March 12, 2006

Sunday Evening Shorts: The One-Man Show

One man bands? For a reviewer, seeing that description in a press kit can be the kiss of death; for the unsuspecting listener, it can be a disaster waiting to happen. Many, many, many one-man bands are simply awful. Being able to play every instrument doesn't mean you can play them well. But there are exceptions, of course; Paul McCartney practically invented 'lo-fi' with his debut solo album, McCartney, which was recorded almost entirely in his home studio and with him playing all the instruments; Boston's greatest hit "More Than A Feeling" was the work of just one man, and, of course, Prince isn't called a genius for his fashion sense. Still, here are a few recent 'one-man' bands that are defintely the exception to the rule.

First up, we have The Wiggins. Billing himself as 'super-raw anti-pop,' his music pretty much fits that description. What it doesn't cover, though, is the gritty garage-rock blues sludge that makes up a goodly portion of his music. Don't worry, that's not a bad thing at all. One might be tempted to judge The Wiggins' book by its cover, and dismiss them as a joke band--especially considering the number of mediocre one-man acts out there--but that would be terribly presumptuous. The songs on his debut EP The Greatest Apes EP are all dirty and raw and shambiotic, but there's defintely a charm that will definitely bring you back for more. Maybe it's because this music sounds so raunchy and dirty and lusty, or maybe it's because the songs hint at a darker, bigger storm to come, I can't really say. The Wiggins sound like very early Primal Scream and even Jesus & Mary Chain without the shoegaze or the Beach Boys fixation, and that's a totally good thing in my book. Definitely a young band to keep an eye on.

Listen To: "Lying"
Listen To: "Cold"

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We're proud to call Colin Clary our friend, and his records are always welcome here, and for good reason--he makes fun, funny, and charming pop. He's also terribly prolific, too. In Mundane Sounds' previous incarnation, he starred on four of our five mp3 samplers, because those songs deserved to be heard. An affable guy who makes affable music--what could possibly be better? He has a multiude of friends who help him out in a multitude of ways on his multitude of musical projects, so a Colin Clary record is usually something much more than just a Colin Clary experience. His latest record, Sweater Weather or Not, These Are the Songs I Got, captures that Colin Clary sweetness; the cover for this record is...a sweater! No, really, it is! Mine is an adorable green felt sweater. The music inside is just as fuzzy and as soft, and he sings about everything from being in love, missing his favorite drummer, car problems, and just about anything else he can think of. In fact, one of the songs appeared on our sampler series, "Some Of My Favorite People are Consigners." If you like unpretentious indie-pop, then Colin Clary should be your one-stop.

Listen To: "Some Of My Favorite People Are Consigners"
Listen To: "The Mixtape On My Mind"

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Faris Noruallah? We love him here. He impressed us with his second solo record, Problematico. He embodies a really wonderful ethic--making music because he wants to make music, and allowing his music to stand on its own. He doesn't tour; he doesn't play shows, and he doesn't do anything other than make music. That may doom him to obscurity, but I have a feeling Nourallah just doesn't care. He's released three solo records, and an album with Nourallah Brothers, a collaboration with his equally-talented brother Salim. Obscure he may be in the American music scene, Europe loves Faris, and he has a steady, loyal fanbase there, and his records recieve glowing reviews. Thus, Spanish label Green UFOs has compiled a handy, 20-song 'best of' from these four records, entitled Near the Sun: The Best Songs of Faris Nourallah. This might be an unecessary release for those of you who are already in love with Faris's music, it's still a handy compendium. I recommend his four albums first, but if you're on a budget, or are simply curious, this collection can't be beat.

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LA's Mellowdrone follows in the grand tradition of bands like Boston and Whitesnake. Not that they sound anything like them, mind you, but that they're a heavy rock band with a major label budget that is, in fact, a one-man band. It's surprising as hell, too; listening to their debut album Box, you'd never know it. Jonathan Bates recorded everything on the album by himself, only enlisting friends here and there and hiring a band after the fact.To be honest, I have mixed feelings about their music. On one hand, they ape the post-OK Computer Britpop sound, but on the other, their sound isn't that bad. Trendy-sounding rock bands have always come and gone, so who knows if Mellowdrone will even get a chance to make a second record for Columbia? Cynical? Perhaps. But then again, my Smoking Popes, Bluetones, Semisonic, Tripping Daisy, and Menthol records justify such cynicism. Regardless of their destiny--and here's hoping Mellowdrone escapes such a stereotypical fate--it's hard to deny the ear-candy appeal of songs like "Fashionably Uninvited" and "Madison," two songs that are awaiting their future "one-hit wonder" status. And considering Jonathan Bates's ability to write a catchy song, maybe Mellowdrone's fate is not so doomed after all. Good luck to you guys; Box is a great beginning.

Listen To: Fashionably Uninvited"

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If you're a fan of bands like Starflyer 59, Pedro the Lion, Lassie Foundation, or Richard Swift, then you've probably heard Frank Lenz. He's an accomplished musician, and his music wonderfully represents the width of his musical skills. Hidden Agenda recently released his third album, Vilelenz and Thieves, and it's a unique and diverse record. One minute, he's simply playing a song on an acoustic guitar, the next minute he'll pull out a string section, and then, for the next, he'll pull out the penny whistle and the French horn! It's all so mellow and so lovely. His singing voice is lazy and soft and lush; it kind of reminds me of the better moments of David Crosby, Neil Young, and James Taylor, but his music is never 'retro' sounding. Syrupy sweet songs like "I've Got Other Things To Do" and "Weekend Friends" sit next to odder numbers like "All God's Children" and "Lou Lou Bye" and "Bad Art," but it's quite okay, because it all just plays together quite well. Vilelenz and Thieves is a low-key affair, but it's an enjoyable experience.

Listen To: Bullets In The Wall"

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