January 27, 2002

Mr Wright "Hello Is Anyone Out There?"

This is a record whose description alluded me. Being a "music journalist," we rely on those little press releases that labels like to write whenever they have a new record to promote. Some of these little pieces of promotion are excellent; some are terrible, for they either give too little information, or, even worse, delve into a purple prose style of writing, and the band in question gets their name pasted to clauses such as "sounds like..." or "reminiscent of..." or "echoing the genius of.." or "expanding on the gauntlet thrown down by..." or "the bastard child that was born from raping the muses of..." something of similar ilk. The band, more often times than not, has about as much resemblence to said artist as my truck's resemblence to a van. It's the art of taking liberties, and while it makes for interesting writing, it often misrepresents the artist in question.

Case in point: Mr. Wright's Hello Is Anyone Out There? I did not get the press release directly, but I found it online, and it's worthy of scrutiny. I think that it will effectivly illustrate my point. Consider:

Mr. Wright is arguably the last enigma of European Pop. On the one hand an irresistible singer songwriter of the deep reflective craftsman school of Scott Walker or Leonard Cohen and on the other a modern, even futuristic performer with all of the salaciousness and keen observation of a Momus; spiced with a touch of the English village green whimsy of Ray Davies and The Kinks back when they were at the height of their creative powers. The world that Mr. Wright unveils for us is one of personal torments and controversies. "Hello Is Anyone Out There" is full of imagination and it's a downright tease. Mr. Wright plays left handed guitar and delivers vocals in a manner that is both appropriately and impressively understated. The projection is one of easy superiority but it is an intonation of vulnerability and modesty and never arrogance. In a previous incarnation, Mr. Wright was no less the leader of the band Always, who were a central figure in the notorious, now somewhat hip El Records of the 80s, which was an exercise in escapism and illusion. Old habits die hard!

Now, let's examine this promotional release part by part to see if it really represents Hello Is Anyone Out There fairly accuratly.

Mr. Wright is arguably the last enigma of European Pop.

This statement, while certainly interesting, does not completly hold true. While Mr. Wright is certainly enigmatic, there exists no evidence that he is the "last," unless someone, somewhere knows something about the fate of humanity that they're not telling. Highly suspect, but maybe the press agent that wrote this gathered some information from their day job and are casually mentioning the impending fate of humanity. Or, mor plausibly, they know that there are poor saps (aka "hipsters") who will pick this album up simply on the basis of hip references. Either case, it is rather arguable that Mr. Wright is "the last enigma of European Pop."

"On the one hand an irresistible singer songwriter of the deep reflective craftsman school of Scott Walker or Leonard Cohen and on the other a modern, even futuristic performer with all of the salaciousness and keen observation of a Momus; spiced with a touch of the English village green whimsy of Ray Davies and The Kinks back when they were at the height of their creative powers. "

In listening to Hello, Is Anyone Out There?, I hear musical passages that sound like Scott Walker, but I don't hear any singing that is reminiscent of either Walker or Cohen. What I do hear, however, is Malcolm McLaren, with a hint of Howard Devoto. Mr. Wright's songwriting prowess is good, and is, indeed, "modern," but maybe those are just the keyboards clouding my judgement. And as far as the Momus comparisons, there's no comparison there, period. Momus is in a world of his own when it comes to keen observation, though his singing leaves much to be desired. While Mr. Wright is certainly witty, he certainly isn't singing very Momus-like. As far as the Kinks, while I am, admittedly, not a Kinks fan, I think they get mentioned here, to some extent, as a reference point for their a. being English, b. being "eccentric."

The world that Mr. Wright unveils for us is one
of personal torments and controversies. "Hello Is Anyone Out There" is full of imagination and it's a downright tease. Mr. Wright plays left handed guitar and delivers vocals in a manner that is both appropriately and impressively understated.

This is certainly a true statement. Hello, Is Anyone Out There is a record that is rather emotional in places; certainly, the sad refrains of "Missing You Still," or the overwhelmingly melancholy synths of "Darling Honey" can tear a bit at the old heart, ya know. Hello, Is Anyone Out There is also terribly, terribly coy, due in large part to the fact that, at times, you can't really understand what he's singing about. Not that he's being intentionally vague or oblique, but that the music overwhelms the experience, and you're not listening so much to what he's saying as you are listening to how he's saying it.

The projection is one of easy superiority but it is an intonation of vulnerability and modesty and never arrogance.

Very much so! Hello, Is Anyone Out There is a rather humble album. Mr. Wright's very intelligent and is aware of its ability, yet they do not want to overwhelm the listener. A noble idea, but if this is the reason the album opens with "Sailor On The Sea," then Mr. Wright would do well to not open an album with such a weak number. It's lovely, but its production seems rather muffled, and it seems to underwhelm your first impression of Hello Is Anyone Out There, but even though the blandness of that first track is overwhelmed by the greatness of "Darling Honey," it still leaves a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste.

In a previous incarnation, Mr. Wright was no less the leader
of the band Always, who were a central figure in the notorious, now
somewhat hip El Records of the 80s, which was an exercise in escapism
and illusion. Old habits die hard!

Indeed, Mr. Wright's Hello, Is Anyone Out There is very much a record that is interlaced with the idea of illusion and escape. It's a veritible fantasy land of the sad, the melancholy, and the terminally hip, and, eventually, it's a quietly brilliant album. Having never heard Always, I cannot compare the two; but certainly, what would one expect from a band whose title is not only a reference to its leader, but also to its grand aspirations--to be your Mr. Wright. A fine record that, for once, lives up to the purple prose praise.

--Joseph Kyle

Schatzi "Death of the Alphabet"

Power-pop punk. Never thought that combination of styles would ever be appealing, much less actually valid, but here's the proof. This little group from Austin, Texas, are making music for the soundtrack of someone's life, and though that person may or may not be you, you can't help but kick back, smile, and enjoy the ride.

What a lovely ride it is! This is a four-song "EP" that is really a sampler for the band's forthcoming album Fifty Reasons to Explode. The four songs are to be on the album, and I guess this is a way to raise interest in the album. They're doing the emo/pop punk with hints of power pop, not unlike the Get Up Kids, yet they don't strike you into boredom with the yawn-inducing Get Up Kids formula that only the Get Up Kids can get away with. "Death of the Alphabet" is a quaint little emo-rock song that reminds a little bit of recent Promise Ring, without the whiny singing. "Sucked Into Something" has this big-rock sound that sounds not unlike the great Superdrag, another band with a hit that had "Sucked" in the title. "Song For Stephanie" is a definite stumble from the other two songs, as its simply too by-the-book emo for my taste. "The Spider Smells Disaster" is a song that attempts to be symbolic, yet stumbles over the fine line between clever and stupid way more than I personally allow.

Death of The Alphabet also has four "bonus" tracks from the past few years. "Nadine" is the first, and it's a heaver, rockier affair, with some sweet melodies and a riff that's reminiscent to Jawbreaker's "Fireman." "By The Slivery Moon," from their previous album, the stupidly titled Joni loves Schatzi, is interesting, as it's not like the rest of the songs on here, being a more lo-fi affair, much more like GBV than JEW. I likey this one very much, thank you, though the next song, "The Fall of Canaryville," is much more JEW than GBV, and I no likey this one at all. The last song, "* * *," is a remix of the title track, with industrial-strength drum machine and live drums, and though the vocal line is the same as the original version, it's kinda fun in a "that was an intersting use of three minutes," yet this version doesn't do justice to the original song.

All in all, this is a very pleasant, if not slightly generic, record. Schatzi could really be onto something with their style, and if you like poppy rock with a touch of emo, then Death of The Alphabet EP would probably spend time on your radio. Now, Schatzi, I'd like to commend you on your talents, but would like to take you to task for something: why do you feel it necessary to laden your songs with so many emo-rock cliches? I hope it's not for wont of attention, is it? That Joni Loves Schatzi track was pretty good, yet you delve into blechy territories now and again. Don't think I don't like you; if I didn't like you, I wouldn't be giving you this little lecture, would I? You're better than that. Leave the crap to people like Jimmy Eat World and whoever this week's makeout club stars are. You're better than that. Really, you are. I swear it. I wouldn't lie to you.

--Joseph Kyle

January 23, 2002

Up High in the Night seems to exist in year one. What do I mean by year one? Simple. Arlo sound influenced by years ending in one. Not sure about what the hell I'm talking about? Don't worry, I'm gonna explain it to you all nice-like. While listening to the lovely ear candy of Arlo's lovely debut album, Up High in the Night, I noticed that their influences included classic rock, new wave, power pop, and hints of grunge and indie rock. Taking this notion a little bit further, I couldn't help but notice that each of the tracks seemed to fall under each of the past few years that ended in the number one. Let's examine this Arlo phenomenon a little closer:

1971: The Birth of Classic Rock

In 1971, the Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers. Badfinger released No Dice. Todd Rundgren released Something/Anything. These albums are but a few of the wonderful records released that year. All of these albums were beautiful in presenting a new, refined sound of Rock music; no longer simple "pop," but on the verge of being "art." Listening to "Oh Yeah" and "So Long," one can't help but think that Arlo once spent a few weeks jamming to these oldies but goodies, and that they all enjoy the occasional rocking out on the oldies stations of their choice.

1981: New Wave of Rock

In 1981, Elvis Costello was the new Elvis of thinking, intelligent music fans. The Cars were just starting to tear up the charts, and more literate rock seemed to be developing out of the quagmire of the new wave, disco, and pop. Less interested in being superstars than they were artists, this new wave of musicians were more interested in craft than bands. Other bands such as Naked Eyes, Plimsouls, and the Stray Cats were revisiting rock's varied history. Up High in the Night is quite indebted to Elvis Costello, so much so that not mentioning EC would be an unforgivable oversight. "Kenji" is the song that owes much to Costello; "Shutterbug," is also wonderfully inspired by the Cars as well.

1991:The Year that Punk Broke

Pointing out the irony of Arlo being on Sub Pop must be done. Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and, erm, some band named Nerdvana or something like that seem to spice up Up High in the Night, and I hear that whole "sub pop " thing on "Forgotten" and "Sittin' on the Aces." 1991 was also the twilight of the Pixies, who, though still relatively unknown, were starting to appear as inspiration for younger bands. No doubt in listening to "Lucid," "Kenji," or "Loosen Up," you'll hear the ghost of Black Francis teaching the ghost of Kurt Cobain the chords to "Surfer Rosa." Unlike the Fastbacks, however, Arlo's role as "token power pop band" seems to be more than just a novelty.

2001:Rock and Roll is here to stay?

Rock has come and gone and come and gone so many times in the past four decades, it's hard to say where it will go next. I'm not Miss Cleo, so don't ask me about the "future of rock." We're in a new era of life; buildings get destroyed by airplanes now, people actually like the crap that's given them on the radio, and nobody has any faith in what rock and roll used to mean. Co-opted and pigeonholed to the point of stupidity, who can blame the average music fan if they just don't care about Rock music anymore? Everything new sounds like everything old, it's been said, but now, we know it's true. Thank god for bands like Arlo, who are creating a nice future by remembering the past.

Is Arlo the most original band? Are they the most innovative? Do they want to be the hipster's reference point? From listening to their debut, Up High in the Night, I think the safest, most accurate answer to this question would be a resounding "no." Like their label mates Vue and Love as Laughter, as well as wonderful contemporaries such as Superdrag, Spoon, and Guided by Voices, rock and roll will never die, and there's hope, there's always hope, that a Renaissance will emerge. With bands such as these, however, the most enjoyable part will, once again, be the music.

--Joseph Kyle

January 22, 2002

American Analog Set "Through The Nineties: Singles and Unreleased"

For decades, fans of the supernatural and mysterious, unexplained occurrences have talked about a small town in west Texas by the name of Marfa. These people believe that, every night, mysterious lights appear on the grounds just outside of town. These lights flicker and come and go without rhyme, reason, or explanation. Some say the occurrence may be otherworldly, others suggest that its "swamp gas," but those who have ever tried, or cared enough to try, to fully explain this occurrence note that these lights appear in pairs of two, and come from the general direction of Highway 90.

I have been to Marfa, and this occurrence seemed to contain about as much mystery as whether or not the light stays on or off in the refrigerator once the door is closed. The group I was with at the time dragged me along to see these lights...driving three hours to nowhere, sitting in the middle of nowhere for an hour, and then another three hours back. A wasted experience for me; an intro to a record review for you.

For the past decade, fans of quiet, psychedelic music have talked about a small band from central Texas by the name of the American Analog Set. Those who have seen this band report hearing a hazy, mellow drone that makes them feel rather euphoric, calm, and utterly mellow. While I have never actually seen this talked-about band, I have heard them on record.

Through The 90s: Singles and Unreleased is a simple record, really. Title says it all, doesn't it? After all, compilation albums are really simple in nature, aren't they? The nice thing about compilation albums is that they create a sense of context for both the band and their music. You can really sense the growth of a band by its past, and nothing embodies it more than the odds and sods compilation. Placing together songs that were originally designed to never be placed with other songs can, and often does, work wonders.

Take, for instance, "High Fidelity vs. Guy Fidelity." This song originally appeared as the B-side to their debut single, "Diana Slowburner ii" Lovely in its own right, but by itself it doesn't make much of an impression. When put into context of other songs, however, you realize that this track is a much louder affair than other American Analog Set songs. Of course, this little fact also highlights what also makes Through the 90s a good example of a high-quality singles comp: the liner notes. Each song's source is explained, as is a little bit of background and history of the band at the time. That way, you learn more about the band, while being entertained. Did you know that the three singles on here were part of a trilogy, with one single being on red vinyl, one on white vinyl, and one on blue vinyl? How American of those analog set kids to do something that clever!

What makes this set really special, however, are the numerous rare tracks. Eight of 'em. Three tracks, "On My Way," "Where Did You Come From (Reprise)" and "Thin Fingers" were to have been part of an EP; there's one track, "Don't Wake Me" that was a remix which was done by a friend of the band, which may (or may not have) been part of a split 12" remix series; and "living room incidental #2/the corduroy kid," which appeared on a Japanese split single with Adventures in Stereo.

Closing out this fine set of Texas space pop is documentation of an actual American Analog Set sighting. Taken from an unreleased 10", this live record (recorded in Chicago in October 1997) contains five songs, showing that this drone is more than a wonderful studio creation. It also gives this record another dimension, one that I can't fully explain, but I don't bother to question. Sometimes mysteries are simply to be enjoyed, and this phenomenon is, indeed, enjoyed. Through The 90s is a nice little collection from one of Texas' best underrated bands.

--Joseph Kyle

January 21, 2002

Calvin Johnson "What Was Me"

I'd like to set up a wildlife sanctuary for Calvin Johnson. His brand of rough, deep, and off-key folkie-style lo-fi rock really is a dying breed--killed off by, ironically, the DIY ethos of home-recording that he helped create with his former (and lasting legacy) band, Beat Happening. Let's not forget that his great label, K, is also the best, most successful example of DIY ethos at work. It's been a few years since his last album, but What Was Me breaks the years of wondering "O, Calvin, Where Art Thou?"

This is his first out-and-out solo album in his long, storied career--and it's really cool that it's coming out now. He sounds--stronger? More mature? Older and wiser? Sure. Instead of lo-fi folk, this is--and what most critics missed completely--a blues record. We're not talking about blues-rock here, my friend. When he sings acapella--which he does on many songs here--we're talking field recordings here. Chain-gang music. Rock-busting music.

And that voice! Calvin's voice really does sound a lot stronger than ever before, sounding a lot like Johnny Cash, with a hint of Stephin Merritt. Maybe it's the production, or maybe it's the fact that he's not hiding behind an R&B band or Doug Martsch, but Calvin doesn't need to hide behind gimmicks to be effective. I'm personally affected by "What Was Me"--a seeming epitaph for his heart. It's fitting, as description of this album referred to him in the past tense, and I believe that the term "posthumous" was used, leading me to think that Calvin had died! My favorite number here is the gospel ya-ya of "Lightnin' Rod For Jesus," a downright authentic spiritual number with The Gossip's Beth Ditto, whose deep-booming sultry voice is angelic foil to Johnson's world-weary, low-down ways.

What Was Me is what Johnson is. Pure, unadulterated imperfection. You can't go wrong with that, and it's a wonder why he's waited so long to release a solo record. He's got music in his soul, and soul in his music. What Was Me is a pure explosion of the blues, and more than a mighty fine new chapter to kick off his next decade of making music.

--Joseph Kyle

January 20, 2002

Stephin Merritt "Eban & Charley"

Enigmatic pop-composer Stephin Merritt has finally released a solo album. Considering how each of his personas have distinct stylistic qualities (Magnetic Fields=pop songs, Future Bible Heroes=new wave pop songs, 6ths=distinct ballads with guest vocalists, Gothic Archies=hopelessly pathetic bubblegum), this soundtrack is a very different record for Mr. Merritt. Eban and Charley represents a radical departure for Stephin, and, personally, it couldn't be more welcome.

If you're looking for a pop record along the lines of 69 Love Songs, forget it. Eban and Charley is very much a soundtrack. The film Eban and Charley is an underground film about an older man's love affair with a young boy; in short, it's a flim that few will probably see. As I have not seen the film, it would be improper to comment on the plot, but judging from the soundtrack, it's an odd, disturbed, and rather depressing affair. Of course, the format does provide Stephin with the opportunity to experiment with different styles, as well as working with instrumentals--something that he's never really done on record before, save for the occasional moment here and there.

Of the album's sixteen songs, only six are fully developed songs. Most are either odd experimental clips or are piano-and-effects based pieces. The opening track, "Mother," is a keyboard composition, very heavy on the atmosphere, that reminds a bit of Harold Budd's collaboration with the Cocteau Twins. In fact, there are quite a few tracks that have a Harold Budd tone to them, as well as touches of Eno. His instrumental version of "Greensleeves" is played on a rattling piano. Done in this ambient style, the song certainly recreates a cold, snowy, harsh English winter. Not easy listening in the least, and certainly not a happy Christmas tune as well. There's another Christmas tune, "O Tannenbaum," which is also played on Piano, is perhaps the angriest, version of this song you'll hear.

Some of these experimental little pieces are rather cute; I'm particularly taken with "Drowned Sailors" and "Tea Party." Other pieces are rather complex, and are simply atonal. Of the actual "songs," all of them are somewhat sad, and, not surprisingly, a lot more cinematic in nature, most especially "Maria Maria Maria." "Some Summer Day," for some odd reason, reminds me of World War I. "Poppyland" and "This Little Ukelele" are perhaps the most reminiscent of Stephin's past work; they're a nice little respite from all of the experimenting going on. "Water Torture" is a fun little exercise in internal rhyme, and "Tiny Flying Player Pianos" is an all-too-brief pop tune.

It's good to see Merritt stepping away from his traditional musical styles to experiment a bit. As an album, Eban and Charley may provide some fans with a difficult listen. It would be unfair to bring any notions of past Stephin Merritt recordings when you first listen to Eban and Charley.In case you ever wondered what would happen if Coil met Abba and Lee Hazelwood, Eban and Charley certainly provides you with a possible scenario.

--Joseph Kyle

Concrete Blonde "Group Therapy"

Bands break up. It's a common fact of life. Artistic differences seem to be the most common cause of band splits, as one would normally expect. Others are caused by the death of a key member, or, even less so, by sheer exhaustion. It's as if the band realized that their efforts were going unheard and, unable to cope with the general apathy and indifference of a bored music scene, simply, quietly, call it a day.

When Concrete Blonde split in 1994, one couldn't help but feel sad. They'd had a major hit with "Joey," and, a year later, had a minor hit with their cover of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows." Then...nothing. Their post Bloodletting album, Walking In London was simply passable in the face of the previous album's brilliance. This occurrence was not the first in Concrete Blonde's history; their 1988 album Free was nice, but vastly inferior to their 1986 debut, the still-sounds-fresh-today Concrete Blonde. What made Concrete Blonde's decision to call it a day even sadder was the fact that Mexican Moon, while seemingly ignored, proved to be the best album of their career. They finally achieved the perfect combination of atmospherics with their love of Tejano culture, and made an album that still stands today as a very haunting, very spiritual testament to their unrecognized genius. It must have been an utter frustration for them to release their best album to very little acclaim, and, understandably, they quietly called it a day.

Thus, it came as quite a shock to learn that they'd reformed. Rather quietly, they reformed to simply make an album with all three original members, Johnette Napolitano, James Mankey, and Harry Rushakoff. Knowing, though. of the curse of the "next album," the idea of a new album seemed kind of a bittersweet, "what will they be like now" kind of way. Plus, reunion albums always seem to be incomplete; the creative spark seems to be dimmer, and one can't help but be a little bit cynical as to the true nature of a band's reformation. Is it money? Is it an attempt to reclaim long-faded glories? Or, could it possibly be that the band still are relevant and feel like they have something more to say?

I'm happy to say that such worrying was unjustified. Like a fine wine, Napolitano's voice has aged quite nicely, making her already sultry singing even smoother, thicker, and wiser than before. Group Therapy starts out with one of the album's weaker numbers, a tribute to glam rock entitled "Roxy.,"--Roxy as in Roxy Music, 70s glam superstars and ex-Concrete Blonde drummer Paul Thompson's first band. Though the song is lovely and enjoyable in its own right, its use of other glam songs as lyrics seems rather weak and contrived.

"Roxy," while weak as a song, does key one in on the general theme of Group Therapy, which seems to be that Johnette is aware of her aging. Even though this subject isn't hinted in "Roxy," it becomes undeniable in "When I Was a Fool:" "Every face that I see/So much younger than me/and I drink and I think/How I don't even miss/my glorious past or the lips that I've kissed." She realizes her destiny hasn't played up to the "dream" of domesticity, and she admits that she's "free to a fault/45/Playing guitar./Living my life," and at the end, realizes that she'd "rather be me/than anyone else."

The song is followed by "True, Part III," a reference, in title only, to Concrete Blonde's first hit. Whereas the first "True" was a peppy, upbeat little number about life, "True, Part III" is far from the happy moments of years gone by. Instead, this "continuation"
is much darker, much sadder. It's a song about knowing that death is near and wondering if everything you've done in life was worth remembering, and that the mistakes of the past are, ultimately, something that must be accepted. "And I will leave behind/stains and pains/and take the blame for who I am," she hauntingly sings. Her vocal delivery is perhaps her most haunting, most disturbing, making one set aside the rule of separation between an artist's private life and their art, and you can't help but wonder if she is okay. If you ever wondered what "the blues" were, then this song will definitely answer that question, as this is not a song that can be enjoyed. You're left restless, disturbed, and very concerned--which probably suits Napolitaino just fine.

With songs ranging from staying strong in the face of a lover's betrayal ("Valentine") to a lover's betrayal by dying ("Your Llorona") and the realization of inner struggle as the builder of strength ("Inside/Outside"), the lyrical content is much more personal than their previous records. Instead of focusing on the streets or the failures of others, Johnette is more interested in examining her own life than examining others. Musically, the band are in fine form. While they're not doing anything that radically differs from Concrete Blonde's style of acoustic blues and Latin tinged atmospheric goth rock, they do seem to have grown tighter as a unit With Johnette's voice sounding a lot smoother and a lot more mature, the songs resonate with an underlying power that wasn't really present in their glory days.

Group Therapy is certainly a much more mature, less worried about their future Concrete Blonde. It's an air of strength that could have only been achieved by breaking up. Now, Concrete Blonde have nothing left to prove. They've been there, done that, walked away from it all, and have come back to it all. In "Memory," at the end of Group Therapy, when Johnette quietly sings "We're alive and happy to be here/creating melodies/and memories," you realize that, through all the talk of death, failure, betrayal, destruction, and heartache, at the end of the day, Johnette's grateful to both what she had and lost, and is happy to simply have what she has to return to. A welcome return to a group whose far from past their prime.

--Joseph Kyle

January 18, 2002

The Beach Boys "Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy

There comes a time when even the most ardent of fans will say, "wait, isn't this enough?" Rarities collections, sadly, tend to become repetitive after a while, and the nature of "variations on a theme" would satisfy only the most stalker-like of fans. Rock and Roll, for all of its genres, divergent styles, and occasional experimentation, isn't conducive to producing variants of alternate takes. Unlike jazz and classical, (or, for that matter, electronica) Rock is somewhat constricted to the limiting nature of lyrics and chords. The Beach Boys, "America's Band," have created a cottage industry simply based on their unreleased material, and Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace Of A Musical Legacy is a new collection dedicated to showing a different side of the Beach Boys.

But, really, isn't this overkill? They have had two boxed sets (one of which was almost exclusively unreleased material); a reissue series that contained tons more unreleased and rare tracks, as well as two or three "rarities" disks. What more is this collection going to add to their legacy? Is this collection going to add to the misguided notion that Brian Wilson is a "genius?"

The answer, plain and simple, is a resounding no. Wilson's talents are to be commended; he certainly possessed a gift that very few artists, before or after, could claim. Please make note of my use of the past tense in describing his talents; undoubtedly, his "genius," while debatable, is certainly no longer with him. It's to be said that he had a good ten-year run, and those ten years of utter genius are to be loved and appreciated and respected and admired. The compilers of this set have an obvious love and respect for Brian, but isn't that missing the point?

Hawthorne, CA is clearly divided between pre-and-post Pet Sounds Beach Boys. The first disk, though containing 30 tracks, is filled up with multiple takes and commentary taken from recent times and a program from Radio Luxembourg from 1969. It's this division that clearly marks the distinction between talented pop producer Brian Wilson, and bloated, eccentric, indulged by his sycophants Brian Wilson. Though, to be fair, only four songs on the first disk are from their early days. "Surfin' USA," a rather idiosyncratic live version of "Shut Down," a demo of "Little Deuce Coupe" and a backing track for "Fun, Fun, Fun." The story really picks up with Beach Boys Today!, which I firmly believe is the first tell-tale sign that not all was well in Brian's head. Closing this first set are two non-party "party" songs from their last album as the fun-loving Beach Boys record, The Beach Boys Party!.

What makes this first disc really, really troublesome is the fact that many of the "remixed" versions on here weren't done at the time, and are more recent mixes. Hardly what I would call vintage! Another annoyance arises from the fact that several of the "songs" on here are cobbled together 35 years after the fact, and not by Brian. Minor issues, those; the best part of this first disk are the unreleased sessions at the beginning of the disk, which find the boys at their first studio rehearsal for "Surfin," and an unreleased song that Brian recorded by himself called "Happy Birthday Four Freshmen."

Wisely, and not to be repetitive, Disc Two starts with the ill-fated and overrated Smile sessions. Really, do we need any more sessions for "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains?" I don't think so. The other three songs from those sessions, "Can't Wait Too Long," "Vegetables" and "With Me Tonight" are quite lovely, beautiful songs that are well worth the price of admission. The sessions for "Vegetables" are quite hilarious as well. My favorite part of this is the innocent comment telling the boys to "sing it with a smile" and--clearly, you can hear them smiling on the take.

For all of my complaints about the first disc of Hawthorne, CA, the set really, really makes up for its flaws in the last 2/3rds of disc two. Focusing on post-Smile sessions and outtakes, these tracks show a band having to adjust to the fact that absolutely nobody seemed to care about them anymore--including their leader Brian Wilson, defeated, dejected, and descending into a self-induced drug hell. Of course, with the sudden loss of leader, you hear a band struggling for control, with each member having an idea as to how things should sound. Though they didn't know it at the time, the music they made in the late 60s, unappreciated then, would prove much more beautiful than most all of their music from the early part of the decade. Pretty, pastoral, orchestral, their attempts to recreate Brian's style created a hybrid of Spector meets Bacharach stylings that have yet to be heard since, and make it even sadder that these records were virtually ignored. Perhaps, though, that was for the best, as their output from the 1970s to today was, in no uncertain terms horrid.

Of all these later recordings, the three Dennis Wilson songs are the most potent and moving. "Be With Me," "A Time To Live In Dreams," and "Forever" are the best of the bunch, and really resonate something that nobody ever took into consideration--that Dennis, merely a "drummer" and a party animal, was as talented as older brother Brian. He learned well from brothers Carl and Brian, but was sadly pushed back because of his personality. All three are beautiful, haunting love songs that seem to have a shadowing sadness to them, and are, in my own opinion, the one saving grace for Hawthorne, CA.

Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of A Musical Legacy isn't the record for people who are new to the Beach Boys. It's an interesting, though flawed collection. It doesn't add anything new to the Brian Wilson cult; there's nothing particularly revelatory about most of these tracks Hell, it almost seems as if this was done without Brian's consent; he's not on any of the recordings between songs, save for one about him talking about Dennis. This collection seems to focus mainly on his work from 1965 and beyond. It's just a bit puzzling, really. Not the most interesting Beach Boys rarites collection. In fact, the notes make reference to Stack-O-Tracks, the odd, weird all-instrumental album that the band issued in 1968. In a weird, roundabout way, this album is the same thing, as many of these tracks are instrumental or vocal only tracks. Not the most interesting listening. However, the few rare jewels on Hawthorne, CA's second clearly make up for its shortcomings.

--Joseph Kyle

January 17, 2002

Moldy Peaches "The Moldy Peaches"

This album is...well, folks, I'll be honest. I've had many difficulties in writing this review. What do you say, what can you say, when something is bad beyond words? How can you verbalize that what you've just heard is crappity crap-crap of the highest degree, a waste of money, and, simply, utterly, the worst piece of caca that you've ever had the misfortune of experiencing?

Let's clarify one major point here. I have no problems with the Moldy Peaches' stylistic choices. I've never been adverse to the lo-fi innocent clowning around, sonic tomfoolery, and/or expressing a POINT with zero concern about quality control. Bands such as Ween, Beat Happening, Camper Van Beethoven, King Missile, Kramer, hell, even Sebadoh and Thinkin' Fellers Union Local 282 have made me pass a smile or two over the years. Listening to The Moldy Peaches, you realize that they've probably done the same, probably feel the same, and that's fine. More power to 'em.

So, to try and alleviate my hesitation, my difficulty in reviewing this album, I thought I'd introduce a musician's friend: intoxicants. After all, it's good for loosening inhibitions between the sexes, so why wouldn't it work for a record reviewer?


If I were sober, I wouldn't need the need for intoxicants to review this piece of pooh. Slightly incompetent musicianship met with moronic lyrics made by musicians who seem to secretly know how to play their instruments and are probably better than their faux amateurism would allow. If I were to classify this record--for I am a music journalist, and classifying records is what I DO--the Moldy Peaches are simply a parody of a parody of a novelty act, nothing more and everything less.


After one beer: see above.
After two beers: See above, but add a rise in animosity in having to listen to this record.
After three beers: Ok, so at points they're ripping of "Low Rider" and I think that the boy on the cover really needs a spanking for doing so. That girl in the bunny suit is scaring me, too.

After four beers: Too bad people think Daniel Johnston is weird and the Moldy Peaches as possessing wit. And I'll never hear "Little Bunny Foo-Foo" the same again. You do NOT mess with the story of Little Bunny Foo Foo! That's a crime! Talk about my mama, make fun of me, but leave Little Bunny Foo Foo alone!! That girl on the cover, the one in the bunny suit, I think she probably needs to get out more.
After five beers: I'm totally off of this record. I need Appetite for Destruction to cleanse my soul. And that girl in the bunny suit? I changed my mind. She needs to stay inside. Very inside. Don't leave the house. Stay in the basement. For the love of GOD, somebody pop a restraining order on these people. Recording devices need to feel safe.

Cough Syrup

Think I'm even gonna listen to this whilst up on Vicks 44-M? Nope. Though that bunny-suited gal comes back to haunt me, and this time, it's personal. I doze off without ever really acknowledging the rest of the world, though my dreams seem to be a bit lewder than normal, and slightly stupider as well. Possibly because of this record? Who cares. I sure don't.

To be fair, I think these kids are a novelty act, and that their whole bit is to be laughed at. Hopefully they'll realize that we're not laughing with them but at them and call it a day. Or maybe they'll realize that the real money is to be made by actually making decent music. As I write, my hatred turns to sadness, because I start to feel for these kids. If they realize they're a joke and are acting on it, it's not very funny. IF they don't, then I can't help but pity them. Though I'm suspecting it's a joke, simply from that mad-lib on the back of the cover. Eh, nice try kids. Try a little harder. Better yet--don't even try.

--Joseph Kyle

Colourbox "Best Of 82/87"

It must suck for a band to have been on the edge of cutting edge, only to be forgotten and neglected as time passed. I can think of tons of bands from the 80s and 90s who were quite excellent, who have inspired future generations, yet have received not one bit of thanks for their minor contribution to the grand society of music. Conversely, some bands were also innovative in their own way, but so minute was their "innovation" that to merely mention the band's name would be giving them much more credit than they deserve.

Colourbox was a band whose existence was obscure, even by underground standards. Brothers Martyn and Steve Young, the sole members of Colourbox, were more interested in making music than being pop stars, and preferred the 12" and 7" single format to actual full length albums. Even after having a worldwide smash hit, M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume," the brothers Young refused to play the industry "game," feeling that their music should remain separated from their identity. Such sentiments are to be respected.

However, respectability on the grounds of principle doesn't guarantee you a place in history, nor does it mean that your music will be respect by future generations. Colourbox, sadly, fall victim to this truism. The band shunned public performance--on the notion that they preferred to be mysterious and vague, and that performing computer-programmed music wasn't performing--and focused mainly on the club circuit. It begs the question, though, of what the band expected for the future, and were they aware that if a band chooses to be mysterious and vague today, that they shouldn't be surprised if they'd be forgotten tomorrow? In their time, they only released one full length, Colourbox--an album which seemed both redundant and terribly, terribly bland. Instead, the band released numerous 12" and 7" records--a format which suited them quite well.

Unfortunately, Best of 82/87 is weighed down by this aesthetic, making the album difficult listening. Thus, the styles that Colourbox were experimenting with flow freely from track to track, with very little context provided. Many of these songs are so stylistically similar to others, it's absurd; it becomes rather annoying to hear a song with a dub beat, sampled gunshots, and dialogue sampled from a cowboy movie, only to be followed by a song with the exact same formula. There's a blandness to Best Of 82/87 and it's due to the fact that these songs were probably never intended to be compiled together on a "best of" compilation. Let's not even talk about the bad lover's rock disco singing on "Arena II" and "Baby I Love You," because the singing is really, really bad. (And that's bad in a bad way.)

This doesn't mean, however, that Best Of 82/87 is a total waste. While it's true that Colourbox were limited to two or three core ideas, the moments where they break from their patterns songwriting are simply stunning. From the new wave pop of "Breakdown" to the piano coda of "Sleepwalker," what this album does do for Colourbox--and did for me by record's end---is show that even one-trick pony bands can produce moments of real clarity. At points--such as the homage to the master of modern classical, "Philip Glass"--one really has to wonder what Colourbox could have been, had they shaken from their comfortable formula and actually experimented more.

That Colourbox were borne of a time that would produce unforgettably forgettable groups can be forgiven, and Best Of 82/87 tries to remind us that there was a seed of greatness in them--but, unfortunately, highlights the problems that have left Colourbox in the annals of 80's synth pop. It also shows that there were people in the dance world who actually tried to break away from the boring formulas of the time, even if they didn't quite pull it off. A nice album for the curious, but not essential listening.

--Joseph Kyle

January 14, 2002

Bows "Cassidy"

Before two minutes of the opening track "Luftsang" had passed, I already knew that I had stepped into a unique sonic universe. Pointillist waves of guitars hovered over the mix like birds in the sky migrating north. Booming drums stopped and started randomly, forcing me to question whether they were real or programmed. Myriad orchestral embellishments floated out of the speakers from the soundtrack of some imaginary romance movie. Throughout the whole song, a girl sighed and mumbled in a nearly catatonic but nonetheless captivating manner. I am not familiar with Bows auteur Luke Sutherland's back catalog, neither with this trip-hop collective nor with his previous band, the acclaimed Long Fin Killie. I assert, though, that with Bows' sophomore effort "Cassidy," he has come within a hair or two of realizing the goal that My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields set for himself before he reached his creative dead end: perfecting a seamless fusion of the gliding guitars and hazy atmospherics of dream-pop and the hyperactive, skittish beats of electronic jungle.

Two or three songs pursue an almost Low-like minimalism, using only a voice and one or two instruments to set a contemplative mood. One of these, "Cuban Welterweight Rumbles Hidden Hitmen," boasts lyrics that are indicative of Sutherland's other pedigree as an esteemed novelist. The title gives away the basic plot of the song, in which a boxer flees from a group of men who wish to kill him due to their dissatisfaction with the outcome of his most recent fight. Another lyrical highlight is "Ali 4 Onassis," in which a discreet love affair between legends from two opposing walks of life is imagined. Whereas many other lyricists would beat the listener over the head with the cleverness of such a conceit, Sutherland simply inserts subtle lyrical details that allow the listener to fill in the blanks on his/her own, such as JFK's wife cruising with the Muslim boxer "out of Harlem/and over the turnpike."

I appreciate the fact that Sutherland does not merely use words as another sound effect, which even the best artists with roots in shoegaze do frequently. However, a lot of the lyrics on "Cassidy" are indecipherable (and the lyric sheet, stupidly, only prints about a third of them), so I am forced to concentrate on the music...and what wonderful music it is! On "Man Fat," every instrument makes shifts in presence, panning, and volume every few seconds. The hyperactive high hats and slowly tremelo-ed guitars of the aforementioned "Ali 4 Onassis," when listened to on headphones, will make any listener dizzy and lethargic. The tense bells-and-breakbeats backdrop of "B Boy Blunt" is interrupted by a blast of abrasive guitar noise. "Sun Electric" closes the record (well, at least until the hidden track, which is actually listed on the CD's back cover--again, stupidly) with a sonic vortex in which all of the instruments are blurred into one whirring mass.

"Cassidy" was one of the best records that 2001 had to offer, and now that it has *finally* seen domestic release, I can safely urge anyone who reads this review to purchase it without demanding that they empty the contents of their wallets for a pricey import...which I did---again, STUPIDLY.

--Sean Padilla

January 13, 2002

I love albums that eventually prove me wrong. Records that start out slow, or seem mediocre, that then turn on my preconceived notions, leaving me shocked by the surprise attack, and leaving me emotionally spent--it's a fetish. Nothing gives me more pleasure than hearing something that turns me off in the beginning, then pin me down and show me their stuff. My cigarette afterwards is the highly addictive phrase, "Wow, I was just impressed!" Your New Boundaries, the debut album by sadcore folkies Clairvoyants, proved me wrong just one track in.

Albums are like people; first impressions are most important. The opening track, "To Reassure," did not live up to its name. Though the song is lovely in its own way--a gentle, dark melody, complete with falling raindrop-like guitar and slow, unhurried pace, and the opening line "That city fucked you up" sung in a deep, husky voice--it just moves along at a very, very slow tempo, and doesn't have any desire to move any faster than necessary. It's possibly the weakest track on the album, but its position seems to set the tone for Your New Boundaries in a way that's much unfortunate. When the song fades and "Camera On a Track" starts, the trend seems to continue, but when singer Brian Dunn starts to sing, "When you were an invincible alcoholic" in much, much higher pitch, you start to realize that Dunn is a multi-ranged singer with a slight sense of humor.

Then you realize--the man is working in a tradition. Though Clairvoyants might be easily dismissed as another sad-core band, they clearly seem to operate outside of slow-core, even, i'd be willing to bet, in spite of slow-core. While at times Your New Boundaries does remind of Low, Red House Painters, and Codeine, they throw in enough of their own style to make their sonic stew their own. At times, Dunn sounds like a dead ringer for Dominic Appleton, former lead singer of goth-follkies Breathless. Other times, he seems clearly possessed by the spirit of Tim Buckley. With a dash of Cocteau Twins guitar, and a hint of 4AD aesthetic. Clairvoyants are honoring their stylistic tradition while clearly marking their territory and claiming their own spot, though at times, you can't help but feel that you've heard this song before. Though not overwhelmed with any obvious influences, occasional Your New Boundaries feels a bit weighted-down by its own sound, though slightly jazzier, more upbeat songs like "New Name" help to break the heavy, moody atmosphere.

Clairvoyants aren't going anywhere, and thus, they aren't in a hurry to get to wherever they want to. Though there are some moments of beauty, with some little experimental codas here and there, and the occasional brass and string, Your New Boundaries really doesn't deviate much from the guitar/vocal/brushed percussion/faint keyboard setup. Perhaps realizing that their songs could easily sound boring side by side, the band has placed several short and lovely instrumental passages between more developed numbers, which both break the possibility of monotony, yet also help to make Your New Boundaries seem like a long, cohesive whole.

Your New Boundaries is a nice, subtle debut. It's an unassuming record for a band that seems more concerned with documenting emotions than with proving anything. While Your New Boundaries is not without its flaws and imperfections, one should take comfort in knowing that this is but their debut. Clairvoyants are a band that have something to say and feelings to share, but they really aren't going to struggle with you in order to get their point across.

--Joseph Kyle

January 12, 2002

Jenny Toomey "Antidote"

Please forgive Jenny Toomey. It seems that the hardest working woman in indie-rock showbiz hasn't had the time to make music. From her days as punk-rock grrrl of Tsunami, to the atmospheric folk of Liquorice and the suave indie-pop soul of Grenadine, Jenny spent most of the 1990s making tons of music. While she was doing all of that, she was also running Simple Machines, not to mention all of the day jobs, tours, volunteer work, music writing, political activating, and, most recently, her support and work with low-bandwith radio and her Future of Music organization, which is carrying her torch of DIY aesthetics set forth in her Mechanic's Guide to releasing and making your own music. So if Ms. Toomey hasn't had the time to make a record, I'm sure you'll understand why

That she's been gone doesn't mean that she's been forgotten, nor has she forgotten the reason she's here: music. Antidote is her "return to form," as well as her solo debut. First things first: don't be put off by Antidote's double-albumness. It's not so much a double album as you'd like to think. Instead, it's a collection of recordings from two separate recording sessions in two separate cities---Chicago and Nashville. An inspired decision; while both CD's could easily fit on to one CD, the sessions work so much better when heard separately.

As you might expect, the two cities' musical backgrounds reflect heavily on Antidote. The first disk, "Chicago," is the Jenny we've come to love and expect. It's a rockin' affair, with a little bit of jazz influence. She's brought along some impressively talented friends, too: Andrew Bird plays violin, viola, and sings; Edith Frost and Johnny Navin sing backup, and Dave Trumfio recorded the affair. At times, you can't help but think of the sorely-missed Grenadine, whose jazzy indie pop was the first indication that Jenny had the torch-song spirit. Two of the songs, "Clear Cuts" and "Useless Excuses," are throwbacks from her Liquorice days, though that's not a bad thing. In fact, the entire album sounds like it could have easily been the follow-up to Liquorice's sole Listening Cap.

If the "Chicago" echoed triumphant the sounds that Jenny's worked so hard to develop over the past decade, then the "Nashville" disk is Jenny setting sail for the future. With a few key players remaining, and joined in part by several members of Lambchop, this second disk wears its country on its sleeve. Slower, sadder, and slightly more dramatic, Toomey belts out such winners as "Unclaimed" and "When You Get Cold" with the soulful tenacity of Patsy Cline and the lushfully lush undertones of Kurt Wagner. This second disk is much more whiskey-stained and smokey than anything she's ever done before, and there's hope that maybe she'll keep on cranking out country-soul for at least a little while longer. Her cover of "Fool for You" by the late Curtis Mayfield is perhaps the greatest surprise on here; you wouldn't expect a whitebread indie-rocker to really reach into her heart and pull it off without a smothering of irony, yet she pulls it off with as much grace and charm as someone who has no use for punk, indie, and internet issues.

Antidote is a return to form from a talented woman who has never really defined her form. Though too short in places, and the contrasts between sessions make you feel that one record is essentially better than the other, instead of being judged together, Antidote is nothing, if not promising. Maybe, just maybe, Jenny won't get too busy with her music-related activities to expand on the promises of Antidote.. Though I doubt she will slow down for one minute, I'm pretty sure that next time in the studio will be fabulous.

--Joseph Kyle

January 08, 2002

Interview: His Name is Alive

His Name is Alive--the brainchild of one man, Warn Defever--is a name that, to his fans, ultimately means diversity. To say that Defever is prolific is an understatement; one look at his time stereo catalog will show you that the man probably has had very little sleep in the past 10 years. Since debuting with the solemn, pastoral Livonia in the early 90s, Defever has led his ever-changing His Name is Alive crew to styles between rocakbilly, folk, retro-pop, goth, atmospheric...and to contiune naming would be both redundant and probably slightly prophetic. With his newest album, Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth Warn has shocked longtime fans once again with a total stylistic change--straight-forward R&B. Yes. Even more odd is the simple fact that, in my humble opinion, this style is anything but new; I do believe that Thus, I consider it a great honor that Mr. Defever allowed me to ask him some questions via email. Even by email, the man's humor, wit, and love of music shines through, and I hope you enjoy my little insight into this great mind.

In the time between Fort Lake and Someday..., you've moved from Karin Oliver, to guest vocalists, until it's now just Lovetta. Is the change in vocalists due to the change in His Name is Alive's musical style, or is this change in style due to the change in vocalists?

We did a long tour for fort lake and by the time we got back home, we had lost everyone except me and Lovetta. Trey had moved to Seattle, Chad went back to school, Scott g. got a job as a truck driver, Erika was going to school, and Karin had gotten a good job at an advertising company.

For the most part, all of the vocalists that you've worked with in conjunction with His Name is Alive have been women. Does this use of female vocalists mean that His Name is Alive is a representation of your feminine side?

Lyrically the perspective is sometimes male sometimes female. I guess I just like the sound better when women sing than men. Some of my favorite male vocalists sing very high. In general I like mixed bands. I don't like as many groups which consist of four boys that went to high school together.

Just as the influence (however tenuous) of Smile-era Beach Boys had on Stars on ESP and Fort Lake-era His Name Is Alive, would you say that there was a particular record that made you feel like, "wow, I should be making gospel-tinged acoustic R&B?" Or, as in the case of "Universal Frequencies," do you feel that gospel-tinged acoustic R&B is something the world needs more of?

It was sort of an experiment. i have always been interested in electronic sounds and in the year 2001 i think that r and b is where the most exciting innovations in electronic music are to be found.

How did the Jerry McGuire deal come about? Was it a question of "show me the money" or simply something that was done on a corporate/business level with its appearance not directly being warranted by you, and, either way, does this indicate any particular desire to compose cinematic scores, or, at the very least, be involved on a film soundtrack?

The director's assistant was an old His Name Is Alive fan and as the legend has it, would play Home Is In Your Head in the car each morning on the way to the filming. When Tom Cruise was having difficulty getting the "nervous breakdown" scene together, the director suggested playing him some of that "crazy music" from the car. They played "sitting still moving still staring outlooking" on a tape from a boom box off-camera and then "Jerry" was able to do his thing convincingly in one take. So they really wanted that song to be used. That seemed like good function of that song so I said sure. I can imagine other situations where i would have said no but to be honest I've only really had that one opportunity come up. In the movie the song is heard for less than a minute, but since the soundtrack has sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of copies I have to assume that would be the most "well known" His Name Is Alive song to-date. I made a fair amount of money from the mechanical songwriting royalties which have allowed me to invest further in my home studio and help pay for health insurance for a couple years. I think it worked out okay. In terms of soundtrack music, I make short films around here and usually make music to go with them. That's fun.

Rhythm and Blues, on the very surface, seem to be based in sorrow, loss, and pain, yet, underneath all of the sad times, there's a positive light, that the suffering is only temporary, "where there's life there's hope" if you will. Do you agree, and if so, is this one of the factors that has drawn you to R&B?

This is a hard question to answer, let me begin by first saying that there is a spiritual plane of existence and the material world. words like "r and b" exist only here in the physical world. I believe that music is just made of sound, vibrations, waves, frequencies, you know. I don't want to get involved with the wars that go on here. I don't want to sum up what a million "r and b" songs have been written about for a hundred years in one short sentence. There is no easy answer. I wouldn't say that I have been drawn to r and b, because i guess i don't believe it really exists.

Another key element to R&B is the idea of repentance/redemption. In the liner notes to the Emergency album, you mention a jinx. would you say that part of your turn to this radically different style of music is a form of redemption from the music that was being made in the middle part of your career, which was as much a diversion from the style before it?

Sort of. I like to see both sides of a situation. I like to go both ways. You can't get to heaven until you been to hell. I like the extreme ups and downs.

Do you still feel jinxed? Was part of this jinx rooted, at least in part of both the millennium and the major changes that happened in the music industry at the time of recording, and a fear that your future as an artist in the capacity as you had known it was in danger? How did the merger affect you, or did it?

My jinx included many elements but one part was definitely what was going on with 4ad starting with Stars on ESP up to our new album. I had never really connected with anyone there besides Ivo, and when he left in 1995, there were many communication problems. there were disagreements about the entire basis of our relationship with 4ad. It was an awkward time that ended with me making a personal vow to never send any more music to those people. After going on a spiritual journey that started in India and took me to Nepal and eventually Japan, I realized I had an obligation to continue making music and there had been further changes at 4ad, the USA office was shut down, and there was a new staff hired in London. Luckily it turned out that the new guy, Chris, was super cool and I finished my album and gave it to him in good faith.

As far as the business part of the question, His Name is Alive is pretty independent of the "music industry". We just do our thing here in Michigan and occasionally check out some other cities when we want to get out and play sometimes.

What is apparent, when listening to "Someday" in the context of "When the stars refused to shine," is that this style is indeed much closer to the first few His Name is Alive releases than one would think when placed in context with Ft. Lake and ESP. Should we take it that this indicates that the styles found on "Someday" are not the grand departure in HNIA styles, but simply a maturation, or, indeed, a more matured return to form, as witnessed in the remade version of "are we still married"?

I don't really care about "style." I like when things are plain and simple. not too ornamental. I like minimal things. Its kind of like an Amish sensibility. i think the emotional level of things has been consistent will all His Name Is Alive records. Sounds change, "styles" change, but ultimately its the same sort of thing. I have grown a lot over years as a person and as a songwriter, but there are certain things I will always love or at least fall back on: I will always love eating pineapple fried rice with tofu. The piano always goes in the left channel. I approach music on a very personal level and a very emotional level. I don't think I get obsessed with kinds of music but really certain songs and certain musicians. The record industry created artificial categories a long time ago which do not always reflect what musicians will naturally play and people will be interested in. The organic process of hearing something and responding to it has been forever tainted by the politics of the business. That's too bad. It doesn't bother me too much, but I do feel it affects how my humble attempts to make a living as a musician.

You're known as a man who knows what he wants when he's in the studio, when you worked on "someday" did you personally test out the make-out ability of this "simple make-out R&B"?

Your suggestion, if I have interpreted the question correctly, is totally gross!!! Mostly i like to listen to music when I go to sleep at night. So the test for me is whether an album is good in that capacity. They don't have to be "quiet" but there is a certain quality that i look for in music. Some Merzbow albums have it, Pharaoh Sanders has it, "brown rice" by Don Cherry has it. Its hard to predict.

Seeing as how you've been known to return to songs you've previously recorded/ released, do you ever feel like your songs are really, truly finished?

Finished just isn't a word that should apply to a song. Maybe you can say a recording is finished, but i think the thing about a song is that they are supposed to be timeless. When i play an older song that i wrote, i approach it no differently than someone else's song or like a cover version. It has to make sense in the now. I have to feel it now. the words have to make sense to me currently and apply to what's going on in my life at this time. That standard is applied to other peoples music the same way.

One of the nice things that you do, that most other artists would never dream of doing, is release albums or tapes of outtakes and demos from your recording sessions.

I thought everyone does this now. "when the stars refuse to shine" album was released over a year before "someday my blues will cover the earth". I believe this is an extremely rare instance of the outtakes and alternate versions being released before the actual album!!!!

Do you do this in part because you're a fan of classic rock and rollers such as the Beach Boys and you want your listeners to experience more than what they get when they buy the official release, or do you believe that the art that's created in the process of creating the final product is as interesting, if not more so, than the final product itself?

Traditionally we usually release something new each time we go on tour. It used to be difficult for us to sell the regular 4ad albums at shows and i was never really into selling "products" like shirts, mugs, hats, etc. I just wanted to get music out to people. So it made sense to sell tapes of live shows or fieldrecordings from Mexico, etc, and it just sort of grew from that. I end up making a lot of music here at home. Some bands record in studios and make one album every year or so. I got this studio set up in my living room so we record a lot of stuff. Its fun and If a person isn't super into all that they can just buy a new His Name is Alive album on 4ad every couple years.

You're not one who has but one project, it seems. what other kinds of loving creations are you cooking up at time stereo?

Secret projects include an Ida cd, a warn Defever solo cd, electric pinecone album, an album which can only be referred to at this time as "a cat" Time Stereo is presenting the "haunted tube" at a heironymous bosch exhibition in Holland soon. Also, there is some work beginning on afancy His Name Is Alive box set for 4ad with bonus tracks and extensive liner notes

Ten years is indeed a long time. What do you think about it all? Are you happy with what you've accomplished? Any regrets? Ever just want to say, "screw it, let's reform Elvis Hitler and make big bucks as punk rockers?"

I wish we could get an Elvis Hitler reunion together.I see my brother a lot , but i don't even know how to get a hold of those other guys. There are things I definitely miss about those days....my only regrets right now mostly involve not really getting involved more with the business side of things earlier on. I was 17 when i started making records with Elvis and 21 when "Livonia" was released. I didn't really ever start taking it seriously until around 1995-1996. I guess if i was really happy with the music i have done so far i could just stop. So until i get it right i have to continue. Oh well.

Thanks, War!

--Joseph Kyle

Superchunk "Here's to Shutting Up"

I'll be up front about this review. It's been a difficult one for me to write. Now, don't fear; this doesn't mean that the album is bad in any way. If such were the case, I'd have no trouble writing this review. It's just that---well, what to do in a situation where the praise is to be expected, and a job well done is expected?

More specifically, What do you say when something is consistent? Superchunk are a rather ubiquitous band in indie-rock. Certain expectations exist; the fan base is pretty much love 'em or hate 'em, with more leaning towards the "love" section. I'm not one to simply love for the sake of loving, and therein lies the problem.

You see, boys and girls, in life, certain things exist that you can almost rest assured in knowing that they will be good. An Irving Berlin tune. A fine bottle of Remy Martin. A batch of grandma's homemade chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. Suffice to say, I am more than happy to report that Superchunk's new album, Here's To Shutting Up is an utterly fine record.

Here's To Shutting Up marks the reunion of the band and earlier producer Brian Paulson. Though they have worked together in the past, this record is far from being a throwback to their former sound. In fact, Superchunk, who are, simply, the Last Great Indie Rock Band, have learned the lesson that many of their colleagues never did--in order to survive and thrive, you must bend and grow as artists, and evolve into your own groove. That Here's To Shutting Up can sound exactly like and nothing like their "Slack Motherfucker" era says a LOT about this band.

Personally, I think Mac's interest in experimental music has really helped liven things up in the Superchunk camp. From his ongoing project Portastatic, to his love of experimental jazz, and, hell, even to the other bands on his label, Merge, I think all of these have helped add a certain element to the band. It's good to see that the influence is a two way street at the Merge house.

When the first track, "Late-Century Dream," kicks off, your first reaction is to think that the 'chunk have grown mellower in their old age. Patience, son; it's just the first track. True, it's mellower, but at the same time, there are some new sounds to this new sound; those synths, for instance. As soon as "Rainy Streets" kicks in, that notion of a kinder, gentler Superchunk go out the window, as the band return to the harder rock styles of their mid-90s heyday.

There's something quite enjoyable about Superchunk's volley between rock and not rocking rock. Not content to stay within the confines of their own band sound, Superchunk have enlisted some of their friends from the band Japancakes to play along. Might I add that the use of cello, violin, and pedal steel guitar are simply inspired? Those Japancakes folk really help to add a certain depth to Here's To Shutting Up. (I was tempted to make a joke about saying they know where the strings come in, but decided against it. Too obvious, isn't it?)

From the country-rock of "Phone Sex," to the hard rock of "Art Class," and the mellower moments of the double-whammy album closer "What Do You Look Forward To" and "Drool Collection," Here's To Shutting Up is the album you know Superchunk is going to make every time. A good album. One that will surprise you , while reliving former glories and looking ahead to the future as well. That title, though, has me worried. Are Superchunk going to "shut up" soon?

With Here's To Shutting Up in mind, let's hope not. There's too many good things that could be in store. After all, much like Come Pick Me Up, I'm left wondering where the band will go from there. A Superchunk/Spaceheads collaboration? Maybe they'll borrow the Lambchop horn section and go gospel? Maybe they'll go herbal with Ladybug Transistor? Or, hell, maybe they'll get Stephin Merritt to do a kick-ass 80s retro-new wave remix. Who knows? I sure don't.

And that's the best part.

--Joseph Kyle

Sybarite "PLacement Issues'

A sybarite, according to my handy dandy little dictionary, is defined as "a person devoted to pleasure and luxury; a voluptuary." Is it a fitting name for this band? All signs seem to say yes, but let's examine this idea further, shall we?

Sybarite is a man, a singular man, Xian Hawkins, making silent, wordless music on guitar and other good musical instruments. There's a certain level of stylistic cross breeding with bands such as Sybarite. The general style found on Placement Issues is a nice melding of new age sounds and more experimental moments. Sybarite are slightly oxymoron--complex, simple ,minimalist? Yup. This is music that is complicated enough to make your average undergraduate music student (not including drummers, including percussionists, however) go " wow, that's a pretty intelligent, complex melody that Hawkins is attempting, blah blah blah." This is also music that is so simple and unassuming in its approach that you won't be knocked down by harsh, unpleasant, pompous melodies. These songs are friendly. These songs like you. They really do. In that way, Placement Issues reminds me heavily of Ui, and, in turn, the more upbeat moments of Harold Budd and Brian Eno, and that can only be a good thing, can't it?

Placement Issues is a collection of Sybarite's previous, out of print singles, and is a nice little stopgap release between musicforafilm and their debut record for 4AD, with whom the band recently signed a contract. The only drawback to this pretty album of instrumental songs is that, taken out of their original 7" context, the record does become slightly monotonous; this, however, does not take away one bit from Placement Issues, but it is something you should know about beforehand. Best to hit "random" and let 'er rip. As good for a night of passion as it is for a night of thinking or leisure.

Sybarite's debut album, musicforafilm, was a conceptual piece invoking the idea of being a cinematic score. Placement Issues really sheds light on the fact that Hawkins might have a good future writing scores. Yeah, this collection really does sound like incidental music, not unlike what you would hear on a TV show or, heh, porno films. (Not that I'd know, mind you.) A nice taster for a grander future to come, I'm sure.

--Joseph Kyle

January 07, 2002

Hood "Cold House"

If one were to describe Hood in just one word, it would be "change." After spending the better part of the 90's releasing obscure, somewhat confounding and often beautiful singles and tapes with anyone who started to mutter "so, do you wanna do a..." From lo-fi to no-fi, from full color artwork to photocopied and pasted sleeves and, even, a sandwich bag, nothing was too much, or too small, for Hood.

Then, all of a sudden, Hood went silent. After releasing the utterly beautiful the cycles of days and seasons in 1999...nothing. Very few singles, even fewer live shows, and a shroud of mystery seemed to indicate that the band had seen its end.
Who could have blamed them, though, for ceasing their cottage industry of releases, especially when it seemed nobody was listening? It wasn't until earlier this year that Hood released a new recording for mass consumption, an EP entitled Home is Where It Hurts. This EP had few hints of the lo-fi "glory" days, and seemed to point the band to a newer direction. Instead of lo-fi guitar and tape effects, Hood turned their aesthetic towards homemade electronica--much to their benefit. The darkness that bled onto the recorder for years seemed to click with the coldness of electronica's heart.

Enter Cold House. Continuing on the same path as Home is Where it Hurts, Cold House has seemingly adapted their new-found sound quite well. What hasn't been lost, however, is the homegrown feel of the bedroom. With the beginning track, "They Removed All Trace That Anything Had Happened Here," one can feel the warmth of the coldness in Hood's heart. With electronic blips and chirps over a sad guitar and strings backing and monotone, sad vocals, you realize that this is the same Hood from years before, except that this time, they've spent a lot of time at work on the production. Then, unexpectedly--you're hit by jibber-jabber vocals, done by Dose One and Why?, which, upon first listen, are quite shocking to hear. They appear on two other songs, "Branches Bare" and the excellent finale, "You're Worth the Whole World," and that element adds a whole other dimension to ambient music as we know it--and I have this feeling that we'll be seeing more jabber on future Hood releases, which would only be a good development.

After a few spins of Cold House, one gets the notion that Hood are a band that like to make "wrong" music. For instance, "The River Curls Around the Town." It's a beautiful, ambient track, yet, upon first listen, you'd be well tempted to check your player, to see if something was wrong with your player or your record. Then, you wonder, why would they intentionally screw up what is ultimately a beautiful song? Methinks that, secretly, Hood enjoy a laugh or two, and confounding their audience is simply par for the course. I think it has somewhat to do with "art" but methinks there's a humor element at play as well.

Of course, one really shouldn't be surprised by anything that Hood does anymore. Cold House is the ultimate realization of the bands past, tempered with a healthy dose of what the future will look like. Could we be wrong? possibly. Would the future be anything quite as stunning as Cold House? I'd bet the farm on it. Another fine, fine album for Hood, and quietly one of the best records of the year? I'm sure Hood wouldn't want it any other way.

--Joseph Kyle

James William Hindle "James William Hindle"

It must be an utter bitch to be a folk singer. First, you have to fight that wholly nauseating yet seemingly legitimate coffee shop poet folkie stereotype. It seems like in the 90s, every yin-yang college undergrad English major type, who had read the Bible or Marx or Nietzsche or any other of the great texts/manifests developed this "thing" for caring/sharing/speaking their feelings/opinion/ART, and collectively decided to pick up a guitar and force their "art" upon fools who knew no better and high school kids, whichever came first. Of course, being in an environment such as an open mike night, it was okay to be mediocre, alright, thank you, you've been great, would you like to buy my tape? Who needs a band when I can suck intellectual ass on my own every night free of charge? Every community with half a population and a coffee house has about thirty too many of these types, and if you live in a college town, you'll get double the pleasure!

Then, there's the imitation factor. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Tell me, if you were Bob Dylan or Joan Baez or Carol King, would it really flatter you that every half-baked, half-lit 100 percent folkie twit wanted to be you, wanted to copy everything about your style is taking their divine inspiration from you, circa 20 years ago? I didn't think so.

Though it's tough to be a folk singer, some people insist on taking up the trade. God bless 'em for trying, though. James William Hindle is that man, and he is more than willing set aside jacket of folk mediocrity and simply sing his songs. Thus, his debut album, James William Hindle, focuses on his intentions as an artist. In true debut record style, though, the growing pains do stick out like a sore thumb. Hindle's case, it doesn't seem as if his singing and his accompaniment have made a love connection yet. It's kind of like watching a film with an out of sync voice track. He's also guilty of the crime of covering a standard, the Bee Gee's beautiful "I Started A Joke," a song that needs the beautiful three part harmonies to really capture the essence of the song.

Though James William Hindle falters here and there, it leaves open the wider possibility of something grander. Hindle has a nice, pleasing voice, and talented friends backing him up. Hindle also doesn't fall into the folk trappings mentioned above; he doesn't wear his influences directly on his sleeve, so that doesn't get in the way, but I sense touches of Tim Hardin and, of all things, Cracker/Camper van Beethoven. Then, there's that last track. Again, a cover, but this time, a more obscure cover, of Glenn Cambell's "Less of Me," a song of self improvement and selflessness. "Let me think a little more of others/And a little less of me." It's a selfless, humble song, and it's here that all of the elements of the record come together and produce pure beauty. At the very end of the track, you hear a person say "yeah, that's it," and that voice is totally right. This last song makes up for all of the flaws and imperfections of the rest of the record, and leaves you definitely wanting more. James William Hindle is a lovely, touching record of an artist whose promise shines through, even in its weakness.

--Joseph Kyle

My Education "5 Popes"

Sometimes things that seem to be knock-offs tend to be better than the things they immulate. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who taught me that better doesn't necessarily have to mean more expensive. For example, the companies expensive brands of cigarettes that I would smoke would also make cheaper cigarettes, often using the same tobacco. Potato chips, especially BBQ-flavored, would often be more filling and much tastier than the premium-quality chips. Same thing with colas. Why pay a buck for a name-brand drink, when, for the same price, you can often buy two or three, if not more, of a store-brand that tastes virtually the same?

Occasionally, though, this idea can apply to bands. My Education is an eight-piece Austin band who, if anything, bear a terrible resemblence to a band called Godspeed! You Black Emperor, as well as to their local comrades Explosions in the Sky. My Education, whose members have been in other notable bands, including Godspeed labelmates Stars of the Lid, are no mere rehash of pre-established styles, nor do they sound like mere knock-offs. Taken by themselves, the songs on 5 Popes could easily fool the unsuspecting hipster.

5 Popes is My Education's self-released debut, and, to be honest, a finer debut couldn't possibly be found. Shimmery guitars, dosed with a heaping helping of atmosphere and a hint of that wonderful Texas psychedelia is the general course of action for My Education. Starting with the increasingly dramatic waltz beat of "Concentration Waltz," the song builds up and up and up into heaven and is returned safely to the ground. Moving into "Lesson 3," the gentle guitars blossom into a loud, mind-expanding symphony. "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" is a more "straightforward" "rock" "song," that quietly fades to silence. And so the style continues with "Deep Cut," until the final number "Crime Story" which is clearly as grand and epic as you would expect; after all, with it being the final song, you would expect a Very Big Finish, and My Education do not disappoint.

If Godspeed You Black Emperor! are tapped in to the desolate and dark nature of northern Canada, and Explosions in the Sky channel their arid West Texas background, then My Education are surely the sound of Central Texas. Their music captures the big skies of the Texas flatlands, while also blending in the dark, empty spaces of the woodlands of East Texas. 5 Popes is the sound of two barren regions coming together--a blend of sky and forest, emptiness from above, and isolation and loss from below. My Education are surely a band to pay attention to; no mere imitators of style are they--for the sound that they have found is, indeed, all their own.

--Joseph Kyle

theStill "Nectar"

I have nothing but love in my eyes for DC's Slumberland stars the Ropers, who put out some really killer records They ended way too soon, and many pop fans such as myself bemoaned their ending. Now its several years later, and we now have theStill, featuring most of the Ropers. Instead of the Pale Saints worship, theStill have a West Coast Experimental Pop Band meets Velvet Underground meets Pale Saints kind of sound, and, man, it sounds great!

At first glance, this record seems to have a Stones Sticky Fingers thing going with the packaging...I winced. Then I put it on, and....well, the first three songs were nice, but I wasn't really grooving to this. And then..by "ready now,"something hit me....and it wasn't just the smell of charcoal fluid burning and seeping into my room....there it was...that magic...that glimpse...the ropers! There it was, in a different form, but there was that magic that I loved and longed for and missed oh so much. It's like loving your wife or husband's smile and then when your first kid is born, and one day the kid smiles his or her smile, and you just know it's that magic that you loved being passed on. It took a couple of kicks, but if you really loved the Ropers, within one listen, you'll be grooving on theStill.

Now there's not as much noisy shoegazing going on here; it's not as lush as the Ropers, and, in places, Nectar almost sounds like demos. The songs are also short--very short. I don't think any part of this album runs over four minutes, but it's not the length, it's the quality; theStill never wont for a quality mix of psych and garage, with a touch of shoegazing.

If the album's greatness doesn't knock you over, don't feel alone. The first time I listened to this, I though it was nice, but not particularly memorable. I popped it on the other day for the first time in months, and it was a different listening experience. Maybe, after having to hear crap like The Strokes and BRMC, you realize that these guys aren't trying to knock over the world with their fashion sense, but simply want to make good music. Nectar is a good little beginning to what could be a promising career for these already-proven-their-talent guys. Keep it up!

--Joseph Kyle

Screen Prints "Perfect City (Twenty Singles 1998-2000)

One of the most frustrating aspects of underground British indie pop is that a band can release numerous singles overseas to little or no attention paid over here in America. Other bands will release singles to such critical acclaim, American fans of that particular kind of thing rush out and pay expensive import costs. Other bands, however, opt to release singles instead of albums, and then simply compile said 7"s with new songs, and call that their "debut"--often to the consternation of the Americans who paid the big bucks for their records a few months previous.

Screen Prints are definitely one band that TOTALLY slipped under the radar. Fortunately for us, this collection certainly makes up for all of the missed time from the past few years. Bands as small and obscure as Screen Prints exist on an almost mythical plane, and it would probably be near impossible to find most of the singles contained on Perfect City. In such a case, a collection such as this is oh-so handy. Might I also add, however, that this compilation as debut album technique serves this band quite well? Granted, 70 minutes of music from any artist--much less a very obscure band--is a bit much, regardless of utter brilliance.

While the twenty tracks of Perfect City may seem overwhelming at first, the mere quality of the songs quickly eases the listener into a comfortable state. Upon first listen, I shuddered in the same way the first time I heard the Clientele. Screen Prints are that rare breed of band whose sound simply cannot be defined by a single track. Screen Prints obviously like good music, as you'll hear influences ranging from the jazzy pop styles of Zombies ("Autumnal Playing Field"), the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Air Supply, and later Hollies ("Christmas Must Be Tonight"), and the guitar styles of Durutti Column and Unrest ("Same Time Next Year," "Perfect City"). Like the Clientele, they aren't wallowing in the past; they're utilizing what they learned from the past and applying it to today's style. Labeling them as merely a "retro" band would miss the point entirely; after all, can't a band just be influenced by the past without having to be pinned down as a copycat?

Though it may be slightly difficult to find in the US, if you're a fan of quality British pop, seek out Perfect City (Twenty Singles 1998-2000). They're a simply lovely group, who write deceptively simple songs. Though I'm not sure if they are still together or not, their tunes will simply overwhelm you with their simple charm and beauty.

--Joseph Kyle

Scott 4 & Magic Car "European Punks"

Scott 4 were hyped for greatness a few years back and were dropped unceremoniously by V2 when the greatness wasn't achieved overnight. Who knew that they would quietly return with an album that is not only their own best work, but clearly, already, proves to be one of the best albums of 2002? Thus, European Punks LP, their first album since 1999 may seem just a tad bit inconspicuous, but, believe me, there's no reason to think any lesser of it. .

Let's get the negatives out of the way first, so that we can focus on what is oh-so right about this record. European Punks LP, despite its intentions, is not a concept album. Though the notes on the album hint that this is a story about some punks in search of their very own Punk Valhalla, and the titles seem to go along with the story, upon listening, the plot seems to be lost. Still, the story's funny enough, and, to be fair, the album does return to themes and sounds throughout the album, so let's give Scott 4 and Magic Car for at least trying to create a thorough concept.

For the album, Scott 4 are joined by Magic Car, a mysterious folk-gospel troupe, and they add a definite dimension to Scott 4's prog-rock pop tendencies. Magic Car provide three of their own tracks, as do Scott 4, and they collaborate together on three tracks. Very democratic of them. In fact, its the variety that this arrangement offers helps keep the album from leaning too heavily into one particular, overwhelming style. Magic Car's contributions are quiet numbers, somewhat reminiscent of Gorky's Zygotic Mynki's more recent folky experiments.

European Punks LP opens with the title track, with Scott Blixen singing "I'm a Lego man in a yellow Viking jumpsuit/Don't put my woman down, cuz it's not too cute." This song serves as a fanfare for the rest of the album; at 10 minutes, it's somewhat of a spoiler for the rest of the album, but oh, what a spoiler it is! Taking lines from "Stillness" and musical passages from the rest of songs, it's an enthralling little number that makes you want to hear more, though at times you'll think "didn't I hear this already," which provides a little bit of annoyance the first time you listen.

The song fades into Magic Car's folk-choir jaunt, "Shiny Cattle," which provides a nice, lighter element to the heavy prog of "European Punks." This number is very reminiscent of the things that made James great oh-so many years ago--sing-songy songs played slightly acoustic that make you want to join in. The choir backing them certainly don't help to quell your desire to sing the chorus.
"For Teens in the Meantime" follows, and if it sounds familiar to you, it should; musically speaking, it's very similar to Take That's "Back for Good," and is a very tender, loving ballad. It's followed by a coda, "For Teens in the Springtime" that makes the song one of the loveliest prog-pop ballads you'll ever hear.

"Stillness" is Magic Car's country-soul number. Reminiscent of His Name is Alive's recent turn towards R&B, it's a very sublime number, and its use of pedal steel guitar makes it as heavy and heavenly as Scott 4's own offerings. Scott 4's prog-rock tendencies haven't dissipated, either; "In the Time of Pop and Roll" is the best hit that ELO never had. "In the Nursery at Night and Further On" is a jazzy little number that seems to be a bit reminiscent of ambient musicians In the Nursery. "Valhalla" closes the album, a country tune which brings the "concept" to a close, and it's a gorgeous country-prog number that seems to cut off mid-song.

European Punks LP is one of those records that will mystify you. It's a beautiful record, yet, it's also rather eccentric in nature, simply because I dare say you've not heard anything quite like this. Setting aside its weak "concept album" aspirations, European Punks LP is a most enjoyable anomaly. To be honest, I'd dare say they've created their own magical style, unclassifiable to the end, eccentric to the fore, and utterly beautiful all around. We're going to be the first ones to say so, but I'm sensing this record having a place in "Top Ten Albums of 2002" lists, and most deservedly so. This record also can't help but whet your appetite for both Scott 4 and Magic Car's next albums.

--Joseph Kyle

January 06, 2002

Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire "The Swimming Hour"

Even though I'm completly happy with the fact that the whole swing fad died a quick and quiet death, I will not knock some of the folk who performed during this flash in the pan fad. Certain bands really had the groove, and the heart, to make some really great music. Don't hate the player, hate the game. One such band that deserves to be rewarded a special place in heaven is Squirrel Nut Zippers. Though my knowledge of them is limited, what I've heard has been excellent, and Andrew Bird's been involved with them for some time, I think.

Anyway, there's nothing here that's anything like the Squirrel Nut Zippers, at least not directly. What is here, however, is a damn fine album of blues and rock, inspired somewhat by that whole "swing era" thing. The Swimming Hour isn't swing, thank god. It's something better. It's something for everyone. Want a slow, seductive little ballad? Skip over to track 3, "Why?" and you'll get your fill. You want feet to the floor, dancing with your baby rock? Track 12, "How Indiscreet," will set your toe to tappin' and your head to boppin'. Want some blues? "Satisfied," track 10, will probably treat you well.

What makes The Swimming Hour even nicer are those surprises here and there. Just when you think you've got the groove of the album, he throws in a gypsy-style fiddle here and a tuba there and a mandolin over there. All throughout the album, however, are songs that will sink deep into your heart, make an indention into your soul, and you'll always have a soft spot for them, or at least I know that I do. And...and, and, and, and....the best part? Kelly Hogan on backing vocals. That's all that needs to be said, at least for me. Her sweet voice really fits well with Andrew's, and the vocal interplay is really dazzling. Not since Kiki Dee hooked up with Elton John have boy/girl vocals worked so well. Just listen to "Core and Grind" more than once, and you'll be singing along with them.

The Swimming Hour is one of those albums that's not of one genre, and can only be classified with one term: music. Good music. Mr. Andrew has something going on here, and it's all over the place, but it's a good all over the place. From what I've heard, the Bowl of Fire are one red-hot live band, and this album clearly shows why. Few are the records that make me want to see the live performance, and The Swimming Hour is one of them. Andrew Bird seems to understand the secret so few musicians know: anyone can sing, it takes true talent to entertain, and that's clearly Andrew's forte. He's an entertainer, whose sound is retro, yet incredibly modern. Bluesy, yet rocky. Jazzy, yet poppy. If I could beseech The Swimming Hour with one award, I would clearly name this the best Beck album of the year.

--Joseph Kyle

Calvin, Don't Jump! "Live on WFMU"

I'm not a big fan of live records. While I realize that sometimes live records are a necessary evil, I very rarely seek them out. Of course, in some cases, live records document a great moment in musical history, such as those great live jazz records from the 1950s and 1960s. Most often, though, live records are simply a way for a label to make a quick buck from a band or artist that has/had made them lots of money. More often than not, such records are simply "greatest hits live" type of affairs, which are quite unappealing.

Of course, with all of the new recording technology that's developed over the past ten years, it's become super easy for an artist to make compact disks on their own. Some artists have dedicated themselves to documenting their live appearances and releasing them on their own accord; others have tapped into the whole "fandom" thing and create their own live/outtakes albums, free of the constraints of labels and lawyers and non-artists who make more money than the band they represent. More power to
'em, because who looks out for your interestes than more than you?

It was curiousity that brought me to this record. I'd heard "Calvin, Don't Jump!" on a single, and I'd liked what I'd heard, but I couldn't bring myself to buying their album. Why? See, Mr. J. Kirk Pleasant accidentally breathed during a recording session by one or two of those Elephant 6 artist friends of his, and as a result is considered to be a part of that scene, and that previously mentioned 7" did remind me more than a bit of his friends The Gerbils. While there are some talented folk in the E-6 scene, there are more than a few who aren't, and whose records annoy me like a bug in my ear. So I've avoided "Calvin, Don't Jump!" because of this guilt-by-association factor.

Live on WFMU, as the title so obviously states, was recorded on Friday, January 5th, 2001. As it's a live performance in the studio, for the most part, the three-pieced band play acoustic, with Pleasant's wife Gretchen Elsner playing viola, cymbals, keyboard and singing, and Alexei Gural providing backing vocals, guitar, and percussion. Yes, these Athens, Georgia kids look like hippies. Yes, the music is folky, but it's a weird folky, with oblique lyrics and singing that is uneven at times, but these are benefits.

One complaint that's been made about the Elephant 6 crew is that many of their bands seem very similar to the other bands in the collective. There's a grand truth to that, and "Calvin, Don't Jump!" are no exception. While they're a nice blend of of psych, pop, and folk, their lyrics, abstract and oblique to a fault, are strongly reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel genius Jeff Mangum. To be fair, he doesn't sound like a knock-off, but you can't help but think of them when listening to Live on WFMU. The songs on this record are mostly soft, tenderly abstract, and you can tell that Pleasant really enjoys singin' his tunes, and, at the end of the day, that's all that matters, isn't it? Live on WFMU is a good, affordable way to check out this young band. At four bucks a pop, it's a nice investment, and their warm homegrown sounds will warm you nicely during this winter, and will probably cool you down nicely on those warm summer evenings.

--Joseph Kyle