November 30, 2005

Bjorn Olsson "Bjorn Olsson {The Lobster}"

Now this...this is an odd record! Bjorn Olsson is best known as the guitarist for the hard-rocking Swedish band The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. He's written some really amazing, really hard riffs for that band, but his solo work bears no resemblence to his main gig. On this record (self-titled but lovingly referred to as "The Lobster"), Olsson has collected six short, pretty yet ultimately inconsequential instrumental pieces. These numbers are pretty, but feel incomplete; they simply sound like ideas, rather than finished compositions. End of story, right? Wrong.

At the end of the record is a track called "Insomning." This number is an hour-long composition, and it is composed of the previous seven compositions. He then looped them and placed them together, and he adjusted it so that after each song had cycle, the sound would decrease ever-so-gradually, until the listener had fallen asleep and the song was nearly inaudible. It's a strange, most bizarre idea--but it's an idea that works quite well. In fact, it's a bit puzzling as to why Olsson would include these shorter numbers and then repeat them at the end. Excluding the individual tracks in favor of simply releasing "Insomning" might have been a better idea.

Regardless of whether or not the first few tracks are really necessary, Bjorn Olsson is still an interesting experiment, and in fact "Insomning" is a handy little sleep aid.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.gravitation.nu

The Smittens "A Little Revolution"

Last year's Gentlefication Now! was a fun blast of too-sweet-to-be-forgotten bubblegum pop. The band composed fun singalong songs that made the listener smile, and their gentle charm only added to their appeal. Peppy and upbeat, the album was an addictive treat and an all-around fun listen. But times change, people change and no matter how hard you try to Peter Pan your life, maturity is inevitably always looming around the corner. The Smittens face this fact of life with joy and aplomb.

The dark shades and tones of A Little Revolution's artwork actually sets the mood. This time around, the songs are darker; and though there are a few moments of singalongness, they've eschewed much of their first album's youthful jubilation. You'll also notice that there's a bit of a difference in their singing arrangements; Max, whose Calvin Johnson-styled crooning defined their debut, isn't as prominent; he wasn't as active with the Smittens during the sessions, and is no longer with the band. Instead, most of the vocals are handled by our fave Colin Clary. His songwriting style has always been a little more personal and heartfelt, and it's obvious that his songwriting dominated the album. It's quite okay, too; the world isn't suffering from too many Colin Clary songs.

Even though the music has a newfound melancholy, there's no way the Smittens could be anything less than charming. And while "The Garden" and "My Favorite Dream" are darker than their previous fare, it's hard not to deny their catchy power. Also enjoyable is the pretty "Jeans and Mittens," the political "Stop the Bombs" and the remix fun of "Twitterpation!" My personal fave is "Party Time," which is a cover of a great song by the sorely-missed and highly underrated True Love Always. This song's fun, not only because of its meaning to me personally, but each of the Smittens takes a turn on vocals. In an odd twist, the moments that most recall their debut album feel oddly out of place; "Guess What" and "Nate is Straight" are fun, but the darker feel of their other songs makes these joyously fun moments feel slightly awkward. You know, just like being a teenager.

Given the fact that they've recently changed their lineups and are transitioning from a five-piece to a four-piece band, A Little Revolution is a really good transitional record. Sure, it might not have as many out-and-out fun singalongs as their debut, but bands must grow. For the most part, the Smittens' maturity is pretty good. Sure, the good ol' days were fun, but the band's newfound depth is really impressive, too. Not a bad sophomore record, indeed!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.smittens.com
Label Website: http://www.dangerfive.com
Label Website: http://www.northofjanuary.com

November 29, 2005

Bound Stems "The Logic of Building the Body Plan"

Bound Stems hail from Chi-town and make quirky and mellow indie-rock. Though they formed in 2002, and self-released two singles, they won't release their debut album, Appreciation Night, until next summer. That's a bit of a wait, especially for a band that's been around that long. In the meantime, they decided to make a formal introduction, choosing to release a little record containing two songs from their full length, three outtakes and two sonic compositions.

The Logic of Building the Body Plan is about as consistent as any record containing finished album tracks and b-sides would be. Some songs are stronger than others; there's a bit of a Bright Eyes vibe on "Totipotent" and "Wake Up, Ma and Pa Are Gone," which is either good or bad, depending on your tolerance of Conor Oberst. Personally, this world contains one Bright Eyes too many, and I'm not keen on these two numbers. (Okay, on second listen, it must be admitted that the groove on "Totipotent" is really nice, even if the singing makes me winsome.) Not surprisingly, the two songs from their forthcoming album, "My Kingdom for a Trundle Bed" and "Risking Life and Limb for the Coupon" fare better; they're mellow rock, with pretty, chiming guitars and excellent singing. Opening song "Crimes & Follies" isn't bad, either; it's a jaunty number, and though Bobby Galivan's attempts at falsetto fall short, his attempts are charming. "Up All Night" also highlights another potential strength: female singing. Hopefully, Appreciation Night will more prominently feature Kate Gross's singing.

Ultimately, The Logic of Building the Body Plan isn't bad. It's not bad at all. This is a pleasant little record, and it's quite successful at whetting the appetite. Here's to the future of Bound Stems!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.boundstems.com
Label Website: http://www.flameshovel.com

Johnny Cash "The Legend of Johnny Cash"

What can I say about Johnny Cash that hasn't been said before? He was a great man, and not just for his music. He was a man who embodies the American spirit, that of humble beginnings and overcoming adversity. He's also a role model for the Christian faith; though his youth was full of wild behavior and sinful carousing, he turned his life around with the love and assistance of his partner, June Carter. He wasn't afraid to stand for his faith. He was a man of love, and even though some tried to adapt his persona and link him to the 'counter-culture' movement, he never felt comfortable in the role as rebel. Those who adopted him as a proto-hippie cringed when he talked of his faith, and those of faith cringed at the fact he did nothing to deny such associations. People latch their own agendas onto his legacy, but agendas, they come and go.

His music? At times the music seems only secondary to the man---this great, larger-than-life man, this man dressed in black and singing songs of praise and glory. One could argue and debate about the song listing for The Legend of Johnny Cash, but that's missing the point. It would be impossible to gather all of Johnny's best-loved songs on one disk and keep everyone satisfied, and it would require a box set to compile a complete collection of charting hits, so the compilers opted for the known hits such as "I Walk the Line," "Big River" and "Ring of Fire," with a few lesser-known numbers and collaborations. (In my opinion, the one song that's truly conspicuous in its absence is "Daddy Sang Bass," a collaboration with The Statler Brothers that was a charting hit in 1969.)

Later material, such as "A Boy Named Sue" and "One Piece At A Time," were humorous and sometimes downright silly (remember "The Chicken in Black?"), but they did help to cement Cash's legacy as a master storyteller. Cash's sense of humor never overwhelmed or tarnished his honorable reputation. After all, the Country charts of the 1970s contained numerous novelty and parody songs, and Cash was, as usual, at the forefront of the scene. That his star faded somewhat in the 1980s is not surprising, either, and it wasn't something that was Cash's fault. The times were changing, and Cash stayed true to himself, even if the country world neglected him. His most notable contribution to this decade was with The Highwaymen, a collaboration pairing him with longtime friends Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Though their self-titled debut was a classic--and the Jimmy Webb-penned "Highwayman" still brings chills--it's a forgotten classic, a secret joy to those who know it.

Even in his later years, when he openly faced death, he didn't turn away from his calling; his recordings were not the moribund sounds of a man facing mortality, but a jubilation and humble praise for the life he felt he didn't deserve. Thanks to a career reboost courtesy of Rick Rubin, his final years were anything but maudlin. That he recorded songs from his past ("Give My Love to Rose" and the red-hot "I've Been Everywhere") and didn't shy away from covering modern artists, most notably Soundgarden ("Rusty Cage") and Nine Inch Nails ("Hurt"). Cash didn't fade away, and he didn't spend the last years recording sentimental sap--he was working all the way until his dying breath.

Johnny Cash will never be replaced, and he will never be bettered. The Legend of Johnny Cash may be brief, and its track listing might be subject to debate, but there's no denying the power of the man's legacy, and it's hard to fault any single song found here. A beautiful collection that briefly--but effectively--defines the Legend of Johnny Cash.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.johnnycash.com
Label Website: http://www.universalrecordings.com

November 28, 2005

Attractive "Attractive"

One wouldn't expect members of the hardcore band Snapcase to start a band that was melodic new-wave power pop, but that's exactly what's happened. Attractive is a new group, formed by three members of Snapcase, plus Josh English, former lead singer of Six Going on Seven. What's even more impressive is how damn good this band actually is. The band is tight; English is an excellent singer, and although their choice of musical style might be played out, their ability to make it sound fresh and exciting again is what impresses the most. Though it's frustratingly short, you'll find yourself listening to it more than once, as the songs are all repeaters. I'm most satisfied by "The War Years," but the other two songs, "Irony Grows in Brooklyn" and "Mother Tongue" are equally satisfying. Attractive is a stunning surprise, and is simply a fun listen. This band could be big....

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.attractive.cc
Label Website: http://www.welcomehomerecords.com

Rise Paul Ric "Purple Blaze"

Talk about a musical departure! Christopher Paul Richards was a founding member of DC-area punk-funkers Q and Not U. They blended politics and music together in a way not seen since The Make-Up, and what they did, they did quite well. After the band's sudden breakup earlier this year, Richards announced that he had a new project that would be different than what people might expect. And boy, he wasn't joking!

Purple Blaze is a much different record than anything by his previous band. Instead of the loud, funky grooves of his previous band, Ris Paul Ric is pure mellow gold. Instrumentally speaking, the songs on Purple Blaze are sparsely arranged. Most songs are built on nothing more than acoustic guitar and some gentle, non-threatening percussion, though at times he includes some hushed synthesizer and beats. That he has a knack with making a lovesexy groove with such a minimal arrangement makes the record even more impressive.

Then there's Richards' voice; soft, senusal and downright sexy. He sounds not unlike a happier Elliott Smith, especially on more acoustic-based numbers like "Hanging From The Garden" and "I Wish You Love Me," but the songs on Purple Blaze aren't folk. In fact, it's not a stretch to suggest that Richards' new style is best described as lo-fi acoustic soul. Dig that sexy falsetto on "Run Up Wild On Me." Damn! Comparisons to Prince might seem a bit daft, but this song proves that there's something to such allegations. Other moments, like "Demo Was a Runaround" and "I Wish You Love Me," are soft, sensual numbers that would probably fit wonderfully on a mix CD for that hopefully-special someone.

The only time the record falters is when he inserts brief instrumental drones into the record. While it's easy to understand why he did so--to break the monotony--the record would have been better off without them. Not that they're "bad," but they're not essential to the record's pace. That one fault is more of an aesthetic criticism, and even those songs are somewhat tolerable. All in all, Purple Blaze is a great debut record.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.rispaulric.com
Label Website: http://www.academyfightsong.com

November 17, 2005

Harvey Danger "Cream and Bastards Rise" EP

Harvey Danger’s third LP, Little by Little…, is easily one of this year’s musical surprises. Long thought dead and gone, the band returned with not only their best musical work to date, but also one of this year’s best records. They’ve mellowed out the power-pop and increased the “pop,” and it’s all been quite worthwhile. But as they’ve done all of the work themselves, they don’t have the luxury of spending money on doing things like releasing singles. With Kill Rock Stars’ assistance, though, they’ve been allowed the ability to get this album’s best song out to a wider audience. The lead song, “Cream and Bastards Rise,” is a fast-paced rocker, with lyrics that make one wonder if they’re talking about their experience in the record industry. It’s a great song that definitely deserves airplay.

For those who bought the album, Cream and Bastards Rise is a bit repetitive; two of the three B-sides appear on the bonus disk. “Picture, Picture” is another rocker, a good song that simply didn’t fit on the album. “Cream and Bastards (Reprise)” is a funny 1920s-style lounge-act version of the title track. The only unreleased number, “Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” is a radio session version of a song from their lost second album, King James Version. This version is mellower, with a much different arrangement, and it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Little by Little….

Cream and Bastards Rise might not be a necessary release for some, but these four songs serve as an excellent snapshot of Harvey Danger circa 2005. And “Cream and Bastards Rise” is simply a great song, and it proves that the band is quite capable of writing other great sounding radio-worthy hits.

--Joseph Kyle

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

Bochum Welt "Elan"

Minimalist, simple melodies made by men with computers--that doesn’t always sound like the recipe for exciting music, does it? Generally, such records should rightly be met with a bit of cynicism; it’s rather easy for people with less-than-stellar talent to make “ambient sound-scapes” with the click of a mouse. Heck, I’ve done it, too—but I wouldn’t deign to consider releasing them to the general public. Rare is the truly wonderful computer-composed record. √Član, the latest release by Italy’s Bochum Welt, is one of them. For the past decade, Italian composer Gianluigi Di Costanzo has operated as Bochum Welch, releasing records that blended together hard dance rhythms and dark, brooding atmospherics.

Unlike previous records, Elan is a collaborative project with California-based Brian Salter. His input helps to make Elan sound a bit different than previous releases. It’s not hard-driving, and it’s not mellow pseudo-classical piano ballads; instead, it’s an appealing blend of gentle ambient passages, augmented by peaceful, tranquil beats. At times, the record sounds like the soundtrack, but not to an arty movie; instead, it occasionally recalls the sounds heard on a television police drama. Though comparisons to Eno and Aphex Twin are apt, it’s hard not to also think of Mike Post, either, especially on tracks like “Interlude (Diversion)” and “Joystick Coupler.” Other songs, like “Cinematronics,” “Vectors in Full Color,” and “Chelsea” are simply beautiful passages that are warm to the soul.

The only time Elan falters is the song “D.V.E.,” and not because the song is bad; its happy-go-lucky robotic-style dance-pop rhythm simply feels out of place. It’s too Costanzo and Salter’s credit that the two kept the record relatively brief, and their compositions concise. Tedium is often the Achilles’ heel of electronica, but the duo’s brevity makes the record even more enjoyable. It’s possible to listen to Elan without paying much attention to the passage of time, without being bored. Rarely do records of this style satisfy in such a manner.

Elan is a very pretty record. It’s one that will help you relax if you’re stressed, will lull you to sleep if you’re tired, and regardless of mindset, it’s never less than a pleasant listen.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.bochumwelt.com
Label Website: http://www.fuzzybox.com

November 15, 2005

Tarantula "Book of Sand"

I'll be straight up: Book of Sand perfectly defines the word "frustrating." The cover depicts...a Roman Centurion? Song titles make references to "empires" and "conquests" and "the fall," so I should logically deduce that this record has something to say about the Roman Empire, right? WRONG. Rule number one: if you make a "concept" record, at least have a cohesive story line that's somewhat related to the imagery you use. And, if you're going to lead your listeners to think that your record is a concept record, at least explain give the listeners some way of combining all that you're doing--especially if your art requires you to do something as asinine as dressing up in a Centurion uniform.

Frustration number two: Okay, so these guys have put together what may or may not be a concept album. They've not explained any of it--and, on top of it, they're an instrumental band. One of them is dressed in a silly costume How does it sound? Well, "The Century Trilogy I: Conquest" sets the tone, with a pretty, haunting violin creating a cinematic mood, that's then utterly destroyed...by heavy metal. By not very good heavy metal. We're talking about a riff that's quite cliche. We're talking about piss-poor Dave Mustane imitiation. The band's metal skills sounds like a high school kid playing over and over in his garage, so that he can one day prove his ability to ROCK OUT to try and score the school metal chick. The next track, "Who Took Berlin (Part I)," only continues this metal trend, and it's pretty clear that Book of Sand has, in my mind, just been written off as a sloppy, amateurish metal record.

Frustration number three arrives at song number three, "Who Took Berlin (Part II)." Why is it frustrating? Because, unexpectedly, Tarantula AD mutates in to a good band! Even though the horrible guitar riff in "The Century Trilogy" pops up repeatedly, the songs that aren't cursed by that solo have a much better chance of being good. Songs like "Prelude to the Fall" and "The Lost Waltz" are downright beautiful songs; they're cinematic in scope, full of gorgeous arrangements, and those two songs--as well as the two that follow, "Riverpond" and "Palo Borracho"--flow together like a symphonic movement. The movement sounds like an odd mixture of equal parts Explosion In the Sky, Sigur Ros, Godspeed you Black Emperor, The Dirty Three, and Calexico. Album closer "The Century Trilogy III: The Fall," is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard all year; it's an epic number and features Devendra Banhart. (Yeah, I don't care for the man much, but his operatic stylings here are simply beautiful.)

Frustration number four: this record rubs me the wrong way and it also impresses me with its musical brilliance. So is Tarantula AD a band of good classical musicians who've been a little too self-indulgent? Are they merely OK metal musicians who have a prediliction for classical music? It's hard to say, because Book of Sand could go either way. The only thing that's consistent about this record is its vexing nature. Perhaps they'd be better off to lose the bad solo and the Centurion costume.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.tarantulaad.com
Label Website: http://www.kemadorecords.com

November 14, 2005

Interview: The Earlies

In the Spring of 2003, I happened upon the website of a small Dallas-based production company. I checked out the company's roster, and though most of the bands were merely OK, the very last band on the page was this group called The Earlies. It was compared to the Beach Boys and Mercury Rev, and though the description sounded quite intriguing, I didn't really expect much. After all, hyperbole is to be expected in this music business. Boy, was I ever wrong! I cried when I first heard "Wayward Song." I think I listened to "Wayward Song" a dozen times that afternoon. I think I listened to it twice as many times the next day. I fell in love with this band almost instantly. It's really hard not to instantly fall in love with their music. Instantly, a connection was made, and I couldn't shut up about them. But a problem arose: all of the band's super-limited edition singles had simply vanished into the ether; it was impossible to hear much of their music. Thankfully, all of these great songs were not lost; they were collected on their debut album, These Were The Earlies, which appeared in 2004. Even then, it was almost impossible to find in the United States. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that this excellent record was released domestically, thanks to new label Secretly Canadian.

The Earlies are a unique band, largely because they are an orchestral pop band that's divided by an ocean. John Mark Lapham and Brandon Carr reside in Texas, while Giles Hatton and Christian Madden live in England. That their music is the product of long-distance collaborations isn't something you'd know unless you were told, because their music is
that cohesive. But the music speaks for itself, and I have no qualms in naming These Were The Earlies one of the best records of 2005. As you read this, the band is embarking on their first tour of the United States. Though they were busy preparing for tour, one half of this beautiful band was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us. We're quite honored that they did.

How did the four of you meet? Was collaboration something you initially had in mind? What prompted the start of the band, or did The Earlies exist at some point before the intercontinental collaboration began?

John Mark: We all met in random ways, in a studio and record shop, respectively. Originally we really didn't have anything solid in mind, we were just doing our own thing, learning how to put songs together in different ways. Giles and I often spoke of what it would be like to work in a band context, specifically merging pop, psychedelics, and electronics (funnily enough...). When we started spending time with Christian and imagining what he and his friends from Burnley could bring to the formula, that's when it loosely began to start taking shape. However, it wouldn't be until a few years later when I bumped in to a young fresh faced Brandon Carr in a small record shop in a small Texas town (Abilene, to be exact) that what came to be 'The Earlies' would form.

Giles: Although the set up for The Earlies is unusual, the actual meeting of the band really isn't. We were just like minded individuals in the right place at the right time who share an interest in making the kind of music we do.We were all making music before The Earlies, but speaking only for myself, I wanted to move on and do something more ambitious than the electronic music I was making at the time.

Considering the uniqueness of your arrangement, could you describe the process of creating an Earlies song?

John Mark: There really is no set process to describe. Each song has a unique birth. Sometimes it's very random, say with a single loop or noise. Other times, there is a group of lyrics that has a ring to them, or sometimes a song is built from improvisations. We really try to keep how these songs come about as varied and changing as possible.

Giles: The process varies and is not nailed down which is what makes being in The Earlies so very interesting. People tend initially to work with material gathered in isolation and then pass it on to other members to embellish, so no musical idea is ever set in stone. Then, when the parts appear to be in place, we all go into the studio where the tracks are completed.

There are obvious drawbacks to an arrangement such as yours--but what are some of the benefits?

John Mark: Mainly, from my point of view, it means we can all live anywhere in the world we want to and still make a record. Also, us being apart and using computers to bring songs together means that we are forced to think of composition in different ways. Sometimes unorthodox, sometimes just different.

Giles: The band members are allowed to express themselves freely whereas the convensional band set up can sometimes seem quite limiting. We tend not to have arguements in the studio, because the tracks have already been developed outside that enviroment, so the diversity of the music is preserved and uncompromised.

Until the album came out, all of your releases were on either ten inch or seven inch records. Does this mean that you prefer to consider each of your songs a seperate entity that deserves to stand alone, or, at the very least, be presented in a very concise manner, so as to magnify the song's power?

John Mark: To be honest, I think it's more that we love vinyl. Also, at the time, we really could only finish one song at a time, and each one took us AGES. We've gotten a bit quicker now that this is a job, and all. But yeah, we love records, and those songs at the time made sense as A and B sides..

Giles: Every track we produce we see as a potential release and we try not to think of them in terms of singles or album tracks. Also, this arose out of neccessity as our first releases were self-funded, so it had to be right for a cheap format.

These Were The Earlies is a singles collection, but most listeners wouldn't know that unless someone pointed it out. Was there a particular reason why the Earlies had not released a full-length album--I'm assuming financial--and were you surprised with the record's seamlessness?

John Mark: To be honest, again, we really do consider this to be our first album. It's a shame we had to release so many of the songs before the album, but it was a long process from when we started making tracks to when we were signed. These songs that ended up on the album, some were recorded especially for the full length, some didn't make it..some were re-produced to fit the format of a full length.. or re-done in keeping with how we were changing as a band. So in that respect we do see it more than being just a singles collection. Personally, I'm not surprised how it fits together so solidly. A lot of thought was put in to sequencing, and mixing and re-mixing so the flow was there. i think by the time we were in to our 3rd single, we were already hearing how the album would sound, anyway. So from then on, we would craft the singles so they would eventually sit well on the LP.

Giles: When the album was first assembled it was great to hear how well it seemed to flow together,but not really too surprising, as that was what we had always intending--to make a record that had a beginning, middle and end and took you on a bit of a trip.It only really ended up being released as singles because of our financial position before we got funding.

Tempered within the melancholy of your music, there's an overwhelming ray of hope that shines through and makes the listening experience quite incredible. Would you say that the Earlies' mission is to deliver beauty into a dark, sad and dreary world?

John Mark: Um, I don't know if that is specifically our mission. Personally, I don't find it a sad and dreary world. I think, depending on your outlook, life can be sad and dreary or quite happy. Or both. I think we just naturally want to make affecting music, whatever effect may come. For me as a songwriter, I think contrast is very important, like delivering some very desperate, sad words over a very happy song, for instance. I think, on a good day, if we can convery honest feelings, and put our hearts in to sound, and maybe throw in a good measure of freakiness or just some strand of orgininality, then we're doing our jobs.

Giles: I like all kinds of melancholy music but it seems more affecting when some kind of pathos or sense of hope is present within the music,we wanted to make something sonically affecting but with an emotional core like the music that influences and us.I don,t see the world as a dark and dreary place,there are too many amazing things and people within it for it to ever be that,of course there are those out there who seem intent on spoiling it for the rest of us.

What's next for The Earlies?

John Mark: We're currently busy working on our 2nd album, plus many of us are gearing up for a US tour to promote the 1st. Once the touring is out of the way, we'll finish the follow-up, then after that, more touring, I'm guessing. We're all pursuing outside interests that we hope will enhance what we do when we come together. There's a lot of work to be done...

Giles: We are currently working on our next record, which we are all very excited about, as it seems to be progressing in some new and unusual directions, and we are looking forward to visiting your fair land for some live performances. We hope to see you there.

The Earlies embark on their first full American tour this month. Click here for the dates--and don't miss 'em!

The Long Winters "Ultimatium"

The Long Winters' newest EP, Ultimatum, is a nice stopgap release. Though 2003's When I Pretend to Fail was a yummy, sticky-sweet psych-pop collection of songs, for Ultimateum Winters leader John Roderick has decided to take his music in a bit of a wintery direction. The songs found here are a bit sad and a bit dreary, but that does not make them any less good. Roderick's singing--which sounds like an odd mixture of Jeff Mangum and Counting Crows' Adam Duritz--naturally sounds a little sad and more than a little lackadaisical, but it serves the songs quite well. "The Commander Thinks Aloud" has a piano intro that's similar to The Beatles' "Let it Be," while "Ultimatium" contains some rather nice guitar picking. "Everything is Talking" is pretty, although a little nondescript. Of the new songs, the big winner is "Delicate Hands." With a bouncy piano riff and gentle synthesized flutes, it's Ultimatium's most realized, most fulfilling song, and even though all of these new songs are band productions, only " doesn't feel much like a solo production. The final two songs, "Bride and Bridal" and "Ultimatium," are solo acoustic renditions.

Ultimatium is a fine little record. For those not familiar with The Long Winters, it's a nice place to start, and it satiates the appetite for those hungry and impatient for more. Does this stripped-down sound represent the band's new sound? We'll have to wait and see...

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.longwinters.com
Label Website: http://www.barsuk.com

Songs of Green Pheasant "Songs of Green Pheasant"

Ever since Devendra Banhart appeared, it seems as if labels are jumping on the whole ‘freak-folk’ thing. Some of the acts that have appeared have been extremely worthwhile, some of them…well, it’s good to remember that bands disappear when the trend ends. Songs of Green Pheasant is certainly proof that some artists can benefit from discovery. Songs of Green Pheasant is actually one man, Duncan Sumpner, recording alone in his kitchen. According to the story, the record was recorded in 2002, and Fat Cat received it as a demo, but spent several years trying to track Sumpner down. That he apparently didn’t really feel like releasing his compositions may or may not be accurate, but it certainly makes for a good story, and it makes Fat Cat’s discovery of him even more interesting

It’s kind of a good thing they convinced him otherwise, because Songs of Green Pheasant is an interesting, excellent record. Its lo-fi nature bathes the songs in a beautiful haze; as heard on the touching, distant “Soldiers Kill Their Sisters” and the gorgeous “The Wraiths of Loving,” one realizes that these songs wouldn’t sound as beautiful as they do any other way. The best numbers, like “Nightfall (For Boris P.)” and “Until…,” capture the listener’s attention in a most mysterious way. The gorgeous self-harmonizing, the simple drum beat, the mellow vibe, the simple guitar picking, the haunting atmosphere…all of these things are factors that make his music so appealing, even though the songs are ultimately quite simple. Mystery can make a record even more majestic, and it’s certainly true here; a lot of the record’s appeal is built on the fact thatSongs of Green Pheasant doesn’t really sound like anyone; comparisons can be made to all sorts of artists, but ultimately, they fail to fully capture the essence and the beauty of the record.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes Sumpner’s music so wonderfully delightful, and one shouldn’t try. All the record needs to be magical is a listener who appreciates the simple beauty of songwriting. Since years have passed, does this mean Sumpner has made more music? Will it sound as good as this? Has his muse led him in different directions? It’s hard to say. Frankly, though, who cares? Songs of Green Pheasant captures one beautiful moment in time, one that’s not going to easily be replicated. That we’re able to experience it makes the listening even more special.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://fat-cat.co.uk/fatcat/artistInfo.php?id=99
Label Website: http://www.fat-cat.co.uk

November 10, 2005

The Montgolfier Brothers "Journey's End"

In 2000, a British pop duo calling themselves The Montgolfier Brothers quietly released their debut album. Their music--a quiet, melancholy affair awash in many shades of gray--impressed the few who heard it. Label problems and indifference to the band's gentle technique unfortunately muted the duo's output. Sure, the duo went on to solo projects--muti-instrumentalist Mark Tranmer formed Gnac, while vocalist Roger Quigley formed At Swim Two Birds--but neither quite satisfied the palate. Thus, the arrival of the four-song EP Journey's End--and the news of a new album, All My Bad Thoughts, would soon be forthcoming--has made this writer quite enthusiastic. After all, very few records have come close to matching the sheer pop beauty of their previous album, The World is Flat.

Though Journey's End consists of only four songs, it's hardly a brief affair. "Journey's End" is a long, sad tale about the fleeting nature of life and love. It's a dark, melancholy song; Roger Quigley sings with a hushed longing that's deftly highlighted by Mark Trammer's funereal piano melody. It's a sad, haunting song that feels like a dark, snow-covered English street. It's haunting and it's beautiful, and it's easily the Montgolfier Brothers' best composition. The other three songs follow suit; they're gentle, hushed affairs. "Bridestones Revisited" is a gorgeous instrumental, with gentle piano, strings and woodwinds creating an absolutely heavenly affair. "Koffee Pot Blues" and "Koffee Pot Brass" are variations on the same song; the "Blues" version finds Quigley accompanied by piano and guitar, while "Brass" finds him accompanied by harp and a brass section. Journey's End also contains two videos, one for the title track, and another for the instrumental "Operation Laff."

It's hard not to feel a tinge of sadness when listening to The Montgolfier Brothers, but at the same time, it's hard not to be wonderfully overwhelmed by the utterly beautiful music they make. Journey's End serves as a beautiful reminder of their brilliance, and it also hints that their forthcoming full length All My Bad Thoughts may very well be one of this year's best records.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.montgolfiers.co.uk
Label Website: http://www.vespertineandson.com

Sun Kil Moon "Tiny Cities"

Mark Kozelek’s interpretation of the music of others has always been interesting. From AC/DC to Paul McCartney and from The Cars to Yes, there’s just something magical about the way he strips well-known (and not so well-known) songs down to their most basic level. Just listen to his two AC/DC tribute records, and you’ll be quietly astonished at that band’s lyrical brilliance. His latest endeavor—released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker—examines the works and the words of Modest Mouse. It’s an interesting proposition, of course—but does it work?

It’s impossible to deny that Kozelek’s sound is all his own, and his voice is instantly recognizable. And, once again, he’s made these songs sound as if they were his own. Removing these songs from the quirky hands of Isaac Brock might seem a daunting feat, but he’s done exactly that. Devoid of any form of rhythm or beat, these songs are dark, haunting and somewhat disturbing—and at the same time, they’re intensely beautiful. (That’s not a word I’d have used to describe much of Modest Mouse’s music.) At times, it’s hard to even recognize some of the songs, because they sound so different. “Ocean Breathes Salty,” one of Modest Mouse’s best songs, totally changes into one of Kozelek’s best songs. “Neverending Math Equation” sounds like an outtake from The Ghost of the Great Highway. Kozelek’s instrumental arrangements are impeccable; he truly makes Modest Mouse’s lyrics his own.

Even though Kozelek’s an excellent interpreter, that doesn’t mean Tiny Cities is a perfect record. Many of the songs are brief--very brief, in fact—and the arrangements feel tossed-off. Did Kozelek half-ass it for Tiny Cities? It’s hard to say, but with “Exit Does Not Exist” and “Convenient Parking” lasting less than two minutes, it’s hard not to think that. While Kozelek may have excellent arrangement skills, and his interpretations are unique and often breathtaking, it’s still hard to rectify how skint Tiny Cities seems. The only logical reasoning for this is that he’s trying to highlight Modest Mouse’s lyrical prowess—many of the original versions of these songs are rambling affairs with quirky instrumental passages—and focusing on the lyrics naturally produces brief songs. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, especially considering Kozelek’s not known for writing brief songs.

Still, Kozelek doesn’t make bad records, and Tiny Cities, though flawed, is still a beautiful record. If anything, Kozelek has once again demonstrated that a very distinctive band wrote some rather beautiful songs.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.sunkilmoon.com
Label Website: http://www.caldoverderecords.com

Bob Marley "Africa Unite: The Singles Collection"

For years, I've scoffed at Marley; having been co-opted by hippies and Eric Clapton, it's been difficult to take him seriously, because his legacy is no longer his own. So I've had a self-imposed moratorium on Marley, and, to be honest, I didn't really think I was missing anything. His associations--mostly posthumous--turned me off, in a major way. Who wants to be associated with hippies? Friends don't let friends listen to hippie music. Also...I am ignorant about reggae. I confess to this sin, and I'm not embarassed by it. I don't know what makes reggae good or bad; I don't know the elements of style required to properly judge the music, and because of this, I've avoided reggae music for most of my life.

Still, my curiosity gets the better of me, and when given the opportunity to accept Africa Unite: The Singles Collection, I did so--because an opportunity to learn is an opportunity to grow, and a life without growth is not a life worth living. Instead of offering up someone's opinion about what Marley's best numbers are, Africa Unite is an unquestionable collection of Marley's single releases. Plus, this official compilation seemed designed for souls like me, those who might not be able to discern Marley's greatest moments, or who seem to be a bit overwhelmed when trying to enter into the jumbled mess that is Marley's discography. (If you want to witness musical insanity, consider that Marley's discography, who only released a handful of records while alive, contains well over 150 compilations.)

Even for those who don't know much about Marley's music, many of these songs are well known; "No Woman No Cry," "One Love," "Get Up Stand Up," "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Is This Love" are all classics, and all appear here. But it's the lesser-known songs that really impress and make the record compelling. "Wait In Vain" is a warm and lovely little love song about impatience and frustration, while early song "Soul Rebel" shows Marley had found his political voice quite quickly in his career. "Three Little Birds" is perhaps my favorite; it's a small, little song that's quite positive in nature, with Marley sweetly singing, "don't worry about tomorrow, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right." It's a beautiful and simple little song, and its melody will quickly place itself in your mind and you'll have difficulty getting it out. (This is a good thing, though!) The title track (appearing here as an updated remix by Will.I.Am) is an interesting political number, and the hip-hop update actually serves the song quite well. The album's rare jewel, the previously unreleased "Slogans," is brilliant and is surprisingly relevent to today's political climate. In it, he sings "Can't take no more sweet talk from the hypocrites," while he intones that he "Can't take these slogans no more."

"Bob Marley, poet and a prophet," sang the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I rolled my eyes then. I'm not rolling them any more. Africa Unite: The Singles Collection is an excellent primer for those of you who have yet to experience the Marley experience. For those who have already developed their love for the man and his music, there might not be much for you here, but this is an essential collection for the curious.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.bobmarley.com
Label Website: http://www.universalchronicles.com

Her Space Holiday "The Past Presents the Future"

Marc Bianchi's made some sad music, some depressing music and, truth be said, some dull music. It's okay; when you're as prolific as Bianchi, not every record will be a home run. But over the past few years, with albums like Manic Expressive, Home is Where You Hang Yourself and, most recently, Young Machines, Bianchi's pop skills have steadily matured; he took a step in the right direction when he ditched the lo-fi aesthetic, and with The Past Presents The Future, he's also ditched a lot of the overwraught accompaniment, settling for a lighter sound.

Unlike previous records, where his songs would be depressing first-person rants, for The Past Presents the Future Bianchi has stepped out of his one-world view, opting to comment on the world at large. Seeing as he's mastered the more personal elements, hearing him make music that's a little less personal is a welcome relief--plus, playing the role of the pity-party boy over the course of a career doth not interesting music make, especially when you know that the artist in question is capable of so much more than that. He's also not trying to be overly showy with his musicianship, either; IDM can be terribly off-putting for those who don't appreciate it, and thankfully, he's also ditched that style.

The result? Simple, enjoyable pop songs. "One, two three, let's all exploit our misery" he sings in the utterly catchy "Missed Medicine," and that's pretty much the mood of The Past Presents The Future. At times, he dives into more serious, somber moments, but those are few and far between, and even when he's being serious, his cleverness makes it hard to take him seriously. Bianchi's still miserable, but he's tempered his music with a great deal of wit. Heck, the album starts on a clever note; in "Forever and a Day," the song starts with a rather bittersweet answering machine message, followed by the line, "Misery loves company when company won't call," he sings in a serious voice, backed by a gorgeous string arrangement. It's sad...but it's also funny. Whether it's "The Weight of the World's" sardonic words or his peppy, upbeat dance-pop of "A Match Made in Texas," there's plenty of melancholy and depression and cynicism to be found. His newfound pop sensibility adds a nice dimension to his dour songwriting, and if at times you're reminded of Eels, you're not alone. Bianchi isn't E...yet.

The Past Presents the Future is Bianchi's first big step towards something greater than the bedroom. Sure, his other records were great, but this album is the first time Bianchi seems to recognize the power of his own abilities. It's a clever, smart record made for cynical love-lorn listeners.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.herspaceholiday.com
Label Website: http://www.witchita-recordings.com

November 09, 2005

The City on Film "American Diary"

The City on Film's Bob Nanna always seemed to be one step ahead of the musical trends, yet he's never quite reached the heights he deserved. His first band, Braid, broke up right before 'emo' broke; though they're held with high regard in the independent music world, they're a band that could have--nay, should have--achieved mainstream success. His next band, Hey Mercedes, came of age right at the same time that emo became mainstream, but they never quite received the respect it deserved, as it seemed to be forever haunted by "ex-Braid" comparisons. He started his newest project, The City On Film, a few years ago, releasing EP's and compilation tracks ever-so-sporadically. It wasn't until this year that he released a full-length record, and with Hey Mercedes' end, his solo project now has full priority.

American Diary, his latest release, finds Nanna in fine form. This brief six-song record offers up a nice variety of styles, from full-band rockers sit alongside mellower, sadder numbers. The record starts with the pretty "Mary, I'm Ready," a gentle acoustic song that's somewhat reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. (Nanna's got a thing for Buckley, as witnessed by the numerous covers he's recorded and posted on his website.) "Pony's Last Trick" and "You're Gonna Need That Patience Soon" are two loud rockers that are very reminiscent of his previous two bands."Astray! Astray!" is a gentle number that's reminiscent of Harmacy-era Sebadoh. The last two numbers, the stoned-out "Well, It Goes Like This" and the "Mary, I'm Ready" instrumental coda, "Conclusion," are the only two songs that feel less than essential; they're nice, but they definitely pale in comparison to the previous four songs.

American Diary is a brief but satisfying little record, and it serves as a nice introduction to this talented fellow's music. (It also shows that Nanna's talent doesn't require other members of Braid, but let's not be too cynical, shall we?)

--Joseph Kyle
Artist Website: http://www.cityonfilm.com
Label Website: http://www.redderrecords.com

True Love "Wings"

Power-pop critics tend to believe that the genre has been sullied by older musicians who want to recapture their youth and romanticize more innocent days, and they do this by making music that emulates (often quite poorly) the music of Big Star, The Beatles and Badfinger. Fundamentally, there's nothing wrong with doing that, but many of the bands who do inevitably fall flat, because they choose not to think contemporarily. After all, why listen to a piss-poor imitation of Straight Up when you can listen to the real thing?

Thankfully, New Jersey trio True Love (not to be confused with trio True Love Always) never commits such heinous musical crimes. Considering that guitarist and singer Tom Beaujour is editor of hard rock magazine Revolver, one might expect True Love to have a harder edge--and guess what? They do! This little group puts the "power" back into power-pop, and damn, it sounds good. Combining the pop bite of Elvis Costello, the rock edge of The Cars and the melodic bent of Weezer, Wings is a record that simply rocks. Period. Occasionally, the guitars have a bit of a metallic edge, such as on "How Does it Feel?", and though there's a hard-rock vibe throughout, but for the most part, Wings is pure ear candy. "Forever and Ever" and "Worse Ways Than This" sound like outtakes from This Year's Model, while "Center of the Cyclone" and "Asleep at the Wheel" could make Rivers Cuomo jealous. Throw in some really killer harmonies, an occasional ballad and an all-around positive attitude, and you've got a winning record. (The only thing that's terrible about Wings is the horridly disgusting cover art.)

Wings is a great little record, and it's sure to get you up and moving in the morning. While they haven't made a record that's particularly innovative, True Love's made a record that's fun and enjoyable and, most importantly, a great listen. (Believe me, after a weekend of listening to mediocre music, such a simple concept is a lot more innovative than you might imagine.)

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.trueloverocks.com
Label Website: http://www.notlame.com

November 07, 2005

Cars Can Be Blue "All The Stuff We Do"

Dressy Bessy meets Tenacious D. Tullycraft meets Adam Sandler. Beat Happening meets the Moldy Peaches. These are comparisons straight from Cars Can Be Blue's press kit, and they're all quite accurate. This boy/girl duo (Becky on guitar, Nate on drums, both on vocals--and they go by their first names) sounds a lot like your average twee band, but their lyrics sound like dialogue from South Park.

All the Stuff We Do opens with "I Like", an innocuous, typical tweepop love song. But like the Velvet Underground did before them with "Sunday Morning", they made this first track on their debut album as a parody of typical pop, and a deception to heighten the impact of the debauchery beyond.And this album has loads of debauchery! If you pretend not to be amused and/or offended by songs like "Abortion" and "Retarded Retard", you must be a poseur, trying to hard to seem like a jaded, seen-it-all hipster. We all know that inside, your mind is being blown by the Cars' flippant attitude towards the termination of fetuses.

Less controversial, but nonetheless funny, are other songs like "She Needs It" and "Dating Batman". "She Needs It" takes the motif of Pearl Jam's cover of "Last Kiss" and turns it into a ballad glorifying post-breakup friends-with-benefits relationships. "Dating Batman" is a breakup song about Becky going out with Batman and then breaking up with him after he comes home late at night smelling like bad guys. I mean, really smelling like bad guys. Also on this album is a rousing cover of the theme song from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I'd go into more detail about this album, but I don't want to ruin all the jokes for you, and much of the material on this album is just too graphic for a PG-rated publication like Mundane Sounds. Tweepop usually avoids references to sex, but the Cars have a few songs that contain graphic descriptions of sexual acts. If you're a college radio DJ, there's not much on this album that you'll be able to play on the air.

Of course, I love this album. I appreciate the twisted take on tweepop, and I'm highly amused at the audacity and level of offensiveness of the Cars' songs. But if you're the type of person who thinks that sexual humor is too juvenile, those who use expletives use them because their vocabulary is too limited and they don't know of any other way to get laughs, or that there is no way that abortions can be funny, you won't like this album. Just pretend that Cars Can Be Blue doesn't exist and don't censor them and suppress their art so those of us who aren't uptight can enjoy them. However, if you're a twee boy or girl who's tired of acting cute and innocent all the time, or you're just a fan of raunchy humor in general, this is your new favorite party album.

By the way, I apologize for the Velvet Underground comparison. That might have been too pretentious.

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.carscanbeblue.com
Label Website: http://www.hhbtm.com

November 03, 2005

Kelley Stoltz "The Sun Comes Through"

To listen to Kelley Stoltz’s single The Sun Comes Through is to experience the music of a man who loves classic rock and roll. No, we’re not talking about a Black Sabbath-meets-Blue-Cheer imitation, either. (Gee, Sub Pop would never release a record like THAT, would they?) We’re talking about the music of artists like John Lennon and Lovin’ Spoonful and other bands who were the transition between pop and rock. This five-song EP offers up one song from his forthcoming Sub Pop debut and four unreleased gems, and all of them are winners. The title song sounds like John Lennon circa Mind Games, but without the depression of Lennon's solo years. It’s a catchy number, too; just try avoiding its catchy rhythm.

The rest of the songs are also quality productions, even if they’re not quite as magical as the opening number. “You’re Out of This World” has a marching rhythm that’s quite reminiscent of Vanity Fare’s hit “Hitchin’ a Ride.” “Away With The Swans” has a low-key psychedelic feel that kind of sounds like Randy Newman meets Syd Barrett. But the real winners come with the last two tracks. “Let’s Go Out Tonight” has a funky, boogie-woogie beat that’s impossible to resist, while “Where You’re Going” is a shimmering, blues-based ballad with some great piano banging.

All in all, this is a brief but very satisfying sample of some really good music. Kelley Stoltz has impressed tough-to-impress critics overseas, while remaining rather low-key in the United States. Hopefully, that will change soon…

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.electriccity.org
Label Website: http://www.subpop.com

Nada Surf "This Weight Is A Gift"

Nada Surf's last album, Let Go took the music world by surprise. After all, one-hit wonders aren't supposed to sustain a career after their one hit has disappeared, and they're certainly not allowed to make great records without the help of a major label budget...right? And after making a kind of dumb pop hit, they really can't make a record of the year...can they? Though the mainstream music world might answer "right" to such questions, Nada Surf quietly and rightfully ignored them, coming back well after most music listeners had forgotten about them and had sold off their copies of High/Low, assuming them to be nothing more than "Popular" also-rans.

While Let Go was the surprising comeback, The Weight Is A Gift is the true test of Nada Surf's mettle, the first new material from the band's first real period of true stability. As the trio didn't have anything to prove this time around (no follow-up to a 'one-hit wonder' record, no auspicious comeback after being left for dead), The Weight Is A Gift is the sound of a band growing and maturing quite nicely. The Weight Is A Gift contains a few moments of pure rock bliss like "The Blankest Year" and "Do it Again," but for the most part the band has settled for a sunny, mellow rock. It's rather impressive how their sound has matured, even though they've not really changed their sound.

Equally as impressive is the band's lyrical growth."Always Love"-easily one of this year's best songs--is the album's true winner. It begins with a gentle guitar riff, with Matthew Caws softly reminding the listener to "always love, hate will get you every time," and then explodes into a wonderfully full, surprisingly slick rock number. Even with all of its radio-friendly power, it's still a wonderfully powerful number. If any song deserves to be overplayed on the radio, it's this one. Other songs like "Your Legs Grow" and the wonderful album closer "Imaginary Friends" also give the listener something wonderful to think about. Sage advice + excellent songwriting = Nada Surf's superpower. (Who knew that the "song as advice" formula they created with "Popular" would still be so rewarding?)

The Weight Is A Gift is a simply fine record from a great band. Weathering all those years of struggle and instability has paid off, and it's good that they've finally had some tranquility, because now that they don't have to worry about non-musical issues, they can finally write a record in peace. After listening to The Weight Is A Gift, it's rather obvious that stability serves Nada Surf quite well.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.nadasurf.com
Label Website: http://www.barsuk.com

November 02, 2005

Field Notes "Color of Sunshine"

Color of Sunshine, Field Notes' debut album, which is actually a solo project of Chad Hanson, starts out with a song that reminds me of Elliott Smith. It then makes a left turn at Spoon, and now...now it seems as if he's throwing in a little bit of reverb and going for the My Morning Jacket sound. And this, my friend, bothers me .When you create, why imitate? Records like this are tough to review, because they're not bad, but they're not good, either--they simply are, because they're painfuly inconspicuous. Ironically, the only song that stands out to me is the one entitled "Who's Fooling Who?"

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing to dislike about Color of Sunshine, .but there's not a lot to say about it, either. I have nothing against his music; Hanson's a pretty good singer and arranger, even though each song sounds like the work of other bands I have in my record collection. I mean, I think Hanson's sincere; I don't think he's being pointlessly trendy. I think he just really likes this style of music, and he wanted tomake a record like that, too. I can't say I have a problem with that; but for me, nothing on Color of Sunshine bored me, but nothing stood out, either. I left this record completely reactionless--and that almost never happens. If you like downbeat, nondescript indie rock with a folk bent and a little bit of reverb, then give this a shot, because you might dig it.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.fieldnotesmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.woodsonlateral.com

Lambchop & Hands Off Cuba "CoLAB"

If one had to describe the band Lambchop in one word, that word would be varied. Throughout their career, the band has never tarried too long with one sound. At times that’s a major frustration (especially after Nixon when they abandoned their newfound soul roots for the minimalist Is A Woman), but longtime fans have learned to accept the band’s experimental side. Thus, their new EP CoLAB, isn’t that much of a surprise. The first new material since last year’s excellent Aw, C’mon and No, You C’mon, this four-song EP is, as usual, a different approach from the records that preceded it.

Over the past few years, head ‘chop Kurt Wagner has hinted at an interest in electronica, and with CoLAB, a collaboration with electronica duo Hands off Cuba, he finally indulges in this interest. In the hands of his collaborators, Wagner’s balladry takes on a new dimension and a new depth not previously explored. Tempering his gorgeous piano arrangements with beats and loop splices might sound like a horrible idea, but surprisingly it works quite well. “Prepared” is a pretty song that’s as gorgeous as anything on Nixon or Is a Woman, with Hands Off Cuba’s glitchy handiwork fitting subtly under Wagner’s melancholy songwriting, and “Woman” is a simple, subtle instrumental, with an utterly gorgeous piano melody line. The other two songs, “Blur” and “Gus,” are a bit more ragged, and are more Hands off Cuba than they are Lambchop. But as they contain traces of Wagner’s handiwork, both songs are still quite lovely.

CoLAB is a nice diversion for Wagner and company, and it’s a pleasant little record. After years of temptation, it’s nice that Wagner finally indulged himself, for the results are unsurprisingly excellent. Of course, don’t get too comfortable with the notion that this is a new direction for Wagner’s army, because, if history is any indication, it’s not…

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.lambchop.net
Label Website: http://www.mergerecords.com

Nirvana "Sliver: The Best of The Box"

For those who love Nirvana, the treatment of archival material has been rather frustrating. While it's to the Cobain estate's credit that they've not been overwhelmingly greedy in terms of bilking the fans' devotion, one has to wonder when they're going to get better organized. Last year's box set With The Lights Out seemed like it might have been a godsend, but ultimately it suffered for being too large; while the material was indeed of historical interest, it simply overwhelmed the listener. It's not a collection that stands up to repeated listens, because lo-fi acoustic demos have only a limited interest, especially if those songs are loud rockers. It's hard to picture songs like "Sliver" or "Lithium" as solo acoustic songs, and while they're interesting from a historical perspective, that doesn't mean you'll suddenly favor them over the final versions.

On the surface, one has to wonder what purpose Sliver: The Best of the Box serves. Sure, it's a 'best of the box,' but why release it now? Other artists have released abbreviated collections from their box sets, and that's fine. But to release it a year later, well after interest has peaked, with three highly sought-after bonus tracks? That's just crass. Had it been released concurrently with the box set, Sliver wouldn't seem like such a rip-off, and that it's released right before Christmas makes it feel even more crass. One wonders if Geffen' motivation is based on the cover of Nevermind, pursuing the almighty dollar while portraying its motives as pure and innocent.

For those frustrated by the general murkiness of With The Lights Out, this collection is even more frustrating, because Sliver demonstrates the way Nirvana's unreleased material should have been released. Sliver is concise; it doesn't linger heavily in one particular time period, nor does it overwhelm the listener with bland material. It's a varied listen, and it does a much better job presenting these unreleased nuggets than With the Lights Out ever did. Of course, one might quibble about the track list, but that's to be expected. Were two versions of "Rape Me" really necessary? Would the radio session version of "Aneurysm" have been better than the acoustic version of "Lithium?"

And the new material? Surprisingly, the three songs actually make Sliver an essential purchase. The Fecal Matter version of "Spank Thru" sounds a lot better than one would have expected, and it shows that even at eighteen, Cobain already had a vision as to what he wanted his music to sound like. One might have expected a shit-sounding song--I know I did--but it's easy to understand why Kurt's friend Krist finally decided to form a band after hearing the demo. "Sappy" is another great song, one that bridges the gap between Bleach and Nevermind, and one wonders why Kurt and company didn't feel like releasing it. The rehearsal version of "Come As You Are," recorded around the same time as the version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that appears here, and its murky recording quality makes the song sound even more ominous.

Even though Sliver smells like cash-in spirit, it shouldn't be assumed that it's a bad collection, because it's not. Instead, it's an excellent starting place for those who love the band's official albums and want to hear more, but don't want to invest in the box set. Considering that the box set was only a drop in the bucket in terms of unreleased material, Sliver should serve as a template for future archival releases, because it's concise and it serves It's inevitable that Geffen will release more outtakes and demos--I'm predicting a comprehensive B-sides record will be the next Nirvana release, as well as a release of the Fecal Matter tape and "Deluxe Editions" for Nevermind and In Utero--but let's hope they're better organized the next time around.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.nirvana-music.com
Label Website: http://www.universalchronicles.com

November 01, 2005

The Jai-Alai Savant "Thunderstatment"

The 1990s produced a shitload of great but obscure punk bands. One of my personal favorites was a band called Franklin. This underappreciated Philadelphia band blended funk and hard-rock together with a dubby sensibility; at times, the band sounded like an edgier version of Jane's Addiction--in only the best of ways. Though the band's disappearance was sad--if not a little inevitable--it was always hoped (at least by me) that Ralph Darden would return with a new, even more impressive project.

Praise be, he's done just that. The Jai-Alai Savant is his latest musical endeavor, and it's equally as worthy and as wonderful as Franklin. Though Thunderstatement is a scant five-song, fifteen minute affair, it's definitely a powerful little record. Certain aspects haven't changed; though he's ditched Franklin's metal tendency, he's still got a flare for funky, dub-drenched soundscapes. When those rolling dub basslines of "Scarlet Johannson Why Don't You Love Me?" kick off the record, hands go up in the air and a "HELL YEAH!" is given to these returning heroes. When Damon Locks (from Trenchmouth) appears on "Diary of a Mass Trapist," it's hard to avoid going totally and utterly apeshit. All of these songs have a similar style--a little dub here, a little funk there--and though that might not sound very descriptive, it does the job for me, because this is Franklin all over again...except better. It's funky and it's wild and it's sexy and DAMN, you just gotta experience it to fully appreciate it.

This little release gives me a great deal of hope. The Jai-Alai Savant breaks the drought of innovative dub-rock (where did that genre go, by the way?) and Thunderstatement most definitely whets the appetite for the band's upcoming debut. If that record is half as good as this little creation, then it's not an overstatement to say that one band's definitely an early contender for next year's 'best of' list.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://savant.paintthesky.org/index.html
Label Website: http://www.goldstandardlabs.com