October 31, 2002

Jawbreaker "Etc."

Ah, nostalga. If there's one band that's been romanticized, it's Jawbreaker. Considered one of the fathers of modern-day pop-punk and emo (for which they have since apologized), Jawbreaker have been elevated to godlike status--much to the disdain of former leader/current Jets to Brazil frontman Blake Schwarzenbach. Go to eBay and type in "Jawbreaker," and you'll see some heavy-duty and high-dollar selling going on, mainly for t-shirts, impossible-to-find compilations, singles, and the seemingly very hard to find and instantly out-of-print final (and major-label debut) album, Dear You. Thankfully, Jawbreaker decided to "close the book" on the past, and compiled all of the rarities and numerous outtakes.

I'm particularly fond of the last few songs; unlike most Jawbreaker fans, I happen to love Dear You. At the time, it seems that nobody did. Funny, because those who villified the band for their decision and their record soon scratched their heads and felt sad when Jawbreaker split. The politics of the band, and the relationship between fan and band and even between the band members would be enough to qualify it for a Punk Rock Behind the Music.

If you're a fan, this collection will have much you might have missed. Compilation tracks, spit-single songs, and a number of outtakes from all stages of their career, as well as notes for each song, as well as lyrics written by Aaron Cometbus. But if you're like me and are immune to overwrought fandom, don't worry. Etc. may be one aimed for the fans, but it's as fine a start as anywhere. Though I'm slightly less warm to their eariler, screamier style, it's certainly not "bad", just not my thing. Listen, though, to the differences in styles between "Kiss the Bottle" and "First Step"--when Schwarzenbach had throat surgery, his voice changed...and it seems like the band changed as well; the songs grew slower, more melodic, and a tad more introspective. See, Jawbreaker ruled when it came to melody tempered with utterly intelligent lyrics.

I remember that when Dear You came out, the biggest complaint about it was how "different" it sounded--how polished, how clean, how slow it all seemed. Funny, but when I listen to "First Step," "Sea Foam Green," and "Housesitter," the progression from 24-Hour Revenge Therapy to Dear You seems quite natural. I mean, was it really that much of a departure? I guess, to some people who took the band terribly seriously, it was. "Friendly Fire" proves that they really understood what was going to happen to them: "Walked beyond the fence/Played outside our yard/You took it hard" reeks of self-fulfilling prophecy.

What really gets me, though, is how the final song from the Dear You sessions is a re-recorded version of one of their most-loved songs, "Boxcar." To me, it seems as if they were looking to their past to justify their future; they weren't playing by the rules, and rerecording their song that stated that they didn't play by the rules might have been an appeal to the fans; it certainly seems as if it was a case of a band closing the books on their history, one final epitaph, a sign pointing to their fans saying, "AHA! You knew all along, but you failed to listen to us!" Or, maybe they just had a few moments and decided to record a song from their past, just to see how it went. Ironically, this song, had it been released, could have kicked the piss out of Blink-182 and, ya know, coulda been a contender. Or not. Only Blake, Chris, and Adam know why they did it--and they have nothing to answer for. Enjoy it for what it is--great music.

Jawbreaker are now simply a part of the past, but this makes a case for their place in history. The true closing of the book will come when Dear You is reissued. All three members are happy, doing well, and living their lives---and the fans who turned their backs and booed at them during the last stage of their career together might have asked "where'd you go" now have ample evidence to show that they were the ones who missed out, not Jawbreaker.

--Joseph Kyle

October 30, 2002

The World/Inferno Friendship Society "Hallowmass Live at Northsix"

The World/Inferno Friendship Society is a big-ass ska band. 'Ska' in the Weimar sense; it's more beer-hall and cabaret than two-tone or rude boy. They owe more of a debt to Soft Cell than they do to the Specials, though the connections to traditional ska are also quite evident. Still, it's best not to think of them as a band, but more of an exprience. A nine-piece band with chanteuses, piano pounders and a horn section from hell, they are led by the slick, sexy and dangerous gentleman of the world, Jack Terricloth.

Hallowmas Live at Northsix captures them performing on their favorite day of the year, October 31, 2002. It's a set that's really, really tight--filled with wonderful onstage dialogue and a set list that draws from their two excellent albums, their numerous singles, as well as a few brand new songs. The set covers serves justice to their entire past catalog, with several highlights coming from their most recent album, Just The Best Party. Personally, I'm most fond of "Just The Best Party," "I Wouldn't Want To Live In A World Without Grudges" and "Zen And The Art of Breaking Everything In This Room," simply because those are some of the funniest songs I've ever heard.

The only flaw that you could possibly find with Hallowmas Live At Northsix is that it's not quite the same thing as a live appearance. You don't get to see the band in their suits, you don't get to see the audience dressed up in costume, and the ambience of the evening seems to be lacking. Of course, those complaints are natural to any live album, but it's certainly even truer with a band like World/Inferno Friendship Society, who are more than just a band who are playing live. Case in point, the excellent set-closer "Pumpkin Time" loses a bit of its power, because you don't get to see Terricloth in full action onstage. (If you do want to see them live, then get thee to Digital Club Network's website, www.dcn.com--I'm pretty sure there's video of this show available.)

Complaints aside, I'm glad this record exists. It captures one of the best live bands in their natural environment, and the recording is superb. This is a really, really fun show, and if you need any incentive to go see them live, then this is it. With Halloween coming up at the end of the month, you've still got time to buy tickets to this year's show. If, like me, you can't make it out to see them, then this document is the next big thing. Play it at your next Halloween party or whenever you feel the need to be reminded of the darker side of life. Trick or treat!

--Joseph Kyle

October 27, 2002

Hot Hot Heat "Make Up The Breakdown"

When I first heard Knock Knock Knock, Hot Hot Heat's debut for Sub Pop, I thought to myself, "these kids could make some interesting music." Mixing hard synth pop with a little bit of punk (but not much), they made for an enjoyable little listen, even though their vocalist sounded like a harder Howard Jones fronting Falco. More importantly, it embraced more substance of the "new wave" era, as opposed to the style that, while enjoyable, eventrually leaves the listener feeling empty.

Make Up the Break Down doesn't change the styles set down on their previous record; instead, the group have done a great job of honing down their abilities to produce a record that's polished and slick, yet immediate and raw. They go up and down with the beat, making all listeners immediatly move their feet. At barely over 30 minutes, these kids sound like club kids up on too much Mountain Dew and X and trapped inside an eternal 80s Retro night.

The album kicks off with "Naked In the City Again," a fast-paced little number that actually sounds more like early Dismemberment Plan than it does any 80s group. The album builds up and up and up, until it reaches track four, "Bandages," which is the ultimate climax of the record, which quickly shifts into "Oh Goddamnit," and...and..then...the album runs out of steam. Not that the rest of the album isn't any good, it just seems..so... anticlimactic, the formula already seems tired, and the rest of the record really doesn't differ from the first exciting moments. That their previous Sub Pop EP was only five songs long may seem to show that they're a band who works best in smaller quarters. Don't write off the last half of the record, though; "In Cairo," the last song, is a slow, piano ballad, it sounds nothing like the rest of the record, and is actually quite good.

Youthful excitement is great, it's fun, and Hot Hot Heat have that in spades. I bet these kids can tear it up live, too. As far as an album, though, Make Up the Breakdown might run out of steam halfway through, but I still bet their energy and vigor is much stronger than most bands. Not a disappointing little record at all. Good luck on your signing to a big label...you've got the star-attitude down. These kids in America need some good music!

--Joseph Kyle

October 26, 2002

Guided by Voices "The Pipe Dreams Of Instant Prince Whippet"

Guided by Voices..who'd have thought that they'd have made it to 2002? They're getting ready for their--whoa--20th year reunion, and they show no sign of letting up...or of reaching a creative plateau. Having been dropped from former major label TVT after disappointing sales of their brilliant Isolation Drills album, they returned to their former label, Matador, to release their back to lo-fi form Universal Truths and Cycles.

Of course, everyone knows that GBV are kings of the seven inchers, and with every album they release (or just for the hell of it), the diehard fan can expect to find brilliant diamonds from obscure mines. While there's always been a bit of caution in the tread of the fan, generally these little records fail to disappoint. What this EP is, essentially, is a collection of Universal Truths and Cycles-era B-sides. Like the Hold On Hope single (which served as both a single and a collection of B-sides from the Do The Collapse album), The Pipe Dreams of Instant Prince Whippet easily stands on its own and in some places surpasses the album that these songs were rejected from.

It seems that ever since Mag Earwig!, Pollard and crew have had a hard-rock fix. While over the past few years there have been several creative missteps and disappointments, Guided By Voices have turned into a shit-hot rock band whose influences are no longer obvious, a sure sign that they have truly matured. From the first chords of "Visit This Place", you know that you're going to be rocked--and rocked hard--by Dayton's finest rock band (sorry, Morella's Forest).

Every fan finds one or two instant favorites on each record, and in my case, I'm particularly fond of "Visit This Place," the title track, and the beautifully melancholy "Dig Through My Window." Nothing on The Pipe Dreams of Instant Prince Whippet really messes with GBV's tried and true lo-fi hard rock sound, and that's a really great thing, too. Pollard could very well be headed into a comfortable renaissance, and if this record is any indication, his next twenty years may prove to be even more interesting and excellent than his first.

--Joseph Kyle

October 20, 2002

Mustard Plug "Yellow No. 5"

Ahhhhh, ska-punk! This new Mustard Plug record had me skankin' like it's '96 all over again with zero apologies for doing so! Mustard Plug have been beltin' out the ska with a punk flair for many a moon now, and I guess that Yellow #5 finds the band in fine form, keepin' with their ska tradition.

Don't know why, but the mix seems to hold back the music. The music's great, but the horns seem buried back behind the punk-rock guitar. It sounds really muted in places, a shame, because those trumpets & bones should be louder instead of sounding like they're way back in the back of the room. I also can't put my finger on why, but the music seems to have a hint of sadness to it, too. I really liked the music, especially "The Park" and "Sorry Now," which turns the horns up to loud and really rips!

I saw these guys live a few years ago and I thought they were red hot! Yellow #5 may not be as hot as that show, but it's still pretty rockin'. I don't know if there are that many bands still making ska-punk anymore, but it's good to see a good band like Mustard Plug, that bucks the trends and simply makes the music that they like, without caring about if the music's still trendy or not.

--Brandon Random

October 19, 2002

Cave In "Tides of Tomorrow"

Talk about stepping up to the plate and kicking ass with your practice hit! Cave In are (hopefully) going to be huge. They've got the mighty RCA behind them. You know, RCA, the folks who brought you Elvis Presley. Sure, you could debate whether or not Cave In are going to have a lasting success, or whether they'll have a one-hit thing, but why bother? Their fate is not ours to decide, and while both sides do have their valid points, I'll fess up and say--well, if you've got the talent and the ability, then why not? The band...the b.a.n.d....the BAND made this decision to take a step up to the big-time, so calling them sell-outs is just, well, stupid, because they're doing what THEY want to do. By the simple fact that they are taking SO LONG working on their debut record (it'll have been, what, nearly two years when it's finally released?) proves that they're being all seriouslike about their new record. Good. I'm glad to see that a band's finally allowed the TIME to hone their skills and make an awesome record.

That said, I couldn't really tell you if the songs on this new EP are new, or if they're odds-and-sods for the label to release, and to put their name "out there" in the interim, so as not to be forgotten (or to honor contractual agreements). Either way, it doesn't really matter. Obviously, these aren't the big-budget recordings that appeared on their last CD-single for the label (a sneak peak from their new record), because that's the big meal that'll be ours in a few months. Tides of Tomorrow doesn't sound quite as awesome as those recordings, but these songs are just as good, and they seem to document something: that the band's new sound is no mere smoke and mirrors studio trick. Sure, they're not metal anymore, they're not hardcore--they're good now. Personally, I think these songs sound like a more interesting Incubus fronted by James' Tim Booth, but that's just me; there's a radio-friendly edge to these songs, Brodsky's growing as an artist and he's not standing still. If these songs are odds and sods from before their recent sessions, then it's a good bet that their new album will be utter genius.

Then there's that title: Tides of Tomorrow. I think these kids know that they're poised for greatness, and I hope they get it. These songs, especially "The Calypso" and "Everest" both sound like they'd not be out of place on late-night modern rock radio and hip coffee shops around the nation. To Cave In: don't listen to critics who dismiss you as "sell out." Keep up the good work. Radio needs some new, talented blood. You're staying true to yourself by doing your own thing. Don't let the criticism get to you. You can't satisfy all of the people all of the time, so just make yourself happy. I feel like you're gonna be big--and you deserve it.

--Joseph Kyle

October 16, 2002

Robot Monster Weekend "Funeral Candy"

For any reviewer, it's always a bit sad to receive a record with a note that informs you that the band no longer exists. When the band is super-talented or the record is awesome, it's even sadder. After all, what kind of tragedy is it when a band makes a great record yet didn't exist long enough afterwards to fully support the album, or to bring it to the attention of the world at large? At times, I'm tempted to say "why bother?" But if the record's good, then you should bother, because a good record is still a good record--regardless of the band's status. That being said, Dallas' Robot Monster Weekend recently called it a day, leaving behind an EP and this, their debut (and final) album.

It's really too bad that they didn't last long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labor, because Funeral Candy is pretty much an AWESOME little record. Sporting an admirable quick, to-the-point attitude, Robot Monster Weekend breeze through ten songs in little more than twenty minutes, and not one minute of Funeral Candy is fodder. With a punky new-wave heartbeat similar to Weezer, mixed with a little weirdness that reminds me of the late great Tripping Daisy, they really had the ability to write a snappy pop tune. Personally, I'm fond of "Love, Love, Love, Love" "King of the Monkey Bars" and "Plastic Rainbow." The one song on here that is really striking is "When I Die." It's a bit depressing, sad--yet it's poppy as all get-out, reminiscent of Dookie-era Green Day, and sounds like a rewrite of the obscure Jonathan Edwards hit "Sunshine"--color me impressed!

Yes, we should cry for Robot Monster Weekend. Their demise was simply too sudden, and was unfortunately caused by a lack of attention. Oh well, it's okay, they've left us a very pretty corpse to stare at, to listen to and to cry over. But don't cry--they wouldn't like that. They want you to bop around and have fun, and every time you hit the play button, it's a jubilation of the pop-rock variety. Who knows, from the rumors going around, all of these guys are still making music--they just chose to split up due to band members moving across the country, and didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by keeping the band going. Awww, how nice! It makes the loss of this polite, friendly band even sadder, but hey..there's always this great little record. A nice document from a good band gone way too soon.

--Joseph Kyle

October 15, 2002

Hutch & Kathy "Hutch & Kathy"

Okay, I'm gonna get the main quibble out of the way first, because I don't want it to sound like I dislike this record. Hutch Harris sounds like Weird Al Yankovic. That his music's done in a lo-fi setting really doesn't help this out--in fact, it makes it worse, because the vocals are often mixed up front, you're gettin' more Hutch than should be allowed. I don't know why, but I'm just not grasping very well with his singing. When he would sing with his band, Urban Legends, I wouldn't really notice, but I guess the whole stripped-down thing really brings his voice to the front of the class.

That aside, you really cannot fault Harris and his partner Kathy Foster for making annoying music. Their music--a folky, 60s-tinge acoustic pop with occasional keyboard and harmonica and consistant boy-girl vocal exchanges--is certainly bright and bouncy. The music is very simple, very basic, and their lyrics are a little more complicated than their simple rhythmic patterns lead on, such as "A Rich Nation's" charmingly simple verse: "well there's still fuel in the tank/there's still money in the bank/i know that time is running out/if it's only ours to spend/lets grab that feeling again."

The fact that they're recording this music in such a lo-fi manner may be a hinderance in that it makes Harris' voice sound annoying, but it also brings out the lyrical content of his songs. There are times of more serious moments, such as on "Through the Day," but mainly, they don't break from a la-la sing-a-long style that's rather cute.
Sugar-coated, even. I'd almost be willing to say some of this borders on children's music, but I don't think that's intentional on their part. For the record, I like children's music. I'd rather listen to a record of off-the-cuff loose-sounding children's sing-a-long-music than to something that's complicatedly recorded yet lacks passion ANY day.

Sugar-coated is great for cereal, but it doesn't always work on record, unless you're going for an auidence that, oh, ten? Lo-fi pop like this seems like it's also perfect for college freshman boys who have waifish girlfriends who look like 11-year old boys and with whom they've just discovered indie-rock music and are just beginning the process of becoming indie-rock snotty-heads, precocious little shits who cling on every note as if it were handed to them directly from the mountains and delivered to them by a Moses that looks a helluva lot like Issac Brock, all the while never ever ever realizing that most of the music they're superior about is already three years out-of-date. At times, I feel like I'm listening to a boy version of a Rose Melburg band, and with Kathy Foster, who's also in All Girl Summer Fun Band, adding her sweet crooning, at times Hutch and Kathy comes off like a testosterone-fuelled Softies. Not that such a thing is bad, mind you; it's just, well, different. While Hutch and Kathy might best be recommended in small doses, it's nothing less than a fun and innocent ride.

---Joseph Kyle

Menthol "Danger: Rock Science!"

The other night, I really couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd sit down and do some writing. While I was doing that, I thought I'd pop on a record to listen to. The record I chose, Menthol's new album, Danger: Rock Science! proved to be a disturbing choice for insomnia soundtrack music. See, when I was a kid, I kept rather odd hours, and often I would be up all night, listening to the radio. Of course, when I was a kid, it was the early to mid 80s, and the music I'd hear would be stuff like Cars, Duran Duran, Thomas Dolby, Devo, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys---you know, the stuff that was total pop and is now hip "retro 80s music."

Like the Faint's most-excellent Blank-Wave Arcade, Menthol's M.O. is to rock out. Of course, many of you may or may not remember Menthol from the mid-90s, when the band signed to Capitol during alternative's "heyday," and they released an album of pretty righteous guitar-rock with a power-pop beat--then disappeared into the night, unloved and not really missed. Turns out they were in major-label legal hell, working on a new record--and they came up with this album, to which the label balked at it sounding "too 80s retro." Things happened, they returned to their former label, Hidden Agenda, and rerecorded the album.

You wouldn't know that it wasn't recorded on a shoestring budget, though. Balthazar de Lay's got that voice that simply sounds like money--much like Simon LeBon's or Thomas Dolby's, you can just hear his intelligence and his class when he sings. Of course, hearing this next to their previous album, you'd be shocked at the change! Instead of the rock, there's new wave, with some sweet guitars thrown in. At times I have to pinch myself, because at times they sound not unlike the Cars. But they do all of this without sounding as if they're stuck in the past. That's the beauty of Danger: Rock Science!. You've heard these kinds of sounds before, but you've never heard them quite this good. Not as annoying or boring as The Faint, but they're not as unoriginal as that Cars cover band I saw about five years ago. You could probably put Menthol on stage in front of an audience of 30-somethings, tell them that this band had hits on the radio in the eighties, and not only would the audience not know the difference--they'd probably claim to remember these songs the first time around!

When I took a road trip last week, I listened to Danger: Rock Science!. I then listened to it again..and again...and again, because the album's 38 minutes just go by really..really...fast! So fast, that I wanted to be blown away again and again. As I was driving, I particularly developed a love of "New Recruits," due to his Richard Butler-esque singing, but then I also heard someone whose name and music I hadn't thought of in 15 years: Peter Case!! That's when it really struck me--Danger: Rock Science! isn't the sound of Menthol changing their style. No no, Menthol are still the same power-pop-rock band of old, they've just matured their style, and if it sounds "retro," it's not meant as such. Power-pop didn't mature, it stood still, and Menthol--I swear that Menthol are the sound of the Plimsouls with computer programming.

Gee, maybe they haven't really changed their sound at all. Welcome back, Menthol.

--Joseph Kyle

Various Artists "24-Hour Party People"

Soundtracks are often unsatisfactory creations, especially if the movie has a lot of music in it. Take Goodfellas, for example. Tons of great music in it, but the sountrack? Barely lasted 30 minutes and it hardly scratched the surface of what was on the film. Sure, if you do it right, a soundtrack can be a classic album all by itself (witness such records as Hairspray, Pump Up the Volume and Valley Girl, to name but three), but most soundtracks aren't perfect.

I have mixed feelings about the soundtrack to the music-related movie 24 Hour Party People. Sure, the film's about Tony Wilson and his fabulous Factory Records, but the soundtrack...seems like it was put together rather tenuously, because there are some things that just seem wrong. Number one: too much Joy Division! Lord, do we really need to hear Ian Curtis four times (not to mention the three other appearances of New Order) with Moby filling in for the guy on a fifth song?. No, we don't. While I can understand the importance of the Sex Pistols, The Clash seem a bit incongruous. And where are A Certain Ratio, Stockholm Monsters, Ludus, or Section 25? Why the neglection of Durutti Column? Sure, he has one track on the album (a later recording, not quite as magical as those early ones), but if this is the guy for whom the label was started, why is he so..overlooked? And how come the brilliant Shaun Ryder's Happy Mondays only get three tracks? There should be MORE Ryder...the man's a genius. I really wonder about the people who compiled this record. Do they know of the label's storied past, or were they simply looking to make a commercial, "let's not scare people with new sounds and ideas that they might not like because we don't like them" type of record?

Aside from the Joy Division overkill, despite the weaknesses of such a limited selection of artists, 24 Hour Party People is a great, fun record. Sure, it's top-heavy in places, but that doesn't take away from the fact that songs like "Temptation," "24-Hour Party People," "Loose Fit" and hell, even "Blue Monday" are totally brilliant, fun to listen to, and are some of the most intelligent songs ever produced from those mythical days called the 1980s. I put this on my car radio and I loved every moment of it. It's great music to listen to..if you program out all those Joy Division songs!

--Joseph Kyle

October 14, 2002

Low "Trust"

Chances are if you’re a Mundane Sounds reader, you already know about Low, but I’ll give you some basics just in case. Low are a Minnesotan trio fronted by guitarist/singer Alan Sparhawk and his wife, drummer/singer Mimi. Their repertoire consists almost exclusively of songs that are slow, sparse, quiet, and pretty, and because of such they have been regarded as pioneers of a subgenre of independent rock music called “slow-core,” which has been used to describe bands as diverse as Ida, Arab Strap, Codeine, and Red House Painters. Low is also one of a growing number of bands in independent rock that actively practices Christianity (even while on tour, Alan and Mimi observe the Sabbath), yet manages to weave their faith into their music without being dogmatic or heavy-handed. Over the past eight years, Low have slowly become one of the most consistent and inspiring bands in all of rock. Their seventh album of original material, Things We Lost in the Fire, managed to usurp even Guided by Voices’ Isolation Drills as my favorite album of 2001. In my musical pantheon, GBV are a very hard band to overtake, but Low managed to do it. Without letting this review turn into an autobiography, I will say that I developed a personal connection to the record, as it helped me cope with a difficult period in my life. Most importantly, Things We Lost in the Fire was one of those rare albums that managed to be solid from beginning to end, its all-around excellence preventing any one song from standing out above the rest. Trust, this year’s addition to Low’s discography, falls a bit short on that regard, but the fact that it even approaches their previous album’s greatness should constitute a strong enough endorsement.

From the first few minutes of Trust’s opener, “(That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace,” the listener will realize that Low’s sound has undergone a bit of change. The Spartan production of Things We Lost in the Fire, which was “recorded” by Steve Albini, has been replaced with the lush, polychromatic production of Tchad Blake. The basic tracks of Trust were recorded in a church, which explains why the instruments seem to be soaked in reverb. In spite of this, the production remains crisp enough that multiple layers of sound can be heard with attentive headphone listening. Mimi’s drums are miked so closely that her snare sounds like a gunshot, and you can hear the creaking noises of the metal hardware as she plays her kit. Alan’s slightly overdriven guitar wavers in and out of tune as he plays carefully chosen notes to evoke an atmosphere of desolation, of which the sprightly glockenspiel playing ends up being the only form of musical relief. The lyrics detail the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide; she drowns herself in a lake for unspecified reasons. The lyric “I was once lost but now I’m found” is transformed from a testimony of salvation to a resigned lament, as it is followed by the words, “Sometimes there’s nothing left to save.” This song establishes Trust’s overriding theme: the never-ending conflict between optimism and pessimism.

“Canada,” the second song, is a surprising change of pace for Low because of its brisk beat and scratchy, distorted guitars. I didn’t know the band had it in them to make a song I could actually pogo to! Fortunately, the band doesn’t sound out of its element when speeding up the tempo. The protagonist of this song confronts a friend whose lies have been exposed. Draft-dodging is used as a metaphor for the inability of said friend’s lies to protect him any longer: “I used to have a golden tongue/But now the words just feel like stones/’Cause you can’t take that stuff to Canada/You can’t take it anywhere.” Trust would be the equal of Things We Lost in the Fire were it not for the inclusion of “Candy Girl,” which coasts on two chords, an ominous tom-tom beat, and lyrics that are obtuse to the point of sounding like an in-joke. Things pick back up quickly with the acoustic front-porch meditation “Diamond,” which asserts that the average human being just isn’t strong enough to survive without the help of others. The protagonist of this song realizes this, but when he sings “Well, alright,” it sounds more like a sigh of resignation than a willing acceptance of the truth.

“Tonight” is a hymn of expectancy that would be completely overtaken by the constant whirring backwards one-note drone were it not for the prominence of Mimi’s vocals and Zak Sally’s bass in the mix. The lyrics of “I Am the Lamb” read like the famous last words of a man about to be sacrificed to the slaughter, possibly Jesus Himself. The drums clack at a pace that imitates the protagonist’s hesitant footsteps as he approaches his inevitable doom. Atonal guitar scraping, off-key piano meanderings and three-part harmonies are buried in the back of the mix to heighten the tension. Alan sings on “In the Drugs” of the mellowing effects of age, supported by a wistful backdrop of banjo and melodica. “The Last Snowstorm of the Year” is a fuzz-drenched waltz that’s even faster than “Canada” and ruminates on how silly it is to fear the future, yet let nostalgia sugarcoat the horrors of the past. “John Prine” revisits the watery sound world of Trust’s opening track, and in this song Alan sings of how the hope of youth gets beaten down by the disappointments of life, and is eventually transformed into anger: “I thought I was a poet/I had so much to say/But now I want to see blood/I want to make them pay.”

If I had to pinpoint the one song on Trust that perfectly encapsulates the lyrical tension between optimism and pessimism, it would be the appropriately named “Little Argument with Myself.” The protagonist lay flat on his back counting stars, hoping that he’ll eventually find out how many there are in the sky. He wavers between
feeling that there are too many stars in the sky, thus rendering his activities pointless, and feeling that despite this, he may actually get his answer if he perseveres long enough. It is a testament to Low’s lyrical ingenuity, as well as my own verbosity, that the words to this song are probably shorter than my explanation of them. “La La La Song” undermines itself with the triviality of its self-explanatory title. Yes, the chorus does consist entirely of “la la la” ad infinitum, but underneath this deceptively simple fa├žade lies a sweet ode to a person who carries the weight of the
world on his/her shoulders: “When you come down from your death-defying labors/I’ll still be in love with you,” coo Alan and Mimi to each other at the song’s end. “Point of Disgust” employs a piano part that’s almost as simple as “Chopsticks,” but its lyrical message is decidedly more complex: it is necessary to move on with one’s life, Mimi seems to say, even when one is unfathomably angry about his/her current situation.

Trust ends with “Shots and Ladders,” a condescending tribute to a ne’er-do-well who ignores the criticism of his peers, and keeps trying even when the odds are against him: “You’re always such a disaster/But all you hear is laughter.” The traditional rock instrumentation is slowly usurped by the same wind-tunnel sound effects that so characterized “Tonight,” as well as various strings and keyboards. The song ends shortly before it reaches the eight-minute mark, and every time I listen to it, I feel as I’ve reached the conclusion of a long and overwhelming emotional journey. If there’s any possible way that one’s ears can feel jetlagged, the coda of “Shots and Ladders” can manage it. “Candy Girl” notwithstanding, Trust is astoundingly effective at getting its points across. This album, like every other Low release, milks each note, beat, and word for all of its emotional worth; even with Blake’s florid production, nothing sounds extraneous or unnecessary. To make an extremely corny pun on the album’s title, I trust this band to deliver sheer excellence every time they put an album out, and Trust does almost nothing to break this...um, trust.

---Sean Padilla

October 13, 2002

Tender Trap "Film Molecules"

Ahhhh..Tender Trap...they're heavenly! No, wait, really, they are! Okay, okay, forgive the bad pun. I'm just super-excited to hear Amelia Fletcher's new project, Tender Trap. Amelia's got one of the sweetest, prettiest pop voices you'll ever hear, and her bands Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and Marine Research, while slightly different, were all wonderful due in part to her charming, always-got-a-smile-on-her-face vocals.

Unlike her other groups, though, Tender Trap's a much more varied bag of musical styles. Peter Momtchiloff is gone, and while his guitar genius may be absent, it's not particularly missed, because Tender Trap's not really a guitar band. It's more of a mixed bag, with a little bit of guitar rock ("Oh Katrina," "Dyspraxic," "Chemical Reaction") but with more emphasis on the beats, and such numbers as "That Girl" and "Face of '73" find Tender Trap going places with dance beats that none of her other bands ever came close to creating. There are also odd little experiments such as "Emma" which focus on minimal electronic backing, letting Fletcher's vocals come out to the front. There are also a few sad ballads, such as "Love is Red/Green" and the heartbreaking "Brown Eyes," which is about a breakup, but for some reason I'm also thinking that she's talking about her brother, the late Mathew Fletcher, who was Heavenly's (and Talulah Gosh's) drummer. Of course, I may be wrong about that, but, you know, that history is there...

Tender Trap's music is not a real surprise, considering their pedigree. It's a much more rewarding project than Marine Research, which, while nice, seemed to find Heavenly rowing with a broken mast due to the death of Mathew Fletcher. While there's nothing on Film Molecules to make you forget about Heavenly or Marine Research, there's nothing on here that'll make you think that Fletcher and company are treading the same ground. Film Molecules provides you, dear listener, with the sunny, pleasant, intelligent pop that your life so dreadfully desires.

--Joseph Kyle

Destroyer "This Night"

I'll be honest: this has been a difficult record for me. This Night is a dark, hard, thick nut to try to crack, and I'm not really sure if what I've done really starts to shed some light on what Destroyer's done here. Dan Bejar's one of these fellows who, for some time now, has been subject of press chatter and praise. I've often wondered if things get praised as brilliant and genius simply because they're dark and difficult to assess and terribly complex, and Destroyer's one of those bands that I think gets labeled as such.

I'm hearing a lot of pop-culture references here: so far, I've heard references and allusions to the following: Sonic Youth, the Smiths, Truman Capote, Bob Seeger, Walt Disney, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Field and Stream magazine, Neil Young, and these are just the things I've recognized. Apparently, Bejar's into pop-culture based commentary, as his album Thief was apparently a rather oblique commentary on the music industry. How these things fall together is probably understood only by Bejar. Does this mean that Bejar is stating a sexual attraction to Snow White when he references her in the context of a melody that's a blatant rip-off of Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love"? It's not for me to say, but it's what I'm hearin'.

Bejar and company have created a thick, dark folk-rock concept album that's darker than the night that they're sinigng about. Obtuse lyrics that I really don't feel qualified to interpret, made all the more interesting and yet frustrating by Bejar's singing which is a whelp that has a tenuous relationship with that thing we would normally call the melody. Imagine a power meeting of Bowie and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Syd Barrett where they all get together and do some really major herb and righteous peyote while lookin' at the sky, and maybe you'll be there. A challenging record that really defies description, other than the fact that it's an epic epoch rock record. This Night is a real grower of a record, and is certainly not an easy listen. If you like a challenge, then This Night is for you. PS--for a halloween-like scare, listen to this record on headphones in a dark room at midnight.

--Joseph Kyle

October 11, 2002

ill lit 'WACmusic"

To save yourself from being washed away into the sea of mediocrity, you must have something that sets you apart. Now, raise your hand if you're tired of by-the-book lo-fi indie-rock folk singers that inspire to be something greater than the worst yet well-meaning bore? I don't know if I'm alone in this sentiment or not, but I know that people like (Smog) and Cat Power and Will Oldham have seemingly scampered back into their creative cubby holes, simply because they are responsible for creating the overflowing lo-fi indie-rock-folk movement/"market."

Oddly, there's one man who quietly fused lo-fi and folk and rock and his other favorite musical styles of choice together to create a sound all his own, but he doesn't get the recognition he deserves, which is a good thing for him.

Ladies and gentlemen, give Beck his due.

Yes, Beck's ever-mutating fascination with traditional folk, blues, and country has created a sound that is truly his own, and he doesn't seem to worry about the fact that his styles often confound and conflict with his alt-rock whiteboy following. (Who really bought Midnite Vultures and didn't sell it used within a few weeks?) Beck did a smart thing when he lifted up his leg and sprayed his musical Dr.Funkenstein act with a stay-away venom to keep away those who might try to cop his style.

ill lit probably have copies of Mutations and One Foot In the Grave in their record collection
That doesn't mean that they're biting the styles created by the Man with the 808 Pelvis. They've just taken these ideas and expanded upon them. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that WACMusic is a document of a band who've stumbled onto an original sound and are experimenting with it AS WE SPEAK in order to create a more perfect masterpiece.

See, WACMusic is a country-folk record with beats and occasional moments of electronica. Right now, ill lit are "interesting" and "worth watching." They've written some very interesting songs, and their sound is, at times, the sound of Ryan Adams fronting a more melody-friendly Microphones at Grandaddy's home studio, while Mr. Ugly Casanova goes and gets the whiskey. The only complaint about WACMusic is that the most experimental moments of the record are all at the beginning of the record, and the ideas that seemed so interesting at the start seem to be left behind for country-folk. It's an above-average country-folk sound, but in the wake of great songs like "Welshratz" and "here's to the rescue," these songs seem to be a letdown.

I'm glad a band has come along to say "We're not going to take it, no we ain't gonna take it, we not gonna take it anymore!" to folk-singer slobs. WACMusic is a great debut album, and the idea of mixing electronica and folk and maybe a little bit of rap is an idea that leaves my mouth open, my lips moist, and my heart anxious.

---Joseph Kyle

October 09, 2002

Fontanelle "Style Drift"

In the future, I'm pretty sure that robots and computers will have feelings. I think that some bright spark is currently working on some sort of chip or device or program that will give mechanical beings real human emotion. Why not? It certainly seems possible. Hell, Man...Or Astroman? had some pretty convincing human emotions. It's a shame they went back before we mere humans could learn more about their technological advances.

Style Drift is a robotic funk record. Yeah, that sounds like a totally laughable description to me, and I'm the guy writing the review! I mean, really, how can you not think of anything but when you hear the Beastie Boys-esque "Style Drift," which sounds like something off of Hello Nasty--except done a bit more sleazy and with a little more Steve Miller Band influence. Other times, such as "Monday Morning," Fontanelle veers into acid-jazz, Medeski, Martin and Wood territory, with a little hint of Drums and Tuba for good measure.

I don't know if they intended on doing so, but Fontanelle has created a futuristic porn soundtrack that could have only been created by a computer that understands and feels real human emotion. I don't mean that in any flip, hip music writer kind of way--I really did blush when listening to the downright randy "Just, Go, Crazy," with its naughty robotic bleeps and blips and squeaks. If you've ever wondered about what robots put on when they're gettin' it on, then Style Drift is for you. As for me, I'm waiting for a robotic Marvin Gaye or Barry White. If Fontanelle can do that next--which i wouldn't put past them, as their styles are ever-changing--then I'm sure they've got a surefire hit on their hands. As it stands, Style Drift is a lusty, sexy computerized jazz-funk record for those moments when just want to get your 01011110001001 010001 001111000110110 on.

--Joseph Kyle

Atom & His Package "Hamburgers"

Well, Mr. Smartass is at it again, makin' silly music for the humorless punk-rock scene. Actually, I'm not hatin' on the man. See, his last album, Redefining Music was a wonderful kick in the pants to his career. See, in my opinion, he was at that "put up or shut up" point in his career, and he showed quite nicely that he was no mere novelty act. If he's continued in his lo-fi humor like his first few records, he could have been rightly dismissed as a one-trick pony. He still could, actually, but I promised I wouldn't be snarky about that.

Kickin' off this little EP is "I Am Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just a Hammer." Yeah, Atom's rockin' the mundane beat pretty hard on this one, and it's a funny little recollection about his experience with working in his brand new house and the process of, erm, using tools. Yeah, he's that sublime, and it's quite funny, too. It's followed by "Fraudulent," which is a rather oblique little ditty about something Atom's done recently that is rather shady. There are two other songs, one is about disappointment in former heroes, and the other's about the stupid bravado of youth, related to a foolish friend who drove across Africa when he was 19. Hamburgers concludes with a cover of an AM/FM song, the band of Atom's friend/subject matter, Brian Sokol.

Atom's one of those guys who walks the line between clever and stupid, and though I've thought a lot of his earlier stuff was dumb, I've been impressed with his recent work. And, besides, who would you want to smack more, Atom or Conor Oberst? I'll take smart ass over whiny-ass ANY day.

--Joseph Kyle

October 07, 2002

Mudhoney "Since We've Become Transluscent"

It's 2002, what's a former Grunge band to do? In Mudhoney's case, it's to take all of the things that made you great the first time around, refine them, and make the record of your career. Luckily, people will actually listen to the music. I have this distinct feeling that nobody actually listened to grunge back then; it was all an image, not substance, and that the movement was nothing more than a ploy that resulted only in the dictatorial griphold of Starbucks. I mean, if people actually HAD cared about the music, you'd see teenagers right now wearing leather jackets with logos for Green River, Tad, and Gas Huffer, and My Sisters Machine and Janitor Joe would be treated with the same reverence as The Beatles, Sex Pistols, or Rolling Stones.

But for Mudhoney? Talk about a comeback! This is easily their best record to date--though that's not hard for them to do, considering that one or two of their albums were utter crap. It's also a nice breath of fresh air in a stagnent "rock" world. Always smarter than they were given credit for, Since We've Become Translucent breaks that dumb image. Then again, you can get away with a lot more shit if you're considered dumb, and I think that they were aware of that--though it didn't particularly help them the first time around. As their greatest hits and rarities collection March to Fuzz demonstrated, there's always been greatness in there, even if it was obscured by all the hair.

Kicking off with "Baby, Can You Dig the Light," you're shocked at how...different..things sound. Maybe it's the saxophone. This eight-minute jam fuses free-noise, psych-rock, space-rock, and straight up rock and/or roll together into a most enjoyable meal. A shock? Yeah. A surprise? Not really. Just a band gettin' more in touch with their roots. When you reach "Where the Flavor Is," try not to be too shocked by the addition of a full-on horn section. Yeah--shocked me too! Same with "Take it Like A Man," too--and you can't help but realize that these guys were always a great rock band; you'd have to be damn good to have the strong chops they do, and it certainly shows. The rest of Since We've Become Translucent is rock, nothing too terribly shocking, but nothing at all bad.

Screw those "Rock" bands out there today, Mudhoney are, were, and evermore shall be a great rock band. I wonder if such a great record would have been possible had they not split up when Matt Lukin left, but I really doubt it. Since We've Become Translucent is the sound of a band that left a tired genre, relaxed a little bit, spent some of that big label money, and came back to the game feeling good, slimmed down, buffed up, and ready to kick ass. They've done it, too. Welcome back, Mudhoney. Long may you rock!

--Joseph Kyle

Butthole Surfers "Humpty Dumpty LSD"

Okay, a quick show of hands--who still cares about the Butthole Surfers? Seems like these Texas weirdos have spent the last decade alienating the fans they built up over the previous decade. Through none-of-our-business legal problems with former labels (which, I'll contend, is a. none of our business, and b. a story that's been decidedly one-sided when it's been reported), to albums that play a little too close to metal and bad jock-rock (Kid Rock?), it would seem that the shit had finally put out the flame of true shit-fuelled genius. Then, quietly, with no fanfare, Humpty Dumpty LSD appeared. A collection of outtakes and rarities from the past 20 years, though, to be fair, most all of the songs are from their pre-major label stint. Like a bottle of whiskey thrown onto a small fire, this little collection of rejects and forgotten-abouts, when thrown on the remaining cinders of their former glory days, literally explodes into a fire of brilliance. You'll find no Kid Rock here, and thank god for that.

Humpty Dumpty LSD is a smorgasbord of lysergic-tinged diamonds. Well, I take that back, because at times, such as on "I Love You Peggy," "Just a Boy," and "I Hate My Job," it's apparent that, back in the day, the Butthole Surfers were a bunch of kids who were really into that SST sound. Nothing too psych or weird about these tracks, unless you count understandable lyrics and something called melody weird--but, wait a minute, we are talking about Gibby Haynes and his crew of merry pranksters here, so, yeah, I guess that is weird. The only song I had heard on this was "Earthquake," a cover of Texas psych-rock godfather Roky Erickson, that was released on a tribute disk back in the summer of '89. It doesn't sound all that different from the original, and while it doesn't sound too particularly Butthole Surfers, it does sound like the birthplace of Mudhoney. History lesson for ya, kids.

There are plenty of weird moments here, too--such as the rather catchy ditty called "One Hundered Million People Dead" (an extended version from a compilation track from 1987) or the beautiful, haunting "Space I" (also from 1987). "All Day," another compilation track from the Butthole-released comp A Texas Trip (again from 1987), was a song I've been wanting to hear for years now. It's an odd, weird collaboration with another loveable Austin-based genius, Daniel Johnston--though his vocals are mixed into a sonic psychedelic stew--which makes everything else on Humpty Dumpty LSD a pleasant surprise. All Daniel's doing is singing his "Running Water" hit, but it's done in such a brilliant way, and it makes me wish that there'd been more collaboration between these two geniuses.

Did I just label Gibby Haynes a genius? Yeah, I did--and I stand by that claim. Am I biased? Yeah, I'm that, too. It's a Texas thing--and if you don't understand that, then, damn, you just don't understand. And if you think that these moments of genius are strictly limited to a timeperiod that ended 15 years, think again--two songs, "Ghandi" and "Dadgad," both from the 90's, clearly show that while the music they were making at the time may not have been very good, that didn't mean that their genius had run dry. After all, there's no crime in being misguided. Thank god, though, that the world has had a Butthole Surfers in it--the days wouldn't be quite the same, now would they? Here's hoping, too, that now they'll be able to relight the flames of their heyday. True, those days are long gone, but that doesn't mean that there aren't better ideas yet to come from a band whose name made parents upset and kids snicker.

--Joseph Kyle

Secret Machines "OOO"

I'm starting my review of Secret Machines' debut record, September 000, before actually listening to it. See, I've enjoyed the music made by the B. Curtis boys (UFOFU, Captain Audio, plus work with Chao! and Tripping Daisy), and I'm using my knowledge of their past in order to determine what this will actually sound like. Yes, I'm aware that I'm judging a book by its cover here, but I don't care, because these guys are uber-talented, and you can only expect the unexpected from them.

Okay, there's a circle on the cover. The packaging is at a bare minimum here. A green circle. A sticker that says "Secret Machines." Bare minimum listing of song titles on the back. No notes on the inside cover, but they're written blue on blue on the CD. Ummm......I'm excpecting something either radically simple here or radically evil. Maybe a screaming, harder version of UFOFU? Or maybe something insane like the Locust or Black Dice. I'm not trusting the simple artwork here.

Okay, yeah. There's nothing here that doesn't let you know that these guys used to be Captain Audio. "Marconi's Radio" picks up quite well where Luxury OR whether it is better to be loved than feared left off. It starts off with a simple, minimalistic keyboard melody, and it builds and builds and then it...turns..into....Pink Floyd, circa 1977. Imagine a mix of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" with "Pigs On the Wing" and you're not really that far from Secret Machines. Roger Waters must be proud, and I gotta give Secret Machines TOTAL credit for being able to pull off the stunt of making non-ironic Pink Floyd music.To cop from the most bombastic, melodramatic rock band of not only the 1970s but possibly of all time, and to do so without sounding derivitive, retro, or coked-up in the studio is a real accomplishment!

I think that's due in large part to the fact that Secret Machines aren't staying still long enough for any kind of tag to be penned to them. In fact, the song you start ain't the one you finish. Throughout September 000, you'll get the notion that something went wrong during programming, because ideas that flowed from the end of a song into the next one will often change just as rapidly, into another lovely number or musical idea. Hell, if they had programmed the record as one continually-flowing album (ala Prince's classic Lovesexy or Tripping Daisy's The Tops of Our Heads) then there's no doubt that September 000 would be one helluva example of a genre I like to call "interesting rock." "Interesting rock" is music that does not define or confine itself to any one genre, and simply flows around and around and is, well...interesting! Don't get me wrong; the album's not bad like it is, but I just felt that since these ideas flow back and forth without regards to convention, then inserting breaks--even ones that you don't notice--simply restrain the music's full wingspan.

That's a minor quibble, though. Underneath the art, the experimentation, and the weirdness, are some great--hell, make that BEAUTIFUL--songs, and my only complaint about the music would be that because ideas flow so freely, some really great ideas are briefly visited and tossed around, and I'd like to hear them more developed! I'm particularly fond of "Still See You," a little love song with acoustic guitars and some weird sonic backing and painfully loving singing that turns into a fast-paced rock song the minute the singer (sorry, don't know who's who) opens his mouth, but it lasts only briefly, and then it fades into the next sonic idea.

I was kinda wrong about what the music would sound like, but I was also right in that the music is, in essence, rather simple, peaceful, and, dare I say it, utterly beautiful. So, welcome to the world, Secret Machines. You've made a great record here, which isn't a surprise, and it's been a real pleasure. Here's to the future of Secret Machines!!!

--Joseph Kyle

October 06, 2002

Hawaii Show "The Hawaii Show"

Ah, rock and roll! The main problem with music today is that people have totally lost touch with the fact that Rock Music Is The Devil's Music. Quote me on that, baby. Pre-fab sex appeal and spending hundreds of dollars on fashion doth not evil make, nor does a ton of pancake base. You have to have rock music in yr soul, baby, in order to fully "rock out."

You may or may not remember Lifter Puller, a band whose antics onstage and in real life were the thing of legend. Hell, you may have even seen them on Jenny Jones, during the brief time that Jenny Jones was Punk Rock and she had that awful blonde with Manic Panic red hair--right before she realized that she was a Black woman. Anyway, Lifter Puller rocked, thanks in large part to one Steve Dude, a ladies man and the man you want/don't want at your next kegger. Male whore or simply an expert? It's not for me to judge, man.

You never see Mr. Hawaii Dude and Steve Dude in the same place, what's up with that? I think that Steve Dude might just dig Mr. Hawaii Dude's thing. Hawaii Dude doesn't realize that metal--big hair pop metal--doesn't exactly warrant the vixens like it used to--it's poison, you trixter! That was a painfully stupid thing of me to write, but it also fits the subject of The Hawaii Show quite well. Mr. Hawaii Dude is set on bringing back the attitude of those days, where a dude could be a dude, where Sam Malone was a role-model for children, and boozing and banging wasn't a lifestyle promoted just by boring little thugs talkin' about da bling-bling.

The Hawaii Show is packed full of hits--hard-rocking hits, such as "Super Fucked Up!" and "The Babysitter." He's got the rock in him, his metal is heavy, and his hormones set on "fuck me." I'm also partial to the little moments, like "Commercial Break" and "The Booty Call." For you hardcore fans, there's a recording of a recent press conference, and it shows how much the press is all about wanting to know more about this hard-rock enigma. Mr. Hawaii Dude is the man who is going to knock out all of this pop crap and creep-rock that we call nu-metal, and is going to storm the charts. After all, his buddy Har Mar Superstar is poised to blow up the R&B world, and it's only fitting that Mr. Hawaii Dude will be the man to bring back Rock Music. Remember, kids, you read about it here first....

PS. If you've got a computer, there's also some excellent videos, too. If you don't got a computer that can do this for you, you can visit his website at thehawaiishow.com to download them.

--Joseph Kyle

LImited Sight Distance

What's in a name? Well, when I first saw this band's name, I thought, "oh, Dear, this is going to be metal or some sort of odd space rock techno hippie jam band crap." Looking at the cover didn't help much, either--but then I read the bio, and some really great names started to appear: "featuring members of Hopewell, Varnaline, Mercury Rev." Though that didn't mean that this little EP would be any good, it did help to quell my fears about what it should sound like.

Limited Sight Distance is the project of Stefanie Fix, a folk singer who decided to take a slightly more atmospheric approach to her music. Bringing along friends from bands like Mercury Rev, A Don Piper Situation, Hopewell, Cakelike, and Varnaline, she's ditched the traditional folk/songwriter world that she came up in, and is setting out, exploring new ideas. Starting with the jerky guitar and big drum beat of "So Much Trouble," it's amazing how much Fix sounds like K. McCarty--a voice that's been missing for several years now. I'm happy that someone finally sounds like her! Following that is the soft, creepy "Cynical Eyes," that sounds like a lost Concrete Blonde outtake, which is also not a bad thing. "Maybe" and "It's Only Me" follow, and they're very much in the vein of the previous two songs.

Overall, the songs are nice, pretty, but growth is something that comes along after time. This is her debut in this new style, and if she keeps at it, she may have something good here. If you like Sue Garner or Shannon Wright or Heidi Berry, you'll certainly enjoy this little record. I'll admit that I have a soft spot for this kind of atmospheric folk, and with a little bit of growth and maturity and maybe a name change, great ideas and beautiful music will follow.

---Joseph Kyle

October 03, 2002

Handsome Family "Smothered and Covered"

The advances in home recording and duplicating will bear some interesting, enjoyable fruit. Niche artists, who have a loyal fanbase, once had to either petition their favorite cult band's labels in order to get them to even consider odds-and-sods collections, and almost always to no avail. To be fair to the record label, why should they spend tens of thousands of dollars to release a record that's not going to sell, except to a rabid few?

With the advent of CD-R technology, now record labels aren't necessary. If an artist wants to release their own tour CD or their own odds-and-sods collections, or, hell, their own albums, they can very easily do so--especially if the band's one of a more experimental nature. You can probably rest assured that bands like Calexico, Lambchop, His Name is Alive, and Acid Mothers Temple are probably seeing more money from their little homemade records than they would from their regular album releases! (In fact, Lambchop are particularly guilty of this; they have released TONS of great, beautiful music on highly-limited "tour-only" CD's that are impossible to find)

Albuquerque husband and wife duo of Rennie and Brett Sparks, better known as The Handsome Family, have been making dark country music for many a moon now. Of course, with nearly a 20-year long career, you're gonna end up with a bunch of songs that just really don't have any other home. Thankfully, they've decided to settle the matter on their own, and have created an odd little collection, and it's mostly a pleasure.

Quibbles first: there are a number of instrumental parts that are, well...bad. "Prepared Piano" and "Cello" selections are artsy selections that just really call for skipping over. Actually, that's about my only quibble with Smothered and Covered. Besides those four little unlistenables, there's a treasure trove of country love to be found. As the title implies, there are numerous covers, all of them lovely; I'm partial to "I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling" and "Knoxville Girl" (both of which were on Bloodshot samplers). There are a few originals here that are excellent, like "Natalie Wood," and you can't help but laugh when you hear their anti-christmas Christmas carol, "Stupid Bells."

I don't know what it was that inspired me to have this be my first Handsome Family purchase, but I really have fallen in love with the music on this little limited-edition baby. While I'm sure the band wouldn't consider this a starting place for their work, I'm glad I took the step and picked this up. Seek this little curiosity out, and get a taste of the country--the dark, unreleased side of one of today's well-regarded alt-country (whatever that is) bands.

This release is available directly from the band at handsomefamily.com

--Joseph Kyle

October 01, 2002

Damien Jurado "I Break Chairs"

"Change" seems to be the key word for Damien Jurado these days. New kid, new record, new sound, and, at the time of this review, a new label--having left Sub Pop for Secretly Canadian. Sometimes it seems like when artists have kids, the music tones down--that's why I Break Chairs is so interesting. Instead of a mellowing out, Jurado, who was already pretty mellow soundwise, has cranked the amps to 11. He's got a backing band, too, Gathered in Song, so I'm thinking that he's taking this new rock sound pretty seriously.

I'm glad, too, because I Break Chairs is a great record. Jurado, who's quietly made records for a few years now, could have stayed on the path created by his first three records, but that would not only be redundant of him, it might also detract from his talent. You gotta mix things up in this rock-and-roll world, and in so doing, Jurado's assured himself of not only artistic growth, but also a host of new fans who might not appreciate that whole folk singer thing.

If you're familiar with Jurado's previous albums, then you'll be most surprised when I Break Chairs kicks off with "Paper Wings," Jurado's hardest rock moment in his solo career. A lot of this new direction can be attributed to his close friend and producer, Pedro the Lion's genius David Bazan, and the cast of musicians behind him, who operate with Jurado under the name Gathered In Song, and who also happen to serve time as Jurado's singing partner Rosie Thomas' backing band. Gathered in Song help out on I Break Chairs and while there are moments of mellow folk, such as the lovely yet disturbing "Air Show Disaster."

There are quite a number of jewels to be found on I Break Chairs, and each time I've listened to it, a different song quickly becomes my favorite, and I find myself hitting repeat. This afternoon, it's been "Birdcage" and "Never Ending Tide," but those are only two of twelve great numbers, and I've found myself listening to I Break Chairs a lot this weekend. Maybe it's because, unlike so many other rock records, and having appreciated Jurado's dark, twisted worldview-in-song, it's an autumnal rock record. "Autumnal" is a great word to use, because the definition that I found is "a period of maturity before decline." While I'd hardly think that Jurado is in any danger of decline, I Break Chairs is certainly a very mature record, and it leaves me wanting more. Good job, Damien!

--Joseph Kyle