s an insight here that goes beyond sarcasm and fuzzy bass; these are kids our age, saying and doing what kids our age think and feel. And I suppose there’s value in that. I also get the sense that Mclusky kind of just want you to get drunk and rip things apart. And you have to think there’s value in that as well.

--Allan Lewis

July 16, 2004

Bobby Bare Jr's Young Criminal Starvation League "From the End of Your Leash"

I've made no secret that I love Bobby Bare, Jr. His two solo records, Young Criminals Starvation League and OK I'm Sorry are fun, funny records that never negate muscial brilliance for a sense of humor. I named Young Criminals Starvation League the best record of 2002, and I still stand by that proclamation. I've worn the hell out of that record, and I'm proud of it, too. Baby Bare is a funny man, and he writes some of the funniest lyrics ever, but his talents are no joke. Considering his father--and close family friend Shel Silverstein--were his songwriting teachers, it's really no surprise that Bare can write a great song.

From The End Of Your Leash kicks off with the sexy but brief "Strange Bird," with a sexy, intoxicating groove reminiscent of Morphine, which then launches into the even sexier murder ballad "Valentine." Where Young Criminals Starvation League was a wonderful mix of ballads and rockers, but on this record Bare and company never really set the tempo any faster than those two songs, and that's perfectly okay with me. For this jaunt, he's employed most of the massive country orchestra Lambchop as his backing band, and it's an inspired choice, as Bare's sense of humor and style is not unlike that of lead 'chop Kurt Wagner. Thus,From The End Of Your Leash is a wonderful wash of pedal steel, horns and percussion, and it gives his simple songs of love and woe a greater depth than his previous work. Though the sheer size of his band occasionally makes the album feel a bit somber, it doesn't do anything to detract from Bare's sense of humor.

Sense of humor? Oh, man, he's got it in spades, though you might miss it on first listen, because the music can be quite melancholy. "Visit Me In Music City" is one of the funniest commentaries ever written about Memphis (cowritten with Popa Bare, one wonders if daddy is lashing out through his boy), describing it in absurd manner that reveals itself as nothing but truth. On songs like "Borrow Your Girl," "Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)" and "Your Favorite Hat," he's fashioned his melancholy and failure into some poignantly funny and rather touching songs. Though every song is a real winner, the best of the lot is the funny yet ultimately moving "Your Adorable Beast." On the surface, it's written from the perspective of a dog to its owner, but careful listening reveals that Bare's writing to his love, the woman who pulled him up out of the gutter, cleaned him up and takes care of him. It's a moving love song, and best of all it's not sappy or cheesy in the least.

Don't worry that From The End Of Your Leash may not be as instantly immediate as his last two records. It's obvious that the baby Bare is certainly one of today's most engaging and interesting country songwriters. If he keeps it up, he's going to be in the same league as the greats, men like Roger Miller, Shel Silverstein, Charlie Rich and Bobby Bare. From The End Of Your Leash proves that Bare's maturation and growth as an artist cannot be denied, but I know one thing's for certain: I'm gonna play the hell out of this record. One of the best records of 2004? Pretty damn likely.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.bobbybarejr.com
Label Website: http://www.bloodshotrecords.com

July 15, 2004

Edith Frost "Demos"

Gotta give the internet credit for allowing artists the ability to release whatever it is they want to. I’m always amazed at some of the crap that gets released, and I always wonder why these people don’t save their money and just put their music up for free online, because nobody’s going to buy it. Then, of course, Edith Frost comes along and posts an entire album that’s as good as her officially released records, and I get even more frustrated. Demos is simply that—a collection of demos from her three excellent albums, as well as a few extra goodies. So while this free internet only album isn’t exactly new, it’s certainly a welcome breaking of the Edith Frost drought.

What’s wonderful about Edith Frost’s music is its utter simplicity. While she’s had the help of some really talented people (Sean O’Hagan, Jim O’Rourke, Royal Trux, Archer Prewitt), Frost’s haunting voice and simple guitar work has always been the main attraction. It’s no surprise that Drag City signed her based upon her demos, because Frost and a guitar is all you need for pure musical perfection. Her debut, Calling over Time, was an impressive collection of sad folk songs that took many by surprise—myself included. It was stark and raw, due in part to the fact that it wasn’t that different than a demo tape, even though it did feature the production of some of the best producers in Chicago.

Because her debut album was practically a demo, the majority of songs found on Demos are from her later albums, with her most recent album, Wonder Wonder, providing the majority of the songs found here. The only time Frost has ever really faltered is when she escapes from the simple formula that makes listening to her music so rewarding; Telescopic found her getting lost beneath a psych-rock mix and Wonder, Wonder was a more upbeat affair, but neither of them contained the special magic of her debut, Calling Over Time. Demos frees her songs from the productions which stifled them at the time, allowing them to flutter away into the big blue Texas sky. It’s amazing to hear “Telescopic” and “On Hold” in such a simple, stripped-down arrangement, making them a lot more moving and emotionally touching than the finished versions. “Wonder Wonder” and “Cars and Parties” were two songs that were full band productions, and Demos makes these already great songs even better. The final two songs are Country covers, “I Get The Craziest Feeling” by Floyd Tillman and “Look What Thoughts Will Do” by Lefty Frizzell, and are quite lovely.

If you’ve never heard Edith Frost before, shame on you—now go download Demos! In fact, I recommend this to new listeners, because it’s pure, prime Edith Frost—raw, unmixed, and simple. Demos is as close to a greatest hits record as you’ll be able to get, and it will certainly satiate you between now and Edith Frost’s new record (whenever that will be).

--Joseph Kyle

Available At: http://www.comfortstand.com/catalog/027/index.html
Artist Website: http://www.edithfrost.com

Jon Chinn "I CAn't believe You live like that"

Ohio = good, conservative rock.

I don't know what it is about the anthropological layout of America, but it seems as if Ohio produces great rock music. From great crunchy rock of Guided By Voices and the Breeders to classic punk of New Bomb Turks and Rocket From the Tombs to weird stuff like Devo and Brainiac, seems you can find it all in Ohio. I have yet to figure out why this is, but I've discovered that I have higher expectations from bands that come from Ohio.

Jon Chinn is a veteran of the Ohio scene, having performed in such bands as Pretty Mighty Mighty, Miranda Sound and The Stepford Five. With I Can't Believe You Live Like That marks his solo debut, and, as expected, it's a pretty traditional sounding rock record. Don't let the 'traditional' part throw you, though, because Chinn's music is pretty solid. For the most part, Chinn's songs are acoustic-based; while they're not ballads, they're softer, gentler rock music, often accented and highlighted with your traditional backing band lineup.

Chinn sings with a soft, gentle croon; one that's both dreamy and sleepy, which works well with his lovelorn lyrics. True, the influence of Bob Pollard hangs over Chinn--especially on great songs like "Record Sets," "Last Night" and "Lie To Me," but Chinn's not guilty of trying to be GBV. He's writing modern day love songs for the indie-rock impaired, and, personally, I'm fond of it. Songs like "All About" and "Stop Being So Dramatic" and the title track would all be wonderful songs to put on mixtapes for a girl or boy you wanted to impress or wanted to make feel better after a bad breakup. At times, I'm reminded of the softer moments of Buffalo Tom, and this is a good thing.

I Can't Believe You Live Like That is indeed a good thing. Short, to the point, concise soft indie-rock. Can't argue with that. This is a lovely, subtle record by a great, down-to-earth kind of guy. Chinn is about as Ohio as you can get, and this record only solidifies my feelings for Ohio rock. Wouldn't be surprised to find this record playing in coffeehouses in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland; Chinn mixes quite well with the smell of coffee.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jonchinn.com
Label Website: http://www.reverbose.com

July 14, 2004

Joan as Police Woman "Joan as Police Woman"

It's been a long time coming, but Joan Wasser has finally released a solo record, and it's as good as you would expect. In case you're not familiar with her, Wasser was a member of the underrated Dambuilders, and she also played in post-Grifters project Those Bastard Souls as well as Black Beetle, a promising group formed with members of boyfriend Jeff Buckley's band. They never did get around to releasing their debut album, though they were a quite popular live band and their sole release was a really promising, excellent song on Arena Rock's classic This is New York compilation.

Joan As Police Woman, a five-song salvo, is a great debut for this long-appreciated talent, and it highlights what makes Wasser so special: that voice. Wasser has a really strong singing voice that can cover high and low ranges quite nicely; she can take it down low and get down and dirty, as heard on "Prime Mover" and "How Come You're So Solid Gold?," but she can also handle the high ranges, as heard on "Game of Life" and the Buckleyesque "Stagger Into The Light." While all of these songs have a gritty, indie-rock feel to them, you cannot deny the soul and blues elements that run through every track.

It's been too long coming, with too many little hints of what Wasser can do, and Joan As Police Woman is a great little debut record from a talent who promises greatness no matter what she may choose to do. Though at five songs, it's painfully, criminally short, it's still a great little record. Hopefully a full length won't be too long in coming.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Struction "Struction"

New York trio Struction’s latest EP is a textbook case of what happens when talented musicians try to do too much at once. Before the first 10 seconds of opener “Surgical Instrument” pass, the band’s weaknesses are made abundantly clear. The drummer tries to play more fills than the tempo will allow. Although the band foregoes the use of bass guitar, the axe work of David Podrid and Jaime Meira Sonin is too busy to compensate for the lack of low end. It doesn’t help matters that Podrid and Sonin are often playing in different keys simultaneously, which makes everything sound even more chaotic without a bass line to tie everything together. The duo’s vocals are just as cluttered as their guitar playing; they often shout different lyrics simultaneously, an effect that renders both voices unintelligible. The cumulative effect of all of this disorganization sounds a bit like Heros Severum sped up to 45 RPM with the treble turned up…which isn’t a good thing.

What makes this even more frustrating is that when even one of
Struction’s members decides to calm down a bit, the resulting tightness ironically produces greater intensity. In other words, Struction are more fearsome when they’re NOT trying to fire on all cylinders. The jumbled verses on many of this EP’s songs give way to strong choruses that soar because of Sonin’s crisp alto. When she’s not mumbling, screaming or rapping, she actually sounds great! The only song that works from beginning to end is “Untitled,” and that’s mainly because instead of shouting and strumming recklessly, Podrid and Sonin actually take turns on the microphone and engage in some nice stop/start guitar interplay.

Unfortunately, by the time got to the sloppy blast beats and gratuitous screeching of “Dave’s Other Crazy,” I got frustrated with all the wasted potential. I wanted to shake some sense into the band and shout, “GET A BASSIST ALREADY AND STOP SHOUTING ALL THE DAMN TIME!!!” Maybe Struction should do some yoga or pilates before their next trip to the studio to release all of their built-up anger, because said anger is wreaking utter havoc on their music.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.structionnoise.com/
Label Website: http://www.nfilabel.com/

July 13, 2004

David Cross "It's Not Funny"

Thirty-two short things about David Cross's It's Not Funny

David Cross is a funny man.
David Cross is a man I don't always agree with.
David Cross's routines can be hilarious.
David Cross knows no shame.
David Cross is oft compared to Bill Hicks
David Cross occasionally sounds like Bill Hicks.
David Cross makes light of 9/11.
David Cross's 9/11 jokes would have been funnier two years ago.
David Cross gives his sketches titles that do not reflect their content.
David Cross is great on Arrested Development.
David Cross's bit on the wealthy in America still makes me laugh.
David Cross is probably not going to vote Republican this year.
David Cross is probably going to vote this year.
David Cross probably doesn't vote in any other elections.
David Cross's sketches about George Bush will be dated in a few years.
David Cross should avoid this or else he'll be like Vaughn Meader.
David Cross is right on about Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton.
David Cross does make me laugh, even when I know he's wrong.
David Cross releases his records on Sub Pop, but his records are nowhere near as funny as Sebadoh.
David Cross is almost as funny as Jason Loewenstein, though.
David Cross could probably stand to be brought down a peg.
David Cross sure is self-righteous for such a wealthy and successful actor/comedian.
David Cross probably wants you to think he's 'working class.'
David Cross sure does swear a lot.
David Cross sure does not like Grady Little.
David Cross actually makes some really salient points.
David Cross is occasionally off the mark.
David Cross does not care what anyone thinks.
David Cross has released a frustratingly funny record.
David Cross makes me agree with the statement "I do not agree with what you say, but I will die defending your right to say it."
David Cross is probably not going to read this review.

--David Cross's It's Not Funny was reviewed by Joseph Kyle

Yakuzi "Yakuzi"

Spain's Yakuzi is a bit of a mystery. This group's self-titled EP is a quiet, moody affair. From the cover art, you'd probably be quick to assume that theirs is a progressive indie-rock sound, not unlike Godspeed! You Black Emperor or Sigur Ros or anything on Constellation--and you'd be right. Opening song "Vitto" starts with a distant drone, a moody piano and Spanish guitar--real soothing in a disturbing kind of way--and then it gets weird, with schizophrenic guitars, vocals that are distorted (you won't recognize it as a human voice unless you listen rather hard) and, by song's end, an opera singer.

Yakuzi uses that same formula for the entirety of Yakuzi, and it sounds amazing. On first listen, you'd probably assume that they are an instrumental band, but you can't say that, because there are vocals. Sure, they're often distorted (on "Aldapa Gora"), or they're spoken ("Ecstatic Electricity") or they're so wispy that you won't notice them ("Cherigan's Revenge"), but they're there. The real winner of the record, though, is their amazing, nine-minute ambient-rock cover of My Bloody Valentine's "Sometimes." You won't recognize it; the guitars have been replaced with twinkling keyboards and the waves of guitar genius have been replaced with gentle synthesizers, and the singing is simply gorgeous in an understated manner. To say it's the best cover I've ever heard of My Bloody Valentine is a major understatement; that they've managed to turn a classic My Bloody Valentine song into the greatest song the Orb never did only highlights Yakuzi's brilliance.

Yakuzi is a great EP, period. I'm curious to see where they'll go from here, because the fruits of this record are really, really sweet. Yakuzi is not beautiful, it is beauty. Seek them out immediately, even if you don't like ambient-rock.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.pausemusic.net

July 12, 2004

The Dirty Projectors "Slaves' Graves & Ballads"

Connecticut weirdo Dave Longstreth is one talented and prolific man. Last year’s solo debut under the Dirty Projectors moniker, The Glad Fact, perfected its fusion of Captain Beefheart’s chaos-theory blues-rock and Tiny Tim’s tiki-lounge crooning so well that it managed to make my Top Twenty list in spite of its hideous frontal-nudity album cover. Longstreth’s performance at this year’s South by Southwest was another curveball. It consisted mainly of him gyrating wildly around a laptop as he sung songs from a yet-to-be released “glitch opera.” Most of the people in attendance were there to hear Glad Fact songs but, although he did perform some, he was three albums ahead of the audience and had clearly moved on. After languishing for many months in developmental limbo, Longstreth’s third album in two years, Slaves’ Graves and Ballads, is finally here. The fact that it’s such a huge step forward from even The Glad Fact only makes me wonder how much farther out his “glitch opera” will sound once it is released, and how many more albums of even weirder stuff he’ll make until then! Slaves’ Graves and Ballads may already be old news to Dave, but everyone ELSE is going to have their minds blown.

This isn’t as much of an album as it is a compilation of two separate EPs. The first half of the album, Slaves’ Graves, was recorded with a 10-piece orchestra that Dave founded and conducted himself. However, don’t even think that this is some Polyphonic Left Banke stuff you’re dealing with. The arrangements are sophisticated enough to transcend the concept of rock entirely, and the printed lyric sheet reads like a six-stanza poem by a 19th-century English romantic. Opening track “Somberly, Kimberly” is a spoken-word piece about how decay can be found in the most youthful of faces, and calm can be found in the noisiest of places. On this song, a childlike, twinkling marimba is juxtaposed with booming tom-toms that sound like God Himself stomping mud holes into the Earth.

From that point, Slaves’ Graves launches into a series of songs filled with transitions too abrupt to be the result of anything but painstaking rehearsals or precise studio edits. “(Throw On) the Hazard Lights” shifts from a Bartok-meets-ragtime intro to solo voice and acoustic guitar, climaxing with an orchestral frenzy that is run through horrible over-modulation, producing in the listener the same sort of sensory overload
that comes from…well, having hazard lights being thrown on in your
face. Upon first listening to this song, this site’s editor thought the distorted coda was a pressing error. However, “Hazard Lights” is reprised at the end of Slaves’ Graves, with its coda played note-for-note without the distortion, proving once and for all that Dave truly knows what he’s doing. Through it all, his voice wanders through outlandish intervals and multi-tracked harmonies with just as much aplomb as the orchestra that backs him up. Lyrically, the songs call for a return to nature with a poetic flair that would make William Wordsworth proud. “Like aerospace
umbilical cords,” Dave sings, “we will consume the universe” (“Grandfather’s Hanging”). On “Hanging” and “On the Beach,“ the sun is portrayed as an unyielding force that exposes the flaws in all manmade creations.

The album’s second half, Ballads, is a return to the acoustic
format of the Glad Fact, but with a noticeable increase in catchiness and compositional skill. “Unmoved” echoes the first half’s sentiments regarding the unchanging course of nature, but otherwise, the subject matter on Ballads is a bit more earthbound. “Because Your Light Is Turning Green” is an admonition for those who have gotten ahead in life to reach out and help those who have fallen behind, and it’s written and performed with
the same plainspoken, folksy tenderness that informs the Beatles’
Rubber Soul. “Obscure Wisdom” is Dave’s brief attempt to convince a girl to spend the night with him instead of going back to her home in Manhattan. Most of the other Ballads are mantra-like ruminations on sadness (“This Weather”) and emotional disconnect (“Since I Opened”). Even though these songs are carried out with little more that Dave’s voice and guitar, they are just as unhinged and engaging as the songs on Slaves’ Graves.

The stripped-down format of Ballads forces the listener to
reckon with Dave’s voice, which never fails to hit at least one terribly sour note per song, but also never fails to pull off at least one melodic run per song that is too complicated to sound accidental, even when coming from a voice as untrained as his. Regardless of which side of the album you listen to, you’ll be faced with some of the most creative and challenging music released so far this year. Longstreth’s imagination is so boundless, his songwriting skills so uncontestable, that after listening to Slaves’ Graves and Ballads, you’ll feel as if he’s truly capable of anything he sets his mind to.

All I know is that Phil Elvrum (of the Microphones) had better watch
his back, because he is about to get seriously 0wn3d

--Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.westernvinyl.com
Artist Website: http://www.statesrightsrecords.com/thedirtyprojectors

Interview: Faris Noruallah

How did you get started in music? What was your first musical memory, and when did you realize that composing music was something you could do and wanted to do?

I started playing music at the age of 13 with my oldest brother, Salim. I started playing the drums to his guitar. My first musical memory is lying on the floor with my brother taping songs off of the radio. I didn't even think about writing songs until I was 29. Up until then I'd always been content to play Salims songs. At the time I took up writing, it was just something I needed to do, and not at all a "planned" move.

One thing I've noticed about the songs on Problematico is that they have an orchestral feel, in the sense that they seem to cry out for a more symphonic arrangement. Do you hear larger arrangements for your songs? Would you like to work with an orchestra?

I'll post one of my "Casio Classics" for you on my website! I work with limitations because I record at home on a 16 track. I'd love to have the budget to not be so "budget" at times, but there are other things that you gain in that trade-off.

How do you write a song? Do you keep a tape recorder for middle-of-the-night flashes of songwriting inspiration?

My songs are almost all and always recorded spontaneously. They are usually committed to tape within minutes to an hour of being written and afterwards forgotten. Since 100% of my recording is done in my home it enables 100% "freshness." My only recorder is "The Recorder!"

You released two records last year-what are your plans for this year? Any new records coming out?

Yes, there is a vinyl 45 coming out soon on Apartment Records, and there is going to be an exciting rerelease of The Nourallah Brothers first album including a whole new bonus album sometime this fall. Currently I'm working with Salim on a official second Nourallah Brothers album tentatively titled "Constellation."

When it comes down to it, which one of your songs do you consider your favorite or best, and why?

This one’s tough! I have a lot of favorites off all the records I've done, so it's hard to narrow down to one Supreme Favorite or Proud Moment! Milestones for me would be “Christmas Time” off Nourallah Brothers’ debut (first recorded song), The Road off of I Love Faris (perhaps the best example of me and a piano) and off Problematico it would be a toss-up between “A Day to Remember” and “Problematico”. “A Day to Remember” kicked off those sessions so is a favorite, but I think I might like “Problematico” the best. I need more time/distance to asses the last record!

You're known as quite prolific. When you write, do you have a daily writing routine, where you think, 'I'm going to write a song a day?'

No, no routine at all. I just don't do much of anything else besides music. I'm usually either thinking about it or playing it.

Finally, what do you think is music's greatest power? Do you ever comprehend the magic that is music?

Music has many powers/facets. It can be as deep as "dig this political thought" or as simple as "dance to this," and everything in between. All is valid. Each person is going to draw something different from music. That being said, I would be hard pressed to name music’s one great power, except on a purely personal level. For me, it would be to find the place where I feel most comfortable and in control, where I can say anything to anyone and be anything.

July 06, 2004

The Polyphonic Spree "Together We're Heavy"

It took them three years, but the Polyphonic Spree have finally released their first "proper" album, and once again I find myself at a weird crossroads in terms of writing a review to describe their record. If I don't restrain myself, I could easily go into a two-thousand word rant, and that just wouldn't be interesting to anybody but me. I've been tempted to make my review the one line summation of "this album will blow your mind; words fail, you simply must hear it to appreciate it," but that would be lazy, and I'm working hard to not be so lazy these days. I could get lost in describing the technical aspects of the recording, but I'll admit I hate technical reviews, unless they're in a technical-minded magazine like Tape Op. There's so many obvious things going on here, too, that any in-depth analysis makes me feel like I'm preaching to the choir.

Believe me, this hasn't been an easy review for me to write. I received Together We're Heavy over a month ago, and I blame it for my website's on-again/off-again publishing schedule. I had no inkling that I'd get the record so soon, and when I opened up the nondescript envelope it came in, I felt like I'd just been given manna from heaven. I wanted to tell the world about this record immediately, but I knew I could not, because it wouldn't be right to talk about something they couldn't hear. On the ride home that morning, I found myself driving slower to get home, because I didn't want to miss out on anything. Do you know how difficult it is to drive a car when you're fighting the overwhelming desire to throw your hands up in the air and wave 'em all about in joyous tribute to the music you're listening to? You'll never fully understand how hard it was for me to fight the urge to listen to it all of the time. For the first week, I think I listend to Together We're Heavy at least two times a day. I eventually imposed a Together We're Heavy moratorium, simply because I had other records I had to listen to and review.

On many levels, before I even heard it, I knew what I was going to get. The beauty and majesty of Together We're Heavy is exactly as you'd expect. Is it loud? You bet. Is it joyous? Of course. Is it over the top? Totally. It's all too much, really, but all of the excess and the pomp and circumstance is part of the Polyphonic Spree package, so there's nothing surprising there. Together We're Heavy is so overblown and overcooked that it actually works. What could easily be the record's downfall--and at various points I did think that it was all too much, actually--turns out to be their saving grace. This is prog-pop, plain and simple. If DeLaughter's previous band Tripping Daisy was an alt-rock version of Buggles, then Polyphonic Spree is clearly this generation's Yes. He's got a sweet tooth for all things grand and beautiful and majestic, and I can't fault him for that.

For all of the beauty, Together We're Heavy is not a particularly easy listen. Though it clocks in at just under an hour, it's an album that you cannot fully appreciate piecemeal--you've gotta take it all in at once a few times before you can really enjoy its individual aspects. I've opted not to discuss individual songs, because I want you to listen to the whole album from start to finish, because if you don't, it's quite possible that you won't get it. This is a journey through life, and if you start your life journey in the middle, you won't appreciate the lesson. If you consider the songs as individual entities, the songs lose their power. Together, the album is extremely heavy; individually, the album loses its strength, and you'll soon discover that this record's actually quite brief. Throw in the fact that several of these songs are of epic length--song lengths of five to nearly ten minutes is the rule for most of the album--and you soon discover that this is not a record that gives itself to easy listening. You've gotta invest your mind and your attention--nothing new, as such was true of Tripping Daisy's Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb--and when you do, it will plant sweet prickly pears of pop pleasure in your little mind.

But let's put this quibble aside, shall we? Such things make it sound as if the band's a one-trick pony, and that there's not much that can be done outside of the basic idea of "choir--orchestra--pop song mentality" that constitutes the Polyphonic Spree. There are plenty of treats to be found here, and while I won't give them away (why deny you the pleasure of finding them?) I will say this: I'm a big fan of the harp and an even bigger fan of the pedal steel guitar, both of which are quite prevalent throughout the record. If you heard their cover of "Wig in A Box" from last year's benefit record Wig In A Box, then you'll have a deep appreciation of what Together We're Heavy sounds like.

To be honest, Together We're Heavy is the most unsurprising album of the year. It sounds exactly like you'd expect.If you've seen them live at any point in the last year and a half, most likely you'll have heard most of the record. Even if they didn't play half of these songs, you'd still already appreciate and know what they're doing, especially as the overwhelming themes of positivity and life-affirmation carry over from their debut and their live show, and songs like "Suitcase Calling" and "2000 Places" and "When The Fool Becomes a King" since before their first album had real artwork or any distribution outside of their little record store. You can't really fault the band for that; the logistics and business end tied them up, and that an album with these songs are finally seeing the light of day after so many years was probably much more frustrating for them as it was for us. Here's hoping that they won't take their time in giving the world a new record. (And, as the album's so utterly unsurprising, it's no surprise that it's easily one of the best albums of the year.)

This album will blow your mind. Words fail; you simply must hear it.

(Gee, maybe I shoulda said that all along.)

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thepolyphonicspree.com
Label Website: http://www.goodrecordsrecordings.com

July 02, 2004

Decemberists "The Tain"

Okay, now, what we've got here is one song in five parts. It's a conceptual piece, something to do with war. Or is it about greed? I'm not sure, really. The theme doesn't seem particularly strong--apparently, 2004 is the year of the vaguely-worded concept albums--but don't let that distract you from the bigger picture--and that's that this is one impressive little jewel. Colin Meloy and his band of merry Decemberists have impressed a lot of people over the last year, and though The Tain is the first experience this writer has had with the Decemberists, it's quite clear what the fuss is about.

With the same kind of earthy, rootsy sound that Neutral Milk Hotel used to invoke, Meloy and company tell this vague story about someone dying in war, and they do it quite well. The fact that this five-section song is placed into one long song makes it a little bit hard to skip around for your favorites, but it makes the record much more interesting. I'm particularly fond of the crunchy Part Two and the chorus (aka the singing waifs) on Part Three. I also really liked Rachel Blumberg's Part Four, too, and it shows that Meloy isn't the only talented songwriter in the band.

Yeah, comparisons have been made to Jeff Mangum, and I can understand why now, because this record recalls In An Aeroplane Over The Sea in only the best of ways. The Tain is a great little record that must be taken as a whole, and though it might not be the particularly best place for a new listener to join the ever-growing Decemberists train, it's still a quite beautiful little experiment.

--Joseph Kyle

July 01, 2004

marlboro chorus 'entangled'

Last year's Good Luck was a brief and impressive musical salvo for The Marlboro Chorus, a band that sprung forth from a scene located in the middle of absolutely nowhere (Davenport, Iowa). The blend of indie-rock and indiepop really surprised many people, and the praise that this (then) four-piece received was well deserved.
Though it might seem as if an EP follow-up would be too scrimpy, I'm happy to report that Entangled is a great little record.

Kicking off with the wonderfully-titled "Our Mother of Perpetual Helpdesk," The Marlboro Chorus show that they've still got plenty of ground to cover. The pop promises of Good Luck are certainly being fulfilled on this too-brief record, with lead singer B. Patrick seeming a bit snottier than usual. Making straight-up indiepop ("Song for L," "The Moondial") with an attitude that could kick the Strokes' ass, Marlboro Chorus can still whoop up some really great rock songs, such as "Hymn of the New Republic," "Entangled" and "Running Out." Though the record ends as quickly as it begins, this brief Marlboro is never a drag. Good stuff from a band whose best is yet to come.

--Joseph Kyle

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

rhythm of black lines "human hand, animal band"

Rhythm of Black Lines are perennial underdogs of the Austin indie-rock scene. After five years of existence, the quartet remains in a strange commercial purgatory: too talented to fit neatly into the “opening band” ghetto yet not popular enough to be considered a headline act, even in their very own hometown. I cannot say that their position in the scene isn’t partially of their own making. Even with the aggressive immediacy of their live performances on their side, their music is a difficult sell. They play meandering epics that connect the dots between the peaks of the last 30 years of prog-rock, from Yes to 90 Day Men, but rarely provide enough hooks to keep listeners interested along the way. On top of these songs, guitarist Clint Newsom sings like a drunk Jeff Buckley, in a voice that is tremulous enough to suggest a qawwali influence but is more than likely the result of a lack of voice control. As hard as Clint’s wailing can be for some to listen to in its natural state, it surprisingly sounds worse when he tries to tone it down (see the feeble whispers of “My Suzerain,” from their latest album Human Hand, Animal Band).

When they play live, you can tell that they’re more concerned with challenging themselves than entertaining the audience, and while such an approach is arguably commendable, it can occasionally come off more like contempt. I still have a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from watching them curse at a slowly dwindling audience when they headlined at Stubb’s three years ago. While I am happy to see that Rhythm have received enough props outside of Austin to convince the Californian connoisseurs of obnoxious art-punk at Gold Standard Laboratories to release their second full-length, just one listen to Human Hand, Animal Band assured me that Rhythm’s increasing fortune hadn’t resulted in a proportional decrease in solipsism.

If anything, this is the most self-indulgent rock album I’ve heard so far this year. I am certain that the band made the exact kind of record that they wanted to make, and made it a point to take advantage of all of the options that a bigger budget and an expanded lineup presented to them. If this meant that their album ended up sounding like Yes’ Fragile given the Phil Spector treatment, then so be it. Drummer Tim O’Neill even pulls a Rick Wakeman on us by inserting a six-minute solo piano piece in the album’s second half. The problem with this is that although there are brilliant ideas scattered all over the album, the band has no clue how to properly organize them. Just when you think that a song has exhausted all of its ideas and gone through every reasonable permutation, the band adds another riff to pad the running time an extra minute or two. Not only that, but songs that are convoluted enough when played live with guitars, keyboards, and drums sound even MORE so with the addition of horns, strings, and offbeat production tricks.

The band is at its best on “PJS,” which is indexed as a three-part suite on the CD. The first part is slow shoegaze, with weepy strings and sweet keyboards augmenting delay-drenched guitars. Clint sings as if he’s deathly afraid to enunciate, but his marble-mouthed wailing deftly conveys the ominous sentiments of the lyrics: “If we take you for a pacifist, we’ll string you up and call it quits.” The second part and third parts of the suite are little more than double-time vamps on the first part’s original theme. All tolled, the “suite” clocks in at eleven minutes, which would only be two minutes longer than the album’s longest song if it were indexed as one track. Why, then, did the band choose to split it three ways? Probably just because they could.

Let us also examine “Is It In or Is It Out?,” which happens to be the album’s most accessible song. It begins as a sultry slice of ‘80s-style new wave, with keyboardist Omar Chavez making his only appearance at the microphone and Clint doing his best Andy Summers impersonation on the guitar. Chavez’ singing is calm and pitch-perfect, which only makes Clint’s voice even more of an acquired taste in comparison. The subject matter (an inability to take other people’s words seriously) is down to earth, and the song is actually easy to dance to…until they launch into a riff in 23/4 time, complete with intrusive horn fanfares that clash with an already busy guitar part! Why did the band throw a monkey wrench into a song that was fine the way it was? Just because they could.

Why did Rhythm of Black Lines tack on a false ending to “My Suzerain”? Because they could. Why did the band overdub an irritating trombone solo right on top of the climax to “PJS,” and place it so far in the mix that it cancels out Clint’s voice? Because they could. Why did the band insert a house-music detour right in the middle of the title track? Because they could. However, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD, and the band’s insistence on following any and every whim that comes into their heads (occasionally all at once) leaves large portions of Human Hand, Animal Band sounding like a mess, even in spite of the band’s formidable instrumental chops.

Saying that the band needs an editor would be an understatement on par with saying that ?uestlove needs a haircut. I know that my own curly afro makes such a statement sound hypocritical, but I don’t really care. Perhaps this might explain why, despite this album’s faults, I can’t totally dismiss it. I get the feeling that Rhythm of Black Lines truly don‘t give a crap whether I enjoy their music or not. Clint sings on the album’s very first song, “With or without you we’ll do just fine.” Human Hand, Animal Band is proof enough that he means what he sings, and such tenacity is definitely worthy of respect, if not outright admiration.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.rhythmofblacklines.com
Label Website: http://www.goldstandardlabs.com

Bro Danielson "Brother Is To Son"

What's in a name?

With Brother Is To Son, it's important that you understand the importance of the name. Bro Danielson is Daniel Smith, who you may know from the weird yet utterly compelling Danielson Famile. He first hit upon the name Bro Danielson a few years ago on the Tri-Danielson!!! concept albums, where the name was used to describe his softer, solo/folk songs.

It's important that you know this, because it will serve you well.

First things first, this is not a Danielson Famile record. True, his family appears throughout Brother Is To Son, but this album is quite a different affair than everything that's come before. Instead of crunchy, weird rock a la the Pixies, Smith has looked to the quieter moments of folk-rock for inspiration. The influence of his labelmate and friend Sufjan Stevens is quite apparent--especially considering Stevens is a regular contributor throughout. Still, Bro Danielson still sounds like nothing you've ever heard before, and first-time listeners will still go "this> is Christian music?!?!?!?!" upon first listen.

Just because Smith is making music that's a bit more conservative soundwise, you shouldn't assume that the music is any less weird. Sure, the opening "Things Against Stuff" and "Our Givest" will instantly remind you of Smith's excellent past, but quiet, thoughtful songs like "Daughters Will Tune You" and "Perennial Wine" show Smith developing a tender side that was only hinted at in the past. You'll also smile when you hear Smith venture into country on "Animal In Every Corner." The best of the bunch is "The Hammer Song," which focuses upon the blessing of making music when life is bringing you down and "Brother Is To Son," which finds Smith reflecting upon the fatherhood of man and the brotherhood of all believers.

Smith has a knack of getting really, really weird, yet rooting his weirdness in his Christian belief has the ability to make these really weird songs seem quite straightforward. He's making postmodern Christian music for disillusioned believers and nonbelievers alike, and it's a beautiful message he is delivering. True, Brother Is To Son is not as immediate a record as Fetch the Compass Kids, but after a few listens the album's fruits will reveal themselves, rewarding your patience with some of Daniel's best compositions. The more you listen, the more you hear, the more you hear, the more the words sink into your heart, and the deeper the words sink into your heart, the happier you'll feel.

In that regards, Brother Is To Son is exactly like every other Danielson Famile record.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.danielson.info
Label Website: http://www.secretlycanadian.com