December 29, 2002
Ryan Adams? Let me just say it right now--all of those people who put him down or dismiss him glibly--screw you. Yup. I'm being harsh here, but I really feel that the time for nice platitudes is OVER. Nothing bugs me more than hearing Adams bashed for his attitude and the fact that he wants to be big. It is wrong to begrudge a person's success--especially when that person's talent is really worthy of praise. I make no apologies for this; I mean, I think it's great that he's on TV and the radio, and if his attitude upsets you, then maybe you should just simply stop judging the artist's work by his personality.
Witness Demolition. Just in case you didn't know, this album was originally slated to be a FOUR-CD BOX SET of demos, outtakes, and sessions from Gold until now. If Whiskeytown's Pneumonia, Heartbreaker, and the expanded edition of Faithless Street are any indication, Adams can shit gold and flush it without remorse because something even better will come along shortly. The man's a prolific talent, and I don't think Bob Pollard's track record is as consistently great as Adams. (The only person I can think of that Adams comes close to matching in terms of releasing a quantity of quality is Adams' early adopter and friend, Elton John.) Faithless Street is an album that's augmented by an album's worth of demos and outtakes. Hell, Heartbreaker was recorded in a few days, in a session that Adams probably forgot about by the next round of sessions. In fact, if Faithless Street is any indication, his officially released albums are probably rivaled by even better sessions left unheard in the vaults.
Gold? Okay, I'll fess up and say that when I first heard it, I just didn't feel much of anything. It was a record that was worked on and worked on and while it sounds good, and the songs are good, it just seems to lack something. I think that it's going to be more important for what it did for Adams' career than it is for the actual music. If an artist doesn't hit a homerun every time (especially one with a stellar catalogue), that's no reason to dismiss them. Baseball players strike out, skaters slip on the ice, it's part of the game--same for musicians. Gold wasn't a stinker; it just was different.
Demolition, then, is a bit less glossy, a bit less larger than life, a bit less...well, it's just a bit less than Gold. He's got his Rock and Roll Swagger turned off on this one, and thus Demolition is a much mellower affair. There are a few really great rockers here; the big number here is "Nuclear," one of Adams' best songs, as well as an all-around great radio single. It's a rocker, but it's got a melancholy side to it, and it sounds like that one great lost Buffalo Tom hit that you knew they could--but never--produced. Ironically, there's another Boston-based band influence on the other big rocker; "Starting to Hurt" has a rolling bass line that sounds like it was stolen directly out of the wallet of Kim Deal.
Adams is at his best when he turns the songwriting on himself, when he magnifies his emotions on tape. Songs such as "Hallelujah," "Desire," "Cry on Demand," and "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)," Adams is tender, heartfelt, and apologetic--the things that made Heartbreaker so wonderful. And, yes, he really is a wonderful singer, songwriter, and musician--Rock Star image notwithstanding. These songs all tell one thing--Adams' best work is but one studio session away. Personally, from the sheer quality of his work, and of Demolition, I'm kind of sad that the 4-CD set didn't materialize. Of course, that gives hope of future releases like this--that is, if those session tapes aren't passed up by newer, later, and greater sessions.
We've wanted an artist like Ryan Adams for a long time. Now, we've got him. Stop complaining.
December 27, 2002
I'm not quite sure about Capitol Years' place among all of those bands. Sure, they've been placed upon the "up and coming" bin, but I really don't know how much of that is based simply upon their sound. They've got a quite-apparent influence of the 1970s, for sure. But, see, when they were looking for influence, instead of shelling out the bucks for expensive Iggy and Velvet Underground records, they invested in the cheaper, budget-line Have A Nice Day series, and in the process, picking up inspiration from the era, and not just one band. Thus, they sound inspired by the 1970s, instead of sounding like a direct rip-off.
Apparently, Jewelry Store was recorded as close to live as possible, to get that feeling of liveness, which seems to be where their power is to be found. I like this approach, really, because it makes for some rather crunchy songs. Makes me want to play me some air drums. (Seeing as I'm from/in East Texas, I play some mean air-drums, slappy.) I'm particularly keen on the title track, which is a fast little rocker; "Japanese Store," also a fast little rocker, and the jammed-out closer, "Train Race."
Hype or no, Capitol Years are a fun rock band who probably rock it live. In fact, you can hear that in Jewelry Store. Of course, who knows where the hype machine will take us this year, and here's to Capitol Years existing and making music and growing popular in spite of it, not because of it. After all, whatever happened to our rock 'n' roll? I don't know, but I think Capitol Years have found it. Jewelry Store is a nice little snack before their next album.
The Mighty Rime is the return of Christie Front Drive's Kerry McDonald. Instead of making Christie Front Drive Part Two, he's decided to go for a rootsier sound. "Rootsier" meaning "lo-fi." "Sound" meaning "indie-rock." "Indie-rock" meaning "Built to Spill." Seriously, this stuff sounds like a hip indie-rock loving college student's home-recorded output. You certainly wouldn't know that Kerry had been in Christie Front Drive. Maybe that's the point? Who knows. The Mighty Rime was not what I'd expected, and yes I'm a little disappointed.
I don't want to sound too critical, though, because some moments here really hint that The Mighty Rime could be something so much better. "Loot'n n Shoot'n" is a great, interesting little rock number that probably explodes quite loudly when played live. The final "Soothing Finish" is an instrumental number that really makes me wish that the rest of the album had at least a few more moments that sounded like it, because it would have been a lot more interesting.
It must be difficult starting over from a seminal band, and going forth with a sound and style so radically different than what people might expect can often prove dangerous. I've got to give Kerry credit for making music again, and taking the risk of doing something different, even if it was a misstep. The Mighty Rime isn't going to overcome the Christie Front Drive legacy, and fans shouldn't expect it to.
Sprout's a middle-aged guy who has an ear for a great melody and the patience to form that melody into a great song. If Guided by Voices have aspirations to be a lo-fi Who, then Tobin's doing well to be a lo-fi Badfinger. His melodies and lyrics are great; one listen to "Inside the Blockhouse" and the moving piano ballad "Doctor #8" prove that he's still got the touch. I'm also a fan of the instrumental "Branding Dennis" and the title track is a pretty good rocker that deceives you at first.
At times, Pollard's influence may seem to show, but I really think that it's more a case of Tobin's quiet yet influential role he had in making Guided by Voices' sound. As such, this is a pleasant record--some of Sprout's best work, period--and if Sentimental Stations is any indication of what his new album's going to be like, then Sprout's best work may soon be forthcoming. A fine release, an excellent appetizer, and no real surprise from this quietly talented songwriter.
December 22, 2002
Every song on this album concerns itself with either a relationship being broken or a relationship being put back together. Fortunately, Dudley (the singer, songwriter, and guitarist whom this band is named after) finds a sensible middle ground between Lou Barlow's suffocating self-pity and David Gedge's uncomfortable erotic detail. The album benefits from masterful sequencing: just when the album's lovelorn shtick makes you want to stuff your head inside an oven, a trio of optimistic, lovey-dovey songs provides welcome relief during the album's second half. Of course, this being The Lonely World of the Dudley Corporation, our protagonist ends up getting his "heart ripped out again," to quote the closing mantra of penultimate track "HED," by record's end. There are very few gaps of silence between these short songs, and many of them are grouped together according to key. This produces an effect in which, if you're not paying attention to the CD player, songs begin to blend into each other. "A Song Against the City" sounds like a speedier climax to the previous ballad "She Falls," and the sweet ballad "R.K.P." sounds like a comedown from the previous thrasher "Slowed in Motion." The sequencing gives this album a strong thematic consistency, while keeping the songs from sounding samey or indistinct.
In album opener Score, Dudley compares his attitude toward a vaguely defined antagonist to that of a bored, unrehearsed musician: its greeting "Do-re-mi, assholes" is nothing short of classic. The vocals switch from listless mumbles to falsetto sighs, but the jittery music refuses to mirror the lyrics' apathy. Beats are shaved off the meter seemingly at random, and verse/chorus/verse is abandoned for a musical tangent that crams three distinct and memorable guitar riffs into forty seconds. The Heavy Vegetable influence becomes most apparent in moments like this, when musical ideas are announced and then discarded with such reckless abandon. "One in a Squillion" finds Dudley reminiscing, unable to accept the fact that his woman left him. His off-key warbling shifts into a strangled, powerful yelp at precisely the right moment, and he inserts a surprisingly dexterous
guitar solo in the middle of the song. Dudley's subsequent plea for reconciliation in "Divil the Bit" becomes extremely urgent during the song's chorus, when he struggles to catapult his voice above Joss' machine-gun drum rolls. "Stutter" is a reinforcement of the lyrical ideas of "One in a Squillion," but this time delivered in the second-person, and adorned with some delicious slide guitar playing. On "Stupid," Dudley admonishes himself to wear his heart on his sleeve, regardless of who it alienates, during a climax of grinding guitars and double-kick drums that sounds like Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch singing atop Metallica's "One."
"The Small Hours" is the album's bleakest song; in it, Dudley begins the night getting drunk in order to work up the nerve to call his ex. He fails, of course, and spends the rest of the night masturbating and puking. The song's so pretty and bouncy, though, that you won't notice how depressing the subject matter is unless you read the lyric sheet. On "Quick," Dudley is joyful at the prospect of falling asleep with his woman, his voice almost drowning in a sea of strings, bells, and accordion. "God Only Knows" is another Wedding Present-style strummer, whose lyrics describe a couple slowly growing disillusioned with its surroundings. By the next song, "HED," the couple turns its disillusionment towards each other, bringing the album full circle thematically. The appropriately named "Out Song" ends the album on a disarmingly sweet note, with Dudley vowing to protect and intercede on the behalf of a troubled girl. It peaks with a noisy, shambolic guitar solo that would make Pavement's Scott Kannberg proud were he ever to hear it.
If you're feeling down in the dumps this holiday season, The Lonely World of the Dudley Corporation will serve as the perfect tonic. If you program the CD to play only its fast songs, you'll have the perfect soundtrack to slam-dancing your broken heart away. If you program the CD to play only its slow songs, you'll have the perfect soundtrack to moping about and dwelling in your heartbreak. I guarantee you, though, that if you choose either option, you'll eventually want to hear the other songs because they're all wonderful. Listening to this album in its entirety is really the only way that one can appreciate the nuances of Dudley's songwriting; for a guy with such a one-track mind, he's awfully capable of keeping my interest. It also helps that his rhythm section rocks harder than both Sebadoh's and the Wedding Present's ever did. In short, buy this record now and thank me later.
December 17, 2002
Joel Petersen of The Faint was approached by a friend to score a film. The film fell through, but what to do of the music? Instead of letting the music gather dust somewhere, he decided to mix it and release it on his own. Knowing this little bit of information really changed my reaction to this record. This is an all-instrumental record, as befits a film score. The music is techno, of the old-school, Only 4 The Headstrong style, with a few interesting bits thrown in--a dulcimer on "The Love of Foreign Film," vibes on "The Oldest Accident," or the really driving dancefloor beat of "Empty Bottle."
I can't really say that the music is bad--Petersen really knows how to get a great sound out of those little machines of his. The one problem I seem to have with it, though, is common with a lot of instrumental records--it seems incomplete. Having loved Blank-Wave Arcade and that remix record of theirs, I just can't help but feel like I'm listening to works-in-progress. I do know that many of these numbers would probably make great songs. Broken Spindles is a curious listen for the casual Faint fan like me, but I would really recommend it more for the hardcore, who might like to hear what one of these guys can do on his own. I think that you can rest assured, though, that somewhere, a Raverporn.net girl is putting "Downtown Venues" on her mix-CD's that she makes for her johns--ahem, sorry, I mean "friends."
December 15, 2002
But here's where it gets problematic. Where does imitation end and tribute begin? Isn't any band or label's legacy seen in those that continue on the style or the sound long after the original bands have split? What happens when the influence grew exponentially during its lifetime? Yeah, see what I mean when I say this is a real problem? Not to worry, though; Homescience sound influenced by, but they don't sound derivitive of.
What sets Homescience apart, at least in my mind, is that their lead singer (sorry, don't really know who, information on these kids is really sketchy, at best) sounds like Tripping Daisy/Polyphonic Spree ringmaster Tim DeLaughter. Exactly like him. So much so that if I didn't know where these guys are from, I'd suspect a secret side project was afoot. That aside, it's the singing that really wins me over. It's very innocent, child-like. Normally silly lyrics don't come off quite the same when sung with a serious, grown-up voice. "M...Art In" (i think it's the title of track 11) is perhaps my favorite. It's a paen to working in a fast-food restaurant, and it's a rather poignant observation of life. I think.
The music itself is a joyous racket. For, you see, it's that loose, shambling sound of youth that makes Songs for Sick Days utterly charming. No song lasts over three minutes, and they scoot from idea to idea without pause. Sad ballad segues into Beach Boys riffs segues into pianos and guitars and loops and lions and tigers and bears oh my! Homescience never sit still enough to be pigeonholed--and that's perhaps the one flaw of Songs for Sick Days. There are twenty-two songs on here, and while all of them are nice, I do believe that each one, if developed a little more, would be killer. Mind you, many of these tracks are excellent as they are, but a little more time in the oven would really provide the difference between good and great.
But that really is a minor quibble. I'm very eager to hear what these kids will do next. Songs for Sick Days is a fun record, and while the sheer amount of music might be offputting in one full dose, small doses--taken every four hours, or as directed by a doctor--are nothing but theraputic. If I still made mixtapes, I could probably find about twenty-two songs on here that would be great. Now if only someone would give these kids a big studio budget to spend some time on their music, I suspect that they'll produce a miracle cure for the current epidemic of musical shite.
December 14, 2002
Dewey Decibel is New York's latest nerd-rock export. Unnecessarily Beautiful, their debut album, is a record filled to the rimmed-glasses of your typical nerd-rock fare. Warmly smart yet not at all smarmy, you're in the presence of--a talented bunch of fellows who are on the way to greatness. Sometimes the lyrics are profound ("It's clear to me/That I fail to see what I've got/Fail to see and choose to see/How to be and who to be", from "Clear") , or profoundly silly ("Who'd pledge allegiance to a bag, for it's a drag/National bag," from "National Bag") and even the outright absurd ("Calvacading replicas/Of Hindu god insignias appear/To pay for your next beer, from "Datebook"). Throw in quirky melodies that have a crunch to them (a la the Pixies and Clem Snide), and you've got a nice little combination.
My favorite track on Unnecessarily Beautiful would have to be "There's Charlie." Okay, now after praising these guys for writing witty ditties, why would I say that the best song on the album is the instrumental? It's because this song really showcases the fact that Dewey Decibel, underneath the jokes, in-jokes, and witticisms is a really great bunch of musicians. See the flaws that Dewey Decibel have aren't ones of content, but of technique. Occasionally, the vocals seem to muscle out over the music. Dewey's about the words, true--but at times it's more about the words than the music. On "There's Charlie," you actually hear the band--and it's great! "There's Charlie" is a straightforward surfabilly number, and you can't help but think, "Wow! these guys are really tight!"
Unnecessarily Beautiful is a promising debut. Sure there are a few pimples here or there, but this is a great start for a really fun band. Pimples are something that you grow out of, and with some growth, Dewey Decibel will be a shining young band that stands out amongst the crowds. Nerds usually do.
(And you should see his guitar design, check out deweydecibel.com for this precious little thing!)
December 13, 2002
Now, what is it about Bisbee that sets him apart from his peers? Well, that's a matter of taste, really. As for me, I am really rather keen on his lyrics; he's a funny fellow, and he's got some great stories to tell. From love in funny seats ("Bucket Seat") to love in cramped office spaces, ("Cubicle Love Song") he is witty and intelligent without ever having to dumb it down. Being from New York also throws up the Clem Snide flag, too; unlike Eef's self-depreciation in the face of learning life lessons, Bisbee's not necessarily trying to impress you with book smarts. And if you think you've heard "Miracle Car," you have; it's currently being used in a national advertising campaign.
Of course, with this being a live album, much of the music comes from his debut album, Vehicles. Two of the songs are covers, the opening (and totally spot-on) cover of New Order's "Age of Consent" and the irony-free cover of De La Soul's "Eye Know." Also with this being a live album, it's really hard to tell what he's doing in comparison to what he did in the studio. I'm hearing a bit of repetition in the music, leading me to think that he does things with tape loops, but I really can't be too sure about this. I do hear a New Order vibe throughout most of his set, but you can also hear a bit of good ole glummy boy Thom Yorke. Heck, at first I thought that the reason "Miracle Car" sounded so familiar was that it was indeed a Radiohead cover!
I like seeing bands live that impress me enough that I'm left running to the merch table to buy up their goods. Live at Arlene Grocery is the next best thing to that feeling. Sam Bisbee--I get the feelin' he's not going to be down in Texas any time soon. I also have this feeling that he's going to be thrown in to the "next big thing" lists that inevitibly appear at the beginning of a new year. Let's just hope that his talent gives him the success he deserves. One to watch, for sure!
This collection, which shares its name with the debut tape, is a reissue of that original tape, plus ten other obscure or unreleased goodies. Considering that much of that original tape was rerecorded for their debut album, Something About Airplanes, it's only mildly interesting listening. As terribly purist as this may sound, these songs really don't seem the same on CD, and don't seem as strong as they did on that original tape. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the limited sound quality that a cassette gives can really help to gloss over other weaknesses, such as awkward playing or rough mixing. I was kind of shocked, too, at how rough it sounded--I didn't recall it sounding that way.
While it is interesting to hear the tape again, the main reason anyone would want to pick up You Can Play These Songs With Chords would most certainly be the ten extra songs. This section starts off with a slightly pointless and rather bad cover version of the Smiths' classic "This Charming Man," complete with screwed up lyrics and general goofing around. /Much better are "TV Trays" and "New Candles," which really hints at Gibbard and Walla's magical musical future. "Tomorrow" is a bit of a shocker, as it's a rather funny, "wow-this-is-Death-Cab-for-Cutie?" kind of way--it's a rather earnest dance song, complete with drum machine and keyboards! "Flustered/Hey Tomcat!" is also a bit of a shocker, as it's a bizarre experimental number that's based around tape loops and other kinds of things. These two tracks really need to be heard to be appreciated fully. The last of the unreleased songs, "State Street Residential," is a reject from their debut album, and you can easily understand why: it's boring. The rest of the songs come from obscure releases. "Wait" and "Prove my Hypothesis" come from an excellent 1999 release, "Song For Kelly Huckaby" is a remix of an EP cut, and "Army Corps of Architects" is the B-side from their rare Sub Pop Singles Club release.
While You Can Play These Songs With Chords doesn't really add anything new to Death Cab For Cutie, it does help to show their humble beginnings. If you were in to that sort of thing, I'm sure that you could make a real Cinderella story out of their history, and this record would be just enough fodder for you to start. While I wouldn't recommend it to new fans, I wouldn't dismiss it as simply for completists. It's lovely in its own way, and it's a good little diversion for those eagerly awaiting their next brilliant release.
Woodbine's not going to be the one to pull the sword out of this particular stone, but they do come rather close.
Woodbine make a quiet racket--a racket so faint, you'd not even notice that it was there. Melodies are treated with the utmost of care, and the vocals are so precious that you would fear that if their intensity were to go anywhere above "delicate," then everything would just be--wrong. You almost think that they're too soft to exist in a hard, cold world. If ever a band could say that they make Mazzy Star sound like Black Flag, it would have to be Woodbine.
Woodbine do, however, make an interesting psych-rock blend, and at times they sound like Edith Frost. Throw in the fact that this record--made several years ago but just now seeing release--was made with Royal Trux's gruesome twosome, Adam and Eve, and you'd be right to think that they're more psych than folk, and are a bit more subversive than they're letting on. Songs wander around on a plane that's somewhat disturbing and somewhat dark. In fact, there's a blues element here that's also interesting, and would be more interesting if it didn't seem so flat. Really, though--there's a problem here, and that is too many ideas. I can't really seem to get a good feel as to who Woodbine are, or what it is they're trying to do, becuase, a. they're really quiet, and b., they're playing around with different styles here, but done so quietly, you really can't tell what it is they're trying to do! Frustrating.
I won't say I'm disappointed by Woodbine. Instead, I will say that I hear a lot of original ideas on here--such as "Outer Circle" that, given time, might make Woodbine a potent force to deal with. Woodbine are a talented group, and that's obvious, but there's just something not cohesive about the goings on here to really make a definitive statement. When they're on, such as "Mound of Venus," they're really good. Woodbine needed to stay in the oven a little longer.
December 08, 2002
What really makes The Snitches great is the fact that these kids DON'T sit still at all. To best illustrate this, I'll run down a few of the sounds and styles I noticed when listening: Elvis Costello, Rancid, Plimsouls, Pixies, Power Pop, New Wave, Pop-Punk, Raspberries, The Beat...well, you get the point, don't you? The Snitches offer up a healthy and hearty musical run-through of all things fuelled by too much caffeine and too many girls, and I love it! Star Witness is the record you've always known and loved, but different.
But what really makes The Snitches great isn't that they sound like those bands or that they've developed those musical styles, but that they've taken all of these things, these inspirations, these twenty-five year old moments of brilliance, and have made a sound all their own. The ability to sound fresh and new while making music that really hasn't changed much over the past quarter century is no easy feat, yet The Snitches have pulled it off. Sure, songs like "Right Before My Eyes" (a radio single if ever there was one) and "Wednesdays On My Mind" (ditto), recall the powderpuff power-pop days of yore, but "Willie" and "Crazy Talking Girl" don't--and they don't sound like some poor, pathetic bunch of folk simply trying to revive a dead musical style, either.
Utterly catchy and charming, totally fun and thoughtful, you really couldn't ask for a nicer record than Star Witness. Sure, The Snitches may not win any awards for innovation, nor will they claim any titles of overt originality, but who cares? When you can write a song that elevates the soul, puts a smile on someone's face, and makes them dance and have a good time, then the reward really is in the finished record, and for that, Star Witness is a fresh sound for today, for fans of music of yesterday and today. And unlike those "rock" bands of today, at least The Snitches can take some comfort in the fact that they aren't mediocre.
No matter, though. The first song, "Make Shift," is apparently a collaboration between Sonna and Sybarite. It's a lovely little number that sounds quite like a Sybarite song--meaning that it's calm, repetitive, and laced with a lovely guitar and keyboard melody. "Carousel" is a collaboration between Sonna and Lilienthal, and while the basic sound is still calm and repetitive, it's also a bit rougher than the Sybarite collaboration, with a droning melody line and more of an electronic beat.
The last two songs are a collaboration between the three. "Four Way Street" is a brief snippet that leads into "From A Person We Seam," which finds all three artists pulling out the stops and creating an ambient, beat-laden, drone-rock electronic beast of a song that runs through several different styles and sounds and seems to last much longer than its nine-minute mark.
While Make Shift Carousel may be brief, it's certainly a most lovely little record. It's certainly worthy of being rescued from obscurity--two songs of which were released on a very limited seven inch single on a rather obscure European label. With the world in such a stressful state, any little slice of relaxation is worth the price, especially when made by three equally talented artists.
December 07, 2002
Fortunately, Christiana's sophomore release Fatigue Kills rectifies the mistakes that were made on Hydrofield. First of all, the band set up a professional-quality studio in the comfort of McAllister's home and recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire album there. Because of such, this album reaches a nice compromise between the glossy sheen of Hydrofield and the rough intimacy of Neck's earlier four-track recordings. You can still differentiate the instruments from each other, but the guitars retain the necessary bite. The words are still intelligible, but the thin vocals linger slightly behind the guitars in the mix, cushioned by just the right amount of double-tracking. Second of all, the addition of a third singer/songwriter, Jonathan Bunce, to the mix seems to have increased the band's willingness to let their songs breathe. Fatigue Kills takes forty-something minutes to get through twelve songs, and because the songs aren't as short or speedy as they used to be, Christiana have seized the opportunity to demonstrate their new secret weapon: the ability to dance on both sides of the line between the tuneful and the tuneless.
The opening song, "I Cannot Share Your Point of View," takes two minutes to turn into the best song Unrest never wrote. It begins with a full minute of Dave and Andrew tapping the necks of their guitars to produce creaking, ominous drones. When the rhythm section joins in, the guitars then start playing arpeggios that don't even sound like they're in the same key as Jonathan's bass. The song spends another full minute drowning in Sonic Youth-style atonality before launching into a verse in which Dave calmly croons on top of a sweet descending chord progression. "Yellow Room" would be comparatively straightforward pop were it not for the harmonies, which veer wildly off key for split seconds before returning to the song's main theme. "Conflict is an Antidote" begins as a speedy punk song in which Andrew sings, presumably to an ex-lover, a string of words that would sound cliched were it not for the urgency and speed with which they're delivered: "You're deaf/You're dumb/You're stupid/You're sitting/You're silent/It's over." It then segues into a slowly building instrumental jam that climaxes with another minute's worth of grinding feedback. "League of Nations," Jonathan's first entry in the Christiana canon, is as conventional a song as the band can muster at this point, and at two minutes and nineteen seconds, it would STILL be one of Hydrofield's longer songs. The opening guitar chords of the ballad "Introduce the Subplot First" don't even begin to make sense until the bass comes in to tie them together, after which the song drowns in a sea of subtle, swooping whammy-bar histrionics. "Diamonds" is even slower and mellower than "Subplot," but the clean, gently strummed guitars eventually form sonic syrup as thick as any distortion pedal can muster.
Christiana begins the second half of Fatigue Kills with a rock instrumental called "Techno Sequence #3," a strategy that isn't as clever as the band thinks it is, although the song is still quite good. On album highlight "Pretend," the chord progression of the verse is so unrelentingly tense that when Dave sings along with the ascending guitar line in the chorus, it sounds like a ray of light forcefully penetrating the darkness. Andrew's "Magpie Eyes" sounds like sections of three different songs awkwardly stitched together: the first being another speedy punk song in the vein of "Conflict," the second a spoken rant that leads into possibly the album's catchiest chorus, the third a wistful prom-night waltz. Hydrofield would have taken three songs to get through all of the ideas presented on "Magpie Eyes," and this is the only instance on the album in which I would have preferred the previous album's deconstructive approach. "Elaborate Excuses" pays homage to the
drop-D melodic sludge of Hum, with a lead guitar part constructed entirely of harmonics, and ANOTHER minute-long feedback coda. "Embarrassing Virus" is a pretty waltz occasionally interrupted by a couple of staccato, nauseatingly dissonant chords. Fatigue Kills' closer, "Before Yesterday," employs only four sad, plainspoken lyrics ("Before yesterday I knew what happy was/But this time it's different") before going on three minutes' worth of exciting instrumental tangents.
Obviously, this album is not without its flaws: some of the songs are disjointed, the singing can still be weak, and the band uses feedback as a crutch to make their songs sound more intense. However, how many other bands do you know of nowadays that can carry the torch of mid-1990s noise-pop and still do it this well? Fatigue Kills is yet another solid entry in Christiana's ongoing saga of autonomous self-actualization. They've gained confidence and prowess as singers, musicians, songwriters, and producers. I have reason enough to believe that their next album will supersede Fatigue in quality just as much as Fatigue has superseded Hydrofield. You heard it here first: Christiana are on the verge of greatness, so jump on the bandwagon NOW.
Tara Jane O'Neil and Daniel Littleton are two artists who have had very long, interesting musical careers. O'Neil, among other things, was the brains behind bands such as Rodan, Retsin, and Sonora Pine, and Littleton has led Ida for many years now. Both of them make very delicate, subtle music, and have collaborated before, creating soft, sensitive sounds for precious folk-loving folk. That they've come together to create an album together such as this is of no real surprise, considering their histories.
Essentially an instrumental album, Music For a Meteor Shower highlights their more experimental sides. Of course, when you're making folk music, the music itself often gets overlooked, and sometimes the experimental nature of what you're doing really doesn't seem to stand out. Thus, it's nice to actually hear these two playing their guitars and making interesting noises with all kinds of little toys. The one time singing does happen, "Ooh La La...," you can't help but feel as if this song is really out of place--as if the sanctity of the instrumental concept had been violated.
Several of the "songs" on Music For a Meteor Shower are merely short compositions that flow into oter small compositions--creating a larger musical piece while holding on to some sort of identity of its own. If you're not paying attention to the song track, you really wouldn't know that you'd changed songs.
The music is pretty, but I should give you a word of warning. At times, this album sounds like you're simply listening to two artists hanging out in an empty room, playing riffs, and not really having any direction. When toys and gizmos and atmosphere is added, though, you feel like you're listening to two geniuses in the studio, at work on something greater, something nicer that is yet to come--which means some good ideas mixed with ideas that aren't really formed or cohesive quite yet.
Music For A Meteor Shower is a lovely, pretty record that would make great background music for a night of simply watching the stars. While it might not do much for either O'Neil or Littleton's reputation as artists, it certainly highlights their musical abilities and shows the process of collaboration between two highly talented folk.
December 05, 2002
Not so with Sands. I have to give Frayne some real credit here, because ambient music is perhaps the most limited musical style, and even then it almost all goes back to Eno. What makes Sands so amazing is that he's never really idle enough with his styles to form a rut. From reverbed guitar to effected guitar to who knows what, he makes a very big sound using, as the notes inform us, "guitar, voice, and claves" and additional assistance by Steve Day on "rhythm tracks." At times, Sands travels through a majestic Harold Buddian underwater kingdom ("Sands"), flies through the heavens like the lost angel child of Guthrie and Raymonde ("Greek Island"), or just walks alone in the forest, contemplating nature ("Lonely").
Instrumental music can be a challenge, but Sands is never anything less than an utter pleasure of a record. Everyone has a record in their collection that is used for the sole purpose of winding down, and Sands is certainly a balm that works well to soothe the aching soul. Henry Franye may not want to be the next Yanni or John Tesh, but he's certainly made a record that would easily topple those two New Age rock stars. Lanterna is new age music for the new generation of NPR listeners, and I for one am hoping Frayne gets some really good just deserts for it, too.
The ideas of long jams that are trippy and psyched out lived on, though, and when mixed together with other musical styles or ideas, it can sometimes produce great results. Daystar starts off innocently enough, with the quiet, meditative "Gold." From this innocent point, "Those Things" starts to find the record moving into heady, Verve-like waters. By the fourth track, things are heading off into British psych-rock territories with the "isn't that a Verve song title" titled "Still Shine On," a ten-minute jam-out that doesn't "jam" which takes you through the best ideas of My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, The Verve, and whoever else had a few good ideas here and there. Oh, I mentioned Spiritualized? I shouldn't have. Well--it's odd, because while there are hints of that great band, I'm hearing a lot more of a similarity to Lupine Howl, the bitter Spiritualized-spawned offspring. What does that mean for Lab Partners? It means that we're talking about a great band that's throwing in all kinds of trippy shit to traditional rock music and coming out on top of the heap.
By the time you come to the middle of Daystar, "Sensations," you've already spent a half-hour of your life, and it ain't over yet. From this point, Lab Partners set the controls for the heart of the stoned and dethroned, and you really don't care, because it's one helluva great trip--a quietly loud trip that finds Lab Partners picking up where their inspirations left off, creating a sound all their own. The song remains the same, but it's totally original in the hands of Lab Partners, and traditional rock sounds never sounded so original! It's all about bending and reforming the ideas and never ever ever ever ever does this 73 minute trip sound heavy or slip into a boring rock groove.
Daystar is the exciting rebirth of rock and roll. It's trippy and heady and smokey and stoned and dark and meant only to be heard in bars and clubs with the lights down and 15 minutes before closing time and there's a kind of a hush over everyone, the party's over but it's only 2:00 AM, the day is but young. Thankfully, so are these guys. Ladies and gentlemen, you are floating in rock.
Hey, slappy, get your floppy-haired ass up. Hey, are you listening? We're talking top-ten record here--and not one damn trace of the MC5, Stooges, or Lou Reed is to be found.
Thank god for that.
December 03, 2002
And the music? It's an odd, unique blend of jingle-jangle indiepop synthy blissout and all out dance-pop affair, with a little bit of candy on top! Ethereal and earthy, folky and funky, expressive yet brief, serious yet silly--A Cat Escaped is full of agreeable and surprisingly successful contradiction. (And when I say brief, I mean it--for all of the muscial ground that Pipas cover, they do so over ten songs in barely twenty minutes!)
This brevity causes but one flaw--songs that sound great and are just starting to get off the ground often just abruptly stop, with Pipas just moving on to the next idea. Even though most of these songs reach their natural conclusion, they just seem at times to be too abrupt in their ending. A minor quibble, though, for A Cat Escaped is just the balm for those bored-out bedroom bummer blue afternoons that occasionally happen. You get up, you dance, and you go about your day--what a perfect record for such a purpose!
Lo-Hi aren't guilty of retreading Boss Hog ground, thankfully. Lo-Hi has a distinctive voice all their own, even though Hollis does indeed bear a strong vocal resemblence to Kathleen Hanna. On songs such as "Runaround" and "Light Up," you'd think you were back in the days of Riot Grrrl. When Lo-Hi are a bit more experimental, such as "Little Plant," "White All Around," and "Leopard Skin," the band really stands out.
This is only their second album--their first in a few years, and their first as a full band--so maybe it's a matter of time until Hollis and company develop a more original sound. Say it More is a powerhouse of rock and punk and grrrl stuff and noise and guitars and such, and it'll be interesting to see what they'll be once they've spent some time growing and maturing--and thank god they don't sound like just a side project!
November 30, 2002
VHS or Beta are a disco band. 'Nuff said on that particular issue. You cannot deny that little fact. It's apparent from the first note, and it stays with you well after the final note fades out. All they want to do is make you dance the night away without a care in your little head. For all this talk of dance music, it's not meant to be an insult! Really, these guys are without equals. The only two I can think of are !!! and Daft Punk. (Besides, isn't the title of Le Funk a nod to Daft Punk?) But while !!! are operating from a post-punk irony and Daft Punk are simply DJ's, VHS or Beta is making dance music that is simply the sincerest musical statement I've heard in the past few years. I mean, you'd HAVE to be sincere in what you do to make music that simply screams for derision.
But let's not quibble about those things, shall we? Let's DANCE! Don't crank up "Solid Gold" or "On & On" unless you've got on your dancing shoes. What really proves that VHS or Beta is a band to contend with are the two live tracks, "Flash" and "Teenage Dancefloor." It's here that the band mutates their disco styles into a post-Gang of Four-style dancefunk. These two songs are simply relentless in their power and their overwhelming, damn-this-is-lascivious rhythm.
Are VHS or Beta the dance band of the future? No, they're the dance band of NOW. The future died two years ago, New Order is just a bunch of old farts, and everyone else is irrelevant. Ignore at your own risk--dance for your own bliss.
8 Hours starts off oh-so-quietly, with a "something doesn't feel safe" mood kicking in with "Turn it Off," but then things kick into MASSIVE overdrive when "Useless spells U-S-E-L-E-S-S" kicks in--and when the singer starts yelling "USELESS!" over and oiver and over and over and over over a growling growl of noise, you really do feel useless. They use this come-hither-and-die atmosphere throughout 8 Hours building it up and up and up and up and up and up until.....
(Well, I can't really tell you. In that little car accident that happened a few weeks ago, my copy of 8 Hours was lost. I debated whether or not to review 8 Hours now, or to simply wait until I bought another copy. Instead of prolonging it until I heard it again, I decided to tell you about it now, and simply go with what I'd written before the accident. I think what I've said in those first two paragraphs pretty much stands for the rest of the album. 8 Hours is indeed the rare record that sticks in your mind even after the first listen, and I simply had to tell you about it, because I wouldn't want to simply let you miss out on me telling you about what I consider to be one of the albums of the year. Excellent, essential, and utterly beautiful, and I'm totally selling Echo Is Your Love short in saying those things...)
November 29, 2002
Morella's Forest are veterans of that era, and it's really a shock that they didn't get swallowed up and spit out by all of those sharks looking for the cute and sexy next big one hit wonder thing. Certainly, they had the "it" that A&R types were looking for: cute girl with baby-coo voice, a loose, rock-lite backing band that served as backing for the girl, and lyrics that were smart and sassy. Their previous album, From Dayton with Love, was a pop hit that never happened. But that was several years ago, and none of those previous bands exist anymore. So maybe it was a good thing, then, that Morella's Forest didn't get subjected to this hit machine.
Now in a class by themselves, Morella's Forest have returned--but several years have passed between albums, and that girl-pop alterna-rock sound now sounds dated. Tiny Lights of Heaven might run the risk of suffering from an identity crisis. Less polished than From Dayton With Love, Tiny Lights of Heaven is certainly mature, but in "Choppy" when Sydney sings, "Do you even know who it is you really are?/Are you lost out in the night," I can't help thinking that she's talking about the band's direction. I have the feeling that this album's birth was a long and difficult process, and with lyrics like that, I also can't help but feel that Morella's Forest might have suffered from some sort of identity crisis themselves.
You can't really fault Morella's Forest for making music, nor can you fault them for trying something new. There are some great songs on Tiny Lights of Heaven, such as the could-be-a-hit "Hopeless" and "Love is Blind," and the fact that Sydney's singing is a sweet coo that recalls Sarah Shannon and Nina Piersson only make it better. Sure, the occasional slips are annoying, but it's like riding a bicycle--you are going to slip every now and then if you haven't ridden one in a few years. Tiny Lights of Heaven is a promising return to form from a band that has withstood the test of time and the temptations that lured so many other bands to their demise.
November 23, 2002
Baboon are nothing more--and nothing less--than a great rock band. Perhaps it's because they're older, but Something Good is Going to Happen to You seems less of a return to form as it does a maturation of old ideas with a healthy dose of fresh, new sounds. There are some mellower moments, such as the lovely little instrumental "Too Handsome to Die," and the ode to a departed friend, "Goodnight, Good-bye" that I really like, and I really don't remember Baboon being so...tender.
For the most part, though, the band's got their settings on "rock," and from the first second of "Alright," you know that you're gonna have a good time. And, really, Something Good Is Going to Happen To You is a very good record that will happen to you from the get-go. There seems to be a bit of electronic weirdness beating just under the pulse of the record, which sets Baboon apart from other rock/punk bands, yet it's not enough to really make you think, "ewww, experimentation!" Take a few minutes and let Baboon be the ones to let something good happen to you--you'll enjoy the pleasure.
November 22, 2002
For fans of Hicks, the set is a familiar one. If you've purchased at least two of Hicks' albums, then you'll have heard about a half of the material in this performance. No matter, though; while it's true that his routines were classics, these routines are slightly different enough to prove interesting to the die-hard fans. I've heard most of the set before, and I'm still rolling on the floor from the things he's saying.
His audience, though--they're rather quiet. Really quiet. And, of course, Hicks noticed it. You can hear him sigh out of frustration during the second bit of his routine, "Summer," because it's rather obvious that he's not going down at all. At times, the silence is deafening, because it sounds like there are only three or four people in the audience. It actually sounds like a real-life Neil Hamburger routine.
And then--it gets personal.
He turns on his audience, proclaiming them "the worst fuckin' audience I have ever faced...ever...ever..ever!" It is this revelation that really breaks the ice, and for the next few minutes, the wall between audience and performer is broken down, and though it seems as if he's not able to get past their apathy, what he's really doing is breaking down the audience even more and is, in fact, winning them over. During these next few minutes, there's some rather hilarious audience interaction. He then turns on all of his charm, and the show just becomes electric from that point on, and Hicks emerges victorious once again.
While much of the material is familiar to those familiar with Hicks, it's an excellent starting place for those who are looking for a place to learn more about what made Hicks so beautiful. He was an obscene, in-your-face, one-of-a-kind....philosopher. He wasn't a comedian, he was a man who knew that the only way the world can learn to accept things such as drug use, sexual differences, and questioning of the government is by point-blank saying things that everybody is afraid to talk about. He wasn't rude, loud, or abrasive--he was honest, and if he seemed like those things, then that's your problem, not Hicks'. Nobody has yet been able to top Hicks, and I fear that nobody ever will.
It's sad that he's gone. The world 2002 sure could use a Bill Hicks 1991.
When I put Sweet Sixteen, Volume 6 in the stereo, though, something inside that car changed. I felt warmer. The dark seemed brighter. And the music? Smart. Literate. True. Real. As I sat there in the dark, I closed my eyes and listened, all the while thinking that maybe I'd somehow stepped into another world, where the radio played good music, not mass-produced, soulless music made to entertain and swindle teenage girls from ages twelve to sixteen. Instead of crap, I heard music produced for one reason: a sincere love of music-making. If you've not paid attention to Parasol, or have dismissed them for whatever reason (mainly due to making "wimpy" music--or so I've heard), then you really need to get over yourself. They've really blossomed into a label of mature sounds, intelligent music made by people who aren't trying to be the next Strokes or Modest Mouse or (insert trendy indie band here). It also speaks volumes that a label can release records by bands that later become famous, or almost famous--White Town, Braid, Hum, Sarge and Menthol are but five that come to mind. That's a pretty good track record, and those are all pretty great bands.
Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six kicks off with "Smack," a stunning new track from Bettie Serveert. I'd never really realized how much Carol Van Dyk sounds like Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh! Following up quickly is "Other Side of Town," by Thirdimension, who are sure to pick up on the gauntlet thrown down by new Next Big Thingers (and former Parasol band!) The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. From there, we go back in time with a classic cut by The Action, "Brain," which still sounds like it's from the future. From here, Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six only gets better and better, with smooth sounds by Club 8, Folksongs For The Afterlife (a definite band to watch!), Fonda, Permer, Absinthe Blind, Chitlin' Fooks, Ronderlin, and...well, everything else! After one listen, you'll also wish that the radio sounded this good, this varied, and this intelligent!
Last night was cold, but Sweet Sixteen certainly warmed me up! It's good to know that in this dire era of independent music becoming polarized around trends (must every label now have a lo-fi bluegrass/folk artist?), some labels aren't buckling under pressure to cater to styles and trends. It's certainly a pleasant surprise, hearing how mature, intelligent, and utterly enjoyable Parasol's music roster has become. Geoff Merritt and company really are to be commended for eschewing what some might consider to be sensible advice and releasing beautiful, intelligent music. A word of warning, though; Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six is a five-dollar tease that will send you to their website and buying a whole bunch of awesome records!
November 20, 2002
Low Pressure is a much mellower affair. Gone are Angel Station's relentless, frantic beats and trumpet blasts, replaced with a warm electronic heartbeat and much more sedate, elegant trimpet playing. Those louder moments are found in "On a Clear Day" and "Storm Force 8," but for the most part, we're talking a kinder, gentler Spaceheads. At times, such as on "The Hut" and "Over The Moon," Spaceheads sound not unlike Drums & Tuba, a band who makes no bones about Spaceheads' influence, and who wrote an excellent Spaceheads-sounding tribute called "The Diagram."
Despite its slower pace, Low Pressure is still quite a pleasant album. After all, the band certainly had its work cut out for them when it came time to follow up such an amazing record. I'll be straight-up and say that Low Pressure didn't move me at first. Why? Because my expectations were high. Sure, it's my fault for setting my expectations so high, but at the end of the day, and in light of their overall genius, who could blame me?
November 17, 2002
Let's not think, though, that I'm being too generous in my praise for Capital City. Am I Invisible, as good as it is, is no Too Far to Care. There's something about this music that makes me feel that, given enough time on the road, they could make red-hot country rock that surpasses the Old 97's highest peak--which, my friends, is no mean feat. At times, lead singer Geech Sorensen even sounds like a less ego-filled Rhett Miller, which is also not a bad thing, lest he decides to go all Maxim on us, which would be a betrayal punishable by death.
But--and this is a big but--Capital City aren't country, country-rock, alt-country (whatever that is), or indie-rockers who are making ironic country sounds. They're JUST A BAND, which is commendable in and of itself. Am I Invisible is a great debut album full of rock songs, and in my mind it has only one weak spot--"Receiving/Daydreaming." This song falters because it has a shocking and seemingly out-of-place female vocalist. Even then, the song's not bad because it's not good, it's just a sudden change that doesn't seem to flow with the rest of the album.
I have this itching suspicion that such songs as "Council Emissary" and "Growing Up Too Fast," which sound great on record, simply EXPLODE in a live setting. I hope that somebody soon lights a fire underneath Capital City's ass, because in so doing, they could easily become a shit-hot live band that the world so desperately needs. If they did, they could really have something good. I mean, in a better world, "This Town Won't Be the Same" would be the greatest hit since "Big Brown Eyes" and "Doreen." But we don't live in a music-loving world, so Capital City will simply have to offer up their own dish of greatness one fan at a time. Luckily, though, I really think that they can pull it off.
November 16, 2002
Of course, who knows if the album's joy isn't derived, in some part, from the fact that the album was (supposedly) recorded in a woman's locker room. (Really!) Okay, I'll ixnay on the snarky, because this is really a lovely little record. Enemies is full of musical highs and lows and ebbs and flows and ups and downs and turn-arounds that are inspiring, uplifting, soothing, and doesn't sound a thing like Tortoise! And, believe me, that's a totally good thing. I'm glad that bands have stopped trying to take up residence inside that shell-jazz sound and are doing, well, their own thing. Of course, Pele's been around a bit, so you could argue the influence thing, but, really, when you hear the term "indie-jazz" or something referring to "indie rock with a hint of jazz," what name immediatly comes to mind? Yup. And Pele aren't that, so rest easy, o yea weary of genre associations!
For those moments when you just want to chill, because life has given you a stress-fill, then you could really, really do worse than to check out Enemies. And though I don't know why I think this, but at times I could feel the long shadow of Nanna over my shoulder. Maybe it's the label, or maybe it's the chord progression, I don't know, but could this possibly be the jazz-rock instrumental version of......oh, I'll just shut up now.
Replace the word Fugazi with At the Drive-In and you have my review of the record.
Iím kidding! Hey, I bet you would have been really pissed off if I just let my review of the record end there. Well, now you REALLY know how it feels to listen to the Quick Fix Kills new record.
Iím kidding again. Okay, let me get serious. Every single song on this record has been done before and better by At the Drive-In, North of America, Fugazi, and about a hundred other bands you could care to name. Youíve got your meandering bass lines, your dissonant twin-guitar attack, and some guy right in front shouting about God knows what. The Quick Fix Kills have some nice stop/start dynamics going on in the occasional song, but thatís about the only thing that separates them from the rest of the pack. It doesnít help that their singer canít carry a tune, and manages to sound bored even when heís shouting. I mean, Cedric Bixler veered off-key every once in a while, but even then you could tell he meant what he sang about, even if he was the only one who could make sense out of the lyrics. It also doesnít help that the production renders all of the instruments completely flaccid. The drummer sounds as if heís hitting loose-leaf paper instead of a kit. The guitars sound like someone forgot to adjust their distortion pedals to their proper settings. Iíd give them a bit more credit if the album was recorded on four- or eight-track, but this was done in a so-called ìprofessionalî studio. Plus, too many of the song titles (ìSuicide is so ë90s,î ìMy Scabs Look Like Artî) reek of hipster irony. The songs sound like they would kick butt live (as long as the vocals were placed very low in the mix), but after multiple listens I can only remember two of the songs on this record.
You can tell how unenthusiastic I am about this CD by how much more time I spent goofing off than actually discussing it. Youíd think that I wrote for Pitchfork or something. (Ed.--Yeah, no kidding!)
--Sean Padilla (for real this time)
November 14, 2002
First of all, I'd like to thank the wonderful editor of this web site for putting me on the guest list (plus one!) for this show. It served as a very nice birthday gift for one of my best friends, who turned twenty-two on that day. Out of the three bands on this spectacular bill, the first band, Ex-Models, was the one I wanted to see the most because I wondered how, if possible, they could recreate the incredibly spastic music on their debut album Other Mathematics in a live setting. Most of their songs are minute-long explosions of scratchy, staccato dual-guitar interplay, time signatures that would clear any dance floor, and goofy David Byrne-like yelping. In fact, I would venture to say that Other Mathematics is what Talking Heads would have sounded like if they were a No Wave band, and played only when hyped up on yellow-jackets. How did this sound live? If anything, the Ex-Models' music was even faster and even more abrasive. The vocals were completely unintelligible, and the guitars didn't even sound like they were playing notes half the time, and it didn't help matters that half the time, these guitars were being played with drumsticks Sonic Youth-style. The crowd, myself included, spent more time laughing and gawking at the constant silly faces that the band members made while playing their instruments than listening to the music. We had no CHOICE, as any attempts to really immerse ourselves in the music would have ended in severe whiplash. One startled audience member remarked, "These guys don't even play music; they just jump around like monkeys." I was able to read my friend's thoughts just by the look on her face. This was, in fact, the most audience-polarizing band we had seen together since US Maple opened for Pavement at Stubb's, and she ordered me to burn a copy of Other Mathematics for her that instant.
The crowd got into the second band, Pretty Girls Make Graves, much more, which is understandable considering that you can actually sing and dance to their music. The band suffered from the soundman's terrible mixing: you couldn't hear the female lead singer's vocals or the rhythm guitar at all. While the girl's singing is probably the band's most distinctive asset, the absence of rhythm guitar in the mix had a negligible effect. As it turns out, lead guitarist Jay Clark plays the most complicated parts of every song, both on his main instrument and on keyboards. He is the glue that holds the band together, and he managed to strut across the stage with more charisma and enthusiasm than the rest of the band put together. No, I'm not saying this just because he's black (haha), but I will admit that his presence gives the band a few brownie points (no pun intended...well, maybe) in my eyes. If I could boil the music of Pretty Girls Make Graves down to a formula, I would say that they fuse emo introspection with riot-grrl brattiness. The guitars never, ever sit still, the rhythm section booms and crashes in all the right places, and everyone except the drummer backs the girl up with communal, cathartic hollering. You won't remember all of the songs once they walk off stage, but while they're on stage, you'll be in rock heaven.
If you don't like your rock shows with a healthy dose of psychosexual terrorism, stay far away from the stage during a Les Savy Fav show. I can't even begin to talk about the music until I discuss the antics of the band's lead singer, Tim Harrington. Tim, a bald, plump, and hairy guy in ill-fitting clothes who probably wouldn't be given the time of day if he stopped a girl on the street, manages to make out with almost every girl (and guy) in the audience before the set's even halfway finished. I'm not kidding. He erotically spit-shined my friend's forehead more than a couple of times! He tore off his pants leg and made me take a whiff of it. He threw his crotch in another audience member's face, forcing her to hide, frightened, under my jacket. He stripped, danced on a pole, humped audience members, abandoned the stage to sing in the middle of the crowd for whole songs at a time, and in general, acted a damn fool. Not that I'm complaining, though, because a Les Savy Fav show just wouldn't be complete without Tim's antics. Too many front men use audience participation to compensate for shortcomings in their bands' music. It is to Les Savy Fav's credit, though, that their music would be just as compelling if Tim simply stood on stage and read from the lyric sheet. The synthesizer stabs of Brainiac, the lyrically dense sing/speak of the Fall, the "death disco" of Public Image Limited, and the scratchy guitars of Wire are all strong influences on Les Savy Fav's music. However, Les Savy Fav's own influence on newer independent rock bands has gone unacknowledged: virtually every new band that stands firmly at the crossroads between art, punk, and funk (Liars, the Rapture, !!!, etc.) owes a debt to them. When I'm at one of their shows, though, I am left with no room to intellectualize. I can only let the music take control of me, and duck and cover whenever Tim comes near.
The set covered almost all areas of the band's catalog. There were lots of songs from their debut 3/5, which was recorded when the band had two guitarists, but these songs, particularly "Pluto" and "Cut it Out:" sounded leaner and better with only one guitar. The new songs were all great, which gives me hope that Les Savy Fav's next album will be a significant rebound from their last album, the good but scattershot Go Forth, and of course, they played their standard, The Cat and the Cobra's "Who Rocks the Party?" The song turned into complete chaos when every member of the two opening bands joined Les Savy Fav on stage, each of them wearing a "I Went on Tour with Les Savy Fav and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt" shirt. A member of Pretty Girls Make Graves set up his own drum kit on stage, and Jay Clark took over on Les Savy Fav's drum kit. The sight of thirteen people on stage --- that's not even counting the audience members who had wandered on stage by this point ---banging on random instruments and shouting like banshees was unbelievable. When a couple of them started hanging off of the ceiling like wild apes, I seriously thought the show was going to turn into a full-scale riot. Les Savy Fav are the only rock band on this planet that deserves to ask the traditionally hip-hop question "Who rocks the party that rocks the body?" without a trace of irony. Put simply, this might have been the best show I'd seen all year.
November 12, 2002
The same theory can be applied to Ultramarine, if you replace "Interpol" with, say, "Moby" or "The Orb." Okay, so the Orb and Moby are roughly contemporary with Ultramarine, it doesn't really matter, because, well....Moby was more DJ than "artist" at the time, and The Orb, while trance-inducing, were never anything less than utterly cerebral; they certainly didn't make music that needed chemicals to appreciate fully. (Of course, I could open up a whole can of worms here and say that Every Man and Woman is a Star is saying the same thing as "We Are All Made of Stars," but I won't.)
I'll also confess and say I don't know a lot about techno/electronica music. I was vaguely aware of it in the early 1990s, but I thought that the whole Rave scene was (and, erm, still is) a bit too hippie, a bit too excessive, and a bit too boring for my blood. More importantly, I didn't think much of what these "artists" were making. One guy behind a computer may come up with some interesting sounds, but I'll take real instruments over fake ones any day. And there are plenty of real instruments on Every Man and Woman is a Star, too--such as guitar, flute, clarinet, and violins, as well as the occasional moments of human voice. Inspired in part by the British band's trip to Arkansas (?!), the group felt inspired to make "music for the body and the mind" and they've certainly accomplished it. Every Man and Woman is a Star really feels warm, loving, and natural--it's not going to knock you out with heavy beats or trendy club anthems, which was a definite step away from their contemporaries. At points, such as "Saratoga" and "Panther," you'll be hard-pressed to not classify this record as light-jazz or, possibly uptempo New Age.
That the world missed Ultramarine's second album, Every Man and Woman is a Star, is no surprise. Originally released in 1992, it suffered the fate of being released at the same time their record label shut down. It's a bit of a pity, too, because the music on here deserves so much more than obscurity. My first listen to Every Man and a Woman is a Star was a quiet pleasure. You'll be hard-pressed to pin a date to these songs, because they sound so..utterly...modern! Those Moby comparisons? If you didn't know any better, you could easily throw some of this together with some of Moby's recent compositions, and the average listener would be none the wiser. Moby should be sending Ultramarine some sort of gratuity for borrowing so heavily from them, or maybe Ultramarine's just waiting for Eminem to get through with him to reclaim their crown. Whatever the case may be, you could do worse than to spend the time tracking this album down. It's the perfect balm to the hard days in your life.
November 11, 2002
I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about Halley, but I think I'll tell you a little secret. I'll let you know the exact moment I fell in love with them. It's on the last song, the epic "Kites are Slow Downers." At exactly 7 minutes and 59 seconds into the song, after a loud buildup of guitar, drum, keyboards, trumpets, brass, and strings--the choir comes in, and you're ascending in to heaven. The song is an epic, heavenly, sonic recreation of the final battle of good vs. evil. As you listen, the battle has just taken place, and at that particular moment, you know who's just won, and the fight and conflict is over, the choir declared the winner, and the song fades into silence. After thirty seconds of quiet, you hear the conquering army returning to a heavenly home in the sky, and the orchestra plays the fanfare of the victorious conquerors, and heaven shines.
Forget The Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us is a record that simply demands to be heard. I DEMAND that it be heard. And, I'm telling you, my friends, Halley--who know that spending TIME on your music means that your record will SOUND GOOD--are a band that aren't worth watching...they're a band worth EXPERIENCING. I could bust out with 5037 words for each song, but I'm not going to do so, because I wouldn't feel comfortable being so brief and dismissive of their music. Words really do fail, my friend--Halley are a band that you must hear to fully comprehend. You really should listen to Forget The Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us--and then you should listen to it again. And again. Listen with your ears, and let your soul hear it. You'll be glad you did.
November 10, 2002
Books extend one olive branch to the listener by outlining the method behind their madness in the second song, “Read, Eat, Sleep.” An acoustic guitar is given the digital cut-up treatment, and is then supplemented by the tinkling of a variety of chimes and music boxes. During the first half, voices of different timbres slowly spell out the words of the song’s title. The music then segues into a field recording of what sounds like chains being dragged across glass. After this jarring transition, a stern voice says, "By digitizing thunder and traffic noises, Georgia was able to compose aleatoric music." For those of you who aren’t studying for the SATs, aleatoric music is defined as “composition based primarily on chance, but sometimes also random accidents and/or highly
improvisational execution.” This must be the Books’ way of telling the listener not to try so hard to make sense out of the interruptions, to simply enjoy the music for what it is. It is fortunate for the adventurous listener, and unfortunate for the befuddled critic, that the only word that can accurately describe the rest of Thought for Food is “brilliant.”
“All Bad Ends All” could have fit nicely on Moby’s Play if His Royal Baldness had severe attention deficit disorder. A blues singer moans through a cloud of vinyl static, introducing a bouncy juke-joint guitar riff backed by a percussive backdrop of what sounds like drumsticks beating on buckets. On “Contempt,” a cello is deliberately
plucked as one guy asks another guy strange questions about his body parts, for instance, “Do you like my ankles?” The gorgeous “Excess Straussness” is little more than layer after layer of celli run through tremolo, and it is as close as I’ve ever heard to a musical representation of floating on a cloud. “Mikey Bass” is an appropriately named showcase for the bass guitar. The riffs are sped up, slowed down, and triggered to stutter and fold back in on themselves until they bear a striking resemblance to the human regurgitation noises that appear at the end of the song. The coda to “Getting the Done Job”sounds like a recording of an Irish jig that was spliced into tiny pieces and rearranged incorrectly. “All Our Base Are Belong to Them” begins with dueling bass guitars, sounding like Dianogah on Quaaludes, until a singer shows up to do a duet with a slowed-down recording of his own voice. In the middle of the song, someone says, “Welcome to the human race; you’re a mess,” and that statement is just as good a manifesto for Thought for Food as the previous “aleatoric” hullabaloo, for the incidental noises that pop up in almost every nook and cranny on this record could serve as symbols of the messy realities of daily life.
Occasionally, an element of dark irony pops into the Books’ music. “Motherless Bastard” begins with a recording of a father publicly disowning his daughter as she cries out for him. The father’s voice is so dispassionate that I wonder whether his words are meant in earnest or in jest. If it’s the latter, the child isn’t in on the joke, for her cries begin to sound more and more desperate until the introductory guitar riff finally appears. The conversation appears merely as a preface to the actual music, with occasional interjections of “Mommy! Daddy!” punched in the mix to reinforce the melancholy. “Deafkids,” the album’s closer, pits a group of babbling children against a clueless schoolmarm who keeps telling them to be quiet though the children obviously can’t hear him (hence the song’s title). It’s a cheap joke, but one can’t hold that against the Books, for the song’s seventy-second duration keeps the joke from getting stretched too thin.
Getting this album to sit comfortably inside a specific genre is about as difficult for me as solving a Rubik’s Cube would be to a colorblind man. Despite the fact that not a single second of this record sounds as if it hasn’t been digitally altered in some manner, Thought for Food cannot be classified as Intelligent Dance Music. There’s no way in hell that you can dance to it, and the Books do all of the intellectualizing for me in “Read, Eat, Sleep”. You can’t call it “musique concrete” because no matter how busy the sonic manipulations become, the emphasis remains on melody and organic instrumentation. In fact, the album’s weak point, the minute-long “A Dead Fish Gains the Power of Observation,” is the only song in which the voice (the mumbling monologue of the song’s protagonist) is actually more interesting than the music (a quiet, directionless guitar improvisation). There are bluegrass and ragtime influences on display, but not even the late guitar virtuoso John Fahey’s most extreme work approaches this music’s sheer otherness. Yes, cello is one of the main instruments on this record, but the noises it makes are too rough and unstructured to resemble anything symphonic or classical. The liner notes don’t give any insight as to who the Books are; the guest appearances are mentioned by name, but the main offenders aren’t. The Books have to be admired for their dogged refusal to draw a straight line and follow it, but all of the mystery and obfuscation in the world would mean nothing if it weren’t for the thirty-eight minutes of random, beautiful music that they’ve given us with Thought for Food.
November 07, 2002
Romantic problems are Gedge's specialty, and Cinerama's made a career off of love gone wrong, and while such probelms of the heart aren't pleasant to experience, Gedge tells some interesting combat stories from the battle of the sexes. Mixing these tunes with a small chamber orchestra backing and some pretty crunchy guitar parts, Cinerama's music grows greater with every tear and heartbreak. Could it be that one woman wronged him? He seems to come back to certain themes: deception, cheating, and dishonesty, and, well...it just appears that the man's obsessive about his pain. "And When She Was Bad," the lead track off of Cinerama's new album, finds that her cheatin' heart is still at it.
The cover of Torino shows the propeller of an airplane mid-air, and that ties in quite well with Cinerama circa 2002. They're a band flying comfortably at autopilot; you're not going to find any particularly new ideas or themes or sounds. When you're already a master when it comes to writing pop-songs, sometimes consistency of product is the greatest achievement. Normally you should take to task a band that hasn't really changed its style, but when you make music as awesome as Cinerama, then you don't have to change anything.