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