January 06, 2002

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

No comments: