April 28, 2006

Function "The Secret Miracle Fountain"

Musical collectives seem to be quite big these days, but none comes close to being as big and as massive and as wonderful as Function. Call it an 'ensemble' or call it a 'collective' or call it whatever you want to call it, it doesn't change the fact that this band is massive. How massive, exactly? Well, there are at least a dozen players from all around the world participating on their Locust Music album, The Secret Miracle Fountain. They're based from all over the world, from Australia to London to California to God Knows Where, but when they come together musically, they create a sonic world all their own.

But you want to know what's bigger than the band and more undefinable as their lineup? Their music. Normally, sixteen tracks at nearly seventy-five minutes would be something to criticize, but Function makes good use of every second, and though each song is different from the one before it, that creative switching-around never weakens the record. Sometimes the music could be classified as "world," like the beautiful "The Broken Shamen" and "Hanalei (Alone With the Real Magic Dragon)." Sometimes, as on "Siani (Freedom Doesn't Care What I Do)," you'll think you're listening to folk. Then, on songs like "Shards" and "New Music Bowed Animals," you'll find yourself glossed by cool electronica sounds reminiscent of Eno or Aphex Twin. Then, when you hear "Beloved, Lost to Begin With" and "Unshaken (Positively Implacable)," you'll swear you're listening to the latest indie-rock band.

Get the point? Yeah. They're a complex band with a sound that shifts from song to song, but guess what? You'll have a hard time turning away, because their music is utterly beautiful. It's quite enchanting, this album. It's certainly a beautiful listening experience, and if this song whets your appetite, head over to their Myspace site. You'll be glad you did...

Listen To: "The Broken Shaman"

April 27, 2006

The Starlight Mints

Honestly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Really, people—we already knew that Starlight Mints = brilliant. You didn't? Shame on you. Some of us already knew and appreciated Norman, Oklahoma's motley psych-popsters. Some of us knew, in our heart of hearts, that Drowaton (spell it backwards) would be a wonderfully compiled mixture of weird noises, fun instrumental passages, and hook-laden songs that, when combined, would form an album that demands to be listened to over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Come on, people, throw us a curveball!

If we sound cynical, it's because the hype machine that's giving Drowaton and the Starlight Mints the recognition they deserve is about three albums behind. For those who heard their debut album, The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of, their was no way to deny that this was a brilliant band. They haven't made a disappointing record yet. It's not like we don't want the rest of the world to know that The Starlight Mints is a wonderful band—we just want to make sure that you know that they didn't fall out of the sky or that their brilliance is merely the creation of some overpaid publicist's mind. Much like their previous two albums, Drowaton is an effort that should be listened to in whole, as opposed to being dissected on a track-by-track basis. But if you like the poppy elements of "Inside of Me" (a deserved hit) then you're going to love the rest of the album, which is full of moments that are sometimes mellow, sometimes rockin', sometimes weird, but always fun!

Listen To: "Inside of Me"

And be sure and catch the band live! They're out on tour.

04.27.06 - Oklahoma City, OK - Bricktown Ballroom
05.02.06 - Tucson, AZ - Plush
05.03.06 - Phoenix, AZ - Modified
05.04.06 - San Diego, CA - Casbah
05.07.06 - Los Angeles, CA - Troubadour
05.09.06 - San Francisco, CA - Bottom of the Hill
05.11.06 - Portland, OR - Dante's
05.12.06 - Seattle, WA - Neumo's
05.13.06 - Vancouve, Canada - Richard's on Richards
05.15.06 - Boise, ID - Neurolux
05.16.06 - Provo, UT - Club Velour
05.18.06 - Denver, CO - Larimer Lounge
05.20.06 - Kansas City, KS - Record Bar
05.22.06 - Minneapolis, MN - Ascot Room
05.23.06 - Milwaukee, WI - Rave
05.24.06 - Chicago, IL - Subterranean
05.26.06 - Tulsa, OK - Cain's Ballroom!
06.01.06 - Houston, TX - Warehouse Live Studio
06.02.06 - New Orleans, LA - One Eyed Jacks
06.03.06 - Gainesville, FL - Common Grounds
06.04.06 - Jacksonville, FL - Jack Rabbit's
06.06.06 - Birmingham, AL - Nick
06.07.06 - Nashville, TN - Exit In
06.08.06 - Atlanta, GA - Smith's Old Bar
06.10.06 - Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle
06.11.06 - Baltimore, MD - Fletchers
06.12.06 - New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
06.13.06 - Philadelphia, PA - North Star Bar
06.14.06 - Cambridge, MA - Middle East
06.16.06 - Detroit, MI - Shelter

The Orange Peels Demo Session

One of our favorite records of last year (and this year, too!) was Circling the Sun by The Orange Peels. Recently, Allen Clapp discovered a handful of demos from the Orange Peels' debut album, and he recently put these songs together in a pleasant podcast for your listening pleasure. It's totally worth checking out:

The Orange Peels's Demo Podcast

April 26, 2006


The young ladies of Smoosh recently signed with the well-respected pop mavens at Barsuk, who will release their second album, Free To Stay, on June 20th. The duo consists of two young sisters Asya (who is 14) and Chloe (who is 12), and they make catchy indie-pop. Sure, on some level, the whole thing might reek a little bit of 'novelty act,' but these girls are extremely talented. Their debut album was merely OK, and the music seemed about as good as you'd expect from two preteen girls. But that was a few years ago, and now, with a li'l time and growth, their music has grown. Just check out the lead single, "Find a Way."

Listen To: "Find a Way"

Smoosh is soon to depart on a tour opening for The Eels. (Seems right, somehow...)

5/25 Roxy Los Angeles
5/26 Roxy Los Angeles
5/27 House of Blues San Diego
5/28 The Galaxy theatre Santa Ana
5/31 The Fillmore San Francisco
6/1 Harlows Sacramento
6/3 Roseland Portland
6/4 Showbox Seattle
6/6 The Depot Salt Lake City
6/7 Fox Theatre Boulder
6/9 The Vogue Theatre Indianapolis
6/10 Three River Arts Festival Pittsburgh
6/11 9:30 Club Washington D.C.
6/12 Theatre of the Living Arts Philadelphia
6/15 Sommerville Theater Boston
6/16 Le Nacional Montreal
6/17 Mod Club Theater Toronto
6/23 Astoria London
6/24 Wireless Festival London
6/28 Exo 7 Rouen
6/29 Cigalle Paris
7/3 Batschkapp Frankfurt
7/4 Flex Vienna
7/7 Music centre Dublin

April 25, 2006

Interview: Push to Talk

Personally speaking, I tend to avoid any band that reeks of obvious "emo" tendencies. It's just not my thing, and besides, most bands of that genre reek of mediocrity. But that's not to suggest that nothing good can come from a band aping the trends of the day. It's what you do with the sound of the genre that makes or breaks you. Such is the case of San Francisco's Push to Talk, who just released their debut record on Doghouse. Though this young band might seem to play that "emo" music, their music contains a smart, literate pop underbelly that's downright addictive. We're talking Joe Jackson smart. We're talking Andy Partridge smart.

Seriously, Push to Talk really is that good. Thanks in part to the slick, radio-friendly (and this is not a BAD THING, friends) production of Tim O'Heir (whom you might remember from such productions as Belly, Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, and Folk Implosion) this young band's debut is actually quite impressive. Sure, one or two moments are slightly winsome, but it's to their credit that they never become too whiney or too emotionally indulgent or too teen angsty or too emo cliché, and besides, very few records are 100% perfect. I've listened to this record pretty much on a daily basis, and it never lets me down. This is a wonderful record that any band would be proud to make; that it's a debut makes it even more impressive.

Bass player Nate Higley took a moment to tell us about…

...how Push to Talk became Push to Talk

We basically all knew each other from various bands in the Bay Area punk scene growing up, and eventually after we attempted some college (Brett and Nate) and some of us graduated from college (Arjun and Peter), we decided that we would be best suited for the rock n roll.

...emo in general, being considered an emo band, and what emo means to thee…

I don't necessarily know what "emo" means anymore, I know that growing up we all listened to bands like the Get-Up Kids and Jawbreaker, bands that wrote very personal songs that many people have different conceptions of, but as far as "emotions" go, I guess people should listen to the record and decide for themselves what we're trying to convey through our songs.

...bands that influence you and bands you love…

Personally, I'm influenced by a lot of old r&b/soul/country from the 60's, but as a band, we pretty much run the gamut on influences that range from the noisier stuff like Blonde Redhead or the French Kicks to traditional pop like Nada Surf or Ben Folds.

...your contemporaries…

We come from an amazing scene in the Bay area and are proud to have good friends/influences like Audrye Sessions, Street to Nowhere, Dear Kerosene, and The Botticellis...

...working with Tim O'Heir…

Tim was an absolute life saver for us last summer. He was a pleasure to work with and far more insightful and hands-on than we expected from a producer. He basically made us work our asses off while not at all compromising our songs or sound as a live band.

...the touring life and playing live…

Playing live is what we live for. There is no substitute for that feeling, unless of course the van breaks or blows up (July 4th01- RIP OTTO), in which case we can always get that feeling from a couple 12packs. But seriously, this band has only a couple months of collective touring under its belt, so only time will tell how those things get sorted out...only death and taxes are for certain!

...your goals as artists, as a band, and what you think is Push to Talk's ultimate mission

Try and tour a whole lot, go to new places, meet new people, make some records that hopefully have the same impact on fans that our predecessors had on us.

April 24, 2006

Sean P on the TV on the Radio

Our good friend (and recent 'dane SAVIOR/Review KING thanks to his boring job) Sean Padilla's New Power Emo band The Cocker Spaniels will be opening for none other than TV On The Radio! He's super-excited, and he just can't hide it! He will be performing at Emo's this coming Monday, April 24th. He'll be the first act on stage, going on at around 10 PM, and tickets are 14 dollars. Celebration will also be performing.

Go holla at our boy! And buy him a cherry vodka sour!

Agoraphobic Nosebleed "PCP Torpedo/ANBRX"

If you name your band Agoraphobic Nosebleed, your music your music sure as hell better live up to your name. Of course, there's nothing to worry about with this group of hell-raisers. We're not talking pleasantries here--we're talking about no-bullshit ultraviolent music that's about as subtle as a kick in the crotch. These guys have been around for a few years now, but their latest release is a revisit to an earlier time. PCP Torpedo/ANBRX is Hydra Head's deluxe reissue of a ten-song, six-inch single that was released in 1999. This is its first time to appear on CD, released as it is on a wonderfully convenient Cd-3. Of course, that's not a bad format for a ten-song record that clocks in at around seven minutes. Yep, that's right--we're talking about blasts of noise, guitars from hell, and singing that couldn't possibly come from a sane man. We're not talking lyrical prowess, either. PCP Torpedo is nothing less ear-bleeding, soul-disturbing noise. That these folks are associated with Pig Destroyer and Isis isn't surprising, either. There are few records as brutal or as intense as PCP Torpedo, and something inside me makes me think that that's what Agoraphobic Nosebleed intended. Job well done, fellows!

But it gets better, my friends--for these fine folks decided to include a second disc, a collection of remixes by famous people. Entilted ANBRX, this collection features remixes by people who know what noise is supposed to sound like--people like Merzbow, James Plotkin, and Justin Broadrick. Taking the elements of PCP Torpedo, these master manipulators twist and turn and form something entirely new out of Agoraphobic Nosebleed's succinct noiseblasts. Sometimes, the resulting remixes are longer than PCP Torpedo! Some of these remixes are harsh, some are downright--beautiful? Yeah, I'll use that word, because that's the best one to use. If you like noise--you'll love this. If you hate noise--you'll be scared shitless by this. It's up to you.

Listen To: "Thanksgiving Day"

April 21, 2006

Man "Helping Hand"

Man is a French electronica/experimental duo that excells at making disturbing yet intriguing instrumental music. The music on their latest record, Helping Hand (released on French experimental label Sub Rosa) never fits comfortably into one genre; one minute, they're making cold, detatched drones, the next, they're making gentle music that could double as a lullaby. Some of the songs have bleeps, some of the songs have weird vocals, and some of the songs are just...weird. In a good way.

Listen To: "Revenir"

Frequent Flyer

Sorry if I've not been around a bit these past few days--computer hassles. So, to make up for it, let's listen to some music, shall we? We've got some catching up to do, so let's catch up...

First up is Frequent Flyer. It's a lovely, heady, mellow indie-pop affair, headed up by Jarond Gibbs, who was a member of late 90s indie-poppers Majestic. He also released a quite enjoyable solo record as "Jarond" on Blackbean & Placenta Tape Club that's worth seeking out. Frequent Flyer's self-titled debut record is just as nice, full of mellow, not-too-lo-fi indie pop songs that have a Beach Boys/Elf Power vibe. It's music to relax to, that's for sure.

Listen to: "Sometimes On The Weekend"

Mclusky "Mcluskyism"

Welsh trio Mclusky is one of a small list of bands whom I frequently kick myself for not seeing live when I had the chance to (see also Unwound, Lenola and the Wicked Farleys). They only played one Texas date ever, which I missed because I didn’t have gas money to drive to Dallas. This especially sucks because their recordings exude the kind of ferocity that all great live shows possess. The band’s presciently-titled sophomore album Mclusky Do Dallas combined the skewed pop smarts of the Pixies with the aggression of Shellac (whose front man Steve Albini recorded all of Mclusky’s best material), and topped it off with an acerbic humor that the band could rightfully call their own. Mclusky broke up in 2005, right before critics could get the chance to accuse their antagonistic punk-pop of growing stale. Fans, on the other hand, were left wanting more. Because of such, the band has blessed us with a generous parting gift: Mcluskyism, a compilation that is available in two formats. The single-disc version collects all of their A-sides, and zooms by in a scant 30 minutes. There’s also a three-disc version that collects the A-sides and almost all of their B-sides, and adds a “C-sides” disc of unreleased and live material. Many critics have argued that the single-disc version is better, but I disagree. Besides, Tonevendor is selling the three-disc version for a mere three dollars more, so why NOT buy it?

The “A-sides” gambit is a nice way of sidestepping the task of compiling a proper best-of. Singer/guitarist Andy Falkous admonishes nitpickers and train-spotters to “compile your own damn album” in his predictably frank liner notes. If I took his advice, I’d have to include two more songs from their debut album My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours, three more songs from Dallas, and at least two of the songs on the B-sides disc. Nonetheless, there isn’t a single dud on the A-sides disc, and because the songs are arranged in chronological order, it serves as a quick overview of Mclusky’s artistic trajectory. The two songs from My Pain and Sadness display the band’s beginnings as first-rate Nirvana-bes. “Joy”’s excoriating screech is to In Utero what the speedy thrash of “Rice Is Nice” is to Nevermind. The next four songs, all of which are from Dallas, find the band firmly entrenched in its signature sound. Their knack for hilarious song titles (“Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” “To Hell With Good Intentions”), hedonistic boasts (“We take more drugs than a touring funk band”), vivid insults (“Your heart’s gone the color of Coca-Cola”) and pogo-worthy choruses is on full display. “There Ain’t No Fool in Ferguson” and “Undress for Success,” the only two A-sides that don’t appear on any of their albums, represent the band’s melodic peak. The final four songs are from their final album, 2004's The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, and they announce the arrival of an artier, more sinister Mclusky. On these songs, the band focuses more on finding the most grating guitar sounds imaginable than they do on crafting strong hooks or witty one-liners, with the sole exception of the Pavement-esque “She Will Only Bring You Happiness.”

The B-sides disc follows the same pattern, albeit with a slightly lower batting average. The first 8 songs are from the My Pain sessions. At least five of them are better than the A-sides they were attached to. “Rock vs. Single Parents” boasts the awesome couplet, “Follow me down, we can chase single mothers/Around and around ‘til those sluts blow their cover!” “Balboa Theme” is a jangly paean to a downhearted friend, and showcases a tender side that I didn’t know the band had in them. The seven songs from the Dallas sessions predictably comprise the strongest stretch of the disc. “No Covers” is a lean, mean Albini machine whose central lyric seems to be a “South Park” reference (“If I can’t kill Kenny, then I can’t do anything right”). “Random Celebrity Insult Generator” constructs a miracle of pop madness out of two insults, three chords and lots of goofy hollering. The B-sides disc peaks with “Do the Mevolution,” a song that by all right should’ve been an A-side. The following track, “The Salt Water Solution,” ushers in a group of songs from the Difference sessions. The tempos get slower and the hooks get scarcer, but the band’s increasingly complex interplay handily compensates for it. Like every B-sides disc, this one has some really terrible stuff. The hiss-drenched acoustic ditty “Here Comes Joe” sounds like the kind of thing John Frusciante would have recorded for smack money a decade ago, and “Beacon for Pissed Ships” is devoid of anything resembling an actual tune. Still, 20 out of 22 ain’t bad!

The C-sides disc doesn’t have anything as good as the first disc’s best songs; on the other hand, it also doesn’t have anything as bad as the second disc’s worst songs. The feedback-drenched versions of “Love Song for a Mexican” and “Collagen Rock” are pointless, considering that both songs appear in superior form elsewhere on Mcluskyism. On the other hand, the version of “KKKitchens, What Were You Thinking?” is slower and better than the version that ended up on Difference. The clean guitars and smooth vocal harmonies of “The Difference Between Me and You...” wouldn’t have fit anywhere on the album of the same name. The other out-takes from the Difference sessions are a bit harder on the ears; there are melodies, but the guitars sound like trash compactors. What truly makes this disc worthwhile are the concluding nine songs, all of which come from the band’s penultimate London gig. The playing is tight, but Falkous sounds as if he’s going to choke on his own bile at any moment. My little brother walked in the livingroom while I was listening to this set and said, “Wow, these guys sound PISSED.” At one point a heckler shouts, “Why does your drummer play like a p*ssy?” Falkous and bassist Jon Chapple then spend the next two minutes insulting him with a viciousness that should’ve compelled him to leave the club at once and collect the remains of his dignity. These nine songs make me even sadder than I never got to see Mclusky do Dallas.

I wouldn’t recommend Mcluskyism for anyone who doesn’t already own their three proper albums. Those who do, though, will find the compilation to be yet more evidence of the band’s inestimable greatness. Here’s hoping the guys swallow their pride a decade from now and grace us with a reunion tour.

Artist Website: www.mclusky.net
Label Website: www.toopure.com

April 19, 2006

Hi Red Center "Architectural Failures"

My first exposure to Brooklyn band Hi Red Center came last summer, when I saw them play at the Pilot Light in Knoxville, Tennessee. The lineup consisted of a drummer, a bassist and a guy who alternated between vibraphone, keyboard and percussion. All three musicians sang in unsteady yet charming harmony. Their music sounded like a fusion of Deerhoof’s freewheeling rock and Tortoise’s jazzy interplay. Like the former band’s Greg Saunier, Mike McCurdy makes his rhythms stomp, swing and stutter with aplomb. Multi-instrumentalist Russell Greenberg and bassist Lawrence Mesich pitted shards of melody against each other to create amazing displays of syncopation, occasionally locking together to play crushing unison riffs. I fell in love with Hi Red Center instantly.

I approached the guys after they finished breaking down their equipment to ask if they had any CDs out. They sold me an early CDR version of what would be their debut album, Architectural Failures. During our conversation, I also found out that they were actually MISSING a member that evening. Their guitarist had to skip a couple of shows in order to visit a sick family member. However, the sound those three guys made that night was so full that I felt like they didn’t need a guitarist in the first place! I’m not slighting Ben Lanz’s contributions to the band, though. After all, the first sound you hear on Architectural Failures is his galloping guitar kicking “Red/Green” into high gear, and his fuzzy power chords bring many of the album’s songs to glorious climaxes. He’s a pretty swell trombonist, too; his swooping, reverb-drenched solos on “Eureka” is a perfect match for Mesich’s operatic yelling.

Like Pattern Is Movement (whose SXSW showcase I wrote about in an earlier post), many of HRC’s songs thrive on the tension that arises when every instrument is playing in a different meter, and it’ll be a while before they reunite on the one. “Magic Teeth” is the biggest example of this tendency. During the verses, each member plays a miniature riff over and over again. None of these riffs are in the same meter, and none of them have more than five notes. Two of the members sing simultaneously, starting and stopping at different points from each other, and holding their notes for long periods of time. It might sound messy in theory, but the instruments are so consonant that the music eventually becomes as hypnotic as the best Steve Reich pieces. After a while, though, the band breaks the trance with a powerful four-chord unison riff.

Other songs feel like the musical equivalent of the childhood game “Red Light, Green Light,” as the band stops and starts with little regard for meter or momentum. “Evildoer” might be the first rock song I’ve ever heard that consists entirely of false endings. On “Alarm Will Sound,” the band inserts long gaps of silence between every iteration of the song’s central riff. As the song progresses, the gaps are slowly filled with off-key keyboard fills and gong hits. No matter how tricky the songs get, though, the music maintains a sense of playfulness, which can be attributed to the band’s animated vocal delivery and the nursery-rhyme simplicity of their lyrics. “Famous Hero”’s only lyrics are, “He’s only one man/With only one plan/Throw all the bad guys/Into the ocean.”

Architecture Failures is an excellent album that posits Hi Red Center as one of a (thankfully) growing number of bands who are hellbent on proving that experimental rock doesn’t have to be completely devoid of fun or melody. I look forward to seeing them live again — WITH their guitarist, of course — and hearing what they’ll come up with next!

Artist Website: www.hiredcenter.com
Label Website: www.pangaearecordings.com

April 18, 2006

Astrobrite "Pinkshinyultrablast"

While Kevin Shields has busied himself by breeding chinchillas, cashing Lost in Translation publishing checks and royally pissing off the five people left on the planet who are still waiting for the next My Bloody Valentine album, Chicago musician Scott Cortez has quietly snatched the “King of Shoegaze” crown from his head. Although Cortez makes music under at least eight different names, it is his work under the Astrobrite name that bears every earmark of the sound that MBV pioneered 15 years ago: a perpetually unresolved tug-of-war between noise and melody, in which waves of distorted guitars veer in and out of tune, subduing both the androgynous vocals and the martial rhythms. However, Astrobrite’s fourth album Pinkshinyultrablast pushes both the melody and the noise to levels that Shields may never reach. In the effort to produce a follow-up to Loveless, Shields built and scrapped an entire recording studio. That Cortez has managed to do it FOR him with little more than a four-track and Cubase speaks wonders about the man’s genius.

Opening track “Ultrablast” begins in almost exactly the same manner as Loveless’ “To Here Knows When,” with a busy drum machine struggling to be heard above the six-string din. However, “Ultrablast” improves on that song by replacing its one-note drone with a seven-note motif that rises and falls with an almost classical grandeur. The drum machines start running backward halfway through the song’s second verse, which adds another level of disorientation to already potent sonic head-trip. Scott’s breathy sigh is a dead ringer for Shields’, and his lyrics imitate the jumbled syntax and lovesick fervor of classic MBV (“Don’t dare to hide/Won’t let you go/Forever feel your heartbreak”). However, his acute melodic sense and attention to detail enable the music to transcend mere mimicry.

On “Lollipop” and “Orange Creamsickle,” Scott demonstrates his mastery of tone and texture by tweaking his guitars to change texture as the songs move from one section to the next. On the former song, the guitars get slowly submerged in a sea of tape hiss and piercing feedback; on the latter, they shift from trebly blasts to subwoofer-shredding rumbles. On “Lemon-Limed Lie,” the guitars are completely stripped of treble, which brings the programmed drum loops to the forefront of the mix. The song’s tuned percussion suggests what collaboration between MBV and Konono No. 1 would sound like. The guitars on “Strawberry Kissdown” wail like an orchestra of police sirens. Scott wrecks so much shop with his guitars that his treatments almost begin to sound rote by Pinkshinyultrablast’s final third. It is at this point that he throws his biggest curveball. On “Please,” Scott goes completely a capella, using multi-tracked vocal harmonies to produce a song just as ethereal and woozy as any other on the album.

Don’t get it twisted, though: Pinkshinyultrablast isn’t just a showcase for Scott’s wicked production skills. The album may sound like pure white noise from half a room away, but multiple listens reveal the actual tunes underneath. All 13 songs are carefully composed, with hummable melodies and discernible hooks. For the first time ever, Scott puts his lyrics in the CD booklet. Of course, most of them would get you laughed at if you read them out loud in public (“I knew it from the start/I knew you’d break my heart/I wish you would have lied/Instead you keep inside”), but if the word “shoegaze” means anything to you, you already know that the words are secondary to the music. Nonetheless, the CD booklet ensures that you can actually sing along to these songs without feeling like you’re speaking in tongues. In short, this album is a masterpiece --- and now that it exists, Kevin Shields’ laziness doesn’t irritate me nearly as much as it once did.

Artist Website: www.geocities.com/wavertone
Label Website: www.vinyl-junkie.com

EDIT (4/19/06 11:29 P.M.):

Here's a message from Scott Cortez himself about the album:

"The Japanese would not release the album until I sent them a lyric sheet. I did not have one to send because there were no real lyrics; I just sang whatever came to mind when I recorded each song. I don't know what I sang on most of those songs, so I had to listen to the tracks over and over and decipher from all that chaos. The decipered mess is what I sent to the japanese, hence the strangeness and laughably insipid saccharine nature of the 'lyrics.' A couple are obvious-sounding --- 'Please' is dorky and lovely at the same time. Others are a mystery, and your guess is as good as mine as to what was said. They also printed the lyrics in Japanese, a translation of a translation. I would like to see that re-translated back into 'Engrish' and see the discombobulations that would result...or a Japanese person interpreting what they think is being sung would be more interesting to me."

By the way, he enjoyed this review :-)

April 17, 2006

Mono "You Are There"

I’ll just go ahead and say it: Mono is the best post-rock band still standing. They’re more tuneful than Mogwai, and unlike that band (who haven’t made a record worth getting excited about in at least five years), their studio output is almost as captivating as their live shows. They’re better musicians than Explosions in the Sky, and their music isn’t weighed down by pretentious conceptual baggage like Godspeed You Black Emperor’s. Although most of their songs employ tried-and-true quiet/loud dynamic shifts, they’re capable of building and releasing tension through other methods. It took a while for Mono to reach greatness, though. Whereas their first two albums could rightfully be dismissed as Mogwai tributes, their third album Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined found them straining to step out of that band’s shadow. Unfortunately, many songs spent too long in self-conscious stasis, as if the band was withholding the explosions from us to prove a point.

With their latest release You Are There, Mono has finally arrived. This is a carefully composed album that runs through six songs in exactly 60 minutes, and not a single second is wasted. The dynamic shifts, whether they take seven minutes or seven seconds to arrive, are handled with grace. The quiet parts aren’t boring and the loud parts aren’t gratuitous. On Walking Cloud the band was augmented by a string quartet; on this album, guitarists Taka and Yoda BECOME the string quartet, layering slow staircase melodies on top of each other until the music is rich enough to render all non-rhythmic instruments unnecessary. Strings and keyboards only appear on two tracks, and even then they’re pushed to the back of the mix, allowing the guitars to remain front and center. Steve Albini’s recording and mixing is crisper than it was on Walking Cloud (i.e. you can actually HEAR bassist Tamaki this time). Thus, the record sounds both tactile and ethereal. Mono is rocking out in your living room, but as soon as you exit your house, you discover that you’re standing on a cloud.

Opening track “The Flames beyond the Cold Mountain” begins with Taka and Yoda playing a descending three-chord progression. The attack of their strumming is dampened by so much reverb and delay that the guitars sound like celli. Shortly after the three-minute mark the cloud of effects is lifted, and Taka and Yoda start plucking out slow minor-key arpeggios. A minute later, Tamaki’s bass starts guiding the band through the chord changes. Drummer Yasunori builds tension by creating a mountain of hiss with his cymbals. A minute later, Taka and Yoda return to the hazy strumming of the song’s intro; this time, though, the guitars are louder and the notes are an octave higher. At the six-minute mark, Yasunori starts bashing out a gliding rhythm, and the guitarists’ fingers wander higher and higher up the neck. At the seven-minute mark, Taka and Yoda step on the distortion pedals and the song EXPLODES. After a one-minute crescendo of white noise, the song retreats back into quietude. Just when you think the song should end, Mono tacks on another fearsome crescendo. The song finally peters out at the thirteen-minute mark. The average listener should be worn out by this point; the rest of us have 47 more minutes to get our faces blown off.

Three other songs on You Are Here exceed the 10-minute mark, and all of them follow a similar template. “Yearning” throws in some nice syncopation courtesy of Yasunori, as well as a brief section toward the end the recalls the doom metal of fellow countrymen Boris. “Are You There?” has no crescendo to speak of, but still manages to avoid the tedium of Walking Cloud’s weaker tracks. These epic dirges are nicely broken up by “A Heart Has Asked for the Pleasure” and “The Remains of the Day,” two brief, drum-less ballads whose major-key melodies let rays of sunshine peek through the album’s otherwise mournful atmosphere.

The only major criticism that can be leveled against You Are Here is that it’s formulaic. However, Mono has honed this sound so effectively that if you like any of the artists that I mentioned in the opening paragraph, you won’t care. If you haven’t heard those artists, then You Are Here will REALLY blow your mind. Yes, this sound has been done before, but it has never, ever been done this well. Not only has Mono outdone itself, but they’ve also taken the very bands they used to crib notes from back to rock school.

Artist Website: www.mono-44.com
Label Website: www.temporaryresidence.com

Storsveit Nix Notles

After a few restful days away, I figured we'd get back into the swing of things with a really, really swinging group! Odd though it may seem, but the traditional-sounding Bulgarian sounds found on Storsveit Nix Noltes’ debut Orkideur Hawai (out now on Bubblecore) are not made by native Eastern Europeans. No, this gypsy troupe isn’t even from the continent—they’re from Iceland! Yeah, it’s a bit of a shock to learn that they’re not natives of the land from which their music originates, but it shouldn’t really change your opinion of the group or their music. Their music is earthy and natural, but most of all, it’s just joyous. Their music is happy and grand and loud and boisterous and is all the things you’d expect from gypsy music. From the light and lovely "Krepalka" to the epic "Blagoevgtad Region Oro," their music transcends the conventions of modern music, proclaiming the virtues of ancient styles with every single note. The band recently completed a US tour with Animal Collective, and reportedly, they blew the hipsters away every night. Good job!

Listen To: "Daichovo"

April 14, 2006

Flin Flon "Dixie"

I only know three people who love the music of Flin Flon as much as I do: Aisha, a fashion design major at the University of North Texas; Stef, who attends art school in Baltimore; and Tati, a photographer who lives in New York City. All three of them have dedicated their lives to making things that look cool, so it’s only right that their taste in music would follow suit. After all, Flin Flon is fronted by a man who designs book covers for Houghton Mifflin, and whose label Teenbeat is known for fusing the music of the unpretentious Virginia/DC indie-pop scene with the lush design aesthetic of English labels like 4AD and Factory.

Flin Flon is probably the only band I can think of that can be described as minimal AND self-indulgent. Mark Robinson rarely plays chords on his guitar, opting instead to either play simple single-note lines or not play at all. Drummer Matt Datesman doesn’t use cymbals; his kit consists solely of a kick, snare, two toms and a hi-hat. Bassist Nattles is relied on to do most of the melodic work. Is there a specific agenda behind this “no chords, no cymbals” setup? Why does their latest album begin and end with 90-second drum solos? Why are the second and penultimate tracks different versions of the same song (“Cardigan”)? Why can’t I tell the difference between them? Why are all of the songs named after Canadian cities? I highly doubt I’ll ever get answers to these questions. As long as Flin Flon keeps making records like Dixie, I won’t NEED answers. “Art for art’s sake” has never sounded this good.

Flin Flon’s stripped-down setup doesn’t keep them from scattering moments of virtuosic interplay all over Dixie. Most of the credit can be given to Datesman, who wanders all over his kit without sacrificing a whit of his metronomic precision. On “The Lookoff,” Datesman's violent snare hits perfectly underscore Mark’s goofy chorus: “I’m a kung-fu fighter/I will hold you tighter/I’m a kung-fu fighter/I will kick and hi-yah!” Datesman uses “Darlings” as an opportunity to showcase his wicked beat displacement skills, and crams “Annapolis Royal” with non-stop drum rolls and hissing hi-hats.

Mark and Nattles are no slouches, though, frequently meeting up with each other for brief bursts of lockstep harmony in almost every song. On “Trafalgar,” Mark’s harmonized guitars ring like church bells. Nowhere else is the band’s chemistry more evident than on “Rossignol.” The first minute is a jam, with Mark playing harmonics on his guitar and Datesman engaging in some tricky start/stop solos. Once Nattles joins in with his grinding bass line, the song works itself up into lather, tacks on an obligatory verse and ends. It’s already one of my all-time Flin Flon favorites.

Mark’s lyrics frequently stop just short of making sense. He is content with either singing poetic non sequiturs (“I am the walking man/Olympic pedestrian/I am the walking man/Feet-first mannequin”) or sketching sordid scenes (“Fatal accident at the arena/No compassion/a hockey subpoena”). The closest Flin Flon comes to a topical song is “Darlings,” whose lyrics were actually written by Mark’s wife. On that song, Mark rallies our current generation to “fight the power,” and reminisces about his own youthful rebellion: “When I was young/Spent a lot of time in Washington/Days were long/People were making every day ‘rock against Reagan’.”

Dixie is Flin Flon’s best album yet. It stands right at the midpoint between the sprightly pop of their debut album A-OK and the darker experiments of its follow-up Boo Boo. Of course, some have already accused the band of treading water, but why fix it if it ain’t broke? Flin Flon’s got a distinctive sound going, and they’re neither prolific enough nor popular enough to produce listener fatigue. With Dixie, Mark Robinson has reaffirmed his status as a member of the exclusive club of label owners whose own music is just as good as that of the bands they release. (Matt McCaughan, stand up. Sean Combs, sit down.) One day, Aisha, Stef, Tati and I will be in the same city together, and we will use this album as the soundtrack for the best dance party ever.

Label Website: www.teenbeatrecords.com

April 13, 2006

Bird Show "Lightning Ghost"

Bird Show is the solo project of Chicago musician Ben Vida, who is better known as a member of the band Town and Country. One of the most polarizing bands on the Thrill Jockey roster, Town and Country’s austere chamber rock dances around the line that separates the minimalist from the merely boring. If Bird Show’s music any indication, though, Vida is much better at keeping my interest when he goes it alone. The songs on Bird Show’s sophomore album Lightning Ghost are simple, but they’re arranged in such a way that the music never gets monotonous. Like the best home recordings, the nubbly textures and close-miked instruments generate an intimacy that draws you in, despite the flighty nature of the music.

Most of the songs on Lightning Ghost are constructed from a few basic ingredients: twinkling hand percussion, watery synthesizers, gently strummed guitars and Ben’s lackadaisical harmonies. His vocals often sound as if they were recorded five minutes after waking up: he doesn’t have the strongest sense of pitch, and he often slurs his words. Far from being a detractor, Ben’s voice is actually a perfect fit for the hazy music surrounding it. Instruments frequently fall in and out of sync with each other, giving the illusion that the music is being held together by centrifugal force.

Some songs, like “Pilz” and “First Path Through,” push the synthesizers to the front of the mix, allowing them to create metallic drones that recall Matthew Bower’s work with Sunroof! On other songs (“Seeds,” “Greet the Morning,” and “Sleepers Keep Sleeping”) Vida adds swooping violins and blaring bagpipes to the mix, which gives the music a vaguely Celtic feel. Vida isn’t afraid to flirt with extremes, either. The otherwise placid “Beautiful Spring” gets interrupted by a percussive cacophony that sounds like Vida whacking a bullhorn with a tambourine. The title track, on the other hand, spends its second half in near-silence, with burbling percussion just barely eking its way out of the speakers.

Whereas Bird Show's 2005 debut Green Inferno felt like a catchall for Ben’s diverse interests (folk, noise, drone, field recordings), Lightning Ghost has a singular identity. Its nine songs are cohesive and concise; all of them sound like products of the same mind, and none of them wear out their welcome. Although the acid-folk “New Weird America” scene is already overcrowded, I don’t see anything wrong with Vida’s decision to stake out his own place in it.

Label Website: www.kranky.net

April 12, 2006

Stereolab "Fab Four Suture"

Stereolab is a smart band. Over the last 15 years, they’ve released 10 albums, 20+ EPs and six compilations --- enough material to make their biggest fans sell their firstborn children to collect every note. I understand their devotion, though: the band is incapable of making a bad record, and with each successive release they tinker with their sound just enough to keep fans on their toes without alienating them. Of course, a drawback of such consistency is that each new Stereolab album gets dismissed by a growing cadre of lazy critics as “more of the same.” However, any Stereolab fan can tell you that the dense sonic overload of Margerine Eclipse was a far cry from the airy fantasia of Sound-Dust, which itself was a far cry from the fusion-jazz experiments of Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, which itself was a far cry from the squelchy post-rock of Dots and Loops…you get the point. Although their latest album Fab Four Suture bears all of the earmarks of a Stereolab record, it certainly isn’t “more of the same.”

Stereolab challenges its listeners by opening and closing Fab Four Suture with the two-part “Kyberneticka Babicka,” arguably the most repetitive song the band has ever made. The band spends all 10 minutes of the song alternating between three chords, while drummer Andy Ramsay plays a light, loping rhythm that never changes. Like all great minimalist pieces, “Kyberneticka” changes so little on the surface that the little gradations underneath have greater impact than they normally would. When Tim Gane’s guitar plays on the one instead of the three, you’ll notice. When Laetitia Sadier stops singing “ahhh” and starts singing “ba-ba,” you’ll notice. When the band leans on one chord for more than two bars at a time, you’ll notice. ADD sufferers, fear not: Stereolab takes bigger and more frequent detours on the album’s other 10 songs.

“Interlock” starts out as a minor-key romp reminiscent of ‘60s Motown R&B, with Laetitia compensating for deceased co-vocalist Mary Hansen’s absence by singing higher than her normal range. At around the 1:30 mark, the band switches to a disco romp, only to return to the song’s original motif 90 seconds later. This sandwich-like approach to song structure is repeated on “Get a Shot of the Refrigerator.” During the song’s brief bridge, the band slows the song down to half its original speed, and changes the key from major to minor. “I Was a Sunny Rainphase” starts out as up-tempo spy-movie pop, then segues into an odd-metered bridge in which Ramsay’s kit is replaced by a drum program, and every chord change is announced by a gorgeous swell of horns. Songs begin with ideas that are quickly abandoned and never reappear (“Plastic Mile,” “Widow Weirdo”), or end with tangents that bear no relation to the music that preceded it (“Eye of the Volcano,” “Visionary Road Maps”). Stereolab performs these transitions with a fluidity that can only come from constant rehearsal and precise studio editing (the awkward splice on “Rainphase” notwithstanding).

Fab Four Suture has a bounciness to it that occasionally recalls the band’s 1996 masterwork Emperor Tomato Ketchup, although the newer songs aren’t quite as catchy. The cheekily titled “Excursions into ‘Oh, A-Oh’” (like I said, Stereolab’s a smart band), which lays reversed tape loops and distorted synthesizers on top of a motorik groove, definitely could’ve been a long-lost Emperor outtake. Overall, it sounds as if Stereolab is moving beyond the grief that was so palpable on Margerine Eclipse (their first album without Mary), and consolidating their strengths as their second decade as a band draws to a close. You can add another notch to their ever-growing tally of satisfying albums.

Artist Website: www.stereolab.co.uk
Label Website: www.toopure.com

April 11, 2006

In the coming months, I predict you're going to hear a lot about a little band from Chicago named The 1900s. You'll probably see their named mention along with comparisons to Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Donovan, Nick Drake, and The Velvet Underground. These comparisons will arise for several reasons, the lesser of which is the fact that their press kit references most of these bands and music writers are, for the most part, rather lazy individuals who will take hand-fed comparisons at face value. The primary reason for such comparisons, though, is quite obvious; The 1900s definitely sound inspired by Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Donovan, Nick Drake, and the Velvet Underground.

No matter, though.

This group is a very large group; the promo shot shows a band of six, but the band credits list seven, and their sound is indeed quite large. The six songs on debut release Plume Delivery are grand--not "grand" as in "simply faboo" (though they certainly are), but they're lush, larger-than-life affairs that aren't heavy in any orchestra pop kind of way. (It's an odd thing, being a baroque band making baroque pop that's not heavy, but that's another story.) They don't need robes and loud bells and whistles to make their music fabulous (even though, of course, their songs do have them); part of their appeal is that they're simply good songwriters and they're simply good musicians, and this debut of theirs doesn't sound like a debut record at all. If you're an indie-pop boy and you need a new indie-pop crush, you'll fall instantly for Caroline Donovan; if you're an indie-pop girl, it'll be hard for you to resist the charms of Edward Anderson; even though it's the girls who deliver most of the songs, there are a few boy moments, and they're equally as good.

Though all of the songs on Plume Delivery are lovely things, the big, must-hear track is "Patron Saint of the Mediocre." Though they start off with a ripping off of the Wire/Elastica "Three Girl Rhumba/Connected" riff, they quickly turn it into a British post-Mersey/pre-Revolver pop beat (think Zombies, as per the comparison above), with lovely, seductive vocals by Ms. Donovan. Halfway through it, though, the band apparently dropped some acid, and the rest of the jam session becomes quite heady, as they hit upon a psych-pop groooooove that Brian Jonestown Massacre probably wished they'd written. Very delicious stuff, and well worth the admission price.

Listen To: "Bring The Good Boys Home"

Sharing the brilliance that is "Patron Saint of the Mediocre" with you here would be wrong, of course, but don't think that this selection is slack, either. It starts off with a wonderful beat...but it ends magnificently. Expect to hear more, and, if you're lucky enough to live in the Chicago area, go see them live!

April 13, 2006 Chicago, IL @ The Hideout.
April 29, 2006 Chicago, IL @ IO (formerly Improv Olympic)
May 12, 2006 Chicago, IL @ METRO
June 3, 2006 Chicago, IL Shuba's CD RELEASE PARTY

Shoplifting "Body Stories"

Kill Rock Stars has come a long way in the last 15 years. During the early ‘90s, almost every act on the label’s roster played amateurish, discordant punk with a feminist bent. Nowadays, KRS’ sonic palette is wide enough to accommodate everything from electro-pop to quiet singer/songwriters to psychedelic jam bands. The label has grown so much that founder Slim Moon has even had to start a sister label, 5 Rue Christine, to house wilder, more experimental bands. I get the feeling that the addition of Shoplifting to the KRS roster is Moon’s way of extending an olive branch to purists who feel that his label has strayed too far from its original aesthetic. This Seattle quartet’s brilliant debut album Body Stories draws lines that connect the past with the present. Their music hearkens back to the “death disco” of Sonic Youth’s early ‘80s work, but their lyrics find new ways to explore the issues that angered the original “riot grrls.”

Body Stories may be the first rock record I’ve heard that examines feminism from a male perspective in a manner that avoids both easy guilt and cheap novelty. Most of the vocals are sung by guitarist Chris Pugmire, whose double-tracked mewling could be mistaken for Thurston Moore’s. Opener “M. Sally” (the “M.” stands for “mustang”) is a clever slice of rock and roll revisionism. Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” is a loose woman whom the man sets out to tame; Chris’ “M. Sally,” on the other hand, ends up dominating HIM. “Mustang Sally holds my hips,” he sings, “to keep my feet from bruising.” On the next track, “Male Gynecology,” Chris sings about freeing himself from traditional gender roles: “Finally gonna own my body/Open wide for my own gynecology/There’s no shame if the self-exam’s bloody.” On closer “Claude Glass,” drummer Hannah Billie makes a rare lead vocal appearance to sketch a tale of manipulation in which she has the upper hand: “I knew you wouldn’t hurt me/I didn’t make it easy/A wrinkled bill on my thigh/From your hand to mine.”

Shoplifting has an intimate relationship with atonality. Chris’ and Devin’s jangling guitars are always slightly out of tune with one another, and bassist Melissa Lock’s simple lines rarely feel the need to harness them into consonance. On “Male Gynecology,” the guitarists mute their strings to sound like pizzicato strings, and the dissonance in their playing infuses the song with a sense of dread one would expect from the soundtrack of a horror flick. Entire songs sound as if the musicians are playing and singing in different keys simultaneously, of which the Erase Errata-like “Untrust/Trust” is the biggest example. Not only that, but the band doesn’t always organize their songs around a central hook. “Cover to Cover” and “What About a Word?” are through-composed songs that switch tempo and key at will. This isn’t to say that the band is afraid of melody or structure. Every song is girded by a busy, danceable rhythm courtesy of Hannah Billie, and “Claude Glass” boasts a jazzy ascending guitar riff that’s surprisingly easy to hum.

Although Shoplifting takes its biggest musical cues from the No Wave scene of two decades ago, they play with a steadiness that many of the band’s influences were too reckless (and, in some cases, not talented enough) to achieve. Their chemistry is so strong that even the meandering quasi-instrumental jams that they pad the album with (“Flying Factory,” “Syncope Riders”) are fun to listen to. Congratulations, Shoplifting: you’re responsible for Kill Rock Stars’ first great release of 2006.

Artist Website: www.myspace.com/shoplifting
Label Website: www.killrockstars.com

April 10, 2006

Belong "October Language"

Belong is a collaborative effort between New Orleans natives Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones, who run guitars and synthesizers through various forms of DSP (digital signal processing) to produce crescendos of drone that ebb and flow like ocean waves, much like Fennesz, Tim Hecker and Oren Ambarchi before them. Their promising debut October Language is the first release I’ve heard from a NOLA group since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August. What’s even sadder about this is that if the album hadn’t been completed a year before the hurricane, we might not have gotten a chance to hear it now. Because of such, it feels tactless to use the ocean as a metaphor for Belong’s approach to composition, but I believe that no other metaphor can truly do it justice.

On opening track “I Never Lose. Never Really,” Dietrich and Jones play a somber six-chord progression. A low-pass filter strips their guitars of all semblance of treble. The filter is removed to reveal layers of hiss, distortion and overtones that pile on top of each other with a fugue-like stateliness. Around the three-minute mark, Dietrich and Jones start leaning on a single chord to produce an ominous drone. The distortion is then removed, leaving ghostly micro-edits to slowly recede into silence. “Red Velvet or Nothing” is pure drone, with guitars that are manipulated to have the timbre of organs and the texture of hissing sprinklers. Listening to it on headphones is guaranteed to make your ears feel ticklish. On October Language’s title track, the guitars swoop and sigh like a My Bloody Valentine record at half-speed. “I’m Too Sleepy…Shall We Swim?” lays off on the oceanic fuzz, opting instead to flirt with silence and negative space. Subwoofer-shredding bass fades in and out of the mix, while intermittently flickering keyboards imitate the tape decay of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. On these four songs, which constitute the album’s first half, Belong coax bewildering sounds out of their instruments just as well as their influences.

Unfortunately, October Language’s second half finds Belong repeating the same tricks they exhausted on the first half. If the album was split into two EPs, I would be able to recommend them equally, for each song holds up well on its own. When sequenced together as a 45-minute album, though, they quickly blur into each other. Granted, because of the stylistic similarity of the songs, the album serves as perfect background music for drifting into sleep. When I’m fully awake and giving October Language my full attention, though, it becomes a tough slog. Nonetheless, Dietrich and Jones do what they do very well. With a bit more variety, their next album should be amazing.

Label Website: www.carparkrecords.com

April 08, 2006

cocteau twins video!

okay, so i was listening to some of my old records this morning, and decided to do some searching, and found these two great early-period videos. I love 'em and hope you do, too! I wish 4ad would hurry up and release a Cocteau Twins DVD!

"Love's Easy Tears"

"Pearly Dewdrops' Drops"

April 07, 2006

Mates of State "Bring It Back"

Since organist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel formed Mates of State in 1997, they have become one of indie-pop’s most reliable pleasures. You knew what you were getting whenever they released a new album: a booming sound that greatly transcended the band’s basic setup, hooks that quickly burrowed themselves into your brain despite the often through-composed nature of the songs, and pensive lyrics often sung in complex, boisterous harmony. After three albums and an EP, though, a bit of change was necessary to keep their music from getting stale. Thus, their most recent release Bring It Back, despite its nostalgic title, finds the Mates significantly tweaking their sound. Though it's far from a bad record, your appreciation of it will depend on which qualities of the their sound you consider to be essential, and which you consider to be negligible.

The first change you’ll notice is an increase in production gloss. Opener “Think Long” starts off in typical fashion: Jason plays a simple tick-tock rhythm, Kori plays a simple arpeggio on her dinky Yamaha, and then they start singing different melodies and lyrics simultaneously. Once the chorus comes in, slight distortion is applied to Kori’s voice, and a piano is overdubbed on top of her organ. It becomes obvious that the Mates aren’t merely replicating their live show anymore. The second change you’ll notice is the comparatively linear progression the music takes. Whereas the average Mates song would run through at least two or three key and tempo changes, “Think Long” adheres to a conventional verse/chorus format before climaxing with a long, repeated coda.

The vocal layering on Bring It Back is often overdone, even by Mates standards. When you’ve already got two people singing different things simultaneously, double-tracking both voices AND adding two or three extra harmonies can lead to clutter. Album closer “Running Out” is the biggest offender. It ends with Kori singing the words “I'm tired of singing” over and over for four minutes, with a 10-piece choir behind her. I implore you, reader: DOES THAT MAKE ANY SENSE AT ALL??!? By the song’s halfway point, I wanted to shake all 11 of them and shout, “Shut up, then!” Even more puzzling are the moments on the album when it sounds like they didn’t spend ENOUGH time on the vocals...particularly Jason’s. He hits some gratingly sharp notes during the chorus of the prom-night waltz “Like U Crazy,” and not even double-tracking can keep his voice from sounding limpid on the minor-key dirge “What It Means.”

The Mates’ decision to streamline their songs isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but so many of Bring It Back’s songs follow the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/coda format that the album begins to lose momentum during the second half. When penultimate track “Punchlines” gives us the kind of abrupt tempo change that the Mates subverted so many of their older songs with, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It dismays me that the Mates may be sacrificing a bit of their quirkiness in a bid for mainstream acceptance. The album’s garishly airbrushed cover, on which Jason looks like he just walked out of a MySpace profile, only increases my suspicion. Dude, I’ve seen you and Kori live six times. You KNOW you don’t wear that much makeup in real life.

Bring It Back still bears enough Mates earmarks to be a recommended purchase for longtime fans. As always, the musicianship is top-notch, and every song boasts at least one monster hook. Kori and Jason still write about interpersonal grievances in a manner that’s candid enough to offset the cheeriness of their music. When they sing about overly critical friends (“Fraud in the ‘80s”), the numbness of routine (“Beautiful Dreamer”) and the wanderlust that results from it (“Running Out”), they do so with the kind of communality that only married couples possess. When they sing the word “I,” they might as well replace it with “we.” If the sound of their newborn child cooing at the end of the gorgeous piano ballad “Nature and the Wreck” doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, you might need to check your pulse. However, newcomers might want to start with their previous album Team Boo before picking this one up.

Artist Website: www.matesofstate.com
Label Website: www.barsuk.com

April 06, 2006

Prince "3121"

Last week, Prince’s fiftyleventh album 3121 debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. Not only is this debut a first for his three-decade career, but it’s also solid proof that the comeback he initiated with 2004’s Musicology album wasn’t a fluke. For the first time in a decade, both the record-buying public and the music press are paying attention to Prince again. Every major and minor publication worth its salt has already voiced its opinion on this record. Why, then, would a little old ‘blog like ours, whose main purpose is to spotlight music that everyone else ignores or gives short shrift to, chime in with its own measly two cents?


I liked Musicology but, as good as it was, I knew he could do better. On that album, he boasted about the supremacy of “real” musicianship (“Take your pick --- turntable or a band?”), took potshots at Michael Jackson (“My voice is getting higher, and I ain’t never had my nose done!”) and namedropped the few rappers he felt were worthy of his respect. His didacticism seemed disingenuous, though, because the album was mired in a light R&B sound that, while certainly more pleasant to listen to than the jazz experiments that marred some of his recent work, was simply too retro to hold a candle to the best of his ‘80s and ‘90s work. Someone must have subsequently told Prince, “Don’t talk about it --- be about it,” because on 3121, he cuts down on the self-aggrandizement and gets down to business with some of the most vibrant music he has made in at least 15 years.

Many of the songs on 3121’s first half connect the dots between the Spartan electro-funk that he pioneered on 1999 and The Black Album and the “minimalist crunk” (as my dear friend Justin calls it) that recent hip-hop producers have turned into a radio goldmine. On the opening title track, Prince pushes the drums to the front of the mix, drags the keyboards to the back, speeds up his voice and runs it through a squelchy “cat lead” filter. All of these effects produce one of the most alien-sounding songs I’ve heard from him since the songs his “female” alter-ego Camille sang on Sign o’ the Times. The second track, “Lolita,” builds a danceable groove from handclaps, wah-wah guitar and distorted keyboards. Two songs later, “Black Sweat” takes the Neptunes to school with little more than a simple drum program, an ear-piercing synthesizer and Prince’s lascivious falsetto. Prince shows his age on some of these songs; the lyrical allusions to the Berlin Wall and Ava Gardner on “3121” and “Lolita,” respectively, will fly over the heads of most listeners who are younger than me. Ageists need to shut up, though. Prince may be older than my mom, but if he invited me to a party at his house, I’d STILL show up with bells on.

The rest of the album finds Prince mixing up genres and blurring the line between the secular and the sacred in a way that only he can do well. “Te Amo Corazon” is one of three songs that betray a newfound Latin influence in his music. His Spanish accent sucks, but the song itself is beautiful, and not even careful study of the lyrics can reveal whether he’s singing about God or about a woman. Other songs aren’t as subtle. On the bossanova-tinged “The Dance,” Prince addresses a woman who withholds her affection from him; he ends the song by shrieking “It’s just not fair!” with a frightening intensity that proves how little his voice his aged in the last two decades. If Musicology’s slow jam “On the Couch” was a hilarious account of a domestic quarrel, then 3121’s “Satisfied” is the soundtrack to the subsequent makeup sex. On the other side of the divide, light R&B ballads “The Word” and “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed” form a one-two punch that makes a much stronger case for Prince’s conversion to the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses than anything on his scattershot The Rainbow Children album.

Of course, 3121 isn’t perfect. Some songs suffer from a puzzling overuse of the auto-tuner. First of all, Prince has already proven that he can still sing without the aid of computers; second of all, was it really necessary to employ the effect on his SPOKEN voice as well (see “Incense and Candles”)? Also, the studio version of “Fury” pales in comparison to the jaw-dropping rendition he gave during a recent Saturday Night Live episode; the drumming is mediocre, and Prince’s wonderful guitar solos are buried underneath overbearing synthesizers. This song is one of the few in Prince’s catalog wherein his one-man band approach backfires. These quibbles aside, 3121 finds Prince in near-peak form as a singer, writer, musician, producer and overall visionary. Unlike Musicology, this album isn’t an underwhelming effort buffered by goodwill; however, I still feel that Prince has got even better things waiting for us in the future.

Artist Website: www.3121.com
Label Website: www.npgmusicclub.com

April 05, 2006

The Seconds "Kratitude"

When Brooklyn trio the Seconds released their debut album Y in 2001, it struck me as a lesser take on the hyperactive math-punk that guitarist Zach Lehrhoff’s other band the Ex-Models had already set a new standard for when they released THEIR debut Other Mathematics five months earlier. After doing the requisite touring to support Y, all three members put the band on the backburner to engage in arguably more lucrative pursuits. Zach focused his attention on the Ex-Models, and watched their various personnel changes render their music leaner and grimier with each successive album. Bassist Jeannie Kwon works at an engineering firm while earning a master’s degree at NYU. Drummer Brian Chase ended up having the busiest schedule of the three when his other band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, rocketed to international acclaim in 2003. I didn’t lament the Seconds’ absence because the music that Zach and Brian were making in their other bands was far more interesting.

Although I was shocked to find out that the Seconds even had time to make a second album, I didn’t expect much from Kratitude when it arrived in my mailbox. When I finally listened to it, though, it kicked my ass and put a stranglehold on my CD player that didn’t let up for the next few weeks. It’s a shame that the album has garnered so little press, especially in comparison to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones, which was released a week later. Kratitude definitely rocks harder than Bones --- although, to be fair, comparing the YYYs to the Seconds is like comparing apples to nails. However, I also feel that this album builds upon the groundwork laid by the titans of drone, industrial and No Wave (the sticker on the album cover mentions DNA, Throbbing Gristle and the Theatre of Eternal Music) in a more convincing manner than the Ex-Models did on last year’s Chrome Panthers.

Opener “Moving” begins with Kwon muting her strings to produce pinging harmonics, until Brian and Zack seize control of the song 30 seconds later. Brian bashes out a 2/4 rhythm on his tom-toms that speeds up and slows down at will. Zack makes scraping noises that sound as if the wiring in his guitar has a short, and he’s violently wrenching out a metal object caught between his strings. The phrases “moving slowly” and “moving faster” are repeated in different intervals by all three band members. Brian’s stentorian deadpan, Zack’s lisping yelp and Jeannie’s petulant shriek are placed in stark contrast to one another. This song sets the proper tone for an album that employs rhythm, repetition and noise as its main tools, and treats melody like an afterthought.

“Sister8myson” is one of many songs on Kratitude whose lyrics consist of a single phrase repeated over and over again --- see also “Sleeping,” “Teeth” and “Dogsicle.” All of these songs derive their tension from the syncopation between Brian’s tribal drumming and Zack’s perpetually out-of-tune guitar. Like “Moving,” “Sleeping” speeds up and down at random moments, imitating the wooziness evoked by its only words: “Sleeping on the floor/feeling cold and tired.” “Say” takes the lyrical terseness one step further, as the band chants nonsensical syllables solely for their rhythmic and phonetic properties (“ooh-la-ley,” “peek-a-boo”). On the other hand, the vocals on “Scheisse” are so distorted that I can’t even make out whether they’re saying actual words or not.

“Teeth” does away with meter altogether: every disembodied voice and instrument on that song falls in and out of sync, until the result sounds like the Shaggs performing a séance. “Dedicatedtotheoneeye” is even creepier --- a Shirelles cover stripped of most of its lyrics and all of its melody, until all that’s left are slow, lingering chords that never resolve, and Jeannie hollering “BE MY BABY” like a mentally handicapped woman, caught in the throes of a desperation she can barely articulate. After this song, the instrumental “Lee Is Free” homage that closes Kratitude almost feels unnecessary. The Seconds have already spent the first 10 songs of the album stripping rock music down to its primitive, sinister and grinding essence. They don’t have to ape their heroes or their contemporaries anymore, for they have finally come into their own.

Dear Seconds,

I'm sorry for counting you guys out. PLEASE don't penalize me by making me wait another five years to hear from you again.


Sean Padilla

Artist Website: www.5rc.com/bands/seconds
Label Website: www.5rc.com

Animal Collective "Grass" CD-DVD

Hot on the heels of 2005's critically acclaimed Feels, Animal Collective's British label Fat Cat has released a tasty little treat for their fans. Grass is a two disc set, containing the single for "Grass" and a DVD with some of the band's videos. "Grass" is a catchy number that was as breezy as a cool Fall afternoon in the country, and it's simply a wonderful song. The other two songs pale somewhat in comparison, but that's because they're a bit different. "Must Be Treeman" starts with a looped drone, which then gives way to a languid instrumental passage that is built the muffled sounds of people making noises and a sampled Pepperidge Farm commercial. It's an interesting number, though it is, ultimately, b-side material. The final new song on the record is a more upbeat number, "Fickle Cycle," and it wouldn't have been out of place on Feels.

The DVD portion of the set is the collection's real draw. The disc contains four videos, and each video shows a different facet of the band. The video for "Grass" is a kaleidoscopic acid trip set to music, a swirling rainbow of visual delights that fits quite nicely with the aural majesty of the song. The video for Sung Tongs' "Who Could Win A Rabbit?" is next, and it's also a hoot--a depiction of the children's story of the tortoise and the hare. Up next is a video for "Fickle Cycle," which consists of nothing more than clips of the band working and having fun in the recording studio--and it shows the band just enjoying themselves, even as they make 'arty' music. Then, the final song, "Lake Damage," is a live performance from their Fall 2004 tour. It's an interesting number to close with, and it highlights the caveat that goes with seeing the band live, in that they take their music in directions their records simply do not go. This is a loud, overpowering number; it's harsh and abrasive and tribal and it's a stunning and shocking departure from the band that makes pastoral experimental folk.

All in all, not a bad package!

TODD "Comes To Your House"

There's loud music, there's harsh music, and then there's violent music. Many bands are loud; some are harsh, but very, very few are truly violent. London's TODD is one of them. Their second record, out May 15th on Southern, is called Comes To Your House and is nothing less than a concise, direct, and downright relentless aural and sensory attack. Yet, for all of it's abrasiveness, comes To Your House is a very compelling, addictive record. Lead singer Craig Clouse was formerly in the legendary 1990s sludge-rockers Hammerhead (why is it not surprising that he was in an AmRep band?) but TODD is something completely different; Clouse's tortured yelp is the equivalent of David Yow's first day in the eternal torture and punishment of Hell, and his bandmates are up to the challenge of making music that's just as pained and hellish. To call Comes To Your House melodic would be laughable, but that's not dismissive; there's a melodic tinge to this music, one that's almost completely subliminal, but it's there. Don't expect to understand everything that's going on; I've listened to this record many times, and I have yet to make out much of the words, but when I consider song titles like "The Knife Whisperer," "Chair Fight," and "Crank a Winch," it's probably best I can't!

As harsh as the music may be, the purity of the onslaught is its appeal; in a world of phoney metal bands and hard-rock poseurs, there's absolutely NO WAY TODD can be anything but THE REAL DEAL. The record is less of an album and more of one eleven-part symphonic movement; the flow of the record is just so amazing, and it all fits together quite nicely. It's a pure work of disturbing genius, that's for sure. TODD will scare the living shit out of you; it's the equivalent of being eyed by a psychotic stranger, and it's best to avoid playing it around young children, the weak of heart, and small animals. Listen with extreme caution. But when you do listen, expect magic.

Listen To: "Comes To Your House"
Listen To: "Captain Vinegar"

April 04, 2006

SXSW Report #36: Die! Die! Die! @ Lava Lounge

The final band I saw at this year's South by Southwest was a New Zealand punk trio called Die! Die! Die! Their modus operandi was pretty simple: hard drumming, distorted bass lines, minimal guitar parts and lots of shouting. They reminded me a bit of Mclusky at their angriest. What made them stand out from other bands of their ilk, though, was the guitarist’s sense of melody. He often stuck to the upper register of his guitar, playing chiming chords that felt like rays of sunlight penetrating through dark clouds. He placed his microphone in front of the stage so that he could sing and play directly in the faces of various audience members. During the last song he threw off his guitar, climbed up the brick wall with his microphone in tow, and sang the last verse outside of the venue. They definitely closed the festival on a high note. I’m pissed, though, that they didn’t have any CDs for sale. I am going to buy an imported version of their album as soon as I have the money to.

spend our days at gay soirees and wave from the royal parade

One of the crappy things about music writing is sometimes you don't get a chance to hear a band's next record. I know that I get a lot of records, but sometimes bands who made great records never send me the follow-up. That's probably due in large part to shitty publicists who tend to neglect smaller, more loyal and more passionate publications in favor for their 'connections' at larger magazines. Honestly? For some bands, it doesn't really make anything better; in fact, it can often hurt, as big places neglect their record, while smaller places--those more likely to create a 'buzz' about a band because they actually LISTEN TO and LOVE a record--aren't given the time of day. Who gets screwed? THE BAND. Also, sometimes editors are overwhelmed with other things and sometimes...they just miss things. It's quite difficult to keep up with 35679027 different bands, so records sometimes slip through the crack...

So, for whatever reason, I didn't even know that there was a new Happy Bullets record until very recently. I can't say who's fault it is; the cynical side of me that would normally blame others for this seemingly defaults to the adult realization that it's entirely my fault. That it actually came out nearly a year ago or so is frustrating to learn! I really loved their debut album, and I'm pretty sure I'd love their new album, The Vice & Virtue Ministry, because the title song is just so...perfect. It's a pure indie-pop indulgence that I simply refuse to deny myself, and that they come from Dallas is even more surprising. I'm assuming their new record is good; this song is perfect, and that they've created one perfect pop moment is all that matters, right?

Ah well, maybe I'm a bit afraid to seek this record out, because this title song is simply too perfect, and I'm afraid that the rest of the record might not be as wonderful as this. Ah, but that's the risk of listening, isn't it? It's probably quite worth the risk. But hey, I'll shut up now, and let you listen. Enjoy!

Listen To: "The Vice & Virtue Ministry"

April 02, 2006

Sunday Night Spotlight: Sub Pop!

Yesterday we light-heartedly and quite lovingly roasted our favorite record label, but we have to admit something: this year, they've released some righteously good records. Heck, it's not really that surprising; last year was a good year for those fine Seattle mavens at Sub Pop, with great releases from Rogue Wave, Rosie Thomas, Iron & Wine, Love as Laughter, and Kinski, and hipsters in every struggling scene started to grow their beards again, no thanks to all those mellow folk-rock-hippie-stoner records they released. So let's take a little time this evening to investigate this year's Sub Pop releases, shall we?

Later this year, expect new records from The CSS, Pissed Jeans, The Brunettes, Eugene Mirman, Oxford Collapse, Dead Moon, The Baptist Generals, and much, much more!

The Elected is the side project of Rilo Kiley's Blake Sennett. Sun, Sun, Sun is the band's second record, and, much like their debut, Me First (clever title for a debut, haha), it's all about Blake. Unlike the debut, though, the band's not melding LA folk-rock with understated electronica; instead, it seems that the band's going for an organic approach--eschewing studios, favoring a more organic approach to songwriting and recording. In other words, Sun, Sun, Sun is a road record, recorded at home and on the road during Elected and Rilo Kiley tours, and, in a weird way, it has the same feel as Jackson Browne's classic Running on Empty---a record of lovely, mellow singer-songwriter fare that was recorded on the road. Sennett has a wonderfully addictive croon; it's whisper-thin, and he treads the line between sweetness and cynicism, which fits the band's music quite well, considering all of the songs seem to be about love--when, of course, the songs aren't about being away from home or missing home. The record saunters along at a leisurely pace; it's hard to really get riled up by the mellow fare offered by "Would You Come With Me," "Did Me Good," or the title track; and, well, "I'll Be Your Man" deserves to be on your mix-cd's for your next crush. Sun, Sun, Sun is a pretty, lazy record for a lazy day. (I've always wondered if Blake Sennett is any relation to Susan Sennett, best known for being married to Graham Nash--it would explain a lot about the boy's inspirations.)

Listen To: "Would You Come With Me"
Listen To: "Not Going Home"

Kelley Stoltz's Sub Pop debut, Below the Branches, is also a retro trip, but in a different way. Stoltz has a bit of a thing for the Beach Boys, but he doesn't allow his fanboy fervor to overwhelm his music. Besides, aping Brian Wilson is sooooooo 1998. No, Stoltz throws in Friends-style harmonies in a way that suggests Weezer by way of Plush. Again--not a bad thing! But more than anything, it's hard not to think of Harry Nilsson, especially on songs like "Wave Goodbye" and "Memory Collector," which sound like long-lost outtakes from The Point. Almost all of the songs on Below the Branches feature catchy piano licks, sore throat singing that makes you think Stoltz had one too many cigarettes and two too many bourbons. But even though the last part of the record is somewhat indistinguishable from the first, the record is still quite a pleasant, mellow listen.

Listen To: "Memory Collector"
Listen To: "The Sun Comes Through"

Where would Sub Pop be without Mudhoney? After all, you can't spell Mudhoney without "money." The veteran flagship band returns, and the bluesy swagger found on 2003's comeback Since We've Become Translucent is now a full-time habit. Under A Billion Suns is pretty much a blues-rock record. Yeah, they've always had a blues edge to their music, but here, they've decided to go full-throttle into that territory. But shit, Mudhoney's always done THEIR OWN THING, so who's to say that this direction isn't good for them? To top it off, they're making political commentary, such as the anti-war "It Is Us," the anti-war "Hard On for War" and the anti-war "Empty Shells!"Okay, so the band's in fine form; Mark Arm's voice is dark and mature, and the band's still damned tight, but I'm not so sure that their political opinions mixed with bluesy rock riffs makes for a totally rewarding listen. To their credit, they're not making pointed, specific comments, which is a quick-fire way to making a record that sounds dated. Political subjects can be dicey to handle, and though the album falters in that regard, Under a Billion Suns's songs follow the typical Mudhoney formula--which means only one thing: killer riffs and a sense of humor. Still, they make up for it at the end, with that wonderfuly all-out blast of rock, "Blindspots, which brings the horns and the rock, and it's classic 'honey. Even though it's not my favorite Mudhoney record, I still love this band.

Listen To: "Blindspots"

Band of Horses' debut, though, is the best of the class of 2006. Their sound is murky, swampy, and dark; there's definitely a post-Alternative Rock classic-rock sound going on here, not unlike Built to Spill or My Morning Jacket. But even though such comparisons are fair, Band of Horses' music is darker than both bands, and their sound is, at times, more reminiscent of 80s gothers Gene Loves Jezebel. Vocalist Ben Bridwell (formerly of Carissa's Wierd) has a high pitched voice that you might think sounds like Jim James, but, really, those comparisons don't really work, because James' vocal stylings don't compare to the power of Bridwell's falsetto. And, best of all, the band restrains any tendency to simply "rock out" for minutes and minutes at a time; Band of Horses reigns in those tendencies, making compact, succinct, and heavy rock moments. So, basically, there ain't no epics on Everything All The Time; in fact, songs like the opening "First Song" and the wonderfully dark "Wicked Gil" sound much, much longer than their three-minute running times. Sometimes they can rock out all joyous-like, like on "The Weed Tree" and "The Great Salt Lake;" sometimes, like on "The Funeral," they can be dark and moody, and sometimes, they can impress you with a country weeper, like "Monsters." Whatever sound they choose to use, their music could be described with one word: stoned. (If you have an unruly beard and you call a song "The Weed Party," you're daring the world to label you as stoners.) Whatever emotion they choose to emote, though, is always done quite well. If this is as close to classic rock as my generation chooses to get, so be it. I'm satisfied. Everything All the Time is one hell of a great debut; it stands up to repeat listens, it contains a number of songs that demand you to hit repeat, and, most of all, this shit is primo. Expect to see this one on a ton of best-of lists this December.

Listen To: "The Funeral"
Stream Everything All The Time here