December 27, 2001

Kissing Book "(S)"

It would be really lazy of me to simply say, "I like this record, it's pretty, you should buy it". Its tempting, though, because (S) is a really pretty record. It's jazzy, upbeat, and lush. It's also exceedingly annoying trying to find words to describe it, simply because I really feel that there's no real reason to pontificate about it.

It's not lounge music, but it sure sounds a lot like it. Hell, I'm having a difficult time thinking of this as indiepop, because it's nowhere near as twee or ramshackle as much indiepop. It's indie-lounge, I swear. In a way, it reminds me of (The Real) Tuesday Weld, but I think Kissing Book reminds me more of the jazzier elements of The Mercury Program. It's droning, it's intense, and it's also really lovely. It's like something you should listen to on a date, over drinks, and small talk. It's On the Rocks-rock, best served chilled.

I also find it difficult to talk about any particular song, because they're all good. (S) is a very brief album, with twelve songs in just over a half-hour. As such, whoever mixed this album did an excellent job, opting not for any space between numbers, and creating one long, consecutive record. Where one track ends, another one begins, and, truthfully, if you don't have the track listing at hand, you'd be hard pressed in some cases to know where and when the song changed! In that regard, (S) is one long, continuous musical composition that consists of twelve movements. Thinking of the album as one long, flowing, easy-listening piece certainly makes the record seem longer than its brief thirty-two minutes.

I feel dirty, somehow, in talking about all of these things, because (S) is a pure, enjoyable listening experience. I like this record. It's pretty, you should go buy it.

--Joseph Kyle

December 11, 2001

Explosions In The Sky "Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever"

For those of you who don't know, West Texas is very flat, which stands in contrast with East Texas, which is heavily wooded. Now, growing up in East Texas, I always thought that the woods and swamps and hills held a certain unrecognizable evil, one that had no identifiable form, but you knew existed, and you knew would spell your demise in a heartbeat if you encountered "it." Bigfoot? Haints? A psychotic axe murderer who had just upgraded to a chainsaw? The devil himself? "Don't go in the woods at night" was the eleventh commandment, and I held that one above the other ten. Growing up in the country, in a little house in the woods, would be kind of scary at times.

Then I encountered west Texas. Now, the "evil" (as in "good vs.") presence of the eastern part of the state didn't seem to go past Ft. Worth, but something else did---nothingness. West Texas is flat nothingness---no trees, very few hills, even fewer people, and a beautiful, vast open sky. The mere notion of what could happen to a soul if they were lost out on the west Texas highway seemed to be intimidating--but not as much as that feeling you get that there are armies of little green men flying around, doing things to hapless travelers who don't sense the presence of danger. Maybe it's just me, but I kind of shiver a little bit.

Explosions In The Sky, being from west Texas, probably know what I'm talking about. Vast nothingness can be scary stuff, especially if thrown into it against your will. Thus, this album, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever is a bit more influenced by the wide open spaces than these Austin-via-Midland fellows let on. Not that that's a problem--after all, if Will Oldham can draw inspiration from the well that is the Appalachian region, and if Radiohead can find creative solace and fear in the mechanical world of modern Europe, then Explosions in the Sky can be influenced by the vast nothingness of west Texas. Perhaps I'm drawn to sensing the sky and the preditors from beyond the sky because of the strikingly simple and yet beautifully disturbing drawing cover art, depicting the sighting of the Angel of Mons

That's not to say that this is a harsh album. Like West Texas, Those Who Tell The Truth... has a certain beautiful quality that comes through the general ugliness. While this is not a very easy album to listen to, it is certainly not void of lush, cinematic soundscapes and hauntingly beautiful passages. Sure, comparisons can and will be made to Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai, but isn't that just a bit unfair? Besides, Explosions in the Sky are simply following in the tradition of making wordless songs to sing along to, and Those Who Tell The Truth... is totally catchy in that way. Besides, if you're from east Texas, I know damn well this album will make you wanna play some mean air drums, too. Explosions In The Sky are making instrumental metal for those who of you about to think, and I wouldn't want it any other way. If you wanna be haunted and moved at the same time, this album is most definitely for you.

--Joseph Kyle

December 06, 2001

Hood "Home Is Where It Hurts"

I have Hood 7"s that have fewer songs than this CD, but that's okay. IS this a single? Is this a full length? Considering the nature of Hood releases, I'm treating it as a full length, especially as nothing new has come out from these Brits in ages,

If you're not familiar with Hood, don't feel bad; most of the world, indie rock world included, haven't heard of Hood, so that's perfectly alright. I forgive you. You're forgiven. But just this time.

Anyway, there's something odd about this record. Their first releases were experiments in fitting as many songs on a 7" or whatever kind of format they happened to be dealing in. Thus, you got a lot of lo-fi experiments, noise, and moments of utter clarity and genius. Somewhere, someone convinced them that making long, epic, prog-rocky songs would be the way to go, and they abandoned the lo-fi styles for more heady, experimental, and downright spooky.

Home Is Where It Hurts is a continuation of those earlier styles; in fact, this record shows the band going towards more of an electronica/darkwave territory, and I'm not sure that such a direction does them any harm. There's always been a bit of a disturbed aura to Hood; they've teetered on the evil and the noisy for quite some time.

This record is no exception.

Home Is Where It Hurts is definitely cinematic in nature; in fact, the entire album reminds me a great deal of this "band" that made soundtrack music, called Pray For Rain (they did incidental music for Sid and Nancy), and it's really lovely that way.

The first track, "Home is Where It Hurts," is a ballad, sung with longing and regret, and a lovely guitar-led backup. "The Fact that You Failed" starts off rather darkly, and only gets louder and more ominous, until it ends in a cacophony of noise. "Cold Fire Woods of Western Lands" is next, and is much more traditional Hood, if you will; it's lo-fi, scratchy, guitar rock, with fuzzy recording and all. The last two songs, "The World Touches Too Hard" and "It's Been A long time since I was last here" are both instrumentals; they coalesce rather nicely; they're jazzy, dark, brooding, and sound rather dancy and electronically-produced as well, aka DJ's may or may not be involved.

Hood: a confounding group that really defy description; I make no bones about the fact that they can leave me going "huh" but Home is Where it Hurts is a nice, lovely, haunting record of a record; it's reminiscent of 4ad to a certain extent; and if you like that kind of sound, I think you'll enjoy Hood.

--Joseph Kyle

December 03, 2001

Lambchop "Tools In the Dryer"

I'm a whore for odds and sods releases. When done right, they're perfect albums in and of themselves; serving a better picture of a bands existence than your standard, run-of-the-mill "greatest hits" collections. Sometimes, they can serve as a strong record for a band whose previous releases have been, at best, spotty and mediocre. In some instances, those rarities collections have even served as the best kind of introduction to a band I had previously not cared for. Throw in the fact that the band in question is weirder than hell, and you're bound for a ride that's at least going to be interesting to experience.

Lambchop's first full length compilation, Tools In the Dryer, is a scrapbook of "A-sides, B-Sides, Live Tracks, and Remixes," culled from sources such as 7" singles, split singles, compilation tracks, and super-limited, ultra-rare cassettes Thus said, let's get the one major complaint out of the way.: This compilation is far from a complete collection. For a band with such a long, wide, and varied discography, there'd be no way to fit all of their "A-Sides, B-Sides, Live Tracks, and Rarities" on to a single disc. That's a negative point now, but just think of the future: This kind of collection will happen again!!!.

Kicking off the set is "Nine," the A-side of Lambchop's first official release on Merge. It's an interesting little pop song, not sounding like the Lambchop we know and love. Its a guitar-based affair, with as many "doot doot dooots" as a Stereolab record. (The B-side, "Moody Fucker," is the song that closes out the collection. It's those little touches of detail that move my heart.) Two more A-sides follow, "Whitey", a little ballad about country comedian Whitey Ford, and "Cigaretiquette," a funny little tune about smoking that shows the birth of that country-meets-motown soul sound that would soon become a predominating style of the band.

What follows next is "Miss Prissy," a B-side from a European release, but it's much more than that---its a key to understanding Lambchop. It's a cover of a Vic Chesnutt jewel, which the band recorded in hopes of getting on the Sweet Relief tribute/benefit album. Wagner and company are friends with Chesnutt, and Lambchop even backed up the man on his album, The Salesman and Bernadette, but upon listening to "Miss Prissy" you realize that the band owe much of their style to Mr. Chesnutt. Methinks its the sublimely silly lyrics, but more than once since hearing the song, have I been known to sing to myself "she likes to do the bouncey-wouncey" and "knuckles on a cheese grater." In the liner notes, Jonathan Marx mentions that when Lambchop toured with Vic Chesnutt, they suggested playing "Miss Prissy," but Chesnutt didn't seem to think that the song was "right." This segues nicely into "The Petrified Forest," another song that Lambchop didn't think was right, and was a source of frustration in the studio. Damn perfectionists....

For "Each With A Bag of Fries," reminds me a lot of Scott Walker, sans the lustfully angelic vocals. It's a lo-fi song, from one of their many self-released cassettes. It's an acoustic-based song, with guitar, vocal, and, for rhythm----tape hiss. It's that imperfection that makes it perfect. "All Around The World"--an even older song, appears next, and it really reminds, in all of its lo-fi, home recorded and poorly mixed glory, of a Daniel Johnson song. "Flowers of Memory" is a live track from 1990, and it strikes the listener of the fact that Lambchop, aside from all of their blending and melding of sounds and styles, are a country band at heart.

Skipping ahead, the best part of Tools in the Dryer are the last few songs. The tracks that surprised me the most were the remixes of songs .With "Up With People," their label City Slang wanted to introduce Lambchop to a larger audience, so they commissioned a remix, and the Zero 7 remix was the B-side. It's a mellow, jazzy R&B remix, labeled as a reprise. What struck me most about this tune was how radio-friendly it seemed; I do remember a point in time in my life when this kind of song was played on the radio. Then there's "Give Me Your Love," which is a full-throttle, funk/dance version of a Curtis Mayfield track.

The most telling of the songs on here would have to be "Love TKO," a live track from a tenth anniversary birthday party festival for City Slang, their European label. Backed by a string section, this track shows that Lambchop can do what so many other bands can't do--pull it off live.

Tools In The Dryer is, by far, one of the best compilation albums I've heard in a while; it certainly stands its own amongst the other coloful, storied Lambchop albums. While there were a few ommissions that would have been nice to have, I can only assume that this 15+ member band will be saving volume two for that time after releasing their follow-up to Nixon and recording their next work of art. Can I say that that's too long and too short of a wait?

--Joseph Kyle

November 28, 2001

Black Box Recorder "The Worst Of Black Box Recorder"

There's something annoyingly dark about Black Box Recorder.That's not to say that Black Box Recorder have a Marilyn Manson that's waiting to be released--it's just that, listening to their album, The Worst of Black Box Recorder, you can't help but feel that there's a little something sinister about them. Perhaps it is the name. "Black Box" is something that is, essentially, something only associated with death--and often a very violent, protracted, cruel death. It's not to say that their music is evil. If anything, Sarah Nixey sings with the same kind of angelic style that is found in other heavenly singers as Sarah Cracknell, Shirley Manson and Nina Persson. But, like all of those other singers, Nixey sings in a voice that's just too good to be innocent and sweet.

The Worst of Black Box Recorder is, heh, a compilation album. What is it with me and comps these days? Unlike other comps reviewed recently, this album makes no reference to the origins of these songs; if you didn't know any better, you'd swear this was just a regular album release. But, logistically speaking, it is, isn't it? When you market yourself in markets that require two disks for each single, and at least 2 or 3 b-sides and remixes, you could wind up releasing an entire album just on the b-sides for one album's campaign!

Let's not get wrapped up in semantics on this one. The Worst of Black Box Recorder is a documentation of those second-class citizen b-sides, and, well--it's a decidedly mixed affair. First things first---Black Box Recorder are an awesome band. They make a nice blend of pop and noir-lounge. Sadly, that's all they make. For some reason, however, these songs don't blend together, and simply flow one from the next, without much difference being noticed. Taken in bits and pieces, however, the individual results are stunning. Just a few highlights that should not be missed--the evil Cardigans-esque "Jackie Sixty," the rocking "Start As You Meant to Go On" and their cover of "Seasons In The Sun."

Perhaps the most telling moment of this record is the song "The Facts of Life," remixed by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. Why? Because it seems that the main theme of Black Box Recorder is middle-class living, life, culture, and thought. Look at the cover--a domestic scene. Lyrics variously touching at bits of culture, from "the facts of life" to romance with men and the cruelty of life....could it be that Black Box Recorder are trying to be a sister band to Pulp, sans the restraining order from Michael Jackson?

While there's nothing technically wrong with The Worst of Black Box Recorder, I can't really say who they are from this release. I enjoyed every minute of this very short release, and the four videos on the multimedia section were quite good as well. The Worst of Black Box Recorder does leave one question unanswered: if these songs are just the b-sides, how excellent, then, are their regular releases?

--Joseph Kyle

November 21, 2001

Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston "It's Spooky"

Less is more.

If you have heard of either one of the artists on this album, you know that they are both artists who understand that sometimes you can make intelligent music by being as bare-knuckled as possible. Both Fair and Johnston are creators and innovators of a lo-fi scene that could hardly be imaginable without their presence.

Daniel Johnston is a man of legend; the year that he recorded this album was particularly traumatic and drama-filled, due in part to some mental problems that have plagued him. Johnston's proven, however, that despite his problems, he can create art--beautiful art that is so complexly simple, yet simply complex--in spite of his illness and not, as some would suggest, simply because of his illness. After all, sanity is as much a social concept as it is a medical condition.

The creative summit between Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston, proves nothing short of inspired. Of course, with two like-minded fellows such as these, it only seemed to be a matter of time before a collaboration would happen. The boy-child genius of Johnston meeting with the lo-fi art-damaged Jad Fair sounds like a holy meeting of two gods--and, thankfully, the resutls of this collabroation are more than satisfactory---they're BEAUTIFUL.

If you've never heard either of these two wunderkinds, then you're in for either a shock or a treat. Out of tune guitars, off-beat drums, out of tune vocals, melodies that don't sound exactly melodic, offset by lyrics that seem a bit wrong....typical fare for both artists. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, both artists are at their creative peak on this record. I'm a fan of Johnston's piano playing, and he's got some fine piano and organ work, such as on the lovely "When Love Comes" and "First Day At Work."

Johnston and Fair's lyrics tend to run between the fantastic--what with Frankenstein and Casper and Satan (all common themes in Johnston's own work)--to the utterly mundane. Not unlike the Seinfeld concept of a "show about nothing," some of these songs are "songs about nothing."
From the first day on the job, "first day at work," to people who are a little too much into their jobs "McDonalds on the Brain, " some of these ditties are nothing more than little sketches of daily life. Other songs--such as "Tongues Wag In This Town" will make you shutter with the notion that he's commenting on the sad state of affairs that affect his life--or, more correctly, the fact that he was aware of his own negative persona.

Still, It's Spooky is a good record to start for those who've never heard either artist. The songs on here are some of their best, and both sound extremely happy, jubilent, and are clearly having fun in the studio together. In 1989, when this album was released on 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Watts, very few people heard it; the underground we know and take for granted today didn't exist, and so this meeting of the minds (as well as the genius and respect of the independent arts world) was virtually unheard....until now. There's a reason why this was reissued; please follow through and check this out for yourself.

--Joseph Kyle

Piano Magic "Seasonally Affective: A Piano Magic Retrospective 1996-2000"

"Too much of a good thing" is never a bad thing. Sure, there are consequences to overindulging in something that you like, but that neglects one thing: that the object in question is good. But, really, can you really have too much of a good thing? What does that mean exactly? That something good can become something bad, simply due to quantity?

On first appearance, Piano Magic's Seasonally Affective: 1996-2000 seems to be an excessive amount of a very good thing. Twenty-five tracks spanning two CDs, each running well over an hour each. Seems a bit much at first glance. Of course, such things are par for the course when you're a quietly prolific artist. Piano Magic has quietly been doing their thing since 1996, and this collection is Piano Magic's way of helping the fans to catch up with their sordid past.

For a record that's covering only a four year period, there sure were a lot of members of Piano Magic. Thirty-two, to be exact. The most famous would probably be Darren Hayman of Hefner, who served as vocalist on "There's No Need For Us To Be Alone." For the most part, Piano Magic's vocals are sung by women; Piano Magic mainman Glen Johnson doesn't step up to the microphone in this collection until disc two. I'll give Johnson credit for this; the rotating singers gives his songs layers, and helps prevent Piano Magic from becoming tedious or monotonous. Each vocalist has a different singing style that is quite distinct from the others; Raechel Leigh doesn't sing, but reads; Hazel Burfitt sings in a deceptively sweet little-girl voice; Jen Adams sings with a bit of a pitch in her voice, and Caroline Potter lifts her voice into ethereal strains. Glen Johnson's voice--slightly off pitch, with an obvious heavy British accent--also serves a nice contrast to both the lovely, electronic atmosphere and the angelic styles of his female vocalists.

Regardless of the vocalist and regardless of the musicians, you can certainly expect a blend of heady atmospherics and experimental playing around. Many, if not most, of these songs are long-ish in length, and, more often than not, contain instrumental passages that seem to create a song within a song. "The Biggest Lie," for example, contains a moody, brooding vocal by Glen Johnson, which ends with him screaming "Liar! Liar!" Song's over, right? Nope. That was only the first two minutes. The band fades out, then fades back in with a completely different melody, completely different tempo, and, generally a different song altogether. This is a common trait of most of the songs released on twelve inch format; one or two of the songs-within-a-song are even titled, such as the gorgeous "Wintersport/Cross Country."

Beneath all of the sonic tomfoolery, Glen Johnson writes some intelligently funny lyrics. From the death of Snoopy in the snow ("Wintersport/Cross Country") to "The Canadian Brought Us Snow," and the funny Christmas/love song "Sketch For Joanne," are but a few moments of lightheartedness. Looking at the cover, a bizarre children's game box with disturbing clown/jester images (is it French? I can't really tell) you sense that there's a bizarre, surreal, yet unconscious form of jest here at play...and it is. While Piano Magic's music is rather serious, the makers seem not to be, and the music, while very deep and atmospheric, can still produce a smile on the face, and a warm sense of joy.

Seasonally Affective 1996-2000 is a very heady, heavy platter of sonic goodness. Like a deli tray, there are many different kinds of good things available; it just depends on what you like. Piano Magic are a band that, like Hood, have quietly created a legacy, and whose future is all but guaranteed to produce beautiful recordings. Hell, even the weak moments on this collection are strong enough not to warrant pointing out; for, while they may seem weak with one listen, will strengthen with the next listen. Seasonally Affective: 1996-2000 is a collection that you shouldn't think about owning; you should own.

--Joseph Kyle

November 17, 2001

Love as Laughter "sea to shining sea"

Sam Jayne, the mastermind behind Love as Laughter, loves rock and roll. In 1998, when Love as Laughter released second full length, #1 USA, Jayne left behind his bedroom lo-fi experimental roots and emerged with an actual Love as Laughter band. In so doing, Jayne and company have taken a much more classic (rock) approach to their music with a pulse that came straight out of 1968. #1 USA was jam-packed with balls-out, fast-paced driving rock songs, and was quietly one of the best albums of 1998. Destination 2000, their follow up album, was a continuation of this rock style...but it didn't click. The album lacked the charm of #1 USA, and the record as a whole seemed flat, muddy, and simply didn't work. Seeing the new band live that summer---of which Sam was the only original member---didn't help. They were tired, hung over from the previous night's bender of booze and god knows what else, and were quite lackluster. Too bad, I thought--a good band so quickly down the drain.

It gives me nothing but utter satisfaction, then, to announce to the world that Love as Laughter are BACK and better than ever. After listening to Sea to Shining Sea, the weaknesses of Destination 2000 seem obvious: they were simply growing pains for what was essentially a new band. For the first time, Jayne has a solid band backing him, and their growth as a band clearly shines through.

Between the touring, the line up changes, the drugs, and the hangovers, the band got good-like. Real good-like. Instead of letting their influences overwhelm their writing--which was clearly the main problem with their previous album--they have let their songwriting overwhelm their influences. Man, does it sound refreshing, too! Gone are those blatent Rolling Stones overtones, in favor of a more original sound.

Instead of top-heavy jams and go-nowhere noodling, the songs have a definite direction and aim to them--to rock. Many of these songs go well over the six minute mark, but you don't really notice, nor does it make the songs overweight. From the fast paced "Temptation Island" to the comic blues of "Sam Jayne=dead," and the anthemic "Put it Together" and "e.h.," Love as Laughter are all about one thing: having a good time--you know, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. We've established the rock bit, the sex bit is alluded to, but the drugs--heh, they're very clearly on the map. "Druggachusetts?" "French Heroin?" Make your own decisions, boys and girls. And let's not forget to mention "The Square," which finds Jayne setting aside his love of AC/DC, the Stones, and Lou Reed, to do a little bit of a Nico tribute. Yes, I said Nico. It sounds like Nico. (Yeah, shocked and impressed me, too)

It's amazing what a little time can do for a band, and Sea to Shining Sea is a clear example of a band growing into its own. Sure, missteps were made, bands changed, but it's only a matter of time before Love as Laughter get some kind of recognition for the hard work that they do. Sea to Shining Sea is a lot like that metalhead kid you knew in high school--not the smartest in the class, but you knew a that his life was always one helluva party.

--Joseph Kyle

November 16, 2001

Ken Stringfellow "Touched"

It's 7:54 PM on Sunday night, and I've been struggling with this review. Normally, just popping on the record inspires me to write, but this week, that practice simply has not worked for me. So, here I am, in the eleventh hour, with the big review on the lie...and I can't seem to verbalize my thoughts about it in a cohesive manner. The words are in my head, but they aren't translating on paper.

Believe me, it's not for any fault of Stringfellow's. This is the man's solo debut, and, of course, there should be a lot to say about that. You know the routine: okay, he was in the Posies, who made the 60s with a 90s grunge-lite twist, to critical acclaim, and from that, he was asked to join Big Star, the little band with the ironic name, famous because they were never famous. Then, from there, he joins the touring band of a very very famous band, R.E.M., and, along the way, guests on records made by his friends. There's lots that could be said about that, but every time I write, it just seems so boring, so clinical--as if I should be teaching a class and not writing a record review.As you know, I'm not one for the idea of writing a "journal" review. This is music, and this is a pop album we're talking about; this is not a scholastic exercise.

I can't fault Touched, either. It's not a record that bodes well for the "contrast the record to the artist's background," because, really, Stringfellow hasn't made a record quite like this. It doesn't sound like the Posies at all. There's not a real hint of the power-pop retro stylings that Stringfellow helped defined all those years ago. There's not a real hint of Big Star or Alex Chilton, either. Maybe there's a little hint of REM somewhere in the back, but that's probably due to the influence of former REM producer Mitch Easter taking control of the production duties.

One thing that strikes me, though, is that Stringfellow has this voice, this angelic choirboy of a voice, that strikes you numb from the first chord. The man can sing the most cliche of lines and thoughts of rock and roll and you won't really mind. He does, indeed, sing some rather trite lines, and, surprisingly, he can get away with it. Take, for example, "Don't you see/Love breaks you open so you can heal again/But this new love fits you like a glove/and this one's on you" from "This One's On You." With a slinky, slick keyboard-driven beat, you'd think you were listening to some pap, Adult Contemporary minded songwriter-type. Nope! It's our boy Stringfellow, and he's taken the cliched lyric and has captured its soul, freed it from its triteness, and has made it all his own. Gotta hand it to him, that takes talent, and I don't think he would get away with it if he sung one degree less than heavenly.

At this point, I started to feel a little tired, and felt that coffee would be a good idea. With a bit of a chill in the air, I headed to the local coffee shop, where some local folk singer was trying his best to motivate the slightly bored college students. "Heh," I thought, "glad I don't have to review this..this...coffeehouse singer!" Coffee in hand, I dashed back to my truck in an effort to get the hell away from what I'd just heard, and, in so doing, I turned on the radio. A big smile came across my face when the familiar guitar intro to one of the best songs ever.....then the words! Those lovely, beautiful words! "Everybody's talkin' at me, I can't hear a word they're sayin'....." and then, I knew. I finally learned what Ken Stringfellow is. I learned what Touched is.

See, Ken Stringfellow is no "singer-songwriter." Save that for the amateurs. No, Ken Stringfellow is a craftsman. He's a songcrafter. He is making art for the soul. There's no further proof of this than Touched--an aptly titled album, is it not? Stringfellow is, indeed, touched. The beautifully pedal-steel kissed opener "Down Like Me" demonstrates this quite well. It's a beautiful song to a suicide victim, and that we've all "been there" at some point: "When my self-pity became less than a full-time work/I meditated on the methods and the means/and whether or not it would hurt/Then I got the call they found you swinging out over the earth/So, over me you win again." He sings with such detachment that you wonder if he's less sad of his friend's passing as is impressed that his friend actually did it, instead of backing out of doing the deed. Carry that on to "Find Yourself Alone," where he sings that "nobody wants to hear the ravings of a bad drunk/they're afraid he would speak their minds" in such a manner that makes you think that Ken's speaking to you and to me, simply because he's been there, man. Stringfellow's simply reaching in and pulling out the songs that are in him, of him, and are him. I could continue on and on and on and on about each of these songs; but, like so many things, doing so would deprive you, dear reader of so many joys to be found inside of Touched

Touched is the wonderful sounds of a man who's humbly never taken to the spotlight. He could have done many things with this record; he's got the background to do anything he wants to. Instead of delving into his storied past, Stringfellow's simply created a new notch to his creative bedpost. That he's delivered this as a "solo" project bodes well for not only future solo records, but it also points to what kind of greatness Stringfellow can and, most certainly, will bring to his future collaborations and projects. If you simply like music without the pretense of genre, styles, or labels, then quietly make your way to Touched. You'll be presently surprised, inspired, and refreshed by this red-headed cherub's songs.

--Joseph Kyle

(The Real) Tuesday Weld "Where Psyche Met Cupid"

Stephen Coates is the real Tuesday Weld. No, wait, I mean he is (The Real) Tuesday Weld. Not since the likes of Matthew Sweet have we seen a pop star so open in their admiration of Tuesday Weld. Maybe Weld won't call Coates a weirdo for his obsession.
Who knows? (The Real) Tuesday Weld has been talked about with baited breath by the indie-pop cognoscenti, and with good reason. Much like other indie pop darlings, Coates is a man with many good ideas but not many listeners. Where Psyche Meets Cupid is Coates' debut album, and, like other British artists, a good portion of this record is culled from various singles and EP's that were released over the past year or two. No matter; his previous releases were nice, lovely affairs, that seemed all too short in length. Some (including yours truly) wanted more of this exotic new musical taste--and four tracks on an EP

Wherever Coates came up with the idea of mixing sounds of 20s and 30s big band pop with a 90s techno and pop sensibility, I'd like to know. For all of the combinations and twists and turns and experiments, Coates hit on the one idea that, as far as I know, is truly original. Thank god, however, that Coates actually has the talent to back up his musical ideas--how many times have good ideas been totally ruined by less than talented folk? I could attempt to describe by mentioning more established artists that Coates occasionally sounds like, but that would simply be misleading, as well as revealing in the limits of said "influences"

Now, to do a complete turnaround. That people talk about his mixing of big band-era sounds with techno would imply that he's making techno swing music. Nope. There's absolutely nothing retro about what Coates is doing with (The Real) Tuesday Weld. That there's nothing to compare with (The Real) Tuesday Weld as well makes this even more difficult to talk about. The only band I can think of that even slightly resembles what Coates has done would be this utterly obscure group called Boulevard of Broken Dreams, a band who recorded one album in the mid-80s and then disappeared Even Stephin Merritt--who would be the closest thing to the standard-bearer of good, pre-World War II music--cannot truly be considered an equal to Coates' aesthetic. To call Coates retro is missing the point entirely--he's inspired by, but not trying to replicate, the best pop of the 20s and 30s. That it might slightly sound "retro" is simply the listener's own predilections at play.

But that's alright. Coates seems to be a man who enjoys a good tune, and whether it sounds like a lost Pet Shop Boys b-side or a romantic Gershwin tune makes absolutely no difference to him. It's good to see that there are musicians who put the needs of the song above the fashions of today's fickle music listeners. I know of some younger folk who bought this record and were confounded by it; thinking that it would be something to mix in randomly with their Belle and Sebastian and Magnetic Fields records, much to their chagrin.

From the opening "Am I In Love" to the final "Goodbye Stephen," Where Psyche Meets Cupid provides nothing but pure, enjoyable, thoughtful POP music. I find it difficult to talk about a single song out of context; this is an album that must simply be heard to be appreciated. I've yet to read anything about them that isn't a practice in cynical understatement or overt praise that focuses on the whole retro big band meets techno thing. (I guess I'm writing overt praise, but as I am me and this is what I do, I have no problem with that.) Every single song on this album is, in some form, a love song; even the instrumentals invoke pleasant images of the progress of romance. Coates has a lovely, breathy sigh of a voice, very thin, yet very smooth, and one that floats and fills in nicely with the grooves of the tracks. To say that (The Real) Tuesday Weld are the "next big thing" would be ludicrous, as well as a distraction from Coates' true talent.

Where Psyche Met Cupid is very easily and very quickly making it to the top of my "top ten" list for this year, and rightly so. He's written an album full of love songs, to express all feelings of love, and it didn't take him 69 tries to get it right. This is an album for people in love, people who want to be in love, and people who are feeling as if love has passed them by. It's a labor of love from Coates, and how could we do anything but appreciate that gesture?

--Joseph Kyle

November 15, 2001

Nice System "Impractical Guide To The Opposite Sex"

I don't know why Northern Europeans tend to gravitate towards gentle pop music. You know, music that's friendly, reserved, and slightly shy, and rather sunny in a cold way. Maybe it's because the weather's awful cold, or maybe it's because their society seems to be awfully reserved and slightly shy, but Northern European pop sure is subtle, quiet, and rather sunny (black metal notwithstanding). If it weren't for Euro-friendly labels like Radio Khartoum, bands like Nice System would never be heard outside of their native lands.

Nice System is, indeed, nice. Very rare is the band that actually lives up to its name, and, thankfully, Nice System are indeed a nice group of musicians who are making slightly warm, literate pop music. Sure, to be fair, their influences are easily recognized--a little Beach Boys here, a little Bee Gees there, a tablespoon of Bacharach, and, to make it interesting, a pinch of Stereolab and, what's this, maybe even a dash of Christopher Cross and Air Supply? Not that imitation is a bad thing at all---in fact, more gentle, heart-felt music seems to be what this world needs now.

From the ba-ba-ba's of "We Sing Ba Ba Ba" to the strumming "Sleeping By a Building Site" and the lounge jazz of "Did I Do Wrong," the album travels back and forth through gently-made pop and jazz, with the occasional experimental foray---but without ever breaking the general down-tempo mood. The only time the group ever picks up the pace is in the final song, "Elevator Disco Express," which, ahem, sounds like what Kraftwerk would sound like if they made elevator-music versions of their greatest hits.

Impractical Guide to the Opposite Sex is a record best enjoyed on a lazy, hazy, slightly cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in December with the boy or girl of your choice. With boy and occasional girl vocals, occasional instrumental pieces, whistling, and lightly strummed acoustic guitar and softly-played keyboards, this is a soft, sensual makeout record that is pleasant and lovely enough that you wouldn't be embarrassed to play to your great Aunt Martha.

Impractical Guide to the Opposite Sex is for lovers; while not so much a "guide" as it is a "soundtrack," Nice System clearly want to glorify the feelings of being in love. You can't help but feel like you're in a world where love rules, everyone's attractive, and you're all gonna get laid. Mix it in with the Beach Boys' Sunflower or Friends for some pleasant pop sedation, and I'm pretty sure that listening to this with that special someone would be a lovely half hour of "quality time."

--Joseph Kyle

November 14, 2001

Chao "hitsthemiss"

Over the past few years, I've noticed an interesting little trend of Dallas-area bands have started making perfect little jewels of albums, to very little or no fanfare outside of the Metroplex area. While this must be an utter frustration for these bands, this trend also shows that many of these groups aren't as concerned with popularity as they are with making good, relevant music. Thankfully, these bands choose to be lesser known, rather than a touring act who plays Krispy Kremes across the country. Sure, we'd all like to be famous, but we all can't be Flickerstick.

hitsthemiss is the debut album from Chao, the newest project from Regina Chellew, formerly of the underrated art-rockers Captain Audio. The project is titled "Chao," most of the songs were performed entirely by Chellew, though she does have a little help here and there, most notably on "Gotta Go" (with percussion by Earl Harvin, as well as additional percussion by ) and on "Lay Lady Lay," a duet with Pleasant Grove's Marcus Striplin. Because Chao is a one-woman show, the songs burn with a much sharper sense of direction. Without the constraints of a band, she can fluctuate between styles, without having to worry about breaking the flow of someone else's ideas, and it works. From one moment of peppy, upbeat Breeders-style pop ("Gotta Go"), to Spaghetti-western balladry ("Whisper"), arty folk-rock ("Low"), with a stop-off at a hazy, pot-tinged cover of "Lay Lady Lay," complete with a drum machine beat, Chellew is doing what she wants to do--and it all comes together rather nicely.

Perhaps the best part of hitsthemiss, however, is Chellew's voice. While she's done marvelous work with instrumentation and programming, it's her voice that stands out the most. As she fluctuates her musical styles, you can hear distinct differences in her singing--from quirky art-punk not unlike Kristin Hersh and Kathy McCarty, to a dark, sad folk of Shannon Wright and a distinct poppy punk growl of Kim Deal. She takes the album from high to low with one simple change in tone, and it really works well. Normally, when a singer fluctuates between different recognizable sounds, one could dismiss them of not having found their voice yet, but such is not a valid complaint for Chellew. Instead of not having "found" her voice, hitsthemiss demonstrates that she has a very wide range, and she's not going to simply stick to "one" voice. Her influences, while noticeable, don't overwhelm her songs. Heck, for a bit of fun, see if you can spot the melody line at the end of one of these songs that's taken from famous early-90s Dallas-area band Tripping Daisy's hit "One Through Four."

In recent interviews, she's stated that hitsthemiss is, in large part, a collection of older songs that she's had for a while, that weren't recorded by Captain Audio. ("Bugs," however, is the exception; it was recorded by Captain Audio in their formative years) If such is the case, then hitsthemiss provides a nice hint at what's to come. A solo, lo-fi record that sounds like a full band in a big studio? Yeah, and if she can fool you that way, then you know she's good. Regina Chellew is quietly one of the most talented musicians to come out of the Dallas area, and hitsthemiss is an addictive blend of bitter heartbreak and sugar-sweet pop, with just a hint of arsenic to make things interesting. I haven't wanted to take hitsthemiss off my stereo over the past week, and I bet you won't want to, either.

--Joseph Kyle

November 06, 2001

Portastatic/Ken Vandermark/Tim Mulvina "The Perfect Little Door"

In the past two years, Portastatic, Mac McCaughan's Superchunk after-school lo-fi experimental/acoustic side project, has recently taken a turn for much more interesting waters; recent releases have been an EP of covers of Tropicalia songs, to an all-instrumental score for a film entitled Looking for Leonard. The Perfect Little Door EP is a continuation of McCaughan's experimental side.

This record is a "live" recording, and is a document of Portastatic's appearance at Noise Pop Chicago earlier this year. For this show, McCaughan enlisted the help of Chicago modern jazz god Ken Vandermark and percussionist Tim Mulvenna to accompany him. Might I suggest that this lineup was particularly inspired? Apparently, McCaughan has been an admirer of Vandermark's for many years, and thus, the collaboration, though causing McCaughan to feel a bit nervous, worked quite well. Vandermark never overshadows McCaughan's simple pop songs, while McCaughan never causes Vandermark to simplify his natural approach to music. McCaughan, impressed with that night's performance, went into Steve Albini's studio the next morning, to capture the magic on tape. Albini's ideas of recording really work with this session. The applause at the end of "When You Crashed" didn't seem out of place; I thought this was a live recording, even though it was a studio session.

Personally, I'm glad they did. The older Portastatic songs take on a new dimension with the jazz backing, and I'd really love to hear more. The Perfect Little Door is a small record made by musical giants, and is well worth seeking out. In a way, The Perfect Little Door reminds me of those jazz records of the 1950s, where musicians would get together for a jam session, and then a month later, a record would come out. I guess, in a roundabout way, this is the exact same thing. Here's hoping that this wasn't simply a one-off, but, unfortunatly, I'm sure it was.

--Joseph Kyle

Brittle Stars "Garage Sale"

Sometimes, bands can't make it. The reality of this whole music thing is that it doesn't matter how good of a musician you are or how lovely your records are. Sometimes, it's sad to say, good bands just can't survive. All things must come to an end, and it's better to leave your audience with brilliance than to bore them into submission with songs that indicate your talents will not be missed.

Florida's Brittle Stars is amongst the casualty list of "good bands that died." I don't know what prompted this band to break up; if I'm not mistaken, one of the members moved to California, which probably had a hand in this band coming to an end. Garage Sale is their farewell. To their credit, instead of simply releasing a three or four song EP, they decided to give their fans a nice farewell treat.

Garage Sale contains their last recordings, but it also contains a few other rare tracks, but that's only the beginning! This EP also contains seven remixes by mix masters such as I Am the World Trade Center, Japancakes, and Steward. When these artists meld their own musical aesthetic to the Brittle Stars' pop, they highlight an electronica heart beating beneath their "never met a Factory Records release or Sundays album we didn't like" facade. From Phofo's hip-hoppish beats, to Stewards' noisy mix, to Scott Schultz's ambient touches, these remixes are a nice, welcome treat. It's bittersweet, too, because you realize that the Brittle Stars will never attempt to expand on these outside variations.

It's a shame, too, because the Brittle Stars were one of those little bands that you wanted to hold in your hands, carefully caress and stroke and protect from the cruel world around it. They were the band you wanted to remain a little kitten. Alas, that wasn't going to happen. The Stars' brand of light, unobtrusive, ethereal pop provided the pretty accompaniment to mid-Sunday fuzzy-headed "hold me" moments. They wanted to be the soundtrack of your life, the little light on a cloudy day, the chill to the air of your summer's day, the name-dropped and mid-mix tape band, nothing more. Listen to Garage Sale and lament what it is you have missed.

--Joseph Kyle

November 05, 2001

Poor Rich Ones "Happy Happy Happy"

In 2001, many bands released highly-anticpated albums that disappointed their listeners. Some bands changed their style so radically, they weren't recognizable; some bands' former glories didn't seem interesting anymore, and others were just politely bland and repetitive, showing very little artistic growth. Whatever the reason, 2001 seemed to suffer from music from talented people who simply did not deliver the goods.

One band, however, quietly stepped up to pinch hit, and in turn made an album that sounded like what two of these disappointing bands should have/could have delivered. Far away in a country that's rather cold and slightly polite and a little more European, a band called Poor Rich Ones filled in the gap left by two highly disappointing acts, Radiohead and Jimmy Eat World. Both of those bands had two wonderful albums that inspired many and delighted the listener. Radiohead is less pop-oriented than OK Computer and Jimmy Eat World completly abandoned the gorgeous atmospheric rock found on their 1998 album Clarity for a TRL/MTV friendly (and accepted) style that betrays their past glories for a more Blink-182/teen market.

Let's get something straight: Poor Rich Ones are no newcomers, and they certainly aren't biting on anyone's style. It just so happens that Poor Rich Ones singer and songwriter William's angelic, high-pitched voice also sounds not unlike Thom Yorke. While Poor Rich One's sound is not as directly moody as Radiohead, their mixture of a crunchier rock sound with atmospehric textures was experimented with by Jimmy Eat World, most notibly on their 1999 album, Clarity. Though Jimmy Eat World obviously didn't think much of that style, it's good to know that Poor Rich Ones realized the obvious quality that the J.E.W boys didn't. That they hired Jimmy Eat World producer Mark Trombino to record Happy Happy Happy shows that they at least knew where to look first for goodness.

Despite the sonic similarities, Happy Happy Happy is an album that stands on its own. Though the album kicks off with the weakest song, "Twins," it picks right back up with "Happy Happy Happy" and, all the way through to the closing stunner, "Circular World," Poor Rich Ones simply throw down some of the nicest atmospheric sounds since, erm, well, Radiohead. It's easy to get into comparisons, but seeing as Radiohead seem intent of removing themselves from the kinds of "traditional sounds" like that found on Happy Happy Happy, it's good to know someone's picked up the flag. A sadly obscure release for a band who could, who should deserve more.

--Joseph Kyle

October 31, 2001

Stereolab "Sound-Dust"

Stereolab's about ten years old now. Where did the time go? Certainly for a band who has crafted some of the more literate, intelligent pop music, time could be seen as a blessing or a curse. There's something to be said for longevity. In some instances, success comes to those who work hard, independently, and place their creative vision ahead of their desires for success--Charlie Rich, Guided by Voices, and Stephin Merritt come to mind. Others, however, suffer for their inability to die off--the Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, and Kiss, for example. It would be easy to take a half full/half empty argument with Stereolab--either the band has honed its craft to a fine point, or they've become so wrapped up in a "formula" that they've lost their edge. In fact, there have been some reviews of Sound-Dust that have been downright mean about the fact that they're still doing their thing after ten years--indicating that said reviewers have either never really liked Stereolab, or haven't really heard much Stereolab, or are just two dollars short of being stupid.

Luckily for Stereolab, Sound-Dust is a damn fine album. For the first time in their long, storied career, they have made an album that isn't bogged down in the heaviness of a single musical idea, or filled with mediocre songs or half-baked ideas. It's always been a telling fact that Stereolab's best albums to date have been their singles/rarities collections, simply because they are *varied* in sound, style, and vision. Sound-Dust is the first actual factual Stereolab album to sound varied in sound and vision.

And boy, does it sound nice! Sound-Dust kicks off with "Black Ants in Sound-Dust," a fun little song that documents Stereolab chanteuse Laetitia Sadier going through a vocal warm-up, and then segues seemlessly into "Space Moth," a long song that is in reality three lovely songs mixed into one. The first single for the album, "Captain Easychord" follows, and, again, follows the same idea of "start off playing one song, and then totally change songs in the middle." The first part of the song, ironically, shows a new influence---Ben Folds Five???? Yeah, shocked me, too.
"Baby Lulu" shows that they're still into that whole Space Age lounge music thing. Then, on "The Black Arts," the band shocks---actual singing! Not this song as Marxist-politic meets voice as instrument ideology. Nope, Sadier is actually singing an understandable, non-abstract lyrics. "I need somebody/I feel so lonely/Somebody to share my scarcity," she sings, with lack of irony, and actually showing, what's that? Emotion? When you listen to track ten, however, "Nothing To Do With Me," however--be prepared to laugh...with lines such as "Did you prescribe my daughter a shot of heroin" and "It's the bed-wetting thing that brought us here, doctor." It's easily one of the funniest songs in their entire career.

Of course,Sound-Dust is a pleasant document of a veteran band finally finding a balance between their experimental side and their pop-oriented side. Is Sound-Dust an indication that Stereolab is in a rut? Hardly. Like their previous albums, this latest Stereolab offering is genius in its own right. Sure, it's a slightly more simplistic genius than their last few efforts, but then again, if Sound-Dust were to continue the styles of their previous releases, that wouldn't be genius, that would be a rut. Critics be damned, this is Stereolab's best album to date.

--Joseph Kyle

October 18, 2001


Jam sessions. Being the music fan that I am, certain notions of jam sessions really fill my heart with glee. Who wouldn't have loved to have watched the fab four sitting around, jamming, stirring up their creative juices? Wouldn't you give anything to watch a young Jimi Hendrix Experience, or Radiohead, or Pink Floyd, or whoever happened to be your favorite band simply "rock out" whilst in the process of creating?

Of course, a jam session doesn't mean that the music will be good. The Beatles, for example: on the release of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, according to author Mark Lewison, they entered Abbey Road for a jam session, yet the two hours that were on tape were, by all accounts, amateurish and nearly unlistenable--and it's best not to even mention the "jam-session-as-movie" debacle of Let It Be.

On this album, the first part of Bella Union's "Series 7" (seven bands, seven records, seven songs, all instrumental) series, Gwei-Lo are jamming. According to the sleeve notes, this was recorded in a span of five days, and it sounds like it. I can't tell you much about Gwei-lo, but I can definitely tell that they like to make music that has a bit of atmosphere and occasional sound effects and samples. Most of the songs start off rather quiet and unassuming, and then build their way up into a large, cacophonous racket that's both pleasing and thought-provoking. Occasionally they'll throw in a few nice bits of experimentation, such as "Annoy," which ends with a loud, static-fed garbled wall of noise that sounds really nice. Other songs, such as "Don't Try (Hank)" and "Homework" are mellower, and slightly more jazzy in nature.

What makes Gwei-Io interesting, however, is the fact that there's a certain melding of sonic aesthetics going on. Seeing as Bella Union is owned by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, (aka 2/3rds of the Cocteau Twins) there's a definite flavor of the Twins' old label 4AD--and, more noticeable, their former label mates/protegees Dif Juz. It's also rather apparent that Gwei-Io have a few Chicago post-rock/post-jazz records in their record collection as well, and the blend of 1990's era Chicago scene meets 1980's era 4AD sounds surprisingly fresh.

Though I don't know much about Gwei-Io other than the fact that I read somewhere that one of their members died recently, Gwei-Io is a rather nice listen, and it makes me wonder what these fellows sound like outside of the constraints of this rather peculiar and unique label "series." After all, if they can make lovely, interesting music in the course of five days, I'm sure that the results of more time would be quite lovely, indeed.

--Joseph Kyle

October 16, 2001

AMFM "The Sky Is The New Ground"

When is emo not emo? Smart-ass answer is: "When it's good." Truthful answer is: "You should listen to music, not label it." Of course, when your record label gets named as one of the innovators of the style what can you do? Polyvinyl's just a record label run by people who like music and release things that they like and it's not their fault that emo gets linked to them. There's more to the label than just Braid, and AMFM aren't emo. (Oh my sweet lord, I just had a discussion about "emo" on my website....horseman number two should be along shortly.)

Anyway, AMFM has returned with four interesting little numbers that actually whet the appetite. If you like quiet, thoughtful, music, then Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell are making music for you, because the four little songs float in and out of your speakers, drifting from guitar riffs to electronic blips and drips and singing floating in and out of all of that. The Sky Is the New Ground isn't an instrumental record, but there's little distinction between the importance of vocals and instrumentals. "Every Start" stars off the affair, a quiet little guitar and electronic instrumental that without warning shifts into "Gone in Three," which splits its time between instrumental and vocal, and it shifts rather dramatically into "Mrs. Astronaut," which is full of starts and stops that you're following it like a cat watching a yo-yo. The closer, "All to Remember," is a sad, droning number that brings out their secret shoegaze roots.

The Sky Is The New Ground is an interesting little record that really doesn't seem like a four-song EP as much as it does one large, four-movement song. Some kids love these kids, and I can see why; they've got some interesting ideas going on here, and I'll be awaiting their next full-length record with open ears.

--Joseph Kyle

October 13, 2001

The Flaming Stars "Ginmill Perfume: The Story So Far 1995-2000"

I despise blues-rock. Can't stand it. It's too rock to be the blues, too not so very personal at all. To me, it's utterly self-indulgent, wrapped up in ME ME ME and how MY life is all screwed up and WOE IS ME, but it lacks the conviction that would make me believe that they've actually suffered. It's a style that has, over the years, become so generic, so harmless, it's an utter bore, falling victim of placing style over substance. Very rare is the modern blues artist who can actually sound convincing.

Weird, then, that British-based post-punkers have succeeded in being excellent modern adaptors of American Blues. Personally, I blame (in the most respectful way) Nick Cave for paving the road from hell, with bands such as Crime and the City Solution, the Gun Club, Jesus and Mary Chain, and The The. These bands all mixed up a wonderful stew of punk, blues, rock, goth, country and, to a lesser extent, rockabilly, to create a lovely, evil concoction best enjoyed by heartache.

Flaming Stars, proud sons of this tradition, have quietly produced a veritable cottage industry in their role of house band for the bar at the corner of Heaven and Hell. Though they have released numerous albums and singles for the past seven years, Flaming Stars have never released any records here in the United States, aka The Birthplace of the Blues, the Birthplace of Rock and Roll.
Ginmill Perfume: The Story So Far 1995-2000 seeks to introduce American audiences to this unknown source of misery and evil. It's not a greatest hits, nor a singles compilation, so for those of you out there who *have* heard of Flaming Stars and have their records, you'll probably want to peruse the tracklist and pass on this record.

Could darkness seem so intoxicating, so delicious, so...tantalizing?!? Flaming Stars are one of those bands whose obscurity is indeed a crime, as Ginmill Perfume indeed shows. Max Decharne, formerly of drunk rockers Gallon Drunk, knows a thing or two about misery, depression, and evil . As you listen to Ginmill Perfume, you realize that the man's life has been fully enriched and blessed with failure--and that's just the first five years!

As you listen, too, you hear a band progressively getting better, as life seems to get worse. The earliest tracks, such as "Like Trash," "Ten Feet Tall," and "Bury My Heart at Pier 13" all echo with a rockabilly-cum-blues beat reminiscent of the best of Jesus and Mary Chain. As you progress, however, you notice a darker, lusher sound start to develop, not unlike Lambchop meets Nick Cave. More recent songs, such as "The Last Picture Show" and "Some Things You Don't Forget," will definitely make you feel that their earlier recordings, while excellent the first time you heard them, are merely brilliant

Flaming Stars are a band that should not have to suffer with the neglect that often falls on small bands from Europe. Ginmill Perfume: The Story So Far 1995-2000 has fifteen reasons why. The noir racket---tempered with regret and failure, liberally dosed with a driving, often menacing, organ and percussion one-two punch, will provide you with all the mystery your life needs. Ginmill Perfume is the evidence of some sort of evil. Do you want to solve the mystery, or would you rather participate? Flaming Stars would prefer it if you did.

--Joseph Kyle

October 09, 2001

Bill Janovitz "Up Here"

What do you think of when you think of "alternative rock?" Do you think of the soaring guitars and "heartfelt" lyrics that really make you think? Though that the term is utterly worthless, Bill Janovitz is a definite veteran of those heady, "alt-rock" days. As leader
of Buffalo Tom, a band that always stood on the verge of making it, but always seemed to fall one short step of landing in the spotlight. Hits like "Sodajerk" and "Summer" were quite lovely, and deserved to be heard, but for whatever reason, Buffalo Tom's hard work for 15 years went unnoticed, while upstarts such as Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls capitalized on virtually the same sound and style and became household names. It's probably for the best, though, as both of those bands are considered the nadir of "alternative rock" and are a standard for mediocrity.

Up Here, though, finds Janovitz focusing on quieter, mellower, and more emotional sounds. Indeed, a few of the songs were holdovers from the Buffalo Tom days, for the simple fact that they were too mellow for Buffalo Tom. Most of the songs are very simple in structure, with just an acoustic guitar, piano, and occasional backing effects, creating for some rather sparse moments. Such minimal backing allows Janovitz's voice to illuminate the songs, making the lyrics resonate as he sings about lost love, the joy of love, the joy of parenthood, and the remembrances of younger, better days. Indeed, he takes the idea of "solo" record rather seriously; he played most all of the instruments on Up Here, and is occasionally backed by female vocals, care of Chris Toppin, who sang on his debut solo album Lonesome Billy, as well as his side project Bathing Beauties.

Up Here is a poignant, sad, yet satisfying album. Janovitz is a storyteller at heart; his voice echoes the tradition of such classic songwriters as Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, as well as a touch of more modern songwriters Mary Lou Lord, David Gray, Ryan Adams and Eric Bachman. If Buffalo Tom is Janovitz as alt-rocker, then Up Here is Janovitz as alt-country folkie type. For some reason, I keep thinking about Austin City Limits when I listen to this record, because I think that Janovitz would sound quite at home on there. With Buffalo Tom on indefinite hiatus, and his side project Crown Victoria remaining homeless as of now, with no immediate plans, it's good to know that Janovitz is far from idle.

Up Here isn't going to change your world. It's not going to make you go out and form a band, and it's certainly not going to be on radio play lists in major markets across the US. It's not going to be the soundtrack of your life. It's not going to be something teens run out to buy because it's hip. It's not going to languish as a curiousity of hip writers who need something obscure to praise in their year-end "best-of" lists. The only thing Up Here can do is be itself--a man singing the songs that mean something to him.

God bless 'em for that.

--Joseph Kyle

October 08, 2001

An Interview with Currituck County's Kevin Barker

While putting together issue #2 (of my now-on hiatus zine Lois Is My Queen) my computer died. Its power supply burned out. It bummed me out. I didn't cry, but I did enjoy the experience, the break away, and one of the records that I enjoyed during that time was the very odd self-released Currituck County LP. It's a broken thing...and in my case, it really was, as there's a long, though boringly short story about this, which revealed to me the true poverty some starving artists face. I also learned the true meaning of Spring, but that's an entirely fictitious other story. I got the lovingly sarcastic Kevin Barker, who also spends his time in the band Aden, who are poised to appear in the annals of indie rock history as Washington DC's saddest boys ever. You know, I could go on and on about the broken-machine folk sounds of Currituck County, but I'd be denying the record its wonderful voice, as well as the money of you hipsters who would be scared off, who would just simply buy it on the strength of Aden's name alone, without really knowing of the dangers yet to be found.....

So what's it like to be a member of Gen-X with credit so good, it's bad?

Great. Actually i just got a credit card--i guess working at a boring semi-well-paying job for 8 months gives me good standing in the eyes of associates national bank (a.k.a. The Associates---i feel like i just joined the masons or something.) anyways my first purchase was a bunch of blank tapes from target. though i should stop shopping there because of that devo commercial, which is almost as stupid as that internet company using MLK's "i have a dream" speech. what a bunch of jerk-offs.

Any truth to the rumors that your decision to stay at home on this latest Aden tour is because you want to make the perfect Aden album? If so, how does Jeff compare to Mike Love?

No, the truth is i stayed home because i thought it would be "irresponsible" to quit my job at that point. By the time i came to my senses andy (my noble and talented replacement) had already booked plane tickets.

"Suicide is painless." What's going on? Are you okay? Is this a subtle commentary about your life, Aden, or childhood dreams of wanting to be Radar?

No, just a passionate expression of my love for Henry Blake. plus, i think it's a great song, and i realized it totally worked with the chord progression of "intertwining hands"--thus a medley was born.

Is it true that Jeff is a real tyrant underneath that sad-eyed mopey indie pop facade? Is it true he got violent when told of yr Currituck project?

Not exactly---but once a Washington city paper article rather straight-facededly quoted me talking about how fred and i would beat up on jeff to get him to write sad songs. when i read the article i was like, "did i say that? OHH, right, i was joking."

But to answer your question, actually on the contrary jeff has been one of my most adamant supporters...without his urging i'd probably still just be fucking aroung on my guitar at home, or just taping home recordings for friends.

What makes ya want to get up in the morning?

Urrgh, that fucking alarm. one day....i swear to god.

Need some new batteries for your 4-track?

Actually that was an old walkman tape recorder that i used to use to tape emo shows back in like 94. after years of neglect, i'm surprised that it recorded anything at all. the recording devices i used on that LP were: that walkman thing, jeff's tascam 4-track, my korg digital 8-track, and one of those old flat rectangular tape recorders everyone had in the 80s.

Ever been to Currituck County? What's so great about it?

Yep. it's the land where dreams can come true and unicorns run wild with the wind.

Fuck the Smithsonian Institution?

I never said that. but after all it is a government institution now. i kind of wonder if harry smith came to them with a stack of crusty 78s now whether or not they'd tell him to go fuck himself. i was just applying to some crappy program assistant jobs though. but hey, buying folkways was a pretty good thing to do. there have to be some good folks working there. after all, where the hell else are you going to find that many free-to-the-public-every-day museums? another smithsonian/harry smith-related story--- a friend of mine, after reading that harry smith's paper airplane collection was donated to the national air & space museum, emailed na&sm asking if it was possible to view it by appointment for the public or for researchers and they basically wrote back saying "harry who? we have no record of owning such a collection." they totally were like, "paper airplanes? whatever." and pitched them in the trash i bet.

So when are you and Rob Christaensen, Mark Robinson, Trevor holLand, and Butch Willis going to go into a studio and get really weird?

Uh... well, i prefer to get weird on my own recording devices and only use outside help if i want it to NOT be weird (i.e. upcoming full-length, which shall be recorded by mark greenberg in chicago). plus, do those guys need to do anything different to be really weird, in or out of the studio? i think not.

Is it also true that you are recording a song that will involve you selling your plasma but on the morning you do the transfusion you plan not to eat beforehand, so as to give yourself a drugged, slurry vocal style that can only be created via blood loss?


---Joseph Kyle

The Dismemberment Plan: An Interview

On their most recent website, Dismemberment Plan lead singer Travis Morrison posted a very open, very general, and very scathing letter to the major labels of the world, and saying, in no uncertain terms, what their problems are. It was a very interesting and highly insightful message, and it reminded me of my own interview i did with the Plan boys back in 2000, sitting in their warm van, talkin' about their then-recent label hassles. It was quite an interesting chat, and I enjoyed speaking with them. Originally, this ran in the debut issue of Lois Is My Queen, but I felt it was worthy of inclusion here. Late last year, they released their fourth album, Change, to much well-deserved praise and critical acclaim.

So, how's it going?

Travis: Pretty good. Tour's really well...Usually on tours, at this point, I will have had a night where I completely detest making music and life and so far, in 11 days, there hasn't been one of those. So, by my standards, that's pretty good.

Maybe tonight's that night?

Travis: Uh....thanks! (laughter) (laughter from Joe Easley, drummer, who had been sleeping in the back seat)

Hey, I just got dumped, so I'm Mr. Negative. (laugh) So, what happened with Interscope? Was it just that you guys got caught up in the whole merger thing and were just a casualty of that?

Travis: (yawning) Yeah. I really wonder how things would have gone down had the merger not happened and I wonder what the different result would have been but yea they really became a really different company and as's almost kind of weird to say that this company that signed us "dropped" us. It was kinda more like the company that signed us forgot about us. Like pod people or something.

So, when you signed, did the label make a lot of promises to you or was it just like, "hey, we could work something out together where you can develop artistically," or were they pushing you to be like the next thing?

Travis: It was pretty low key. I don't think there was any real objective. I don't' really know what kind of success was envisioned on the part of the people that run the label. There was a great deal of attraction towards one particular song that we had on the second record and I could take a leap and say that they saw us as a potential Beck or a potential Talking Heads or any one of your "arty" pop bands throughout history that have made records that have both challenging and out there material and more accessible material....but that's me. That's what I would figure the major label saw us as. I don't know. So, you know, to a certain extent, it was taken very slowly, one step at a time I think...well, you know, there were TWO steps, there was one step and then it stopped. (laughing)

Joe: more like that unforeseen cliff that suddenly appeared! !

Travis: We were like.. (mockingly cautious) " very slowly...ok there ya go! Great!!" Yeah. (laughing) I think i can say by fact this is gonna sound weird, but certainly, there were factors. Like, our recording budget, which was fifty thousand dollars, was PLENTY of money by indie label standards, but not for a band like Smashing Pumpkins, or, say, even Rufus Wainwright, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his record., so when they spend that kind of budget on us, I think they were looking at us as a long term, low-yield investment, the opposite of N'Sync.

Something that could be developed over time, and pick up that "cult following" status, like, say, Phish or Built to Spill.

Travis: I think they thought more of it like "feed 'em a little dough every year and they wont break the bank, and, hell, maybe they will get a hit" (laughing) I certainly don't think they had the five year plan for the Plan, or even a five day plan.

But, I guess, to be a little fair to Interscope, they were always a little more edgy. I mean, they did sign Brainiac.

Travis: Yeah, totally--like with Brainiac, you know, it's weird. no one ever did nail down what major they were gonna sign to. People at Interscope really, really claimed that it was gonna be them, so I wouldn't be surprised, but there were also people at Elektra who claimed "I thought they were signing with us" and I think that Brainiac might have ripped a page out of the Girls vs. Boys' "toy with the majors" rulebook. But, yeah, they were certainly very, very interested in Brainiac. But then, they also had like Clawhammer, Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, know, they had seen a LOT of success with Primus (amazed). I mean, Primus is a WEIRD fucking band! It boggles my mind that that band sells so many records!

Joe: (mumbling, from the back seat) Who would have ever thought that gay funk metal band would ever....

Travis: (laughing) The singer sounds like a cartoon duck! His bass playing sounds like a cartoon duck! They'd probably make the drum playing sound like it if they could!

Yeah, it's a weird band to be on a major label.

Travis: Well it's a really weird band, to see the kind of success that they've had. Yeah, I mean, I think they might have seen us as a potential Primus (laughing).

Joe: Great, now I get to be the duck!

Travis: Yeah, but they {Interscope} did have an edgy side to them and they were a well rounded company. Now who is to say that that's the best business model? I think that perhaps it would be better for that record label to just concentrate on massive hit records for--and I don't wanna say anything that puts those bands down--but bubblegum, you know? Assembly line made music that is meant for the lowest common denominator. I'm not saying that I don't enjoy some of that music---I really like Ricky Martin! Someone's gotta.

It's "pop" for a reason!

Travis: Yeah, exactly! Popular! (laughing)

That's what people forget about the word "pop"!

Travis: It's like what Madonna always said in interviews, when asked about what she thought of "alternative" music, she'd say, "what do you mean, music that isn't good?"

Alternative to what? Pearl Jam is number one, and alternative to what?

Travis: that's a very good point. Like, you know, some of these "alternative bands" sure are popular.. So I mean, yeah, they became a different company, and they did jettison a lot of their...although, again, Limp Bizkit certainly is edgy, Limp Bizkit is not easy listening. Umm I find it impossible to listen to Limp Bizkit, although I do love "nookie!" (laughing) So I mean, you know, I think one important thing that you have to remember is that there were too many bands signed to major labels at one point. The gold mine that came out, after the CD reissue type of was a one shot deal, and the record industry lived it up, signed all these bands and thought it was really fun, but eventually that had to end. Too many bands were on majors, you know? and you know, a lot of those bands that moved to majors probably would have been better served by staying on an indie and maybe selling 70,000 records which, if you sell 70,000 records on an indie label, you make a good chunk of money. You don't have to have a day job. If you sell 70,000 records on a major label, then, you know, they are bringing in a outside songwriter, cuz you're in trouble.

You know, it's funny, listening to your record, and then listening to other bands in the same boat, like Spoon, you almost have to wonder if the joke is on the majors, because not only is this like the best stuff the band has ever done, but you think to yourself, you could hear this on the radio.

Travis: Well, you know, that stuff is so hard to predict, though. You never know. You can never really have an idea. I mean some of our songs could be on the radio that are on this record, but here's what you have to remember about that. We are seeing that from our vantage point, we're people that are really into like a lot of underground music. I think the thing to remember, as someone whose tastes are like our own, they can hear a band like us or maybe the Promise Ring, and think, (excited) "Boy, these guys are like the ultra! They are the poppiest! They will sell a million, billion records cuz they're so POPPY!" and then you put us on a major label, and then normal people hear us and they are like, (valley girl accent) "dude...this is weird!" (laughing) Everybody used to think that Shudder to Think had these great melodies and got a great singing voice...but jesus christ! Shudder to Think is the weirdest fucking band to ever walk the face of the earth, and no one was ever gonna listen to them. And there are more obvious examples than that. The Promise Ring have said in interviews "Look...Davey can't sing! we are a very, we're like a very underground pop punk band...what normal people would be into us?" From our vantage point, we may think that it is just the poppiest damn thing to come down the pike, but it's just cuz that is our little perception, looking from a very arty plateau. I really have no idea what the kids in the parking lot in Peoria would think of it. I can imagine it would be like "uhhh, whatever"

You never can know with a band. Like, I always hated Sunny Day Real Estate, I never cared for them, but now they are somewhat huge.

Travis: Yeah, but would they sell that much more if they were on a major label? I tend to think not, but i dunno. I think bands like that need to be on labels the size of Sub Pop.

When you signed, you got a fifty thousand dollar recording budget, and for an indie band, that's a large chunk of change. When you went in to record this record, did you go in with the idea of "we have got this money, we might as well as utilize it" or were you more like "let's try to make the record that we would have made had we done it on DeSoto in the first place?

Travis: Nope, we spent every cent of it! (laughing) We actually had to kick in a tiny bit of money on our own in the end, but we spent all fifty thousand! It's like the Peter Principle. You know, the more time you have to do something, the longer you wait to do it all at the last minute. We still ended up pushing the deadline, pushing the money. I think the money mainly went towards taking the time to focus on the performances, to get them spot on, to the degree that was never possible on an indie label. You know, for indies, when you finish recording, you literally have got only like four or five chances to get the song done, and then on the fifth time, you just have to say, "Yeah, we meant it that way." When you on a major label, you can actually say, "no, that's not how we meant it, we actually want it to go this way." Certainly, I do think for all of us, like when you are a musician, when you're a young musician, you have this part, you play it, and sometimes you think, "Well, i have to fix this or that" but you don't really think too much about it. Then, when you get into the studio, you record it, you hear the first playback, and then you go, "OH NO!!!!" (laughing) You are in such denial! On a major label, with the money we had, we had the time where we could have that moment of denial, and THEN really nail some things down. And, certainly, as a singer, there were always those moments where I was telling J. "oh, no no no, I meant to mispronounce it that way," and it was like, "Well, that's too bad, because we are gonna fix that now!" and boy i hated it at the time, and I did not like how the record sounded at the time, but now I thank J. Robbins for whipping my ass because I can now totally see how he took the songs away from our greedy little mitts and made them stand up on their own. I mean, we didn't use our fifty thousand dollars to hire turntable players or a string section. It was pretty much to take the time to really focus and make the record as tight as possible.

So was their any label intervention at the time you were recording, like, "hey, guys, polish this up, we really like this for the single?"

Travis: No, I think they'd already started to forget about us! (laughing) To be totally honest, our main A and R guy was the VP of A&R, who is now the VP of everything at that company, and I think he obviously knew that the deal was going down, and he had much better things to worry about. He had already slopped us off to some lower level A&R people, like we hadn't talked to him directly in months and months. He would say things to the woman who was managing us, like, when we were talking about a release date, and we didn't know what was going on, he would say things like, "you know what, I tell ya what, I got a three day weekend this weekend, I'm gonna sit down and really listen to the record" We had recorded it like a month and a half before, so he wasn't like "man, I can't wait for the Plan record to come!" (laughing) So, no I think because he was obviously worried about this big earth-shattering merger, why would he be worried about, "i think you need to cut this bridge out so that we can really make this sellable?" I think he knew that we were dead wood.

So, did you guys know about it? Did you have any feeling about it coming?

Travis: No. I think I read about it in the paper or something. I can't remember how I found out, but I know a lot of employees found out that way. Jason, how did you hear about it?

Jason (Caddell, guitar/keyboards): Certainly not from Interscope, that's for damn sure. It really seemed like just the upper echelon of management, probably even above the vice president level, like the president, CEO's and their handlers actually knew for a fact it was going to take place. A lot of people lost their jobs without any warning at all, but that's how things at that level work.

Travis: So, no, no feeling, but there never is. There were probably only three people at that company who were involved in it, probably the guys that founded it, Wally, Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine. A lot of people lost their jobs throughout the whole thing.

I guess the thing that makes the whole story amazing for you guys is that you were lucky enough to get your record.

(Silence, followed by looking at each other and nervous laughs)

Or is that another story...??

Jason: Yeah, that's probably another story (laugh)

Travis: I think we were lucky enough to have the wisdom to carry on with our lives, and uh, uh...

Joe: We have the tactical skills to bust in, become a SWAT machine, to enter in, and retrieve our masters unscathed, and release them on an independent label!

Travis: Joe is gifted with the skills of martial arts, and I knew a lot about nautical infiltration, cuz they have a lot of explosives...I tell you what, Michael Penn was fucked, he's been doing all this survival stuff in Montana, but where's that gonna get him? See that is how we handle questions that we are a little afraid of! (laughing) But I'll put it this way, everything didn't get completely nailed down, but we were such a fly in such a big pool of ointment, I don't know what we would have had to have done for them to care.

Well, it's good that you guys have the record out...

Travis: Yeah, it's great that you're alive as opposed to dead! (laughter)

Jason: Yeah, we pretty much escaped pretty well from this whole mess simply because people over there aren't staying. I mean, from what I've read, even the Stings and the Sheryl Crows are over there saying, "well, what about me?" But there is SOOO much chaos over there, all that bureaucratic insanity, that people that still have deals with that conglomerate are fucked, I mean there's not going to ever be any hope for their records being released, or they will just poorly supported or poorly deployed or whatever.

Travis: I think that one major way that we are lucky is that we come from an underground punk world where there is a very developed social network and a much more developed sense, where one would do it at a weird...

Joe: A storage space in Lubbock? (laughter)

Travis: Yeah, like, that "yeah, it can just be my hobby if i want" kind of level, and that's got its downside, but one of the upsides to it is that some of the people who are like the kind of people who move to LA, get a record deal, and do a lot of things that they are supposed to do it in the industry, they don't play here (pointing to the warehouse) , they don't have this kind of big family to fall back on, so that when they get dropped they just freefall, they dont have anywhere to land.

Jason: Or they just get another major label record deal.

Travis: They don't have the resources to kind of just shrug at the whole thing. Like, there used to be one guy in this band called School of Fish, who had written 43 songs and they kept telling him "no, thatÕs not a hit single, go write another one."

Is that the guy who just died recently?

Travis: (blankly) What? The lead singer of School of Fish died? Maybe it all just got to him (laughing). (interview devolves into conversation of recent celebrity deaths, including, at this time Tom Landry, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and Charles Schultz) Anyway, that guy from School of Fish, after the whole merger thing was over, he was kind of whimpering, "look, can I have my songs and just go away?" and the label was like "HELL NO, those our OURS, your 43 unsellable songs" so yeah, I guess that would kind of induce arrhythmia in anybody, yeah, but I didn't know he died! Really? How? Suicide? Holy shit!! ( it was health related, not self inflicted--ed.)

So,what's in the future?

Travis: Touring, touring, touring!

Put the loop on, write, record, play,

Travis: Yeah, it kinda got stuck there for a bit with that whole, um, you know, label thing. We're a band, ya know. We've been working on our flashpots for the....

Eric (Axelson, bass/keyboards): No! You told him about that? SHHhhhhh!!!!

Travis: Well, can't do it now! Sorry, Lubbock!

--Joseph Kyle

October 07, 2001

The Shins "Oh Inverted World"

There's this great album by the Beach Boys, better than Smile, better, almost, than Pet Sounds. It's called Beach Boys Today. It's an important album, for it is a definite sign of the band's transition. For starters, there's isn't a single car song or surfing song on it. The first side of Today contains a song or two that are "fun" in the youthful sense, but are far from the standard Beach Boy fare. It's enjoyable pop-rock. Flipping it over, though---whoa, man, talk about KILLER! The songs are a lot darker, mellower, and much lusher than previous Beach Boys records, touched with a "wall of sound" that would quickly be seen in full effect in the next year. Maybe it was the pot that he was consuming every day, as well as the mental illness that was starting to set in, but whatever it was, side two of Today is clearly one of Wilson's most beautiful creations, though it's sadly neglected in favor ofPet Sounds. When listening to the album, you'd think that each side was from a different album--the styles are that different.

Thirty-five years later, a band called Flake Music decided it was time to change their style, to break away from the lo-fi indie rock they had been playing for nearly a decade.
Instead of simply changing their style and alienating their fans, they decided to change their name entirely. Instead of a change to baroque pop, the band has looked to both the skies and to the past for a sound that is troublesome for those who want retro, and retro for those who don't care for "retro" music.

Whatever your stance, you can't deny that Oh, Inverted World is anything but a major pleasure. Borne from the New Mexico heat, and seemingly tempered on the surreal, The Shins have created "a luscious mix of words and tricks," as they say in "Caring is Creepy." And Oh! Oh! what kind of lyrics those Shins boys have, too! You like oblique? Oh, Inverted World has them in droves! In fact, there are too many to list here, and besides, if i were to list all of my favorites, I'm sure I'd be venturing into copyright violation.

Oh, Inverted World is a short record, barely 33 minutes long, but the band's strengths can be found in the fact that they're super-talented, write great songs without pretension. Oh yeah, and it's a great day when a band can sound like both Brian Wilson and Mike Love. And, since they write such lovely, deep, and thick music, by the time you get to "New Slang (when you notice the stripes)" the song at the middle of the album, (and a lovely folk ballad to boot) you'll think you've listened to an entire album already. I know I did. And everything else was oh-so beautiful. Oh, Inverted World is one of those rare albums that is deserving at all the praise heaped upon it, and is a record whose beauty is so simple, that description of its beauty is pointless. Just go buy it already!

--Joseph Kyle

October 06, 2001

Rami Perlman "girlmusic"

New York's been producing folk-rock singer-songwriter types for quite a while now, and Rami Perlman is the newest installment of this phenomenon. Know what? It ain't bad at all. Sometimes I wince at artists who play all their instruments, but Perlman is a talented young man, and plays quite well, and is joined by some talented people here and there, including Mighty Mighty Bosstones god Nate Albert on occasional guitar. Perlman's got a soft-spoken voice, and at times reminds of Badfinger, Emmit Rhodes, and, more modernly, A Don Piper Situation. Elliott Smith, and Clem Snide. And, as it needs to be said--all of these are love songs, but he's not whiny. So it's okay.

"Take for Granted" kicks off the set, with Perlman crooning about slowing down and appreciating life a little bit more. "Boy of Your Dreams" finds Perlman singing to a girl who's just left him, and, yet, at the end, there's a little surprise about the character--he's not a sympathetic one, yet you feel one and the same. "Kiss on the Bridge" a loud, yet sad love song; with full band backing and more awesome guitar playing from Nate Albert. "Falling For You" is the only moment where I wince; buying a slurpee just really doesn't work for me in the context of an acoustic love-ballad, especially one that's quite lovely besides that moment, though I like that moment near the end where the full band breaks through. "I Know You" continues that acoustic love song trend. girlmusic closes with "Scared" a lo-fi country song that sounds a lot like Eef Barzelay.

Mr. Perlman, you've got some talent! I'm glad you sent this CD. It's really made me smile. As I can tell, you've got some good ideas, and girlmusic is an excellent start. My advice to you would be simple: get a band, go on tour. I like the acoustic stuff, but these tracks I'm sure would simply smoke with a full band backing. Maybe you could convince Nate Albert to leave those Bosstones and be one of your promisers, because he plays some great guitar.

girlmusic is a promising debut from someone who I'm sure will be featured in "ones to watch" columns in Rolling Stone and Spin, and, for once, those columns will be right on. Seek this little self-release out if you can; it will be worth the trouble.

--Joseph Kyle

October 02, 2001

The Shins "Oh, Inverted World"

There's this great album by the Beach Boys, better than Smile, better, almost, than Pet Sounds. It's called Beach Boys Today. It's an important album, for it is a definite sign of the band's transition. For starters, there's isn't a single car song or surfing song on it. The first side of Today contains a song or two that are "fun" in the youthful sense, but are far from the standard Beach Boy fare. It's enjoyable pop-rock. Flipping it over, though---whoa, man, talk about KILLER! The songs are a lot darker, mellower, and much lusher than previous Beach Boys records, touched with a "wall of sound" that would quickly be seen in full effect in the next year. Maybe it was the pot that he was consuming every day, as well as the mental illness that was starting to set in, but whatever it was, side two of Today is clearly one of Wilson's most beautiful creations, though it's sadly neglected in favor ofPet Sounds. When listening to the album, you'd think that each side was from a different album--the styles are that different.

Thirty-five years later, a band called Flake Music decided it was time to change their style, to break away from the lo-fi indie rock they had been playing for nearly a decade.
Instead of simply changing their style and alienating their fans, they decided to change their name entirely. Instead of a change to baroque pop, the band has looked to both the skies and to the past for a sound that is troublesome for those who want retro, and retro for those who don't care for "retro" music.

Whatever your stance, you can't deny that Oh, Inverted World is anything but a major pleasure. Borne from the New Mexico heat, and seemingly tempered on the surreal, The Shins have created "a luscious mix of words and tricks," as they say in "Caring is Creepy." And Oh! Oh! what kind of lyrics those Shins boys have, too! You like oblique? Oh, Inverted World has them in droves! In fact, there are too many to list here, and besides, if i were to list all of my favorites, I'm sure I'd be venturing into copyright violation.

Oh, Inverted World is a short record, barely 33 minutes long, but the band's strengths can be found in the fact that they're super-talented, write great songs without pretension. Oh yeah, and it's a great day when a band can sound like both Brian Wilson and Mike Love. And, since they write such lovely, deep, and thick music, by the time you get to "New Slang (when you notice the stripes)" the song at the middle of the album, (and a lovely folk ballad to boot) you'll think you've listened to an entire album already. I know I did. And everything else was oh-so beautiful. Oh, Inverted World is one of those rare albums that is deserving at all the praise heaped upon it, and is a record whose beauty is so simple, that description of its beauty is pointless. Just go buy it already!

--Joseph Kyle

Piano Magic

4AD was perhaps the most distinctive, most aesthetically strong labels of the 1980s. Sure, the label has only had two worldwide "hits," ("I Melt With You" and "Pump Up The Volume") but many of their artists retain a certain level of respectability and influence that most could only wish for: Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, the Pixies, Throwing Muses and This Mortal Coil all made names for themselves, and are still seen as influences on modern "alternative" music.

Then, the 1990s happened. Somewhere, the label faltered. As the times changed for the industry, so did the label. The Cocteau Twins left the label. A distribution deal with Warners, while getting older 4AD records into the American market, seemingly ended in failure. Although the early part of the 1990s would produce excellent artists such as Heidi Berry, Belly, His Name is Alive, Red House Painters, and Lush, the latter part of the 1990s found the label faltering rather dramatically. By 1997, their roster of original acts had virtually disappeared, save for various members' solo albums. New artists, such as Gus Gus and Tarnation, had their moments, but seemed to be missing a certain magical spark. Then the label really started to falter when they decided to focus on electronica. Making this story even sadder was the fact that there are labels that are doing a better job in finding and releasing atmospheric, electronica/esoterica acts.

Enter Piano Magic. A UK-based collective, whose membership has always been a revolving cast of musicians and thinkers. In a way, not unlike 4ad flagship This Mortal Coil. Being the first new 4AD signing in two years, and knowing how the label has become rather quiet in the "new artists" department, curiosity leads one to wonder about this new signing. It must be pointed out, however that "new" is not an apt term for Piano Magic; unlike the other groups in 4AD's history, they have already established a name for themselves, having released several albums and numerous singles on various other labels.

Son del Mar is a single piece; untitled as such, divided into six untitled movements. Information about the recording are saved for a small, tiny column of information. The CD itself is devoid of artwork or printing, and the cover itself is merely a print on cardboard. There is a list of credits about the film Son de Mar a Spanish film that most will not see. How, then, can this rather nondescript album be poised to ring in a return to the glory days of yore?

Because this record is utterly beautiful.

It's a simple answer. For the first time in ages, 4AD has released an album that simply is more substance over style. This record soars high, and follows in the tradition of such luminaries as Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and Harold Budd. It's been eons since they've released an album that's intent on lifting the listener to a higher level of being, creating mental pictures while caressing the listener with aural ecstasy. There's no level of pretense here, as found in other electronica acts that the label dabbled in. And finally, it's a soundtrack to an imaginary film, except this time, there's a real film. It's one of those cinematic kind of records, and it's worth your time to seek out. Son de Mar will not only make you anxious to hear their follow up album that's due this winter, but will make you want to seek out their other releases. If, after listening, you feel like you've been feeling like you've been missing out on something, it's okay, because you have.

--Joseph Kyle