August 31, 2004

Lovejoy "Strike a Pose"

Matinee Recordings stars Lovejoy step out from the Jimmy Tassos empire, and the results of this illicit affair is one very fine single indeed! Their album Who Wants To Be a Millionare was great, but the two tracks on here find the band maturing quite nicely. The A-side, an original by Lovejoy mastermind Richard Preece, is a great, upbeat pop dance number that reminds me of late 80s/early 90s-era Pet Shop Boys, in only the best of ways! The B-side, a cover of Television Personalites' "Someone To Share My Life With" is more jangle than it is beat, but it's still quite beautiful and touching in its simplicity--perfect for those forlorn mixtapes to crushes who just broke your heart, and as you wouldn't know it was the same band if it weren't for the fact that you've got the single in your hand, you could easily slip both songs on the same CD and they'd be none the wiser! Another great single by Unpopular Records!

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website:

Colin Clary "Her Life of Crime"

Hey, did you know that there's a big music scene in Vermont?

Yeah, neither did I.

Before I heard the Smittens, Vermont didn't even register a blip on my musical radar. I had heard James Kochalka Superstar, but was very unimpressed. But yes, there's even more to Vermont than the Smittens or James Kochalka. The Vermont scene seems to have a collective nature akin to that of the old Elephant 6 scene. Members of bands like My First Days on Junk, The Magic Is Gone, and Dialogue For Three frequently share members in the same way that the classic Elephant 6 bands did, or perhaps even moreso.

And that leads us to Colin Clary and the Magogs. The Magogs are Jason Routhier, Steven Williams, and Hannah Wall. Jason and Steven have played together in My First Days on Junk (along with Colin, in fact), a Burlington-area shoegazer band. Hannah Wall sings in My First Days on Junk, as well as Dialogue For Three, an indie (but not really twee) pop band. Finally, in case you didn't know, Colin Clary is one of the most prolific and visible figures in the Vermont scene, having been in several bands and currently playing in a few others, including My First Days on Junk and the Smittens. Besides that, he records solo material under his own name.

Based on what I've heard of the Vermont collective (I was able to find MP3s of My First Days on Junk and Dialogue For Three before writing this review), Colin Clary and the Magogs is a different project than anything else in which the band members are involved. This is twee pop, but not necessarily in the same vein as the Smittens. The Smittens have a cutesy vibe that gives one the feeling that they could be made into a cartoon, like a modern, bisexual version of the Archies. Colin Clary and the Magogs are still very cute and bubblegum, but they seem a little more serious. It's like the difference between the All Girl Summer Fun Band and the Softies (with the Smittens being analogous to the AGSFB and the Magogs being analogous to the Softies), if that makes any sense. Another difference between the two bands is that Colin Clary and the Magogs sound less amateurish with their song arrangements and production (and don't take that as insult to the Smittens, as amateurishness is often considered an endearing quality and not a liability in the indie world). The Magogs put the string, organ, and bell patches on their synths to great use, layering them with the guitars and vocals in just the right way to make it sound professional. The Magogs did all the production themselves, though, so chalk this one up as a victory for DIY.

But yes, even though Colin Clary and the Magogs are quite sophisticated, they are still very much a cute, twee band. For evidence, just listen to "Pet Sound", on which Colin and Hannah play the parts of a boy and girl contemplating the possibility of a relationship and "making out to the Beach Boys" and "sleeping later on Sunday because [they're] going to a show". Or else, there's "Moped Rally", a very light song about the friendship of people who identify with each other through their mopeds, complete with "beep beep" sound effects. And there's also "I Only Give You Bad Advice Because I Love You", which begins with the words, "If you want a sundae, I'll give you a sundae. If you want a Monday, I'll be there." I thought that was a cute instance of wordplay.

Besides the twee lyrical content, another reason why I love this album so much is the aforementioned Hannah Wall, who sings backup vocals on almost all of the songs. Sure, Colin's name is on the CD, but I think that Hannah gives a star performance on this CD. As far as I know, Hannah hasn't been in any musical project as twee as this, but she shines on this CD, and her lead vocals in the second verse of "Pet Sound" are precious. I wish she would do tweepop more often. She could be a second string Smitten and fill in if Dana Kaplan (lead female vocalist for the Smittens) gets injured for some reason. If there's a sequel to this CD, I hope that Hannah gets to sing lead for at least a couple full songs.

Anyway, to wrap this up, I'll just say that this is a great album, and if you're a fan of Colin Clary, the Smittens, or great tweepop in general, you'll want to have it.

--Eric Wolf

Label Website:

Emperor X "Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform"

Joseph and I recently interviewed Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein of indie-rock stalwarts Sebadoh in Houston. During the interview, we discussed Sebadoh’s role in what I call “the democratization of indie-rock” that occurred during the ‘90s. The basic premise of Sebadoh - three guys sharing vocal, instrumental, and compositional duties, pouring their hearts out by committing every musical idea to tape on the nearest and cheapest multitrack available - gave many other musicians an example to follow. Because of Sebadoh, and especially Barlow’s solo project Sentridoh, it seemed as if every lovelorn guy with a four-track and a couple of instruments started putting out records. As is the case with all musical trends, the Revenge of the Bedroom Troubadours produced a lot more chaff than wheat. For every Minnetonka there were ten Ralph Solos (long live Black Bean and Placenta, y’all) and for every Pumpernickel there were twenty Nippers. (You don’t remember Nipper? Well, I wish that I could trade places with you.)

There were some harsh lessons to be learned from last decade’s “lo-fi” revolution. Just because you’ve got a broken heart doesn’t mean you should write a song about it. Just because you own a four-track doesn’t mean you should make a record. Just because you own a bunch of instruments doesn’t mean that you can play them all. Just because you wrote 30 songs about your broken heart doesn’t mean that every last one of them has to be on your record. Keep in mind, though, that six months ago, the person writing this review just released a CD with 21 songs on it, many of which were inspired by a painful breakup, and all of which were played and sung almost entirely by yours truly. For all you know, I could be the proverbial pot calling the kettle African-American. Now that I’ve given full disclosure, I must say that whenever a lo-fi one-man band releases a record that isn’t indulgent, self-absorbed or incompetent, attention must be paid. Emperor X’s debut CD Tectonic Membrane is a necessary reminder of what was so good about the “lo-fi” revolution in the first place. Just because a record has the fidelity of a demo doesn’t necessarily mean it has to have the QUALITY of one.

25-year-old Floridian C. Matheny (the Emperor himself) has a lot of things in his favor. First of all, he’s got a gift for melody that keeps his nasal, reedy voice from sounding unpleasant even when he strains to hit the notes. Second of all, he’s competent at every instrument he lays his hands on. It’s telling that on the one song in which a guest drummer appears (the rollicking “Constantly Constantly Radio’s On”), the drumming is actually sloppier than his own. Third of all, he’s got a knack for unexpected arrangements that keeps listeners from getting bored. An out-of-tune oboe appears out of nowhere halfway through “Laminate Factory,” and other songs (“A Hole in the Earth’s Spin Tone,” “Intracellular”) build tension by slowly layering instruments on top of one another until they reach bombastic climaxes. Matheny can switch from dinky Postal Service synth-pop to Sentridoh-style acoustic ballads to loop-driven sound collages, and all of it works, the cacophonous “Unworthiness Drones” being the sole exception.

Matheny’s songs, although insular, avoid extreme navel-gazing. He spikes his pessimism with enough humor to keep the music itself from being a bummer. For every “I’d like to dig you out but the shovel’s hid” (“Filene’s Basement”), there’s an “I wanna have fun but I don’t wanna smell bad” (“A Hole in the Earth’s Spin Tone”). His lyrics are crammed with details that draw attentive listeners closer to the center of his mind. “Florencia Tropicana”’s examination of the difficulty of maintaining personal connections through long distances is tailor-made for computer geeks. File extensions, tourist landmarks, and Web sites are all name-dropped. How Matheny can sing lines like “I made a tape recording of the Boston Bridge/and sent as an attachment but Friendster lost it” without making me want to punch him in his pocket protector is beyond me, but he pulls it off.

The songs on Tectonic Membrane are infused with the kind of intimacy that the best bedroom troubadours seem to have a monopoly on. Matheny’s friends butt into his songs at the most random moments. Note the high school choir that can barely keep from bursting into laughter during the coda of opening track “Exterminata Beat,” or the faraway shouting you hear throughout “Constantly Constantly Radio’s On.” Moments like these make me feel as if I’m eavesdropping on a party that I never knew I was invited to. By the time the album ends, I feel as if I’m sitting right next to Emperor X as he sings his songs.

Closer “I Want a Baby/Pre-Exterminata” begins with Matheny noting all of the major events that happened to him over the summer. He sings, “You should never have a baby in the summertime/if it’s not mine,” to the former flame of his that didn’t stick around to share these major events with him. After admitting his own desire for a child, the song segues into an instrumental reprise of the album’s first song. While the reprise plays, I recall the moment when Matheny asks, “How far along are you in your pregnancy?” in “Exterminata Beat.” I then realize that I’ve been listening to yet another concept album about heartbreak all along, but it didn’t sink in until Matheny played his trump card at album’s end. At no point on this album do I feel like he’s beating me upside the head with the pieces of his broken heart. Matheny’s talent and subtlety make me thank Sebadoh once again for paving the way for people like him to make records like Tectonic Membrane.

--Sean Padilla

Interview: Sebadoh

Ahhh, Sebadoh! They were easily one of the best indie-rock bands of the 1990s, and though you'll soon see that they think their role in rock isn't that significant, both Sean and I (and i am sure you) will agree that they are simply selling themselves way too short. If you were ever an indie-rock boy with a broken heart or an indie-rock girl with a crush that didn't work out during the 1990s, then you probably were consoled by Sebadoh. That the 2000s haven't been so good for these guys is another story, but Jason and Lou's decision to get back together for a 'turbo-acoustic' tour was a wise one.

But I digress, there's a lot to read here and so I'm going to end this little introduction for a band for a band that needs no introduction. What you have here is a fun read, and I hope you enjoy. Thanks, guys, for talking to us, and no matter what you do or where you go, we'll always speak of love. Those who know, love Sebadoh!

JK: How’s the tour going?

JL: Good…but I just ran out of weed, though. It’s kinda tragic. We have to drive 900 miles tomorrow.

JK: Well, you’ll be in Austin soon.

JL: No, our next show’s in Albuquerque. That’s why we need some pot.

LB: It’s gonna be one of the most monotonous drives we’ve ever made in our lives.

JL: Yeah, I wanna be googly-eyed. (laughs)

JK: Did you guys have some shows canceled?

JL: No. It’s just life on the road, man.

LB: We already played Austin a couple of months ago. It was a one-off

JL So we can’t go back.

JK: They shut the doors on you.

JL: Yeah. They were like, “That’s it. We’ll see you next year.”
JK: “You’ve done the reunion thing, so get out.”

SP: Which cities have been to most receptive to the sets you’ve played as a duo?

LB: Omaha. Omaha was the absolute best.

JL: Yeah, it was the most amazing audience we’ve maybe ever had.

LB: Pretty close.

JL: (sarcastic) We’ve played hundreds of thousands of shows.

LB: It was remarkable.

JL: How about the worst? Do you wanna hear about the worst?

JK: Do you wanna tell us about the worst?

JL: Which one was the worst, Lou?

LB: Last night kinda sucked.

SP: Where’d you play last night?

JL: Dallas.

SP: I don’t know if you guys would agree with me, but Dallas always seems to have this weird, near-violent tension about it.

JL: I could see that.

SP: Dallas is the only place I’ve ever been to where people can get into a fight at a Stereolab show. (Everyone laughs) There was a fight right in the front of the audience. Laetitia stopped in the middle of a song and said, “We will not play until you stop fighting.” I really felt ashamed for all of America.

JL: Don’t try to bear the burden for all of America…please. (Laughs)

JK: You’d be violent too if there was nobody in your audience. That’s just how Dallas is.

SP: The Stereolab show was packed, though. Did you guys have a good turnout in Dallas?

JL: No.

LB: As a matter of fact, a lot of the middle America shows haven’t been very packed. It was very disappointing.

SP: Were any of these shows in cities that you haven’t played before?
LB: We’ve played every city already. (Everyone laughs) At least once.
We’ve even played Omaha before.

SP: You still haven’t come to Beaumont yet.

LB: We haven’t been to San Antonio either.

JL: Do you guys live in Beaumont?

SP: I do, unfortunately.

JK: You guys haven’t made the Lubbock trip yet.

SP: They don’t want to, dude.

JK: How does it feel to reunite after a couple of years of silence and the assumption of breaking up?

JL: We’re reunited…

JK: …and it feels so good.

JL: Reunited, and it’s understood. It’s a crock of shit, that song.
(Everyone laughs) Every time I think of that word, the song comes into my mind.

JK: Mine too.

JL: It’s pretty bad. It’s pretty good for the songwriter, though.

JK: Pretty bad for the interviewer. (Everybody laughs)

JL: Yeah, ’cause now we’re just joking about it.

JK: Well, when you put out your solo record, did you think that two years from now you’d be doing this with Lou again?

JL: I really didn’t know. It was so up in the air. There wasn’t any huge animosity in the air between us, so anything could’ve happened.

LB: I didn’t really stress about it. Some opportunities popped up and
I took them. It seemed like a good reason. I was kind of missing Jason after the last leg of my Folk Implosion tour.

JK: Ex sex is always the best, right?

JL: We don’t have sex.

LB: We don’t have exes either. Well, Jake does.

JK: (Mischievously) So you have no exes…so I guess that makes your whole career a sham, huh?

LB: Huh? (everybody laughs)

SP: Boo on that, Joseph.
LB: What do you mean? Are you saying that all of my songs alluding to romantic relationships are, now that the revelation is that I’ve only---

JK: Well, you’ve saved my life recently.

LB: I did? Where were we? (Everyone laughs)

SP: You were there in spirit.

JL: We were really wasted, and we were swimming in the quarry… (Tons more laughing)

JK: Well, I gave you these roofies, and you were just kinda…

JL: Jesus.

SP: I wanted to ask if there was a small set of songs you’re concentrating on for this tour, or if the set is a more “anything goes” kind of thing.

LB: It’s a small group of songs. We have prepared beats, so we’re kinda tied to those. We do 22 or 23 songs and we stick to those.

SP: What criteria did you use in choosing them? Are you focusing on the most well-known songs or the ones that you like the most or theones that are easiest to play…

JL: I guess the ones that we like the most.

LB: Jake said what songs he wanted to play, and I told him which songs
I wanted to play…

JL: …and we hashed out 23 beats.

JK: (sarcastic) So how’s the drummer working out?

JL: He’s working out great, ‘cause it’s me. (Laughs) I really like him. I like this drummer. I get along with him pretty well.

JK: What compelled you to use prerecorded beats for this tour?

LB: We don’t have a drummer.

JL: And I’m a drummer!
SP: Have you tried to find a third member to play drums?

LB: There was no way. We didn’t have any time to do anything like that.

JL: It was born of necessity.

LB: Getting somebody to come play drums with us and try to figure it out in a week, and then touring with him trying to be Sebadoh seemed completely bogus to us.

JL: I wouldn’t have wanted to do that.

LB: And even if we got Russ, who played drums on the last record…he barely plays drums anymore. I wouldn’t want to go out with somebody who hasn’t been playing. Also, if we were gonna get somebody who could fit and who could pull it off, we would’ve had to pay him a lot of money…and there’s just no money around right now.

JL: We can’t afford a drummer. It’s interesting. I was thinking last night that it’s not necessarily that we can’t afford one, but it was born out of necessity to make the drum tape…and then there’s somebody like Tom Heinl, who’s opening up for us. He could tour with other people to do his music, but it would be completely prohibitive. You just have to do what you have to do, and a lot of the time nowadays, it’s making backing tracks, just to make it possible for you to pull your own stuff off.

JK: Were you hesitant at first about this approach, or did you just say “F*uk it” and just do it?

JL: I actually thought it was gonna be goofy and hard to do, but it’s actually been good. It’s an exercise…

JK: …because you’re the drummer.

JL: That, and the fact that there’s absolutely no improvisation.
There’s no leaving a verse open or taking liberties with solos, which we used to do a lot with Sebadoh. The drummer would just pick up on the fact that we’re making some space and it helped us make every night a little different, and just go with the flow.

JK: How have people reacted to that?

LB: I don’t think anyone’s gonna tell us what they really think.
(Everybody laughs)

JL: “You guys need a drummer, man!”

JK: As long as it’s not Greg Ginn bad. (Greg Ginn did a Black Flag reunion in which everything was prerecorded.)

SP: There was a drummer, but the bass was prerecorded.

JL: That was really weird.

JK: It was a so-called benefit show, but everyone in the audience was throwing things at him.

LB: I’ve played with prepared beats before, and I think it’s got a certain charm to it. Sebadoh actually did it before. Eric and I did it. We kicked Jason out of the band so that we could make more money for two shows. Eric recorded the beats onto cassette, and we played on top of that. That was years ago. I think it’s kinda fun. Some people say that it’s the most “Sebadoh” Sebadoh show they’ve ever seen.

JL: I think it has something to do with it being so much more basic.
The beats are done on floor tom and snare, basically, so it sounds like the earlier stuff. Even the later material we do is done in that style.

LB: It’s kinda weird, ‘cause I’ve heard some live tapes of some shows that we’ve done, and there are certain songs in which you can’t tell that there’s no drummer. Some people definitely would have a big issue with it. They’ve got a lot of rules.

JL: I don’t understand that, ‘cause there’s no purism to this band at all. We’ve toured every possible kind of way --- with a drummer, with no drummer, with a drum machine, with fuckin’ samples…

LB: …In a bus, in a car, in a van, on a plane, on a boat…

JK: The big question is: Are you two guys having fun?

LB: Oh God, yeah.

JL: I’m having more fun on the road than I ever did.

LB: It’s real simple. It’s just the two of us, so there’s no group dynamic. It’s not like two guys against one. We don’t really have anybody to bitch to, which is great.

JK: Just two buds and some bud in the car…well, except for tonight. (Everybody laughs)

JL: I don’t think we’re gonna be able to do this again, but it’s real fun.

JK: Is this kind of a final farewell fling for the Sebadoh?

JL: I wouldn’t say that. We don’t have any plans, but we never broke up so…

JK: You’re just keeping with the plan.

JL: We’re keeping with the plan of no plan. Exactly! We’ve always just done whatever. To make any pronouncements saying, “This is the end,” is just bullshit.

LB: Times change and people’s minds change. There’s no reason to make those kinds of proclamations.

JK: Unless you just want to get the big burst of last tour cash.

JL: Exactly! There are people who do that all the time. “Final tour!”

JK: Guided by Voices.

JL: GBV…the Ramones did it a couple of times, I think. It’s just trying to get attention. It’s such bullshit. “Come to the show or you’ll never see us again…”

JK: …Until the next reunion show!” It just seems like…

SP: …like a con?

JL: Yeah, it does. It seems like a con.

JK: So are you a little bit reticent when you hear people call it “the Sebadoh reunion tour”?

JL: They can call it whatever they want. As long as they come, I don’t care. I don’t care what they complain about or what they call it as long as people actually bother to come.

SP: Have you seen any patterns as far as the kind of people who come to your shows? Do you get the same crowds that you did 10 years ago, or do you see a new generation of people seizing an opportunity to pick up on Sebadoh? I ask this because I’ve spent years and years listening to Sebadoh, but I never had the opportunity to see you as a trio ’cause I’m 23. I ended up turning some of my teenage cousins on to Sebadoh, which is why I ask if there are any younger people coming to the shows.

JL: It’s definitely going on.

LB: There’s not a whole lot, but there are a few. It’s kinda weird.
They’re like, “You guys got me through seventh grade…”

JL: “…which was last year!” (everybody laughs)

LB: “I’ve been waiting 10 years for you guys to show up.”

JL: “Since I was three!”

LB: It’s a weird, scattered mix of some people who’ve seen us five or six times and younger people who’ve never seen us because they couldn’t get into our shows when they were little.

SP: I’m definitely in the latter group. My first exposure to you was Bubble and Scrape, and I think I was 11. (Everybody laughs)

LB: That’s nuts, man.

JL: Wow. Sebadoh at age 11...that’s pretty cool!

LB: Thinking back on it, I would imagine myself hearing my band for the first time and then make records that try to capture that feeling. I always thought that Sebadoh would be a pretty cool band to discover if you were really little (chuckling). It would give you a really unique perspective on music if you started with Sebadoh.

SP: I can speak for a lot of people when I say that listening to Sebadoh helped give me the impetus to make my own music. I hate using this phrase ‘cause it sounds pretentious, but it’s what I call “the democratization of art.” You just use whatever tools you have available and do what comes naturally.

LB: That’s a really good way to sum us up. When people say that they’re influenced by Sebadoh, then that’s usually how. It opens them up to say, “Wow, you can do anything! Everybody can write songs, and anything can happen.” It’s really cool, as opposed to merely trying to sound like Sebadoh. It’s better to influence people philosophically. I like that.

JK: Or, to paraphrase a great man, you care more about whether it sounds heartfelt than whether it sounds like shit or not. (Everybody laughs, especially Lou, who nearly goes into convulsions) (This comment is in reference to a tape of the band ranting and saying wacky things over found sounds that they would play while setting up for shows in the early 1990s. It’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever hear, and can be found on Sub Pop sampler Curtis W. Pitts: Sub Pop Employee of the Month--ed.)

JL: That’s my favorite line on that tape.

JK: The past: it always comes to bite you in the ass.

LB: That’s my crowning achievement. That show tape is probably my
favorite thing I’ve ever done.

JL: I’m shocked that you brought that up.

LB: I have an uncensored version of it that’s about 20 minutes long.

JL: There’s some off shit on that one, if you can imagine what we actually left out of that one…

JK: This coming from two guys who are notorious for doing things as “lo-fi” as possible…

JL: It’s some raw shit.

LB: I recorded that show tape with the drum beats. Eric was like, “Jason’s not in the band anymore,” and I said we could play the next two shows as a duo…but we needed something in between the beats. I just started doing, “Sebadoh! Eric and Lou,” and that’s how it began. That was the first time we had toured with the prepared beats. I should’ve brought the tape out again, but I was too lazy. (Everybody laughs)

JK: Maybe next tour. (More laughing) How do you feel about going back to the past and talking about it? There’s a nostalgic look back at the ‘90s going on right now, with the recent Pavement reissues and all of these old bands coming back onto the scene. Is there any temptation to do a Sebadoh retrospective? Are we gonna see a triple-disc of Bakesale, for instance?

JL: We’ve been battling Eric Gaffney for years about it. He won’t let anything be re-released. He thinks we owe him a lot of money.

LB: Yeah, it sucks.

JL: The money was invisible at first…and it continues to be, ‘cause it was never there.

LB: The saddest part about Sebadoh was that we’ve always been a democracy. Everybody got paid equally and everybody got to do whatever they wanted. Somehow, though, as Jason and I continued we’ve begun to leave behind a trail of embittered people…who are angry! Not only have they gotten everything they’ve wanted from us and more, but to this day they’re harboring these insane grudges because we just kept going without them. They’d say “I quit” or “I’m not playing,” but once they retreated from us we’d continue without them. Then, they’d forever hold a grudge against us for continuing without them. Everyone had so much power in the band, but when one person thought they had to power to stop the band, they didn’t! Jason and I never wanted to stop. We wanted to keep going because that’s what you have to do. This is what we chose to do, so we have to continue. You can’t be throwing hissy-fits, saying “I quit” or “I can’t deal with this” or “I gotta get out of town.” No! You’re going on tour, and we’re gonna do records because this is what we have to do. This is not a fuckin’ joke. We gotta make this happen in some regard…I’m not saying “make it happen” as in “make it big,” but “make it happen,” as in survive.

SP: Do you feel as if Sebadoh is a living, breathing entity that’s bigger than the sum of its parts?

LB: Absolutely, especially since we all wrote songs. I’ve done plenty of solo shows, as well as other shows in which I’m the leader of a band, but it’s nothing like Sebadoh. It’s special.

SP: Do you think that it may be a little too soon for a ‘90s revival anyway? Whenever I see VH1’s “I Love the ‘90s” special it freaks me out a bit.

JL: It’s way too early for me. (Laughs)

SP: In light of all the other older bands getting back into the scene, this feels comparatively more organic, like it’s something that needed to happen instead of any sort of cash-in.

JL: Right, because there’s absolutely no record company machinery behind us whatsoever right now…not one shred. Not even a single poster was made by a record label we’ve ever been in…

JK: …and the smile on Lou’s face says it all! (laughs)

JL: We’re paying for our own publicity, which is rather homespun. We have no crew. It’s just completely back to basics. We’re not doing a box set and then getting the band back together, like, getting Polvo back together to join us on a road show.

SP: Yet another great band that I never got to see live.

LB: Their farewell tour was really good. I saw their last few shows, and they were better than they ever were.

SP: I have a cassette of their last ever show, and it made me want to cry ‘cause I wanted to be there. (Everybody laughs)

JK: Are you guys still doing stuff with Sub Pop?

JL: Never again, ever. (laughs)

JK: Lou, you’re doing stuff with Merge now. How’s that?

LB: It’s great. The record hasn’t come out yet, though. Initially, we used to play with Polvo and Superchunk all the time. It’s kinda cool.
Superchunk is still happening and Mac’s running the label…unlike Sub
Pop, in which most of the people who make the decisions aren’t musicians.

SP: Merge strikes me as one of the most artist-friendly labels going at the moment because it’s run by people who can see both the artistic and the business sides of things. They do it right --- the records get around, and people get to hear them.

JK: They’re doubly good for an artist like you in that if you want to do one project, you can do it and if you want to do another project, you can do that as well. There isn’t a rush or a push for a new Sebadoh record. Things just get done on their own time. That’s just how Mac is…

LB: He’s got a lot of really nice people who work with him and keep the label really organized, and Mac is just generally a spazz…in a good way, of course. He’s what I remembered him to be in the beginning. He’s busy and involved with stuff. He believes in the same ethics…the way that I got into independent music was through Dischord, Touch and Go, and hardcore bands, and that’s where he came from too. It’s kinda cool. I’ll do my best for them. I feel even more like I want to do the best I can for Merge because the label’s modest and realistic.

JK: The million dollar question, which I’m sure you’ve heard quite a bit on this tour--and you’ll hear again right now--is will there be another Sebadoh record?

JL: (sarcastic) I can’t believe you asked that. I have no idea. It’s really uncertain.

LB: It depends on if we can make it work. If there’s a way that’s easy --- not as in “easy to make music,” because the music’s always gonna be intense to make. It’s like, “Do we have the time to do it? Where would we record it? How could we make it without any pressure?”

JL: I don’t think we’re ever gonna rush into anything. We’re way too smart. We’ve learned a lot in the last 15 years, and we’re not gonna take any wooden nickels from anybody. That’s a good thing, though. We’re also not expecting that much; we have modest needs.

JK: Lou, I understand that you and your wife are expecting?

LB: Yeah.

JK: Have you thought about any advice you would give to your child if he or she were to decide to make music?

LB: If my child wanted to start a band?

JL: Wear earplugs. (Everybody laughs)

LB: Save your receipts. (More laughter)

SP: That’s actually pretty good advice.

LB: All the shit that I didn’t do --- document, document, document.
Don’t trust anybody. (More laughter) Love them, be great friends with them, but don’t ever assume that they’re never gonna turn on you…’cause they will. They will turn on you. It’s just human nature…especially when you’re doing something as bizarre as making a living being a band and being creative. All of the rules are out of the window and no one knows how to behave. It would be good to keep records and document, which I never did. That’s my only real regret, that I never made real hard documents of what was actually occurring because…

JK: …you were too busy having fun?

LB: I was too busy having fun, and all was good and everyone was happy.
In the end, though, people go back and try to rewrite history according to whatever story they were trying to tell. They’ll go back and pick out whatever details they can find and use them. It’s just a sad fact.
Unfortunately, with music it also becomes entwined with money, which brings out the absolute worst in people.

JK: Do you think that the Internet’s been a big saving grace for you? I know you’ve got lots of stuff on Loobiecore.

LB: In a way, it’s totally destroyed my career. As far as making any money selling records, everything’s been destroyed because people aren’t gonna buy Sebadoh records if they can get them online. Information is disseminated so quickly that if one person doesn’t like something, they tell everybody else and it turns even more people off to it. In one way, it’s destroyed us, but in another way I love it. I think it’s great. I have no problem with file-sharing and all that shit, but to be realistic, it’s totally dismantled how I make a living.

JK: It’s one thing if you’re like Sean, a guy who’s making stuff in his bedroom and having fun doing that. It’s another thing if you have record deals…

LB: Once it becomes your life and your livelihood…the Internet is amazing way to spread rumors and innuendo, and also a great way to share new things with people, but once you’re not new anymore it becomes a detriment. I don’t have any problem with it, and I think it should happen. I’m all for free music, but to be honest, it’s devastating.
JK: Has anyone who’s downloaded your stuff come to you at a show and expressed any sort of remorse about it by offering you money? I’m starting to see younger kids say to themselves, “Hey, this is wrong…”

JL: I haven’t met that kid yet. (Laughs) There’s only a handful of those guys.

SP: I download stuff, but if I like it I go and buy it.

LB: That’s what I do, too, but a lot of people don’t have that kind of money. It’s all about money. When I was 15 to 17, I had no money. I had no money until I was around 24 or 25.

JK: You know what I miss? Getting a magazine like Re-flex or Forced Exposure and buying 7-inches.

SP: Do you miss the tangibility?

JK: I just miss the idea of taking two bucks, putting it in an envelope, mailing it to somebody who sounds cool, and getting a record in the mail two weeks later.

LB: (smiles) That’s how I discovered music. I did the same thing. “Hey, that sounds cool…” When I moved to Boston, there were great record stores. I’d be like, “That looks cool, and it’s on this label. I’ll try it!” We had great college radio where we grew up. College radio was awesome back then, but now you can download shit.

JK: Now you can have everything, and there’s no personal touch to it.

LB: Well, I don’t agree with that.

JK: You don’t get the same kind of excitement when you have everything at your disposal.

LB: (Sarcastic) Maybe you don’t. (laughs) There are a few sites, like John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone site, in which the webmaster gets permission from all of these bands to put their songs up. I heard so many great bands that way…like the Walkmen, whom I didn’t think I would like until I heard an mp3 of theirs. The Starlight Mints, too. Because I make my living as a musician, I have to keep listening to new music, so that’s what I spend my
money on.
JK: Well, there’s one more thing that I wanted to ask. How do you feel about the upcoming Dinosaur Jr. reissues?

LB: I feel great!

JK: Are there any lost tapes that we’ll get to hear?

LB: I found one cassette of us doing a Neil Young cover, but I put that on my website, but that’s the only thing I can think of. We released everything that we finished. Anything that J Mascis finished we ended up putting out.

JK: Personally, I’m excited about it.

LB: It would be nice if people really understood how insanely influential J Mascis was as a guitar player and a songwriter, because I think that he almost single-handedly invented…you know that Radiohead song “Creep” where it goes (imitates “chinka-chinka” guitar sound before the song’s chorus)? J did that. That’s what J did. His perspective on guitar and recording completely brought about My Bloody Valentine and all that shit. He started. He did it. I was playing with him and I was part of it, but he was the mastermind. I really don’t think that people realize what he’s done. It would be nice if those records came out and people were like, “Whoa…that’s crazy.” People don’t know. They’re talking about (sarcastic) the Pixies. The Pixies were fuckin’ bullshit to us back then. (laughs) We were like, “The Pixies? Who the fuck cares about the Pixies?” They were so light, whereas Dinosaur was fuckin’…HEAVY. We were just this heavy mess of deep, deep sound. The Pixies’ songs were jokey and the sound was light. That’s the way I felt back then. I like them now, but seriously…we were opposed to the Pixies back then.

JK: I always thought of them as like a male Throwing Muses.

LB: Not even that good! (Everyone laughs) Throwing Muses were scary. The Pixies weren’t really…they were the Pixies! That’s what they sounded like to me---pixies, even now! It’s great as a concept, but I think that it’s a little strange that Dinosaur and what J did became completely forgotten because everybody like the Pixies. I don’t sense a lot of emotion coming out of those songs, whereas with Dinosaur it was just…blargh! It was some heavy shit.

JK: We were listening to Ear Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr on the way up here, and we were amazed with how fresh it still sounds.

LB: I know! He was a genius. J was just an absolute genius…just unbelievable.

JK: Would you work with him again?

LB: Maybe.

JK: I know you’re sharing labels now.

LB: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. He was a nice guy…we get along now. I’ve kinda gotten over a lot of the bad shit that happened between us.

JK: That comes with maturity.

LB: Exactly.

SP: I made a joke before meeting you guys that there should be some sort of unholy “Sebadoh Jr.” triumvirate in which Jason and J Mascis alternate as the drummer and the three of you play Sebadoh and Dinosaur, Jr songs. (Everybody laughs)

JL: (Amazed) Jesus, that’s awesome.

LB: (Even more amazed) Holy shit, that’s an incredible idea! Wow. That’s kinda funny.

JK: Let’s hope it wouldn’t get too intense on stage.

LB: That would be really funny. I could switch between bass and guitar, and Jason and J could switch between drums…but then J would have to learn Sebadoh songs. They’re really simple, though.

SP: He can do it. I know how to play Sebadoh songs on drums.

LB: Jason knows how to play Dinosaur songs on drums. That would be interesting. That’s a fascinating idea, you guys! (Laughter) That could be the closest thing we’ll have to an actual reunion.

JK: Then you could make as much money as the Pixies! (Laugh)

LB: But J is really picky about his drummers, so I don’t know if he’d like Jason’s playing.

JL: That’s awesome.

JK: You’d have to get a restraining order to keep Eric out of the bar. (Laughter)

JL: He’ll keep himself out. He’s very good at it. He’s kept himself out of it many times.

LB: “I’m out of the band.”

JL: “Oh, my God! Again?”

LB: “I’m kicking myself out of the band.”

JK: But it’s good to see that you guys are having fun playing your songs…which is basically what you’ve been doing since day one.

LB: Yeah. It’s gotten a little complicated here and there, but that’s what we’re doing.

JK: Have you ever got up in the morning and said to yourself, “Wow…I’ve been doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life for the last 15 years”? Do you ever think about how lucky you are to have that?

LB: Absolutely. It’s not even that I wake up thinking that, but it’s in my mind all the time. It can be pressure sometimes, because I want to continue to do that but I can’t rest on anything that I’ve done. It’s great, but there’s nothing stable about it. In order to make it stable, I have to travel and work my ass off all the time. I have to constantly pull out new ideas--which can be totally fun but can be extremely confusing. It’s tough to balance relationships around it…

JK: …especially with the added dimension of having a child.

LB: Yeah, that’s gonna be really interesting.

JK: Maybe it’s time for another “Natural One.”

LB: (laughs) Goddamn, I wish. That would be great. I’d love that.
I’d love it if someone liked my music and started buying my records. That would be fantastic.

JK: Some advice that a friend of mine gave me once, which you might be an example of, is that soundtracks are the way to go.

LB: Nah, they steal all of your publishing. It’s not the way to go. They actually took half of my publishing from that album just because we did it for that movie, which was actually pretty fucking bogus.

JK: I remember talking to Eric Bachmann about when he was on the My So-Called Life soundtrack and he said, “Here’s a label that’s gonna offer us $20,000 for a song we recorded three years ago, for a song that only appears for a few seconds on the show.”

LB: Well, that’s different. We’re talking about recording a soundtrack. Bands like the Shins and any kind of new indie band can survive on something like $20,000 a pop, but nothing on that level has ever happened to me. When I hear Death Cab for Cutie in a fuckin’ ad, it’s like, “Good for them!” It’s not like they’re hurting, but it can still keep them afloat.

JK: So do you guys have to leave and get ready for your show?

JL: Nope. Our soundman’s at a baseball game. It’s the seventh inning right now.

JK: Well, it certainly beats having your door person walk across the
street to see another show.

SP: Yeah, that happened to me this past Sunday. I played a show to 12 people while the door person walked across the street to see Grand Buffet.

JL: Ouch, that’s terrible.

JK: That’s why you have to build up a reputation for being drunk and stupid on stage.

JL: That always brings ‘em. Nothing like getting drunk assholes to spur interest…like… (Everybody laughs) Oops…I dissed them again. I almost stopped living the last time I said something bad
about them.

JK: Too bad the tape can’t catch the evil grin on Jason’s face right now.

SP: I could probably draw it. (More laughter) I wanted to ask you guys about your solo material. Lou, is your record done?

LB: Yeah, I’m going to master it when I get home.

SP: Is there anything new that people who are already familiar with your work can expect?

LB: I don’t really know. You’ll just have to hear it. It has little bits of everything I’ve ever done in it. Jason plays on a couple of songs.

SP: Jason, are you still working on your own stuff?

JL: Yeah, when I get back from this trip I’m gonna hunker down, pick out what I’ve got that’s good and embellish the rest. I want to make another record before the winter.

SP: Are you going to play all of the instruments on this one, or will you have your touring band?

JL: There are a couple of songs I’ve been doing that sound better with Kevin and Bob (Jason’s rhythm section), but if I can’t get all three of us in the studio together I’m not gonna worry about it.(A woman walks by and gives Jason props for his “Emo Sucks” T-shirt. Everyone laughs.)

JK: Is that the official Sebadoh theme for the tour?

JL: I think that Lou’s kinda pissed off about it, because people have been coming up to him and telling him that he’s “the Godfather of Emo.” It’s a strange crown to have put on you.

JK: Better that than to be called “the Grandfather of Emo.”

SP: It’s not even historically accurate.

JK: But the media doesn’t care about accuracy!

LB: We’ve been talking about it. Emo began in 1985 with Rites of Spring. They called it “emo,” and it’s been around for f*ckin’ ever. I have no idea how I got lumped in with that…but Fugazi liked Sebadoh and we played with them a bunch.

JK: So you don’t feel responsible for starting the whole “lo-fi” recording scene?

SP: (Rolls eyes) No…

LB: Well, maybe…but I don’t see it. None of our stuff ever became that popular. (Um, Lou, “Natural One?”—ed)

JK: So you don’t ever listen to kids like Bright Eyes, who start off making songs in their bedrooms, and wonder if they were inspired by stuff that you did?

LB: No. (Laughs) It would be nice, but I think that there are other bands that are far more influential. The Pixies, Pavement--that’s the shit that really influences people. Sebadoh gives people the idea, “Maybe I can do this,” but Pavement gives people the idea, “That’s what I want to sound like!” Then, they go through the steps to try to sound exactly like that.

SP: Maybe there’s some sort of connection here. I remember when you were talking about how intense Dinosaur Jr. was, which makes me think there might be some sort of divide between the cerebral and the emotional. Sebadoh and Dinosaur would be on one side, and the Pixies and Pavement would be on the other. The Pixies and Pavement wrote more about intellectual conceits, whereas you and J wrote about things you were going through.

LB: Right…and that was some scary stuff. The Pixies and Pavement are not scary. They’re fun, and they have a sense of inclusiveness about them that draws people to them. Sebadoh, on the other hand, is about living through it all over again…and people don’t really want them. People don’t want to live through all the bad shit.

JK: Sebadoh made making it look easy look easy! (Everybody laughs)

LB: Wow. (Stunned silence)

JK: Yeah, it takes a second to sink in. (More laughter)

August 30, 2004

the clientele 'live at bush hall'

I'm always overjoyed to get a new record by the Clientele, and this two-song single is certainly no exception to the rule! This isn't new material in the sense that the songs are new, but the two tracks on here are live versions of two of their best numbers, recorded at Bush Hall on May 28, 2003--an ironic date considering the circumstances I discovered the Clientele, and even more ironic when you consider where I heard this 7", but that's another matter you should ask me about.

Aside from that, these two tracks are simply gorgeous--but you probably already knew they would be! The first track is their classic "Lacewings," and Alasdair Maclean sounds even more listless and detatched (and stoned) than he does on the studio version! The b-side, "Policeman Getting Lost," is a more recent number, taken from their debut album The Violet Hour, and it, too, is quite pleasant. Because they never come to Texas, this is the closest I've gotten to hearing one of my favorite bands live, and, personally, I'd love to hear more! A great seven inch. (A great debut single for a promising young label, too!)

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
Label Website:

Icecake "an ambient extraction"

Robert J. Kaminek Jr. (better known as Icecake) is looking for soundtrack work. I believe that that’s the only reason why this Icecake record exists. I know that it seems harsh for me to criticize a record called An Ambient Extraction for being not much more than background music. After all, ambient music is supposed to prioritize establishing an atmosphere above all else. However, even for an ambient record there’s a disturbing lack of urgency here. It’s as if Kaminek pulled out eight of the tracks he’d been working on over the last eight years (the copyright dates in the liner notes range from 1995 to 2003) and slapped them on a CD just to say that he did it. I’m sure that he’s proud of his accomplishment, but there isn’t much on this CD that would be of interest to people outside of his social circle.

The best ambient music occupies a dual role. When you’re not paying attention to it, it establishes atmosphere but doesn’t intrude your thoughts. When you ARE paying attention, though, the atmosphere envelops you and dictates your thoughts FOR you. Recent examples of this include the latest albums by Trapist and Charalambides. At low volumes, I have managed to fall asleep to both records. At high volumes, though, Trapist’s Ballroom makes me feel as if time is slowing down, and Charalambides’ Joy Shapes simply terrifies me. On the other hand, Icecake’s music can only exist as pleasant background music and nothing more. If I pay too much attention to it, its flaws begin to annoy me.

Icecake’s biggest hindrance is Kaminek’s employment of the human voice. The album’s first track, “A Last Supper,” consists of an array of disembodied voices, atop which the eponymous Biblical event is narrated from the point of view of Judas Iscariot. It’s supposed to be blasphemous and scary, but whenever Kaminek runs the narrator’s voice through effects to make him sound like he’s growling, my reaction is akin to that of watching an extremely old horror movie with poor special effects. I already know that the chainsaw is made of plastic and the blood is simply water spiked with red food coloring, and it’s difficult for me to fathom how even people back then could get scared of something so unrealistic and transparent. “Pepper Clouds” begins with some stoner rambling about “bright colored lights outside of my home,” and album closer “My Normal State” is marred halfway through by what sounds like a bored flight attendant saying cheesy things like “You have now entered dream state one...this dream state is never-ending!” Good ambient composers don’t need voice-overs to tell the listener how they’re supposed to feel while the music is playing.

When Kaminek does away with the voice-overs, he intermittently proves himself capable of great things. On “Version” he runs his programmed drums and electric guitars through canyons of reverb and chorus to produce a gothic dissonance that sounds like EVOL-era Sonic Youth recording a demo for 4AD. “Pierce Point Stop, South Side Line” boasts subtle digital cut-ups and flurries of white noise that would fit well on a Morr Music release. “Pour Vous Deux” and “Mellows” are guitar-only spaghetti western downers that would be a perfect soundtrack to a slow and solemn walk through the desert. Even on these songs, though, Kaminek suffers from lo-fi production (this CD has a bewildering lack of real treble) and a lack of melodic or thematic development. These songs just begin, go on for anywhere from two to six minutes, and end. Ambient music isn’t supposed to grab me by the throat, but neither is it supposed to leave me indifferent.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website:
Label Website:

Tom Heinl "With Or Without Me"

I've never denied the fact that I'm a native-born Texas redneck. Why deny something that gives me so much pride? Sure, I may be cosmopolitan in many regards, a small-town boy is what I'll always be, and I don't mind that one bit. In the past year or two, I've taken my pride a little further, and I've rediscovered the goodness that is classic country music. Anything that's from 1982 or older is generally really good stuff--and stuff that's both funny and powerful is a double-blessing.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this fellow named Tom Heinl. I saw this man live, and let me tell you, folks--he's amazing and he's amazingly funny. See, on stage, it's just him, his rocking chair, his favorite lamp, a stereo and a painting, and he sings to tapes of some of the most traditional country songs you'll hear this side of 1975. His deep baritone voice sounds an awful lot like Johnny Cash and his sense of humor takes on Mojo Nixon at full speed--and wins. (If anything, his rich, whiskey-soaked voice sounds an awful lot like the Beat Farmer's late genius, Country Dick Montana.) Throw in the fact that the audience was getting rowdy with him and his occasional readings from his fifth-grade journal were even funnier than his songs, Heinl quickly proved himself to be a really difficult act to follow.

What might look like a novelty-style act is far from it, as his latest album With or Without Me so deftly proves. Initially, I thought that the humor of watching him onstage would not shine through, and on first listen, the songs didn't hit me in the same kind of way that they did on stage--but oh, man, when that second listen came around, Heinl's genius really struck me in the crotch--in a good way! From laments about the heartbreak he had when his wife brought home another man for a three-way in "Three-Way" ("Quietly, I turn the bedroom knob/Guess the porn star inside me just quit his job") to getting drunk before work in "Half Day Vacation" ("One last beer, I put some ketchup in there/That's a poor man's bloody mary") and a spoof of Tom T. Hall's classic "I Love," there's plenty of fun stuff on With Or Without Me. Sure, some of the stuff's juvenile, but it's fun in a juvenile way.

Don't worry about the novelty aspect of his music, because in concert he performs several new songs, all of which are of the same high standard as the songs found on With Or Without Me. The only downside to the album is that it's too short, it doesn't include these great songs! (There's a karaoke version of the album tacked at the end, so you can sing along if you want to, too!) Heinl's a man whose star has only begun to shine, and though he may make you laugh, he's a serious (and seriously funny) entertainer who demands your attention--and your funny bone!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
Label Website:

August 27, 2004

bilge pump 'let me breathe'

Bilge Pump…

…are an English band. A trio, if you want to get technical.

…write a style of music that is at least 6-7 years past its prime.

…feature a guitarist that seems to enjoy playing pinch harmonics*.

…probably like The Jesus Lizard and/or Shellac.

…contribute absolutely nothing new to the abovementioned bands from
whom they so blatantly, unabashedly rip off.

…have released an album comprised of 17 songs that all sound exactly alike.

…need to hire a better graphic designer for their next CD.

…have made writing this review very trouble-free and I must thank them for that.

Thank you, Bilge Pump.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

Label Website:
Artist Website:

*A little guitar lesson for you, folks: a pinch harmonic is a sound a guitar is able to produce when a string is plucked at a certain fret- preferably at a strong natural harmonic near your guitar’s pickup- which causes the guitar to produce a neat, little squealing sound.

minmae 'y te vas?'

When the current three-piece lineup of Minmae took the stage at this year’s South by Southwest, it seemed as if no one in the audience was happier than Daniel Black. A close friend of Minmae frontman Sean Brooks, Black recently abandoned shoegaze and noise-rock (which he explored as both a member of a previous incarnation Sean’s band and as the frontman of the And/Ors) for poppier pastures with his current project, the September Gurls. Upon hearing Minmae debut their new songs, Daniel was elated to discover that his friend was following a similar artistic trajectory. “He’s gone pop!,” Daniel shouted to me, emphasizing his point with a nudge to my shoulder nearly forceful enough to dislocate it. While I wouldn’t say that Minmae has turned into Big Star with their latest album, Ya Te Vas?, it is plain to see that Sean Brooks’ music has gotten progressively cleaner over the last ten years.

In the liner notes of Microcassette Quatrains, a recent release of a lost album recorded back when Minmae was a lo-fi one-man show, Brooks wrote that his music “is reflective of my somewhat deluded interpretation of modern everyday life insomuch as the more noise and drone aspects are in the foreground and the essential message is abstruse and not very audible.” He must have received a serious reality check sometime between then and now because Ya Te Vas? is a nearly complete reversal of this interpretation. Even on the noisier songs (“Circumspect...I Followed It,” “The Unfettered Idealist,” “I Was Buoyant”), the distorted guitars serve as a means to embellish the song, not to overwhelm it. You can make out most of the lyrics now, and it is good to know that Sean is just as capable of being straightforward as he is of being oblique. For every nonsensical couplet like “I walk with Mary and her son but I do not pay Peter/I handle Mary and her gun but I don’t pay meter” (“Just Take Me As I Am”), there’s a heartrending moment like the first verse of “My Conviction,” in which Sean vows to clean the house to keep his girlfriend from leaving him.

Ya Te Vas? is sequenced strangely in that most of the slighter songs take up the first half of the record. Opener “The Previous Show” and “Straight from the Box” are products of the GBV School of ADD songwriting, running through one verse and one chorus before abruptly ending. “Forget to Mention” and “Circumspect...I Followed It” are more notable for their textures than they are for any actual hooks. The former song coasts on choppy stop/start rhythms until the gorgeous coda, in which layers of sweet E-bowed guitars swirl around each other, and the latter song is little more than a cool, simple guitar riff blown up to arena-sized proportions. Minmae don’t start really earning your money until halfway through, when “Kelly in SE” announces itself as the upbeat rocker that Death Cab for Cutie forgot to include on Transatlanticism. From that point onward, the songs get longer, better, and more expansive.

“The Unfettered Idealist” begins as a ballad about a slowly hardening heart, but then segues into a rollicking three-chord jam atop which Sean mumbles bitterly to himself. It’s as if the music gets more intense the more impatient and bitter the song’s protagonist gets. The aforementioned “My Conviction” wins points not only because it’s a love song that is earnest without being corny, but also because it’s the album’s catchiest song. Last but not least, there’s album closer “Setting Sun Turns Blue,” in which Sean rebukes his suicidal thoughts by telling the Grim Reaper to stop reminding him of past mistakes. As heavy as the subject matter sounds, the band’s shambling shuffle makes the song go down easy.

The lazy slide and acoustic guitars that permeate many of the songs on Ya Te Vas? give me the impression that this is the kind of album that the Preston School of Industry should have made instead of the dire Monsoon: slightly countrified indie-rock that prides itself on intelligence and craft above all else. Like PSOI’s Scott Kannberg, Sean Brooks can be his own worst enemy when it comes to how his songs are presented. Brooks’ terminally shaky baritone will always be an acquired taste (paradoxically, he sounds better when he strains his voice for the higher notes than when he stays within his “range”), and his attempts at guitar solos can be the musical equivalent of Russian roulette. Unlike Kannberg, though, Sean still sounds like he’s trying. If Minmae’s preceding mini-album True Love didn’t do it already, Ya Te Vas? proves once and for all that there were always real, and often good, songs hiding underneath Minmae’s blanket of noise. I wouldn’t call this music “pop,” but at least my mother can listen to this with me without plugging her ears.

(I know this because she was next to me reading a newspaper while I typed this review.)

-—Sean Padilla

Artist Website:
Label Website:

Tub Ring "Zoo Hypothesis"

As a music writer, it's not uncommon for you to get bored. You'll get into a rut, and music just kind of blurs together. Okay, this band sounds like Sebadoh. That band sounds like a bad ripoff of Green Day and Mr. T Experience. Blah blah blah blah blah, it gets annoying, it gets frustrating, it gets depressing, it gets uninspiring. So, yeah, I get bored with music, with music writing and with the same old crapola sound with a different cover and a different label, and when I get a record that totally hushes my mouth and makes me struggle with what to say, I really appreciate it, because it's a challenge, you know? (That's also why I was extremely pissed when someone stole my copy of their previous album Fermi Paradox before I could review it.)

I can't properly describe Tub Ring's sound, so I'm just gonna give you the notes: Tripping Daisy meets Faith No More meets Mister Bungle meets Nomeansno meets Brainiac meets the Butthole Surfers meets everything that's good about being bad and weird and everything that's weird about being poppy and sweet and pretty and they never sit still when they make the music that they make and that they've been making music since the early 1990s with nobody listening to them makes them even more magical and special and sexy and good and pretty and nice and weird and I get really happy when I listen to Zoo Hypothesis because it's a record that will make you get happy because when you're happy you're smiling and when you're smiling you're thinking and this record doesn't want you to think too much because it wants you to enjoy the experience of listening to it and when you listen you'll be thinking when you didn't know you were.

I can't--no, wait, scratch that---I WON'T tell you any more about this record, because I would be revealing secrets and sides to and double-takes that you'll discover and I wouldn't want to ruin the pure joy that comes along with listening to Zoo Hypothesis. All I can say is that this album is one of the most breathlessly relentlessly pleasant and loudest and unexpected records you'll hear all year, and this little beauty pill is going straight into my top ten list this year. Does this review sound like lazy journalism on my part? Perhaps, but I'm cashing in the credibility you have when you read a review of mine and think 'wow, Joseph loves that record, let's see if he's right,' because I am TOTALLY right about Tub Ring and you have no other recourse but to break down and check it for yourself, and I'm saying nothing more about it, because I want you to listen to it. You'll have fun listening to it, I promise you that.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
Label Website:

August 23, 2004

Blood on the Wall "Blood on the Wall"

New York City trio Blood on the Wall’s self-titled debut is possibly
the most frustrating rock record I’ve heard this year, not because of how bad it is but because of how good it COULD’VE been. The first 13 seconds of opener “Security in Neighborhoods” are enough to get any listener’s blood racing. The shuffling drums and frantically strummed guitars give me the impression that I’m listening to the resurrection of Imperial FFRR-era Unrest…until guitarist Brad Shanks opens his mouth. His atonal, unmelodic yelp makes him sound like an angry hillbilly at a karaoke bar straining to hear himself clearly over the PA. The louder he “sings” the worse he sounds, and the effect of his vocal seizures on the otherwise compelling
music is tantamount to smearing feces on a Picasso.

Blood on the Wall’s vocal duties are evenly split between Brad and his bass-playing sister Courtney. When Courtney takes the microphone, she opts for a spoken style that is reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, but possesses neither her sexiness nor her range. Yes, I already know that Kim doesn’t have much of a range to begin with…which is my point. Courtney’s voice is definitely more pleasurable than Brad’s, but she’s merely the lesser of two evils. It also doesn’t help matters that the songs Courtney songs boast bafflingly redundant lyrics like “Good boys don’t go to bed early/They like to stay up late” and “Baby, when I kissed you/Your lips were on my mouth.“ Listeners shouldn’t have to choose between being irritated and being bored, which is why Brad and Courtney are probably the least compelling coed vocal duo in all of rock. The guy can’t sing and the girl doesn’t even TRY to.

The band’s vocal deficiencies are a crying shame because the actual
songs that the Shanks siblings and their drumming buddy Miggy Littleton create are some of the catchiest and hyper-kinetic I’ve heard in a while. The synth-speckled “Mae Abilene” would be on every mix CD I make for the next six months if Brad didn’t insist on singing consistently flat. The Velvet Underground-aping ballad “Let’s Heal Properly” would be a hypnotic slice of “plagal cadence” if Brad’s voice didn’t crack every time he veered outside of his two-note range. “Pretty Pretty” would rank up there with every ode that Sonic Youth’s written about NYC if Brad didn’t…okay, I think you get the point by now. This album has a looseness and intimacy that makes me feel like I’m listening to three very good friends having fun in their practice space, right down to the false starts and bits of studio chatter. In this world of pristine yet lifeless ProTools mega-productions, such a thing would normally be a breath of fresh air. However, I strongly feel that this band should’ve tapped a fourth member who could actually sing before committing these songs to tape.

---Sean Padilla


I don’t know why, but from the minute I saw KVLR’s name and took one look at the cover of this bad boy, I knew this band had to be from Sweden. Maybe it was the pale Exorcist-lookin’ girl on the cover? The decidedly minimalist aesthetic, perhaps? I cracked open the cover…and lo and behold: I was right! KVLR apparently hail from UmeĆ„, the same Swedish town as Neo-Marxist hardcore deconstructionists Refused and their far more commercially viable offspring, the (International) Noise Conspiracy. I can’t exactly pinpoint what sort of artistic or cultural sensibility would cause me to automatically associate KVLR with a country best known for offering some of the best healthcare available anywhere in the world (as well as for producing the Ikea corporation and record numbers of busty blondes), but I guess it’s that certain je ne sais quois that propels KVLR’s self-titled 4th LP to some pretty compelling places.

Another assumption I made before I actually put the record on was that KVLR probably sounded like a noisier, more unhinged version of Norwegian hardcore darlings JR Ewing. Boy, I couldn’t have possibly been more wrong- instead of inducing some dark, metallic variety of tough guy hardcore, KVLR write nice, unpretentious, mildly noisy pop songs. In other words, the group seems more concerned with writing some decent melodies than with conquering the world or scaring your children.

Throughout the album’s 10 tracks, the group often comes across as a more contained version of Chapel Hill angular rock stalwarts the Archers Of Loaf (particularly lead singer Johan Sellman, whose world-weary voice occasionally bears a striking resemblance to that of AOL’s mouthpiece Eric Bachmann), especially on “Slow Clapping” and “Road Closure“. While we’re here talking comparisons, the 10-minute epic “What’s Left Belongs To No One“ kind of reminded me of Pedro The Lion.

If there’s one major problem I have with KVLR’s record, it’s the lack of any sort of dynamics- every song kind of shares the same tone, follows similar chord changes, and chugs along the same rhythm patterns. Thankfully the album’s a fairly scant 42 minutes and by the time you’ve noticed, it’s three-quarters of the way over. And though I know KVLR has to capacity to keep its pace varied- songs run the gamut from raging (“Spit”) to contemplative (“Whitewash”) and everywhere in between (the truly exceptional “Traitors and Thieves”)- I would have certainly liked to have seen a bit more deviation from those similar tones, chords, and rhythms. But I suppose if it’s capriciousness I was after, I probably came to the wrong place.

Although the term conjures up images of pot-bellied, pony-tailed record executives slamming fists on mahogany conference room desks, ‘the bottom line’ is KVLR seem to have found a sound of their own, they’ve crafted a respectable set of songs, and never once do they sound even remotely uncomfortable shifting around in their own shoes. KVLR have the rare knack for writing songs that stick with the listener long after the record’s tucked away in its white, minimalist packaging. Check ‘em out for yourself.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

Artist Website:
Label Website:

August 19, 2004

Kaki King "Everybody Loves You"

The most shocking thing about Everybody Loves You, 24-year-old guitarist Kaki King’s jaw-dropping debut album of original compositions, is the lone instrumental credit that appears in the liner notes:

“Kaki King, guitar”

This is shocking because when the opening track “Kewpie Station” begins, you’ll think that you’re hearing an upright bass being played with spoons. When you listen to “Carmine Street,” you’ll think that you’re hearing two guitarists playing separate lead and rhythm parts, with a third person accompanying them on bongos. When a series of whirring noises enters in the middle of that same song, you’ll think that you’re listening to a bit of tape manipulation. When you hear “Close Your Eyes and Burst Into Flames,” you’ll think that you’re hearing DJ Takemura doing incredibly fast cutups of acoustic guitar samples. You will NOT think that any of this is being done live in the studio by one woman with one guitar.

Through alternate tunings and a bottomless supply of extended guitar techniques, from fleet-fingered picking to two-handed tapping to percussive beating, Kaki King expands the vocabulary of the acoustic guitar in ways I’ve never heard before. However, not all of these songs are showcases of pure technical ability. King is just as good of a writer as she is a player, and her less extreme songs have melodies that will get stuck in your head after a couple of listens. I’m particularly fond the speedy swing tempo and chiming guitar harmonics of “Steamed Juicy Little Bun.” Another album highlight is “Joi,” a moody and extremely de-tuned piece that makes the most of blues-like string bends and dynamic changes.

I’m not going to be a Smug Rock Critic and pretend that I have a strong working knowledge of experimental acoustic guitar playing. The only precedent that I can find for Everybody Loves You in my own record collection is Gastr del Sol’s quieter moments, and Kaki’s music is light years even beyond that. I’ve never heard a Leo Kottke record, and I own only a couple of recent John Fahey records. Someone who knows more about that sort of music might not think Kaki’s doing anything that novel. For me, though, this album has the same shock of the new that greeted me when I heard artists like My Bloody Valentine and Oval for the first time. Who knows? I think this woman has the potential to release an album that will do for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? did for the electric guitar…that is, if Everybody Loves You isn’t ALREADY that album.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website:

August 17, 2004

Grupo Fantasma "Movimiento Popular"

I must begin this review with a disclaimer. I’m a good friend of 25% of this band’s roster, but as usual, I assure you that my critical nepotism is worth it. I once joked to Grupo saxophonist David Lobel that the Tejano music I heard on the radio every day sounded like “Mexican zydeco” to me: corny, repetitive accordion-driven songs that all sounded the same. Dave thought my analogy was hilarious, and proposed to the rest of Fantasma that their second album should be called Mexican Zydeco. The idea got shot down rather quickly, dismissed by singer Brian Ramos with three curt words: "I hate Tejano.” While it was nice to know that Ramos shared my dislike of the sub-genre, the experience was a sobering reminder to me of how little I truly know about Latin music. While I’m not foolish enough to assume that all Latin music sounds the same, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a cumbia, a salsa, a son, or a rumba. I’m half Hispanic and I can’t speak Spanish to save my life. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a bilingual musicologist, or even a “world music” freak, to enjoy the music of Grupo Fantasma. Besides, the band ended up choosing a much better name for their sophomore effort in the long run: Movimiento Popular, or “Popular Movement.”

The name works for the album on two different levels. For one, it’s a reflection of the band’s ability to weave snippets of every possible genre that is conducive to dancing into their music. Grupo Fantasma are traditional enough not to piss purists off, but experimental enough to attract listeners outside of the Tex-Mex subculture. You can hear jazz in the four-piece horn section’s extremely tight arrangements. They use counterpoint and dissonance in ways that I haven’t heard in non-jazz music since the last time I dusted off my Chicago and Tower of Power records. You can hear dub in the minimal bass lines and the various distortions and echo tricks employed in the production. Many songs integrate Jamaican dance-hall riddims. “Sukulenta” features some jarring turntable scratching, and album closer “Ya No Puedo” is discotheque funk through and through. With its synth-bass, wah-wah guitars, and sultry female harmonies, “Puedo” should have been the music heard in the background when Rick James’ five fingers said “slap” to Charlie Murphy’s face. Unlike their self-titled debut, though, the songs on Movimiento Popular can’t be easily compartmentalized into separate genres (as in "this is the jazz song,” “this is the rock song,” et cetera). However, even when “Vacilon” storms through the gate with Headbanger’s Ball guitars, the mission remains clear: “Grupo Fantasma want you to move,” Ramos and percussionist Jose Galeano sing.

The name “Popular Movement” also betrays the earthbound subject matter that Grupo focuses on in its songs. (Keep in mind that the lyrics are entirely in Spanish, and my assertions are based on extremely rough English translations of the lyrics, which means that I might be completely wrong.) “Montero” is sung from the point of view of a man who flees town after being wrongfully accused of murder. A cavernous guitar riff straight out of a Western movie bisects the song, punctuated by gunshot sound effects. “Utility Rock” is one of the album’s catchiest songs even if you don’t know Spanish, but translating the lyrics is worth it for the hilarious anecdotes about getting your utilities disconnected ‘cause you’re too broke to pay the bills. “Oye Mi Cumbia” is a song of thanks to God, and the very next track, “Chocolate,” is a plea for listeners to resist the sweet temptations of the devil. “Soy El Hombre” chastises men who value material possessions more than human relationships. Of course, as the album goes on the songs go back to less weighty topics: pretty women, dancing with pretty women, possibly having sex with pretty women, et cetera… Regardless of the subject matter, the music stays consistently joyful. A small kid with braids dances on the album’s cover. Maybe the prevailing message of this album is that our mundane daily lives are more of a party than we actually realize. You may not agree with this outlook, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to listen to this album without cracking a smile or dancing.

Through intelligent use of panning, the mix of the album is simultaneously dense and spacious, ensuring that all 12 members of the band are heard clearly without getting in each other’s way. Everything seems to harmonize with everything else, from Ramos’ and Galeano’s sonorous tenors to the guitars and horns. Although a slight sheen has been applied to these recordings in the studio, Grupo is just as capable of pulling off such multi-layered arrangements live. One song, “Seis Seis Seis,” serves a proof, with its live-to-2-track recording sounding different from the rest of the record ONLY because of the increase in reverb. As talented as these musicians are, they humbly suppress their egos by keeping their songs in concise three-and-a-half-minute packages, only allowing the occasional horn or guitar solo to poke through. This is truly an ENSEMBLE, with every musician and singer playing to serve the song instead of showing off their skills. Excellent in almost every conceivable facet, Movimiento Popular is a total package from a band that was already one of Austin’s best bets to begin with. Genres and language barriers, be damned: this is BOUND to be one of 2004’s best albums.

--Sean Padilla

August 13, 2004

happy bullets 'blue skies and umbrellas'

Dallas, Texas has been a very fertile territory for all kinds of bands, but for some reason, they've never really been known for straight-up indiepop. Well, don't fret, Chet, because The Happy Bullets are here, and they're here to P!O!P! your world! This threesome is joined by a choir and guest musicians (gee, no Dallas band's ever done that before!) and the music's as poppy as it is pretty. And yeah, much like that other robed band, Blue Skies and Umbrellas is a piano-and-multiple-voices collection of moving and pretty 1970s-inspired AM radio pop.

Don't worry, though--they're not as cloying or as annoying as the Elephant 6 posse (whom The Happy Bullets could easily be a part of), and say what you will, you can't deny that their music is heartfelt and sincere. They share boy and girl lead voices, which mixes up the sound quite nicely. Sometimes they lean towards Mercury Rev ("The Ominous Blinking Light") and Grandaddy-styled pop ("I Should've Been an Airline Pilot") but for the most part they're mining the twee-pop style that made Kindercore so famous back in the 1990s. Currently, my favorite song is "It's A Perfect Day," with its heartfelt singing creating a major positive vibe. Occasionally the music gets a little same-y towards record's end, but I'm not too worried about it; I chalk it up to youthful charm, and given some time, I'm sure they'll develop a more varied sound.

If you're not charmed by this fun little record, then shame on you, Mister Cynical. I like this little record. It's pretty, it's pleasant, and for the most part, it's done with a big smile. I'm looking forward to watching this great little Dallas band blossom and grow--it could be quite an interesting ride!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
Label Website:

electro group "ummo"

Thirteen years after the release of their masterwork Loveless, it’s amazing how fertile My Bloody Valentine’s sound remains. So many bands continue to use their whammy bars and distortion pedals to create infinitesimal variations on the MBV template that not a year goes by in which I don’t seriously consider holding an annual National Shoegazers Convention. This convention would climax with the giving of the Kevin Shields award to the band that did the most that year to further his musical legacy. Lovesliescrushing would have been shoo-ins for 1995. The Swirlies would have had 1996 on lock. Lenola would have taken 1997 and 1999. All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors owned 1998. You get the picture. Sacramento outfit the Electro Group stole 2001 from Mahogany by a hair with their awesome album A New Pacifica. Unfortunately, after a small tour in which they played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen in Austin to a crowd of *maybe* 30 people, they seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth for a while.

Three years later, I’m dodging the end-of-summer doldrums by rocking out to their new EP Ummo, which quietly announces their resurgence with a collection of new recordings and tracks from previously released singles and compilations. I’ll be darned if it isn’t just as much of a breath of fresh air as A New Pacifica three years ago. This is strange when one considers that the only significant change that the Electro Group have made since their debut is an increase in production values (that is, the drums are higher up in the mix). As soon as opener “Captain New Mexico” begins, though, you’ll agree that this band’s creative stubbornness is a virtue.

The Electro Group’s sound can be broken down quite easily. Ian Hernandez, who lays down thick and fuzzy bass lines that keep the sound much denser than the band’s power-trio format would indicate. Ian Jacobsen stacks up what sounds like layers of droning guitars that avoid bar-chord drudgery by any means necessary, even if it means his instrument sounds like a motor refusing to start (“Noon Blu Apples,” which is a BALLAD) or a police siren (“My Machines”). On top of his guitars, he sings in a breathy falsetto that most people would assume came from a girl before doing further research. In fact, he may be a vocal twin of Lenola’s Jay Laughlin, which basically puts them in competition for the Friendliest Voice in All of Rock. Then, there’s drummer Matt Hull, who plays in a rigid and martial style akin to Unwound’s Sara Lund. His rhythms keep the rest of the music from disappearing into the ether, making Electro Group a much more aggressive band than most of their remaining peers. Ummo is definitely shoegaze that you can bang your head to, especially during the instrumental title track.

The most crucial component of the Electro Group’s sound, though, is strong songwriting. You might never be able to make out what Ian’s singing, but you’ll have at least half of the songs on Ummo stuck in your head after the CD ends. The better songs on this EP (“Captain,” “Machines,” and my personal favorite “Panzer Treat”) stand out because of distinct vocal melodies that keep the music from devolving into mere distorted grinding. If the band can step up their productivity and make a sophomore album that delivers on the promise of Ummo, I smell a Shoegaze Convention three-peat. As it is, they’re already a sure bet for the 2004 Kevin Shields award.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website:
Label Website:

Harry & The Potters "Voldemort Can't Stop The Rock!"

Before you read this review, I have to say two things.

First, if you're not into the Harry Potter books at all, you probably shouldn't read this. Harry and the Potters will not appeal to you. Second, if you are indeed a loyal Harry Potter reader, but haven't heard of Harry and the Potters before, you should be aware that they have already released a CD. In fact, I reviewed their first CD, and you should read that review before reading about this new release.

With that out of the way...

Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock is the continuation of the monumental work that began with the Harry and the Potters' self-titled CD. The first CD immortalized the first four Harry Potter books in song. For the most part, this new CD is "Harry and the Potters and the Order of the Phoenix", with the exception of four songs (I'll detail those later). The duo of Harrys retain their guitar-synth-and-drums indie pop sound, but they get a little more upbeat and outspoken, and even rock out on a couple of songs.

The album begins with two songs that aren't book specific. First, is the title track, a slow, yet anthemic sort of electroclash slowjam (I swear that's a drum machine providing the beats, and they don't play guitar on that song, either). The song is indeed a defiant declaration that Voldemort can't silence their rocking. Bonus points for making the winking reference to Muggle America with the lines, "And we won't let the Dark Lord, ruin our party just like Tipper Gore tried with the PMRC."

The other non-book specific song is "The Weasle". The song begins with the older Harry singing, "They call him the Weasle," but the younger Harry corrects him, since he is not known by that appellation. So, older Harry revises himself with the words, "They don't call him the Weasle, but they should!" It's funnier than it sounds. I probably spoil it by putting it in cold, unemotional text. Anyway, the rest of the song has the Harrys reminiscing about events in the past that concerned Ron Weasley, like the time that Ron's pet rat tried to kill them all, or that time when Ron burped up slugs ("That was so cool!").

The two Goblet of Fire songs are "The Missing Arm of Viktor Krum" and "SPEW". "Viktor Krum" was the result of a fansite contest to come up with a title and subject matter for a song that the Harrys would write and record. The title is a clever reference to a figurine of the Bulgarian Quidditch star and Triwizard champion, the arm of which Ron tore off in a jealous rage when he took Hermione to the Yule Ball. The other Goblet of Fire song, "SPEW", is a short, fast number about Hermione's house elf liberation organization. The verses are simply the word "spew" repeated four times", while the choruses just contain two repetitions of "Do you want to set the house elves free?" Simplistic, but fun.

And that brings us to the Order of the Phoenix songs. First, in case you were wondering, they do address the political tension and intrigue of the source material with three songs. "Cornelius Fudge Is an Ass" is a wake up call to the Minister of Magic, an appeal to listen to Dumbledore and prepare for Voldemort's return.
"Dumbledore's Army" is an anthem of defiance for the group of the same name that Harry started in order to train his friends in defense of the dark arts when the Ministry of Magic wouldn't let them learn defensive techiniques they could use. Finally, there's "Stick it to Dolores", which is just self-explanatory.

Another highlight of the Phoenix songs is "The Human Hosepipe", about Harry's date with Cho Chang. It's one of my favorite negative love songs now. In it, the Harrys detail the awkward events of that lead Cho to crying and storming away from the date, and in the chorus they belt out the simple, yet all-important question, "Cho Chang what have I done?" It reminds me of the Simpsons episode in which Milhouse's dad takes the microphone at Homer and Marge's second wedding reception, singing "Can I Borrow a Feeling?" in a futile effort to win back the love of his ex-wife. Except that the Harrys actually have talent, and "Human Hosepipe" is a good song.

Other standout tracks are "Keeping Secrets From Me" and "The Godfather: Part II". "Secrets" is the hardest rocking song the Harrys have ever done, an angry song about the period at the Dursleys' house in the beginning of the book when Harry thought his friends were ignoring him and not responding to his letters. It reminds me of the title track from Hedwig and the Angry Inch for some reason. It rocks hard, but there's something of a theatricality to it. I'm not exactly sure how to explain it. "Godfather: Part II" is about the terrible fate that befalls Sirius Black near the end of Order of the Phoenix, an impassioned plea to Sirius to "Come back now, come back from beyond the veil." I like the little burst of feedback at the end of the song. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it was a great punctuation mark to end a song about the most emotionally jarring event of the book.

I could go on about the few other songs on the CD, but I think you want me to get to the point. The point is that Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock is a worthy successor to the self-titled Harry and the Potters CD. I see all the Harrys' recorded material as what the soundtrack to an indie rock musical (or maybe even opera) about Harry Potter would sound like. Because of that, I think that both CDs are essential. If you take away one, it's like only having half a soundtrack album. Oh, and this CD is just as good as the self-titled one. Don't worry, there isn't any drop in musical or lyrical quality here.

--Eric Wolf

Band website:

August 11, 2004

Gorge Trio "Open Mouth, O Wisp"

I would like to begin by playfully thumbing my nose at anyone who thinks that Mundane Sounds is slowly turning into another Deerhoof fan page. Admit it, haters: Deerhoof rules, and almost any record that a member of said band has input in is a slice of sonic gold…even the ones that caused this website's editor to (not so) dismissively invent a sub-genre called “rehearsal rock” (like Natural Dreamers). Besides, at the very least, I wasn’t too biased to tell you that the Nervous Cop record sucked, which is why the word “almost” appeared in the previous sentence. Having said all of that, I have come to (cautiously) recommend an album by yet another Deerhoof side project, the Gorge Trio.

Guitarist John Dieterich is a Gorger, and as any fan of his main band can expect, large sections of the trio’s latest album Open Mouth, O Wisp consist of Dieterich and fellow guitarist Ed Rodriguez doing their best Zoot Horn Rollo/Antennae Jimmy Semens impersonations while drummer Chad Popple throws his kit down a flight of stairs. In fact, the best description I can muster of this record is that it’s what a CD changer stuffed with nothing but Deerhoof side projects would sound like set on “random”…and when I say “random,” I *mean* it. The track listing is largely unnecessary, but not because all of the songs sound the same. It’s for quite the opposite reason. Not only does each song sound different from the one that came before it, but many songs change tack two or three times during their brief tenure (about a fourth of the 22 songs on Open Mouth actually surpass the two-minute mark).

Opener “A Comedy in Sun” starts out sounding like two cats slowly walking on the same piano, but ends with a guitar/bass/drums jam that sounds like a free jazz record stuck in a locked groove. “Words” is a slice of pendulum piano pop that ends with a blast of static, and segues directly into “The Invisible Student,” which sounds like an acoustic version of the previous track’s main riff stripped of its rhythmic backbone…at least until the flutes (??!?) come in. The warped tape manipulations “Masks for Quilts” seem lifted from a Christian Marclay record, but then again, Marclay would have never thought to intersperse a vibraphone solo halfway through the song. The title track is a slight piece of fake gamelan that renders almost all of the Sun City Girls’ Carnival Folklore Resurrection series obsolete (which, admittedly, doesn’t say much). At four minutes, the comparatively epic “Roof Halves and Dewdrop Gems” takes a long time to ease into a growling Sonic Youth-style crescendo.

Most of the aforementioned songs, though, are anomalies on a record that is otherwise neatly divided between the lopsided string-strangling of Natural Dreamers (“Youth Island,” “Health Seekers,” “Intimate Addition”), the cutesy synthesizer experiments of the Curtains (“The Lurker,” “Divining a Hot Spot,” “The Age of Almost Living”) and the directionless digital screeching of Nervous Cop (“Memo to an Apparition,” “Dawn of a Piccolo”). If you own records by any of these aforementioned side projects, Open Mouth‘s fascinating moments will greatly outweigh the frustrating ones. If not, chances are you’ll be like Joseph and start complaining about how putting out a CD is too easy nowadays every time someone puts this album on. You already know what side of the fence I’m on. Besides, Deerhoof don’t plan on putting a new album out until 2006, so I’ll need *something* to tide me over until then.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website:
Label Website:

Kenny Rogers "42 Ultimate Hits"

I hate the way some artists get tangled up in their image. For some reason, I can envision that you who come to Mundane Sounds are thinking "Kenny Rogers? Joseph, where are you going with this?? Have you lost it?" I can't say that I blame you, but that's okay, I've got some love to give, and I'm gonna give it here, and as Mundane Sounds is all about breaking societal taboos, we're gonna give a little bit of love to The Gambler. So out of the closet I come, full of pride about the man I love.

I grew up with Kenny. He was ubiquitous in my house and on the radio stations that I grew up listening to back in that lovely decade we call the Seventies. His country-pop stylings--along with artists like Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, George Jones and Roger Miller--helped to define my idea of what music should be: lush, melodic pop that should be laced with a heavy-duty dose of great lyrical content. Kenny was all of these things and more, but sadly people only seem to know him as a chicken restaurant magnet and a guy who has a website dedicated to hirsute men who look just like him, and that's a damn shame.

42 Ultimate Hits is a long overdue collection, and it just the hits, ma'am. You might not know it, but he was actually a pioneer of psychedelic country, first making waves with his band The First Edition. Psych-rock and Kenny Rogers? Yeah, I know it's an odd concept, but that's exactly what it was-- "Just Droped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" was pure competition for 13th Floor Elevators and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" was a scathing, disturbing commentary about Vietnam. These great songs highlighted Rogers' whiskey-smooth singing voice, and set the standard for what was about to come--detailed, moving narrative songs of love and loss and losers who wanted nothing more than to be loved and redeemed. "Lucille" and "The Coward of the County" are tales that, twenty-five years later, are still moving..

Rogers was a ballad man, too, and when he did a ballad, he did it right. Strings? You got 'em. Backing vocals? Yup, they're gonna be done to the hilt. Much like Elvis Presley, Rogers might not have been the writer of most of his songs, but that didn't stop him from getting inside the words and making them all his own. Listen to "Lady" or "You Decorated My Life" and "She Believes In Me" or "We've Got Tonight" and you'll instantly fall in love with the feeling of love, and lemme tell you folks, Kenny was damn good at what he did; his songs did love right. None of that whiny 'does she love me' pensive Bright Eyes crap is anywhere to be found here--Rogers was a man and his music, while sensitive, was sensitive in a loving, masculine way. He also wrote one of my favorite love songs ever, "Love Will Turn You Around," the theme song to the long-lost classic film Six Pack. The distinctive guitar intro was permanantly etched in my brain when I was nine, and the moment I hear it I'm instantly transported back to my youth, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Of course, like so many great country artists, Rogers was frozen out by the 'New Country' movement of the mid-Eighties, and though he still made music, he quickly became ignored by the format that made him famous. Though it must be said that the days of having great songs like "The Gambler" were gone, Rogers did have a really good run, leaving behind a string of really great hits. Yes, some of his later hits like "The Vows Go Unbroken" and "Twenty Years From Now" are saccharine and somewhat schlocky, but you shouldn't dismiss his earlier career for that. 42 Ultimate Hits fixes the upsetting absence of a good, comprehensive Rogers greatest hits collection--most have been incomplete, poorly mixed or inferior rerecorded versions. If you ever wondered about the man, or if you simply want to be wowed by really beautiful, moving songs, then I recommend 42 Ultimate Hits in the biggest of ways.

--Joseph Kyle

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