September 30, 2004

Fancey "fancey"

What with this whole 60s/70s nostalga thing going on, it was only a matter of time before someone went and made a mid-70s inspired pop-rock album. Leave it to New Pornographer Todd Fancey to do just that. You better like sensitive soft rock, too, because Fancey is about as sensitive and soft-rock gets. Throw in a penchant for 80s pop—I’m reminded of the Ocean Blue, actually—and you’ve got a really great little record on your hands here. It sounds great, of course, in a Air Supply kind of way. There are some really, really great songs on here; I’m a real sucker for “Sunbrite” and “Strayed Out,” and I really flipped when I heard “’Til The Morning Comes,” too—it’s simply simple pop music. It’s sunny and bright and upbeat and that better be what you want, because that’s all Todd’s got.

The only flaw with Fancey is that it sometimes sounds a bit monotonous. The formula's the same throughout the album, but that’s okay; it’s a short record, and you’ll be too busy hitting repeat after each juicy sweet number. Still, I can’t complain; I wish every ‘side project’ sounded this nice!


--Joseph Kyle

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

63 Crayons "Good People"

Apparently, the glory days of the Athens (Georgia, for those who
actually don't know) indiepop scene are over. Since I've never been to Athens, this didn't really dawn on me until I read message board posts and news articles about the Athens Popfest this past summer. One article that I read made the Popfest sound like an almost futile effort to relive those days of promise and great concert attendance numbers of the '90s. Like all the great Athens bands of the past have either broken up or left.

Okay, Kindercore folded, I'll give you that. The notion of the Elephant 6 collective seems dead, and it appears that Jeff Mangum will never release another album of new, original music. I'll grant you that, too. But is it really that dismal? Does Athens have nothing else to offer the music world?

No.

That's it. The malaise is in your head, for what you don't realize is that new musical forces have sprung up in Athens to replace the fallen heroes of the '90s. And they are worthy!

One of the newest manifestations of the great indiepop power of Athens that shall never die is 63 Crayons. Their debut album is Good People, a great mishmash of poppy catchiness and awesome psychedelia. Good People is evidence that the Elephant 6 torch has merely been passed, and not extinguished. 63 Crayons will remind listeners of Of Montreal, since there is an element of whimsy on this album and because they use a lot of the same instrumentation (guitar-synth/organ-drums with touches of xylophone and other random things). Still, 63 Crayons is that and so much more. It also seems that they've actually gone back and listened to the standards '60s bands that influenced Elephant 6 (The Beatles, Beach Boys, etc.), as well as '80s college rock and new wave.

The album itself sounds like a concept album, but it really isn't one as far as I can tell. Good People convincingly goes from straight, upbeat pop to crazy psychedelia and back again in the drop of a hat. Starting from the little bit of vaguely circus music on "Sam's Pancake Breakfast" and going right into the rocking, partly new wave-inspired shot of energy that is "Song for my Sister", the whole thing is just a wonderful ride. It can either be appreciated as a cohesive whole or a collection of singles. Standout singles include the whimsical, very Of Montreal-like romp that is "Walking", the hyper "Mrs. Brewster" with the great scream-along chorus ("Poor Mrs. Brewster, she's on fire!"), and "Mice and Feathers", on which frontman Charlie Johnston hands over lead vocal duties to Suzanne Allison and she sings catchy female pop vocals on top of a punky guitar riff. You might also appreciate the hyper-psychedelic track 12, the first part of which is "All Songs at Once" (yes, that's just what it implies), and the second part of which is "Suzy Eats an Apple", on which you can hear band member Suzanne eats an apple amidst an avant-garde backdrop of bird sounds, bells, and ambient guitar drones. It's not as pretentious as it sounds, and it makes a nice interlude just before the slow, psychedelic finisher, "Popcorn".

This really is a great album, and I hope that it'll help, at least in part, to revive hope in the Athens music scene. And if you're living in the Athens area, I hope you'll get your head out of whatever hole you have it in and go see them!

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.hhbtm.com/63crayons
Label Website: http://www.hhbtm.com

Brian Wilson "SMiLE"

I hate to say it, but this record is just crap.

I understand why Brian would want to revisit this part of his life, but going back to the Smile album is like trying to strike up a relationship with your ex-wife or ex-husband. Sure, there are some memories there, but it’s never going to be the same; you’re always going to think about the past and what could have been and you’re going to compare the two. Try as you might, you’ll never recapture that original magic. That’s the case with Smile; the original was an interesting idea, this is simply cleaning up the mess and making one last final artistic statement. After all, it looks good in the history books—musical genius/madman completes his magnum opus.


SMiLE just isn’t any good.

I’m being a pathetic purist here, but, really, there’s no way you can honestly say songs like “Wind Chimes,” “Good Vibrations,” “Surf’s Up,” “Cabin Essence” or “Wonderful” sound better than the original versions—all of which are considered Beach Boys classics. These new versions sound like a sixty year old man making a vain attempt to recapture his past by revisiting some of his greatest hits. Back then he was young and youthful and had a sweet, angelic singing voice. Now he’s old, tired and reflective; his voice hardened by his mental problems and drug abuse. It’s a cold, unhappy sound, actually of a man facing his mortality.

Maybe that’s the point, then?

Nah, I don’t think so. SMiLE just tries too hard to be the original, failing miserably. After all, his brothers are dead, the album has nothing to do with Mike Love or Al Jardine or Bruce Johnston, and it just sounds…wrong. If you’ve heard any of the original Smile sessions, listen to them instead; don’t waste your time with this tripe. Of course, it’s not surprising; except for one or two brief moments, the original Smile really wasn’t that great of a record anyway. Smile will always stand as the document of a brilliant young man losing his battle with his sanity, and should serve as a cautionary tale as to what drugs can do to a great mind. SMiLE is nothing more than a sad retread, made by a man whose best music was behind him thirty years ago.

SMiLE serves a disservice, both to Wilson and to the Beach Boys. Brian circa 1966 was a young man who could have easily taken over the world and the Beach Boys were at the top of their game, but their artistic statements were rejected, leaving Brian retreating into drugs. He could have been the next Burt Bacharach, but instead he chose to be the prototype for brain-burned dope casualties like Syd Barrett. Smile wouldn’t have bettered Pet Sounds, and it’s foolish to think that it could. Wilson’s already guilty of revisiting that album, so maybe SMiLE was inevitable.

When Capitol decides to release the Smile album—a boxed set is reportedly on the way soon—you’ll hear what Smile could be. You’ll also hear what SMiLE never could be, and you’ll not want to listen to this sad rehash again.

Maybe it's just time to fess up and say it: Smile (and SMiLE) was a mess of a record that sounds good in rock lore. SMiLE is easily this year's biggest disappointment.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.brianwilson.com
Label Website: http://www.nonesuch.com

September 29, 2004

Soltero "The Tongues You Have Tied"

Tim Howard, the sole Soltero mastermind, recorded his latest album, The Tongues You Have Tied, during the middle of a really hard winter. In the liner notes, he describes the recording process, and it's a pretty funny little story involving alcohol, long walks, freezing cold and an obsession with the Mamas & Papas. It'll make you chuckle, and it certainly brings to life the next thirty minutes of your life.

The Tongues You Have Tied will test your threshhold for pain. Emotional pain, that is. Like winter, the album is cold, grey and depressing; occasionally the overcast skies are broken by the sun and by a humorous aside, but for the most part, you're left cold and alone. Howard, who sounds like a gruff, throaty Elliott Smith or a less rough Neil Young, has a real knack for writing pretty little folk ditties; though they're coated in melancholy, you'll still wind up hitting repeat after a few songs, especially "The Factory" and "Old-Time Promises." You'll be transported into a world of blueness, but that's okay, because it's perfectly natural to have days where you're sad-eyed and mopey.

When he started recording, Howard intended The Tongues You Have Tied to be an EP, but Howard was inspired to flesh it out. To his credit, he breaks from the monotony of singer-songwriter folk fare by adding several short, brief instrumental passages. This idea is an inspired one; it gives the album a seamless flow. He also mixes in songs with simple guitar arrangements with bigger, fuller accompaniment, so even though the album's a brief, thirty-minute affair, it's never a dull thirty minute affair. As it stands, this is a great little record by a young artist who's clearly onto something. It's a sad something, but it's something nonetheless. With fall's arrivial, perhaps another record of inspired sadness will be on its way. I certainly hope so.

---Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.solterosongs.com
Label Website: http://www.threeringrecords.com

Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos "The Town's Old Fair"

Josh Lederman's new record, The Town's Old Fair is a great sounding record, but it should serve as a lesson. There's something to be said for brevity. Soul of wit, you know. Cover the subject. Show what you can do, but don't overdo it. You don't want to beat your audience down with monotony, right? Right. I don't think so, and I doubt that Josh Lederman intended to do so, either. That's why I'm conflicted.

The Town's Old Fair proves that Lederman's a great songwriter and that his backing band Los Diablos is pretty hot, too. I've certainly enjoyed listening to it; it's a collection of alt.country-inspired rock music with a bit of the olde Irish thrown in to keep it interesting. Lederman's got a strong voice, too; he reminds me of both Old 97s frontman Rhett Miller and They Might Be Giants' John Flansburg. The music is sweet-sounding, too; it's crunchy rock that's most assuredly original, and I bet would be a lot of fun soundtracking your night out at the bar.

That's what makes the album's biggest flaw so difficult to mention: this album's too long. There are too many songs--sixteen songs simply overwhelms the listener. Sure, these songs are good, but listening to a record shouldn't be a chore, and that's what happened to me. By the time I reached the halfway mark, I was impressed and won over, convinced that this was a great band--but by the end of the record, I was a little bored. This could have easily been paired down to a really strong ten-song album, and you really wouldn't have noticed. Sure, the first few songs--especially "Forty Days" and "I've Been Down So Long" start off the album rather well, but great songs like "Fishs Eddy" and "Palinka" are diminshed somewhat from being placed between good but lesser songs.

I hope this lesson's taken into consideration, because it's held me back from being totally enthusiastic about this record. I still think they're an awesome band--I'd see them if they played here--but I'd be hard pressed to listen to The Town's Old Fair all the way through in one sitting.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.coffeestainmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.ninemilerecords.com

Shoplifting "Shoplifting"

After the onslaught of comparatively more adventurous signings that Kill Rock Stars has acquired over the last couple of years (Decemberists, Amps for Christ, the Paper Chase, Gold Chains), the most surprising thing about Shoplifting’s self-titled debut EP is that it’s such a throwback to the aesthetics of classic early-’90s KRS. The artwork is full of hand-drawn faces, handmade collages, and liner notes typed intentionally badly. Each member of the coed band is identified by first name only, with no clues given as to who plays what. The music is deliberately arty punk that prizes immediacy and intensity over actual musicianship. The lyrics address the dynamics of sexual oppression, often choosing to subvert them by letting males sing from traditionally “female“ perspectives (and vice versa). The liner notes are accompanied by a second-person narrative about a man who tries to hang himself after being violated by a woman. Last but not least, the EP was recorded and engineered by a member of another KRS band (in this case, ex-Unwound alumnus Justin Trosper), continuing the tradition of incestuous DIY communalism. Consider Shoplifting the new physical vessels of the wandering ghost of Bikini Kill, long after Kathleen Hanna abandoned punk for the greener pastures of kitschy synth-pop.

The EP’s first song, “L.O.V.E.,” begins with a hissing dance-punk rhythm and stuttering guitars that sound like the guitarists’ fingers are caught in between the strings and can’t be yanked out. The female vocalist lets her voice wander from the sexy speak/singing of Kim Gordon to the bilious screaming of Courtney Love and all points in between. No respecter of grammar, she chastises “men without morals/she without heart,“ asserts that she’s “tired of moderate/tired of tolerate,” and finally urges to listener to undress AND fight. Second track “Raw Nails Now” demands the immediate dismantling of the social patriarchy in graphic and evocative language: “Section out of my prick in poles/Scrape out cum and violence.” It ends with the male singer screaming “Scratch it out!” in his best Thurston Moore voice, as if he’s getting off on the pain of castration. None of the instruments play in the same key as each other, which renders the music just as willfully abrasive as the lyrics.

Track three, “Ask Me,” is a self-described “role reversal” in which both singers reenact a rape, with the female as the aggressor (“Well, he’s a fast man…”) and the male as the victim (“You came into my room/You put your knees into my back”). If the lyrics don’t make you queasy, the guitarists will by bending their strings to produce long streams of feedback that resemble the sound of tugboats. The final song, “Contrapuntal Prancing,” revisits the dissonant dance-punk of the first song and serves as the closest thing to an anthem on the EP. “Let’s cut my white male privvies,” the singers chant in unison, “and why not your privvies too?” In this song, dancing is portrayed as an act of rebellion from the patriarchy (“twist feminist and pogo anarcho!”). It’s not exactly a new idea, even to those who aren’t familiar with classic KRS. Then again, nothing on this EP is. I once read an article that suggested that Shoplifting’s political worldview could be whittled down to the phrase “rock not rape, dude.” While I definitely see where the writer was coming from, we can all agree that in the era of Kobe Bryant, “rock not rape, dude” is still a message needs

Besides, I’ve always said that if you’re good enough, you don’t necessarily NEED to be original. Fortunately, most of the time Shoplifting are good enough. At their best, they sound like snippets from Sonic Youth‘s Sonic Death album rearranged into slightly more digestible songs. At their worst, they sound like a band whose rhythm section showed up to the studio prepared to play, but whose guitarists forgot their parts as soon as the tape started rolling. Fortunately, these moments rarely last for more than a couple of seconds as a time. Songs that initially sound like three separate ideas haphazardly stitched together gain coherence upon further listens as patterns and links begin to emerge. For instance, the slow and sloppy coda of “Raw Nails Now” sounds so different from the fast and raucous intro that it took me four listens to notice that the singers are repeating the same lyrics in both parts. The music is carefully planned even when it sounds improvised, and although Shoplifting could definitely use a bit more rehearsal, they pull this trick off much better than many other bands of their ilk.

Rock not rape, dude. Bring on the full-length!

--Sean Padilla

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

September 28, 2004

Sudden Ease "Trace of You"

Boston faves Sudden Ease have decided to up the ante with their third album, Trace of You. It's easy to understand why this band's selling out shows back home, too; their music is literate, intelligent alternative-pop with just a brief coat of radio polish. Throw in the fact that the band uses one of my favorite instruments--the piano--as the basis for many of their songs, and I'm instantly interested. Such a combination will make you recall Ben Folds Five and Billy Joel, and lead singer Tim Carr's croon is very much in the same vein as Jeff Buckley or Coldplay's Chris Martin. (Just take a listen to "As You Will" and you'll see what I mean.)

The problem that arises, though, is that at times Trace of You sounds too inspired by those bands. Great musicianship and great singing doesn't matter; if you're aping a band, you're aping a band, and no amount of studio polish will change that. It doesn't matter how good you are, if you can name the bands that a band is inspired by, then there's a bit of a problem. I suppose that such a sin is forgiveable, especially if you're an ambitious young band. Still, after a few years of playing out and releasing records, you should have a sound that's all your own, shouldn't you?

I'm not totally convinced their transgressions should be held against them, though, because these guys have one thing going for them: promise. While their sound may seem a tad bit affected right now, give them a little more time and I'm sure that they'll deliver a record that's truly their own, with no traces of their inspirations. Maybe I'm being a little bit cynical here, and even though I hear too many other bands in their music, songs like the pretty and sad "Easy to See" and the bitter "Separate Directions" show that they're on the right track. That's a good thing to know, because when a band's as good as Sudden Ease--and they are good--they don't deserve obscurity.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Graves "Yes Yes OK OK"

Graves is the nom de rock of Greg Olin, a Portland, OR songwriter who seems to have lots of friends in high places. The liner notes of his sophomore album Yes Yes OK OK are peppered with the names of personnel from local outfits like Yume Bitsu, the Dirty Projectors, and Desert City Soundtrack. These names, combined with the fact that the connoisseurs of quietude at Hush Records were kind enough to release this album, should give you some clues as to what you can expect from Graves: hushed songs with a peculiar attitude toward the art of arrangement. Olin sings in a slightly flat and raspy voice (mostly) about love and strums first-position chords on his acoustic guitar while his friends back him up on a myriad of instruments, from drums to distorted keyboards to mariachi-style trumpets. Despite the lush instrumental backdrops, many of the songs on the album actually sound like exercises in minimalism.

Opener “The Will Now” begins with two verses in which Olin knocks off imagistic couplets about his desire for a monogamous relationship: “I’m gonna cut your name into a willow/I’m gonna push your face into my pillow.” After a chorus of “I‘m gonna settle down,” he repeats the first verse, but this time singing only the first three words in each line before stopping. It almost sounds as if he‘s letting the listener fill in the blanks, which only makes it more powerful when Olin resumes singing full sentences by repeating the chorus. The first two verses of “Connection Time” don’t begin to make sense until you hear the third, in which Olin tries to convince a girl to have sex with him: “Buttons aren’t forever, girl/Zippers, they always rust/Slow is for the patient few/Let’s hurry as we must.” It’s the kind of move that I bet David Gedge wishes he’d thought of first. On these two songs, Olin gets away with singing only as many words as necessary to get his point across.

Unfortunately, the rest of Yes Yes OK OK confuses musical Cubism with lazy songwriting. Lyrics like “It’s hard doing the love thing” and “Shit was cool and then it wasn‘t” are meant to come off as stoic and plainspoken but end up sounding stupid. The whole album can be played with six guitar chords, and neither the lyrics nor the music are adventurous enough to keep the songs from blurring into one another. This sameness makes the 28-minute album sound longer than it actually is. The laziness even creeps into the actual tracking and editing. “Holding Your Arms” begins with a false start and a tape dropout, “”Headphone Brigade” is cut off right in the middle of a bad drum solo, and Olin bursts into laughter right in the middle of the chorus of “Strength in Numbers” (which isn’t a funny song at all). I’m all for leaving mistakes in if they sound cool but, in Graves’ case, the intentional flaws only underscore how listless every other facet of Olin’s music is. Olin’s friends may have taught him how to dress a song up really nicely, but they haven’t given him enough tips on how to write one.

--Sean Padilla

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

September 27, 2004

Only In Dreams "Under This Burning Sky"

Only In Dreams' album, Under This Burning Sky, starts with a loud, clunky drum line...and it never loses it. Hmm. Sounds like drummer Robbie Garcia had too much coffee for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. Thrown over the heavy punk/metal riffs and screams, the band gets torn asunder by the rhythm. That the members sound like they are in a frantic race to beat each other to the end of the song doesn't help, either. Something seems off with the production as well. It feels like they're trying too hard to be tough. They also fall victim to a formula; they start their songs off slow and then lurch into the loud, frantic beat, which then destroys the melody.

In an ironic twist, they actually sound interesting before they go crazy; "Neglected to Survive" being a great case in point; it starts with a brooding instrumental intro that caught my attention, but then they ruined it with the "let's all play as fast as we can" game. They do this on...every...song, and it gets rather old rather quicky. I bet kids go wild at their shows--you can tell they're a great live band--but that doesn't make Under This Burning Sky any better of a listen. I'll admit I've not been predisposed to this kind of music for well over a decade; even still, it's obvious that Only In Dreams falls victim to too many hardcore cliches.

--Joseph Kyle

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

The Caribbean "William of Orange"

Washington, D.C. quartet the Caribbean’s latest EP William of Orange picks up where last year’s History’s First Know It All album left off, with five more gorgeously oblique songs that owe just as much to the acoustic balladry of Elliott Smith as they do to the glitch fetishes of your average IDM artist (it‘s no coincidence that Tomlab released their last album in Europe). Front man Michael Kentoff’s breathy, nasal croon is at its most expressive on this EP, and his knack for extracting unexpected chord progressions from his acoustic guitar remains unabated.

The title track is delivered from the point of view of a man who has watched himself get meaner with age: “Through the years,” Kentoff sings, “I began to disappear…an observable mutation: ’that guy’s a fucking dick; he’s going down’.” “The Druggist’s” is a hilarious piano-driven story about a teenage pharmacy employee who gets into an accident while driving the company car. Proper names appear in three of this EP’s songs, but the lyrics are too terse to be read as any kind of biography. Enough details are added to let you know that Kentoff’s singing about something, but just as many are left out to keep you guessing as to what or who he’s singing about.

The songs on William of Orange aren’t as lush as those on the group’s previous material; they get by on little more than drums, a couple of guitars and a couple of strategically placed sound effects. For instance, the title track is filled with clicks and cuts that make the CD sound as if it’s skipping, and EP closer “The Night Panel” is bisected by an upwelling of flatulent off-key synthesizers. A full-length album of such quality would have definitely landed in my Top 20 of 2004; as it stands, though, William of Orange will just have to duke it out with Make Believe for the Best EP title.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.thecaribbeanisaband.com
Label Website: http://www.home-tapes.com

September 24, 2004

poster children 'on the offensive'

It's a difficult proposal, making a political record. More often than not, political songs--no matter how good they might be--often have a very short shelf life; after all, does anyone still heed--or care about--the issues that inspired the songs "Sun City," "Hurricane" or "Give Ireland Back To The Irish?" When dealing with political records, the line between 'timely' and 'timeless' is very, very fine. I have no problem with artists making a political statement; I do, however, find that many political records are often lacking in continual listenability; who wants to listen to preaching (often self-righteous preaching at that) on a repeat basis?

Alt-rock veterans Poster Children decided they were "pissed off" about the current state of affairs, and that they "didn't feel like keeping it to ourselves." Understandable, considering the (occasionally absurd) hysteria concering the upcoming election. Political differences aside, I have to give Poster Children credit; they understood that a timely record full of political songs might not make for a good listen, or perhaps they knew they couldn't make a good, original political song. So they decided to do the next best thing: a cover of political songs by the bands they admired!

Following on the heels of their red-hot return to form, No More Songs About Sleep and Fire, Poster Children do add a great deal of sparkle to these old songs. They might not completely make the songs their own, but they certainly breathe new life into them. As you'd expect, the majority of these songs are from punk bands; their covers of X's "The New World, Fear's "Let's Have a War" and Husker Du's "Divide and Conquer" sound inspired. Of course, you'd expect a collection of political music to contain a Clash song, and they offer "Clampdown," one of the lesser Clash numbers, and it didn't move me here, either. The two surprises are XTC's "Complicated Game," a great song that the band does justice and the surprising yet painfully obvious cover of Heaven 17's "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang." While interesting on paper, their cover doesn't really work, and the song simply sounds like a long-lost Jawbox outtake.

While I have to give them credit for trying something new--and their covers of "Complicated Game" and "Divide " are really good, but that's because the original songs were good. A noble-minded experiment that, like most political music, will soon be dated. My question is this: will On The Offensive go out of print when George Bush is reelected?

--Joseph Kyle

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

poster children 'on the offensive'

It's a difficult proposal, making a political record. More often than not, political songs--no matter how good they might be--often have a very short shelf life; after all, does anyone still heed--or care about--the issues that inspired the songs "Sun City," "Hurricane" or "Give Ireland Back To The Irish?" When dealing with political records, the line between 'timely' and 'timeless' is very, very fine. I have no problem with artists making a political statement; I do, however, find that many political records are often lacking in continual listenability; who wants to listen to preaching (often self-righteous preaching at that) on a repeat basis?

Alt-rock veterans Poster Children decided they were "pissed off" about the current state of affairs, and that they "didn't feel like keeping it to ourselves." Understandable, considering the (occasionally absurd) hysteria concering the upcoming election. Political differences aside, I have to give Poster Children credit; they understood that a timely record full of political songs might not make for a good listen, or perhaps they knew they couldn't make a good, original political song. So they decided to do the next best thing: a cover of political songs by the bands they admired!

Following on the heels of their red-hot return to form, No More Songs About Sleep and Fire, Poster Children do add a great deal of sparkle to these old songs. They might not completely make the songs their own, but they certainly breathe new life into them. As you'd expect, the majority of these songs are from punk bands; their covers of X's "The New World, Fear's "Let's Have a War" and Husker Du's "Divide and Conquer" sound inspired. Of course, you'd expect a collection of political music to contain a Clash song, and they offer "Clampdown," one of the lesser Clash numbers, and it didn't move me here, either. The two surprises are XTC's "Complicated Game," a great song that the band does justice and the surprising yet painfully obvious cover of Heaven 17's "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang." While interesting on paper, their cover doesn't really work, and the song simply sounds like a long-lost Jawbox outtake.

While I have to give them credit for trying something new--and their covers of "Complicated Game" and "Divide " are really good, but that's because the original songs were good. A noble-minded experiment that, like most political music, will soon be dated. My question is this: will On The Offensive go out of print when George Bush is reelected?

--Joseph Kyle

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

September 23, 2004

astral 'orchids'

Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover. From the band name to the album title to the blurry orange pictures that adorn the booklet, I could tell before I even put the CD in my computer that I was about to listen to some serious shoe-gazing music. Sure enough, within the first 30 seconds of opener “Barreling” San Franciscan trio Astral greeted me with all of the standard signifiers: a competent but unassertive rhythm section, guitars playing four-note riffs through a blanket of delay and chorus, and throaty Interpol-style singing. The rest of the songs on the album follow a similar template, but with only minor differences. On “Blinder,” guitarist Dave Han sings in a clearer, almost girlish voice. “Turn Me Around” speeds up the tempo a bit. “Raining Down” is played in waltz time. You can probably tell that I’m grasping for straws here, which is precisely my point. Astral does little, if anything, to differentiate themselves from thousands of other bands around the world paying tribute to the Cure. While nothing on Orchids is particularly bad or irritating, nothing on it is distinct enough to register even after multiple listens. If I fall asleep every time I listen to an album, it’s either because it’s relaxing or it’s boring. You already know on which side of the divide Astral falls.

--Sean Padilla

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

Comets on Fire "Blue Cathedral"

One of the highlights of my recent month-long summer vacation in NYC was watching Comets on Fire play to a maximum-capacity crowd at Williamsburg art space the Mighty Robot. I originally attended the show because the “New Weird America” jam band Sunburned Hand of the Man was one of the openers, and I didn’t want to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them live. Unfortunately, Sunburned Hand played an uninspired and disappointing set and got quickly blown off the stage by the headliners. Comets on Fire delivered the most violent sonic bitch-slap I’d seen at a rock show since I saw …Trail of Dead for the first time in 2001. The maelstrom of fleet-fingered distorted guitars, savage drumming, reckless screaming and woozy sound effects was enough to make the Mighty Robot seem even hotter and sweatier than it already was. I felt like I could pass out at any moment, but I hoped that I wouldn’t so that I could experience every second of their set. After watching …TOD drunkenly stumble through their performance a couple of weeks before at this year’s Village Voice Siren Fest, Comets on Fire’s set was just the fix of TOTAL ROCK POWER that I needed.

I knew, though, that such sustained intensity couldn’t be duplicated on record without sounding monochromatic (an adjective that‘s been used to describe COF‘s otherwise amazing previous work), which is why I’m so pleased that on their latest album Blue Cathedral they take the time to chill out every once in a while. Blue Cathedral is sequenced nicely in that it alternates between full-blown rockers and calmer keyboard-driven instrumentals. Of course, “chill out” is a relative term for the band, as even the Doors-like descending organs on “Pussyfoot the Duke” get overtaken by squealing guitars every once in a while. Among the instrumentals, “Wild Whiskey” is unique in that it is directly influenced by the band’s newest addition, second guitarist Ben Chasny. Better known for his work under the name Six Organs of Admittance, Chasny infuses “Wild Whiskey” with the same kind of raga/folk hybridization he’s been doing on his own for years.

Fortunately, at least half of Blue Cathedral can still be considered business as usual for Comets on Fire. Drummer Utrillo Belcher still does his best Keith Moon impersonation. Founding singer/guitarist Ethan Miller still sounds like a pissed-off version of Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, howling in a manner that would render his words indecipherable even if they weren’t being ceaselessly manipulated by Noel Harmonson’s omnipresent Echoplex. Together, Miller and Chasny lay the finger gymnastics on thicker than ever before, pausing every once in a while to let guest saxophonist Tim Daly add some Albert Ayler-style skronk to the mix. Most jam bands would start with the skeleton of a song, and then use it as a springboard for climactic group improvisation. For COF, though, the screeching climaxes ARE the skeleton of the song, with even the more subdued moments (for instance, the midsection of “Whiskey River”) getting underscored by siren-like feedback. It’s almost as if their songs are structured in reverse: whereas most bands end their epics with guitar solos, COF chooses instead to BEGIN album closer “Blue Tomb” with a four-minute solo before going to the first verse.

Even at its loudest, Blue Cathedral doesn’t fully capture the unbridled aggression of Comets on Fire’s live shows…but then again, how could it? It comes close, though, rocking hard enough to ensure that the album will serve as more than a mere advertisement for their gigs, with just enough variety to keep listeners from being overwhelmed. After having listened to far too many of Sub Pop’s mediocre attempts to cash in on the garage-rock craze over the years (Gluecifer? The Hellacopters? The Makers?), COF has given us a 44-minute slab of pure psychedelic pentatonic pleasure that almost completely redeems the time.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.subpop.com/bands/comets_on_fire/
Label Website: http://www.subpop.com

September 21, 2004

Blue sparks 'blue sparks'

New York's Blue Sparks make pretty good music. Their sound reminds me of any number of poppy alternative rock that should have big big ten years ago (think Belly and Eve's Plumb), but don't think they sound terribly dated; although their music does lack a little bit of flare, I chalk that up more to youth than I do to anything else. They've got a really great boy/girl vocal exchange that I really like, too. The vocals are really good--the only time they slip is when the boy sings on "Car Crash" and"Match Their Weight," and that's not because he can't sing--it's because the vocals of Alana Amram and Kerry Kennedy are so awesome! Check out the really great "August" and "Paint It Gold" too. A young band that's wowing people now, but it'll be interesting to see where they'll be with a little more growth.

--Joseph Kyle

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

silkworm 'it'll be cool'

Upon buying this disc at the local hipster music store, the clerk comments, “Silkworm is still a band? Wow.” For those of you who don’t know, they ARE still a band, they still play shows, and they still release records. In fact, Steve Albini just recorded their ninth album, which was released this week. I must say that Albini did a great job with this one. My first thought as the album faded into the four-chord jam of “Don’t Look Back”, was that the sound was good. As the second track began, I corrected myself. The sound was perfect. The blistering guitar solos, the fuzzy bass, the pounding drums… I was floored with how well the album portrayed the band that made it.

While It’ll be Cool will sure as shit bump the hell out of your stereo more than anything else they’ve released, it is not their strongest effort to date. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome---All the songs are strong, however, I’m afraid they’ve set the standard rather high with their 2002 disc, Italian Platinum. Also, they chose to get weird on this album. While “Something Hyper”, kind of weirds me out with the toy piano and the slow-tape speed backing vocals, it oddly enough falls right in place here, leading into the spaghetti western barroom feel of “Xtian Undertaker”. The two part closing piece, “The Operative”, is pretty sweet as well, fading out the album as it began. After 17 years, Silkworm rarely disappoints, and It’ll Be Cool is no exception.

--Kyle Sowash

Artist Website: http://www.silkworm.net
Label Website: http://www.tgrec.com

Paul Duncan "To An Ambient Hollywood"

Paul Duncan's To An Ambient Hollywood is an exciting yet downcast record. He's a singular artist, recording all of the instruments himself and doing a pretty good job of it, too. . Don't be afeared by the simplistic cartoon design cover and the 'recorded, produced, all instruments played by, etc.' notations on the cover, though--this is not your father's crappy lo-fi side project. He does have some friends help him along, but they provide mainly orchestral-style backing on strings, trumpet, saxophone, etc--and thus the album loses a LOT of the bedroom studio polish, and I'm not quite sure I buy the whole angle that Duncan is making electronica-style music, either.

What I like about the record is that it defies categorization. Though his main inspiration is clearly folk, he doesn't fixate on that one particular style--after all, lo-fi folk rock is so passe, and if you want to be considered good, you have do it differently, and this is what he does. Though his singing voice recalls the masters of the folk genre (Will Oldham, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake), the music itself sounds like vintage Joan of Arc, and at times I thought I was listening to How Memory Works--which is a good thing. Like Kinsella and company, Duncan mixed in several instrumental passages that are an odd hybrid of folk, ambient and electronica, and this gives the record an acoustic yet electronic feel. For instance, when I first heard opening number "1 in 22," I thought the album would be instrumental post-rock folk not unlike Calexico, but then the album switched directions, heading straight for jazzy waters on "Ghost of A Memory."

Because To An Ambient Hollywood shifts between musical genres, at times it feels more like one long, continual musical movement. While I've always liked that kind of compositional device, it occasionally makes listening to the record a bit more demanding than necessary. Still, songs like "Swam an Ocean" and "Don't Look Now" make To An Ambient Hollywood a record worth coming back for repeat listens--and you should listen, because Duncan's excellent. Just don't listen to him if you're feeling happy, though.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.home-tapes.com/paulduncan.html
Label Website: http://www.home-tapes.com

September 20, 2004

Dan Friel "Sunburn"

Dan Friel is one-third of Parts and Labor, a New York outfit that adds a heaping helping of power electronics and synthesizer abuse to the bass-driven spazz-core of Lightning Bolt. It would make sense, then, that without P&L’s rhythm section to back him up, Friel’s new CD of solo recordings would bring the electronics and synthesizers right to the forefront. Sunburn is probably the first noise record I’ve ever heard that could be described as “happy.” Whereas most artists of his ilk use distortion as a means of irritating the listener, Friel employs it as a means of recreating the sensory overload that often accompanies a wicked sugar rush. Friel’s solo compositions are less riff-driven than his work with P&L, but they’re also more abrasive. Nonetheless, almost every song on this EP has a catchy and hummable major-key melody, whether it’s being played by a whirring synthesizer or an abusively strummed electric guitar.

The riffs that form the backbone of songs like “Dead Batteries” and “Quitting” sound like they’re being played through blown speakers, with the sonic dropouts arranging themselves in near-rhythmic patterns. The pitch-modulated keyboards at the end of “Seven Sisters” sound like an orchestra of kazoos having a collective seizure. “B2bs” sounds like the music on a Playstation racing game run through a distortion pedal. The waves of guitar fuzz that overtake “Death” and “Seven Sisters” recall vintage Flying Saucer Attack so well that I almost wait for Dave Pearce’s whisper to hover above the mix at any moment. The brief ditty “Tractor Calls” showcases Friel’s extremely fast picking style, which gives his guitar almost sitar-like qualities at certain points.

Sunburn also gets bonus points for its running time. The 20-minute EP is just long enough for Friel to pummel the listener with his ferocious tones, but just short enough to keep them coming back for more after each knockout. This EP definitely whets my appetite for more Friel material, be it solo or with his main band.

--Sean Padilla

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

Les Savy Fav "Inches"

Back in 1996, the members of Brooklyn’s art rockers Les Savy Fav had an idea to release nine 7” singles whose artwork came together to form a puzzle. Eight years later, the project is finished, and compiled onto a CD for the record player-impaired. The tracks fall in backwards chronological order as to when the singles were released, sort of taking a trip down Les Savy Fav’s memory lane. I must say, they flow together quite well.

The album starts us off with the Les Savy Fav of today, a dancy number called “Meet Me in the Dollar Bin”, a tale of a band whose CD winds up in Budgetland at your local used CD store. “The Sweat Descends” also makes you want to shake your rump. As the disc moves on, the album gets less groovin’ and more rockin’. Tracks like “Reprobate’s Resume” and “Bringing Us Down” make me feel like I’m a drunk 23-year old again; while the album’s closer (and the A-side to the band’s first single) “Rodeo” reminds me of the first time I saw them play; truly a performance that restored my faith in rock and roll.

That having been explained, may I conclude that Inches is, in this writer’s opinion, the best thing Les Savy Fav has ever released. (Clearly seconded by me!!!!--ed.) It seems as if Les Savy Fav put their best foot forward on each single they released, thus it makes sense that when you put nine of those together, you wind up with one hell of an album.

---Kyle Sowash

Artist Website: http://www.lessavyfav.com
Label Website: http://www.frenchkissrecords.com

September 18, 2004

Jonny Polonsky "The Power of Sound"

In this business, a few artists are to be envied as 'survivors'--they're the truly talented people who make great music, and who were at one time or another considered by "the powers that be" as being "the next big thing." Back in the mid 1990s, someone must have devised a corporate memo stating that power-pop artists with a classic-rock and slightly punky edge would soon be the next trend in music. Of course, Weezer's success was the catalyst for this pseudo memo, and it explains the signing of bands like Semisonic, Superdrag and Spoon.

Furthermore, it seemed as if solo acts would have some potential--hence big deals for Brenden Bensen, Owsley, Pete Drodge and Mister Jonny Polonsky. It's probably a pretty safe guess to assume you've never heard of Jonny Polonsky. His major label debut, Hi My Name Is Jonny also proved to be his final major label release. Considering the poor track record of American, is friendly-titled and promising debut album was assured, and Jonny unfairly became a lost cause, a rare diamond whose name was known only to those who care about lost causes. I'm sure Jonny's tired of hearing about this aspect of his buisness, as it's been nearly a decade ago, but it's worth a mention. It is 2004, and he's got a great new record--sarcastically yet truthfully referred to as his 'second debut record'--so it's better to focus on the present and future.

And The Power of Sound is suh a great record! Kicking things off with "Let Me Out" Polonsky wastes no time in showing you his sharp musical teeth. It's a powerful rocker; that his lyrics might generously be called cheesy isn't surprising; his really TIGHT backing band (he and his band are a really strong power trio) slams you with such force that you won't notice that his words are somewhat geeky. As soon as you get used to his musical kick in the balls, he then slows things down with "Even the Oxen," a mellow, modern rocker that will remind you of why we critics think so highly regard the Foo Fighters debut album. The rest of The Power of Sound follows the simple formula of great sounding rock (none dare call it 'emo') and mellow, downbeat pop-rockers, but it's varied enough to be interesting.

Unlike his past records (he's done some self-releasing), The Power of Sound is concise and to the point; it barely breaks the half-hour mark; it feels like an hour's worth of music. That might be an insult for most bands, but that's the great thing about Polonsky--he makes so much out of so little. He's also spoiled me, because I want more artists with a great vocal range (check out "Calling All Babies" and "How Much Do You Know" to see why) and I want these bands to have the ability to make a great sounding MELODY. I'm spoiled now, but I'm spoiled in a good way. Expectations have been raised. Thanks, Jonny!

The Power of Sound is a creative fuck-you to the naysayers, critical dismissers, writers-off and the apathetic world at large. That Polonsky is still making music is no surprise. That he's made the best record of his career isn't a surprise, either. The real joy comes from knowing that Polonsky's made an awesome record and that such an awesome record can exist outside the music world's grasp. Polonsky is a pleasant surprise for those who accidentally stumble upon him and ambrosia for those who know his name is Jonny.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jonnypolonsky.com
Label Website: http://www.lovelessrecords.com

September 17, 2004

To Rococo Rot "hotel morgen"

Hotel Morgen, To Rococo Rot’s sixth album, is a masterpiece of simple electronic beats and computerized sound. Much like Mouse on Mars, this German group has seemingly found their second wind, resulting in albums that are as surprising as they are pleasant. That’s certainly the case with Hotel Morgen, an excellent-if not seemingly brief and charmingly simple-follow-up to 2001’s Music Is a Hungry Ghost. It feels brief because, like most of their work, To Rococo Rot has made a virtue out of sticking to simple formulas and rhythmic patterns. Keeping their music simple and concise--and gorgeous--has resulted in a cohesive and beautiful record with a seamless flow that never dulls out the listener. True, to the average music listener, songs like "Tal" and "Miss You" might sound like slightly beat-oriented background music. Such a notion might seem dismissive to more serious-minded musos, that's what Hotel Morgen is--beautiful and enjoyable electronic music that's meant to soothe and entertain. Nothing more, nothing less--and mission accomplished.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.torococorot.com
Label Website: http://www.dominorecordco.com

A-Set "Adeline Moon"

Chicago resident Albert Menduno used to play in Duster, one of the late 1990s’ most criminally overlooked “slow-core” bands. Since then, he’s stepped out of the confines of the band format and transformed himself into a singer/songwriter under the name A-Set. Although the five musicians that comprise Menduno’s touring band are listed in the liner notes of Adeline Moon, Menduno wrote all of the album’s songs and handled the majority of the instrumentation. The arrangements of his songs are reasonably fleshed out, but they lack the leakage and instrumental chemistry that comes from a band playing together in a room. This isn’t necessarily a drawback. If anything, the dry production and general avoidance of gratuitous embellishments suits Menduno’s songs well. A-Set’s music is a far cry from the lush, gauzy atmospheres of Duster. Menduno’s current sound is more akin to that of the (also criminally overlooked) Multiple Cat; both bands play sterile roots-rock with a faint glam twist. However, mellowness and melancholy are just as much of a priority in A-Set as they were in his former band.

The lyrics of Adeline Moon revolve around typical singer/songwriter fare: broken relationships, mental anguish, wanderlust and nostalgia. The album’s first proper song, “In Too Deep,” chronicles a man who “had never seen the ocean,“ and is bored with city life. The next song finds Menduno watching a “Tennessee Sunset” while ruminating over a breakup he can’t get over. His dilemma is summed up in one perfect couplet: “Will you ever take me back?/Will you ever let me go?” “Alone He Stood“ is about a couple that wants to separate but is too caught up in codependency to actually do it. “Nine One One” doesn’t address the WTC attacks; the emergency Menduno sings about in this song resides totally in his mind. “This train of bad thoughts must come to an end,” he vows during the song’s climax. Menduno doesn’t spend the entire album heartbroken, though. On “Just Say the Word,” he flirts with a woman who’s playing hard to get. “Two of Hearts” is a bluesy organ-driven love song that Al Green could work wonders with. Last but not least, there’s “Where Your Home Is,” which finds Menduno unable to choose between TWO women who pine for his affection! Do you think Lou Barlow’s ever been in that position?

Menduno isn’t writing about anything new. He isn’t even shining new light on old subjects. What, then, separates Adeline Moon from thousands of other albums released this year by garden-variety lovelorn singer/songwriters? It’s Menduno’s voice, which is superseded only by Joanna Newsom’s as the most eccentric I’ve heard so far this year. He sings in a stuffy-nosed countrified drawl that sounds affected enough to be fake, but probably isn’t, considering how staid the music behind him is, even at its most rocking. His voice isn‘t bad (the flat singing on “Where Your Home Is” being the sole exception), but the timbre of his voice will turn off listeners allergic to adenoids. While far from abrasive, Menduno’s singing is edgy enough to keep the music from being mundane (even when it tries its hardest to be).

Of course, Adeline Moon isn’t perfect. The field recordings and instrumentals could have been shaved off, as they add nothing to the album’s overall flow. “Run With Me” suffers from too many vocal harmonies and guitar overdubs, which is strange considering the austerity of the rest of the record. Last but not least, little on this record (aside from Menduno’s singing) reaches out of the speakers and grabs the listener by the throat with its brilliance. Adeline Moon is an above-average record that will take a while to grow on most listeners, which means that it’ll most likely slip through the cracks of indie-rock history (much like Duster‘s albums did). It shouldn’t, though.

--Sean Padilla

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

Mouse on Mars "Radical Connector"

“WHO SAYS A GERMAN BAND CAN’T PLAY FUNK??!?”

Over the last decade, electronic duo Mouse on Mars’ discography has
slowly shifted from the frothy ambience of their 1993 debut Vulvaland to the baroque pop and post-rock ambitions of 2000’s Niun Niggung. Their 2001 release Idiology, though, was the beginning of a more abrupt transition. Skittering wildly between genres, the album sounded like a compilation of brilliant outtakes from all phases of the duo’s career (even though it wasn’t), intermittently speckled with indications of where they wanted to go next. Idiology marked the first appearance of vocals on a MOM record, a slightly shocking move from a duo that redundantly titled one of its albums Instrumentals. Then-new drummer Dodo Nkishi provided alien yet subdued vocals that ranged from dub-plate toasting (“Doit”) to arch Jon Langford-style crooning (the still-wonderful “Presence“). As surprising as hiscontributions were, they did little to prepare us for the bomb that MOM was going to drop next…and I mean “bomb” in the hip-hop sense!

Vocals are featured prominently on every song of MOM’s new album
Radical Connector, and they’re all run through a dazzling array of DSP cutups that would make Prefuse 73’s Scott Herren cry “notebooks out, plagiarists!” However, if Prefuse 73’s modus operandi is to pay tribute to pre-1973 pre-fusion jazz through the sonic manipulation of modern IDM, then Radical Connector’s aim is to do the same with post-1973 funk. Nkishi’s singing on “Wipe That Sound” has the same warped drawl as Cameo’s Larry Blackmon, and portions of the song bear the same lopsided syncopation of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” The coy, erotic whispers and gospel-like multipart harmonies of “Blood Comes” bring to mind the darker moments of Prince’s early ‘80s material, whereas the sweet keyboards and jazzy drumming of “Detected Beats” recall the lighter funk of Parade. The melody-free “All the Old Powers” is basically an almost intelligible rap ground into bits and sprinkled atop a slow, menacing beat. The micro-house rhythms and airy female cooing of “Send Me Shivers” and album closer “Evoke an Object” sound straight off of an Ellen Allien record. This newfound funkification of Mouse on Mars’ music is even more of a breakthrough than the dominance of vocals. To be frank, Radical Connector is the first Mouse on Mars album that I could play in its entirety at a black frat party without (too much) fear that I would get laughed out of the club.

Of course, MOM geniuses Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner haven’t completely abandoned their old sound. Traces of Niun Niggung appear most often during the various mid-song breakdowns. Opener “Mine Is In Yours” is interrupted by psychedelic guitars and vocal harmonies that sound like the Beach Boys on helium. “The End” starts out as stomping trip-hop only to disintegrate into near-nothingness halfway through, when strummed guitars and synthesized orchestras noodle themselves into a pleasant torpor. “Blood
Comes” sports a dissonant orchestral crescendo similar to that of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” No matter how funky or psychedelic the music gets, though, MOM maintains its commitment to inserting squelchy sound effects into every nook and cranny. The percussion track of “Spaceship” sounds as if it was constructed by samples of endlessly ricocheting pinballs.

From beginning to end, Radical Connector functions as both a scintillating headphone listen and a catalyst for lascivious ass-shaking. Too many Intelligent Dance Music albums forget the “dance” part of the equation. I’m glad, though, that Toma and Werner finally remembered.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.mouseonmars.com
Label Website: http://www.thrilljockey.com

September 15, 2004

Jeff Buckley "Grace"

When an artist dies at the start of a promising career, it's a tragedy. Fans--often nonexistant during the artist's lifetime--are left to play the game of 'what could have been': would they have become innovative, would they have become popular, or would they have lived their life in relative obscurity, finding fame only after years of poverty, indifference and finally death? That's the funny thing about the death of an artist--it often makes us forget about the reality of the artist's situation. Nobody seems to remember that John Lennon's Double Fantasy was universally panned upon its release, and that the album's mediocrity was in fact one of the reasons Lennon was murdered. Instead, it's considered to be a great work of art, when in fact it was easily one of his worst records.

Jeff Buckley's death in Memphis on May 29, 1997, was a tragedy to those who knew his name. He left the world with only one full-length, one EP and a handfull of demos for his next album, the possibly-titled My Sweetheart The Drunk. His passing was tragic because not only did he leave the world unrealized and underappreciated, but he also created a mythic rock and roll legacy--one that, given the circumstances of his personal life, he would not have appreciated. Or would he? Speculation exists as to the nature of his death; though in all likelyhood it was an accident, there are enough vague hints and clues in his last recordings and the last week of his life that will pernanantly leave his passing a mystery. It is little wonder, then, that Grace would receive the royal repackage treatment. With a lavish booklet and containing two extra CDs--one of demos and rarities, the other a DVD collection of videos and a documentary about the making of the album.

If you have never heard Grace, then I weep for you, because you've never fully known beauty. It's an album that's simply flawless and grows even more so with each passing year. Ten years on, you don't really think about how "Eternal Life" was merely grunge; you don't think about how "So Real"doesn't seem to belong on the album, and you really don't think about anything other than how utterly mindblowing this record really is. The temptation is there to think that this was the greatest album of the 1990s, and I'm not going to argue with you on that. Any man who can go from singing Nina Simone to Leonard Cohen to Benjamin Britten and then offer up his own songs that betterall of the above--that's a rare, impressive feat. There's not much more I can say about the album.

The second disc, however, is revelatory. Though about half of these songs were previously released as B-sides (three of which you'll already own if you have the Grace singles box set) , the other seven songs prove just how versatile Buckley really was. From a heavy-duty version of "Kick Out The Jams" to a really soft, sensual and heartbreaking cover of Nina Simone's "The Other Woman," Buckley was, at times, seemingly nothing more than a human jukebox who could and would often throw out covers of some of the best songs ever written. His take of Dylan's "Mama, You Been On My Mind" is especially touching, as is "The Other Woman." It's fascinating to hear "Eternal Life" turned into a raucious, Metallica-style rocker, even though it falls apart, it shows how tight Jeff and his band had become. "I Want Someone Badly," his collaboration with Shudder To Think, also shows that his penchant for Soul music had yet to be fully realized; it's easily the best non-Grace song he ever released; placed together by Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk's "Everybody Here Wants You," you'll get a glimpse at what could have been and where Jeff might be right now.

Among all this talk of greatness, there is one letdown, but it's one that isn't a particular letdown. The song "Forget Her" has been highly mythologized and considered to be one of Jeff's long-lost jewel. Long story short: it made a demo tape that was played for his label, Columbia; they loved it and wanted it--and thusly considered it--to be the first single. Jeff hated the song and a creative battle ensued. (For a more detailed history of the song, you should read the biography of Jeff entitled Dream Brother.) Listening to it now, Jeff's opinion about the song was right on; it's really not that good. It's a slow blues number; it would have sounded out of place on Grace, and the song that replaced it, "So Real," was not much better, either.

"Forget Her" is but a minor blemish on what's an otherwise wonderful collection. This is the representation of Grace as it should be--Buckley's first yet final musical statement. This repackage ties up many loose ends, and as a document of the brief musical life of Jeff Buckley, it cannot be bettered. I say it cannot, for two reasons: one, there's no way you could improve on the love and care that went into this repackage, but secondly (and sadly), there's no way you can get better than this, because this is it. There is no more Jeff Buckley to be had. This expanded version of Grace is, truly, his last goodbye.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jeffbuckley.com
Label Website: http://www.columbiarecords.com

Otasco "this product is extremely delicious!"

I like a smarmy singer. There's nothing that beats confidence in a lead singer, because that smug attitude can often be the one factor that wins over the world. Nobody thinks that Mick Jagger, Roger Daltry, Noel Gallagher or Morrissey are technically great vocalists, but when it comes to pure attitude, all four of them are heavyweights that cannot be denied. When the musical genre is indiepop, it's attitude that often saves a band from mediocrity. Charm and charisma makes up for crappy playing, plain and simple.

That's why I like Otasco. It's the brainchild of Dag Gooch, who's also known as the editor of the rather funny and quite excellent 'zine Jetbunny. He's doing the lush pop lounge singer thing, and, to be honest...he's got more attitude than he does anything else. Normally, I blanche at musical projects of well-established music editors or famous writers, because these groups...well, I'm not going to start any 'zine wars here, so I'll just be generous and say that many of these groups just are not very good. We're about love here, so we're not gonna start no more Internet drama. (Besides, aren't music editor wars simply pathetic?)

I'm not going to hold that against Otasco, though, because there's some really funny stuff on This Product is Extremely Delicious!. Heck, just one glimpse at the title will tell you these guys are funny-bunnies. Gooch isn't the best vocalist, but he's got some attitude, and over the somewhat-lush and always poppy music, his pseudo-British vocal stylings-- a heavy-duty Morrissey-style croon that doesn't exactly fit with his limited skills--gives these songs a really nice touch. Personally, I love his ode to drinking, "Hoppy Drink" and I giggle when I hear "My Tastes or Changin and "Deshitterata," and the rest of the record is funny in that intellectual, English major kind of way. It's literate and smart in a way that Sarah Records should have been and that most indie-pop bands should be, too.

They won't win any awards for their sound, but Otasco steal all the gold stars for spunk and personality and wit. This Product Is Extremely Delicious! is fun and funny, and I think that's all Gooch and company were trying to do. Mission accomplished, guys! You've made me smile for a few minutes, and as I'm one of those dour types, that's a major accomplishment. (Funny videos, too!)

--Joseph Kyle

PS. You should check out Jetbunny, too. It's fun!

Artist Website: http://www.otasco.com
Label Website: http://www.apocalypsetheapocalypse.com
Zine Website: http://www.jetbunnymagazine.com

September 14, 2004

Desert City Soundtrack "Perfect Addiction"

Portland’s Desert City Soundtrack started off as a screaming and yelling band that happened to have a piano and a trumpet. Over time, their music grew heavier, darker and deeper; by the time of 2003’s excellent debut Funeral Car, the band had mutated from a punk band with a novel arrangement into something more; comparisons to Black Heart Procession were not unheard of, nor were such comparisons inappropriate. Funeral Car’s melancholic, depressing songs lived up to the bleak title. Songs about death, failures in relationships and all sorts of self-loathing were highlighted by dark atmospherics and lots and lots and lots of pain.

Perfect Addiction, the band’s latest offering, delves even further into Funeral Car’s darkness. For the most part, the band has eschewed the screaming and the loud thrashing punk-rock of earlier releases; instead, they’ve focused on making songs that are dark, deep and depressing. The result is an album that’s cold…very, very cold. At times, Perfect Addiction delves into Smog-like depths; songs like “It’s Not That Bad” and “Watering Hole” have lyrics that can generously be called ‘self-depreciating.’ After all, it’s hard to smile to lyrics like “Stopped in a local watering hole, the same place you found to hate me/ Strange, a year later I see you there - we're not talking” (from “Watering Hole”) or “There are bodies scattered in the yard, while wolves are screaming at the door/There's no protection for you here, it's everyone for themselves” (from “Mothball Fleet (Counterattack)”). Only once, on the excellent “No Signal,” does the band ever abandon the melancholy for more raucous sounds, but even then, it’s still drenched in the melancholy that saturates the rest of the album.

Though the music is terribly bleak, there’s something magical about Perfect Addiction. Underneath all of the depression, underneath all of the things that make Desert City Soundtrack’s music so frustratingly challenging, an obvious fact cannot be denied: Perfect Addiction is simply, utterly beautiful. Lead singer Matt Carrillo sings in a style that’s torn between quiet desperation to sad resignation, and tempered with the band’s beautiful arrangements, his words ring out of the pits of despair. Indeed, it’s the piano accompaniment on tracks like “Whatever the Cost,” “Playing the Martyr” and “Batteries” that makes Desert City Soundtrack music much better than other pity-party bands. At times, their music sounds not unlike Nick Cave’s latter piano-and-orchestra drenched output, and this is not an easy feat for any band.

This young band has matured quite rapidly since they appeared four years ago, and this maturity is not only quite impressive, it’s also proof that Desert City Soundtrack may just be one of America’s better unknown bands. Even in its simplicity, Perfect Addiction is a stunning record, and it’s one that still sounds good after multiple listens.

--Joseph Kyle

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

model citizen "the inner fool"

On the cover of The Inner Fool is a pint of beer. That's all there is, and that pretty much sums up the M.O. of Model Citizen. Looking at the picture of the band, I wouldn't be surprised if they want nothing more than to play for beer. Listening to the record, my suspicions are confirmed--these guys are the new breed of bar band. They've got the indie-rock coolness thing down, but they've got the classic-rock heart. The Inner Fool would appeal to fans of both Journey and GBV. The songs "Rich Man in Hell" and "The Inner Fool" (which sounds suspiciously like a sped-up and Slash-less version of "Sweet Child O'Mine") are pretty tight. The rest of the record is just as crunchy, if not a little bit monotonous in terms of the sound, and the only problem I have is that the singer's grunting vocals are simply straining and are annoyingly affected. When he doesn't strain too hard on "Mickey Mod," he sounds great. Otherwise, he sounds constipated. I bet these guys rock live.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Joan of Arc "joan of arc, dick cheney, mark twain..."

Chicago avant-emo pariahs Joan of Arc are no strangers to puzzling
album titles. Who else would call an album Live in Chicago, 1999 and demand that “live” be pronounced like the verb instead of the adjective? Who else would release a mini-album of outtakes from their most reviled album (2000’s The Gap) and have the balls to call it How Can Anything So Little Be Any More? Last year’s In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust is still a strong contender for Most Inappropriate Album Title Ever. This year’s Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain… continues the tradition. It would strike many as arrogant and pretentious
for a band to lump itself with men of such importance. Then again,
this band IS named after a woman who believed she was sent by God to drive the English out of France. JOA’s music has always been full of arrogance and pretension, which is why they remain so polarizing. It’s why Pitchfork will never give one of their records even a 6.0 rating. On the other hand, very few bands make it to their seventh album (and develop a strong, growing fanbase while doing so) without doing SOMETHING right. Just as one can
make a case for Dick Cheney being either a political genius or the sidekick of the Antichrist, for Mark Twain being either an incisive social satirist or a racist in disguise, or for Joan of Arc the woman being either a fearless warrior or a lunatic, JOA the band can be portrayed as either underground rock’s most gifted pranksters or its biggest naked emperor. Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain… makes a stronger case for JOA being the former than either of the band’s 2003 albums, both of which were already considered “returns to form” in many circles.

Although Cheney is namedropped in the album’s title, don’t expect much sociopolitical commentary once you pop the CD in your player. Album closer “The Cash in and Price” consists of four voices reading off a list of similarly influential and polarizing names (ranging from Jesus to Muhammad Ali to even Nation of Ulysses). One by one, the voices change tack and start repeating the words “Clear Channel” over and over until the song ends. The track seems to be the band’s way of illustrating how corporations are slowly rubbing out all traces of individuality from our culture. However, this is not a point that anyone was waiting for a JOA record to make. Nonetheless, it’s as close as the band comes on the album to directly addressing contemporary issues. On “’80s Dance Parties Most of All,” the band’s clumsy yet charming attempt at calypso, front man Tim Kinsella rattles off another list, this time of things that he considers to be “conspiracies.” Dollar bills, global positioning satellite systems, Christianity and the greenhouse effect are all named, but so are romantic comedies, interstate rest stops, and Friendster. Kinsella isn’t exactly issuing a call to arms here. More often than not, Kinsella’s distrust of the government is used merely as a backdrop for the ongoing existential crises that he rants about in every other JOA record.

The first words of opener “Questioning Benjamin Franklin’s Ghost” sum up the whole record: “I’ve materialized into this worded world a metaphysical skeptic.” Kinsella feels out of place in a world that emphasizes results over potential, a world in which everything must fit into a certain order and make money. “Apocalypse Politics“ is an acoustic ballad in which Kinsella ponders the disadvantages of being a “people person.” “I meet so many people that I gave up on names,” he sings, “but that‘s okay ‘cause I just call everyone ‘man‘ anyway.” “White and Wrong” ponders the duality of human nature---our inability to completely suppress the evil OR the good inside of us. “I like the folks with devil horns or folded palms,“ Kinsella
sings, “and most people have both…but they only acknowledge one or the other.“ “A Half-Deaf Girl Named Echo” is a paean to the joys of being oblivious to one’s surroundings. “I Trust a Litter of Kittens Keeps the Coliseum” is a narrative from the point of view of a grandfather who has lost touch with both his family and his youth. On “Queasy Lynn,” Kinsella can’t decide whether he should envy or mock people who have faith in intangible things. “Fleshy Jeffrey” finds Kinsella paying tribute to a faithless outcast stuck in a town full of religious zealots.

“Lynn” and “Jeffrey” are similar both thematically and sonically, as
neither of them would sound out of place amongst the baroque pop of 2003’s So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness. On many of the songs, strings and keys get as much of the spotlight as guitars and drums. “Franklin’s Ghost” is a piano-based romp that runs Ben Folds through a Captain Beefheart filter as it segues from choppy, tumbling verses to insistent, catchy choruses. “Onomatopoepic [sic] Animal Faces” and “The Details of the Bomb” are tense Scott Walker-style ballads consisting of little more than Tim’s voice and a
forlorn piano. The chiming vibraphones and funky drum machines of
“Gripped by the Lips” make the song sound like an outtake from Tortoise’s Standards. Other songs lean closer to the darker material of In Rape Fantasy.... The hissed whispers and grinding rhythms of “Abigail, Cops and Animals” are reminiscent of early US Maple (thanks, Jonathan Pfeffer, for pointing this out to me). “Half-Deaf Girl” boasts a powerful double-drum attack that is normally reserved for the band’s live shows. “I Trust a Litter of Kittens” uses backwards percussion, bleating horns and unearthly vocal harmonies to reach a frightening climax.

Every couple of tracks, JOA inserts a brief interlude in which Tim
engages in the same kind of computer-based cutups that made The Gap such an irritating listening experience. This time around, though, Tim keeps his experiments brief and doesn’t let them get in the way of the actual songs. Because of this restraint, sound collages like “The Title Track of This Album” and “Deep Rush” serve as palate cleansers that tie the rest of the album together nicely. This sense of balance is what makes Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain… the band’s best album yet. It’s as if they’ve taken every facet of their sound---the baroque pop of So Much Staying Alive, the gothic sound collage of In Rape Fantasy, the glitched-out ambience of The Gap---and put them all on one record in easily digestible proportions. Don’t get me wrong: Joan of Arc is still an acquired taste. Tim still hasn’t quite learned how to sing in tune (though he‘s in better voice than he‘s ever been), and his lyrics can still suck outright (props to anyone who can tell me what “Onomatopoepic Animal Faces” is about). However, its bottomless supply of creative arrangements and quotable lyrics ensures that JOA fans will listen to it long after the end of the Bush administration.

--Sean Padilla

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

September 13, 2004

Applied Communications "Africa Baby Yeah YEah Yeah"

I've been searching my soul quite a bit lately, about personal matters that don't matter here. In my quest for spiritual and personal growth, I've learned a lot about myself, and I've learned that the first step towards growth is admitting your shortcomings. If you don't step up and see that you have a problem and admit it, how can you grow? You can't. It's been my observation that unless you're committing to some horrible crime or sin of passion, people welcome these confessions of fault and are willing to help you grow.

Having said that, I must confess to you, dear readers. I'm sometimes a very lazy music writer.

I can't help it, though. Sometimes, in my quest for describing a record, I fall victim to the cliches of the business. I won't repeat my sins, because those errors were in the past, and I am all about the here and now. I feel better just talking about it. I knew I would. Thank you for listening. I'm working on it, I really am. Hug me, please; this is oh-so hard for me to talk about, but you're going to see a Brand New Joseph starting today!

But damn it, Applied Communications has made it extremely difficult for me to grow. One of the laziest lines a music writer can use is the "this record is so weird, you have to hear it to appreciate it!" It's a line that's been running through my head ever since I listened to Africa Baby, Yeah Yeah Yeah!, their debut album. Max Wood, the solitary visionary behind this record, is a twenty-year old boy genius, a young man who sees something that nobody else sees, and whose music reflects that. He's a twisted fellow, but he's utterly brilliant. He's put the whoop-ass on full blast and has made a record that betters everything ever done by Beck, Cex, Atom & His Package, Wesley Willis, Daniel Johnston, Sugarhill Gang and Captain Beefheart. Africa Baby Yeah Yeah Yeah! is a weird blend of hip-hop, noise, punk and just utter insanity--but it's brilliant insanity, one that defies all words.

Wood's a very divisive fellow; you either think he's a genius or a retard. There is no middle ground; you either love him or you wish he'd take his lithium. Personally, I think this is easily one of best records I've heard all year. Maybe it's the insanity in my brain, maybe it's just the fact that I laugh insanely every time I listen to it, maybe it's the fact that his vocals and music and everything are so off that they're on--whatever it is, I can't stop listening to this record. Every track's a winner. He's got awesome beats. He's got a great flow. (His boast of "my flow is tight!" is no lie.) He's got personality and charm. He's a fuckin' boy genius, and I'm smitten. I've been extremely lazy here today, but when you're dealing with someone who sings "You may be a fish/I may be a boy/But together we can be/A fish and a boy," easy descriptive words really do fail. You just need to shut the hell up and go buy this record.

--Joseph Kyle
Artist Website: http://www.appliedcommunications.net/
Label Website: http://www.discosmariscos.com/

Shiny Around The Edges "why do I love you"

This Denton-based duo, augmented on their debut EP by a cellist and a drummer, pursues a sound that attempts to fuse the stateliness of Low with the charm of Beat Happening. If this sounds bad to you on paper, it sounds even worse on CD. Shiny Around the Edges lacks the songwriting skills of either band; the band merely imitates the slowness of the former and the amateurism of the latter. Most of the six songs on this EP beat a three-chord progression into the ground without enough dynamic or melodic variation to keep things interesting. Not only that, but there are few moments on this CD in which any of the instruments are in tune with each other. It doesn’t help matters that singer/guitarist Jennifer insists on singing notes that are way lower than her actual range. Even at its worst, though, her voice is easier to listen to than fellow singer/guitarist Michael’s terribly flat baritone, which thankfully only makes one appearance on the EP (“Black Whistle”). Overall, the listlessness of Why Do I Love You is so total that by the time closer “As She Lay Sleeping” gets ambushed by a tidal wave of guitar noise, it becomes a case of “too little, too late.” Shiny Around the Edges have already released a follow-up EP since I first heard Why Do I Love You, though, so I’m hoping that their new material is a significant improvement.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: www.shinyaroundtheedges.com

Candi Staton "Candi Staton"

Whenever I'm heartbroken, I usually eschew most of my record collection and go straight to the classic sounds of R&B. There's something so right-on about soul music that makes healing from hurting so wonderfully, wonderfully appealing. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that soul music blends the heartbreak of the blues and the contrition and hope of gospel music, mixing it all together with a strong dose of HOPE. Yeah, the song may be a weeper, but it's a weeper with a message: things'll be okay. Music for empowerment? Yeah, that's my verdict.

In the Seventies, Candi Staton was an award-winning, chart-making soul singer of the HIGHEST order. The sleeve to Candi Staton proudly boasts that she had "12 consecutive Billboard R&B charting hits, 2 Grammy Award-nominated songs and a Gold Record," and this compilation (surprisingly, the first of its kind for Miss Staton) instantly shows why she was so well-regarded thirty years ago, and it instantly corrects a major sin in being the very first collection of her early hits. Today, Staton is known more as a Gospel singer, so it's a bit shocking (in a wonderful way) to discover this side of her career--secular and painfully beautiful soul sides, all sung with a voice that was both husky and sweet and innocent yet cynical.

And what songs she made, too! Lushly-orchestrated Southern soul, with a whole heapin' helpin' of strings and horns and heartbreak and husky yet strong, empowered singing, Miss Staton's early sides were powerful in a way that's never quite been matched, and to be honest, I doubt that anybody will be able to match her power and her strength. I have yet to hear a modern song that's as painfully honest as "Mr. And Mrs. Untrue" or "He Called Me Baby." I have yet to hear a modern song that's quite as loving and sweet as "The Best Thing You've Never Had" and "Love Chain." Her covers of country standards "In the Ghetto" and "Stand By Your Man" prove that she had the power to take a song and make it her own. Southern soul and R&B never sounded this good, and I don't think it's sounded this good since Staton's heyday.

Like so many artists of the Seventies, Staton's obscurity should be considered a criminal offense, and the fact that she's been forgotten should not stand in the way of her talent and skill. Candi Staton is proof positive that Staton was one of the best singers of her era, and it's reassuring to know that she's still making music today. Perhaps Staton will be influenced by Al Green's 'comeback' (their career paths are extremely similar) to secular music and will give us a healthy dose of strong Southern Soul--or maybe she won't. Either way, Candi Staton is an essential addition to your record collection.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.candistaton.com
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com

The Constantines "The Constantines"

I began my review of the Constantines’ sophomore album Shine a
Light
with a two-paragraph exposition about how I fell in love with the band, so I’ll try not to be redundant this time around. It does bear repeating, though, that hearing “Arizona” (the opening track of their self-titled debut) once on a broken car stereo was enough to keep the Canadian quintet at the forefront of my mind for two years until I finally got my hands on one of their CDs. Pacific Northwestern labels Sub Pop and Suicide Squeeze have been kind enough to release their subsequent material on these shores.
This, combined with the band’s reputation for raucous live shows (which I can confirm, having seen them at last year’s South by Southwest and this year’s Village Voice Siren Festival), means that the Constantines are no longer one of our northern neighbor’s best kept secrets.

Now that the band has a respectable American following, Sub Pop has
seen fit to capitalize on it (the band’s not quite popular enough to call this move a “cash-in”) by reissuing their heretofore hard-to-find debut. Usually, reissues of obscure debut albums are intellectual curiosities for preexisting fans to dissect, searching for glimpses of future greatness. When removed from their chronological context, these albums don’t hold up well enough to be recommended to people who aren’t already familiar with the
band or artist. The Constantines is a glaring exception in that it’s a Classic Debut Album in every sense of the word. This isn’t the kind of record that “shows promise,” or "showcases raw talent.” This album finds the band firing on all cylinders straight out the gate with a fully formed aesthetic, confident musicianship, and a synergy that takes most bands an entire discography to develop. The music on this record is so effortless and cocksure that on one song they literally DARE you to “Steal This Sound,”
even though you already know it won’t be easy.

“Arizona” sounds as fresh now as it did three years ago, a perfect
introduction to the band’s fusion of Fugazi’s angry post-punk and
Springsteen’s romantic arena rock. Bry Webb and Steve Lambke form a
messy but expressive twin-guitar attack that blurs the line between lead and rhythm guitar. The brash, sturdy rhythm section of Doug MacGregor and Dallas Wehrle is miked in such a way that it sounds both in your face and halfway across the hall. Webb’s terminally hoarse voice hollers out a call to arms for every hedonist within the sound of his voice: “As long as we are lonely, we will dance! As long as we are dying, we want the death of rock and roll!” The entire album is a survey of “ghost town” youth “stuck between the wars” (“The Long Distance Four”), using sex, drugs and rock
and roll as a distraction from their inability to find a purpose in life. It’s the same cry of boredom that fuels almost every great basement punk album. (Unwound’s Fake Train instantly comes to mind.) “It’s the boredom of a bitter age,” Webb sings on “No Ecstasy,” “that drives them to the arms of a punk rock stage.”

However, none of Webb’s rants come across as contrived or clich├ęd.
Even when he explicitly speaks for an entire generation, not a whiff of self-importance creeps into his tone. On many songs the other
Constantines holler behind him, as if to let him know that he isn’t fighting his causes alone. When the band repeatedly spells out the word “overdose” on “Hyacinth Blues,” inattentive listeners will think that they’re singing about drugs. They’re actually singing about marketers and advertisers who shove new trends down our throats to the point of saturation. “The retail mob is
bleating at the latest dead sensation,” he sings. Every song on this record that isn’t instrumental has at least one line like that. This album’s lyric sheet is a marvel of concise, unpretentious poetry, but both Webb’s voice and his band’s music are coarse enough to keep most listeners from noticing. The lone exception is “Saint You,” an acoustic ballad from a dangerous man
to an equally dangerous woman that I wish Johnny Cash was still alive to reinterpret.

The rest of the album is a series of barnstorming screeds that suck you in so quickly that by the time a cheesy organ announces the beginning of the fifth song “Justice,” you’ll feel as if you’re in a sweaty bar with the Constantines, and Bry’s singing directly to and about YOU. If you aren’t jumping around the room like a moron by the time the eleventh song “Steal This Sound” reaches the one-minute mark, then the stereo’s simply not loud enough. On that song Webb shouts, “It’s some missionary complex that keeps me testifying!” If rock and roll really is the agnostic’s church of choice that this album says it is, then the Constantines are the most compelling preachers I’ve heard in quite a while. When he asks “Can I get a witness?” during the climax of “Young Offenders,” the titanic monochord lurch of his backing band could make even an atheist shout “Amen!”

As much as it pains me to admit it, this album is actually better than Shine a Light by a small margin. In retrospect, the songs on Shine a Light occasionally suffered from trying TOO hard to be anthems, and whether the increased presence of keyboards helped or hurt the songs is still up for debate. Not only that, but whenever Steve Lambke took the microphone, his comparatively atonal voice made the songs drag. Although Lambke actually sings more on The Constantines, his songs are sequenced in a way that maintains the album’s momentum, which can’t be said about his contributions to Shine a Light. This band’s debut is a more cohesive listen from start to finish, which is probably good for newer, less knowledgeable Constantines fans who might pick this up thinking that it’s the FOLLOWUP to Shine instead of its predecessor. If you know one of these people, though, don’t spoil the surprise for them. Let them figure it out on their own.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.constantines.ca
Label Website: http://www.subpop.com

September 10, 2004

the playwrights "dislocated"

I know a lot of people who are making a big deal about Bristol band The Playwrights. From excited teenagers to grumpy failed indiepop stars, The Playwrights have definitely captured people's interests--including yours truly! This little single may be all too brief, but it will instantly let you know what these kids are up to. "Dislocated" is an excellent pop song that recalls both the early 1980s and the sloppy rock of early 1990s Pavement. In short, it's one of the better songs this year, and is easily one of the most perfect single sides of 2004. The flipside, "Welcome To The Middle Ages," though not quite as pulsatingly thrilling as the A-side, is still a quick one-two punch rocker that's over in done in barely two minutes that's enhanced by some great trumpet! Am I excited about the Playwrights? YES. Should you be? YES! Do you need this single? HELL YES. Will you get it? Considering it's a limited edition of 500, you better get your ass in gear if you want it.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.theplaywrights.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.unpopular-records.com

Ocean Blue "Waterworks"

In the early 1990s, I fell in love with The Ocean Blue. To be more specific, I fell in love with their album Beneath the Rhythm And Sound. It was a collection of pretty, sophisticated jangle-pop, containing songs that were downright perfect. Their previous albums, The Ocean Blue and Cerulean were pretty good, but they were nowhere near as great as their third record. I used to listen to it incessantly. Their follow-up record was a bit disappointing, though when they returned with Davy Jones' Locker, I was most impressed. That they never received their fair share broke my heart.

It's 2004, and once again this really great band has been forced to self-release their newest record, Waterworks. What makes this development frustrating is that once again they've made a great record which will probably go unheard and underappreciated. It doesn't seem right. Then again, they've never received the respect they deserve, so this sad fact isn't one that bothers me too much--they've been too good for too long, and the fact that they even still exist is enough of a reason to get excited. Better to have an obscure record than to have nothing, right?

The six songs on Waterworks prove that the band has definitely entered a new phase of greatness, though. Bookended by two instrumentals, the beautiful "Fast Forward Reverse" and the lovely "The Northern Jetstream," the record has a creamy pop center. It's good to know that David Schetzel and Oed Ronne haven't lost their popsong skills, too--and it's also good to see that they've picked up the much-loved Allen Clapp to help them out as well! The rest of the record is awash in the jangle-pop that they've always done best, though the record seems a bit more downbeat than normal. "Golden Gate" is a lush little ballad; "Sunshower" is a fast little rocker that makes me smile. Though "Pedestrian" didn't register at first, it's a song that grows with you on subsequent listens. I'm most fond of "Ticket to Wyoming," which reminds me of Between the Rhythm and Sound's best moments.

This is a great little record from a really great band that should be highly regarded by all indie-pop lovers. That they're still around in 2004 gives me a great deal of hope, renewing my faith that really good bands can and will find a way to exist. Does this mean that they'll have a new full length out soon? God, I hope so. You should hope so, too.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Confuse Yr Idols: A Tribute to Sonic Youth

Ah... my first review of a tribute album. Should I go on and on about how lame and unnecessary tribute albums are? I could talk about how cover songs are akin to remakes of classic movies. They're just not as good as the originals. Or I could talk about tribute albums are really just a platform for mostly bad-to-mediocre bands to gain publicity for themselves by recording someone else's song that people actually like instead of their own unworthy original shit that people otherwise wouldn't give the time of the day. I mean, come on! Who wants to waste their time with the same old songs done by different people when they could better spend their time listening to new and original music instead?

I do!

I like cover songs. Sometimes a band can bring something new and interesting to a song that wasn't there before when the original artist did. Sometimes a change as subtle as a woman singing a song originally sung by a man (or vice versa) is enough to inject new life into a song. Sometimes a band can modify another band's song so much that it's almost unrecognizable, which can have very interesting results. Sometimes a band can just do a cover without changing the song one bit, and it doesn't matter because it's just fun for the band to play and fun for the audience to hear.

I think you've had enough of the basic tribute/cover discussion, so let's look at Confuse Yr Idols now. Considering the influence that Sonic Youth has had over so many bands in a wide variety of genres, it's surprising that the record stores and mail order distros aren't overflowing with Sonic Youth tributes. I haven't heard any other SY tribute albums myself, but I know there are one or two others out there. But for me, the novelty of a Sonic Youth tribute has not worn off.
Let's talk about the tribute album itself. It has twelve tracks, with SY material spanning from their self-titled EP (their first release) to Washing Machine (which I think was Sonic Youth's last great album as a whole). The biggest names on this CD seem to be Racebannon, Elf Power, Parts & Labor, and Saicobab (which is an alias for Yoshimi from the Boredoms). I shouldn't do this, but I bet you wonder what each track sounds like. So, I'm actually going to give you a little track-by-track. Enjoy!

1. Racebannon "Death Valley '69"

This one is very faithful to the original song. So faithful that it almost sounds like they took the original track, cut out the original vocals, and re-recorded their vocals. It sounds cool, but there's something lacking because they only recreated Thurston's vocals and left out Lydia Lunch's. Since it sounds like they were going for accuracy, they really should have gotten someone to do the duet. Otherwise, it's not bad.

2. Brystl "Shadow of a Doubt"

I feel guilty for reviewing this track because it's the only one on here that I didn't like in its original form. And it's another straight, faithful cover, but with a male doing the vocals (Kim sang on the original). I don't know what exactly turns me off about this song. I think it's mediocre at best and doesn't match up to a lot of their other material. I suppose if you like the original song, you'll like this cover, though.

3. New Grenada "Eric's Trip"

Again, a straight cover, but with the sex of the singer changed. This time you have a female vocalist doing a faithful, spirited rendition of Lee's talk-sing vocals. I like the way it sounds. I'm sure there are people out there who agree with me that female vocals make things better, or at least more interesting. They also use moogish keyboard to reproduce the noise guitar line, which also sounds good. A straight cover, but the energy and female vocals really sell it.

4. Steel Pole Bath Tub "I Dreamed I Dream"

Another very straight cover. If that doesn't please you, don't worry. Things will get interesting later. The differences on this track are that they use male vocals for both vocal parts (Lee and Kim were both on the original version), and I think they actually use a little more noise on this track. It's a good cover, but you may be disappointed if you wanted them to change the song somehow.

5. Twink "Cinderella's Big Score"

Now, we have the first of the unorthodox covers. Sadly, however, it's the shittiest track on this album, but not for the quality of the music. Twink, for those of you who don't know, is known for making electronic/experimental music with toy pianos. I like his work, but the reason why this sucks is because this sounds nothing like "Cinderella's Big Score". It's just toy piano with a couple pitch-shifted samples from a reading of the "Cinderella" fairy tale ("I'm your fairy godmother, I will help you). It would be a nice Twink album track, but it doesn't belong here because it's not really a Sonic Youth cover. It's not as much of a copout as if someone just recorded a bunch of formless IDM noise and gave it a Sonic Youth title, but it's just as disappointing. Come on, Twink! You could have at least made the toy piano part sound a little bit like the guitar or vocals from "Cinderella's Big Score".

6. Stationary Odyssey "Dirty Boots"

This one barely qualifies as a straight, faithful cover. Or it barely doesn't qualify. Whatever. But the quirk here is that the song is played at a much slower tempo. If you love the faster, original "Dirty Boots", you might find yourself often skipping this track.

7. Rapider Than Horsepower "Little Trouble Girl"

It starts off very well, but then it becomes something of an atrocity. The beginning part of the song is wonderfully done with a string section doing an instrumental version of Kim's vocals. The trouble comes when the cover gets to the spoken word part. Then they decide to put in vocals. Horrible vocals. It's a male vocalist, but that's not the problem. This male vocalist just has a bad voice (or intentionally put on a bad voice for this song). I'm not exactly sure how to properly describe. I guess it sounds kind of like the guy was singing through a sore throat. This could have been one of the best tracks on the CD if they had just kept it as a classical instrumental, but noooooo, they had to ruin it with vocals that just clash with the beauty of the song. That could have been their point, but that just means that they intentionally sabotaged a cover that could have been great.

8. Tub Ring "Kool Thing"

This might be the best track on the album, which is funny because I thought it sucked at first. The track starts with a faithful rendition of the song's opening riffs, but then metamorphosizes into atrocious lounge jazz when the vocals come in. At first, I couldn't get past those incredibly cheesy vocals and funky jazz piano, but when I did, I was surprised to find that the whole song didn't sound that way. Incredibly, this cover is a joke, but an intentionally funny one! They just sucked on purpose at first! But then, at the spoken word part, they go back to faithfully recreating the song, complete with a great Chuck D impression, except that Kim's spoken word vocals are done by a robot voice ("Are you going to liberate us robots from male, white corporate opression?"). Hilarious! And after the spoken word part, they bounce genres again and end by doing the song in a heavy metal fashion, perfect for headbanging. And that's not all. There are a couple more gags in the song, but I don't want to give them away. This track is worth at least half the price of the album. Genius!

9. KY Prophet "Making the Nature Scene"

A rap version for "Making the Nature Scene". Of course, Sonic Youth already did one as Ciccone Youth, but this is different. Ciccone Youth's version sounded like Sonic Youth with a beatbox (which it really was), but this sounds like an '80s rap group covering the song. A male rapper does the main lyrics, while a female voice sings some catchy backing vocals. Well done!

10. Elf Power "Kotton Krown"

If you're an Elf Power fan, you've heard this one before. It's the same version on their covers album, Nothing's Going to Happen. For those who have never heard this, try and imagine an Elephant 6 band doing a laid back, acoustic cover of this song. It's good, but I'm disappointed because I've heard this one before.

11. Parts & Labor "Sugar Kane"

A straight cover, but this one is just good because they have a synth playing the main guitar part. I love how it sounds. The synth turns what would have been a mostly uninteresting rendition of the song into something much bigger.

12. Saicobab "Death Valley '69"

Yes, they bookended the album with "Death Valley '69". This is an interesting rendition. The song structure and tempo are the same, but it's the instrumentation that makes this one sound quite unorthodox. First of all, there's a sitar doing the lead guitar part, which sounds really cool. Both Thurston and Lydia's vocals are covered here. Thurston's part is done with a vocoder, while Lydia's is done without effects. (Probably necessary because the same vocalist is doing both parts). The spoken/yelled word part in the middle is particularly interesting because it's been turned into a jarring, psychedelic mush of guitar, sitar, and synthesized piano. A triumph of audio mixing! Anyway, this one allows the album to finish on a high note.

That's it. If all of that description makes you curious, you might as well get this album. Most of it doesn't suck outright, and the bad parts at least make interesting curiosity pieces. And you just have to experience the Tub Ring and Saicobab tracks for yourself to understand how good they are!

--Eric Wolf

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